St Peter's Church flies some special flags - and you can climb to the foot of the flagstaff for an amazing view

Written by Tony Millett on .

A new Marlborough tradition has been born at St Peter's Church: they mark thirty national days and anniversaries of relevant events each year by flying the appropriate flag, standard or arms.  This tradition began some years after the Church was declared redundant in 1974.  A Trust now runs the Church on a 99-year lease from the Diocese of Salisbury.

St Peter's 'flag days' vary from the day Thomas Wolsey was ordained in this church (10 March 1498) to the ten days of the Battle of Britain and back to the day King John granted Marlborough its Charter (20 June 1204.)  As people often ask why an unfamiliar flag is flying over St Peter's, we are publishing the full list below.

They also fly flags to mark specific anniversaries.  On Bank Holiday Monday (May 30) the White Ensign was flying to mark the day HMS Marlborough was adopted by the town - one of the regular days.  This year the Ensign is staying aloft for two more days to mark the hundredth anniversary of the important First World War naval engagement, the Battle of Jutland - in which the battleship HMS Marlborough played a significant role.

Some of the these flags and standards are regular ones you can buy, but many of the flags flown over St Peter's are so esoteric that they are specially made - by Marlborough resident, former ceremonial officer and embroiderer David Sherratt.  He also made the new banners in the Church.

A specially designed 1914-1918 War remembrance flag - designed by David Sherratt - is being flown to mark the hundredth anniversary of days on which individual Parishoners were killed during that war.    

Major York with the flag of the Shakepeare Family Arms Major York with the flag of the Shakepeare Family Arms Another example of David Sherratt's work is the Shakespeare Family Arms.  This is flown on May 3 to mark Shakespeare's birthday (1564). 

This is often celebrated on April 23 - which is inconvenient for as it conflicts with St George's Day - and that day certainly needs a flag.  However, by using the Gregorian calendar, which was introduced during Shakespeare's lifetime, his birthday slides neatly forward to May 3.

The man who looks after the flags and often raises and lowers them, is Major Jeremy York, St Peter's Constable of the Tower.  He also organises - and often conducts - the tours of the church tower.  Some 1,500 a year make the climb raising about £2,000 towards the Church's upkeep.  

It is a fairly cramped climb up 137 steps to the top, but it is well worth it for the history you pass on the way up and the amazing views from the top.

1966: the bigger bells were removed from the Tower 1966: the bigger bells were removed from the Tower The surviving bellThe surviving bell The clock - still punctual after all those yearsThe clock - still punctual after all those years John Bayly was here John Bayly was here

Even on a dull Bank Holiday Monday, once you are 100 feet above street level the views of the town and its surroundings are a revelation.  You certainly get a unique view of the Marlborough Mound.

This Mound is hidden away in Marlborough College grounds and has only recently been proved to date from the same era as Neolithic Silbury Hill.  Later it was used by the Normans to raise the castle's keep above the homes of the hoi polloi.  And later still, the stone from the castle was used to build St Peter's Church.

Did you know the High Street curls so much?Did you know the High Street curls so much?   View from St Peter's Tower of the Marlborough Mound [Click on images to enlarge them]View from St Peter's Tower of the Marlborough Mound [Click on images to enlarge them]

As you climb the tower you pass through The Priests's Room (where the flags are stored), the ringing chamber (from which they used to ring the bells), the clock room (with its working clock), the belfry (now with just one bell) and so to the tower roof itself.

At one point you can see the signature of John Bayly - once of the Merchants House - inscribed into the wall.  Other graffiti are more recent and not so interesting!

The church's bells were removed in 1966 because their great weight was damaging the tower.  Only the smaller Sanctus or curfew bell remains - it was cast in 1741.  It now provides the chimes for the clock.

The clock was made by a Shropshire company in the very early years of the twentieth century.  It is regularly serviced by an expert who says it will not need a major overhaul for another 150 years.

It is known that a church on the site was dedicated to St Peter in 1223.  It was rebuilt in about 1460 - taking some of its stone from the castle.  In the later sixteenth century the dedication was changed to 'St Peter and St Paul' - and although the Trust bears both saints' names, it is now known once again as St Peter's Church

Tours of the tower are available most Saturdays and Bank Holidays between Easter and early October, and are possible at other times by appointment via the St Peter's website. St Peter's The charge (at the time of writing) is £2 for adults and £1 for accompanies children.  And once down again, there is a very good café in the Church serving good pick-you-up coffee - and very good cake.

St Peter's Church schedule of regular flag raisings through the year:

26 January        Australia Day                          Australian national flag

5 February        Waitangi Day                           New Zealand national

6 February        Accession of HM The Queen   Union flag

March (varies)   Commonwealth Day                Union flag

1 March             St David's Day                         Welsh national flag

10 March         Ordination of Thomas Wolsey
                           (1498 at St Peter's Church)     Wolsey's Arms

17 March          St Patrick's Day                        St Patrick saltire

21 April             Birthday of HM The Queen (1926) Union flag

23 April             St George's Day                        Flag of St George

3 May              Birthday of William
                                Shakespeare (1564)          Shakespeare family arms

19 May        Marlborough Charter Day -
                              Queen Elizabeth I (1576)    Royal arms of Elizabeth I

25 May         Wessex Day                                 Flag of Wessex

30 May         HMS Marlborough adopted by   Union flag or
                                               the Town                White Ensign

2 June          HM the Queen's Coronation (1953) Union flag

June (varies)Official birthday of HM the Queen  Union flag

15 June        Sealing of Magna Carta                  Royal standard of King John

20 June        Marlborough Charter Day - King     Royal Standard of
                                               John (1204)                King John

June (varies) Armed Forces Day                         Union flag

29 June        St Peter's Day                                 Flag of St Peter

1 July           Dominion Day                                Canadian national flag

4 July           USA Independence day                Stars and stripes

3 September Merchant Navy Day                      Red Ensign

6-15 September Battle of Britain                        RAF Association Standard

21 October        Trafalgar Day (1805)                 Union flag or White Ensign    

25 October         St Crispin's Day (Battle of
                                        Agincourt - 1415)         Flag of St George

26 October         Death of King Alfred the
                                             Great (899)             Flag of Wessex

November (varies)Remembrance Sunday          Union flag

11 November         Armistice Day (1918)             Union flag

29 November        Death of Cardinal Wolsey (1530)  Wolsey's Arms

30 November         St Andrew's Day                     St Andrew Saltire

(St Peter's flag is also flown on days associated with the Trust that looks after the church.)