THURLBY : CHURCH OF ST FIRMIN
Church Post Code PE10 0EQ
Church closed to visitors - open by arrangement.
Sometimes you just have to take on for the team! It was a sunny Saturday in July 2022 and it was a return visit to the church of St Firmin, Thurlby. This mini crawl of South Lincolnshire started off by taking in a coffee morning at neighbouring Langtoft, this helping to support this local church, before taking in a beautiful cooked lunch at the Ginger Fox in Bourne, this helping to support the local economy. I sometimes feel that my interest in churches is just a front that justifies me eating large amount of food.
Thurlby is a large village, which can be found on the A15, between Market Deeping and Bourne, three miles to the south of the latter; on the edge of the Lincolnshire fens. The population at the time of the 2011 census was 2,153, which includes the nearby hamlet of Northorpe.
There was mention of the village at the time of the Domesday Survey in 1086, and the history of the area pre dates that with the Carr Dyke, an 85 miles long ditch, thought to be a Roman transportation canal, running to the west of the church.
This is an area that I have become very fond of over the years; having spent a few cycling breaks touring the churches in the area. Fond memories of a visit here back in 2008, late in the day with the shadows lengthening and mist starting to form over the flat landscape to the south. Peace and calm; an escape from the rat race!
I wanted to reshoot the interior here, having seen inside many years before with an earlier camera. The church here is normally closed to visitors but was opened up by a friendly and helpful local, which I appreciated very much.
The structure that we see today consists of west tower with spire, nave with north and south aisles and clerestories, north and south transepts, north and south porches and chancel.
The three stage tower rises up from the western bay of the nave, with recessed spire with two tiers of lucarne windows. An indicator of the age of the tower can be seen by there being a little herringbone stonework on the middle stage
Trees make photographing the church from the north quite difficult but looking at the church from the south, the aisles and transepts are battlemented and a frieze consisting of carvings of animals and vaguely human figures runs across the length of the nave above the clerestory windows.
The church here dates back to the 10th century, with the lower two stages of the tower dated back to 925AD.There was Norman rebuilding in the early 12th century, with north and south aisles being added. There was a Norman tower ach added at this point, replacing a previous Saxon tower arch, the arch of which is still visible.
The church continued to be enlarged, with the nave being lengthened and the present chancel arch being built. The old chancel arch was reused as we shall see later.
At the same time the north and south aisles were extended and the north and south transepts were added. The recessed spire was added during the 14th century.
There is a ring of six bells here today. When Thomas North compiled his list of the church bells of Lincolnshire; published in 1882 the situation was different. At that time there was a ring of five bells, with all of these being cast by Willian Noone in 1713 and 1714; who was a Nottingham founder. He had a very long career, which lasted from 1678 until 1731.
The third of the ring in those days was re-cast by Edward Arnold of Leicester in 1790. These days, there is a new first bell which was cast by Taylor of Loughborough in 1987, whilst two of Noone’s bells were recast by Taylor in the early 20th century.
One of Noone’s bells notes the name Joshua Chalsworth, who was the Vicar in 1713. He became Vicar here in 1692 and stayed here until in death in 1721. Other names connected with this church that are noted on these bells are Tho Trollope, W Pratt and R Thorp.
There are porches to north and south of the church, but entrance is through the north porch. The visitor is greeted by some of the church history in the form of a carved medieval coffin lid.
There is a little graffiti here, with WKY leaving his or her mark here in 1680. Close by is a daisy wheel design, a mark of protection, mainly to be found around doors and windows, which were carved to help protect the church from evil; with some thinking that evil would be enticed in to the design and be unable to get out.
Moving inside, it was bright and welcoming, despite the sun having gone in on my arrival! There are four bay arcades to north and south, with round piers with scalloped and octagonal capitals. The north aisle has the church organ at its eastern end.
Standing at the chancel arch and looking westward, the 12th century tub font stands in front of the tower arch. High up on this wall is a bricked in Saxon doorway, in which is inset a gable cross which is said to come from Edenham, a few miles away.
The chancel is bright and welcoming. There is the hand of the Victorian restorer visible in the stained glass and the reredos, which contains the Lord’s Prayer the Ten Commandments and the Creed. Set against that is the sedilia, the seating for the priests, and the piscina which was used as a basin for washing the communion vessels.
Each of these would date from the 13th century but predating that is a large dog toothed archway at the west end of the chancel which is thought to be a previous chancel arch.
The fine five light east window in the chancel has Christ in majesty central, carrying a globe with one hand raised in blessing; wounds visible on hand and feet. He is flanked by St Peter, who is carrying the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven and St Paul, who as usual is depicted with sword pointing towards the ground, perilously close to his feet, but this depiction has Paul with a full head of hair which is unusual.
Running below are five scenes from the New Testament. Jesus commands Judas to do what he has to do immediately prior to the betrayal, Jesus reinstates Peter who holds the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven. The crucifixion is central, with Peter speaking at the temple and John writing Revelation at Patmos completing the ensemble.
There is stained glass in the east window of the south aisle; these detailing Bible stories from the Old and New Testament. Among the panels are the return of the prodigal son, the good Samaritan and Jesus being presented to Simeon in the temple.
My favourite though, and something that I have never seen before, is a depiction of the scene on Easter morning when Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene. Mary here mistakes Jesus for the gardener. As a helpful aid for the onlooker to identify the Bible passage that this is portraying, Jesus here is shown with a spade over His shoulder.
I particularly liked the south transept. Chairs are gathered facing the east window, which is bricked in. There is blind arcading to the west wall. The three light south window is for the most part of clear glass. However, there are some medieval glass fragments which are set in to this window, these having a couple of human figures at the centre.
The church here would have had medieval stained glass, which would have been destroyed along with other church items that were seen as being ‘Popish’ and idolatrous. North’s book of 1882 mentions the church registers from 1566 which states that the sacring bell, a small hand bell that was used during the mass, which had been at the church since the reign of Queen Mary I was broken up, with other hand bells melted down.
Moving outside, we were in desperate need of rain, with a record high temperature recorded in the country some four days previously. The church grounds are spacious and have some interesting headstones. A few carry a depiction of the human skull, an often used symbol of the mortality of Man; a reminder to the onlooker that he or she would also go the way of the deceased, so to live a good Christian life as in days of low life expectancy, your own time could come faster than you might think.
One stone to John Mosson who died in 1811 aged 35 years sums up this message, reading ‘A sudden change I in a moment fell / And had not time to bid my friends farewell / Think nothing strange death happens to us all / My lots today tomorrow thine may fall.
The crossed human bones on another stone convey the same message. Close by there is a carving of an angel in flight blowing a trumpet. The trumpet was a common symbol of the resurrection; a crown to one side symbolising victory, with the victory here being over death. This can be seen as a testimony as to the faith of the deceased as well as an advisory to go and do likewise to those looking on!
It was good to see this church again and I appreciated the fact that someone popped out to open up for me. Churches such as St Firmin will probably not make many books on church architecture. It did not make Simon Jenkins’ book of England’s best 1000 churches. There are no bells and whistles here; just a beautiful and historic village church that I enjoyed visiting very much. To be treasured…as indeed was the lunch previously at the Ginger Fox! I love my hobby…
To visit the page for my visit to the neighbouring church of St John the Baptist, Baston, please click on the photograph above left. To visit the page for St Guthlac, Market Deeping please click on the photograph above centre. Each page will open up in a different window.