St Peter’s is the daughter – church to St John the Baptist, the parish church in Symondsbury (north of the A35).
The church was built between 1863 and 1865. It was consecrated at a special service on 25th August 1865. What you see is virtually the church as it was first built an imposing monument to Victorian charity, piety and vision.
The Rev. Gregory Raymond was rector of Symondsbury for 57 years, from 1806 until his death in February, 1863. A wealthy bachelor, he left a great impression upon the parish which he served for so long. This impression has lasted in stone and mortar, if not in other ways. Raymond enlarged the fine Georgian rectory in Symondsbury (now opposite the modern rectory in the village). He endowed a school in the village, and a school room at Eype (opposite the New Inn). And he left a sum of £3000 to build a church at Eype.
It was this sum, a huge amount by the standards of the day, which went into the building of the new daughter-church. The work was set in hand by Raymond’s successor as rector, Henry Rawlinson. He had first come to Symondsbury as curate in 1839. Raymond left the living to his curate, and Rawlinson held it until his death in 1881
The parish employed a well-known London architect, Talbot Bury and the work was carried out by builders from nearby Shipton Gorge using local stone, quarried in Symondsbury and Bothenhampton.
Raymond’s legacy provided a substantial building seating in excess of 300 people. Its size and the sense of space created by the high ceiling are as surprising to the visitor today as they must have been impressive to the first worshippers. The local county newspaper referred to the new church as beautiful and “chaste” when it reported the consecration. Certainly, the church retains something of that assessment – it is a sensitive mix of the simple and the richly beautiful. The stained glass windows are particularly striking. They are some of the finest examples in the country of stained glass by the ecclesiastical glaziers Heaton, Butler and Bayne. There is also a charming window by the Pre-Raphaelite painter and stained glass designer Henry Holiday.
Many of the features of the church were gifts. Parishioners presented the lectern. This is two sided with extending candle-holders on either side: Old Testament on one side; New on the other. The reader simply revolves the lectern to bring the right book to hand.
The reredos (the painted plaster-work behind the altar), now sadly decaying, must have been wonderful when first painted. The windows behind the altar and to its side depict scenes from the life of St Peter and from the Gospels. The main window shows the parable of the Good Samaritan (with Jesus as the hero); the Good Shepherd and the Feeding of the Five Thousand, with St Andrew about to introduce to Jesus the young lad holding his fishes.
The chancel contains a wall tablet commemorating Henry Rawlinson and his wife. They are buried in the churchyard and their grave can be found outside the ‘east’ window.
The church possesses a fine set of communion vessels presented in 1865 by a wealthy local farmer, John Pitfield who farmed 600 acres at Higher Eype. The Pitfields had long lived in the parish. Symondsbury churchyard and church contain several family memorials.
The altar was a gift to the church from the then diocesan bishop. The modern altar frontals and altar linen have been lovingly worked and presented by today’s parishioners.
The church has never been licensed for weddings but services of baptism and burial are, of course, held. The original registers, begun in 1865, are still in use. The churchyard is large with space for many more burials. Over the years, in common with many country churchyards, this has become one of the few areas of natural, untreated grassland – a haven for wild flowers, insects, and small animals. In the spring it is a spectacular carpet of Primroses which has been encouraged by the care of the regular grass cutter
top ten placement in Wessex group
featured in The world as we see it or as we missed it 2012-07-31
top ten placement in the World as we see it or as we missed it 2012-08-08