History of St. Peter’s

The Old Church

St Peter’s – a Grade II listed building – is situated in a prominent position at the junction of two main roads when approaching Bushey Heath from Bushey village and Watford. The Church, vicarage and parish hall are within the Lake Conservation Area. There has been a Church on the site since 1837, when it was built as a chapel-of-ease within the parish of St James, Bushey and at a time when the patrons of the living were the rector and fellows of Exeter College, Oxford.

By the time building work started on St Peter’s Chapel in 1836, the traditional Gothic style of architecture was once again in favour and became known as “Neo-Gothic”, “Gothic Revival” or “Victorian Gothic”. It was in this newly fashionable style that the chapel was built and was a fairly unassuming building. Virtually nothing now remains except the decorative framework which surrounds the doorway of the present priest’s vestry and the stone arches given by the Rector of Bushey which now forms “blind arcades” on the north and south sides of the chancel.

The foundation stone was laid on 25th August 1836 and the building completed by June the following year. There is no record of the architect, but the chapel was built by Messrs Rigby. It has been described as “a simple erection of white bricks with stone quoins under a slated roof, having a square East end without a distinct Chancel.” There were small transepts on each side, a large double door with porch at the West End and a bell hung in a bell cote on the West gable. Internally, it contained 400 sittings of which 200 in the back and in the West gallery were free, the remainder being rented for the support of the church. The seats were of the type then common; square varnished deal pews, furnished with crimson cushions and footstools and closed with a door towards the central aisle which was covered with matting. On Sunday mornings the children sat in the front seats of the gallery where there was a clock, presumably to enable them to time the sermon!

The gallery was warmed by a stove which had a long flue pipe extending to the roof and it was probably lit by oil lamps. The Creed, the Lord’s Prayer and the Ten Commandments were painted on the wall each side of the East Window under which stood a stone altar and arches given by the Rector of Bushey. The records of baptisms, marriages and deaths were all kept in the St James’ Parish Registers and a study of these shows that the local people were still mainly farm-workers, gardeners, coachmen and domestics.

In 1889, an Order in Council created the new parish of St Peter’s, Bushey Heath.Thus St Peter’s Chapel became St Peters Parish Church, with the parish boundaries much as they are today and within the new diocese of St Albans which was created in 1877. The first Vicar of St Peters was the Reverend Spencer Buller MA.

New Chancel

In 1891, prompted no doubt by a desire to keep up with new trends and to make the church more imposing, a chancel was added by the London architect, Mr James Neale FSA. The builders were Messrs Norris & Sons of Sunningdale, Mr Stubberfield acting as general foreman This was in a much richer style than the rest of the building and provided stalls for a robed choir – very much in fashion – and an organ loft on the south side. The organ, designed by Mr J M Coward, had been presented by Mr H St J Oscar Thompson of The Warren. It was said to be an instrument of great sweetness and variety.

This new work was dominated by a large East Window of five lights, filled with elaborate tracery, which was suggested by the window at the east end of the choir in St Albans Abbey. The dedication on the brass plate on the ledge below the window reads:

“To the Honour and Glory of God and in loving memory of Kathleen, Percy, Willie, Gladys and Geoffrey, children of Ricardo and Mary Palmer”

The Palmers lived at Claybury and came from County Wexford, Ireland in the mid 1870s. Ricardo was a member of the Stock Exchange, a man of means and a generous benefactor in Bushey and Bushey Heath. Ricardo and Mary had fourteen children of which Gladys and Geoffrey died in 1892 and 1895 respectively and the other three in Ireland before the family moved to Bushey. Ricardo died on the 25th February 1927 aged 82 and his wife Mary on 2nd April 1931. They are buried adjacent to the south- west corner of St James’ Church in Bushey with their eldest child Ida May.

When the chancel was re-modeled in 1891, the existing East Window consisted of three single lancets and it was replaced by the present five light window, which was suggested by the window that was at the east end of the choir in St Albans Abbey. The original single lancet arches were re-used on the south side of the chancel and new cusping inserted to keep the windows in character with the rest of the new work. The report of the dedication in the Watford Observer of 18th June 1891 confirms that ” the old East Window is now utilized to form the three windows on the south side of the chancel and organ chamber, suitable cusps being introduced. The stained glass is placed in the north transept window and all the chancel windows are well glazed in cathedral (viz plain) glass”. The north transept was rebuilt 20 years later as part of the complete rebuild of the church and the only remnant of the window from these earlier times is a small square of stained glass which hangs forlorn in the present north transept window.

The stained glass was inserted later, about 1900, by Ricardo Palmer in memory of five of his children. Below the East Window and forming a “backing” for the altar was an elaborate reredos of richly carved arches and pinnacles in the style of the Percy Shrine at Beverley. It served to provide a framework for paintings which depicted Christ in Majesty in the centre panel attended by angels and the four evangelists on either side. The paintings were designed by the architect, Mr James Neale and executed by Mr Beckham of the London firm, Bell & Beckham. It was the gift of Mrs Catherine Elizabeth Maunsell, of Sparrows Herne Hall, in memory of her late husband, Captain Thomas Cockayne Maunsel, who died in 1887.
The new Chancel was consecrated on Monday the 8th June 1891 by the Bishop of St Albans, in the presence of no fewer than 17 visiting clergy and supported by a large congregation. The formalities of the consecration were followed by a service of Holy Communion to music by Gounod, Coward and Barnby. ‘ Some very thrilling effects were produced by two cornets and a drum supplementing the music of the organ’!

The Old Pulpit

Concurrent with the building of the new chancel, Mr Simpson Noakes endowed an impressive new stone pulpit which was dedicated in 1892, bearing the following inscription:

“To the glory of God this pulpit was erected by public subscription as a token of esteem and affection for Mr. Simpson Noakes and in appreciation of his many services in the parish of Bushey. Dedicated 14th February 1892”

The pulpit was designed by the architect of the new chancel, Mr James Neale and the carvings executed by Mr Smith, of Battersea, from models at Beverley and St Albans. Alas, this beautiful piece of Victorian art no longer exists. It was replaced in 1981 by a plain oak structure of no particular artistic merit.

The New Church

Shortly after the addition of the new chancel some thought was given to rebuilding the remainder of the church and the architect who designed the chancel, James Neale of London, was commissioned to submit plans. Aesthetically his proposals were not attractive and whether because of this or for other reasons the grand design came to nought and it was not until October 1910 that the parish once again embarked on a scheme for a rebuild.

Plans were drawn up by George H Fellowes Prynne, a lesser known architect but one whose schemes were as grandiose as his name. The ground plan and the general external features bear a resemblance to the Neale proposals and it might be interesting to speculate on whether the new design was one hundred per cent the work of Fellowes Prynne or whether he took the easier course of simply re-working plans already available to him.

Fellowes Prynne built four major churches in London and its immediate surrounds. Two were “Town” churches, All Saints, Dulwich and All Saints, Sydenham. Quite properly they were built of red brick to fit in with the surrounding domestic architecture. Both were large churches, bigger than St Peter’s and neither was finished for lack of funds. The two “country” churches, Holy Trinity, Roehampton and St Peter’s were built of stone, as befitted their rural setting. In style they are very similar. Only Holy Trinity was completed. The projected spire for St Peter’s and the great stone rood screen (the hallmark of a Fellowes Prynne Church) were never added.

By request, Fellowes Prynne retained the shell of the 1891 chancel, but all the work to the north and south and west is new. Following local tradition, the arches of the nave rise almost to the spring of the ceiling. However, there is no local precedent for the height of the arches themselves or of the interior generally. Worthy of note are the rich mouldings of the arches and the use of concave facets and delicate bands of tracery with which to visually reduce the bulk of the pillars. Projecting from the west wall is a seven-sided baptistry, with stained glass windows by William Morris & Co. Westminster (no connection with The William Morris) and to the south west a tower of flamboyant design which houses a ring of eight bells.

The builders were Messrs Dickens of Ealing and the heating system was installed by Messrs C P Kinnell & Co. Records show that the new Church cost £10,500 to build (£511,000 at today’s prices. This was a tremendously courageous venture at a time when the normal Sunday attendance was between 30 and 40 souls and the population of Bushey Heath only a fraction of that of today. It was made possible by the extreme generosity of a few very wealthy benefactor

The dedication of the rebuilt church by the Bishop of St Albans took place on Saturday 1st of February 1913, attended by many visiting clergy, including two previous incumbents, together with a large congregation. The service commenced with the opening hymn “Praise to the Holiest in the height” and was followed by Evensong, conducted by the Vicar, the Revd T V Garnier. The sermon was preached by the Bishop using the text “I was glad when they said unto me, we will go into the house of the Lord”. The choir recessed to the hymn “Now thank we all our God”.

Henry Holiday Windows

The Great West Window

The Great West Window is dedicated to the memory of Lt Basil Parrin Hicks. He was born on the 22nd October 1892 in Sheffield, the younger son of William Mitchinson Hicks who was the founding Vice-Chancellor and Professor of Physics at Sheffield University in the early 1900s. The Hicks Building at the University is named after him and he inaugurated the Basil Perrin Hicks Memorial Lecture which has been delivered at the University on an occasional basis by such luminaries as Jan Smuts, Lord Alexander, Viscount Slim, A J P Taylor, Roy Jenkins and Lord Owen.

William Mitchinson Hicks married Ellen Perrin at Trinity Church, Hampstead on the 13th July 1887,  the eldest daughter of Henry Story Perrin and his first wife Ellen who lived at 31 St John’s Wood Park Hampstead. Ellen Perrin had two brothers (Henry and Howard Nasmith) and two sisters (Emily and Edith Mary). On the 16th July 1886 her elder brother Henry married Ida Southwell Robins of Kensington at St Paul’s Church, Hampstead. She was an artist and sculptress of some merit and in about 1905, in addition to retaining their Kensington property, they purchased The Cottage on Bushey Heath, later the home of scientist, inventor and benefactor  J Langham Thompson (Tommy) who worshiped at St Peter’s and which is now the site of  Hartsbourne Park flats.

In 1921, probably influenced by the work of William De Morgan, Ida Perrin established ‘The De Morgan Pottery Works’ in his memory within the grounds of The Cottage, employing an eminent master potter, Fred Passenger, who had previously worked for De Morgan. Fine examples of this highly collectable pottery are on permanent display in Bushey Museum.

After taking up residence in Bushey Heath in 1905, the Perrins became committed members of St Peter’s and when the Church rebuild project was started in 1911, Henry served on the Building Committee and donated £1100 (equivalent to £52,000 today) towards the total cost of £10,500.The enlarged nave incorporated a new West Window, which was initially in plain glass and when Basil Hicks was killed in 1915, Holiday was commissioned by the Perrins to design a new window in stained glass for the west end of the church in memory of their nephew and which he named The Holy Spirit Window. It was made by Lowndes and Drury at the Glasshouse, Fulham. The five light masterpiece depicts Love, Wisdom, Power, Joy, Truth and Faith, and also incorporates the text “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord of Hosts” It was dedicated on Sunday the 14th April 1918.

Now that it has been cleaned and the remnants of the war-time protective film removed, the colours stand out as a glorious testimony to the brilliance of a master-craftsman.

And what do we know about Basil Perrin Hicks whose death stimulated the creation of this work of art?  By all accounts, he was quite a remarkable young man. Educated at Rugby, he later studied in Hanover and Bonn before entering Trinity College, Cambridge from where he graduated in modern languages in 1914. After studying French in Paris, he returned to England at the outbreak of war, joined the Inns of Court Officer Training Corps and was gazetted second lieutenant Berkshire Regiment in September 1914. Promoted to first lieutenant in March 1915, he served with the Expeditionary Force in France and Flanders and was killed in action at Hulluch on 25th September 1915 while leading the scout section of his battalion in the first attack on Loos.

He was buried where he fell, but later exhumed and re-interred at Dud Corner Military Cemetery, Loos . His Commanding Officer wrote of him: “By his death the regiment has lost not only a charming companion, but a very clever and most promising officer and in his special line – map-making and training of scouts – I shall never be able to replace him. I was a great admirer of his work and if only he had been spared, I am sure he would have made a name for himself. Nothing was too much trouble for him – and the scouts, of whom he was in charge, just worshipped him.”

And a Private who was with him when he was killed pays this tribute: ” He was a game one. He fell right on the German parapet, his last words being Good lads, come on – straight ahead!”

On the 10th of November 2002, some 87 years after his death, a new generation paid tribute to the valour and ultimate sacrifice of Lieut Hicks in a moving service of remembrance at St Peter’s attended by a congregation of over 240 children and adults. During the service, the restored West Window was re-dedicated to Lieut Hicks and every Bushey Heath serviceman killed in the two wars was remembered by name, with prayerful thanks by the children for their sacrifice. The collection, which raised £500, went to the Thiepval visitors centre in the Somme, which is being built by public subscription. The Thiepval monument, commemorating 72,000 British soldiers with no known graves, was designed by Sir Edward Lutyens and is the largest Great War memorial in the world.

 The Queen of Sheba & Queen Esther Windows

The window was commissioned from Henry Holiday in 1921 by Henry Perrin and his wife to commemorate the death of their friend, Edith Sommers. Born in Hampstead, Edith Somers, an unmarried lady, moved to Bushey sometime between 1895 and 1899 where she lived initially with her brother John, a solicitor, at Wick House, Sparrows Herne. In 1905 she had a house built (Tilehurst) in Grange Road, Bushey by Charles Voysey whom,  a year later, she commissioned to build  a childrens’ convalescent home in Merry Hill Road (Myholme), now a private house.  Their sister Mary married the artist Charles Frederic Moore Cleverly and lived in Hampstead. Both Edith and John were very much involved in church life at St Peter’s, where they were generous benefactors, John being a member of the Building Committee which was responsible for the re-building of the church in 1911. He was also captain of the local volunteer Fire Brigade, ran two brass bands and the local Church Lads Brigade!

The Memorial Chapel

At 3pm on the 3rd of July 1921, the Foundation Stone was laid to a new Memorial Chapel by General Phipps Hornby VC CB CMG, later to be dedicated to St George and named ‘The Warriors’ Chapel’. General Phipps Hornby, as a serving officer in the Royal Horse Artillery, was awarded his VC in the Boer War following an action on 31st March 1900 at Korn Spruit when his battery was ambushed. He went into action and saved most of his men and guns.

The Memorial Chapel was built by public subscription in memory of the fallen in the Great War and was designed by Fellowes Prynne as an addition on the south side of the Chancel and in the same style as his main re-build project a few years earlier. Separated from the ambulatory by a delicate three bay arcade this chapel has a seven sided apse and contains the parish war memorial. All the windows have stained glass.


Thus ended the three decades of almost continual building works at St Peter’s and the two foundation stones in the East and South walls record the various stages of construction:



The Present Church

The church exterior

Externally, this is the Church which exists today, although various changes to the interior have taken place over the years, particularly to the chancel. However, a recent restoration project has attempted to recapture as much as possible of the original layout and beauty of the High Altar and Reredos as it was constructed in 1891.

The Vicarage

The vicarage

In 1907, a new vicarage was built on parish land adjacent to the church but this was sold and demolished in 1970, the proceeds of the sale financing the purchase of a detached house, well- built by a local builder in the 1950’s for his own use, some 100 yards from the church on the opposite side of the High Road. Built in the Georgian style, the principal accommodation comprises a lounge, dining room, kitchen, hall and cloakroom on the ground floor, four bedrooms and bathroom on the first floor and two further bedrooms, a box room and a balcony on the second floor. It has manageable sized, enclosed gardens front an rear and backs onto a public garden and lake.

The Parish Hall

The church hall

The church has a good Parish Hall, built by public subscription in 1910. It is maintained in good order and has been substantially renovated in recent years. It is the centre of activity for parish social functions and is the ‘home’ of St Peter’s players, an amateur theatrical group which stages very impressive productions in the hall and church. The hall is also well-used by local community organisations and is heavily booked throughout the year. Currently, it is self-supporting, making a small contribution to general parish funds.