CARLBY : CHURCH OF ST STEPHEN.

Church Post Code  PE9 4NB

The church here is normally closed to visitors

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It was a bright, sunny morning in January 2022; with the plan being to visit a cluster of    churches between Stamford and Market Deeping. I had ten churches lined up at the southern end of a rough triangle formed by Stamford, Market Deeping and Bourne to the north.

Carlby was the first church visited of the day. The church here is normally kept closed to visitors; but I had arranged to have the church opened up for 9AM. I have to admit that, however good it was to be able to see inside the church, I felt a little bad about asking someone out early to open up on what had turned out to be a colder, frostier morning than I had expected.

Carlby is a village on the Rutland/Lincolnshire border. Essendine, a mile or so off to the west is in Rutland. The population at the time of the 2011 census was 542. The village sign shows the church of St Stephen at the top; a person ploughing a field with a couple of shire horses in the centre and a train at the bottom.

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The story behind the train is of great interest. In July 1938 the LNER Mallard broke the world speed record for a steam train; reaching a speed of 126 miles an hour, with the top speed reached just outside Carlby. A friend who was very much in to railway history told me once that the effects on this train was so severe that it had to go very slowly in towards Peterborough to recover, otherwise it would probably have had to be written off.

The church of St Stephen is set back from the main road, which runs to the south of the village. It consists of west tower, nave with north and south aisles, south porch and chancel.  I entered through a gate to the north east, a friendly hello from a local couple walking their dog through the spacious grounds giving a very favourable first impression.

There was hardly a cloud in the sky and I was looking forward to seeing inside. I had been here once before, late on in the day on a Sunday summer evening several years before. It was late and the light was fading and we were surprised to find the church open. It was good to see inside and I always said that a return visit would be made one day in better lighting.

The majority of the church here dates from the early 13th century, with the tower, tower arch, nave arcades and north aisle all dating from that time. The spire dates to a little later. The chancel arch and the chancel itself were each rebuilt during the 14th century.

The south aisle was rebuilt late in the 14th century and the clerestories were added early in the 15th century. The previous steeply pitched roofline can be seen when looking at the east end of the nave, the roof being altered when the clerestory was added.

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It was very bright inside, so much so that a few photographs did not take too well due to the glare. There is no stained glass at all anywhere on the south side of the church, and the interior was flooded with sunlight as a result. On the subject of stained glass, there is only one small stained glass panel here, this to be found  inside the tower arch, with a male figure with scarlet nimbus, looking up intently as the Holy Spirit floods down in the form of the sun’s rays. Given that this church is dedicated to St Stephen, I did wonder if this might be him. If Stephen is depicted it is normally showing his martyrdom.

There are three bay arcades to north and south, these dating from around 1200. Ancient stone faces look out from various places in the nave, all seemingly in distress. An empty tomb recess on the north wall houses a medieval coffin slab.

The chancel is plain and simple. The three light east window is of clear glass. The altar contains only two candlesticks. The reredos is a shelf, on which is a cross. The late 17th century communion rails unusually are in blue and gold. Three small wall plaques are on the eastern ends of north and south walls. A large, pleasant interior,

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Over the chancel arch there is the very faded remains of a wall painting. It is said that there are paintings from three different periods here, with one of these being a doom painting. Doom paintings refer to the Day of Judgement, when Jesus returns and all are judged. It says in Matthew Chapter 25 versus 31 to 33 "When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne.  All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.  He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left."

 Heaven, interestingly sometimes the form of a castle, a place of safety in violent times, is on Jesus' right, whilst hell, often in the form of a large serpents mouth is on Jesus’ left.  In its original state, the dead would be depicted rising up from their graves; those deemed righteous (the sheep) would be taken off to Heaven whilst those condemned (the goats) would be depicted naked and thrown in to hell.  Jesus Himself would be central, along with The Virgin Mary and John, and also sometimes St Michael, who would carry the scales which weighed the souls of the dead.

Dooms are a fascinating part of church history. Sadly, they would have been whitewashed over during the reformation and the few remaining sections that are left give a tantalising glimpse of what was. To be fair, there is little left to see on this one. A few grave slabs are still discernible, and one of two human figures are still intact. One large foot can be seen from one of the figures who would have overseen the judgement from above.

Standing at the chancel and looking to the west, there is a doorway high up on the south side of the west wall. It looks as if this leads to the ringing chamber, and what a precarious journey upwards that must have been on a pre health and safety Sunday morning.

There is a single bell here, of great age. This dates back to the 15th century and is attributed to a Nottingham founder. This bell is inscribed Sancta Maria.

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An interesting floor slab reads as follows ‘Sacred to the memory of Jonathan Pilkington of Market Deeping, Gentleman, who in a moment of vigorous health was seized with apoplexy. Sensible altho deprived of speech no mental anguish or bodily pain disturbed the tranquillity of a mind firm in faith and devoted to benevolence. In peace (The sacred tribute to an upright man) He departed this life the 6th day of Dec 1844 aged 65 years’.

In the midst of life we are in death. The same can be said for Oliver Smith, whose gravestone can be seen to the north east of the church grounds. He passed away in May 1872 aged 54 years.  A brief epitaph states that he ‘died suddenly in his chair’.

According to the church guide, the church here was in very poor condition, and was supported by scaffolding from 1912 for several years, with major restoration work beginning in 1933.

It was an enjoyable, if slightly chilly, start to what would turn out to be a ten church crawl, covering three counties, with nine of these being open. On odd occasions when I do ask if the church could be unlocked, I always appreciate very much when people are prepared to do so; especially on a cold winter morning!

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If you would like to see the page detailing my visit to the church of St John the Evangelist, Ryhall a neighbouring village and another church in the Gwash and Glen Benefice, please click on the photograph immediately above right to be directed to it. This page will open up in another window.