St. Peter's, Wolfhampcote

The church that refuses to die

Wolfhampcote Church, 2014.
Photograph (c) Derek Earl

Sat in a field, seemingly isolated from the modern day world, is the Church of St. Peter at Wolfhampcote. Wolfhampcote itself is a deserted medieval village. Although legends have suggested the abandonment of the village was due to the Black Death, or destruction by Cromwell, no evidence for either tale exists. A more likely explanation is that the villagers simply moved over time to wealthier places, with land that was easier to cultivate. Despite the village being abandoned however, the church survives. That it does so is testament to the work of a number of dedicated volunteers, that has seen the church (parts of which date from the 13th century) protected by the Churches Conservation Trust. We also have to thank for its survival the work of Dr. Edward Reid-Smith.

The church’s end?

The church’s struggle for life appeared to have culminated in the late 1950s, when the diocese made the decision to demolish much of the fabric, leaving just the walls as a picturesque ruin. Throughout the 1950s Edward Reid-Smith wrote to the Ministry of Works, the local vicar, the Archdeacon of Warwick and others, while also giving talks at the likes of Lawrence Sheriff School to educate and inform people of the area (these letters can be accessed at the Warwickshire County Record Office under the catalogue number CR 4169/1). One of the replies received was rather surprising in a contemporary context, forthrightly announcing that the church was ‘absolutely useless and unneeded… it should be demolished as soon as possible’.

Clinging to life

Despite this opinion, the Ministry of Works were more amenable to putting the church on its list for scheduling. This was not sufficient to preserve the church however. Its isolated position attracted vandals, and with limited monetary assistance the Friends of St. Peter (including Dr. Reid-Smith) undertook to clean the church and keep it in good order as best as they could. Despite this, a church bell was stolen, and a coffin in the vault was violated in the search for jewels.

In the face of seeming inaction from the authorities the work of these volunteers kept the church in the public eye. The campaign to save the church gathered pace when the plan to demolish it was objected to by the Friends of Friendless Churches. Their work in maintaining the church and attempting to undo the work of vandals cannot be underestimated. Its future was secured when the church was declared redundant in 1968. The Friends of Wolfhampcote Church was formed in 1970 under the chairmanship of Sir John Betjeman, and it was placed in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust in 1972, upon which a three year programme of repairs was carried out.

The church today

Occasional Services are held in the church, and visitors can look inside by obtaining the key from the neighbouring house. Once inside, treasures such as a 14th century screen can be viewed, and the visitor can thank the efforts of the people through the recent past, who have ensured this historic building can be viewed and appreciated today.

For further information see Cave, Lyndon F. (1980) , Wolfhampcote Church. Available for purchase in the church itself.