White Hart Crest of the Royal County of Berkshire David Nash Ford's Royal Berkshire History

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SS. Peter & Paul's Church, Wantage - © Nash Ford PublishingWantage
St. Peter & St. Paul's Church 

The site on which stands the parish of Wantage is a very ancient one. It is known from the will of a certain Lady Wynflaed that there was a church there as early as AD 950; and it seems likely that King Alfred was christened in the same building just over a hundred years earlier. he was certainly born in the parish.

The present building is huge, indicating the town’s great importance as the market centre of the Vale of the White Horse. The nave and base of the tower in the present structure date from the the early 13th century, but the rest has been much altered over the next two hundred years. It is cruciform in plan, with a chunky central tower. The interior seems very light and modern, yet houses some ancient treasures. Try not to miss the remnants of medieval glass near the entrance in the south transept: saints, including Stephen with his martyrial stones. The nave, to the left , has wall monuments to the Stampes  (note the horses with their stamping feet ), a 15th century hammer-beam roof on its lively corbel faces and a magnificent dominating organ built in 1997. Going forward, the central crossing acts as a kind of meeting space between nave, quire and small chapels off the transepts. Here, we find, on the vast pillars, a number of tiny crusader crosses, carved by soldiers going to the Middle East to fight in the Crusades. Were they to pray for their safe return or to blunt their swords when they got back?

On the north-east pillar is the church’s great claim to fame, the full length brass of the armoured Sir Ivo FitzWarin (1414). It once lay on the floor. Sir Ivo, called ‘Hugh’ by his friends, was a great soldier who served with the Duke of Gloucester in Brittany, but he also had business interests in London. He is remembered today in Christmas pantomimes as the father-in-law of the great Dick Whittington, three times Lord Mayor of that city. On the other northern pillar is one of the earliest ecclesiastical brasses in the country. Sir Ivo’s father, Sir William FitzWarin La Frere, lies in the quire, under a very smart, but somewhat ruinous, effigial monument. He fought at Crecy & Poitiers and, being a great friend of the King, was made a Knight of the Garter, the first not to have been a founder. He lived at Wantage Manor, where he died 'of the Pestilence' in 1361. There is a painting of his stall-plate in St. George's Chapel, Windsor. Nearby are the only decent set of misericords in Berkshire, outside this same chapel (the ones in Sutton Courtenay Church aren’t up to much). They’re late 15th century and mostly heraldic, the shields now blank, but presumably once painted with the arms of various patrons. The two best ones, however, are just to the left as you enter the quire: an excellent pelican in her piety and a double-headed eagle. On the wall opposite Sir William and Lady FitzWarin is heavy baroque monument to William Willmot and his wife: animated demi-figures with a sad little boy between them by William Bird of Oxford. Willmot was one of the towns tanning magnates, an industry it was famous for across the country. Below, a portrait of the town’s great 18th century benefactor, Bishop Butler, should be on the wall. The little north chapel (now the vestry) was the FitzWarin Chantry, but the old family glass is in the southern guild chapel, along with Victorian saints: St. Birinus, of course, but why St. Hugh of Lincoln?

There was once a small Norman chapel dedicated to the Virgin Mary in the corner of the churchyard. It has long disappeared, though a nicely carved doorway has been reset in King Alfred's School. The Pope himself granted an indulgence to pilgrims who visited the chapel on its patroness' feast day. 

This is not the official Wantage Church website. Please do NOT mail me about use of the church. Visit the C of E's Church Near You website instead.


    © Nash Ford Publishing 2004. All Rights Reserved. The location of this church is now administered by Oxfordshire County Council.