St Peter’s Shared Church in Chertsey is steeped in history that stems from the Chertsey Abbey, and the lower parts of the bell tower and the chancel of St Peter’s Shared Church survive from circa 1300, when the church was first built by the abbey.
The church was originally consecrated All Saints, but took the name St Peter’s after the abbey dissolved. It became St. Peter’s Shared Church on 30th May 1982, when the United Free Church of Chertsey joined it.
The bell tower houses the famous curfew bell, originally from Chertsey Abbey, cast c.1310 and recast when damaged in 1374 during the fall of the abbey tower. The bell used to be rung every evening, leading to Chertsey becoming known as the “curfew town”. The curfew bell is still rung at 8pm from Michaelmas to Lady Day. During the Middle Ages, the ringing of the bell was used to warn local householders to put out their fires to reduce the risk of fire spreading through the town.
A legend also tells of Neville Audeley, who had fled to Chertsey Abbey after the defeat of the Earl of Warwick at Barnet on 14th April 1471. He was captured in Chertsey and condemned to die at curfew. However, he had in his possession a ring from a high-ranking official whose life he’d spared in the battle, and he struck a deal with his captures that if a messenger who was taking the ring to the king did not return with a decree by curfew he would be put to death. King Edward sent the pardon, but the messenger was delayed on his return to Chertsey. Audeley’s cousin and lover, Blanche Heriot, stood in the bell tower and just before the curfew held the clapper of the bell so that it couldn’t be rung to stay the execution. There is also a well-known poem about the legend of the curfew bell written by Rosa Hartwig-Thorpe.
The chancel’s oak-posted roof dates from the 1300s, and the current organ was fitted in 1880. In 1806, the nave was rebuilt and the tower made higher.
Plaques inside the Church include one in the south aisle in memory of Charles James Fox., and at the end of the aisle there is a memorial chapel dedicated to the men of Chertsey who died in the World Wars. There is also the coat of arms of Queen Anne on the west wall. Anne is known to have stayed at the Denmark House opposite the church.
The builder who was hired to oversee the 1806 restoration took £6,000 from the parishioners and ran away to America. A further £6,000 had to be raised to complete the work, and it was obtained by selling gallery pews as freeholds to owners, who also gained the right to parliamentary votes with the purchase.
The interior of the church was refurbished in 1869, and in 1878, the chancel walls were covered in stonework similar to the nave. The church was further modernised with its existing look in 1963.
Chertsey Museum Research Room local history boxfile
“History of St Peter with All Saints Church Chertsey”, The Church Publishers
The Chertsey Society Newsletter: Autumn 2005, Section 8
“Souvenir of Chertsey” (booklet), Jago, Charles, MPS
”Chertsey Parish Church–Past and Present”, Wheeler, Lucy, 1907.
Surrey Herald, February, 9, 1978
Surrey Herald, February 16, 1978