STANGROUND : CHURCH OF ST JOHN THE BAPTIST

Church Post Code PE2 8HF

Usually closed to visitors

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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.

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    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.

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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.

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  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.

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   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.

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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!

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Please click on the photograph immediately above right to be directed to the page covering my visit to neighbouring Fletton. This page will open up in another window.