GLATTON : CHURCH OF ST NICHOLAS
Church Post Code PE28 5RR
Normally closed to visitors - open by arrangement
It was a beautifully sunny mid March Saturday afternoon in 2022, and a return visit to the church of St Nicholas, Glatton. The lycra had been donned, and a thirty miles or so cycle ride had been planned, taking in some of the churches to the furthest south that this site covers.
Glatton was the fifth church visited of what would turn in to a seven church crawl. I entered the village from the east, having just visited Holme. First point of call though was the village hall, in which a craft fayre was being held. I had hoped for refreshments and was not disappointed. Armed with an enormous slice of lemon slab cake, which undid all the benefits of the ride, and a cuppa, I spent an enjoyable few minutes chatting to some locals, one of whom was kind enough to open up the church.
Glatton is a village with a population of a little over 300 at the time of the 2011 census. It is some eight miles south west of Peterborough and was home to World War II airfield, RAF Glatton; now known as Conington Airport.
This is a pleasant village with some exquisite thatched cottages surrounding the church, one of which is depicted, alongside the church, on the village sign. There is some history here, with the village being recorded in the Domesday Survey of 1086; at which time there was mention made of a church and a priest.
That early structure would have been very basic, and nothing remains of that today. The earliest parts of the present church date from the 12th century, when an aisled church existed. A previous tower here dated from the 12th or 13th century. There was a large amount of rebuilding completed here at the end of the 15th century. The nave arcades were rebuilt, as was the west tower, which was rebuilt circa 1500. The roof of the nave was restored in 1615, and the roofs of the transept and north aisles were renewed in 1701. More restoration came about in Victorian times, and again in the early 1930's, when the nave roof was restored again.
Standing in the church grounds and looking at the exterior, the initial thought was that this is a church of huge proportions, this thought being backed up when I entered inside! The structure that we see today consists of west tower, nave with north and south aisles and clerestories, south porch, north vestry, north transept and chancel. The church stands on raised ground, and is a real statement piece!
The west tower is a beautiful thing; surely one of the finest to be found within the catchment area of this site. It is of three stages, with the lower stage encased by the north and south aisles, each of which extend out to the very western edge of the structure; the church clock, in the traditional colours of blue and gold, faces out from the south.
The clerestory windows also extend out to the west, with the western window, on both north and south sides, extending on to the second stage of the tower.
The tower is battlemented, with a frieze running underneath. There are four beasts, looking out from each corner of the tower. These wear a collar and appear to be looking upwards, possibly baying at the moon. I had seen similar, but lower down, over the south porch at Yaxley earlier in the day and they reminded me of similar at Cotterstock, close to Oundle in Northamptonshire.
The rest of the structure, with the exception of the north vestry is battlemented and is buttressed throughout. A string of small, grotesquely carved heads can be seen under the battlements on the south aisle. A small piece of Norman carved stonework can be seen inset in to the wall of the nave; giving some idea as to the historic origins of this church. The north transept was used as a school room during the 18th century.
There are four bells in the ring here, with the first two of these being cast by Francis Watts of Leicester, with each dated 1595. The inscriptions on this founder’s bells are always fascinating, and it is safe to say that my spell checker did not care for either of these inscriptions! On the first bell is carved ‘Com Com and Preay’ and on the second is inscribed ‘Searve God and O Beay the Princ’.
The third is relatively modern, being cast by Taylor of Loughborough in 1863. The fourth is courtesy of Thomas Eayre I, who operated out of premises in Kettering. This bell is dated 1736 and is inscribed ‘Omnia Fiant Ad Gloriam Dei Gloria Deo Soli, which translates as ‘Let all things be done for the glory of God glory to God alone’.
The church here is normally closed to visitors; the only time that I had been inside previously was at an evening prayer service e some ten years before. That was on a very dull day and I also wanted to pop back in better lighting conditions.
Inside, it was bright and welcoming, with little in the way of stained glass to affect the natural light levels. We were told before entering the church that the medieval stained glass which would have sat here was removed and buried by troops loyal to Charles I. These troops were then killed with the glass remaining buried and untraceable to this day.
The visitor moving inside will again be struck by the dimensions of this church; which is vast for a village church. It is worth noting that churches were not built for the size of the village population. They were often built by the rich, to the glory of God, but also as an offering so as reduce the time that they and their families would spend in purgatory.
There are three bay arcades to north and south, dating from the mid 13th century, with round arches. A rood screen separates nave from chancel and there are some important mid 15th century wall paintings at the entrance to the chancel. To the north is a depiction of Mary Magdalene, with a Latin inscription, imploring her to pray for us. My photograph of this was wrecked by a patch of sunlight half covering it! To the south is a representation of Christ rising from the tomb. The depiction of Christ is very faded but a priest kneeling in prayer facing Christ is more easily identifiable.
In the chancel itself is a double piscina, a sink for washing the sacred vessels after communion. There is also the sedilia; seats for the officiating clergy. Each of these is always to be found on the south wall of the chancel. Opposite is an aumbry, a cupboard for the storing of these vessels.
There is stained glass at the east end of the south aisle. This is a depiction of the scene on Easter morning. The risen Christ emerges from the tomb, golden haired and wearing a golden robe. Angels at prayer kneel at either side and Roman soldiers slumber at His feet. Christ has His right hand raised in blessing, with wound visible. There are no other wounds visible with the long robe covering the wounds on His feet.
When we were having tea and cake earlier, a lady remarked that someone had described this at the rocket window! On looking at it, the Holy Spirit is descending from above and, yes, it really does look like a rocket!
One small piece of Saxon carving stands to the west of the nave, it is thought that this dates from 900 AD and is described in the church leaflet as being a "lion mask". Personally, when I first saw this carving, my gut reaction was that it was a representation of the devil.
On each of the two occasions that I have been inside this church, the north vestry; the Cavell Chapel has been pointed out to me. This is a small rib vaulted room, which is now a small private prayer space. This is very beautiful.
The church grounds are of great interest and have a large number of gravestones, and some tombs, dating back to the 18th century, several of which have Grade II listings in their own right. Just to pick a couple, a stone dated 1741, to one James Taylor has a depiction of a human skull bottom left, with a weathered hourglass bottom right. The human skull is an often used symbol of mortality; Man is mortal and will die, so live a good Christian life and don’t be caught short when your own time comes; in days of low life expectancy it might be later than you think. This is backed up by the hour glass, Tempus Fugit, time flies!
Close by two angels hold aloft a crown. The crown was used as a symbol of victory, the victory here being over death, this being a testament as to the faith of the deceased.
This is an impressive church, internally and externally. It was good to be able to see inside it and I appreciated it being unlocked for my visit. It was time to mount up again; not looking forward to the long uphill drag as I headed off towards Little Gidding.