STANGROUND : CHURCH OF ST JOHN THE BAPTIST
Church Post Code PE2 8HF
Usually closed to visitors
FARCET : CHURCH OF ST MARY
Church Post Code PE7 3BQ
Usually closed to visitors
It was May 2015 and a return trip to the church of St John The Baptist, Stanground. Stamground can be found to the south of the river Nene; a village with a population of around 500 in the early 1800’s which has now become a residential superb of the city of Peterborough itself, with a population many times greater!
Peterborough cathedral itself is a short distance away to the North West. As with the majority of churches in or immediately around Peterborough, the church here is usually closed to visitors. I did enjoy a service here in December 2013, with some friendly locals making David and myself very welcome.
I fell lucky though in the Summer of 2015, happening to visit just as a group of visiting bell ringers were waiting to be let in. I sneaked in, pretending to be one of their number and re-shot the interior in better lighting conditions.
There was a church here at Stanground (or Standy Ground as it was once known as) at the time of the Domesday Survey in 1086. Nothing remains of that structure and it is thought that most of the existing structure was completed between the years 1300 and 1310.
The structure that we see today consists of west tower, nave with north and south aisles and clerestories and chancel with north chapel and vestry.
The square tower is buttressed up to the top; with octagonal broach spire rising up, with two tiers of lucarne windows. The roof of the church was totally rebuilt in 1872 and the porch was rebuilt four years after that. The tip of the spire was rebuilt in 1895 and the tower and spire were restored further in 1907. The discoloured tip of the spire points to these periods of restoration.
Today, there are a ring of six bells hanging here, but when Owen compiled his late Victorian study of the church bells in Huntingdonshire, there were only four. The two ‘modern’ bells were cast by Mears and Stainbank in 1935 and Gillett and Johnston in 1948.
The third bell of today’s ring, and the first in Owen’s time, was cast by William Dobson of Downham Market in 1832, and is inscribed with the name Henry Yeates Smythies, the Rector of the day and JOSH WARWICK, the Churchwarden.
The next is dated 1617 and was cast by William Hausley of St Ives. There is a Latin inscription on this bell which reads ‘Merorem Mestis Letis Sic Leta Sonabo’ "Sadly to the sad, to the joyous joyful, will I sound". Thanks to my friend David for the translation on this when I was struggling with it.
The next in the ring was cast by Tobias Norris I, who founded the Stamford bellfoundry. This has the same inscription as the previous bell, which is a very unusual inscription for Norris, along with a note that ‘Tobias Norris Me Fecit’ 1622.
The final bell is dated 1588 and was made by Francis Watts at Leicester. This bears Watts’ usual charming olde English inscription which reads..."Serve God and Obe (obey) Thi Princes". My spellchecker doesn’t care for Watts’ inscriptions! 1588 was the year of the Spanish Armada and I am assuming that the "princes(s)" in Watts inscription refers to Elizabeth I, monarch at the time.
I moved inside with the bell ringers and spent the next little while to the pleasant background noise of the ring of six being given a good workover by the travelling ringers, who from memory were moving on to another church locally after finishing up here. What a lovely thing to do!
There are four bay arcades to north and south, with thin octagonal piers, with these again dating from the early 14th century. There are a number of carved heads, both human (well, vaguely human), and beast which look out across the nave. I was amused to see that one Victorian pew had been cut around the base of one of the pillars; with some fine carpentry skills shown!
Moving in to the chancel, the altar was tastefully arranged with a central cross flanked by six candles. There is a double piscina and sedilia on the south wall of the chancel, with each of these also dating to the early 14th century. An ancient stone seat can be seen on the north wall of the chancel.
The east window is a fine affair, dedicated to Susanna Apthorp who died in 1863. It is of five lights, with the nativity, Jesus’ baptism, the crucifixion, the last supper and the resurrection all being depicted on the bottom layer. Above this is Christ in majesty, crowned as King of Heaven, with one hand raised in blessing, crucifixion wound visible, and holding a globe.
Jesus is flanked by characters from the New Testament, all of whom carry a symbol which allows them to be identified. Amongst these is St Peter, who carries the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven and St Paul who has a downturned sword, the point of which is perilously close to his foot. Close by is St Simon who carries a saw; legend stating that he was martyred by being sawn in half.
St John carries a goblet, from which evil in the form of a dragon emerges and St Andrew is depicted with saltire cross, this also indicating the manner of his martyrdom. Two others are similar; St Thomas carries with him a spear and St Bartholomew a skinning knife.
At the top of the tracery of this window is the Agnus Dei, the Lamb of God. Below this are angels worshiping, others wielding censers and playing musical instruments.
A further window in the south aisle depicts Mary the Virgin with the infant Jesus. Panels to the left and right show St John The Baptist and St Ethelreda. The latter was a daughter of the King of East Anglia. She founded a monastery on the site of what is now Ely Cathederal in 673.
A carved green man is hidden away to the north east of the nave, which I was shown by a friendly local on my first visit to this church. There is also a fine selection of carved poppyheads, which date back to the 15th century. Some of these are human in form but one in particular caught my eye which is intriguing.
This consists of two fish, at least I think they are fish, with fearsome teeth and each has its tail in its mouth. The two fish are arched up against each other back to back and emerging from between the two is a smaller fish! Sometimes it is really difficult to get in to the head of the medieval mind and understand what they were trying to say; and this is certainly the case here. Traditionally, an animal with its tail in its mouth, an ouroboros, is associated with eternity but this would normally be a serpent or dragon.
The font dates from around 1300 and is octagonal with a curious repeated interlocking pattern which only comes part way up the bowl.
The church grounds are large and remarkably peaceful considering that this is a built up area with the church surrounded by housing estates and shops. In amongst the usual finely carved Georgian cherubs a large stone cross catches the eye.
When the Revd Sweeting was taking a mid Victorian look at the parish churches in and around Peterborough this stood in the vicarage gardens. Now it stands on a modern base, in the south of the church grounds. This cross is thought to date from the 11th or 12th century and is known as the Lampass Cross. This cross is said to have stood by the road leading to Farcet, and was found lying across a ditch at the junction of the Farcet and Whittlesey roads in 1865, where is was being used as a walkway. It was removed to the vicarage gardens in 1868, and has been in the church grounds since 1927. It has a Grade II listing in its own right.
To the south of the church is a stone coffin, dating from the 13th century, which was found under the floor in the south aisle during restoration work in 1907; obviously someone of great importance associated with the early church here.
With regards gravestones, here there is nothing of any great importance or rarity but there are things of interest to be seen. One which is badly weathered but which looks to date from the early 18th century carries the deaths head, a carving of a human skull, with hour glass and crossed bones. Each of these were an often used symbol of mortality. The message here is to live a good Christian life; the sands of time have run out for the deceased and they will run out for you, and in days of low life expectancy, the time could be later than you think!
Close by, two angels blow trumpets, an often used symbol of the resurrection, whilst each holds a book aloft with one hand. I would think that this would be the book of life for the deceased.
This is a lovely church with much of interest; and is worth taking a look at if you get the chance. The locals here are friendly and welcoming and I am sure that if I had asked beforehand, someone would have helped me to see inside rather than sneak in with the bell ringers!
Just under two miles to the south of Stanground, is the village of Farcet. It was a gloriously warm Saturday afternoon in September 2023, and time for a revisit to the church of St Mary. It was Ride and Stride day, a day often associated with rain over the years. Here we had the opposite with the temperatures reaching 30 degrees on the day, with the heat not being appreciated by those taking part on foot and by cycle. The air was heavy and the humidity was high. The area was under a severe weather warming for storms, which were to hit 24 hours later.
I have visited here a few times over the years. A visit back in 2008 saw the church covered in snow and bitterly cold temperatures. A return visit was undertaken in July 2013, this being part of a Cambridgeshire Historic Churches tour afternoon. We arrived in high spirits, with the tour starting minutes after England’s cricketers had gone one up after winning the first Ashes test by 14 runs.
Farcet is a busy village which can be found on the B1091; two miles south of Peterborough with Yaxley a little closer off to the south west. There has been a church here for centuries but the Ecclesiastical parish of Farcet was only formed in 1851.
This was traditionally an agricultural village but there was much employment through the local brickyards, with three smoking chimney alluding to this on the village sign. The population of Farcet was a little short of 1600 at the time of the 2021 census.
The church of St Mary stands by the side of the main road through the village. It is normally closed to visitors but was open on this day as the church celebrated its patronal festival.
There was no mention of a church here at the time of the Domesday Survey of 1086 but it is thought that there was a basic stone construction of nave and chancel here at that time, and the oldest parts of the existing structure date back to the 12th century. The church that we see today consists of west tower, nave with north and south aisles and clerestories, south chapel and chancel.
This early structure was a basic aisles nave, to which a tower was added in the latter years of the 12th century. During the mid 13th century, the chancel was rebuilt and a south chapel added. The south aisle was added around 1275, with the south porch being added during the 14th century.
The church was thoroughly restored in 1852, and it was at that time that the chancel was rebuilt. Work on the roof was also done at that time with the old nave roof; described as 'rotten and dangerous', was replaced. At this point as well the north aisle and arcade was added, with an original 12th century door being inserted in to the new structure. The two stage tower was restored between the years 1894 to 1897.
Three bells hang here. The first is dated is from Hugh Watts I who worked out of Leicester. This bell is inscribed 'Praise the Lorde', with the letter 'e' being reversed in all of the text. The second bell was cast at the Stamford bellfoundry by Thomas Norris, and is dated 1673.
The third bell was cast in 1621, and was re-cast at the Whitechapel bellfoundry in 1854, but I have not been able to establish for sure who did the work in 1621. It has the Latin inscription 'Omnia Fiant Ad Gloriam Dei', which translates as 'Let all things be done for the glory of God'. This is an inscription that was often used by Tobias Norris I, who established the Stamford bellfoundry, and was active between 1603 and 1626, so the dates fit. An educated guess, but I suspect that he cast this bell.
Taking in the exterior, this is an attractive church. The west tower is pinnacled at the four corners, and is topped by a small pyramidal roof. The south aisle extends fully to the west, level with the western end of the tower. The south aisle to the west of the porch is rendered and without windows. There were very small circular clerestory windows to north and south, all of which have a quatrefoil design within. The chancel is hidden by a tree to the south and the interior around the chancel area was a little dark as a result.
The visitor enters in through the south porch; a couple of ancient weathered heads looking out at those approaching. An interesting plaque can be seen over the top of the south door which reads ‘Here lyeth the body of Dorothea Wright who dyed Aug 4 1674 shee did good by healing’. My spell checker did not care for this inscription.
Moving inside, the festival had been underway for a while and there was a decent number of people and a nice buzz of conversation. On each occasion I have been inside this church it has been a little difficult to shoot properly due to the numbers of people inside. This is definitely not a complaint as it is lovely to see people inside our churches out of service times.
For that reason, the interior shots are cobbled together from the two visits. As is often the case, church photography and food go hand in hand. After eating my way through a slice of ginger cake and a lemon curd tart it was time to get to work!
The 19th century north arcade is of three bays, with pointed arches and octagonal columns. The 13th century south arcade is of four bays, with beautiful rounded arches. A curious stone head with large nose and small piercing eyes looks down from the south wall at those in the nave.
The three light east window of the chancel is mainly of clear glass, but it has a small roundel in the centre light and stained glass in the tracery. The roundel is a depiction of the nativity. The glass in the tracery has the Agnus Dei at the top with two angels on either side of the nativity scene below.
The angel to the left as we look at it holds on to the cross and the crown of thorns. The angel to the right holds a spear, hyssop stick and nails, which are all items associated with the crucifixion.
The chancel was rebuilt during the Victorian restoration but still shows the marks of the pre reformation building. There is a stone bench, the sedilia, against the south wall of the chancel. This was the seating for the priests during the mass. To the east of the sedilia there is a piscina, which was used in the washing of the holy vessels used in the mass. Regular readers of what I post up might recall that I am often finding bottles of hand sanitiser placed within these ancient piscina and yes, there was one here as well! On the north wall of the chancel is an aumbry; a cupboard in which implements used in the mass were stored.
The altar cloth used was white, which is the colour traditionally used for feast days and festivals associated with the Virgin Mary. Sunlight had found its way through the trees, with a multi coloured shadow from the stained glass being cast on to a carved human head on the label stop of the east window.
The stained glass at the east end of the north aisle is a fine depiction of the annunciation by Kempe. Charles Eamer Kempe used to ‘sign’ his work by including a small wheatsheaf somewhere within the design. Kempe died in 1907 and the business was carried on by his distant cousin Ernest Tower. Post 1907 we still see the wheatsheaf but with a black tower included within; this is what we have here.
The finely carved oak pulpit catches the eye, and would probably be seen as one of the more interesting to be found within the catchment areas of my sites. There is a date of 1614 on the back and there are several figures carved on this. Two of these figures are carrying a tub with plants growing in it. Others appeared at first glance to be mermaids, as in the pulpit at Orton Longueville a few miles away. On second glance they didn’t look like mermaids but whatever they are supposed to be this is a beautifully crafted piece of work!
There are some finely carved gravestones in the church grounds here, but to be fair there is nothing of great rarity or interest. However, there are a couple of 18th century chest tombs in the grounds here, which have a Grade II Listing in their own right. One very weathered stone depicts an angel in flight blowing a trumpet, this being an often used symbol of the resurrection. Most of the others feature an angel, which was used to symbolise the safe escorting of the soul towards Heaven. Some of the stones here have a delightful covering of orange lichen, which looked striking in the strong early Autumn sunshine.
I enjoyed my brief stay here. I enjoy the peace and solitude of my churchcrawling, and am happy always to spend the day alone, working through a succession of empty churches. I do also enjoy days such as this though, with good company, good humour and good refreshments! It was time to head back towards Peterborough. It had tipped over 30 degrees here, and overall it was the hottest day of the year thus far. Unseasonal given that we were ten days or so in to autumn! A delightful church!