Winchester (The Milner Hall) - St Peter

St Peter Street, Winchester, Hampshire

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Consecrated on 5 December 1792, this building is of considerable importance on both religious and architectural grounds. It is believed to be the first church in England to be consecrated since the Reformation and was instigated by the Rev. Dr John Milner (1752-1826) who went on in 1803 to become Vicar Apostolic of the Midland District until his death in 1826. It is therefore of significance in the history of Catholicism in this country.

Milner was appointed to Winchester in 1779, where he developed his antiquarian interests, and wrote a history of the city. In building his new church he worked closely with his friend, the architect, writer, illustrator and antiquary, John Carter (1748-1817). Carter was a pivotal figure as a propagandist of the Gothic Revival and his numerous articles in the Gentleman’s Magazine did much to promote an interest in the style. He also passionately argued for respect to be shown to historic church fabric, and his ideas and language anticipate those of the Ecclesiologists. The use of Gothic detailing in the chapel is therefore a part of the story of the resurgence of the style which was to reach its zenith during the mid-nineteenth century.

In Winchester Mass was said in secret until the appearance, about 1740, of a chapel converted from a shed in the garden of the resident priest, John Shaw. Dr John Milner arrived in Winchester in 1779 and extended the existing chapel in 1784. Then, in collaboration with his friend, John Carter, he rebuilt it: it was consecrated on 5 December 1792. This was of importance as the first church in England to be consecrated since the Reformation and also as an example of the burgeoning Gothic style.

A new church was built in 1924-6 nearby on ground to the north and Milner’s building became a parish hall. It has lost its internal fittings and some of its exterior ornament. It was restored in 1986 when areas at each end were divided off for toilets, kitchen, an office etc (architects: Plincke, Leaman & Brown of Winchester).

The building is oriented south: all directions given here are liturgical.

The main façade has a red-brick plinth and above is stuccoed and painted white. It has seven windows with wooden Perpendicular tracery (including one window set over the porch in the west bay). The bays are divided by buttresses with one off-set. They originally, according to the list description, carried pinnacles. Above is a battlemented parapet. The west wall is brick-faced below and tile-hung in the upper parts: the building has a double gable roof.

The interior is divided into seven bays with thin wall-shafts and a shallow, ribbed vaulted ceiling, restored in simplified form in 1986. The windows on the north and blind arches on the south are covered by ogee arches. The eastern part was divided off in 1986 for a kitchen and offices. The gallery at the other end occupies the two west bays: it has three depressed Gothic arches spanning the width of the building. The west bay under the gallery was partitioned off in 1986. 

Diocese: Portsmouth

Architect: John Carter

Original Date: 1792

Conservation Area: Yes

Listed Grade: Grade II