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Church Post Code  PE8 5HH

The church here is normally closed to visitors


It was a gloriously warm  early Autumn afternoon and it was 13 years to the day since I completed my first ever churchcrawl. To commemorate that, I replicated that first crawl, with the church of St Andrew at Cotterstock being my third church of the day.

I have a great deal of time for this church. On that first day, back in 2006, I had cycled out not really being sure if my proposed hobby was going to work or not. Did I really want to commit time, energy and finances into visiting and photographing churches? Well, as I arrived at Cotterstock that opening day, and saw this exquisite church set alongside the river Nene, I knew that this is what I was going to hopefully be doing for many years.  I have visited many times over the years. It is a place to sit and enjoy the peace and the tranquillity. There used to be a white horse in the field in front of the church. He was there for several years and took a bite at my breakfast one day when I was stroking his head.

For me, this hobby has many pleasures. Sometimes, despite the beauty of the places that I photograph, it is the places themselves and what goes on around the churches that provide some of the best memories.


Cotterstock is a small village in East Northamptonshire. The population of the parish was just over a 150 at the time of the 2011 census. The town of Oundle is a couple of miles away to the south west, historically famous Fotheringhay is two villages away to the north. There is a considerable history here, with evidence that the Romans lived here. The village was mentioned in the Domesday Survey of 1086.

Standing off to the south, on the main road that leads to the village, the church of St Andrew is before me. The river Nene is close by and the church is built on the far side of the flood plain. We have west tower, with castellated top and two light window at the belfry stage, nave with small south aisle, castellated south porch and very large chancel, which is out of proportion to what you would normally expect.

Moving in to the church grounds, and looking at the tower from the west, there is an image niche part way up on the west face, which contains an image of St Andrew, depicted with saltire cross. This image looks to be fairly modern, possibly dating from the time of Victorian restoration, but figures on which the niche is resting are considerably older.

Today, there is a ring of five bells hanging here. At the time of North’s Victorian study of the church bells of Northamptonshire. There were four hanging here, each cast by Henry Penn, a celebrated bellfounder from Peterborough. Today, there are five bells in the ring with a fifth added by Taylor of Loughborough in 1892. Two of the Penn bells were also re-cast by the same founder in 1878. According to North’s study, the fourth of the ring was inscribed ‘To the church the living call and to the grave same and all’. The year after Penn cast the bells at Cotterstock, he was to cast a ring of 10 for Peterborough cathedral.

There is a very fine and very ancient west door in the tower. This dates from the late 12th century and is a survivor from the original Norman church that stood here. A suggested date for this doorway is between 1150 and 1170 and appears to have been re-set at some point back through history. Moving around the church, there are some very ancient designs in the stonework above the two light window on the west face of the tower. Considerably more modern are the two wasp’s nests that hang alongside.


Some fine gargoyles are placed on the south wall of the chancel, lion like and with eyes cast upwards. There is no great age to these, possibly being added during Victorian restoration. Some are older though, with one gargoyle on the west face of the fine castellated south porch, appearing to show a monkey, wide eyes and with nostrils flared, riding on top of another animal. This one is quite weathered so it is hard to establish exactly what we are seeing.

Three tethered beasts can be seen on top of the south porch, heads upturned and baying towards heaven. A little internet research has seen these described as being either lions or bears. I will class these as simply mythical beasts and they reminded me of the carvings around the tower at Glatton in Cambridgeshire.

The clerestory consists of two square headed windows to north and south. The chancel, as was mentioned earlier, is very large, both in length and height, and dates from the 14th century. Cotterstock was once home to one of the largest Collegiate churches in the country. This was founded by John Gifford, a man of considerable means, who was once the rector of the church here. It was founded in 1338 and consisted of a provost, 12 chaplains and two clerks. Their purpose was to sing daily masses to pray for the King and Queen and their children, for John and his brother William Gifford and their parents, and for the benefactors of the college. Prayers were for these while they were living, and for their souls after death, to lessen their time in purgatory.

A history of English Collegiate Churches by GH Cook describes the attributes required to be a member here. They were to be ‘…of honest report, chaste, sober and quiet abstaining altogether from junketings, drunkenness, wanton ways, strife and brawling’. Not surprisingly, my spellchecker did not care for the word ‘junketings’  and a quick google search described this as any occasion in which a junket might be served, such as jousts, banquets and general merrymaking. The college here was closed in 1536.


The church here is usually closed to visitors, but it was open when I visited this last time. Preparations were underway for the harvest festival which was to be held the following day. It was lovely to be able to see inside and spent an enjoyable time chatting with the lady doing the work. On entering through the 15th century porch and glancing upwards, there are a series of ceiling bosses and immediately on the right hand side of the south door, a medieval coffin lid has been repurposed as a bench end.

Despite it being bright and sunny outside, it was quite dull in the nave itself. The north and south aisles were each built during the first quarter of the 14th century and there is a fair bit of Victorian stained glass here. The clerestory windows are few in number and the lights were on as a result.  However, when you cross in to the chancel it is a different matter altogether, with three large windows to north and south and a fine west window all in clear glass, making for a large and bright space.

The nave here is quite small, with the north and south aisles each being of just two bays.  There is plenty of stained glass here, with nothing of any significance to be honest. A nativity scene depicts the wise men bringing their gifts to the baby Jesus, the Holy Spirit descending on the scene in the form of a dove. Elsewhere, Jesus brings a young girl back from the dead, whilst another window depicts the parable of the talents. By some way, the oldest glass in the church can be seen in the north aisle, with a few medieval fragments surviving.

A wonderful grotesque of a bearded figure with a big nose pulls his mouth open with one hand whilst holding something in the other. Elsewhere, under the tower, there is a recumbent effigy of a figure at prayer, badly damaged and thought to date from the 13th century.

Moving in to the chancel, there is a very lovely piscina and treble sedilia along the south wall of the chancel. The  piscina was the bowl used for washing the holy vessels following communion whilst the sedilia, which here is canopied, with ornately carved heads throughout, was the seating used by the clergy during services. One of the stone heads here is wearing a bishops hat and has an enormous nose. Often wonder how many of these carvings are based on actual people of the day.


The setting here is a delight. As mentioned earlier, the church is set close to the river Nene, in idyllic picturesque countryside. There is a decent selection of Georgian gravestones here, without there being anything of great importance. A quick walk and you will see the spire of the church of St Peter, Oundle off to the north. Gaps in the trees on the road to neighbouring Tansor give a view of the church from the east. On this day there were sheep grazing in the field in front of the church and all was well with the world.

An enjoyable time spent here. It was time to hit the road again, with next point of call being Nassington, three miles or so to the north. The church of St Andrew at Cotterstock is normally kept closed to visitors. Well worth seeing inside though if you get the chance.


If you would like to see the page for my visit to nearby Polebrook please click on the photograph above left. To be directed to the page for Thurning, please click on the photograph immediately above right.

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