May 2015, and a trip to the church of St John The Baptist, Wakerley, Northants. This was a return visit, with a couple of earlier visits finding the church closed to visitors. This time though, the church was open and it was good to see inside.The church here is still consecrated, but there are only three services a year held here. The church of St Peter at neighbouring Barrowden covers both villages. Today, the church at Wakerley is cared for by the Churches Conservation Trust. Despite the lack of worship here, this is a church that still stands proud, at the extreme western edge of the village, and is still well cared for. The church grounds are immaculately well kept and this is a really nice place to spend some time.
The church itself dates back as far as the 12th century, with the tower and spire dating back to the 14th century. There was mention made of a priest here at the time of the Domesday survey of 1086. That earlier church would probably have been a basic wooden chancel and nave, of which no trace remains. The whole church was restored in 1875 by J.B Corby of Stamford. He was a prolific architect who was even responsible for the design of the Westminster Memorial Hospital as far away as Shaftsbury in Dorset.
The church here is probably most famous for some wonderful carvings on pillars supporting the 12th century chancel arch. These are viewed as some of the finest stone carvings in England. The finest of these depicts two men in chain mail, riding a single horse. The detail on the carving is superb with fine details such as the bridle on the horse being clearly marked. One of the soldiers has a hand raised, finger pointing upwards, possibly towards heaven. The castles are certainly not English in design and possibly is a carving which depicts a scene from one of the Crusades? I typed in "Two knights on one horse" in to Google and found that this was the design on the seal of the Knights Templar. They were the most skilled fighting unit of the Christian forces during the Crusades. To counter against the argument that this is a scene depicting the Knights Templar, they wore white gowns with a red cross on it, the figures depicted here are not.
The chancel arch itself is beautifully crisp, with a zig zag pattern on it. The font dates from the 13th century and several floor slabs from the mid 17th century are laid in the chancel for members of the Cecil family, the Earls of Exeter.
Another fabulous design features what appear to be dragons, one further consisting of a grotesque face with a flowing design appearing to come from it's mouth. Fabulous work, which, quality wise, left me thinking of those carvings found at St Kyneburgha at Castor.
A glance upwards shows a series of ceiling bosses. Some of these are quite unusual to put it mildly. Two in particular are worth mentioning in detail. One of these has two human figures, both female I think, sat down with a large black ghostlike image rising up between the two. Very strange, as is the boss nearby which depicts a man and woman. The man wears a red and black striped top and is wearing a mask. He is reaching out towards the woman's head. The woman has her eyes closed My gut reaction on first seeing this was executioner and victim. The meanings behind these have been lost in the mists of time. Fascinating though as to why they are there. There was work done on the ceiling here in the mid 1700's and I suspect that these bosses date from this time.
When North compiled his Victorian study of the church bells of Northamptonshire he noted that there were three bells hanging, going on to mention that four bells had hung here in 1700. The fourth bell, founder unknown, has rested for many years inside the church, and was eventually sold with the procedes going towards church repairs. Of the three noted by North, one was from Newcombe of Leicester and is dated 1598. another was dated a year later and was cast by Francis Watts, also of Leicester in the year before his death. This bell has a typical olde English inscription, often associated with Watts' bells, which reads "Cum Cum and Prae".
The other bell was also cast locally, coming from Thomas Norris of the Stamford Bellfoundry. This one is dated 1663 and has the inscription "Thomas Norris Made Mee 1663".
E.S carved their initials in to the north porch in 1734, a few years later A.C did the same. Inbetween the two is a mark which resembles a "w". This could be just another masons mark but could also be a Marion Mark. This was a mark carved in to walls where draughts were common, such as windows, doors and fireplaces. In days of superstition draughts of air could be taken for the manifestation of eveil spirits.
Moving outside and there are some fine quality Georgian gravestones here, and a few that go back a little further. A gravestone dated 1668 has it's own Grade II listing, as does a chest tomb to one Jacob De Rippe, dated 1776. A couple of graves here feature the human skull. This was a symbol used to force home to the onlooker that Man is mortal and will die. This was done in symbol form as few of the population would have been able to read or write. In days where life expectancy was low and mortality rates were high, it was important to force home to the people to live a good life as you didn't know when your time would come. A grave from a later date at Paston, Peterborough, simply says "Be Ye Also Ready" and this is pretty much the message that is being put over here.
A lovely church in a delightful part of the country. The church of St John The Baptist at Wakerley is very well worth a visit if you are in the area.