St Margarets Church
Chippenham has a lovely church – St Margarets. The church building dates back to the 13th Century and included a chapel used by the Knights Hospitallers. The Knights Hospitallers were an order of Knights founded in the 12th Century to help sick pilgrims going to the Holy Land. Chippenham was an important site for the them and they had one of their preceptories here, with an infirmary, hall, chapel, etc. Sadly, these buildings no longer survive, but parts of the cellars are believed to remain below the Georgian School House which is nearly opposite the church. Parts of the Norman church are still visible and you can see the outlines of early windows in the North part of the choir and behind the main altar.
After a disastrous fire in 1446, much of the church was rebuilt. The South porch dates from this time, as well as some of the poppy-headed pews. The aisle and clerestory windows were rebuilt in Perpendicular style after the fire. The wall-paintings are also 15th Century.
On March 23rd 1643, during the purges by Puritans, the church was visited by William Dowsing who destroyed the stained glass windows and covered the frescoes with whitewash. Internal alterations during the 17th Century included the addition of a gallery across the West (Tower) end of the aisle, since demolished.
Further major restoration was carried out in the 19th century. In 1885 the chancel was rebuilt, a new East window installed and the floor tiled. The choir-stalls date from this restoration. The nave was restored in 1893, including replacement of the pillars along the South side (the North pillars are original). The font also dates from 1893.
In the 20th century, the Tharp Chapel in the North aisle was constructed by the Tharp family. It was dedicated by the Bishop of Ely in 1948. The inscription round the chapel walls records the memory of John Tharp, killed in Algiers in 1943.
Cleaning and restoration of the wall-paintings began in the 1970s. A rough patch of the North wall in the Tharp Chapel shows where one of the wall-paintings once hung. This was a large figure of St. Michael which had been carefully restored and was in the process of being replaced when it accidentally fell and smashed into pieces.
The church tower was restored in 1994, when the old stucco-work was removed and replaced with a fine honey-coloured finish. The tower itself is a mixture of clunch, flint and pebble rubble, there being no hard local stone available nearby.