ALWALTON : CHURCH OF ST ANDREW

Church Post Code  PE7 3UN

Closed to visitors

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It was a gloriously sunny April afternoon in 2022, the Easter Weekend and it was time for a long overdue re-shoot of the church of St Andrew, Alwalton.

Alwalton is a pleasant village, which can be found some five miles to the west of Peterborough, set against the south bank of the river Nene, by the side of the A605 which connects Peterborough to Oundle, the AIM dividing Alwalton from neighbouring Chesterton.

There is a great deal of history here, with the village being mentioned at the time of the Domesday Survey in 1086. There was no mention of a church here at that time. Alwalton marble was quarried here, which was used in the cathedrals at Lincoln, Peterborough, Bury St Edmunds and Ely, and in Southwell Minster.

Notable residents include Sir Henry Royce, co-founder of Rolls Royce, who was born in the village, with his ashes buried inside the church. The population was 317 at the time of the 2011 census.

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The church of St Andrew is set alongside the main road which runs through the village; surrounded by trees on three sides, with some glorious 17th century cottages close by. This is a beautiful setting, particularly in spring with the trees in blossom and the church grounds awash with Primrose.

 The red bricked Victorian junior school stands a little way off to the north, closed since the late 1970’s. A sleepy village, just managing to avoid being swallowed up by the westerly expansion of Peterborough; and a village which I have had close association with for my whole life.

Fond memories of attending many midnight communions here on Christmas Eve, walking in from the neighbouring village and heading back after service, enjoying the solitude and the quiet; a few Christmas trees still lit up at that very late or very early hour!

 The church here is cruciform in structure, and consists of west tower, nave with north and south aisles and clerestories, north and south transepts, south porch and chancel.

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The church that we see today dates back to the late 12th century, with the north aisle and arcades dating originally to around 1190. There was rebuilding here early in the 13th century with the west tower and south aisle being added.

Around 1300 plans were drawn up to enlarge the church here. A large chancel was added, along with north and south transepts and a central tower was started to be built. This was abandoned after around 30 years though and what was built of the central tower was pulled down.

The nave walls were raised and clerestory added in the 15th century. There was restoration here in the early 1840’s, at which time the chancel arch was rebuilt and the south porch added; with the south east corner of the tower being rebuilt.

When Owen compiled his list of the church bells of Huntingdonshire in late Victorian times, he noted that the tower was ‘shaky’; this was underpinned in 1902 to stabilise it.

Looking at the exterior from the south, the west tower is square, buttressed and battlemented, with an ancient gargoyle looking out from the south face. There is a two light lancet at the belfry stage, with a blind arch on either side.

The clerestory wall is rendered, putting it at odds with the rest of the exterior; gargoyles look out from the south wall of the nave and the west wall of the south transept, these being very weathered.

A sundial which is dated to 1735 can be seen attached to the south transept; the wording ‘Watch and Pray’ across the top just legible. Another very weathered timepiece of considerably more age is the mass dial which can be seen by the side of the south inner door. The chancel is long and impressive and the whole church is heavily buttressed throughout.

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There is a ring of five bells here with four of these courtesy of Thomas Norris of the Stamford bellfoundry. The first three of the ring are all inscribed ‘Thomas Norris Made Mee 1661’ and the fifth of the ring is the same but dated 1672.

The fourth of the ring was also cast locally, by the prolific Henry Penn in 1722, who operated out of Peterborough. This one is inscribed with the name of the rector of the day, Will Waring and church warden John Cox.

Owen, in his study of the church bells in Huntingdonshire; previously mentioned described the bells here as being in poor order.

Moving inside, through the early 13th century south door, it was bright and welcoming, with clear glass in all the windows to the south helping in this respect.

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The north arcade is of four bays, with the south arcade being of three bays. Each of the aisles is very narrow. A couple of carvings of human heads look out from the bays of the north aisle; one figure with slightly crossed eyes looks straight out across the nave whilst his neighbour for whatever reason looks out at an angle to the south east.

Covid was very much still with us and a notice up on a pier to the north advises people to stay two metres apart.

The south transept is used as an organ chamber and the north transept is used as the vestry. The central crossing is impressive and still speaks hundreds of years later as to how elaborate the abandoned plans for this church were.

Standing at the Victorian rebuilt chancel arch and looking to the west, the tower arch is screened off with a door leading to the toilet and the stair turret. The font is square and plain and dates from the 15th century.

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The chancel is heavily victorianised, but does retain some ancient features. There is an empty tomb recess to the north wall and sedilia of three bays and a piscina to the south wall. The altar is simple; set out for service that day, with a cross flanked by candlesticks. A First World War memorial is seen to the south wall of the chancel.

With the exception of a few coloured medieval fragments reset in to a small window on the south wall of the chancel, there is one stained glass window here, this to be found in the east window of the chancel.

This three light window depicts the ascension. Jesus stands on a cloud, arms raised with crucifixion wounds visible. He is flanked by two angels, one of whom carries the flag of St George.

Eleven disciples and Mary the mother of Jesus look up from below. There is no symbolism to identify exactly which disciple is which but John is identifiable by his youthful clean shaven appearance and Peter, standing next to Mary is identifiable by his receding hairline.

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The restoration of this church in 1840 increased the seating in this church by 72 places. Revd Sweeting’ in his look at the parish churches around Peterborough which was published in 1868 remarked that the seating after the restoration was ‘not what would be admired in a restoration of today’ but was far better than what was there previously, with the church as a whole in very poor repair He goes on to quote a circular relating to the 1840 repairs, issued in 1840, which reads…

‘The repairs had long been neglected and at various times it had been disfigured by every possible enormity; by pews or rather cribs of every shape size height and colour; by what was called a singing loft; by bricking up one most beautiful arch and by letting others go to decay, by broken floors, broken seats and broken windows by crumbling walls and a roof scarcely hanging together’.

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The church grounds are on interest, without there being anything of great importance or rarity to be seen. There are some finely crafted eighteenth century gravestones to the south of the grounds and a single deaths head on a headstone close to the north transept.

The deaths head was a depiction of a human skull; one of the symbols of the mortality of Man. This was often used to remind the onlooker that Man is mortal and will die; therefore live a good Christian life and do not get caught lacking when your own time comes. And in days of low life expectancy your time might come a little quicker than you might think!

And on this same topic a small memorial on the south wall of the chancel records the deaths of three infants, born to Revd John Hopkinson and Elizabeth his wife. John Miles died in 1837 aged ten months, Judith was born and died the same day in 1838 and Leonard died aged 9 months in 1842.

A lovely church, in a picturesque setting in a beautiful village! This one is normally closed to visitors; as indeed they almost all are in the villages immediately to the west of Peterborough. It is worth a look at if you get the chance. Pre covid the key was kept at the village shop but I think that this might not be the case now.

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I am thankful to my good friend David Neate from Alwalton church for providing a few of the interior shots for this page after I had a few technical issues!

If you would like to see the page for my visit to neighbouring Chesterton, please click on the photograph immediately above left. To visit the church at Castor, to be found a short distance away on the other side of the Nene, please click on the photograph above centre. To hear the church bells at St Andrew ring, please click on the photograph above right.