OUNDLE : CHURCH OF ST PETER

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Church Post Code  PE8 4EE

Normally open to visitors

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Oundle is a very pleasant, bustling market town which can be found nestling on the left bank of the river Nene, some 12 miles south west of Peterborough.  Population is a little over 5,000; there is a historic public school and the town centre has a fine selection of tea rooms.

I re-visited the church of St Peter at Oundle early In January 2015. It had been a horrible morning, with pouring rain and a strong wind scuppering the original plan to head to Uppingham. Instead, making use of a break in the weather, I decided to head the short distance to Oundle.  The church of St Peter has the highest church spire in Northamptonshire, standing an impressive 210 feet high. A full 58 feet higher than St Benedict at Glinton! The spire commands the countryside and sometimes it seems like, wherever you are in that part of East Northants, it is visible off in the distance.

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   The present church of St Peter dates mainly from the 13th century, but parts are older than that. It was recently discovered that the pillars of this church stand on the site of an earlier building. Evidence has shown that there was once an important Saxon church in Oundle. Perhaps this is the site of more than 1,000 years of continuous worship.   

The structure that we see today consists of west tower and recessed spire, nave with north and south aisles and clerestories, south porch, north and south transepts and chancel. St Peter sits in the centre of the town, and is really difficult to photograph due to its sheer size and the fact that there are buildings surrounding it on all sides. Some really good long distance views are to be seen across the fields from neighbouring Stoke Doyle

    Construction of the tower started in the late 14th Century, and was completed in the 15th century. The spire is dated 1634, which is the date in which it was re-built after the original spire fell following a lightning strike. The tower is buttressed and battlemented and has a frieze running across the top in which there is a selection of carved heads with fabulously contorted faces. There are fabulous lancet windows at the belfry stage.

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Entrance is through the south porch. This double decker porch was built in 1455 at the expense of Robert Wyatt, a merchant of the day. The room above the porch may have been used as a schoolroom at some point. Over the doorway are three large empty image niches, which would have held statues prior to the reformation.

   Eight bells hang here, with the first being cast by Thomas Osborne of Downham Market in 1780, the second is by the same founder and the same date. Henry Bagley II cast the third from his premesis at Ecton, Northants. This bells has the inscription on it EX DONO JOHANNIS LEWIS DE OUNDLE APOTHECARII. This translates as 'A gift from John Lewis of Oundle Clerk'.

   Four bells were cast by the Eayre family. Three of these came from Thomas Eayre who worked from a foundry at Kettering. His bells were the fourth (1735), fifth (1742) and eighth (1748) of the ring of eight with Joseph Eayre, working from St Neots casting the sixth of the ring in 1763. This just leaves the seventh of the ring that was another cast by Thomas Osborne, this time in 1801.

   In August 1868 a fire broke out in the bellfry at St Peter. It was brought under control before serious damaged occurred to the tower and spire. However, four of the bells were cracked and the first, second, third and eighth of the ring were all re-cast by Mears and Stainbank shortly after as a result.

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    The church here has been open on each time that I visited and it was pleasing to see a few people inside, admiring the church and enjoying the peace and calm inside and, I daresay, taking refuge from the biting cold. It was not long since Christmas and the nativity scene still stood at the entrance to the chancel.

   Despite all the stained glass here, it was bright and welcoming inside. I walked down the nave, modern chairs to either side and accompanied by the pleasant sounds of laughter from some ladies planning a forthcoming meeting. Arriving at the chancel and looking back to the west, I was taken by the tall elegant tower arch.

    Before some modern re-plastering work was carried out, the stonework in the nave was looked at and it was found that some of this was pre 13th Century. A large amount of Victorian restoration was carried out in the 1860's and in more modern times some more was done in the early 1990's.

I wandered in to the chancel and spent a few moments taking in the fine east window, doing a little private Bible study . There are ten scenes from the life of Christ, well nine actually if you count the annunciation which announced that He was to be born. Spread over two levels we have, on the top level, the nativity, Jesus’ baptism, the crucifixion, the resurrection and the ascension. Below that we have the annunciation, Jesus presented to the temple, Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, one that I can’t pin down and what looks to be Jesus forgiving Peter for denying Him.

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The altar is fairly plain and tasteful, containing Just a single cross and two candles at the north and south edges. Behind is a marble reredos depicting the last supper. Jesus breaks the bread, ‘Do this in remembrance of me’ is written across the bottom. John leans against Jesus whilst Judas Iscariot looks solemn at the front, holding a money bag with 30 written on it; the number of pieces of silver that he betrayed Jesus for, All of the disciples except Judas are depicted with nimbus (halo). Sometimes Judas is depicted with nimbus, sometimes without and on one occasion I have seen him with a black nimbus.

   A memorial on the north wall of the chancel remembers Susanna, widow of Willaim Walcott, who died in 1737. A human skull looks out across the sanctuary reminds those kneeling at the communion rails that Man is mortal and will die.

    The 15th century lectern, in the shape of an eagle, was said to be originally from Fotheringhay church. This was thrown in to the river by Roundhead troops during the English Civil War, but fortunately later found and returned. The brightly coloured pulpit dates from the 15th century and was restored back to its original colours in 1966.

    Some work carried out then proved to be controversial. The former Bishop of Peterborough, the Right Rev Bill Westwood, and St Peter's former vicar, Canon Lloyd Caddick, were immortalised as grotesques in the nave, not as gargoyles as the Independent report stated at the time as gargoyles are a means of draining water away from the church walls and are therefore an external feature.  This was unpopular with a section of the congregation.

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A very interesting wall monument can be seen to one William Loringe. The script informs us that he had five sons and five daughters, all of whom can be seen lined up at prayer below; girls on the right and boys on the left. Two of the boys pre deceased their father and are depicted laying dead. The inscriptions end as follows  ‘Edith his most sorrowfull wife in testification of her everlasting love doth with unfayned teares consecrate this monument’. My spell checker did not like this at all, but what a lovely turn of phrase!

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The church grounds are spacious and filled with some high quality stones dating back to the eighteenth century. A couple of these contain images of the tools of the trade for the deceased. Not great examples but quite rare in this area.

A box tomb, which looks to pre date most of the other stones in the grounds. And which I suspect dates from the second half of the seventeenth century, has inscribed 'Richard Mason Made This' carved on to the western end.

A grieving widow gravestone from the 19th century, has the cross and anchor to the left as we look at it and the human skull and bones to the right. The cross and anchor are each symbols of the Christian faith with the skull and bones symbolising the mortality of Man. Therefore, it is acknowledged that the deceased had passed away and that it sad, but their Christian faith is also acknowledged and this is a ‘testification’ that they will have won the eternal prize.

This really is a wonderful church in a lovely little market town. Open daily and well worth a look around if you are anywhere in the area.

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