St. Peter’s - The Parish Church of Swettenham Nr. Congleton, Cheshire
To whom the Church was dedicated is unknown, but in the absence of other evidence it has been suggested that it was dedicated to St. Peter, because first, the traditional date of the Wakes is the 12th – 18th June, the latter being the old St. Peter’s Day (now 11 days later 29th) and second, the first Lord of Swettenham was Peter de Swettenham.
Of the present building, the oldest part is the Sanctuary. This small area (without the two side chapels) would have comprised the original church building dating from approximately 1260.
The building was of 'cruck' construction, and this can be seen on the east wall. The massive oak piers support the immense weight of the stone roof. The wooden piers have been repaired and strengthened following an attack by the dreaded death watch beetle.
The age of this church can be seen from the timbered frame in the Chancel area and is confirmed by the recording of the Incumbents (from 1304) on the pair of panels either side of the West Arch. The early Church was served from Vale Royal Abbey. The advowson alternated later between the Davenport and Swettenham families before passing to the Martyrs Memorial Trust.
The evidence of the 18th Century re-casing of the church with brick can be seen on the North Aisle and the building of the Tower, in 1721. This for convenience was called the first restoration. The brickwork in the South Aisle was removed and one of the pair of lattice windows in the 'Swettenham Chapel' was altered to accommodate the massive stonework of the South Aisle, commonly called the ‘Tipping Chapel’. This is called the second restoration though it imposed a substantial change of character on the church. This was partially redressed by the outstanding restoration in 1935 when the oak panelled reredos was erected and the Choir Stalls installed, a memorial gift of the Fletcher-Shaw family (this was the third restoration).
In 1964 a fourth and larger restoration occurred when the remaining oak panelling, then scattered about the church, was incorporated in traditional pews in oak. These pews were subscribed for by families past and present and friends of the Parish. The painted screen was reduced in size and used to screen the organ from the choir. The organ was removed from the Sanctuary to the Mainwaring Chapel and considerably improved and has since been played by many distinguished organists. The cost of the re-siting and improvement of the organ was defrayed by public subscription and was not a charge upon church funds.
The Norman Font was restored to its original position and purpose in the church and the Victorian font moved appropriately into the Victorian setting of the South Aisle doorway.
The Memorials of the Warren-Swettenham family were re-united in the South-East Chapel. Their original family vault is still extant under the width of the chancel. The Davenport family are believed to be buried under the Sanctuary.
The panelling and inner oak doors of the West Porch and the restoration of the tower were carried out by gifts from one family who were descendents of one of the voluntary contributors to the building of the tower in 1721. At the same time the bells, dating back to 1627, were re-hung by subscription from parishioners. The brass candelabras, 16th Century Altar Crucifix and processional cross were gifts of the fourth restoration.
The 'Rectors Boards' list the Rectors of Swettenham from 1304 (Wittmus de Swettenham) although in all probability Parson Nicholas was incumbent in 1260, and Chaplain Stephen in 1302.
Church records began in 1570, being written in Latin. One entry notes that the Church contributed towards the restoration of Ely Cathedral in 1707. Another was the offer by Church Wardens on 30th July 1743 to ‘Sparrow Hunters’ of 3d a score of birds killed within the Parish. Another is an amusing recipe for ‘the cure of the bite from a made dog’. The records are now kept at the County Records Office in Chester, microfilm copies are kept by the Cheshire Family History Society in Alderley Edge, Cheshire. Along with these records are various documents of the Warren-Swettenham family from 1302-1893.
The Ten Commandment Panels are of 17C origin which hang on the North Aisle, were recovered from the Rectory Barn when the Rectory was sold and were restored to the church.
In 1761 the red brick wall and gate to Church was erected and surrounds the Churchyard. The lychgate which is mentioned in the records as existing in 1681 does not remain today. Of the gravestones, the oldest bearing a date is that of Gandy, who died in 1647. Close to this is a stone with the following inscription: ‘My glass is run, my grave you see, Wait but a while, you’ll follow me.’ On the grave of a previous Rector of the Church (named Blincoe) is a sundial, made by William Wrench, of Chester in 1761, which records the latitude of Swettenham, viz: 53º 20’.
The yew trees on the east side of the Churchyard are mentioned in the records of 1663, but are probably much older than this.
Presently the Church is now linked to Goostrey, under the cure of the Vicar, who with help, ensures the full complement of services.
The Church and Churchyard have been fortunate over many years by the devoted services of those that care for them, and generations of parishioners who have given of their talents to these purposes.