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The History Of Saint Peter's Church Ousden

The Growth And Development Of St. Peter's Church

Ousden church is very humble when compared with the many large and stately churches which grace the county of Suffolk, yet it is of tremendous interest, because it is a Norman tripartite church (nave, central tower and chancel) which has survived in its original plan, which subsequent alterations and enlargements have added to, but not destroyed. Furthermore, the Norman central tower remains almost unaltered, apart from its later parapet.

It seems that the building grew during the 1100s and the tower, the core of most of the nave and the foundations of the chancel remain from this time. The belfry windows, the tiny windows in the north wall of the tower and the south wall of the nave, the tower arches and the south doorway, are all Norman work. The north nave doorway was built at the very end of the 1100s, when the Norman style was evolving into the Early English style, and shows the transition between the two. About 1300 the south-east nave window was added; it doubtless replaced a tiny Norman window and thus gave more light, as did the window nearby in the base of the tower, which is in the Decorated style of the early 1300s. We know that in 1488, one John Frost left 6s.8d towards the building of a new porch.

After the Reformation in the 16th century, it seems that the old Norman chancel fell into decay. This was not uncommon because, although the wealthier families sometimes had their pews in the chancel of the church during the 17th and 18th centuries, this part of the church was only used for Communion, which occurred four times per year at the most. It is not surprising therefore that, because of the unusual plan of Ousden church, the chancel may have been abandoned completely. A new brick chancel was erected during the 18th century upon the original foundations and at about the same time the brick chapel was added to the north side of the nave to contain the pews and memorials of the Moseleys of Ousden Hall. This family were generous benefactors to the church in the 18th century. Their gifts include a paten (1710), chalice, flagon and almsdish (1736), a Charity School for the parish (1743) and a ring of five bells, given jointly by Thomas Moseley and the Rector, the Revd Richard Bethell in 1758. It may well be that Thomas Moseley and Richard Bethell had the chancel rebuilt and gave the commandment boards and pulpit.

When David Elisha Davy visited the church in 1831, the Creed, Lord's Prayer and Commandments were fixed above the tower arch and there was a gallery for the singers at the west end of the nave. Isaac Johnson's sketch of the exterior (c.1818) shows the north chapel window as a plain rectangular three-light opening, the porch very simple and the nave much shorter than at present. These features were to be altered during phases of restoration work during the 19th and 20th centuries.

The major restoration took place in 1862, when the west wall of the nave was taken down and the nave was extended westwards for some 19 feet. The Incorporated Church Building Society gave 25 towards this work, on condition that the nine western pews each side were kept free of rent, for anybody to use. It was probably at this time that the present benches were made, the chancel windows renewed and new windows and doorway placed in the north chapel. The architect for this work was John F. Clark of Newmarket.

In 1906, the Cambridge architects, W.M. Fawcett and T.D. Atkinson, were asked to inspect the church and to make recommendations for further restoration. Their report included the interesting suggestion that a central altar should be placed beneath the tower, but it seems that their advice was not taken up because the restoration, which took place in 1909, was carried out to the designs of Crickmay & Son. G.R. and G.L.C. Crickmay were based at Weymouth (they also had a London office) and were responsible for several church restorations, new churches and other buildings in Dorset. Their work here involved the complete rebuilding of the porch, the provision of an oak door and a new priest's door in the chancel. The plaster ceiling of the nave was restored and was given its present ribs of stained deal. The tower arches were repaired and were given their flint linings, the choir stalls were refashioned, the sanctuary steps were altered, the Communion rails repaired and a new altar was made. Their designs included a handsome new pulpit and vestry screen, but these were not carried out, although the pulpit was altered and re-fixed. A proposed organ gallery at the west end was also omitted. The cost was about 315 and the contractors were Hinnels of Bury St. Edmunds. Crickmay also supervised the restoration of the tower in 1915-16, by Micklewright of Norton-sub-Hamden, Somerset.

Since then, much has been done to maintain and beautify this ancient church. A major internal restoration and re-decoration took place in 1981-2, when the church was completely rewired and electric wall-heaters were installed, considerable repair work was carried out to the interior of the tower, alterations were made to the disposal of water from the tower roof, the east window was repaired and completely reglazed and other windows on the south side of the nave and tower were repaired. Messrs Whitworth & Hall of Bury St. Edmunds were the architects and Messrs Hogg & Co. of Goney Weston did most of the structural repairs.

Whilst the work was in progress, the church received a legacy from Mrs. M. Everson, a former resident of Ousden. This enabled further work to be carried out, involving the replastering of the chancel ceiling and the complete redecoration of the walls and roof. This was carried out by Messrs Kidd & Go. of Gazeley. The total sum spent on all this work came to over 15,000, about half of which was covered by grants.

Also at about this time the red curtains which curtain off the Lower and chancel and the vestry from the nave were installed in memory of Mr. Leslie Hurst, who had been a Churchwarden for many years.

In 1985, the south window of the chancel was repaired and an opening-light reinstated as a thanksgiving for the life of Mr. Walter Finch. Also in that year a seat was placed outside the churchyard wall facing the village, in memory of Mr. Eric Rigg, who had also served as Churchwarden for two years in the 1980s.

Last Modified Sunday 11 February 2018