MARHOLM : CHURCH OF ST MARY THE VIRGIN

Church Post Code PE6 7JA

Church normally closed to visitors

It was a pleasant early afternoon in April 2022, and a return visit to the church of St Mary The Virgin, Marholm. This is a church that I had visited often, but only been inside once, this being at a service back in December 2013. The reception on the day was a good one, with the locals being friendly and welcoming. I always wanted to pop back and it only took eight and as half years to do so!

Marholm is a pleasant village which can be found some three miles west of the centre of Peterborough. Castor, with its famous Norman church is the same distance off to the south west. The population of the parish at the time of the 2011 census was a little over 150. This is a quiet village but Peterborough crematorium, and the western edges of built up Peterborough can be found a short distance off to the east.

I have fond memories of this village, visiting the church here with my mother and father on a glorious Sunday afternoon whilst in my teens; also memories of the’ Green Man’ a 100 year old hedge at the local pub which has been trimmed in to the shape of a man for as many years as I can remember.

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I would suggest that the church of St Mary The Virgin is in one of the most picturesque, if not THE most picturesque, setting to be found within the catchment area of this site. The church stands alone in the fields, surrounded by trees, with the view of the church grounds uninterrupted due to their being a sunken wall, called a Ha Ha. A Sign alerts visitors that parking in the field to the south of the church is at the owners risk as cattle graze there at times!

  The church that we see today consists of west tower, nave with north and south aisles and clerestories, south porch and chancel. Those looking at the exterior will be struck by the size of the chancel in relation to the rest of the structure.

St Mary dates from the 12th century, with the squat three stage tower, which has a small pyramid top, being built at around 1180AD. The nave dates from the 13th century and the church here was badly damaged by fire which destroyed the whole church except the tower. New aisles were built but these were pulled down and both aisles that we see today and the porch date from Victorian times.

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   The chancel was restored in 1534 by Sir William Fitzwilliam, of the nearby Milton Park estate.  The rebuilt chancel is a fine piece of work, the battlements of which stand a little taller than the nave. It is built in perpendicular style; with two four light windows to north and south walls and a fine five light window on the east.

There is a fair amount of graffiti, mainly initials and dates from the 18th century, and I was interested to see a couple of daisy wheel designs etched on to the outside north wall of the nave. The function of these was protective; evil was attracted in to the design and once inside it would be trapped. I found it unusual to see these on an outside wall as I thought that they were mainly carved in to interior walls around doors and windows as it was thought that evil could enter in to a building on draughts!

A single bell hangs here, with this being cast locally, by Tobias Norris III of the Stamford bellfoundry in 1678.

The church here is normally closed, and I appreciated very much that someone opened up for me to take a look around. Moving inside, it was bright and welcoming inside, and the visitor’s eye is again attracted by the chancel, which is as much a statement piece from the inside as it is from the outside!

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There is little in the way of stained glass here, with just a two light window in the north aisle showing Jesus as the Light of the World and the Good Shepherd. However, there are coats of arms on the east windows and some re set medieval fragments in the chancel indicating that the church here looks to have suffered destruction from the reformers in the 16th century.

The time that the chancel was rebuilt is of interest; it being just 15 years before the Putting Away of Books and Images Act of 1549 which commanded all persons to deface and destroy images of all kinds that were erected for religious worship. We could have had a situation here where the newly built chancel would have had stained glass, which might have been destroyed by the iconoclasts just a few years later.

And talking of the destruction of reformers, this was still about a hundred or so years later, as a fascinating epitaph on a monument on the south wall of the chancel shows. The monument, to one Edmund Hunter, who died in 1646, pleads for his memorial to be left undamaged by soldiers, it reads 'to the courteous souldiers. Noe crucifixe you see, no frightful band of superstitions here. Pray let me stand'. Thankfully it was left to stand and highlights a turbulent period in our history. I have been doing this for a number of years now and am aware that there were many things destroyed that were seen as being ‘popish’. I really had no idea though that this included a crucifix!

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There are three bays arcaded to north and south, these dating from the 13th century. Much of the interior shows the work of the Victorian restorers.  The altar cloth was red, symbolising the blood of Christ as we headed in to holy week.

The reredos dates from Victorian restoration and features the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed and the Ten Commandments.

   Against the north wall of the chancel is a large and ornate monument to Willian, 1st Earl Fitzwilliam, which features life sized effigies of William and his wife. This is considered to be one of the finest monuments in the region and was made in 1718 by James Fisher of Camberwell at a cost of £900. Sir William is depicted with long flowing wig, tunic unbuttoned except at the waist. He wears high heeled boots. His wife stands alongside with each standing on a slightly raised platform.

Still on the north wall of the chancel I saw what I thought from a distance was an Easter Sepulchre. However this turned out to be a memorial to William Fitzwilliam who passed away in 1534, the same year that the chancel was rebuilt. This monument contains two memorial brasses which are inset in to the back wall, alongside several coats of arms.

On the south wall of the chancel is a memorial to another William Fitzwilliam, this one dating from 1599. Sir William and his wife Ann lay recumbent side by side. Normally they would each have had hands raised in prayer, but here though they lay hand in hand! Sir William is dressed in armour, with his free hand on the sword at his side. The monument is tight up against the south wall and Ann is partially hidden as a result.

Both wear a ruff, with William’s being more elaborate than that of his wife. Ann also has two small ruffs on either sleeve, and sports a fabulously ornate jeweled head dress!

As I was looking at this monument , which is beautifully coloured, it was bathed in sunshine and the thought occurred to me that this ranks up there with my most favourite monuments to be found within the catchment area of this site.

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The church grounds are well maintained. There are several chest tombs close to the south porch which date to the eighteenth century. A coffin shaped tomb a little to the west depicts a winged hourglass. Tempus Fugit, time flies, and has run out for the deceased with the wings symbolising the safe passage of the soul to Heaven.

One interesting eighteenth century gravestone has two cherubs holding aloft what could be a laurel wreath, this being a symbol of victory, with the victory here being over death. This is a message passed on to the onlooker to live their own life in a Christian manner, as well as a testament as to the faith of the deceased.

A herd of cattle to the west headed over to see what I was doing; but they soon headed off bored which brought them in to line with most people that have accompanied me whilst I was out with the camera.

It was great to be able to see inside this church again. This is a lovely church in a pleasant and tranquil setting; an ideal way to spend a little time on a Saturday afternoon. I peddled off towards home, with a slight concern as to the clouds mounting in the west, somehow managing not to divert off to the tea shop at nearby Ailsworth!

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If you would like to see two more of the churches in the Castor benefice, please click on the photograph immediately above left to be taken to the page for my visit to Water Newton. Please click on the photograph immediately above right to be taken to the page for Castor itself. Each page will open up in another window.