The church of St Peter so called since the 12th century is built of fieldstones and rubble with dressings of freestone and has a chancel, an aisled and clerestoried nave with north and south porches, and a west tower. The chancel and lower parts of the tower surviving from the mid 13th century show that the church was then a building larger than average for the area, and a 12th century capital re-used as rubble in the chancel may be evidence of an earlier church (possibly Saxon).
The Chancel already well lit, was provided with more windows and a south doorway in the 14th century. The nave was completely rebuilt with aisles and arcades of four tall bays early in the 15th century, and the south porch and upper stages of the tower are of about the same date. Later in the 15th century the church was furnished with a pulpit, front cover, rood screen and seating. After the Reformation the church was apparently kept in good repair; the north porch and clerestory were probably not added until the later 16th century. The altar rails were destroyed in the 17th century, perhaps by William Dowsing in 1644, and a newest was made in 1665, the east face of the tower being strengthened by brickwork at about the same time. Other additions of the period were associated with the Benet family, namely a large monument of 1667 to Sir Thomas and Richard Benet in the south aisle, the reredos of 1700, and a monument to Judith Benet (died 1713). When the chancel roof was slated and the nave roof completely rebuilt, Robert Jones removed many early fittings including the screen, during extensive restoration between 1770 and 1774. The chancel was again repaired shortly before 1836 and the church was thoroughly restored between 1892 and 1910. Many monuments to the Adeane family were installed in the 19th and 20th centuries, including the east window of stained glass designed by John Piper in 1966. Further work took place in 1965 when the old box pews used by the gentry and their employees were taken out because they were badly infested with woodworm. Before this restoration work was carried out a few Roman tiles that were uncovered during the 1892 restoration could be seen near the font.
In 1552 the church had four bells and a Sanctus bell. In 1599 the Sanctus bell was in the house of Sir Horatio Palavicino and neither he nor the parishioners were willing to pay for it to be rehung.
Four of an original peal of five bells remained in 1882, though one was broken; two (formerly three) were by John Draper of Thetford 1615, given by Sir Horatio Palavicino and survived in 1973, although one was cracked. Only two now remain, and only one of these can be rung, the other being cracked.
To help you as you walk round our Church, some of the more interesting features are as follows: -
As you enter by the South Porch, to the left is the 15th century font with wooden cover (also 15th century), and on the wall above it will be found a tablet in memory of one of the priests of Babraham, namely the Reverend John Hullier (sometimes also spelt Hullyer) who in 1556 was burnt at the stake on Jesus Green, Cambridge, for heroically professing his Protestant faith – Mary Tudor, a Roman Catholic, having become Queen.
To the right of the door are two of the many Adeane memorials within the Church (the Adeane family were Lords of the Manor for many years and benefactors of St Peter’s, until the estate and Hall were sold to the Agricultural Research Council). On the ceiling are three Hatchments (the coats of arms of deceased persons, which hang over the door of their home for a year after their death, and are then given to the Church). These are, reading from West to East:
- West – Jane, wife of the Rt, Revd. George Henry Law. D.D., Bishop of Bath & Wells, died 1826
- Centre – Matilda Abigail, the second wife of Henry John Adeane, died 1850
- East – Robert James Adeane married Annabella Blake
At the east end of the South Aisle is The Benet Monument. This marble sculpture depicts the two Benet Brothers, Sir Thomas and Richard. They helped to endow a charity in the village in the 17th century. Sir Richard stands gazing upwards with his hands outstretched while his, brother, Sir Thomas, bends down as if in sorrow. It as originally said to e the work of John Bushnell*, who at that time, journeyed to Italy and was inspired with the art form of heavy draperies and dramatic posture – in contrast to the sleeping figures which were the prevailing custom of that time. (*It is now thought to be the work of Latham; Simon Jenkins in his book “1000 Best Churches” attributes the monument to him).
The monument is situated at the end of a raised area – which is the vault containing the remains of the Benet and Jones families that was sealed in 1965. At one time it might have been a chapel – the south aisle remains a chapel.
The Nave dates from the 15th century, as do the pews. Some repairs were carried out on the pews in 1965 when the Three Decker Pulpit was removed.
There were box pews (used by the gentry and staff of Babraham Hall) in the Chancel and North Aisle until 1965, when they had to be destroyed because of dry rot and woodworm infestation.
The Pulpit surmounting a trumpet-shaped stem, at one time formed part of a Three Decker Pulpit, and was placed in its present position in 1965. The two other parts of the Three Decker can be seen on the south side of the Nave. It consisted of Pulpit, Clerk’s Stall and Reading Desk.
In 1660 a Chancel Screen existed, but by 1779 this had been taken down and some of the carved woodwork used for the Three Decker Pulpit.
The Altar Rail is Jacobean and bears the date 1665 on the gate, and would therefore have been put there during the reign of Charles II. There had been an earlier rail, but this was destroyed in the 17th century, possibly by William Dowsing in 1664.
The Altar was made by the Babraham Estate carpenter, Mr G Guy, in 1896 at a cost of £19. 18s. 1d.
The Reredos, at the back of the Altar, was given by Lady Benet in 1700 and on it, as you will see, is written the Ten Commandments, The Apostle’s Creed and Lord’s Prayer. In 1890 they were removed and placed on the North Aisle Wall, where they remained until 1964. After re-gilding they were replaced on the Reredos in 1965.
The Window on the north side of the Chancel contains Lancet Window Glass. The original window has undergone restoration work in 2008.
There are a number of memorial to the Adeane family on the walls either side of the Chancel.
The East Window, originally of plain glass, was replaced with the present window, given by Sir Robert Adeane in memory of his parents, in 1966. It was designed by John Piper (he also designed the glass in Coventry Cathedral) the work being carried out by Patrick Reytiens.
The window consists of ‘lights’ symbolising the life and work of St Peter the Apostle and Martyr, and Patron Saint of the church.
The Central Light depicts The Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven with which Peter, after confession of Jesus as ‘The Christ’ (Matt. 16v.19) was entrusted: a motif which is repeated in the small light in the apex of the window.
The Left Hand Light represents The Ship tossed on the waves, and Peter’s walking on the water (Matt. 14, vv.22-23).
The Right Hand Light depicts The Cock that crowed three times at the time of Peter’s denial of his Master – as foretold by Jesus (Matt. 26, v. 34).
The Small Lights depict from left to right:
a) The Inverted Cross on which, Peter, in humility begged to be crucified.
b) The chains of his imprisonment from which he was miraculously delivered (Acts 12, v.7).
c) The Fish – his occupation as a fisherman, and as a fisher of man (Luke 5, v.10).
d) The Anchor – symbolising The Church (of which Peter was the chief Apostle) and The Ark of Salvation.
The North Aisle
There are further hatchments here. These are as follows:
- West Wall – Robert Jones Adeane, died 1853
- West Ceiling – Henry John Adeane, died 1870
- Centre – Henry John Adeane, died 1847
- East – Catherine Judith, the first wife of Henry John Adeane, died 1847
The North Porch and Clerestory
These are 16th century in origin. On the left side of the outer archway of the porch is some 17th century (1672) graffiti.
The North Door
This too, is 16th century.
- William Cole – 1742 Sundry Manuscripts
- K A Easdale – The Benet Memorial
- D W Butcher – A short History of Babraham