SOUTHWICK : CHURCH OF ST MARY

Church Post Code PE8 5BL

Usually open to visitors

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I have made several visits to the church of St Mary at Southwick over the years. Those who know me will know of my great love for East Northants and its picturesque villages and unspoiled countryside. I have fond memories of cycling out to Harringworth one day and getting lost on some back roads. As I was approaching Southwick, a Red Kite flew alongside my bike, not more than a few feet away, for a couple of hundred yards.

The churches are important to me; this is why I do what I do. However, they are not the be all and end all of everything and little things such as this live long in the memory.

Southwick is a small village, some three miles north of Oundle; with historic Fotheringhay a couple of miles away to the east. The population was 181 at the time of the 2011 census. This is a sleepy, peaceful village, which has a pub, the Shuckburgh Arms. The church is alongside the main road, off to the east of the village. Close by the church is Southwick Hall, which dates back to the early 14th century.

    There is a great deal of history here, with the churchyard of St Mary occupying ground that was used by the Romans to extract ironstone. As a result, the ground here is susceptible to subsidence, and the church tower is heavily buttressed.

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    The church of St Mary, at least pre covid was always open and welcoming, as so many in this part of the county are. The church here is particularly worth visiting in the spring, when the grounds are full of colour.

The structure that we see today consists of west tower, nave with south door and chancel. There are no aisles or clerestories.  

 The 14th century tower and spire were built by Sir John Knyvet, who was Lord Chancellor to King Edward III. Shields bearing the coat of arms of Sir John and his wife, Eleanor Basset of Weldon, are carved in to the tower in several places.

The tower is perpendicular and heavily buttressed to the west. A parapet runs across the top of the tower, with gaps in the stonework helping to create a cross on all sides. Some very weathered gargoyles can be seen, including one with enormous ears! I wonder if this was based on a particular person of the day. A recessed, crocketed spire rises up, but only a little way!

An attractive church in a picturesque setting! I have fond memories of finding the church spot lit up one Sunday evening. It was twilight and the spotlight was starting to take effect. We took some shots then headed off in the direction of Fotheringhay to see if the church there was lit up as well. It was!

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   Two bells hang here. North, in his mid Victorian study of Northamptonshire church bells, describes one of these bells as being blank. The National Church Bell Database attributes this to Peterborough founder Henry Penn in 1710 as does Michael Lee, in his study of Henry Penn, who records this bell as being inscribed 'Henry Penn Made Me 1710'. That same year, Penn also cast a bell at neighbouring Glapthorn. Henry Penn was one of the more famous bell founders in this area; with him having cast a rung of ten bells for Peterborough Cathedral the previous year. The second bell is of real age, being cast by Newcombe of Leicester around 1550.

The interior is light and welcoming, perhaps a little surprisingly as there are no clerestory windows and the two large windows in the south wall of the nave each have stained glass. Pews, which are doubtless from the Victorian restoration lead up to a pointed chancel arch dating to the 14th century. Church fittings are a mixture from 18th and 19th century restorations.

 The east window is of clear glass and there are several memorial slabs in the chancel with coats of arms, including one which features several cats wearing crowns. I had had a couple of cats who definitely believed that they were kings so I was amused to see this.  A finely carved eagle lectern also serves as the Parish War Memorial.

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With regards the stained glass, one depicts Jesus standing surrounded by children; the second is probably of more interest and features three scenes from the life and teachings of Jesus.  The right hand panel shows Jesus as the Good Shepherd. Jesus, with crucifixion wounds visible on hands and feet, carries a lamb on His shoulders.

The right hand panel depicts Jesus, wounds again visible, knocking at a closed door. This is a reference to Matthew Chapter 7 verses 7 -8 which reads “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

The central panel shows Jesus on the way to crucifixion, bent over with the weight of the cross. It is interesting that Jesus is depicted with three different colours and styles of nimbus (halo). I have attempted to research whether there is any great symbolism in this. I assume that different colours mean something but I have failed to come up with much. I do think though that the blood red nimbus in the central panel speaks for itself!

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    Inside the chancel there is a fine monument dedicated to George Lynn of Southwick Hall, who passed away in 1758 and in whose name rebuilding work on the church was undertaken in 1760. This fine monument was the last work of French sculptor Louis Roubiliac, and it was commissioned for the princely sum of £500! The monument depicts Ann Bellamy, who also commissioned the work, looking up at the profile of her deceased husband.  

Roubiliac was a foremost sculptor of his day and monuments to the Duke of Montagu and his wife Mary can be seen elsewhere in Northamptonshire, in the chancel at Warkton near to Kettering. The carving of George Lynn was completed just two years before Roubiliac passed away himself.

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Moving back outside there are some finely crafted gravestones, but nothing of any great rarity. A brief mention should be though of an angel in flight blowing a trumpet, which is an often used symbol of the resurrection.  Close by an angel, signifying the flight of the soul to Heaven, struggles to see out through a coating of orange lichen.

As mentioned earlier, the grounds here are superb in the spring, wonderfully colourful when the daffodils are out.  This is a glorious place to spend some time. This is an ideal place to sit and be at peace whilst the world carries on at pace around it. As I have got older I treasure times of peace and quiet more and more, and this is a place to treasure.

Pre covid, the church here was always open to visitors. I am not sure what the situation is as this is being rewritten in January 2022, but I suspect that it would be open as this is the kind of church that it is!

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