Churches Together in Benington and Walkern

St. Peter's Benington with St. Mary's Walkern






About St Peter's.

A church probably stood on this site in Beortwulf’s time (839-853 AD). He was a Christian and King of Mercia who often resided at his palace here. About 850 he held a Great Council of nobles and prelates for which a church would have been necessary.

The arrangement of the church, manor house and cottages is typically Saxon. The earthworks probably include the present road as well as those around the Lordship on the other side of the church and near the lych-gate. Doomsday refers to Benington as Belintone rated at ten hides. It is not known whether the name derives from Baeling, a Saxon family, or the river Beane which flows nearby.

Following the Norman Conquest, Peter de Valognes held Belintone, hence the church is dedicated to St. Peter. Roger de Valognes, a rebel baron in King Stephen's time, built the castle which was razed by Henry II in 1177 when the manor became unoccupied and the church neglected. In 1273 the manor passed to Alexander de Balliol, brother of the King of Scotland. In 1285, the manor was conveyed to John Benstede, Keeper of the Great Seal and Keeper of the Wardrobe to Edward I (some historians say he was a clerk and came here in 1303). His family rebuilt the church.

The Porch is 14th Century and is adorned outside with a much weathered statue of St Michael slaying the dragon; this is unusual in a church dedicated to St. Peter. To the right of the church door is part of a holy water stoop, while the Benstede arms appear on the right-hand shield above. The badge on the left may represent Grapynell. The front of the porch was extensively repaired in the 19th century.

Porch Porch detail Porch detail


The Font bowl is of Barnack stone and dates from about 1350, the base and stem being about a century later.

Font


In the Vestry are displayed old pictures of the church, one dated 1799 shows that the original high-pitched thatched roof reached the belfry.

The Bellringing Gallery was constructed above the Vestry in l966 when the Victorian screen was moved to the Tower Arch. Here are recorded the feats of past belllringers. George Proctor took up bellringing on the advice of his doctor and presented the two treble bells in 1838. The Village Charity Boards were removed from the Ringing Gallery in l999 and with a grant were repaired and placed on the West Wall of the Nave.

The old decorations, traces of the gallery of 1675-1700 and high-pitched roof can be seen at the west end of the Nave. Some pews here are pre-Reformation. The Nave Arches are l5th Century and the blocked North Door l4th Century. The carved heads, or corbels, which support the roof timbers are a feature of this church. Some might represent the deadly sins and others the virtues. The lower walls and Rood Loft stairway were reputedly built by Sir John de Benstede who purchased the Manor of Benington in 1285. His widow, Petronilla (Grapynell), completed the work and his grandson improved it by adding the upper windows and replacing the thatched roof. The grandson's widow, Petronilla (Moyne), also placed her arms in some windows and on the Tower in about 1370 (at the time of the Black Death).

Nave


There are three brasses near the Rood Loft stairway; the upper is part of a scroll which maybe related to the priest's brass in the Chancel. George Clarke mentioned in the middle of the brass took the farm on the Walkern Road by force in 152l while the owner, John Norreys, was in France. Both this brass, and that of his grandson below, were on the Nave floor until 1889.

The Pulpit is on the site of an early altar. A plain piscine is visible, while above is an image niche supported by a finely carved head, possibly that of Edward I whom John de Benstede served. The curious badges in the Pulpit window might be older than 1285 as the de Benstede arms are not amongst them. There is a grotesquely carved bracket on the other side of this window.

On the south wall of the Chancel, the western window glass is dated 1863. In about 1440 the eastern window was placed to light up the tomb of Sir Edward de Benstede opposite. His widow lived to 1448 and saw to it that her Thornbury (of Bygrave) arms appeared, with her husband's, in the central light. The middle window was reconstructed in 1889, when the south walls were rebuilt. At the same time the ceiling was changed and the Altar Window heightened; it had until then been similar to the Thornbury window nearby.

In 1966 the Altar was lowered, the Victorian floor tiles were replaced and the Choir stalls simplified.

Altar


The Altar Tomb commemorates Sir Edward de Benstede (d. 1432) and Joanna. The wall was pierced to make room for the MP and Sheriff of Hertfordshire and Essex. Between the tombs is a brass figure of a priest. This was found under the floor when the church was being restored in 1889. The significance of his shoulder badge has not been explained. The Central Arch is occupied by the second Sir John (d. 1359) and his wife Petronilla (Moyne) (d. 1378). (Notice how this arch has been embellished; it was originally like the Organ Arch).

Tombs Tombs

Above the west pillar is the carved head of a de Benstede knight, probably the first Sir John. On the chapel side of this pillar is, presumably, his wife, Petronilla (Grapynell), who built the chapel.

The two windows in the Chapel are attributed to Petronilla (Grapynel) (d. 1342) widow of the first de Benstede. Between the arches is the figure of a king with a sword through his body. This may represent Edward II murdered at Berkeley Castle in 1327 presumably known by the de Benstedes.

A burial vault under the Chapel might contain the mortal remains of the first de Benstedem but the Chesshyre family certainly brought it into use again about 1790 when most of the Chancel floor was occupied. The Chapel Alter served as the main alter in 1800. The floor and the chairs are modern.

The Tower is attributed to Petronilla (Moyne) (d. 1378) who left her arms on it. However, it would appear to date from de Balliol times (1233-1285) or earlier, as the Tower must have been there when the thatched roof was replaced by the first de Benstede. The marks left by this roof appear in the Nave and in the vestry picture dated 1799. When the Tower was restored in 1907 a number of carved heads were renewed. One on the south-west corner outside resembles Stalin but is in fact the Likeness of the man who was sexton for very many years and with whom the mason lodged. The ring of eight bells is considered the finest of that weight (12 cwt) in the county. The oldest is dated 1669. The Bells were refurbished in 1998 with the help of a Millennium Grant which has improved the 'go' of the bells considerably.

A Barrel Organ with 3 stops was purchased in 1815 from Walkers. This was replace by a Bryceson 2 manual pipe Organ in the 1880's. Owing to the dampness in the Chapel where the Organ was sited this became impossible to play so in 1964 a 2 manual Compton Electronic Organ was given by the Bott family of Benington Lordship. In 1981 the present 2 manual Rogers replaced the Compton.

Outside the North Wall clearly shows the later addition of the Clerestory Windows, while the Rood Loft stair vents are intriguing. The South Wall and Chancel were rebuilt in 1889 when the 13th century Priest's Door was moved Eastwards.

There is an ancient yew tree near the porch which some believe to be over one thousand years old.

The Rectory or Priest’s House was until 1636 the timbered cottage at the far end of the otherwise plain cottages overlooking the village green. A Rectory was built in 1637 in Walkern Road by the Revd Nathaniel Dod; this was vacated in 1914. A new Rectory was built in 1955 but was sold in 1984 when the parish became united with Walkern.