GREATFORD : CHURCH OF ST THOMAS A BECKETT
Church Post Code PE9 4QA
The church is normally open to visitors
It was a gloriously sunny Saturday morning, January 2022, with hardly a cloud in the sky. The plan was to visit churches between Stamford and Market Deeping and working north roughly half way towards Bourne.
The plan was to be dropped off with my cycle at Carlby, and work through ten churches or so, before heading back to home, to the west of Peterborough. However, a late change of plan saw my cycle still strapped in to the back of Gary’s van as we arrived at the church of St Thomas A Beckett, Greatford; this being the fifth church of the day.
Greatford is one of a cluster of villages that can be found to the southern end of a rough triangle formed by Stamford, Market Deeping and Bourne. It is four and a half miles north east of Stamford and five miles south of Bourne. It is a quiet, sleepy village with a population of 268 at the time of the 2011 census.
It is noted for Greatford Hall, the home of Francis Willis, a physician and clergyman, who treated King George III; ‘curing’ him of his madness in 1788, this being immortalised in a film from 1994.
The church of St Thomas A Beckett can be found in a quiet part of this quiet village, set back from the main road, in what would be a leafy lane in times other than winter. The church consists of tower, nave, south porch, chancel and north chapel and is thought to date back to the 11th century, this being indicated by some herringbone stonework on the north wall.
The tower is offset from the usual west end, here to be found just to the east of the south porch. The tower is of three stages with the lower stage dating back to the early 13th century, the rest of the tower dates from the mid 13th century, with the spire dating to the first quarter of the 14th century. The church clock is set to the south wall.
Some grotesque carvings, roughly human, look out at those approaching from the south. One looks surprised whilst another has its face screwed up in distaste, with tongue sticking out to one side. Some ancient gravestones are clustered around the south porch, but not as ancient as the stone Roman coffin that rests against the south wall, this being relocated here after being found at nearby Braceborough.
The church here is a member of the Uffington Group of Churches, a very friendly benefice; open and welcoming with each of the seven churches in that group being covered by this site. Entrance is through the south porch, which dates back to the 14th century. The south door itself is 13th century.
Six bells hang in the ring here. The first two are of no great historical importance, being cast by Taylor of Loughborough in 1998 and 1886. The third and sixth of the ring are courtesy of Thomas Eayre of Kettering. Each are dated 1732 and each are inscribed ‘Omnia Fiant Ad Gloriam Dei’ which translates as ‘Let all things be done for the glory of God’.
The fourth of the ring is the oldest, dated to 1593, and cast by Newcombe of Leicester. This one is inscribed ‘Praise The Lord’. The fifth is by Edward Arnold, again of Leicester, this one being cast in 1787.
Moving inside, my attention was immediately taken by a remarkable old font; but more of that in a few moments. There are no aisles or clerestories here, and we just have a basic structure of nave and chancel, with north chapel. What appear to be Victorian pews lead up to a chancel screen, which dates to 1913. Much of the nave and chancel dates from the 13th to 14th centuries.
The stone reredos is also Victorian and features an intricate cross on the central panel. To the left as we look at it is a dove, symbolising peace and the Holy Spirit. To the right is the Agnus Dei, the Lamb of God.
There is some fine stained glass here. The east window is a representation of the Last Supper. A good clear depiction, but I am not sure about the depiction of John, immediately to the left of Jesus as we look at it. None of the disciples here are depicted with nimbus; Judas Iscariot is over to the left, clutching the bag of money. He is normally depicted as looking furtive or looking away from Jesus but no so here.
Another three light window has depictions of John, Peter and James, three of Jesus’ inner circle of disciples. John has golden hair, and looks most unlike an Israeli fisherman. Peter carries the key to the Kingdom of Heaven and James, the brother of John, who Jesus called the ‘Sons of Thunder’ is wearing a scallop shell on his hat, which symbolises pilgrimage. Each of the three characters has a snippet of scripture above them. This window is set in to a bricked up arch on the south wall of the nave; and it looks as if there was a south chapel here at some point in time.
In the north chapel, there is a bust to the Revd Dr Francis Willis, who treated King George III as mentioned earlier, dated 1807 and close by is a wall memorial to John Willis, dated 1835, which shows the deceased at rest on a bed, being tended to by angels; which is probably along the same lines as what was carved on a panel of the font 500 odd years earlier, which I will just come to.
This is a delightful church interior; but the highlight for me was the 14th century font. To my mind, unless I am forgetting anything, it is unique to this area. Possibly that is accounted for by the fact that it was carved out of this area and was housed at Moorby church near to Horncastle until that church was demolished in 1983.
It was acquired by Greatford in 2004 and this explains why there is no mention of it in the church guide, which dates back to the early 1990’s and also explains why British Listed Buildings describe the font as being plain and octagonal; that listing being complied in 1968.
There are four carved sides. Easy to recognise is Mary and Jesus. There is a helpful set of notes in the church, which describe this as Mary and child. It is quite badly weathered but I think that this is a pieta; yes Mary and Jesus but Jesus being cradled by His mother as an adult, post crucifixion.
A further panel shows a cadaver, which is being tended to by two figures, al least one of which is an angel. Cadavers were used to demonstrate the transitory nature of human life; tempus fugit, time flies and the onlooker will go the same way as the deceased, therefore live a good Christian life as you do not know when your own time will come.
It is suggested that the deceased could be a donor, who paid for work on the church at Moorby, all those centuries ago and the angels could be in the process of safely escorting his soul to Heaven. One further panel shows six figures at prayer and it is suggested that these could well be the donor’s children.
The fourth panel depicts a seated figure, which is quite badly defaced. The font as a whole shows the marks of the restorers who objected to much of the symbolism of the catholic church. This is a fascinating piece of history; and the knocks that it has suffered throughout its life are part of that history.
I enjoyed my time here very much. This is a lovely church, full of interest, which was open to visitors. I did pop here briefly the previous Easter and the church here was closed, as were most of the others that I found open on this revisit. It was good to see things start to open up again after such a bleak time for us all.
If you would like to see the page for my visit to the church of St Martin of Tours another church in the Uffington Group of Churches benefice, please click on the photograph immediately above right to be directed there. This page will open up in a different window.