The Lady Chapel is one of the oldest parts of St Peter’s Church, built probably in the first quarter of the 13th century. Located in the north-east corner of the church, this bright and spacious chapel is a rare surviving example of the medieval heritage of Berkhamsted and is steeped in history.
For many years there has been structural movement in the Lady Chapel and monitoring over the past 15 years has shown that the east wall is slowly but progressively leaning outward. The visible evidence of this movement is a gap above the more northerly window in the east wall. The St Peter’s Buildings Committee has sought advice from architects and structural engineers.
In the roof space above the stone vault of the Lady Chapel a structure of massive wooden beams supports the rafters the roof above. Inspections of the woodwork and stonework have revealed a number of serious problems. Some of the main beams of the roof structure have so rotted away that they are no longer in contact at all with the wall. They are now supported on piles of stone and bricks that rest on the stone vaulting, which was never intended to bear this load.
Resolving these problems will be costly. The Friends will undoubtedly have a role to play in raising the necessary funds.
Read about our conservation work in more detail in the Spring 2015 edition of the Friends’ Newsletter
You can help
If you wish to contribute to this project, there are several ways you can help the Friends to save this irreplaceable piece of Berkhamsted’s heritage:
If you have other ideas for raising funds, please contact us.
Chapel History & Architecture
The stone vaulting of the roof is an early example of rib-vaulting, and is an unusual refinement in a parish church of this date. The windows are not part of the original 13th century fabric. Their tracery and decorative detail place them in the middle years of the 14th century, which must be the time when they were inserted.
There are fascinating glimpses of the past in this space between the vault and the lead roof, relatively untouched by later restoration schemes. Visible in the rubble stonework of the walls are enigmatic fragments of dressed stone from former building work of unknown age. Among the rafters are two, which are clearly parts of an ancient wooden screen, economically recycled into the roof; and on the wooden beams are numerous graffiti, chalked by carpenters and others who have worked up here in the past. Among the more legible are:
- William Hunt 1724
- John Bourne 1758
- Richard Barlingham 1770
- William Burns 1778 Carpenter
- Robert Harcourt Loader Clerk of the Works
Robert Harcourt Loader was Churchwarden from 1788 to 18 03 and his name also appears with the date 1797 in the gold leaf inscription that lies behind the oval panel on which the lately restored Royal Coat of Arms of Queen Elizabeth I is displayed. His time as churchwarden was evidently one of active restoration in the church.