Posts in Category: History Research

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.’

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.

The History of St Peter’s Church in Petersfield: Anglo Saxons, Wolves, & Magna Carta

The first church in Petersfield was built before the establishment of Petersfield as a town, in an area of fields which was part of the extensive Anglo-Saxon Manor of Mapledurham, also known as Malpedresham, and now known as the village of Buriton, which was in the centre of the estate.

The Saxon origins of Mapledurham were first recorded in the time of the Saxon King Edward the Elder, son of King Alfred the Great. He was the King of the West Saxons, or Wessex, between 870 and 924.

At this time the manor was held by a woman, Wulfeva Beteslau otherwise known as Wulfgifu Beteslau. The Domesday books recorded that she owned 23 valuable manors across the south-west in Hampshire, Sussex, Wiltshire, and Dorset.

Wulfgifu is an Old English name derived from the Old Saxon language of North West Germany comprising the elements of ‘wulf’ and ‘giefu’ meaning ‘wolf gift’. Wulfeva was an Anglo-Saxon name with the other forms including Ulveva, Ulveiva, Ulvevia, Ulueua, Vlueua, Vlueue, Wlueua, Wlviva.

Giefu is a rune from the Younger Futhark with the alternate Anglo-Saxon rune being Gyfu. The old runic poems give it the meaning of ‘gift’ and it is now associated with generosity and gratitude in all aspects of giving and receiving, both for the giver and the recipient.

The link with wolves comes up again in 1302 when The Testa de Nevill, a compilation of early records of feudal landholdings made between 1198 and 1292, says that Malpedresham was included in the hundred of Wlputta.  Wlputta is linked to place names in Europe and North America, such as the town of Wolfput in Belgium, and in Suffolk, England the village of Woolpit was formerly known as Wolfpit.

Twenty-two of Wulfgifu’s estates, including Mapledresham were taken by William the Conqueror during the Norman Conquest (1066-1154 ) after the Anglo-Saxon forces of Harold Godwinson were defeated at the Battle of Hastings. When he became King William I of England he gave the valuable Manor of Mapledurham to his wife Queen Matilda of Flanders, also known as Maud. She owned the Manor for several years but died in 1083, shortly before the Domesday survey was published.

The survey shows that in 1086, Ida of Lorraine, the wife of Count Eustace II and the Countess of Boulogne, was the holder of the other manors in Hampshire and Dorset previously owed by Wulfeva.

St Peter’s Church and Petersfield are not mentioned in the Domesday Book because the area was open fields, but it mentions a ‘church’ in the centre of the Mapledurham estate, which is now the site of the Norman Church St Mary’s in the village of Buriton. It is possible that the original Saxon building was rebuilt by the Catholic Queen so that she could attend Mass, but there are no records to prove this happend.  St Mary’s church has some features which are said to be Norman such as the font, medieval stone seats, and the Norman/Romanesque arches bearing carvings of water lilies, foliage and scallops.  It was clearly important to the people as it remained the mother church of the local area until 1886.

In Norman times the Petersfield area, situated in the north of the Manor, was isolated from the parish church in Mapledurham by swamps and marshes, so a chapel of ease, or chapelry, was said to be built on a gravel ridge between two streams to enable the farm labourers to worship when they were out working in the fields. It was called St Peter-in-the-Veld and later St Peter in the Fields because ‘veld’ means open space. It is thought that the earliest part of St Peter’s dates from the late Norman period between 1125 and 1150.

On the death of Queen Matilda in 1083 the Manor of Mapledurham reverted to King William who gave it to Robert Fitzhamon for services rendered in suppressing the revolt of Odo of Bayeux. His wife Sibyl of Montgomery Fitzhamon did not bear a son, so his property passed with his daughter Mabel when she married Robert de Caen Fitzroy.  He was William’s nephew, and the illegitimate son of King Henry I who became the First Earl of Gloucester.

Robert’s son, William FitzRobert, the Second Earl of Gloucester, founded the town of Petersfield in the early 12th century after he started a market in front of St Peter’s church and subsequently sold parcels of the surrounding land to the merchants so they could build houses.

During the reign of Henry II, he granted the burgesses of Petersfield all of the liberties and free customs enjoyed by the citizens of Winchester and allowed them to have a merchant guild. These privileges were rewritten in 1198 by his widow Hawise de Beaumont in the Charter of Petersfield, which was confirmed by King John and is preserved in the archives of Petersfield Town Council.

“Know all men, present and to come, that I, Countess of Gloucester have granted and confirmed to my Burgesses of Petersfield, who have built and are settled and who shall  build in it, all liberties and free customs in the same Borough which the citizens of Winchester have in their city, who are in a guild of merchants and let them have the same in a guild of merchants as my husband, William Earl of Gloucester, granted to them by his charter.”

Harissa founded the Abbey of Nuneaton, and a further link between the Chapel of St Peters and the St Mary’s parish church of Mapledresham was recorded when William granted free alms from them both to the nuns of St Mary of Nuneaton in Warwickshire.

William died in 1183, leaving three daughters Mabel, Amice, and Isabel.  Henry II gave Isabel in marriage to Prince John along with all of the possessions of the earldom which he had himself retained for six years, and which John retained after his accession and divorce from Isabel.

In 1205 King John then granted the manors of Mapledurham and Petersfield to Aumary Count of Evereux also known as Earl Evereux, who had married Mabel one of Isabella’s sisters. On his death, King John grated it to Geoffrey de Mandeville, Isabella’s second husband.

These were turbulent times and before the year was out Geoffrey was in revolt against John in the winter of 1215, the year John was forced to sign Magna Carta by the barons of England who were greatly annoyed by his poor treatment of the people, so they wrote our English constitution which still applies to the Monarcy and our politicians today.

In 1331 the Bishop of Winchester linked the chapel of Petersfield and the church of Mapledurham with the prior and convent of St Swithun, Winchester.

After this date, the Manor of Mapledurham again reverted to the Honour of Gloucester, with the sole surviving heiress of William, Earl of Gloucester being Amice, wife of Richard de Clare, Earl of Hertford.  Their grandson, Richard de Clare the Earl of Gloucester and Hertford, granted the manor to his brother William de Clare and his heirs.

The family of Hanbury held the manor until 1691 when they sold the estate to John Barkesdale, who shortly afterwards sold it to Ralph Bucknel, whose heirs conveyed it to Edward Gibbon Director of the South Sea Company. His son Edward Gibbon inherited it in 1736 and passed it on to his son, the historian Edward Gibbon.

In 1789, he sold it to Lord Stawell, who then sold it to Henry Bonham of Petersfield. Henry Bonham died in 1800; his brother and heir died in 1826, leaving his Buriton estates to his cousin John Carter, who assumed the name of Bonham and was the first John Bonham-Carter. He died in 1838, leaving a son and heir John Bonham-Carter, who died in 1884, leaving a son and heir John Bonham-Carter who died in December 1905, leaving the Buriton estates to his brother Lothian George Bonham-Carter.


Malpedresham; Mapeldoreham; Mapeldereham, Mapledreham, Mapeldurham, Mapeldeham and Appeldoueham; Mapuldrham; Mapylderham; Mapel-Dereham.