There is a detailed account of the history of All Saints’ Church in the book “Broad Chalke, a History of a South Wiltshire Village, its Land and its People over 2000 years” and a short history is available as a booklet in the church itself. The village Archive has photos and more detailed information.
The Wilton, Shaftesbury and Damerham Nunneries were made the owners of some 70,000 acres under the Saxon Royal House. A wooden Church was probably built at Broad Chalke with important stone Churches at centres of learning such as Britford and Breamore.
The earliest evidence of Christianity in Broad Chalke is a remnant of a Preaching Cross of late Saxon period dating from the 9th century. The Celtic Cross incorporates a circle which is thought to represent a crown, a halo, rays of light or the circle of eternity. Its popularity may simply derive from its additional strength.
The parish church of All Saints was built c.1280 during the reign of Edward I. It is constructed of limestone ashlar and some rubble, and has a chancel with a north vestry, a central tower with transepts, and a nave with a south porch. Work on the church may have begun as early as 1258, when the keeper of Savernake Forest was ordered to provide the vicar of Chalke with timber for the fabric of his church.
The Normans were great builders in the Romanesque rounded arch style but under the Plantagenets the Gothic pointed arch style came into fashion, of which the second Salisbury Cathedral is one of the finest examples. Shortly after the Cathedral was built Broad Chalke Church would have been started. In the 17th century John Aubrey, in his “Natural History of Wiltshire” wrote
The church hath no pillar, and the breadth is thirty feet and two inches.
The oldest parts of the church are the chancel, the North Transept, and part of the west wall, including the doorway, which date from the late 13th century. It is possible that the nave had aisles at this time. The next building phase took place at the end of the 14th century, when the lower stages of the tower, the South Transept, and the porch were built. The porch has a fine barrel vault roof and was originally in two stories, the upper part being a priest's room.
Inside the church, the chancel contains much original work, including the seats for the priest and his assistant. The Lord of the Manor of Knighton installed a fine new window in the South Transept in the early 14th Century and the South Transept is known as the Knighton Aisle as there was a Chantry at Knighton at an earlier date. The priest's desk and the pulpit were originally together and like the oak pews date from the 17th century. The font is 15th century.
By 1550 most of the nave had been rebuilt. It is probable that the aisles were removed and the nave widened to the open plan you see today. The north and south walls were strengthened to carry the roof across the nave's width of 34 feet. The upper stages of the tower were built c.1530.
In the mid 17th century extensive repairs were undertaken, partly due to the efforts of John Aubrey. In his “Natural History of Wiltshire” he says
in 1659 Sir George Penruddock and I made ourselves churchwardens, or else the fair church had fallen. The previous wardens had obviously neglected the fabric of the church, and Aubrey took it upon himself to organise repairs.
In 1846-7 the church was restored by Wyatt and Brandon at a cost of £1,720. Included in the work was a new nave roof, as the existing roof was rotten. Medieval wall paintings, one of St. Christopher on the north wall of the nave, and another of the Taking Down from the Cross, over the west tower arch, were removed. Water-colour drawings were made before the originals were destroyed.
After re-building, the church was re-opened in May 1847. Morning and evening services were celebrated, and the gentry enjoyed an excellent lunch. In the evening the school children played games and enjoyed tea and cake provided by the vicar and his wife.
The first record of people in the church goes back to 1384 when the then Bishop of Salisbury was rather vexed when on a visitation, he was not met by the Rector, and found the chantry chaplain to be mentally deranged! We hope things have changed since then.
There is a full set of 8 bells in the tower and they are rung for services and special occasions and visiting bell ringers are always welcome. Following major restoration in 1996-98 to mark the second millennium there are now eight bells in the tower, the oldest being the eighth or tenor, cast by Peter de Weston who died in 1347.
The clock was made about 1740 by William Monk of Berwick St. John, a blacksmith.
The oldest tomb is for Henry Good, dated 1652.
There was a mill and Angel Inn on the north west side. The mill burnt down in 1858 and the inn was closed in 1866 and demolished. The area is now the Church car park.
There were two cottages on the south side which have both been demolished. One was next to the path to South Street and was demolished in 1878. The path leads to the Lych Gate which was built in 1884.
Frank Gulliver worked at Chalk Pyt Farm for 53 years. His first job was to go to Salisbury in 1903 with 4 horses and 2 wagons to bring back a new Church Organ which cost £260. Broad Chalke sold the old organ to Bowerchalke for £30. The organ is by Peter Conacher & Co of Huddersfield. It was renovated in 1950 and again in 1973 when a 15th “stop” was added.
The WW1 & WW2 War Memorial is opposite the Lych Gate to the south of South Street.
Vicarages and rectories include Kings Old Rectory in South Street, The Vicarage in Bulls Lane (now called Hill House) and the Rectory in Newtown.
The church has been part of a Team Ministry since the 1970s. The parish registers dating from 1538 (Baptisms), 1562 (Marriages) and 1552 (Burials), apart from those currently in use at the church, can be viewed at the Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre in Chippenham.
There is a Vicar's Indenture dated 28th November 1763 concerning land rights and two documents dated 1763 concerning Redemption of Slaves and Redemption of Captives upon the conclusion of the peace at Algiers.It appears that the Bishop of Sarum had been advised by The Lords of the Council that many parishes had not contributed to the charity.
There is a list of Vicarage Tithes and Profits dated 1673 which comprise produce from land and buildings including wool and hay and a salary of sixteen pounds and five shillings.
Famous people buried in the churchyard include Christopher Wood (artist 1901 – 1930), Rev’d Rowland Williams (1817–1870) and Sir Cecil Beaton (photographer diarist, painter, interior designer and an Academy Award winning stage and costume designer for films and the theatre 1904 – 1980).
Rev’d Rowland Williams was vicar from 1858 to 1870. He was vice-principal and Professor of Hebrew at St David’s College, Lampeter, from 1849 to 1862 and was one of the most influential theologians of the nineteenth century. He supported biblical criticism and pioneered comparative Religious Studies in Britain. Following the publication of Essays and Reviews in 1860, in which Williams compared those opposed to the new biblical criticism then coming out of Germany to “degenerate senators before Tiberius”, the editor of the paper and Williams were tried and condemned for heresy in the Court of Arches; their acquittal, on appeal to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, afforded a valuable protection to liberty of thought within the Church of England.
After his problems in court he was granted the living by King’s College, Cambridge. When he arrived in Broad Chalke he found a dwindled congregation due to the long absence of his predecessor and the Congregational Chapel had a larger congregation - hence the need for a new chapel c1862. As an aside, he built the new Vicarage (now Hill House) with adjoining accommodation, stables and coach house and the school. The west window is dedicated to him, and the lych gate to his wife. He started the new Burial Book soon after he arrived.
There is a plaque for Maurice Hewlett (author 1861-1923), and John Aubrey (author 1626 - 1697) has his name etched on a beam in the Ringing Chamber.
Extracts have been taken from the booklet “All Saints’ Church – A Visitors’ Guide” available in the Church, from Wiltshire Council website “Wiltshire Community History” https://history.wiltshire.gov.uk/community/getchurch.php?id=1135 and from Ann Ferreira’s document prepared for the Church History Week in October 2008.
John Burrough, March 2017
The Administrator: Chalke Valley Team Office, The URC Chapel, High Road, Broad Chalke SP5 5EH Tel. 01722 781112 or
Wiltshire County Council: Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre, Cocklebury Road, Chippenham, Wiltshire SN15 3QN
for further information.