The parish of Wootton Wawen lies on the southwestern edge of the Forest of Arden, which has stretched across Warwickshire since the Middle Stone Age. An Anglian tribe settled at Stoppingas, in the basin of the River Alne in early Saxon times. Known to the Celts as the Alwen, meaning "white", "bright" or "shining", the Alne rises at the edge of the Arden plateau and eventually joins the Avon. About ten miles of the river flows within Wootton Wawen parish, which once included Henley-in-Arden and the Chapelry of Ullenhall.
Wootton Wawen derives its name from "Wudutun" or "Uuidutuun", meaning an enclosure or village in or by a wood, and Wagen, the thane who gave his name to the settlement. In the Domesday Book of 1086, it is called "Wotone", but Wagen's name is also mentioned - "Waga held it freely". Over the centuries, the village's name has been spelt in a number of ways, for example; "Wagenes-Witone", "Waghnes Wotton", and "Wavens Wotton". However, "Wootton" has also been used since the 12th. century, and its present form, "Wootton Wawen" was in frequent use between the 15th. and 17th. centuries, although it is more commonly thought of as a 19th. and 20th. century version.
The Church at the Heart of the Early Settlement
The first wooden church was built at Wootton between 720 and 740 A.D, as a direct result of a charter granted by King Aethalbad of Mercia to Earl Aethelric for 20 hides of land, (around 2,000 acres) on which to build a monastery or minster of St. Mary. The first church may have been burnt and pillaged by Viking invaders, but between about 970 and 1040, Wagen, an Anglo-Danish landowner, established the present church.
Today, the remains of this stone church form the heart of the parish church of St. Peter's, including the lower two- thirds of the tower and the four arches enclosing the Saxon Sanctuary. Following the Norman Conquest of 1066, Wagen's lands were transferred to Robert of Stafford, formerly Robert de Tonei, and Wootton's church was given to the Abbey of Conches in Normandy, which had been founded in 1035 by Robert's father.
Conches Abbey was responsible for building a small priory opposite the church. Wootton was one of forty parishes and manors from which the Prior collected tithes and Papal taxes on behalf of the Abbey. However, in 1443, Henry VI closed down the Priory and its assets and church were given to King's College, Cambridge.
As it stands today, St. Peter's represents almost every stage of English architecture, and its mediaeval congregation was the first in a long line to raise funds to safeguard the building. A number of additions included the south aisle, the clerestoryed nave, the buttresses and a succession of re-roofing projects. In the 1880's, George Gilbert Scott Junior carried out a major restoration at St. Peter's, at an estimated cost of £5,000.