There has been a church in Chiseldon for over a thousand years. The earliest evidence is in a charter of 903 AD when Edward the Elder, son of Alfred the Great, granted the church and land in Chiseldon to the New Minster of St Peter in Winchester. The Minster later became Hyde Abbey and owned the church until the Dissolution in 1538. The name ‘Holy Cross’ has been retained from the original Saxon dedication.
The present church was begun in the latter half of the 12th centuary, taking many years to complete. The earliest part still existing is the nave arcade. The Saxon church would have continued in use until the new church was ready, so that the daily round of worship was not disrupted. There are places where a new, larger church is known to have been built around the old one, which was then demolished, but we cannot tell if that happened here.
The two westernmost pillars of the nave are double, with traces of a wall between them. Mr Charles Edwin Ponting of Marlborough, the diocesan architect, surveyed the church for restoration in 1891. He noted that the foundations of the church were very poor or non-existent, except for under the west wall where they went eight feet deep into solid rock. This, together with the double pillars would seem to indicate that there had been a substantial structure at the west end, maybe a tower or two-storey porch.
The chancel was built at the beginning of the 13th centuary, but there may have been an earlier one. Those built before the end of the 12th centuary were little more than small, square-ended additions to the nave. Longer chancels became a part of almost every parish church from the start of the 13th centuary, particularly those owned by rich monastic houses. They were required for the more elaborate rituals which had developed. The aisles were added in the 13th centuary to make room for the processions which took place on feast days.
The tower dates from the 14th centuary, old records give a date of 1320. According to Mr. Ponting it was rebuilt around the mid 15th centuary incorporating earlier features.
The North, or Draycot, aisle was rebuilt in the 16th centuary using material from the church at Draycot. By 1572 the little church had become impoverished and derelict. An order was given that it be demolished and the materials used to repair the church at Chiseldon.
Both north and south walls have been rebuilt at various times, but the east wall has remained more or less intact. A painting of 1806 shows that the gable end had been lowered and the side walls built up to accommodate a flat roof over the chancel. In the painting the outline of the original pitched roof can be seen on the east wall of the nave. It is unknown when or why the flat roof was acquired.
Richard Jefferies, the author, would have recognised the church as it was at that time. He attended regularly and married Jessie Baden here in 1874. The church is mentioned in his books and various newspaper articles.
Major restoration took place in 1892 after the diocesan surveyor found the church to be in a very precarious state. The pillars of the nave, and the walls of the clerestory above, were leaning northward by up to sixteen inches (40cm) and in imminent danger of collapse because the pillars had been undermined by the careless building of brick vaults. The upper part of the tower was held together with iron bands and poor foundations on its north side were causing it to lean. The north and south walls of the church were mainly built of rubble infilled with churchyard earth, with little or no foundations.
To view the sources used for this leaflet, click here.