Wednesday, 5 December 2012

History of St Peter's Church by G.R. Balleine (Part 2)

Here is part two of the forgotten piece by  G.R. Balleine  on the history of St Peter's Church, transcribed below. Balleine had a wonderful grasp of how to make historical narrative interesting, and peppers his history with interesting anecdotes. This, of course, predates the wonderful new stained glass windows of recent years, regarding which there is a very good booklet to be found for sale at the church itself.

History of St Peter's Church by G.R. Balleine (Part 2)


In 1613 a dispute at St Peter's changed the church history of the island. James I, who had been brought up in the Presbyterian Scotland, detested Presbyterianism and hoped to banish it from his dominions. So Sir John Peyton, the Governor, was waiting for a chance to introduce Anglicanism into Jersey. When the Presbyterian Rector of St Peter's was transferred to Guernsey, Peyton appointed Elie Messervy, a young Jerseyman, who had been episcopally ordained in England by the Bishop of Oxford.

The St Peter's Elders refused to allow him to take any Services unless he would sign a pledge of adherence to the Calvinist Book of Discipline. He appealed to the Privy Council, which ordered an inquiry into the constitution of the Church in Jersey; and after a seven years' tussle Presbyterianism was suppressed and Anglicanism established with a Dean and a Prayer Book.

In 1626 the Plague reached Jersey, St Brelade's was the parish that suffered most, but in the St Peter's Register 48 burials in four months are marked with the word peste.

In 1649 during the Civil War the larger of the two bells was recast by workmen from the famous foundry of Villedieu in Normandy. It was a custom in France to name Church bells after some lady in the parish, and this bell bears the inscription, "Mon nom est Elizabeth la Belle". One wonders whether this was a compliment to Lady Elizabeth Carteret, wife of Sir George Carteret, the Lieutenant Governor, a very beautiful woman.

Two years later Clement Le Montais, described on his tomb as "mercator clues" (a rich merchant), was give a noisy funeral with musketeers firing volleys over his grave and the cannons of the frigates in the Bay thundering their farewell. His large tombstone in the south-east corner of the church attracts the eye of visitors. Chevalier tells us that he was Sir George's brother-in-law, and that he looked after the business side of Sir George's privateeering, victualling the ships, paying his crews. and selling the captured prizes.

In 1698 there was trouble over a Christmas Communion. It was customary at this time for the Holy Communion to he celebrated only on the four Sacrament Sundays. Hugh Grandin, the Rector, wished to have an additional celebration on Christmas Day; but the Constable and Churchwardens forbad him. For this, Dean Clement Le Couteur excommunicated them, and worded his mandate so strongly, that they summoned him before the Royal Court `for issuing ignominious statements contrary to their reputation', and the old Dean was sent to prison.


In 1829, when the tremendously energetic Philippe Filleul became Rector, came the first of three restorations. The principal alteration were those to the North Chapel, which has since been demolished, This was made more open to the church by throwing two arches into one; and a new gallery was erected in it for the choir and school-children. But the body of the Church itself was paved with Swanage stone, the pews were cut down to a uniform size and uniform colour, and painted, a permanent altar was placed in the north transept (hitherto on Communion Sundays a table had been brought in and set before the pulpit),
In 1835 the small font was bought, but no one knew quite what to do with it.

At first it was placed beside the altar in the transept; four years later it was removed and put at the foot of the pulpit. [It is now in the small side chapel]
In 1841 there were further improvements. A group of subscribers offered an organ "for the improvement of the singing," and there was a long debate in the Parish Assembly as to whether this should be a barrel-organ or "one played with the hands like a pianoforte." The Assembly chose the latter, and voted £12 a year for a "Professor" to play it. It was put in the West Gallery..

In the same year stoves were introduced for the first time, the militia cannons were removed, and the space under the West Gallery, in which they had been kept, was restored to the church.

The second restoration took Place in 1855, when Clement Le Hardy was Rector. The church was replastered, the South Aisle re-roofed, and he South Transept gable reconstructed. The main door was moved from the South Transsept to the North, and
the Altar was transferred to the Chancel.

The big Restoration however took place in 1886. The troops were marched from St Peter's Barracks to church every Sunday morning, and a local paper says that it was the custom of the young people from the neighbouring parishes to walk to St Peter's for the Evening Service.
The result was that at both Services the church (though it seated 870) was too small for its congregation. So the old North-West Chapel was pulled down, and the present North Aisle built, extending the whole length of the Nave.
As there was now plenty of room, the galleries were taken down. When a thick layer of plaster was removed from the west of the Nave, the original lancet window were discovered and the old West Door, The Church was reseated with oak pews and the gangway paved with tiles. The altar, reredos, altar-rails and mosaic pavement were the gift of the Rev. P. A. Le Fevre of Oak Walk, the Vice Dean, and the brass lectern was given by Mrs. Le Cornu of La Hague. The work of restoration took two years. and cost £3,502. The Church was re-opened by Bishop Bromby on May 30th 1888.


The 20th Century too has seen several alterations. Between 1947 and -1950, the organ was removed from the North Transept to the South, the pulpit also changed sides, and the now empty North Transept was restored to its pre-Reformation use as Lady Chapel. The altar and reredos in this Chapel were constructed from the oak casing of a small chamber organ, which had been presented by the Le Fevres of Oak Walk about 1920, but which had become unusable as a result of the difficult conditions of the German Occupation of the early forties.

In 1951 an ancient piscina was found in a house being demolished for airport development. It was presented to the Church, and is now installed to the north of the Lady Chapel altar.

At the present moment, plans are under active consideration for constructing a Choir Vestry at the west end of the South Aisle, and screening off the existing Vestry (formerly the North-east Chapel) from the Chancel, by an oak screen with central doors. The old Vestry would then become a Sacristy for the use of the Rector and Church Officers.

The Churchyard too is seeing changes. Some of the many lime trees planted by the late Reverend Francis de Gruchy have become "Stagheaded" and are dying from the top downwards. They are gradually being replaced in a programme of re-planting with smaller ornamental trees and shrubs (Mountain Ash, Hawthorn, Flowering Cherry, Forsythia, Almond and Cotoneaster); and we hope that very soon St Pierre du Desert will blossom like the rose.

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