NORTHBOROUGH : CHURCH OF ST ANDREW
Church Post Code PE6 9BN
Normally closed to visitors
It was Historic Churches Trust Ride and Stride day and, amazingly, the sun was shining; but not for long though as around 20 minutes after the exterior photograph were taken here the heavens opened; with the day ending in a thunderstorm at Glinton, but also amusing in a way, as I stood watching the rain pouring out of the downspout on the mooning gargoyle there!
Northborough is a pleasant village on the main A15 road, some eight miles to the north of Peterborough. The Lincolnshire border is a mile or so away further north. To the south west of the church is Northborough Castle, where Elizabeth Cromwell, widow of Oliver Cromwell, lived with her son in law John Claypole. Peasant Poet John Clare was born in nearby Helpston and spent ten years living in Northborough. His wife Martha and several of their children are buried in the church grounds here.
I have some fond memories of my times here. Back in the winter of 2008 I visited here a couple days after the country had been brought to a halt with one of the heaviest snowfalls seen for some time. This was on a gloriously sunny Saturday afternoon; several inches of snow still lying on the ground
David and I took in an evening prayer service here back in October 2013. We received a warm welcome. This was the first time that I had been inside this church and the photographs taken were not great to be honest. I always said that I would return one day in better lighting and this was on Ride and Stride day, September 2017.
The church of St Andrew is set a little way back from the busy main road. It is quiet and peaceful here though, with the church having some delightful stone cottages as neighbours. I approached on foot from the west; the church surrounded by trees, which were just starting to adopt their autumn colours.
The church that we see here today consists of nave with north and south aisles and clerestories, south porch, very large south chapel and chancel. The western end of the church is supported by four buttresses; the two to the north and south run part way up, to just below the roof level of the aisles, but the innermost two supports up to the belfry stage.
The visitor’s attention cannot be drawn away from then south chapel though, which is really large, given the size of the rest of the church. It is so large that the chancel itself is hidden from sight from much of the church grounds. The chapel itself is battlemented, with turrets to west and east ends. This is a real statement piece!
It is thought that the original structure here was built towards the end of the 12th century or the start of the 13th century; there was no mention of a church or a village here at the time of the Domesday Survey of 1086.
The only surviving part of that original structure is the west wall. The present nave, which has north and south aisles, was built around 1230 and in the 14th century the clerestory windows were added with the chancel arch being rebuilt at the same time.
There is just a simple bellcote here on the western end. This holds two bells with one of these being very ancient. The older bell was cast around 1410 by John (Johanne) De Colesale, who was a founder between 1409 and 1421. Colsale was based in Nottingham but appears to have been itinerant and would likely to have set up a temporary foundry where he was called to work. It is more than likely that the bell here might have been cast in the church grounds.
The second bell was cast locally by Tobias Norris I at the Stamford bellfoundry, who were prolific in this area during the 17th century.. This bell is inscribed CVM VOCO AD ECCLESIAM VENITE WL AS 1611, which translates as 'Come to the church when I call'.
The south transept is known as the De La Mere Chantry, or the Claypole Chapel. It was built around 1350. It is interesting to see something that was built in or around that time as the country, with the Black Death having swept through the country, killing upwards of 40% of the population and leaving a desperate shortage of workers.
It was good to see the ‘Church Open’ signs out. The sun was forecast to disappear pretty quickly, potentially not to return for the rest of the day. I did a shoot of the exterior in good lighting them went inside.
The welcome was excellent; the locals friendly and it was good to see a few people looking around the interior. There are three bays to the north and south arcades; a number of carved heads looking out across the nave. Some of these have damage on them, which might indicate the hands of the reformers at work during the 16th century.
Walking up to the chancel arch and looking back to the west, the previous roofline is still clearly visible, the roof being raised when the clerestory windows were put in. The chancel itself is plain and simple; less is more! The altar has simply the altar cloth and a small cross. The reredos behind the altar is a curtain; the three light east window is of clear glass.
Moving in to the south transept, this was being used as a refreshment area for the days visitors, which was appreciated. This contains the tomb of James Claypole and also of Elizabeth daughter of Oliver Cromwell, who died in 1665. The original inscription on her tomb has long since worm away but the Cromwell Association has placed a commemorative plaque close to where her tomb is.
There are two tomb recesses here which are both empty. It is suggested in the Northborough entry of British Listed Buildings website, that the two figures currently in the porch at the church of St Benedict at Glinton, might have originally have sat in these recesses.
There are two intricately carved tomb canopies, which originally would have stood over statues, which probably would have been removed as being idolatrous during the reformation. These are of high quality, having ribbed ceilings with a central boss. A close look at these shows some graffiti, with just initials and the occasional date. John carved in a mixture of capital and small letters, with the ‘N’ the wrong way around, was here in 178 something, the last figure being unreadable.
Making my way back outside, I took a look at the font, which is plain and octagonal and is dated to the 15th century. On leaving I noticed a couple of wall paintings, but just script with a decorative border. These are really hard to read but they looked as if they might be Elizabethan to me.
Moving outside, the church grounds are interesting, with some finely crafted eighteenth century stones. To be fair though, there is nothing of great interest or rarity in the grounds here. There is however, close to the south porch, a deaths head stone. This has an image of a human skull on it, with crossed human bones below, designed to symbolise that Man is mortal and will die, and put this message over in a form that the onlooker could understand, in days when most people were illiterate.
This is a lovely church in a picturesque setting, with a warm friendly welcome. The church is normally kept closed to visitors but is well worth a look if you get the chance when they are open. I wish them well at the moment as a local new report reported in October 2020 that the church here was one of 29 churches in the east of England that were put on the Historic England’s at risk register.