POLEBROOK : CHURCH OF ALL SAINTS

Church Post Code PE8 5LT

Church normally open to visitors

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It was late February 2022 and a revisit to the church of All Saints, Polebrook. I had been here a couple of times before. The first was back in 2007, armed with a very basic digital camera and a return visit was made on Ride and Stride Day 2020 when the church was closed, along with the majority of others, due to covid precautions.

I always wanted to see inside the church here again, and record it with a better camera, and this finally came about in late February 2022, when I visited all of the churches in the Brookfield benefice on a bright and blustery morning.

Polebrook is an East Northants village with a population of 478 at the time of the 2011 census. Oundle can be found three miles or so to the North West. The church of All Saints, can be found in the centre of the village, just off the main road, sitting on raised ground, surrounded by lovely old stone cottages.

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Off to the north is the village war memorial, with a telephone kiosk close by, which dates from 1935 and which has a Grade II listing. To the west of the church are some thatched cottages, with thatched animals on top. On one of these two swans face each other, with their long necks forming a rough heart shape. On a neighbouring roof, a cat with tail raised in greeting makes his or her way towards the object of its affections. I had photographed these on my September 2020 visit and I hoped that they had survived the ravages of storm Eunice, which had torn through the country a week previously. They had, but the swan’s straw feathers were looking a tad more ruffled than they had some 18 months previously!

The village here has great history, with settlements traced back to 400 BC. The village was mentioned in the Domesday Survey of 1086 and more recently had RAF Polebrook close by, where actor Clark Gable was stationed during 1943.

The church that we see today consists of west tower and spire, nave with north and south aisles, north and south porches, north and south transepts, south vestry and chancel. An initial observation of the church was that this church had a beautiful spire, a very short nave and a north transept which appeared to be roughly the same length of the nave!

    The church here dates from the 12th century, and is thought to stand on the site of an earlier wooden Saxon church, of which no trace remains. There was mention of the village having a priest in 1086. The church was enlarged in the 13th century. Restoration was undertaken here in the 1840's.

    The west tower, which is offset to the south west, is heavily buttressed, with a recently restored clock in the traditional colours of blue and gold mounted on to the west face. This is a one handed clock, which is unusual but not unique with the church at Stoke Doyle a few miles away having the same. A slender octagonal broach spire rises up, perpendicular, with three tiers of lucarne windows.

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Five bells hang in the ring here. The first was cast by Henry Penn of Peterborough in 1717 and is inscribed ‘This Bell Was Given By Willm Hawsey Gent 1717’. The second is from Newcombe of Leicester. This dates from the late 16th century and is inscribed ‘Andrea’.

The third is from Francis Watts, again from Leicester and again from the latter years of the 16th century. This one is inscribed ‘S Mahia’ which should have read ‘S Maria’

The final two are each from Joseph Eayre of St Neots. The fourth of the ring is dated 1771 and is marked with the names of the churchwardens of the day, John Hunt and Henry Negus. The fifth is dated 1765 and has the Latin ‘Ego Sum Vox Clamatis’ which translates as ‘I am the voice of one calling’.

Gargoyles can be seen scattered throughout the exterior, with one having been ‘retired’ from its official duties and re-set in to a wall. A string of vaguely human heads can be seen in various contortions, with what appears to be a bear with impressive teeth close by.

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The church was open to visitors, with entrance via an impressive north porch, which could date to the last quarter of the 12th century, with its dogtooth ornamentation. Moving inside, this is a church of interesting dimensions.  The nave is short; the chancel is long, as is the north transept. It does seem curious that this cruciform church does not have a central tower.

The east window in the 13th century chancel is composed of three arches, with the central arch being a little taller than those flanking it; and contains clear glass. To the right of the altar is a 13th century double piscina; this being a fine example with detached shafts and ornamented with dogtooth design. Above this is a single light window showing Jesus as a carpenter before His ministry started.

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There is plenty of stained glass here though, to be found in both transepts, with a three light window depicting the scene on Easter morning. The risen Christ, dressed in a white and gold robe and with one hand raised in blessing, emerges from the tomb; two Roman soldiers asleep at His feet.

To the left as we look at it are Mary the Mother of Jesus and Mary Magdalene. To the right are Peter and John. This is a beautifully constructed depiction, with vibrant colours; but very formal with little in the way of emotion shown in these four considering what had happened that morning.

A two light window shows Jesus with His hand on a young boy’s shoulder, the boy holding lilies, symbolising purity, up towards Jesus but perhaps curiously, not looking up to Jesus but looking out to his right. The second light shows Jesus as the Good Samaritan. He holds one sheep around His shoulders, whilst holding another with the shepherd’s crook. The third sheep looks up towards Jesus. Close by is an ‘I Am’ window, with ‘I am the light of the world’ and ‘I am the Good Shepherd’ shown.

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The north transept dates back to the 13th century, with beautiful blind arcading on the west and north walls. This transept is used as a memorial chapel for those who were killed in two world wars from Polebrook and Armston.  It also contains a roll of honour listing the names of those who died from the 351st Bomber Group USAAF who were based at Polebrook in the 1940’s.

At the north end of this transept is a stained glass window which features a knight in armour being crowned. The script above reads 'be thou faithful unto death and I will give thee a crown of life’ This comes from Revelation Chapter 2, part of verse 10.

A few stone heads look out in to the nave. A couple of these are crowned and have curiously weathered faces, considering that they are interior features. I did wonder if someone had defaced these at the time of the reformation.  If they did, then a much older looking carving of a grotesque face had been left untouched. I hesitate to use the word ‘human’ as the face is grotesque; with contorted face, sightless eyes, boxer’s nose and tongue out in medieval gesture of insult.

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A glance upwards and there are ceiling bosses in the form of a King and Bishop, whilst a pair of crossed keys can be seen to the west end of the nave. The font is very ancient, dating from the 12th century, this is octagonal with blind trefoil arches around the bowl and detached shafts around the base.

One final item of interest here concerns Reverend Charles Euseby Isham, who was vicar at Polebrook. His daughter Caroline married Thomas Welch Hunt, the Squire of Wadenhoe, in 1824. They were both robbed and murdered by bandits later that year whilst on honeymoon and a monument in the church at Wadenhoe was placed in memory of them. A memorial to Charles can be found in the north transept.

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As I was in the church grounds a couple of people came over to say hi, which is always good. This included a very pleasant lady who told me with a laugh where I could find the defibrillator machines should I have need for them; when she found out that I was cycling!

This is a beautiful church, both up close and from a distance! All Saints is open and welcoming and is full of interest. This is well worth a look at if you are in the area.

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