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St Peter’s Church


“Cnolle” is Saxon, says Hutchins, and signifies the top of a hill or an ascent, and it can be inferred that there was once a Saxon church here. He tells us that there was a priest here and consequently there must have been a church. As there is no other instance in which a priest is mentioned in the Doomsday Book in connection with any place in Purbeck, it is probable that, from the very early establishment of the church here, the place became known as Church Knowle.

 The little thirteenth century church standing on its knoll has no special claim, no outstanding history; it is just another of the many small churches which enrich the English countryside and provide a place for worship for those that live around it. But St. Peter’s has been doing that for a very, very long time and the list of Rectors dates back to 1327. Amongst the names are two which are remarkable for their length of service – Isaak Chapman for sixty five years in the eighteenth century and John Richards for fifty two years from 1781.



Until the middle of the last century this was a perfect little cruciform church, with chancel, nave and western tower, and with north and south transepts and a south porch. But between 1833 and 1841 great alterations were made. Hutchins tells us the north wall of the nave was taken down and rebuilt in line with the end of the north transept. Two small early English lancet windows between the porch and the tower were greatly elongated. The archway leading to the south transept, which was previously very low, was raised, and hagioscopes (squints) on either side of chancel arch were cut down to the ground and now form two narrow entrances to the chancel.



Both doorways feature plain pointed arches with chamfered angles. In the wall on the right of the inner doorway is a circular hollowed-out stone. The late Dr Dru Drury thought this was probably a holy water stoup. It is now back in its original position, having been discovered in the wall on the left side of the porch in 1956, where it is thought that it might have been hidden at the time of the reformation.


 A stone let into the southern face of the simple tower tells us that it was built in 1741. Its low pointed roof, like the rest of the church, is stone tiled. The church has had three bells from at least 1552 when the inventory of “Church Goods” existing at that date was as follows:

 Firste Two Chaleses of sylver wheroff one parcell gilt and thother vngilte beinge wourthe by estimacion Vii.

One pix of sylver wourth xxvis viiid.

A crosse of brasse

One sewte of vestments of blewe satan embraderyd.

A payre of vestments of blewe satan.

A sewte of vestments of rede silke emrawderyd.

A Payre of vestments of red satan embrawderyd

A cope of rede velvet embrawdred.

Six aulter clothes

II towelles

One lent clothe

One Surplesse

III belles in the Towre



The Chancel, which is of the early English ‘decorated period’ retains its original appearance except for a new roof and a square window on the south side; the other four windows are, apart from their glass, original. There is a priest’s door in the south wall and in the south-east corner a little early English piscine.

 Stone Mural Screen

 The stone Mural Screen dividing the chancel from the naive is of special interest as it is one of eight stone screens still remaining in Dorset.

 South Transept

 The south transept has two windows, a squint communicating with the chancel, and a piscine. In the south window there are two early coffin lids, both dating from the thirteenth or fourteenth century.

 Hutchins tells us that this transept was called “Frank’s Aisle” after the family who were long the owners of the manor of East Creech, and it was probably therefore a chantry founded by some Lord of the Manor. He goes on to tell us that John le Franke of East Creech was granted half an acre of arable land in the village of Churchecnolle in Purbik, subject to the condition of providing two wax tapers for the altar in the Church of St Peter at Churchecnolle, the said John le Frank by deed in French dated 1558 agreeing to provide these.

 In September 1927, Mr Hubert Steel discovered a stone Alter Slab forming part of the floor of the North Aisle passage. It is of Purbeck Oolite and measures 3ft. 8ins. by 2ft. 3ins. Five crosses are incised on it, one at each corner and one central. The dimensions correspond with the requirements of an altar at either of the lateral openings in the stone screen.

 In 1992 the south transept was refurnished with chairs in memory of Rev. David Lloyd Evans, and the two pews were removed to the chancel. At the same time improvements were made to the vestry screen.

 North Transept

 The north transept, which no longer exists as such, was in like manner attached to Barnston, for Hutchins tells us that John Clavell of Barnston by his will dated 6th August 1558, gave to Sir Grace – his chaplain - over and above his wages, 20/- to say Jesus Mass every Monday throughout the year in the North Aisle of the Church of Knoll for himself and his friends departed.

 Clavell Monument

 Against the east wall of this erstwhile transept there is a monument of white Purbeck stone, consisting of an altar-tomb surmounted by a canopy. Beneath the canopy are three compartments. In the centre is a man in armour kneeling in prayer, his gauntlets a helmet laid aside. Underneath are the words “The figure of John Clavell Esq. Husband of these wives.” He died in 1609. In the compartment on the left a lady is kneeling in prayer. She was Myllicent, daughter of John Gifford of Ishell and she died in 1571. Behind her are three boys and a girl. In the remaining compartment is the second wife, in the same attitude of prayer. She was Susan, daughter of Robert Coker of Mappowder and she died in 1618.

 It is interesting to note that John Clavell of Barnston ordered this elaborate tomb to be made in 1572, nearly forty years before he died. Barnston, about half a mile west of the village, is a Saxon manor rebuilt and fortified by the Normans, but only its Tudor front can be seen from the road. The Clavells owned land in this small corner of Dorset for seven hundred years.


 Those in the north and south walls of the chancel depict six Apostles. The east window is divided into four sections: those on the left show our Lord walking on the sea and Peter sinking – “wherefore didst thou doubt”  - and our Lord commissioning Peter to “feed my sheep”.

 On the right side Peter is again depicted after denying his Lord – “He went out and wept bitterly.” And, after being released from prison by the angel, St. Peter “... thought he saw a vision.”

The east window of the south transept depicts the Annunciation. Note the lilies and monogram m. (Mary). Lilies are by ancient tradition used as the badge and emblem of the Mother of God to denote purity. An old English tradition, popular in the West Country, frequently shows a spray of three in near-cruciform at the Annunciation as a reference to the Crucifixion, whereby God’s promise of Salvation to mankind was fulfilled.

The stained-glass window in the north wall depicts “Service and Sacrifice to God, The Giver of Eternal Life. God gave His Son human life through Mary and it was in her care that our Lord grew up. After His Ministry He laid down His Life, a perfect living sacrifice for the sin of the whole World and by that sacrifice we can aspire to Life Eternal”. The left-hand light shows Mary who, believing, lived a life of Service to the Glory of God. The right-hand light depicts the Pelican in Piety, supported by the Tree of Life, which stands in the Waters of Life, surrounded by the Walls of the Holy City. The background is red, with teardrops upon it. This represents the agony of sacrifice, the object being to depict the Sacrifice of the Crucifixion and not the crucifixion itself.

The Pelican of Piety is a very well-known device in Christian Art. It is a bird which will, when no other food is obtainable, peck itself in order to feed its young. The nest is presented as a crown of thorns.



In 1971 a general restoration of the church was completed with the placing of new lights in the nave. They were designed and made by three parishioners and a record of this achievement can be seen in the porch.

Church Registers

There are important and valuable old registers which date back to 1548. These contain records of those who – to stimulate the woollen industry – were buried in woollen shrouds between the years 1685 and 1789. An affidavit was necessary before burial. This curious custom was compulsory for a period of 120 years! The old registers are now in the expert care of the Dorset County Archivist at Dorchester.

List of Rectors

Robert Michel                  1327                      Robert Hussey                 1708

Stephen de Langton         1333                      Nathaniel Templeman      1712

John Renne                     1334                      Isaac Chapman                1716

Richard le Hulle               1341                      Thomas Bond                   1781

Thomas Burchet               1348                      John Richards                  1781

Thomas de Skiffard          1354                      James Leonard Jackson * 1833

Galfred Ipplepenny           1394                      Charles Onslow                1841

William Stuteville             1395                      John Mills Cox                 1850

Richard Bele                    1416                      Owen Luttrel Mansel **     1852

Roger Hooten                  1455                      Herbert Langston Wright  1898

William Gobard                1486                      Cyril Edwin Kindersley      1922

Thomas Payne                 1520                      Henry Lefroy Russell         1926

John Peryn                      1538                      Robert Henry Farthing      1936

John Hamme                   1546                      William Outram               1947

Stephen Popinjay             1572                      John Lewis Jenkins          1953

James Veroth                  1579                      John Pringle                    1959

Leonard Parry                  1613                      David Lloyd Evans            1966

William Burkett                1628                      John Henson                   1975

Valentine Ming                 1635                      Gerald Squarey                1978

John Newman                  1665                      Maurice Strike                 1991

* enlarged the Church by making the north aisle.

** restored the Chancel.

Some of the above held more than one parish. At present the benefice of Church Knowle is held in plurality with Corfe Castle, Kimmeridge and Steeple–with-Tyneham.


Hutchens - History of Dorset.

Rev. W. Miles Barnes - Paper on Church Goods, Dorset, 1552.

Dr Dru Drury - St. Peters Church, Church Knowle.

Arthur Mee - Dorset, page 67.

D Marion Grant – notes for the design of the window.

Cf. Book of Revelations.

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