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 earliest evidence of Christianity in Broad Chalke is a Saxon Preaching Cross dating from the 9th century. This Celtic-style Cross incorporates a circle which is thought to represent a crown, a halo, rays of light or the circle of eternity.
In a Charter of the year 955 the King Eadwig granted 100 hides of land at Chalke (Cheolcum) to the nuns of Wilton. This included Broad Chalke.
The first church was probably constructed of wood. Only important Churches were of stone at that time, at such centres of learning as Britford and Breamore.
The parish church of All Saints was built c.1280 during the reign of Edward I. It was 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. There are several corbel carvings round the roof of the church dating from 13th - 15th Century.
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 building 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 that 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 and shows the arms are of Lord Audley of Fonthill who married a Darrell of Knighton.
By 1550 most of the nave had been rebuilt, which may explain its slight angle to the chancel. 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. There were medieval wall paintings, St. Christopher (20' high) on the North wall and the other two, Ascent to Calvary and the Deposition (taking down from the cross) on the west side of the Tower facing the congregation. They probably date back to 1350 and were destroyed in 1846. Water-colour drawings were made before the originals were destroyed and paintings of these are displayed on the North Wall. The East Window is Victorian.
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!
The oldest bell in the belfry was cast in 1347 cast by Peter de Weston, a fifth bell was added in 1616 and John Aubrey with Sir John Penruddock added a sixth bell in 1659. Following major restoration in 1996-98 to mark the second millennium 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.
The clock was made about 1740 by William Monk of Berwick St. John, a blacksmith.
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.
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 oldest tomb is that of Henry Good, dated 1652.
There was a building on the north side housing a mill and Angel Inn across a leat which flowed through the middle of the present car park. The mill fell into disrepair after two fires in 1858 and the inn was closed in 1866 and demolished by Lord Pembroke and the leat was later filled in under the car park.
There were cottages on the south side of the Church that were demolished by 1878. The churchyard was then extended and a Lych Gate was built in 1884 in memory of Rowland Williams and paid for by his wife.
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. After his acquittal for heresy Rowland Williams was granted the living of Broad Chalke by his former university college King's College Cambridge. There was reluctance for the move from all sides but Rowland Williams arrived in 1858. 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. Although continuing to be controversial he was perhaps the vicar who did most for the villagers of Broad Chalke. He re-built the Vicarage, built a school, set up a Co-operative and allotments, ran evening classes for farm workers and got married. He is commemorated in the West Window (in Welsh). He started the new Burial Book soon after he arrived.
The War Memorial stands opposite the Lych Gate to the south of South Street, laid out and planted by Maurice Hewlett, his pollarded lime trees survive to this day.
Vicarages and Rectories include Kings Old Rectory in South Street, once owned by the Abbess of Wilton but handed to Henry VI who gave it to the newly founded King's College Cambridge who owned it until 1921, The Vicarage in Bulls Lane (now called Hill House) and the modern Rectory in Newtown built in 1961. Kings Old Rectory was built in 15th century and the gatehouse in about 1500. Hill House was erected in 1860 and ceased to be a vicarage after WW2.
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 an 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 tythes and profits dated 1863 which comprise produce from land and buildings including wool and hay and a salary of sixteen pounds and five shillings.
Extracts have been taken from the booklet “All Saints' Church - A Visitors' Guide” available in the Church, from Wiltshire Council website “Wiltshire Community History”, The Broad Chalke Book and from Ann Ferreira's document prepared for the Church History Week in October 2008.
Broad Chalke Archives, 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.