GLAPTHORN : CHURCH OF ST LEONARD
Church Post Code PE8 5BE
Usually open to visitors
It was a glorious mid April afternoon in 2022, on what was to be the warmest day of the year thus far. I had spent the day out on the cycle in Northamptonshire, and the church of St Leonard at Glapthorn was the eighth church visited in what turned out to be a nine church crawl.
Glapthorn is a small, pleasant village with a population of 271 at the time of the 2011 census. It can be found some one and a half miles north north west of Oundle; with the spire of St Peter visible in the distance as I cycled in from neighbouring Southwick. To be fair though, with the spire at Oundle being the tallest in the county at 210 feet high; it is visible from a great many places in that locality!
Of all of the churches within the catchment area of this site, this is the one that I had visited the least over the years. I was here back in the early days of shooting for the original site back in 2007 and again a couple of years later; a fleeing visit this one as I cycled home from a four day Northamptonshire crawl which was badly affected by the weather. The church was open on those two previous visits, and it was open to visitors this time as well, which was appreciated. Covid was still with us and it was good to see the church here open; as two others locally, which would have been open pre covid had the doors locked. An open church can be a powerful Christian witness; especially in challenging times, and I am sure that this church will have been open wherever possible during the pandemic!
The church that we see today consists of west tower, nave with north and south aisles and clerestories, south porch, north vestry and chancel. The church here was originally built as a chapel of ease to Cotterstock, and has origins back to the 12th century, with some of the bays dating to that period. Most of the present structure dates from the 13th and 14th centuries, with the church being restored in 1895.
The west tower is square and of three stages with plain parapet surrounding the top. A single very weathered gargoyle is offset to the south face of the tower; a mouth puller by the looks of it! The south porch is a delight; leaning over to the west at an improbable angle! In the porch itself are the initials ‘IB’ and a date of 1638. This would not be the date of the porch being built as this dates to the 14th century.
There are four small clerestory windows to north and south and the chancel is large and impressive, with steeply pitched roof. This is a lovely village church; but probably best not photographed from the south west unless you can find a way of hiding the calor gas cylinders at the foot of the tower behind some gravestones!
Three bells hang here, with two being ancient and all three being of interest. The first of the ring is the most ‘recent’, being cast by prolific Peterborough founder Henry Penn in 1710. This bell is inscribed with the name of the Vicar of the day, Jo Lovering and continues ‘Henry Penn Fusore 1710’. I like the use of the word ‘Fusore’ which translated from the Latin reads ‘a founder, a caster, a melter’.
The second bell is of great age, being cast by John Sleyt, who was a founder from York who was active between 1380 and 1400. This one is inscribed ‘Innore Satti Maria, which I am told translates as ‘Blameless St Mary’. It is interesting that the founder here is from York, a great distance away from Glapthorn. It is worth noting that some bellfounders were itinerant, travelling to where they were required and setting up a foundry in the church grounds. Perhaps this is what might have happened here.
The third of the ring was courtesy of Kebyl of London, who was a founder between 1460 and 1480. This one is inscribed ‘Sancta Andrea Ora Pro Nobis’ which translates as ‘‘St Andrew Pray For Us’.
Moving inside, through the south inner door, there is a little graffiti, just initials, undated; with ‘RM’ leaving his or her mark a few hundred years ago! Two stone heads of great age look on sternly at those entering; as they doubtless have done for hundreds of years.
There are four bays to north and south, with the two most westerly bays to the south having semi circular arches and dating from the early 13th century. The arches to the north side are pointed and are more ‘recent’ in date, dating from the middle of the 13th century. There are two further bays to the north separating the chancel from the north chapel, now the vestry
Once inside, the visitor’s eye is immediately caught by a very faded wall painting over the chancel arch. Given its position it is reasonable to assume that this was once a doom painting; the day of judgement! Jesus would have been depicted at the centre of this scene, often on a rainbow. Those judged righteous are taken away to a place of safety to the left as we look at it. Those condemned are thrown, naked in to hell, which is often portrayed as a giant serpent’s mouth. These were hated by the reformers and were painted over. This one has been over painted with a repeated pattern. If anyone would like to see a doom painting fairly close by there is one at Great Harrowden near Wellingborough.
Another wall painting, this one more intact, can be seen on the north wall of the nave. This is to St Christopher, the patron saint of travellers, who would normally be depicted with the infant Jesus on his shoulders.
In several other places there are small sections of wall paintings; pretty much just repeated patterns but indicating what the church here must have looked like in the past. Our churches would have been brightly coloured; with nearby examples of medieval colour schemes to be found in the brightly coloured pulpits at Oundle and Warmington.
The chancel is long and bright, the lack of stained glass here helping in that respect. The altar is a table, with simply flowers on it; no cross but I am sure that this will be added on service days. The east window is of three lights and clear glass. There is a small aumbry on the east wall, a cupboard used to store the sacred vessels used in communion. A sign of the times is the bottle of hand sanitiser on a window ledge on the south wall!
There is little in the way of stained glass here but there is a two light window depicting the faith of the centurion from Matthew Chapter 8. Here, the centurion kneels before Jesus, hands at prayer, with speech banner saying ‘but speak the word only and my servant shall be healed’. Jesus raised His hand in blessing and replies ‘I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel’
There is a bier to the north side of the nave, this one Victorian. Biers are carts which were used to transport coffins to the graveside during funeral services. The font is perpendicular with octagonal bowl which has a repeated quatre foil pattern. The children’s church is to the west of the nave and a large brown bear, with baseball cap on backwards, sits in a chair patiently waiting for Sunday service!
The church grounds are of interest but there is nothing of any great rarity or importance to be seen here. I will note though a fine double gravestone to Richard and Elizabeth Hicks; she passing first in 1715 aged ‘about 70 years’ with her husband following seven years later.
This is a fine stone with the central design being a scallop shell, an often used Christian symbol, this being flanked by two angels, which were used to symbolise the safe passage of the soul to Heaven. The scallop shell was used as a Christian symbol due to its structure; with many lines on the shell converging on a central point. In the same way there are many different routes in a person’s life, all converging on a central point in Christ.
This is a lovely church in a pleasant village and I enjoyed my brief time here. The church guide describes St Leonard as a ‘simple country church’. This is what it is; this is all it needs to be! Well worth a visit if you are in the area. If you do visit here Oundle is very close, with its glorious church and tea rooms!
It was back on the cycle with Yarwell being the final church of the day; with the day ending unexpectedly; with the church there hosting an open afternoon with tea and cake, which I was pleased to join. Sometimes you just have to take one for the team!
Click on the photograph immediately above left, to be directed to the page for my visit to the church of St Peter at neighbouring Oundle. Click on the photograph above centre to be taken to neighbouring Cotterstock. Click on the photograph above right to be directed to my page for Southwick. All of these pages will open up in another window.