Uncovering the Secrets of 18th Century Graffiti

A tower room tucked away at the top of a winding staircase is an unusual feature of the new virtual tour of St Peter's Church in Wallingford.
St Peter's Church
Overlooking the banks of the River Thames, St Peters is a Grade II listed building noticeable for its beautiful 18th century architecture and towering openwork spire. Built in 1763 after its medieval predecessor was destroyed in the Civil War, the church is no longer used for religious services. Now under the care of The Churches Conservation Trust, it's been used in recent years to play host to special events, such as music concerts.

"Cheeky" Architecture

Inside the building is a serene space which has been carefully restored to its Georgian glory. The main body of the church features a high coffered ceiling and rounded apse, overlooked by a wonderful stained glass window. Inlaid within the stone floor is the tomb of the 18th century judge and Tory politician, Sir William Blackstone.

The impressive spire with its octagonal belfry may have been considered somewhat bold when added in 1776, being described as "rather cheeky" by an architectural critic of the time.

The Mystery in the Tower Room

Just inside the main doors which lead into the entrance hall is the beginning of a mystery which lies within the small, snug tower room in the roof of the church. The base of a winding stone staircase can be seen, ascending into a dark, narrow channel, which visitors are currently unable to access due to health and safety concerns.

Within the confines of this compact room is something quite unusual. For scribbled across the whitewashed bricks above the wooden wall panels and pressed into the door surrounds, are hundreds of inscriptions. Carved into the stone or written on the surface in pen and pencil, a myriad of different autographs can be seen; names, initials, dates, and even job titles such as 'clock winder upper'.

Keen to open up the space to viewers was the reason behind the Trust's decision to have a virtual tour produced. As volunteer at St Peter's, Keri Dearmer, explained, "We wanted people to be able to see it because we think it's quite exciting."

Hundreds of inscriptions cover the walls

Wartime Inscriptions

If proof was needed that graffiti is not just a trend found in modern times, some of the lettering dates back a few hundred years. Said Keri, "The earliest signature we have found so far is from the mid 18th century, with the most recent being from 2003. There seem to be a good many inscriptions from 1941 leading us to believe that the church must have played a certain role during the Second World War."

What inspired the long-standing custom of the curious calligraphy in the tower room? The reason has never been documented so, eager to find out more, The Trust is planning to record each and every name and date; they will then publish them locally to see if some people may know any of the signatories and their stories.

Take the tour of St Peter's church yourself, feel the history all around, and see if you can uncover the secrets of the many people from the past who have left their permanent mark in history within these walls.

Find St Peter's Church at 1 Thames Street, Wallingford, Oxfordshire OX10 0BH. Look them up on the web here.

Date: 24 April 2015
Author: The 360 Company