ORTON WATERVILLE : CHURCH OF ST MARY
Church Post Code PE2 5HE
Closed to visitors
Orton Waterville is a large village, which can be found some three miles to the west of Peterborough, by the side of the A605 which connects Peterborough to Oundle. Orton Longueville is a short distance off to the east, with the two villages being separated by a school complex; where I attended secondary school in those long ago sepia tinted days!
There is a great deal of history here, with the Romans inhabiting the area and an Anglo Saxon community known as Overton being set up between Longueville and Waterville. The de Waterville family, after who the village is named, were Lords of the manor for three hundred years, and it was them that founded the first church here, which was originally a private chapel close to the manor house.
These days, Orton Waterville is a mixture of the old and new with the older parts of the village, with several glorious old thatched cottages, to be found to the west. This was a revisit; having visited this church on several occasions over the years. This was one of the first churches that I visited, when starting off the original website. Fond memories of photographing this church in the snow in the very early years of my churchcrawling, and equally fond memories of the Chinese take away in the complex of shops to the side of the church.
This August 2022 revisit coincided (deliberately) with a coffee morning. As with other churches in the area to the west of Peterborough, the church is normally closed to visitors so this was an ideal opportunity to reshoot the interior whilst eating a large amount of cake!
There was no church mentioned here in the Domesday Survey of 1086, but it is thought that a church with north aisle was here in the 12th century; this being the private chapel to the nearby manor house.
The church was re-built at the end of the 13th century, with the west tower dating from 1270 or thereabouts. The late 13th century nave has an arcade of four bays on both north and south sides. The north aisle dates from 1270, with the south aisle dating from ten years later. The chancel arch appears to have been re-built between 1300 and 1310.
A chantry of the blessed Mary was founded here in 1330 by Robert de Waterville, where a team of priests would spend their time at prayer for the souls of the deceased of the donor, in order to lessen their time spent in purgatory.
The clerestory was added in the 15th century, with the chancel being re-built in the 17th century. Restoration was undertaken here in the 1920's and in the late 1960's extensive restoration work was carried out to the tower after it was struck by lightning.
Looking at the exterior from the south as I waited for the coffee morning to start; the west tower is battlemented, with a parapet which has a repeated pattern of quatre foil design. There are gargoyles at all four corners of the tower, these taking the form of mythical beasts. The outline of the previous roofline, before the clerestory was added, can still be seen on the east wall of the tower. Moving around, the chancel is very wide and very low!
There are four bells hanging here with two from the Stamford bellfoundry and two from Joseph Eayre of St Neots. Starting off with the bells made locally and one of these is dated 1606 and is a very early bell from Tobias Norris I, who founded the Stamford bellfoundry. This has the inscription "Protete Prece Pia Quos Convoco Santa Maria 1606". This is an inscription that Tobias never used on his bells and it is suggested that he re-cast an earlier bell that hung here, which is thought to have dated from 1270, when the tower was built. This would make this the earliest church bell recorded in Huntingdonshire.
The second bell from the Stamford bellfoundry is dated 1670, and was cast by Thomas Norris. The two bells from Eayre are dated 1754 and 1755. The former bell has the name of Richard Chambers, the church warden of the time. Interestingly, there is a floor slab inside St Mary marking Chambers' passing in 1770. The latter bell has the name Samuel Sharman inscribed on to it, another church warden of the day.
A friendly white and black came over as I sat in the church grounds and said hello, leaving a trail of white hairs over my trousers in the process. He/she then spotted the door to the south porch open and made its way inside. It was enjoyable for the next few minutes watching the people setting up gently attempting to remove the cat, who really didn’t want to be removed! At one point the cat was gently taken out; turning sharply and heading back inside at speed. The lady looked at me, laughed and shrugged… sometimes you just have to pick the battles that you fight!
Moving inside, and tables and chairs were set out throughout the naves and aisles. This is a coffee morning that has been running for years and a large turnout was obviously expected. My shots of the nave towards the chancel were cluttered as a result and I have included one shot from a previous visit so that the usual view can be seen.
There are four bays to north and south, and there are altars set out at the east end of each aisle. Each has a piscina, designed to wash the holy vessels; indicating that the mass was served in each. As mentioned earlier, the 17th chancel is very wide and low. The altar is plain, with just a couple of candlesticks and a cross. The four light window is of clear glass. In fact, there is no stained glass to be found here at all. It is interesting that there is no piscina or sedilia in the chancel itself. Possibly this could be due to the fact that this chancel was built after the reformation with the subsequent change in the style of worship.
Standing at the chancel and looking west, there is no tower arch, just a simple doorway leading in to the west end of the nave. The 13th century font is plain and octagonal, resting on four smaller octagonal shafts.
Pride of place in the interior of St Mary goes to an intricately carved pulpit. Without wishing to sound unkind, as I like this church very much, the pulpit does tend to stand out as the rest of the church here is quite plain in design.
This was carved from Elizabethan oak in the early 17th century and was a present to the church from the church of Great St Mary in Cambridge. This is a beautifully carved piece of work and there are depictions of bare chested female figures in parts.
It is suggested that the reason that this pulpit was given as a gift is that these images of the female form were proving too distracting to the male students at Cambridge, where the pulpit previously stood. A Mr Paley, being quoted in Revd Sweeting's Victorian study of churches in the Peterborough area said... " it says little for the taste of those who rejected so magnificent a specimen of carving" It is recorded that the cost of the transportation from getting this fine piece of work from Cambridge to Orton Waterville was 37 1/2p!
The female figures carved in to the pulpit here are in the form of mermaids. There is also a mermaid on the pulpit at nearby Farcet and there is similar at Stow Longa near to Kimbolton. Occasionally the church visitor comes across things that you would not expect to find inside a church; this is doubtless one of those occasions but we need to know what these symbolised in those days long gone and it is really hard to put ourselves in the medieval of Tudor mindset. Mermaids as a symbol obviously meant something, and I daresay that the message may still be relevant now, if only we knew what it was!
I was reminded of a recent church tour in Lincolnshire. Amongst the graffiti is a carving of a pentagram, which the tour guide glossed over. After the tur I questioned her on it and she said that it shouldn’t be there! But when this was carved, the pentagram was a Christian symbol. By today’s standards this symbol in unacceptable but in the days that it was carved it was acceptable. Perhaps what we see here with this pulpit is the same!
To complete my comments on this pulpit; if anyone thinks that this pulpit is rude, just take a look at sheela na gigs throughout the country; and particularly the one that can be seen at Kilpeck in Herefordshire!
The church grounds are of interest, with some finely carved 18th century stones. On in particular caught the eye; with two angel’s depicted carrying off a frame, in which is an effigy of the deceased. To be fair though there is nothing of any interest to be seen here; with little in the way of gravestone symbolism. Having said that though, two figures on one gravestone each hold a Bible aloft, whilst blowing a trumpet, which was an often used symbol for the resurrection.
I enjoyed this revisit very much. It was good to see inside the church here again after several years. To be fair, it is worth visiting just to see the pulpit! The church here is normally closed to visitors but the locals are friendly and welcoming; and there appears to be several really good bakers among their number.