DEEPING ST NICHOLAS : CHURCH OF ST NICHOLAS

Church Post Code  PE11 3ET

Normally open to visitors

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It was a bright, sunny and warm mid May afternoon in 2022, FA Cup Final day, and the church of St Nicholas was to be the 12th and final church of the day, in what had been a really good Lincolnshire churchcrawl.

This church of St Nicholas, at Deeping St Nicholas, was a revisit; having visited here previously late one Sunday evening with David. I have fond memories of looking at the church at distance from the west; across a field that was ready for harvesting. It was a warm late summer evening; the sun having nearly set and daylight fading rapidly.

Not surprisingly, the church was closed to visitors that late in the day. I always wanted to revisit and it took a mere six years for that to be achieved!

Deeping St Nicholas is a long straggling village which can be found between Market Deeping and Spalding. Deeping is off to the south west and Spalding off to the north east. Crowland Abbey is around four miles off to the south east. With regards this site; this is the furthest church included to the North West of Peterborough.

This parish was formed in 1846, following the draining of this area of fenland. The architect who designed this church was Charles Kirk of Sleaford. Kirk had a long career, working in the Sleaford area and South Lincolnshire. He built public buildings, schools, private houses and churches, with the church here being consecrated in 1846, in the year before his death.

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The History Gazetteer and Dictionary of Lincolnshire, which was published in 1856 by William White describes the church here as being ‘A handsome structure in the early English style with tower and spire rising to a height of 210 feet’.

The church that we see today consists of nave with north aisle, with chancel and tower which is offset to the North West. There are no clerestories and no porches, with entry by way of a door in the west face of the tower.

There is a fine five light window to the west of the nave and four large windows running the length of the nave, combined with a lack of stained glass mean for a bright and welcoming interior, with no need for a clerestory.

The tower is of four stages; square and buttressed, with ornate pinnacles at each corner. The church clock faces out from the west face. A tall, slender, elegant recessed octagonal spire rises up, with three tiers up lucarne windows. The tower and spire here dominate the flat Lincolnshire fen landscape.

Even from a distance the church here, with particular emphasis on the tower and spire, is very reminiscent of some of the churches that I have seen in the Sleaford area. Both tower and spire and covered in carvings of human and beastlike figures

Several of the beasts are cat like, with long slender bodies and powerful back legs. They grip the wall of the church, particularly in the buttresses, with mischievous grins on their faces.

A little higher up is an animal with arched back; arched to the extent that there appears to be no spine! Close by a winged creature appears to be ready to take flight; and has been since 1845!

It is suggested that Kirk designed this church along the lines of the ancient churches that he saw in his home area. Certainly, anyone who has visited the churches at Silk Willoughby, Anwick and Heckington, amongst others, will see a similarity between those churches and what was built here.

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On that basis, I found it interesting to see an almost cartoonlike depiction of a (vaguely) human head which is completely out of context with everything else that is on the tower and spire. If we are taking it that Kirk reproduced this church to replicate what he liked in his local churches, perhaps we are seeing here, an ancient grotesque that Kirk had seen and particularly liked on another church; reproduced here!

The bells here are a little bit of a conundrum to be honest. According to the National Church Bell Database, there are six bells hanging here, with all six made by Taylor of Loughborough, The first of the ring is down as being cast in 1909, with the other five dated in 1908. However, the church here was consecrated in 1846, so why a complete ring was cast a mere sixty odd years after the church was built?

I had a look to see what Thomas North said in his study of the church bells of Lincolnshire, which was published in 1882. There was no mention of any church bells here at all, and North was very thorough. I am assuming that he didn’t note the bells here as there were none to note and the first bells hanging here were those cast by Taylor.

Perhaps there were not the funds here to fund the bells at the time that the church was built. This could be backed up when White notes that the parsonage was built in 1853 at a cost of £650 with the money raised by subscription and the organ was purchased in 1855 at a cost of £150, again by subscription. Perhaps we have a case here of a church being set up with things added as and when they could be afforded.

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It was good to see the ‘Church Open’ sign out and there was a surprise immediately on entering. The visitor is greeted by three very large grotesques which are wall mounted. Two of these are beast like creatures and are mouth pullers while a third, human male figure with long flowing hair, has hands raised in prayer.

The north arcade is of four bays, with quatrefoil piers. The chancel arch itself matches, in design, the arches in the north aisle. There was a lovely light quality inside as the sun streamed in through the clear glass to the south.

There is stained glass in the east window of the chancel. Jesus stands, clothed in shimmering white and gold; hands raised with wounds visible; light pulsating out from Him in the form of a cross. On the right as we look at it, Walter Leinney Hawksley of the Royal Army Medical Corps administers aid to a wounded soldier.

This window commemorates Hawksley, who was killed in 1916; who is about to be crowned by an angel; the light pulsating out from the risen Christ extending out towards him.

The face of Hawksley almost seems to be like a photograph and I wonder if an actual photograph of him was superimposed in to this depiction of him.

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The altar is plain and the wooden reredos across the east wall holds a cross with the words ‘Do This in Remembrance of Me’ carved in to it. This is flanked by commandment boards and the creed.

An elaborate crocketed canopy tomb on the north wall of the chancel commemorates William and Nicholas Clarke Stevenson of Stamford who were the benefactors who founded this church. They each passed away within a short time of each other, with the first stone laid a little over a year after the death of the second brother.

Looking back at the photographs taken in the chancel, there is the almost obligatory bottles of hand sanitiser, which could be used as invaluable dating evidence for future generation who look back at photographs taken in these covid years.

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The only other stained glass in the church can be seen in the east window of the north chapel. This is on two levels, with the top level depicting a man at prayer, with a deer sheltering against him. On the lower level is a couple of hunters, with dog. This would appear to be a depiction of St Giles.

Taking a look around the rest of the church, the west end of the nave is very spacious, with tables set out for refreshments. The west end is also set aside for a children’s area.

This was a good end to the day’s churchcrawl. The majority of the churches visited had been open; including a couple that had been closed for covid reasons the last time I was in this area. The church of St Nicholas is a delight and it was good to see inside it for the first time at last! Well worth a visit if you are in the area.