AN ANCIENT parvis, or “priest’s room”, has been rediscovered in St Peter’s, Oundle, in Peterborough diocese, during an ongoing £1-million-plus restoration project to modernise the Norman church.
St Peter’s PCC commissioned a Historic Building Survey of the roof in August, as part of the work, which began in 2012 with the installation of iron gates at the west door. The survey, conducted by Neil Finn, of Archaeology and Built Heritage, uncovered a second storey above the south porch, which is accessed via a narrow door and stairwell that had previously been locked for safety reasons.
The space — about 4×4 metres, with small two windows and a fireplace — is thought to have been the first schoolroom in the town, and where William Laxton was educated in the 15th century before he became the Lord Mayor of London, during the reign of King Henry VIII. It was built as part of an almshouse commissioned by Robert and Joan Wyatt, in 1485, and later used as priests’ living quarters, the survey, published last October, says. Tree-ring dating of the rafters suggests that it was last re-roofed in 1721.
The parvis is to be restored, and made into a meeting room for church and community groups, pending advice from Peterborough diocesan advisory committee and English Heritage and the appropriate faculties. The PCC project manager, Malcolm Winder, said that there were “some very unusual factors to consider” before starting work on the room, including difficulties accessing the space.
One church member said: “The stairwell itself is so narrow and steep that we can only assume its users over the centuries — including the priests — would had to have been thin, young, and fit to get up there.”
The restoration is part of the final phases, currently under way, to reconfigure the interior of the west end to include a new choir balcony, crèche, kitchen, and lavatories. The main entrance has already been fitted with automatic glass doors and a ramp, and a new audio-visual system has been installed in the church.
So far, the project has cost £200,000, but this is expected to rise to more than £1 million on completion, later this year. The three-year process for the modernisation was considered “fast track” by the various authorities, Mr Winder said. It is being funded by donations from Friends of the parish, and a £20,000 grant from Northamptonshire District Council.
“Our church is such a busy community; so, in a sense, finding more room within the existing layout is such a lovely challenge to have,” the Rector of St Peter’s, the Revd Stephen Webster, said. “Our family is growing steadily, and, by caring for them in this aspect of our ministry, we are able to reach out to others in the community.”