FOTHERINGHAY : THE CHURCH OF ST MARY & ALL SAINTS
Church Post Code PE8 5HZ
The church here is usually open to visitors
Fotheringhay has one of the most historic churches in the catchment area of this site. The church of St Mary and All Saints was built in the 15th Century, close to Fotheringhay castle, which had been built as early as 1100. Today, the church of St Mary and All Angels is an impressive building. Built at the side of the river Nene, in picturesque Northamptonshire countryside, the church dominates the area for miles around. The view coming in from the south is a particular favourite of mine. St Mary comes in to view; a dead straight tree lined road leading up to it.
However, in past times, it would have been even more impressive, as at one time the size of the church would have been twice what it is today. In 1411 Edward of York founded a college in the church. This was closed in 1548, with the fixtures and fittings being scattered amongst various churches in the county, with wooden carvings to be found in the churches at Hemington, Tansor and Lower Benefield. The outline of a blocked doorway and windows on the East wall of the church indicates where the college was joined to the rest of the church.
Richard III was born at Fotheringhay, and Mary Queen of Scots was help prisoner at Fotheringhay castle from 1586 until her execution there the following year. Close to the church is the area where Fotheringhay Castle stood. Nothing remains now except the Motte and Bailey on the banks of the Nene. Steps are built in to the side of this and it is possible to get on top of the mound, the reward being a great view of miles of beautiful East Northamptonshire countryside.
I visited Fotheringhay church on my first ever churchcrawl back in 2006; the church was closed to visitors that day due to a wedding. On several visits here, that is the only time that I have found it closed to visitors. In recent years the distinctive tower was cocooned in scaffolding as the church underwent major restoration. My visit there in September 2019 was my first time there since it had been reopened.
The octagonal lantern tower of St Mary and All Saints dominates the landscape.. It is even visible from high ground on the back roads in to Warmington a few miles away. Even from distance, the tower, with its Flying Buttresses, is unmistakable. A few miles away, at Lowick, near to Thrapston in Northamptonshire, the church there is identical in design, albeit a little smaller.
As mentioned earlier, the church was reduced in size in the mid 16th century and the interested visitor, possibly with a good vantage point of the church from the banks on the river Nene to the south of the church, will notice that the nave, as a result appears to be too small for the height of the tower.
On the north exterior wall, a row of beautifully carved gargoyles proudly sit. A booklet that was available in the church indicates that these gargoyles were carvings of actual people of the time. Amongst the people depicted are architect William Horwood, the master stonemason of the day, the Duke of York and his wife Cecily, Duchess of York, both of whom were interred at the church. Interestingly, Horwood, who was local to Fotheringhay, was paid £300 for building the nave, with a threat of imprisonment should he be late in delivering the finished product! A nice touch is that Horwood’s dog is also memorialised in stone alongside him.
Entry to the church is via the north porch. A carved stone lion is mounted in to a wall of the porch, which used to be part of a pair of lions that belonged to Fotheringhay castle
Inside, it is bright and welcoming, the lack of stained glass helping in this respect. There is a real sense of the vastness of the interior; at its full size this would have been spectacular. It was interesting to see a font at the western edge of what we would see as the chancel these days. The font would normally be at the western end of the nave. The brightly coloured pulpit is at the north wall of the chancel, with the organ opposite. Stalls run the down both sides of the chancel, facing east. It looks as if everything is in there to hold services on a normal Sunday with possibly the rest of the church being used only for special occasions.
Several monuments inside are for members of the House of York, including a stained glass window detailing the coat of arms. The lion features elsewhere in the church as well. A lion is on the finely carved pulpit that was given to the church by Edward IV.
On the west wall is a small fragment of a medieval wall painting, the top half of a skeleton, looks up the nave towards the chancel, keeping an eye on the congregation. I have seen three of these inside churches. One is nearby at Yaxley and the other is at Eyam in Derbyshire, the Plague Village. All three were on the west wall of the nave. I am assuming that they are there to help hammer home the message of Man’s mortality in the same way that we find carvings on some gravestones as I will come to in a little while. I do wonder though if the positioning at the west of the church has significance in the same way that a St Christopher will be found always in the same place, on the north wall of the nave opposite the south porch.
To the north of the nave can be seen a funeral bier, a wooden cart used for transporting coffins during a funeral procession. This one is dated 1897 and was made to commemorate the 60th anniversary of Queen Victoria's reign.
Also of interest is two sections of lead guttering dating from the 17th century, which have been saved and mounted on the north wall of the nave. One of these is dated 1646, with the other having the inscription C.W I.P. The CW stands for Church warden with IP being his initials.
The bells here are a mixed bunch. Six in total with two of these courtesy of the Whitechapel bellfoundry and dated 1989. One is Victorian being cast by Mears in 1860. The other three are all very aged, the oldest being cast by Newcombe of Leicester in 1595. The other two are both from the Norris family, who operated from their premises in Stamford. Tobias Norris I cast one of these in 1614, with Thomas Norris providing the other 20 years later.
The bell from Tobias Norris I is inscribed ‘NON : VERBO : SED : VOCE : RESONABO : DOMINI : LAWDEM’ which translates as ‘Not by word but by voice will I resound the praise of the Lord’
Church grounds are well kept, but in fairness there is little of great interest, although one chest tomb does have a Grade II listing in its own right.. One head stone, lying flat, has two crossed bones and an hour glass. This was to remind the onlooker that Man is mortal and will die. Tempus Fugit, time flies, the sands of time have run out for the deceased and they will run out for you as well. Therefore, live a good Christian life and do not be caught short when your own time comes. A very faded carving of a skull on a head stone nearby passes over the same message.
Walking around the south side of the church, there is quite a lot of very faded graffiti; just initials and dates foe the most part. ‘EW’ was here is 1870, to confirm that graffiti is not purely a modern day occurrence.
Fotheringhay is a lovely place to visit, and I imaging that the announcement of the discovery of the body of Richard III in 2013 will bring an increased interest to this area. Those interested in history will certainly find a visit here of interest, so will lovers of the English countryside. The church here is nestled against the river Nene and is a lovely sight. Red kites are commonplace here now and there can't be many better places to bring a picnic to and relax. A jewel in a beautiful county!
If you enjoyed this page and would like to see the report from my visit to nearby Hemington, please click on the photograph immediately above of the right to be directed there. This page will open in another window.