FOLKSWORTH : CHURCH OF ST HELEN

Church Post Code PE7 3SS

usually closed to visitors

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The village of Folksworth can be found some five miles to the south west of Peterborough, not far off the busy A1M. There is a lot of history here, with the village being mentioned in the Domesday Survey of 1086; there is no mention of a church here at that time.

I took the cycle out just after the turn of the New Year 2022, unseasonably warm and with some pale sunshine.  It was good to be back in the saddle! On arriving at the church of St Helen I was sorting my camera out and was greeted by a very friendly Terrier called Lottie, who evidently was a tad over excited after seeing a couple of squirrels in her garden earlier.

After an unsuccessful lunch, which was evidently still in my fridge at home, I took a look around the exterior.  The church of St Helen is set against a minor road at the north eastern edge of the village. A sunken wall, also known as a ha ha, can be seen to the east of the church grounds, giving an uninterrupted view across the grounds. The church from the south is mainly hidden by trees.

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The structure itself is an unusual one; consisting of nave and chancel with very large south transept. There is no tower here, just a bell cote to the west of the nave. This is a small church, but it is buttressed throughout.

This is a small church maybe, but there is a lot of history here. The church itself dates back to 1150 with the nave and chancel dating back to that time. On the north wall of the nave there is a doorway which dates back to this time, with an outer round arch enclosing a patterned tympanum. The south transept is later, dating to 1300.

The chancel was rebuilt in the very early 1700’s and rebuilt again in 1850, in a neo Norman style, with Norman dogtooth carvings to be found around the windows. At the same time, the north nave wall was rebuilt, with the bell cote and north vestry being added.

A single bell hangs here, which was cast by Thomas Norris in 1660. The Norris family operated out of a foundry in Stamford for the majority of the 17th century. This bell is inscribed T Harris. The Stamford Bellfoundry was prolific in this area and they also cast bells at neighbouring Stilton to the south and Morborne to the north.

Walking up to the path that leads to the south door, the visitor is greeted by a repositioned gargoyle, spending its retirement by the side of the door; large ears, bulging eyes and mouth wide open

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The church here is normally kept closed to visitors, and so it was here today as well. I did see inside this church though back in 2015, on a Cambridgeshire Churches Ride and Stride afternoon. I have used interior shots here that were taken that day.

Moving inside, the contrast in ages in striking! Much of the interior would date from the nineteenth century rebuilding, but in the midst of this stands the chancel arch which is original to the church. It has a semi circular arch with two moulded orders, with chevron patters. Some cartoonlike human faces, bearded and with large noses, look out from the capitals, and done for more than 850 years.

The east window is Victorian; depicting several scenes from the life of Christ.  Of seven main panels, the ascension is at the top, immediately under from left to right we have the raising of Lazarus, the resurrection and the raining of Jairus’ daughter. At the bottom we have what I think is Mary and Martha, which would certainly fit in with Lazarus above,  Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane and Jesus talking to the rich young man. A roundel at the top shows the Agnus Dei, the lamb of God.

This is an interesting selection; some scenes that would normally be there such as the annunciation, the nativity and the crucifixion are missing and others are included that you would normally see. That is not to take anything away from it al all though; a good window with clear depictions and it was good to spend a little time studying it.

The altar is furnished tastefully, with just a cross and a Bible on a stand. The altar cloth matches the curtain which goes in front of the Victorian reredos.

The font is another old survival, dating from 1500. It consists of a plain octagonal bowl on an octagonal stem.

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The church grounds are interesting. Close to the path leading to the south door is a very old gravestone to one John Cockerill, who according to the script below ‘waites for a glorious resurrection’ The date at the top reads either reads 1641 making this the oldest dated gravestone that I have seen in the catchment area of this site, a year earlier than a stone at Easton on the Hill which dates to 1642. Gravestones from this period are from the very earliest days of personal gravestones and it is good to see that this has a Grade II listing.

Close by, and eighteenth century stone, has sunk deeply in to the ground, an angel peers out through a coating of white lichen.

To the east wall of the south transept, there is a finely carved gravestone in slate, to a nine year old boy. At the top is a depiction of an angel in flight, blowing a trumpet whilst holding a laurel wreath. By the side of the angel is a smaller human figure.

This one can be read as follows. The trumpet is a symbol of the resurrection. It says in I Corinthians Chapter 1 verse 52 ‘in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed’.

The laurel wreath goes hand in hand with this. This was an often used symbol for victory; with the victory here being over death. This is a testament to the faith of the deceased. When the trumpet sounds on the final day, the victory has been won and the deceased will be raised victorious.

The angel on a gravestone typically symbolises the flight of the soul to Heaven and this is what we have here. The soul of the deceased is being safely escorted to Heaven, while the body rest, to be raised in victory when the time comes.

This is a lovely church. In a pleasant and peaceful setting, with a wealth of history and is well worth taking a look at if you get the chance.

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