CONINGTON : CHURCH OF ALL SAINTS
Church Post Code PE7 3QE
Redundant - cared for by Churches Conservation Trust. Check CCT website for opening.
The exterior of the church of All Saints, with its pinnacles sticking out above the trees, is a familiar landmark just to one side of the busy A1M, on the left hand side if you are heading towards London. If you see the church at Woodwalton, with its red tiles roof, across the field on high ground you have overshot by a couple of miles!
Conington is a very small village around six miles south of Peterborough. There is no more than a scattering of houses, a light airfield and the impressive church of All Saints. During the Second World War, Glatton Airfield was built by the Americans between 1942 and 1943, and this passed in to the hands of the RAF at the end of the war. This airfield was closed and sold in 1948.
There are just two services a year held here these days, with the church being in the hands of the Churches Conservation Trust. It was on one of these Sunday afternoons, on a glorious Spring day, that the assembled faithful gathered for the first service of 2019. This was a return visit for me, having attended services here for a few years. My first trip here was back in 2008, cycling in from neighbouring Holme; All Saints looking splendid behind fields of yellow oilseed rape on a delightful April morning. A delightful scene but not necessarily for those with hay fever! My only company on the day was a couple riding horses. Peace and calm despite the A1M roaring away in the near distance.
Visually, this is an impressive and ornate church. It consists of west tower, nave with north and south aisles, chapels and chancel. There are clerestory windows to north and south. The west tower is of four stages, heavily buttressed, with a church clock facing out to the west. There are north and south porches, but entry was through a door in the west of the tower. The nave and chancel are battlemented.
The tower is pinnacled, with weather vanes on each pinnacle. Centrally, on each side of the tower, a gargoyle sits. A frieze on the parapet around the tower, contains a repeated quatrefoil design. The tower, nave and chancel are battlemented. A gargoyle on the south wall of the nave pulls open his mouth in a medieval gesture of insult, at those approaching the church.
There was a church mentioned here at the time of the Domesday Survey of 1086. Nothing remains of that structure and it is thought that the whole church underwent a major rebuilding towards the end of the 15th century. The church here was dedicated to St Mary during the 14th century and to complicate things further it was known as Our Lady Of Conington in the 16th century.
The church underwent further restoration in 1634, with the work being undertaken by Sir Thomas Cotton. Several other periods of restoration came about in Victorian times. There are six bells in the beautiful tower, all of which are quite modern. All six were cast by Thomas Mears, a London founder. One bell is undated, three of the bells are dated 1827 and one is dated 1834.
At one point there were four bells hanging in the tower here. Three of these bells were sold in 1802, with the money raised buying a church clock. One bell was retained and it is thought that this bell is the undated one, which would have been re-cast by Mears at the time that the others were cast.
Moving inside and is immediately obvious that there has been some serious wealth here over the years. The estate at Conington was owned by Maud, daughter of Countess Judith, who was herself the niece of William the Conqueror. When Maud married David, son of King Malcolm III of Scotland, in 1109, the estate passed to her husband. Conington remained in the possession of the Scottish crown until 1237. The estate passed through the female line for generations until it came to the Cotton family in 1477. The tales that this church could tell!
There is no stained glass here as such, but the glass in the five light east window is tinted. The chancel is heavily Victorianised, with a simple altar having a cross, two small candlesticks and some flowers. Commandment boards containing The Lords Prayer, The Ten Commandments and the Creed run behind the alter acting as a reredos.
A memorial stands to Prince Henry of Conington, Lord of Scotland and another to David, King of Scotland and Earl of Huntingdon. Yes, pretty well connected over the years.
A carving of Elizabeth Cotton dated 1702 is the work of Grinling Gibbons, whose work can be seen in Westminster Abbey, and more locally at Exton in Rutland. The earliest monument can be seen in the south chapel, and is the Purbeck marble memorial to Bernard de Brus, lord of the manor, who died in 1332. De Brus is shown in a beautifully carved monk's habit over a coat of mail.
So, the great and the good are memorialised, but so are Robart and Thomas who carved their names in to the wall in what could be 1611. Robart’s surname is illegible and Thomas’ surname might be Johns. The mark of the common man.
Church grounds are, in places, very overgrown but there some very finely carved gravestones to be found amongst the weeds. In addition to the usual angels and cherubs, a gravestone depicting a human skull peers out from behind ivy, reminding the casual onlooker of Man's mortality. The skull is winged, noting the flight of the soul to heaven. The script on this stone is too faded to read but I would think that this stone was pre 1720.
Another depicts an angel blowing a trumpet whilst carrying a banner. The script on the banner is weathered away to nothing but the trumpet is a symbol of the resurrection.
A war memorial stands in the church grounds, and the area around this is well tended. Another stone features a pilots head, looking over towards what is now known as Peterborough Business Airfield, where Glatton Airfield was during the war. The village sign also remembers the village's wartime connections, showing Conington church, with a bomber flying over it.
This is a church that I have a great love for. Somewhere out there, is a very early photograph that I took of this church, which was used on a video game; a World Wat II flight simulator which included the nearby airfield. The photograph of Connington church was used in the artwork as I was told that the pilots coming in to land used the church to get their bearings.
Unlike most Churches Conservation Trust churches, All Saints is not always open. Appointments to visit should be made via the CCT website. The church here is loved and the twice yearly services are well attended. This page is being updated in the midst of the covid pandemic and I am not sure what the current situation is regarding these services.
If you have liked this page, please click on the photograph immediately above on the right to be taken to my visit to the church of St Andrew, Steeple Gidding, another church cared for by the Churches Conservation Trust.