Stilton.  Church : St Mary

the late 17th and early 18th centuries. Author Daniel Defoe, in his book "A Tour Through The Villages of England And Wales" which was published in 1724, made mention of the village's association with cheese. But the history of cheese in the village goes back further than that. An episode of Time Team a few years ago unearthed what was thought to be a Roman Cheese Press! According to the Official website for Stilton Cheese, more than one million are made every year and it is protected by law and is only able to be made in Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire. Stilton is in Cambridgeshire so none of the cheese sold there is made there....and one final note on cheese. The Stilton Cheese Rolling Festival, where teams race against each other on Mayday, rolling a simulation cheese down the main street of the village has been running for more than 50 years!

     This was a return trip to the village, a Sunday afternoon that was bright but very cold. Have to count our blessing though with snow falling heavily 50 miles away. Stilton is a fair size village, with the population topping the 2,000 mark in the early 1990's, this being more than double than that of twenty years previously. The main reason for the return trip was to re-shoot a spectacular and ornate tomb, that fell foul of poor light, poor camera…and poor photographer on my previous visit!

   Stilton has always been an important place geographically, situated at the side of a major Roman road, Ermine Street, and the area around Stilton and Folksworth was also the site of a major Prisoner of War Camp from Napoleonic times. This camp, called the Yaxley Barracks by some, held several thousand prisoners of war over a number of years. Some gravestones here have French sounding names including one for Jean Marie Phillippe Habart, who was robbed and murdered in 1863.

    The church of St Mary is a mixture of old and new. At the front of the church, several modern features have been built which indicates that this church is a focal point of what appears to be a thriving community.

    There was no church mentioned here at the time of the Domesday Survey in 1086. The earliest parts of the present structure are the nave arcades, which date from the 13th century. Most of the rest of the building dates from the 15th century. Much restoration has been undertaken here over the years, with rebuilding going on in 1808 and 1857. Further work to rebuild the east wall of the south aisle came about in the late 1880's and the south aisle was rebuilt again some twenty years later.

    The tower is a rather plain, four stage affair, with some rather worn gargoyles sitting high up. This is a lovely setting, with the tower picturesquely surrounded by trees as you enter the village from neighbouring Folksworth. On the subject of the tower, when Owen produced his study of Huntingdonshire church bells in 1899 it was noted that the tower here was unsafe.

    Two bells hang in the tower here, both of considerable age. One is dated 1639 and was cast locally by Thomas Norris of the Stamford Bellfoundry. The second is attricuted to the Oldfield's at Nottingham and is 16th century. This latter bell has an engraving of the Virgin and Child on it. Owen's study mentions that there are pits here for three bells, a third bell used to hang here but was cracked and was sold.

     As mentioned earlier, I wanted to re-shoot one tomb in particular. This is a very fine piece of work. Old Father Time holds a broken hour glass, from which he has poured an image of the deceased. Man’s mortality is also symbolized by two human skulls at Father Time’s feet whilst  a plant springs to life at the back of one of the skulls. The whole scene surrounded by ornate pillars. Another side of the tomb features and weeping cherub with flame of life downturned indicating death and mourning. A stunning piece of work, which was made by Andrews and son of Wisbech, possibly in the very late 18th century.

    This church is normally kept closed to visitors, but I was able to attend a Christingle service here just before Christmas in 2012. There is quite a lot of modern building here and refreshments after the service were provided in a modern function room to the north side of the nave. My attention was drawn to a coffin lid leaning against the south aisle wall. This has a cross at the top and the bottom and is thought to date from the 12th century. It was found under the south wall whilst work was being carried out.

   Stained glass depicts Jesus Christ carrying his cross on the road to Calvary, this dates from 1897 and was put in to commemorate the 60th year of Queen Victoria's reign. There are two brasses, dating from late 16th and early 17th centuries. There are both to members of the Curthoyse family and the royal coat of arms of George II hangs in the north aisle, with this being dated 1753.

I really enjoyed my time here. This village has a great deal of history associated with it and it is well worth a visit. The village itself, with its wide main street and famous coaching inns, the Bell and the Angel, is a delight to visit. To close, on an interesting point for those interested in history and alcohol, at one point Stilton had 14 public houses for a population of around 500 people!

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The village sign on the approach to Stilton says it all. An image of a man rolling a cheese down a hill. Stilton is most famous for the blue cheese of the same name. A cream cheese was said to have been sold in Stilton as far back as

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