St Mary’s Chancel

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.

chancel st marys

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.

chancel st marys 2

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.

st marys plan
Plan of old church, the chancel is the top section. Nave and side chapel were knocked down.

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.

st marys church south
Drawing of old church, the chancel on the right with steps to door now blocked


St Mary’s Chancel

Admiral Napier’s Gift

Admiral Charles Lionel Napier of Chitterne House was leaving the village and, as president of the Hut committee, wanted to give something to the Hut as a momento of the happy time he and his wife had spent in the village. He offered, on 3rd September 1926 if the committee was agreeable, to have a wireless set installed in the Hut for the use of the villagers.

hut small
The Village Hut by Ernie George

For newcomers to the village, the Village Hut was an ex- army World War One wooden hut that was erected by the villagers in 1921-22 for use as a Village Hall. It stood in Bidden Lane behind the White Hart Inn on what is now part of Well Cottage garden.


The committee accepted the offer gratefully and by 15th October had an agreement with Ushers Brewery Limited (who owned the White Hart) to erect an aerial in their field, at a fee of sixpence a year, (this was probably the field where Clockhouse Cottages now stand), with the proviso that the pole was to be removed at seven days notice from the brewery.

1926-12-01-The Wireless World
An example of a wireless set of 1926

The committee also decided that: “Two members were to be on duty each week to facilitate the use of the wireless by the villagers. At least two performances to be open to the general public and one for children each week. Members on duty to arrange the programme to be given.” Wireless terminology had yet to catch up with the science!

“One of the days should be Sunday for the religious service, and the Men’s Club should have the use of the set when not otherwise required on condition that they provide light and heat on the occasions when used by the public.” By the following year the conditions were more relaxed: “any person wishing to listen to any particular item at any time should make application to the member on duty.”

All this extra footfall at the hut meant that the cleaner was to be paid 1 shilling per week during the winter months for the extra work caused by the use of the wireless. “It was decided to hold a Whist Drive and Dance at an early date to provide funds for the upkeep of the wireless and other hut expenses.”

Accumulator 1926

“Members of the committee reported that the wireless was become faint, and it was thought that a new H.T. Battery was required.” This was in December 1926 and the secretary was asked to look into the matter and purchase another if needed. The Men’s Club took the matter into their own hands and purchased an Exide H.T. accumulator for the wireless.

Power for the wireless came at first from dry H.T. batteries, but these needed replacing every 2 months at athe cost of £1. Later on the committee realised that accumulators would be cheaper as they could be re-charged every 3 months at a cost of 2 shillings and 6 pence (12½p) . An accumulator was an early type of battery containing acid. These needed to be transported very carefully and charged very slowly or dire results would ensue. The accumulators were taken to the Warminster Motor Company for charging at first but that soon proved too difficult and by 1928 they were being re-charged in Wylye.

In 1927 the wireless was  “not very satisfactory” and the Warminster Motor Company were asked to put it in order. The following year 1928 the set had broken down and been examined and repaired by Mr. H. Down. It was not working again in 1929 and the committee must have been wondering if they had been offered a poisoned chalice! A sub-committee was formed to consider the question of having the set rebuilt.This was done and the set was re-installed in March 1929 and “appeared to be satisfactory.” But the “bills in respect of same had not yet been received.” The treasurer reported that the balance in the kitty was 18 shillings and 2 pence. It was decided to hold a Whist Drive and Dance at an early date in aid of the funds.

After renewing the wireless licence in 1930 there is no mention in the Village Hut Committee Minute Book of  Admiral Napier’s gift until 1934, when it was decided not to renew the licence, and to notify Ushers Brewery Limited that the aerial pole would be removed.



Admiral Napier’s Gift