(N.B.The numbers in the
text refer to a plan below)
The Old Church and St. Petroc
The imposing church which stands in Southgate Street today is not
the first to have borne a dedication to St. Thomas. The original
church of St. Thomas was sited in St. Thomas Street and remained
there, apart from various alterations, until 1845. All that can
be seen today of this church is the well-kept churchyard, now
closed, old tombstones betraying its former use (1).
Yet this does not tell the whole story of the ancient church.
Drawings of details of the architecture suggest that the church
must have been in existence by the mid-twelfth century. The first
known dedication of the church (though as will be seen, probably
not the original) was to St. Petroc, a saint well-known in
Cornwall and other parts of the Celtic world, but a comparative
stranger to southern England. There is a possible explanation for
this dedication in the chronicles of the time. These tell how the
body of St. Petroc was carried off in the year 1177 by a "
certain monk " called Martin from his shrine at Bodmin
across the sea to Britanny. On the orders of Henry II the relics
were returned to the Prior of Bodmin, breaking their journey at
Winchester where they were viewed by the King and other notables. While in Britanny the
saint had achieved a considerable popularity, a number of
miracles having been attributed to his intervention. This, and
the stop in Winchester may have led to a rededication in honour
of St. Petroc of the same church which was later rededicated to
The earliest references to the church of St. Petroc are to be
found in the mediaeval Bishops' registers. The first, in 1284,
records the gift by the King to the Bishop of Winchester and his
successors of St. Petroc and other advowsons (an advowson being
the right of presenting clergy to a benefice). References during
the fourteenth century are made to institutions and other
appointments of the clergy of St. Petroc. One entry is
particularly tantalising; in 1309 the register records a
commission which was to ask for imprisoned clergy to be handed over from the King's justices in the county to the
authority of the Bishop. One of the prisoners was Bartholomew,
rector of St. Petroc.
The Old Church Rededicated
What the surviving records do not make clear is the exact date at
which the rededication of the church took place. In 1403, the
register of Bishop Wykeham, founder of Winchester College, notes
the order that henceforth the parishioners of St. Martin and St. Petroc, both in Caipe Street (the old name for St. Thomas Street),
should attend St. Alphege (2), also in Caipe Street. The reasons
for this order were that the two churches had become ruinous
through age and the numbers of parishioners declined from
pestilenceperhaps a long-term result of the Black Death
which had wrought such havoc in the middle years
of the preceding century. Nor, so the register says, was there
any likelihood of the churches being repaired at that time or in
the forseeable future; the parishioners of St. Petroc and St.
Martin were from now on to treat St. Alphege as their parish
church, paying their tithes to the rector.
So ended St. Petroc. The church was still standing in 1417 when
the City Tarrage Roll was drawn up (tarrage was ground rent or
fee-farm due to the King as Lord of the City); then the documents
are silent until the inclusion in a 1464 subsidy list of the
parish, not of St. Petroc, but of St. Thomas. To sum up, it would
seem that at a time between 1417 and 1464 (and probably after
1428 when St. Alphege is last recorded) the old church of St.
Petroc was repaired and rededicated to St. Thomas the Martyr.
This is the full name given in a Bishop's register entry of 1497.
The Union of Parishes and the Civil Wars
In the succeeding centuries St. Thomas gained a precedence which
established it as the major church of the area. In the mediaeval
period Winchester was divided into more than fifty parishes each
with its own church, though it is doubtful if they ever functioned all at the same
time. By the eighteenth century, as ruinous churches had been
closed and the parishes united these had been reduced to eight.
In 1529 the union of All Saints and St. Thomas was recognised, followed in 1577 by union with St.
Peter in Macellis.
A tract of 1660, "Vindication of the City of Winchester"
by an unknown author, reveals a city of churches ransacked by
civil war in which even St. Thomas is one of the most capacious
churches in the city" had become ruinous. The destruction
was so great that parishes once more were united; thus St.
Clement (3) and St. Lawrence were Joined to St. Thomas in 1653-1654.
Such was the condition of St. Thomas that the great sum of £80
had to be expended on its repair, the proceeds of the sale of the
bells of St. Clement contributing to the repair fund. The roof of
the church was almost wholly retiled, new seats installed and the
floor repaved, partly with old tombstones. It would seem that the
final result was more than satisfactory, for our unknown author continues " so it is with much trouble and great
charge made a neat, decent, handsome church: of a parish church
there, I think I may truly say, never seen the like in that city."
The Nineteenth Century
By the nineteenth century the future of the old church was no
longer so optimistic. As in many other cities and towns the
population of Winchester was increasing steadily and the building
could not cope with the larger congregation. Plans were proposed in 1826 for the erection of a
new church on the same site and in the following years a design
by Mr. Leachman of London was accepted and fund-raising began.
Subsequently the scheme was dropped and only revived in the mid-1840's
by which time the population had shown a further marked increase.
The Decision to Rebuild
The decision either to enlarge the existing church or rebuild was
in a resolution taken at a vestry meeting on 9th April, 1844. The
building, it was felt, was quite inadequate and so it was decided
that a committee should be appointed to report to a future
meeting of the vestry what they considered to be the best course
of action. In the meantime the assistance of an architect was to
be sought and the expenses incurred on any particular scheme
By June opinion had turned in favour of rebuilding on a different
site rather than altering the existing church. In June the next
year, 1845, the committee for the new church was able to report
to the vestry that they were " in the situation of procuring a portion of the Garden of Series
House and of the Ordinance Ground in Southgate Street for the
purpose of building the New Church thereon." To this
proposition the vestry readily agreed. In August, 1845, the deeds
were signed and the land in Southgate Street bought as the site
of the new St. Thomas' Church. On 1st September, the Bishop as
patron, together with the incumbent, gave their consent to the
pulling down of the old church and the building of the new, by
reason that the old parish church " is become decayed and delapidated and insufficient in size for the
accommodation of the Parishioners and Inhabitants."
Little is known of any former buildings on the new church site.
Evidence occupation in the area in Roman times was found in 1971
during building oerations connected with the adaptation of St.
Thomas' Church to the needs of the Record Office. Both the old and new churches of St. Thomas
were built within the bounds of the Roman city (4) and Southgate
Street itself lies close to the line of the Roman road which led
south from Winchester to the Roman station at Bitterne.
Parish without a Church
By the end of September, 1845, the demolition men were able to
begin work on the old church. The last service had been held
there on Sunday, 21st September and over £14 collected towards
the new church. On 25th September e vestry held their last
meeting there; until the new church was ready most their meetings
were held at the Corn Exchange in Jewry Street (now the city
The new church was not to be ready for another 18 months. In the eantime, as the service register records, " whilst the old
Church was pulled down and the New Church building divine Service
with Marriages was held at St. Maurice and St. Mary Kalendar a contiguous Parish for St.
Thomas." The lurch of St. Maurice, itself newly rebuilt at
that time, is now also disused, only its tower remaining (6).
The accounts left in the churchwardens' books give a good idea of
the costs involved in building the new church. The foundation
stone was laid with some ceremony in November, 1845, a stage
being erected for the occasion and the affair made gay with flags
(costing over £5) and a band, ringers and flagmen (£9). The
foundation stone itself (£24) was patted into position with a
silver trowel (£10) and beneath it were placed £1 19s. 4d.
worth of coins. The site was bought for £340; the architect's
fee was £445 (risen from an earlier estimate 'of £360); and the
builder charged £6,563. In all the final account reckoned the
total expenditure at just over £8,000. A fair proportion of this
had been raised by subscriptions and sales of work. Subscriptions
had been received from parishioners and public alike and even
included a donation of £20 from Adelaide, the Queen Dowager (widow
of William IV). In addition, the churchwardens had been
authorised at an early stage to levy an extra 4 1/2d. in the
pound annually over twenty years on the church rates. [From time
immemorial church rates had been levied on parishioners who were
obliged by common law to contribute towards the upkeep and repair
of the church].
The Opening of the New Church
At last the much awaited day came when the church might be used
for public worship. On 16th April, 1847, the Bishop of Winchester
pronounced the sentence of consecration for the church of the
united parishes of St. Thomas and St. Clement. The Hampshire
Chronicle, published the following day, gives a detailed account
of the first service which was conducted in a building holding
950 people, nearly twice as many as the old church. In attendance
were the leading clergy of the diocese, the Mayor and Corporation,
the Warden and Fellows of Winchester College and many other
besides, including schoolchildren and " young men of the
Training School " (now King Alfred's College). Due to a
shortage of funds, the church was without an organ so hymns were sung unaccompanied, " under the superintendence of Mr. Long,
the Cathedral Organist."
At half past two, the leading dignitaries and principal
inhabitants " sat down to an elegant dejeune at St. John's
House, provided by Mr. White of the George Hotel," while the
schoolchildren feasted on cake and tea at the Corn Exchange.
The Addition of the Spire
After completion the church looked then much as it does today,
except in one respect. The spire was not added until 1856-1857 at
a further cost of £1,800, as a memorial to the Revd. G. Cubitt,
M.A., rector from 1844 to 1855. The Winchester Quarterly Review
for February, 1857, notes the completion of the church and
expresses with some satisfaction the opinion " that England
does not contain a modern church more remarkable for the beauty
of its design and the admirable manner in which it has been
carried out. For this we have been indebted to Mr. Elmsiie, the
architect of Great Malvern, and Mr. Myers, the builder, of Lambeth." Elmsiie's design for the spire had been chosen in
open competition from about twenty others. The total height from
ground level was just over 160 feet.
In 1897, according to the parish magazine, the spire had not
"exhibited the very slightest intention of misbehaving
itself " contrary to general expectations of its imminent
collapse whenever the weather proved stormy or windy.
The new St. Thomas' Church, after a useful life of over a hundred
years, was declared redundant in 1969. It is now the Hampshire
County Record Office from 1972 to 1993 and as such is
not open for inspection by members of the public. Visitors to
Winchester may nevertheless be interested in a few architectural
details of the present building. As has been noted, the church
was designed by E. W. Elmsiie, completed in 1847, and the spire
added in 1856-1857. The church, in the Gothic style, has been
described as the " most ambitious Victorian church in Winchester " (Pevsner and Lloyd, Buildings of England,
Hampshire, 1967). It appears from the Winchester Quarterly Review
for February, 1857, that it was considered that the proportions
of the church would have been improved by the addition of an
extra bay to the nave. The architect was aware of this, but
pointed out that the church had been designed with the old site
in mind where there was no space for additional length.
The stained glass window at the east end of the church was
inserted in 1858. It depicts the saints with St. Thomas and St.
Clement as central figures and was designed by W. Warrington of
London. The west window, by James Powell and Sons, Whitefriars
Glass Works, was erected as a memorial to Robert Peaty (a former
churchwarden) and Ann his wife in 1913 and illustrates the story
of the Nativity.
Also by James Powell and Sons is the mosaic reredos for which a
faculty was granted in 1893. It replaced a backing painted in
oils which had been placed in position five years previously. The
five panels above the altar represent Christ with angels playing
musical instruments; the lower panels either side of the altar
are of angels holding small shields depicting the Cross and other
instruments of the Crucifixion.
Many of the memorials in the church were brought from the old
building, as their dates testify. The earliest commemorates
Jacobs Cornwall, son of Vice-Admiral Cornwall of Berrington,
Herefordshire, who died, aged 26 years, on 8th August, 1736. Rose,
his wife, died in 1783 at 76 years of age, "who surviving
her Husband many years Had her maternal care and tenderness amply
repaid By the duty and aft'ection of her only Son The Right
Honble Charles Wolfran Cornwall And the satisfaction of seeing
him before her death Speaker of the House of Commons."
Charles Wolfran Cornwall survived his mother by only a few years,
dying in 1789. He was buried at St. Cross Hospital, near
Winchester, of which he was Master.
There are several eighteenth century monuments to members of the
Imber and Wooll families. John Wooll, whose death occurred on 23rd
March, 1786, aged 48, is probably father to that John Wooll who
was headmaster of Rugby School, 1807-1828, and during whose
headship the school buildings were rebuilt and the number of scholars increased.
Two other memorials are worthy of note. One is to the memory of
George Durnford, a former Mayor of Winchester, who died in 1790,
aged 75. The other is to the memory of John Gauntlett and Mary
his wife who died in 1762 and 1770 respectively and "were
the Parents of Seventeen Children, Five of whom died before them."
The font, in the words of the Hampshire Chronicle of 17th April,
1847, " is taken from ancient example ..... the work and
gift of the Rev. 0. A. Hodgson, one of the minor canons of the
Outside the church stands the War Memorial, erected in 1921. It
was designed by G. H. Shackle of Mariborough and the cost of
about £250 was raised by public subscription.