For 63 years (1611 – 1674) Sark’s remarkable minister Elie Brevint kept his flock Presbyterian – through the Civil War and Commonwealth, long past the restoration of the King. In 1675 Sark was given a new constitution and came further into the Anglican fold. To mark the new era, Seigneur de Carteret, newly restored to his Fief by Parliament and the King, donated a chalice and plate for Holy Communion. However, Sark continued to prefer its old style of worship. Under the Le Pelley Seigneurs (1730 – 1852) the ministers continued to be French or Swiss Calvinists. They were appointed by the Seigneur as his chaplains and largely at his expense. (In fact, it was not until 1934 that Sark became a vicariate.)
By the time of the French Revolution, church attendance had lapsed and the tavern seems to have stayed open most of the Sabbath. Working people in Sark were looking to the Methodists for moral leadership and in 1796 a Methodist Chapel was built at La Ville Roussel. The plan of a Sark Parish Church was conceived as a means of re-establishing the authority of Anglicanism in Sark.
History of the Church building
By midsummer 1821 a plain rectangular building was complete – this is the present nave, measuring 68ft by 35ft, and 20ft high at the eaves. The east wall, which was demolished in 1877 to build the chancel, had two arched windows and a ‘round’ above, matching the west end. Originally the square bell tower was quite small. Foundations for the new church were dug by Sark workmen and the walls were built 2ft 6ins thick. Cartloads of schistic and slate stone were hauled up from Port du Moulin and granite was quarried from L’Eperquerie. Outside, the dark granite quoins that mark each 12-inch course of stonework, were brought from a quarry at L’Ancresse in Guernsey.
The floor is of Purbeck flagstones shipped from Swanage. Carpentry work – framing the fir roof beams and rafters, fixing laths to bear glazed roof tiles and to support the ceiling of hair and lime plaster – was planned by Jean Tardif of Jersey and carried out by Guernsey carpenters.
On 7th August 1821 the Bishop of Winchester licensed ‘the new erected chapel’ according to the rites and ceremonies of the Church of England, but it wasn’t until 1829 that he finally crossed the sea to consecrate ‘Saint Peter’s’. Both Le Pelley Seigneurs who were its patrons and worked so hard to bring it into existence were named Peter.
The interior of the original Church as it used to be
Inside the original church, the east end was dominated by the three-tiered pulpit. This was octagonal and centrally placed between the two arched windows. It stood on a platform six feet above the pavement and was reached by a staircase rising from the minister’s pew in the southeast corner (where the organ now is). Below the pulpit, three feet above the pavement were square stalls with desks for the clerk (‘Greffe’) and the reader (‘Lecteur’) who made public proclamations. To the left, on a six-inch wooden stage, a plain communion table was enclosed by a wooden rail 6ft 6ins by 5ft.
Victorian Alterations: Chancel and Tower
Much of the Victorian look of the church is due to Seigneur William T Collings, whose mother bought the Fief of Sark in 1852. He was a clergyman with a keen interest in contemporary Gothic architecture. In 1877, Collings designed and paid £200 for extending the east end, to form a chancel with choir, sanctuary and altar steps, and to provide a vestry. The style and building materials are eclectic; quoins, arch stones and sills are in the ‘grey and red’ Guernsey granite, so that they match the extensions which Collings had earlier made at Le Seigneurie. Inside the chancel, notice the decorative pebble panels, the use of Guernsey brick for ‘romanesque’ window arches, the stained glass and the glazed medieval-style floor tiles. The oval ‘brooch stone’ between two arches in the wall south of the altar is said to have been placed there by Seigneur W.T. Collings in memory of his daughter Wilhelmine, who died aged 8. The original high-backed public benches were replaced and new stalls were added for a choir. A harmonium was brought in beside the minister’s pew.
The Pew Scheme
The cost of building the church came to about £1,000. The plot was given by Seigneur Peter le Pelley from his manor lands. Part of the cost was borne by the Society for Promoting the Enlargement and Building of Churches and Chapels. Part came from the forty tenants who subscribed for closed family pews, to be attached for ever to their tenements. Pew rents secured nearly £300 before building started and ensured a perpetual income (now minuscule) for maintenance. The Society insisted that at least half the total of 333 seats be ‘open’ to the public. Unfortunately the Seigneur died before his plan materialised, and it was his son Peter le Pelley III who laid the foundation stone in Spring 1820.
The pew arrangement for St Peters Church, Sark.
St Peters Church Furnishings
The present pulpit was installed in 1883 in memory of the Reverend J.L.V. Cachemaille (minister 1835-77) and the brass eagle lectern in 1896 for his successor Charles Vermeil. Stained glass windows in the nave were made in London by Moore & Son in 1926, gift of various benefactors. Most celebrated is that of St. Magloire, who is said to have brought Christianity to Sark in 565 A.D. and to have founded a monastery (at La Moinerie). In recent years, members of the congregation have contributed by building choir stalls and working tapestried cushions and kneelers.
St Peters Church Tapestries
In 1977 the Wardens of St. Peters church suggested that a Ladies Committee be formed to organise the re-covering of the pew seats and kneelers in the church. With kind permission of the Seigneur and Mrs Beaumont, the cushions of the choir stalls were begun, incorporating a pattern traced from the floor tiles of the chancel. This became known as the ‘Seigneur’s Tile Pattern’ and may not be used by other churches without permission. Members of the congregation worked it in shades of russet and cream on a dark blue background.
In 1978 the Ladies Committee asked the owners of the pews whether they would finance the cost of materials to re-cover their pew seats and kneelers, and the Committee volunteered to do the work. There was an immediate response and the owners were given a choice of designs, incorporating motifs from Tenement crests and coats of arms, with the name of the Tenement worked into the seats. People from all over the Island came forward to do the work, nearly a fifth of the population being involved. A weekly meeting was set up to give out wools and help beginners with the designs. Ladies made up the majority of the workers, but some men joined in, and classes were also held to teach the schoolchildren tapestry. Visitors hearing of the project also offered to take work home, returning it the following year when they visited the island again.
Once the tapestries for the chancel seats and the main body of the church were completed, the public seating at the rear of the church was begun and designs were evolved using the remains of the wool. Funds were raised to purchase wool for the background and foam rubber and canvas for the cushions. During this time a new Priest in Charge was appointed, who suggested that kneelers be provided for all the pews, and 84 kneelers were worked in tapestry and sold to people who wished to commemorate a person or occasion.
On the completion of this work, the Committee became the Ladies Guild of St. Peters church which, in addition to repair and maintenance of the tapestries, made articles of knitting, sewing, tapestry, embroidery, soft toys and Christmas cards for orders or sale at the Church Fete in the summer.
History about the bell of St Peters Church, Sark
The first tower housed the ‘island bell’. This ancient bell was given to the settlers in 1580 by Philippe de Carteret, future Seigneur. It used to hang from a wooden belfry on a mound in the Clos de la Tour de la Cloche, just to the east of the church site, and was rung to raise the alarm in cases of fire or shipwreck. By 1883 the raising of the tower was complete, again using much dark grey Guernsey granite, and the belfry strengthened. A new deep-toned bell was cast from ‘two old six-pounders’, brass cannon which had provided Sark’s defence since Elizabethan times. The old ‘island bell’ was mounted on the schoolhouse, where it still is.
Article by Mr David Godwin on the history of the bell in St Peter’s Church