UPTON (CASTOR) : CHURCH OF ST JOHN THE BAPTIST.
Church Post Code PE6 7BD
Usually closed to visitors
Upton is a very small village, a couple of miles or so away from Castor. The busy A47 thunders close by but the village itself is quiet and peaceful. The church is set away from the rest of the village, across a field, with indications of habitation close to the church. It looks as if part of the village has relocated at some point in time.
As I made my way to the church, I wondered how many people have been past here and not realised that this was a church. No tower or spire, with the triple gable visible across the field not looking particularly church like. It could be any secular building. Drawing closer, the white crosses on the gates are a bit of a give away
My only company on this occasion was a herd of very curious cows and a lady who had been part of a walking group who just happened to be around as I was opening up the church. The church here is kept closed to visitors but the key holder is very friendly and helpful.
The church itself was built in 1120, and was previously dedicated it appears to St Helen. A north aisle was added towards the end of the 12th century. Work was undertaken on the north aisle in 1627 so that it could be used to mark the final resting place of the Dove family. The original north aisle was taken down, and was replaced by a wider aisle at a higher level, which was reached by stone steps.
It was bright and welcoming inside. There is no stained glass here, all the glass is plain and the two four light windows to the west and three light windows to north and south were certainly letting plenty of light in on this glorious day.
I let us in and my eye was immediately drawn to the north aisle, which is raised and which contains a fabulous monument to members of the Dove family, A small flight of stone steps takes us up in to the south aisle, the steps worn down in the centre with thousands of feet over the last 350 years or so. On this monument, Sir William Dove lays in between his two wives. To his right is Dame Francis his first wife, who died in 1622. To William's left hand side is Dame Dorothy, his second wife who died in 1665. Sir William himself died in 1633.
All three lay side by side, hands raised in prayer. Sadly, there is damage to the hands in places, with the odd finger missing. They are at rest under a canopy, and on top of this at each side, are depictions of doves, each of which holds an olive branch .
The quality of this monument is superb and possibly, in my opinion, the only monument of similar quality to be found in churches within the catchment area of this site is the Mildmay Monument at Apethorpe in Northamptonshire.
The mortality of Man is symbolised on the western side of the monument. Two putti each sit on a human skull. The skull was an often used symbol of the mortality of Man. In my opinion, the fact that the putti are each seated on the skull is symbolically important. There are many instances where the skull is sat on, leaned against or pressed down on. My own theory is that this is symbolic that death has been beaten. The deceased has run the race and earned his or her reward.
One of the putti is holding a shovel, one of the gravedigger’s tools. This, again, is a symbol of death. The other is holding an hourglass. The sands of time have run out for the deceased. Tempus Fugit, time flies. The Dove coat of arms, a cross with four doves, sits between the putti. This is a lovely and important piece of work, which is reputed to have been the work of Nicholas Stone, master stone mason to James I and Charles I.
As mentioned earlier, uch work was undertaken here during the 17th century to accommodate this monument. The north aisle was rebuilt in 1627 by William Dove as a family burial place. William’s father Thomas had been Bishop of Peterborough until his death in 1630. The Dove’s were the Lords of the Manor. The previous Lords of the Manor were the Wingfield family and when the work on the north aisle was undertaken, the Wingfield family memorials were all taken out.
A lot of the fittings inside are early 17th century, with the pulpit being early Jacobean. A chair in the chancel is dated 1700. The font is octagonal and plain, dating from the 15th century, the wooden font cover is 17th century.
North's Victorian study of the church bells of Northamptonshire suggests that the single bell here is uninscribed. Around 150 years or so later and the UK church bell database is no nearer to being able to confirm the founder. It would be tempting to suggest that with Stamford just a few miles away, and with work being undertaken on the church in the 17th century, the bell might have been cast by the Stamford bellfoundry, but they did not cast uninscribed bells.
Something unique amongst the churches covered by this site is to be found at Upton. Just outside the church grounds can be seen gravestones for the local farm working dogs. These are leaning against the wall on the north side of the church grounds.
I enjoyed my time here very much. Small can be, and is, beautiful. It was time to start to head back towards home. As I was leaving the village I passed some very ancient barns. I remembered these from the last time that I was here, about nine years previously. I saw a man photographing them across the fields and stopped to chat with him. Kindred spirits each enjoying the day out. It turned out that he was on holiday from Holland. How he found his way to Upton I have no idea!
Those visiting this church might care to take a look at a series of small gravestones leaning against the wall, just outside the north of the church grounds. This is a small pet cemetery. I have not seen this before in any church that I have visited.
A little gem of a church. Normally closed to visitors but, as mentioned earlier, a friendly key holder is nearby. Well worth taking a look at if you are in the area. And yes, it is a church, and a rather lovely Grade I listed one as well.
To visit the page for my visit to neighbouring Castor, please click on the photograph of the cherub sitting on a skull above left. To see my page for neighbouring Sutton, please click on the photograph above central. These pages will open up in a different window.