DEEPING ST JAMES : THE CHURCH OF ST JAMES 

Church Post Code PE6 8NW 

The church is usually open to visitors

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I have made a few visits over the years to the church of St James, the Priory Church, at Deeping St James. The photographs used on this page were taken on a glorious late August day back in 2013; it was warm and humid with the threat of storms later. It was a delight to be out and about in it!

Deeping St James is a large village, which had a population of just over 7,000 at the time of the 2011 census. It can be found some ten miles to the north of Peterborough and roughly the same distance to the east of Stamford.

In the past, Market Deeping and Deeping St James were known as East Deeping, to separate it from West Deeping; which sits five miles off to the west. All three villages nestle along the banks of the river Welland.

I was on foot, making my way from the church of St Guthlac, Market Deeping, following the route of the Welland. It was a picturesque scene and a pleasant place to be on a delightful Saturday morning, with several ducks enjoying the sun on their feathers and reports from some locals of the odd otter in the vicinity. A signpost points off to Crowland a few miles away across the fields, with its important Abbey.

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Off to the south of the church is the substantial remains of the village cross, which dates back to the 15th century. This was converted in 1819 to a lock up, where local miscreants were locked up overnight, for more minor crimes such as drunkenness and vagrancy, before being taken off to the magistrates the following day.

The church here dates back to 1139, and was part of a larger Benedictine Priory.  This was a cell to Thorney Abbey, which is off to the south west. The priory here was dissolved in 1539, with Thorney Abbey suffering the same fate that same year.

 Approaching the building, it is obvious that there was some wealth and importance here due to the size of the place, the length of the church being an impressive 180 feet. The church that we see today consists of west tower, nave with south aisle and clerestories, south porch and chancel. 

The tower appears to be in period with the rest of the structure, with a doorway on the south face with rounded arch over the top indicating great age. However, the tower itself dates from 1730, with alterations in 1819, after the previous tower collapsed possibly due to its foundations being eroded due to flood damage. I assume that the tower was rebuilt with existing materials.

A church clock in the traditional colours of blue and gold is set to the south face, the clock itself being octagonal. A clue to restoration of the 19th century can be seen in the arched balustrade at the top of the tower. Close scrutiny shows a date stamp of 1819 under this. A recessed octagonal spire rises up from the tower, with two tiers of lucarne windows at the main compass points.

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Today, there are six bells in the ring here. At the time of Thomas North’s study of the church bells of Lincolnshire, which was published in 1882, there were five here.

The first that North noted is of interest as it was cast by Alexander Rigby, who had taken over the Stamford bellfoundry from the Norris family; running this for the last few years of its existence. This bell was inscribed with the names J Coulson and T Measure, the church wardens of the day, along with ‘Alex Rigby Made Me 1704’. This was re-cast by Taylor of Loughborough in 1923.

The second of the ring in North’s day was from the early years of the Stamford bellfoundry; cast by Tobias Norris I in 1608. This one is inscribed ‘Non Clamor Sed Amor Cantat In Avre Dei’ which translates as ‘Not noise but love sounds in the ear of God’. This was recast by Taylor in 1900.

The third of the ring was attributed to an early Nottingham founder, simply being inscribed St Jacobus, this being St James after who the church is dedicated. This was another to be recast by Taylor, again in 1900.

I think that the fourth bell of the current ring was added by Taylor in 1923, thus giving the ring of six that we have today.

The fifth bell of today’s ring was another from Tobias Norris I, this one cast in 1624, and being recast by Taylor in 1923. This one is inscribed ‘Non Sono Anmabus Mortorum Sed Auribus Viventium 1224’. This translates as ‘Do not call out to the souls of the dead but listen to the living’. The inscription carried on ‘Tobie Norris Cast Me 1624’.

The sixth and final bell of the ring is another from Tobias Norris I, again dates 1624. This one has not been recast. It has the same inscription as the fifth, but is prefaced by ‘Jesus Speede Me’

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The south porch dates from the 13th century, with dog tooth decoration around the arch. The sundial over the door is from the 18th century, a very faded scratch dial close by being considerably older.

 The church here was open, as it had been each time that I had visited over the years. Moving inside, again the visitor is struck by the size and grandeur of this church, with the south arcade being of seven bays with a triforium, a gallery or arcade above the arches of the nave, choir, and transepts of a church, further indicating the existence of the priory here in the past.

The nave is long, as is the chancel; nave flows seamlessly in to chancel, giving those standing at the west and looking east a real sense of the length of this building. The chancel itself is bright and welcoming; six rounded arches on the south wall of the chancel look as if they marked a sedilia, an area of stone seating for clergy. If this is a sedilia, then it again marks the church down as being of great importance in the past historically as these would normally be half this number.

Two ancient monuments can be seen in the chancel. An early 13th century effigy of a knight is badly weathered; and lays recumbent on a slab around which there is a little dogtooth decoration. Close by is a 14th century figure at prayer, with head resting on a pillow, with feet resting on an animal.

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There is much stained glass here of superior quality. The east window is of three lights, with the central light depicting the risen Christ, crowned with hand raised in blessing; crucifixion wounds visible.

The highest quality glass though is to be found in the nave.  One three light window shows Isaiah the prophet central, flanked by Moses with the commandment tablets to the left as we look at it and King David playing the harp on the right. Angels look down, golden haired and with long flowing wings made from Peacock feathers.

One further three light window has Christ crucified as central with a scene from Genesis chapter 22 to the left hand panel. Abraham prepares to sacrifice his son Isaac as an angel appears to prevent him from doing so. To the right is a snake wrapped around a cross. I think that this is from Number Chapter 22 when the Israelites are being plagued by serpents after speaking out against the Lord.

One further three light window I found of interest. Central is Jesus surrounded by children, flanked on the left by the baby Jesus being presented to Simeon in the temple. Mary is there, but Joseph is not depicted. Anna looks over from one side, looking considerable younger than I had imagined her to look!

To the right as we look at it is the Good Samaritan. The stricken Jewish man is tended by the Samaritan, his bitter enemy, whilst his own countrymen, the Levite and the Priest, walk past reading their religious texts and doing nothing to help.  Jesus told this parable in answer to the question ‘Who is my neighbour’ after discussing the commandments, in particular ‘love your neighbour as yourself’. Jesus’ answer was challenging; your neighbour can also be your enemy, and it is still is challenging now.

Another three light window has Mary the Virgin central, with Lilies symbolising purity. She is flanked by Mary Magdalene and what I think is Dorcas, who did charitable works for people, especially making clothes. Here she is depicted holding out a garment, whilst being watched over by more glorious angles, with peacock feather wing.

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The font must go down as one of the finest within the catchment area of this site; a wonderful tub font, dating from the 12th century, possibly an original feature to the church, with patterns of intersecting blind arcading around it.

The church grounds are of interest, stretching off a long way to the west, with many finely gravestones from the 18th century. An angel coated in orange lichen peer out from within a swirl of clouds. Close by a crown symbolising victory sits atop the book of life for the deceased. On another, two torches are facing downwards but are still lit, symbolising eternal life. 

This is a fabulous church, open and welcoming, at least in pre covid days. This is well worth a look if you are in the area.

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If you would like to see the page for my visit to the church of St Guthlac, Market Deeping, the neighbouring village then please click on the photograph immediately above right to be directed there. This page will open up in another window.