St Mary’s Chancel is all that’s left of Chitterne’s two old 15th century parish churches, making it one of the oldest buildings in the village. The nave of St Mary’s Church was demolished about 1861, leaving the chancel for use as a mortuary chapel. Nowadays it’s just used for occasional church services.
Ivy covers the end wall in this photo dating from the early 1900s. Note the old thatched barn on the right where Birch Cottage is now. The barn belonged to the church when the vicar of St Marys parish received part of his pay from the tithes raised on the crops grown on church land. Typically a tenth of the value went to the vicar. ‘Glebe’ land was church land, so Glebe Farm was the church farm, and the barn stood in Glebe Farm’s stockyard.
In this photo taken a little later the ivy has been removed and the site of the old nave has started to be used for burials. Note behind the chancel, in both photos, the old cob wall that once formed the boundary of the graveyard. The wall was knocked down and replaced by a fence in 1928 when Ushers Brewery, owners of the King’s Head Inn, gave a part of the inn’s land to enlarge the graveyard.
Recently, when a house the other side of that fence was sold, it was unclear who was responsible for maintaining the fence. A trip to the History Centre in Chippenham to see the original 1928 deed provided the answer: the fence is the responsibility of the Parochial Church Council.
I admire the medieval builders of this church, they had the good sense to site it far enough away from the Chitterne Brook for the dead to be buried in dry ground.