SUTTON : CHURCH OF ST MICHAEL & ALL ANGELS.
Church Post Code PE5 7XD
Normally closed, open by arrangement
The church of St Michael & All Angels, Sutton is where, back on a warm summer evening in 2016, I met royalty; the Queen, William, Kate, and Harry…, they were all there, well, sort of! More on that later…
Sutton is a small village, which can be found just off of the busy A47. Despite its close proximity this is a quiet and peaceful village; one of those places where you wouldn't visit unless to have a need to! Peterborough is approximately six miles off to the east, with Castor and its fabulous Norman church two miles off to the east. The river Nene borders the parish at its western and southern sides.
I have made a few revisits here over the years and the church here, situated on Lovers Lane, has become a favourite to visit. The church grounds are a mass of colour in the spring and I find this one of the most peaceful places to visit out of all the churches in the catchment area of this site. On this return visit, on a pleasant summer afternoon, there was a scattering of people around, and the sounds of classical music drifting across from the west of the village.
This church was originally built in 1120, as a Chapel-of-Ease to Castor. Originally, there would have been just a simple nave and chancel, until the south aisle was added some 50 years later. A chapel was added in the 13th century, which was dedicated to St Giles, who was the Patron Saint of lepers and those who were crippled. The nave walls were raised in the 15th century and three clerestory windows were added at that time. As with most other churches, there was considerable restoration work undertaken at Sutton in Victorian times. The chancel and the south aisle were heavily restored in the late1860's.
The church that we see today consists of nave with south aisle and clerestory, with small bellcote to the west end, south chapel and chancel. Before looking at the church itself, it is worth noting that there is a small section of possibly Norman stonework, set in to the walls of an adjacent barn, which borders the south of the church grounds.
Starting at the west end, the bellcote holds a single bell, which was cast by Taylors of Loughborough in 1914. The original bellcote dated from the 13th century, and housed two bells. This was rebuilt in the early 1930's.
At the time of Thomas North’s study pf the church bells of Northamptonshire, published in 1878, there was there was one bell which was made by J Warner and Son, with this being dated 1867. Going back in to the very distant past, a church inventory in 1552 noted that there were two small bells, a Sanctus bell and two hand bells at St Michael.
On the south wall of the nave, there are several very weathered heads. Features are hard to make out, with a coating of white lichen not helping matters in that respect. One of the carvings appears to be of a dog with floppy ears. A change in stonework shows where the south nave wall was heightened in the 15th century. There are clerestory windows to the south side only.
The south chapel, which as mentioned earlier was dedicated to St Giles, was built around 1225. It is substantial, standing taller than the nave. The chancel was rebuilt or enlarged during the late 12th century and was rebuilt again during the Victorian restoration of the late 1860’s.
A lot has happened to the church here in recent years. I was here in 2010 just before the pews were taken out, being replaced by modern chairs, this being part of a redesigning of the church to become a community hub. I arrived unannounced on a Saturday morning to find the church open and a lady inside, clearing things in readiness for the pews to be taken out the following week. I was asked if I would take a set of photos recording the interior for the remodelling, which I was pleased to do.
It is good to see the church here doing what they needed to do to ensure that the building survived still used as a place of worship but opening their doors to the community for secular events. Over the last 15 years or so I have seen three churches fairly local to Peterborough close for worship; Ufford, Tickencote and Allexton just over the Leicestershire/Rutland border. All of these three are now under the care of the Churches Conservation Trust. I fear that this charities resource will be stretched further still in the future. The local news in the last week or so (with this being typed in June 2022) is that St Augustine in Woodston, on the outskirts of Peterborough. will close at the end of September.
Entrance to the church is via the north door, which dates back to the early 15th century. The Victorian pews that were here on my first visit have gone. We have a pleasing interior with Norman chancel arch leading to a chancel which was, as mentioned earlier, thoroughly restored in Victorian times.
The carvings on the capitals at either side of the Norman chancel arch are exceptional. With intricate interlace designs. A couple of the capitals have these designs flowing through Green Man like human faces. These reminded me of similar seen at neighbouring Castor and Maxey, which is only a few miles away to the north. Perhaps we can see the hand of the same stonemasons at work in all three churches. A close look at the chancel arch itself shows that it was replaced during the restoration, along with part of one of the piers on the north side,
There are several stained glass windows here, of good quality. The east window shows a depiction of the Good Samaritan. The stricken Jewish man is tended by the Samaritan, his bitter enemy, whilst his own countrymen, the Levite and the Priest, walk past reading their religious texts and doing nothing to help. Jesus told this parable in answer to the question ‘Who is my neighbour’ after discussing the commandments, in particular ‘love your neighbour as yourself’. Jesus’ answer was challenging; your neighbour can also be your enemy, and it is still is challenging now.
There are also two panels at the west, depicting part of Matthew Chapter 25 verses 35 – 40 which reads 'For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in. I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ This, in conjunction with the east window, pretty much provides an instruction list as to how we are to treat other people.
On the north wall of the chancel, we have an exquisite single light window, where we see St Michael, after who the church is dedicated, dressed in armour and vanquishing a dragon, the latter laying at St Michael’s feet, being run through with a spear.
It is not only St George who slayed a dragon; in the book of Revelation, the Archangel Michael, having overcome the rebel angels, slays the dragon, which is a symbolic representation of evil, and casts it to earth. The depiction of St Michael here sees him sporting wonderful wings, made from Peacock feathers. This is the work of the Kempe studio, but is dated after 1907, so is not the work of Charles Kempe himself. Walter Ernest Tower took over after Kempe’s death, with the firm trading until 1934.
A wall plaque to Revd William Hopkinson has a lovely epitaph, saying that he lived his life by the ‘Uniform exercise of every Christian virtue’. He passed away in 1788 aged 61 years. His wife Elizabeth died in 1695 aged 69 years and her epitaph ends by saying ‘Whose ashes it is hoped posterity will never disturb’.
Also of interest is a carved stone lion, with some kind of beast riding on its back which may be a monkey. This is thought to be Norman. A quick look at the south chapel shows that there is a piscina on the south wall, indicating that communion was taken there as well.
And so, to my meeting with the royals! David and myself arrived here on a June evening in 2016, to find the church being used to host a party for the Queen's 90th birthday. Friendly locals fed us with cake and then gave us a guided tour. There was life sized cardboard cut outs of members of the royal family at the chancel arch, and we had an enjoyable time being photographed with them!
The churches are important; this is why we do what we do! Sometimes though, some of the most pleasant memories involve who and what we see along the way. It is also about the people, it is about the animals and it is definitely about the food!
It was good to be back here again. The visit was helped by a friendly keyholder and I appreciated him coming out to open up. This is a lovely, historic church in picturesque surroundings. The interior photographs used on this page are from June 2022, with the exterior shots taken on a gloriously warm summer afternoon a couple of years previously.
To visit the page for my visit to neighbouring Castor, please click on the photograph immediately above right. The new page will open up in another window.