History of St Peter's
It is probable that people have worshipped on this site for over 1000 years.
According to Matthew Paris, the 13th. century chronicler of St Albans Abbey, Abbot Ulsinus founded three churches - St Peter's, St Stephen's and St Michael's - in 948 when he laid out the market. St Peter's church, built at the northern entrance to the medieval town, has a commanding position and can be seen from many aspects. In the mid-12th century it was one of the 15 churches which, with St Albans Abbey, became exempt from the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Lincoln. It was then ruled by the Abbot of St Albans until the dissolution of the monasteries. After the dissolution, the churches of St Albans became part of the See of London until 1845 when Hertfordshire was transferred to the See of Rochester. In 1877 the Diocese of St Albans was created.
Nothing remains of the Saxon building and no records exist of St Peter's for nearly 200 years after its foundation. It was during the 13th century that the church assumed the form which it retained until the early 19th century - a cruciform building with a central tower. Baskerfield's drawings of 1787 give an impression of what the church was like in its essentials for so many centuries.
The nave arcades and the greater part of the aisle walls were rebuilt in the 15th century but the 13th century west and south doorways were preserved.
In 1756 the tower arches were removed and loftier ones inserted, as it appears that the floor of the original belfry was so low as to obstruct the perspective view of the church, but these alterations weakened the whole structure and 30 years later the tower became dangerous. In 1785, after a protracted wrangle between the Rector and members of the Vestry, who were not prepared to embark on what they considered extravagant repairs, the tower was underpinned with timber. However, in 1799 the tower had become so dangerous that it was taken down to the level of the crossing arches and finally in 1801 the belfry floor fell in. The new tower, which was erected in brick, was essentially as is seen today in size and shape. At the same time the transepts were demolished and the chancel shortened almost out of existence.
In 1893, after he had completed his restoration of the Abbey Church, Lord Grimthorpe took it upon himself to restore St Peter's at his own expense. An hour-and-a-half's examination of the church enabled him to decide "what is necessary and desirable to do in the way of restoring it to a safe and creditable condition as far as the modern alterations leave it possible".
He lengthened the chancel and the nave by one bay each. He also widened the church by demolishing the north wall of the nave and building a new north wall outside the line of the old one. The west end is similar in design to that of the north transept in the Abbey with a rose window flanked by turrets. Lord Grimthorpe also raised the roof with a steeper pitch and evidence of the previous flatter pitched nave roof can be seen on the western face of the chancel arch. The angel corbels which held the beams of that roof have been left in their original position.
In 1998 new lighting was installed by Anthony Smith of Gloucester, and the Church was completely redecorated and some of the monuments restored in 2001. In 2004 new oak doors were placed in the South porch and ramped access was provided at 3 entrances and at the chancel step, to bring the church into line with current legislation re: access for disabled persons. In 2005 the church kitchen was completely refurbished and in 2006 a new, half a million pound Mander Pipe Organ was installed - the first of its kind for a decade in this country, and a magnificent addition to the musical resources of our church.
For more information, check out our virtual tour of the bell tower, featuring commentary on St Peter's history.