Was St Peter’s Church Built by Peasants?

In my last post, I researched the early history of Petersfield and St Peter’s church.  But there is a detail that has been niggling away at me which has caused me to start questioning the validity of what we are being told.

The ‘Conservation Area Character Appraisal and Management Plan‘ on the East Hampshire District Council website states that St Peter’s Church was built ‘In the 12th century, probably between 1125 and 1150, when the earliest part of St Peter’s Church was built’.


Yet, I find it very odd that this is the only website that will commit to a date for the building of the church. None of the other sites covering the early history of St Peter’s offer a specific date, they all gloss over it. Why would there not be official records giving the construction dates?

Having seen the detailed craftsmanship and the large amount of stone used to build the structure of St Peter’s, I wondered how this would be possible for people who at that time were peasants living in timber structures and surviving by working on the land.

The Anglo-Saxon period continued until 1066, which was the start of the Norman Conquest. BBC Bitesize confirms what our children are taught for GSE History about life in Anglo-Saxon times, which in contrast to this church building seems very primitive. 

Yet, our historians would have us believe that around fifty years after the Norman Conquest, these same peasants were building stone churches and castles.

But there is no mention that Anglo-Saxon men were master craftsmen capable of the detailed stonework as seen on what is known as the ‘Norman Chancel Arch’ as described by the Hampshire History website.  How did these farm peasants manage to find the time to focus on learning the craftsmanship and building skills required to build a church such as this? Who taught them those skills?  And how were there enough men to both tend the fields and carve ornate detail like this with a hammer and chisel? 

According to BBC Bitesize, our children are taught for GSE History that in Norman times everyone lived a short walk from a castle or church, which means there must have been a lot of castles and churches.  But who had the time to build such large-scale structures to such a high level of workmanship when everyone was busy working on the land?  What changed in the fifty years between the Norman Conquest and the building of Norman churches?

The answer is nothing, and BBC Bitesize confirms that the people were still living off the land during Norman times.

Then, we are told that approximately fifty years later the local peasants rebuilt and greatly enlarged the church, which does not make any sense. My feeling is that the church was already larger and because there were no records as evidence they made up the narrative that it was gradually extended over time to make it seem like it had been built by our civilisation.

Towards the end of the twelfth century, a second period of building added the north and south aisles, taking the walls out to the north and south ends of the transepts and building a west tower to replace the central one.’ https://stpeterspetersfield.org.uk/about_stpeters/the-history-of-st-peters-church/

It doesn’t make sense that farm workers built stone structures with detailed carving such as this when the housing at that time was of timber construction. I wonder if these castles and buildings that are said to have been built in Norman times were actually the remnants of a previous civilisation.


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