It is always a delight to visit the church of St Andrew, Steeple Gidding. I have fond memories of my times there. A warm summer Saturday afternoon back in 2013, sat on the bench outside the church looking out over the countryside; listening to the call of exotic animals at Hamerton Wildlife Park at couple of miles to the south.
I had sent a grass snake scurrying for cover a few minutes previously and I had spent an enjoyable few minutes watching a Red Kite circling the spire. I know that I keep banging on about it; but it is not solely about the churches, as important to me as they are. It is also about what we see along the way, and there are many happy memories regarding animals!
A return visit was made during the summer of 2020; a gloriously sunny Saturday which was the National Churches Trust Ride and Stride day. The cycle was out in anger for the first time in a while, and the church of St Andrew was my fifth church of the day.
Steeple Gidding is a tiny hamlet; some ten miles north east of Huntingdon. It consists of just a few houses and the church of St Peter. This church became redundant due to lack of numbers and was taken over by the Churches Conservation Trust, then known as the Redundant Churches Fund in 1976.
The church here consists of west tower, nave with south aisle and clerestories, south porch and chancel. The tower is slender and battlemented with small recessed spire; ancient weathered gargoyles look out from the four corners of the tower. The windows in the nave and clerestory are uniform in style and there is a pleasing symmetry to the exterior. This not a large church, but it is buttressed throughout.
There was no church listed here in the Domesday Survey of 1086. It is thought though that there was a small church here in the 12th century, of which an arch on the south doorway remains. This church would have had a tower and steeple before the year 1260, the date by which the village had obtained its distinctive name.
The whole church was rebuilt during the 14th century, which accounts for the uniformity is style of the nave and clerestory windows, with various stages of building work going on throughout that century. The chancel, nave and aisles were restored and the porch rebuilt in 1874, and the tower and spire were restored in 1899.
There are three bells. The first and second are by Henry Jordan who was a bellfounder in the years 1442 until 1468, working out of Aldgate in London. That is not to say that the bells were cast there though, as some bellfounders were itinerant and set up small foundries in the church grounds that they were casting for.
The first bell is inscribed ’ Sancta Anna ora pro nobis’ which translates as ‘Saint Anna pray for us’. The second has on it ‘Vox Augustini sonet in aure Dei’ which reads ‘Augustines voice may sound in the ear of God’
The third is thought to have been by William Haulsey of St Ives, who worked between 1615 and 1629. This one has the Latin inscription ‘Disce mori nostro vivere disce sono’ which I attempted, mainly unsuccessfully to put through Google’s Latin translator! This latter bell was replaced in 1748 by the prolific Eayre of St Neots.
Mind the door! I walked up to the south door and tried the handle, expecting it to be open; no joy! I was quite disappointed then I noticed the sign on the door which said that sometimes the door was difficult to open. I tried again and it opened!
The visitor enters through a south door that in part dates back to the 12th century; a small piece of graffiti in the form of a cross greets the visitor as they enter this church.
Inside it is bright and welcoming, with the sun flooding in through the south windows, all of which are of clear glass. The pews have been taken out of the nave, with a few long benches running west to east.
The south aisle, which dates from 1300, is pretty much bare, with the stone floor showing the wear of thousands of pairs of feet over hundreds of years. The south arcade which dates from 1330 is of four bays. A medieval coffin lid is propped up in the south west corner of the nave.
Moving in to the chancel, the east window is of three lights and contains the only stained glass to be seen here. To be fair, I don’t think that anyone would suggest that this glass is of high quality. Jesus is central, much faded and with a lamb around His shoulders. St Matthew is to the left as we look at it, with St John to the right; the latter having lost his head at some point which is replaced with clear glass.
Above this, three angels hold banners, the highest of which reads ‘I am’, the banners on the two below are unreadable, but would doubtless have said ‘the way the truth and the life’ The heads of these two angels have gone the same way as St Johns!
The altar is set up with a cross on it, with a reredos behind consisting of five tiles built in to the east wall. A medallion monument on the north wall is inscribed; ‘Here resteth Mary, daughter of Sir John Cotton, Bart., and wife of Roger Kinyon, Gent. She was graceful and modest, wise and innocent; her duty and love in every relation were sincere and eminent. Her religion was pure and undefiled. It was charity to the afflicted; piety to God; and obedience for conscience sake to her superiors, spiritual and civil. She was born Sep. 1, A.D., 1677 and dyed June 14, A.D. 1714. This mortal shall put on immortality’.
A floor slab is dedicated to Thomas Cotton, Lord Of The Maonor of Steeple Gidding, who was second son of Thomas Cotton of Connington, and who died in April 1640.
The grounds here are small but interesting. A stone to one William Puffand was ‘beried’ March the 8th day 1684, close by, propped up against the south wall of the nave, is a very faded deaths head; now almost unrecognisable. This carving of a human skull was to remind the onlooker that Man is mortal and will die. Elsewhere, four flaming torches symbolise eternity, and testify to the faith of the deceased.
It was good to see this church being used on this glorious Saturday morning. As I was having an early lunch, sat on the bench, looking out over the fields, a couple arrived! Like minds, kindred spirits! We spent a pleasant few minutes telling each other where we had been, where we were going, and what we had found open. It was back on the cycle, with passport ready as I was crossing in to Northamptonshire.
If you have liked this page, you might like to click on the photograph immediately above left, to visit the church at Ufford.
Click on the photograph immediately above right, to be taken to the church at Tickencote. Each of these are churches cared for by the Churches Conservation Trust. Each will open in a different window.