FLETTON : CHURCH ST MARGARET OF ANTIOCH

Church Post Code PE2 8DF

Usually closed to visitors

     Fletton, along with neighbouring Woodston and Stanground were small villages that have all but been swallowed up by the growth of Peterborough. Fletton grew at a fast rate due to the local brickyard industry. The population was 134 in 1801, rising to just over 4,000 100 years later. There was a church at Fletton mentioned in the Domesday Book, compiled in 1086, although it is thought that the church here was completely rebuilt in or around 1150.

    The church of St Margaret is in a built up area, surrounded by terraced houses and shops. Despite this, though, the church grounds are quiet and peaceful, and if you like dragonflies you could do worse than be here in the early autumn as these seemed to like the delightfully overgrown nature of some of the graves.

   Half a mile or so away to the south there is a lake, and anyone standing on the far side of this lake will have a nice view of St Margaret, and the church at nearby Stanground, with its distinctive black tipped octagonal broach spire. Peterborough cathedral can also be seen from the same vantage point.

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   The original structure, which would probably have been wooden, was rebuilt in stone around 1150, with a north chapel and north aisle added some 15 years later. Around 1300 a south aisle and the west tower were added. The chancel and nave both date from the mid 12th century.

 Quite a lot of restoration has gone on here over the years including work in the 1870's and very early 1900's. The top of the spire was also replaced in 1917 after the church was struck by lightning. The porch is modern, being built at the time of the Victorian restoration.

The structure that we see today consists of west tower, nave with north and south aisles and clerestories, south porch and chancel. The tower is square and buttressed, with an octagonal broach spire. The tip of the spire is far less aged than the rest; still showing where the repair was made more than 100 years ago.

Just to the south west of the church is the base and section of shaft of a 15th century churchyard cross.

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   St Margaret is a very pleasant, but unremarkable church on the outside. Moving inside though we have, in my opinion, one of the most important historical relics to be found in any of the churches within the catchment area of this site!  Built in to the east wall of the chancel we have a series of carvings, which are originally thought to have come from Peterborough Cathedral, being removed after the Cathedral burned down in 1116. 

These were, at one point, set in to an exterior wall of the church but were brought inside due to concerns about damage caused by pollution.

    As to the carvings themselves, these are fabulous and interesting pieces of work. One panel shows a man either tied between two columns or pushing two columns apart, which could be a depiction of Samson.. Another panel shows a close up depiction of an angel with halo and wings, holding a staff in its right hand. Other panels show bizarre creatures and the human figures appear to have had the eyes drilled out in the past.

    Built into the inside south wall of the chancel are two carvings, liable to date from the 10th century, with carved figures of an angel and a saint under round arches. These are again though to have come from Peterborough Cathedral.

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    The Revd Sweeting, in his look at the Parish Churches in and around Peterborough, which was printed in 1868, visited St Margaret and described the tower here as being in " a somewhat dangerous state". The ladder which went up to the bells at the time of his visit was dated 1777, a mere 91 years old at the time of Sweeting's study!!

    At the time of North's comprehensive study of church bells in the 1860's there was a ring of three bells here. These days there are five bells here with two being added by Taylor of Loughborough in 1952.

The three bells hanging here when North visited, are all of considerable age. The first of these was cast by Newcombe of Leicester and is inscribed S.P.A.L.L.E. It has been suggested that this might be a dedication to St Paul.

    The second bell was made locally, at the Stamford Bellfoundry, who was prolific bellfounders all through the seventeenth century. This one is dated 1620, and was cast by Thomas Norris. This one is inscribed 'Omnia fiant ad gloriam Dei',  “Let all things be done for the glory of God” The final bell is inscribed WILLIAM + WATES + MADE ME 1590. This is William Watts, who worked with Newcombe in Leicester.

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The church here, as are the majority around Peterborough, is closed to visitors as a rule. However, the church is often open, at least pre covid, on days such as Ride and Stride days and the stewards on duty on these days are friendly and knowledgeable.

    The interior is not all about the carvings in the chancel. The interior is a delight with some interesting stained glass. The east window is of three lights and has a depiction of the crucifixion. Mary Magdalene is at the foot of the cross, hands clenched in anguished as she looks at the body of Christ. Interestingly, the Roman centurion is the next closest to the cross with Mary the mother of Jesus and John set to either side a little. The scene is watched by two angels; with brightly coloured wings and hands at prayer.

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A window at the east end of the south aisle has depictions of St Andrew, St George and St Patrick. Each of the three lights has a large representation from each of the three saints, with a smaller scene from their lives below.

Central is St George, who is depicted in armour, with the flag of St George; and below is pictured slaying a red dragon. To the left as we look at it is St Andrew, who is shown holding the saltire cross, an x shaped cross on which Andrew is said to have been martyred. Below, Andrew and his brother Peter chat to Jesus.

To the right is St Patrick, the patron Saint of Ireland. He is shown, dressed in green and holding a shamrock. He is said to have used this three leafed plat as a metaphor to explain the Holy Trinity. St Patrick is said to have banished all snakes from Ireland, and two angry looking snakes can be seen at his feet, exiting the scene!

The smaller scene from the life of St Patrick shows him, in conversation with three people who could well be representative of the local pagan tribes. St Patrick holds out a cross, looking at a delightful depiction of a young woman, with two male warriors watching with interest a little way back.

This is a delightful church, with a great deal of history to see. As mentioned earlier, the church here pre covid was closed to visitors but open for special events. It is certainly worth seeing if you get the chance. The photographs contained on this page are from two visits.

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