A history of St Peter's Church, Hayling Island

by Karen Walker (Local History Group 3)

We cannot look at the history of St. Peter’s without looking first at its connection to the Abbey of Jumièges in France.

Jumièges Abbey was founded in 674AD but was pillaged and burnt to the ground by the Normans and rebuilt on a much grander scale by the Duke of Normandy and a new church was consecrated in 1067 in the presence of William the Conqueror. The abbey became a centre of religion and learning and by the eleventh century it was regarded as a model for all the monasteries in the province.This link between Jumièges and Hayling was a result of the charter of William I about 1067, in which he described himself as Lord of Normandy and King of England by hereditary right and he saw fit to bestow on the famous abbey of St Peter of Jumièges the manor of Hayling; therefore the church and tithes of Hayling Island passed from the monks of Winchester to the Abbey of Jumièges. Henry I confirmed Jumièges in possession of Hayling by a charter dated between 1101 and 1106.

As a result of this charter, the abbot and convent of Jumièges would have sent a colony of monks to the Island as soon as the Conqueror had given them such a valuable gift. A Cell or Priory with suitable buildings, including a chapel and conventional church would have been speedily erected. This probably resulted in the Northwode or Northwood Chapel being built in about 1140 and this became the present St. Peter’s Church.

This chapel originally served as a “Chapel of Ease” providing a place of worship for those who lived and worked at North Hayling and were some distance from where the Priory church stood before the floods of the 13th/14th centuries.

The structure of St. Peter’s has altered little since it was originally built, being twelfth century with the Chancel and North Chapel constructed as additions to the original building in the early thirteenth century. A good deal of alteration to the fabric of the building took place in the comparatively early days of its existence, and the earliest portion remaining appears to be the north arcade of the nave, which may be assigned to the latter part of the t twelfth century. The rails separating the nave from the chancel could well have been ordered by Archbishop Laud (1573-1645) to protect the altar from “ye foulyng of dogges” in a rural area. There are old oak pews, with poppy head ends with holes for candles or rush lights. These are believed to be sixteenth or seventeenth century. There are three bells, fitted with half wheels, in frames, which are probably medieval; they were cast about 1350 at the Whitechapel Foundry in Dorset and it is believed that this ring of three bells is one of the oldest in the country.

St. Peter’s is a chapelry attached to South Hayling but no chapel was assessed with the church in the 'Taxaio' of 1291. However, in 1304 and during the next ten years there were several petitions from the inhabitants to the Bishop praying that the Vicar should celebrate in the chapel of St. Peter, Northwood. The dispute between the Vicar and his parishioners was settled in 1317 when the Vicar agreed to hold full and complete services there every Sunday and on certain festivals. Moreover, the Vicar undertook to provide the necessary books himself!

Bishop Waynflete, Bishop of Winchester from 1447-1486, agreed that a chaplain would be resident day and night at Northwode to celebrate divine service, with the parishioners providing a house for the chaplain. A parsonage was accordingly built, only to become tenanted by paupers in later centuries, and after damage by a gale it was pulled down.

Until 1485 no one could be buried at St. Peter’s and all burials took place at St. Mary’s. In that year, owing to difficulties caused by flooding and bad weather, the parishioners of North Hayling petitioned their patron, the Prior of Sheen, to be allowed to bury their dead in their own churchyard, and a right of burial was granted,

In conclusion, an excerpt from an old booklet about Hayling and ‘its points of interest’ ..

‘The two churches of Hayling thus form the only surviving links with the days of the old Benedictine Priory, when the beautiful paths and meadows of the Island were traversed by holy men in cowl, tunic and scapular; and England was the ‘Merrie England’, whose spirit is seen again in the happy holiday faces that brighten the same scenes today’.

(Sources: St. Peter’s Church Guide; A History of the County of Hampshire Volume 3; Hayling Island - The Happy Isle)