LUDDINGTON IN THE BROOK : CHURCH OF ST MARGARET.

Church Post Code PE8 5QU

I believe that this church is open at weekends

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It was late February 2022, and a return visit to the church of St Margaret, Luddington in the Brook. The village here is tiny, so much so that the population of Luddington and neighbouring Hemington and Thurning totalled 257 at the time of the 2011 census.

There is a scattering of houses and the church of St Margaret, which is set back a little from the main road which runs to Thurning. A delightful rural scene! Oundle is a few miles off to the North West and Great Gidding is a little less than a mile off to the South East.

This is a quiet and peaceful place. There was little traffic on the road on this bright and blustery Friday lunchtime and this is a place that I have grown very fond of over my previous visits here. The view of the church from the south, on the road leading to neighbouring Thurning, is a favourite of mine.

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On this day, the church was bathed in weak winter sunshine. A horse grazed idly in front of the church and a Red Kite circled close to, but annoyingly not directly over the church. Memories of a visit here with David a few years previously where we arrived for an evening prayer service only to find that we had got the dates and/or times wrong and we ended up taking a service in at Great Gidding instead, the bells at Gidding calling the faithful as we were in the church grounds at Luddington still wondering what had gone wrong!

I edged past the horse with a little caution. I don’t have a great track record with horses whilst travelling. I cast my mind back a few years to a horse at Great Gidding, who I later named ‘Screaming Psycho’, who had David and I scrambling for cover as it came charging over. No problems here though, and nose stroked and horse happy, I aimed for the church.

On a previous visit, on Ride and Stride day 2020 the horse had been replaced by a small flock of sheep; that were even more photogenic on a warm and sunny September afternoon. I have enclosed a couple of photos from that visit at the foot of this page.

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The church here dates primarily from the 15th century, and it is thought that the present structure replaced an earlier building, which dated from the 13th century. The church that we see today consists of west tower, with short broach spire, nave with south aisle and clerestory, south porch and chancel. The church was substantially rebuilt during the 1870’s, at which time the spire was rebuilt, the original having been damaged at some point back in time.

There are two bells in the ring here, each being cast by Henry Penn in 1710. Penn worked out of a foundry in Peterborough and was one of the more well known bell founders; having provided a ring of 10 bells for Peterborough cathedral the previous year. There is a Henry Penn walk in Peterborough in his memory.

Thomas North, who published his book on the church bells of Northamptonshire in 1878 noted that the first of the ring is inscribed ‘Henry Penn Fusore’ A definition of Fusore is a founder, a caster or a melter! The second is inscribed with the name Edward Griffin the church warden of the day.

North was meticulous in his work and he noted that there was not enough information in the church records for him to say what the situation was with regards the bells pre 1710.

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And so we come to the gargoyles and grotesques, for which this church is noted.  These are a varied and interesting selection and are of great quality, to be found on the porch, the nave and higher up in between the clerestory windows. The ones around the south porch appear to be considerably older than the rest, and could even date from the building of the present structure. A figure of a man at the apex of the porch, who appears to be holding something in both hands, is very weathered, as are two beasts at the label stops of the porch arch. Each of the latter appears to have had their head replaced at some point back in time.

With regards the others, these are not so aged and are of very high quality. They are also quite large given the small size of the church itself. There was rebuilding here in 1875 and it could be that these were added then.

At the south west corner of the porch is what could be described as a grumpy chicken. At the south east corner is a scaly reptile with tongue stuck out in medieval gesture of insult.

A human figure in distress, leans out from the wall of the nave; mouth wide open and with huge bags under his or her eyes. Above this figure is what could be a rather portly monk; this one looking really sad. A close look at this one shows that the bottom part has been rebuilt at some point.

At the east end on the nave is a depiction of a dog. Ears pinned back, eyes bulging, fangs bared and tail wrapped around its body. A short distance away is what could be another dog, or possibly not as it appears to have wings curled up; lookomg out to the south through cavernous eye sockets. This one has ears like small radar dishes and its mouth is open showing one fang! This is a wonderful collection, very eclectic and as always, it would be great to put yourself in the mindset of the person who asked for these designs to be carved.

 There are also a string of smaller human faces, pulled in to grotesque shapes, which reminded me of what I had seen at Polebrook earlier in the day.

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The church had been opened up for me, for which I was really grateful. It was bright and welcoming inside; the walls being whitewashed and little in the way of stained glass helping in this respect. The only stained glass to be seen here is a few medieval fragments in the tracery of the three light window at the east end of the south aisle and a little more in the north wall.

Much of the fittings here date from the Victorian restoration but the chancel arch is 15th century and would date to the building of the church. The east window of the chancel is of three lights and is of clear glass. In the tracery there are two quatre foil shapes and above that one trefoil, also of clear glass.

The reredos here is a series of seven scenes painted within a series of blind arches. Central is Christ in majesty, crowned as King of Heaven and carrying a globe. St Margaret, after who the church is dedicated, kneels to the left of Jesus as we look at it, also crowned and carrying a processional cross. St Margaret is often depicted with a sword, denoting the means of her martyrdom but that is not the case here. Occasionally she is symbolised with a dragon as well.

St Peter, carrying the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven is on our right. The keys identify Peter, but so does his receding hairline and it is a fair bet that anyone depicted that way is either Peter or Paul.

Flanking these three are two angels to each side, all of whom carry a banner which, added together, read ‘Holy Holy Holy the Lord God of Hosts Heaven and earth are full of Thy Glory’, this being part of the Sanctus prayer.

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Standing at the chancel and looking back to the west, the tall elegant tower arch also dates from the building of this church in the 15th century, as does the font which is plain and octagonal. The roofs date from the Victorian restoration but they are supported in places by medieval corbels, in the form of angels holding plaques.

At the west end of the nave is a very ancient looking bier, a framework on which a coffin in placed prior to burial. Sometimes these have wheels; this one doesn’t. What tales this could tell!

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Moving back outside, the church grounds have been immaculately kept on each occasion that I have visited here. There is nothing of any great interest or rarity in the church grounds; it is just a pleasant place to spend a little time. I had lunch whilst enjoying the peace and calm. A horse from the neighbouring field had trotted over and a fairly excited conversation appeared to ne ongoing between the two over the fence. The Red Kite had left the scene completely, scuppering any chances of photographing him or her over the church.

It had been a tough couple of years. Covid had hit hard and things were presently a little less stressful in that respect. As I was having lunch the thought crossed my mind that if I had had to have been locked down through covid again; this would have been a very pleasant place to have been locked down in!

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To take a look at the churches in nearby Barnwell, please click on the photograph of the Red Kite to see the church at Barnwell All Saints. Click on the photograph of the church with sheep to visit the church at Barnwell St Andrew. Both will open up in a different window.