Mid summer 2013, and a return trip to the church of St Mary in Whittlesey. Whittlesey can be found some five miles from Peterborough, and boasts two medieval anglican parish churches. St Mary is the bigger of the two and is in the centre of the town. This is known locally as the 'high church'. The church of St Andrew, a few hundred yards away is smaller, and is known as the 'low church'.
It was Cambridgeshire Historic Churches tour day, which started off at Farcet before moving on to St Mary and then St Andrew across town. I was pleased to be able to see inside this church as it is normally kept locked to visitors. In fact, on my only previous visit there I found the church grounds locked as well which left me surprised. In nearly eight years, at the time of typing this, I have only seen one other church in which I could not gain entry to the grounds, this being from a total of just over 500 visited. No one minds a church being locked but the grounds....? The PCC at St Mary must have their reasons, and I daresay that they are valid, but it is interesting to see that the grounds at St Andrew are open!
The church here is thought to date from the 13th century, with things being rebuilt after a fire devestated the town in 1244AD. The oldest parts of the existing structure are the north arcade and the chancel arch. The nave and the north and south aisles date from the 14th century with the tower being built in the 15th century. The tower is exquisite and would go down as probably the finest on any church within the catchment area of this site. The best view is from the west, across an area of grass, see photo top left. From all other angles the view is obstructed by buildings. There are stone heads dotted about the exterior, with many showing signs of erosion.
The church of St Mary was one of the churches looked at by Revd Sweeting in his mid Victorian study of the churches in and around Peterborough. According to Sweeting, it was, in the 1860's, possible to see the spire of St Mary whilst standing on Peterborough bridge. That is certainly not possible these days but there is a good long distance shot across the fields from the Dog In A Doublet public house. See photo above.
Eight bells hang here with the first two being cast by Osborn and Dobson, a founder that I have not come across before, who worked from premesis at Downham in Norfolk. Both of these bells are dated 1803, with the first having the inscroption 'The Lord To Praise My Voice I'll Raise'.
The other six were all cast by Joseph Eayre of St Neots in 1758. He must have made a good job as, the following year, he went on to cast a ring of five bells for St Andrew. Some lovely inscriptions can be found on his bells. Bell number three reads 'Peace and Good Neighbourhood' whilst bell number four says 'Do Justice Love Mercy and Walk Humbly With Thy God'. The churchwardens of the day, John Sudbury and John Johnson, can be found on bell number five and bell six states 'The Five Old Bells In To Six Was Run With Additional Metal Near A Tun'. Obviously, Eayre had re-cast existing bells but I have no record of who cast these earlier ones.
Bell number seven has the inscription 'Prosperity To The Establish'd Church Of England And No Encouragement To Enthusiasm' I have no idea what that means! The final bell of the ring has the name of the Vicar, Thomas Moor. This was a bell from Eayre but has a date of 1803 on it, which leads me to think that some work on this final bell was done by Osborn and Dobson when they were fixing up the other two bells that year.
The church is light and welcoming inside, and it was a delight to be here with the sun streaming in through the south windows. Stained glass includes a five panel window depicting scenes from the life of Christ, with the crucifiction at the centre. There is also a depiction of the Transfiguration, in vivid colour, with Moses holding the commandments next to Jesus, whilst off to the south Doubting Thomas takes a close look at Christ's wounds, whilst being watched by other disciples. Elsewhere, St Peter stands holding the keys to heaven.
Looking around, there is a great deal of gold leaf ornamentation to be seen. I would imagine that this was done in Victorian times. It looks as if they were keep on gold leafing anything that they could lay their hands on. Not to my taste at all but times change. An elaborately carved chair catches the eye as well, with grotesque face with long flowing hair carved in to the backrest.
A study of this church in the mid 18th century suggested that the church grounds were full to overflowing with graves. I believe that some more ground was added but the church was still closed for burials from the mid nineteenth century onwards. These days there is little to be seen. Sadly, a major clearance has left little of any interest with a few gravestones propped up around the perimiter in places.
I enjoyed my time here. This is a lovely church and it was good to be able to spend some time inside it. When we finished we moved across town to the church of St Andrew. A glorious Sunday afternoon, three churches to look around and England had just gone one up in the Ashes against Australia. Life is good.