WANSFORD : CHURCH OF ST MARY THE VIRGIN
Church Post Code PE8 6JB
Normally open to visitors.
It was January 2016, and a return visit to the church of St Mary the Virgin, Wansford. This was one of the first churches that I had visited when starting this site off back in 2006, and it is still a favourite place to visit. I had the great pleasure of meeting with the late Rector, Thomas Christie, who was very encouraging to me in this websites early days. His encouragement and enthusiasm helped me to keep the site going when precious few were visiting in those early days.
The church of St Mary sits proudly at a crossroads in the centre of the village, with some picturesque cottages surrounding it. The river Nene flows close by to the south, with a fine 12 arch bridge crossing it, this dating from 1577 and replacing an earlier wooden structure which was damaged by floods six years previously.
It was early on a bitterly cold Saturday morning and St Mary was my first church of the day; the plan being to head out in to Rutland, making the most of a day ticket on the old and much lamented Centre Bus number 9 service which headed out as far as Nottingham.
The church here was originally a chapel of ease to neighbouring Thornhaugh. It lost its chancel at the end of the 15th century, and from then on, until 1902, it consisted of just tower, nave and north aisle. A chancel was built in 1902, along with an organ chamber and vestry.
The west tower is of three stages and is square and plain, with a two light window at the belfry stage. On top of the tower is an octagonal broach spire. The south porch has a date stamp of 1663 on it; this being the date that it was built.
This church, pre covid was always open and welcoming. Obviously, things changed during 2020 and I revisited the church in the summer of 2020 at a time where we were allowed to travel. The church here was closed; the first time that I had ever found it shut. Most of the churches that I visited that day were closed to visitors and from talking to people at various other churches I know how much it hurt them to have the doors closed!
Moving inside and it was bright and welcoming inside, the lack of any stained glass here helping in that respect. It was also good to get in out of the cold for a time. The glass in the five light east window is lightly tinted, with a repeated quatre foil pattern in the tracery above.
There is nothing on the altar with the exception of the altar cloth, a cross being wall mounted on the east wall above. Looking back through my records there was a blue curtain acting as a reredos behind the altar ten years before but this had gone on my return.
Standing at the chancel and looking west, the modern comfy chairs and fairly modern pews are set against the font which must be the best part of 850 years older!
The church here is probably best known for this magnificent font, which is thought to date from 1120. This was found at nearby Sibberton House, partially buried, and cattle had been drinking out of it! There was a village nearby called Sibberton which had a church. This village is thought to have been decimated by the Black Death and dwindled away to nothing. No records of the church there are mentioned after 1389. It is suggested that this magnificent font might have once been inside the church at Sibberton. As with the gravestone mentioned above, this font features carvings which would appeal to those people who could not read or write, in the same way as medieval wall painting could tell bible stories to the illiterate.
There are 13 different panels in this font, which are as follows....
A standing figure of what is thought is Christ, who is pointing to the figure in next panel / A bearded and robed figure with book turned, and looking towards Christ in previous panel / A plant / Baptism scene, In the next panel a haloed, robed, bearded figure gestures towards the next panel, in which a naked haloed figure is submerged to the waist in water. There is a dove above him and this is thought to represent the Baptism of Christ by John the Baptist / Foliage / The next panel shows a robed angel. which appears to have wings and also a beard / Robed figure which might have a large key on his person. If this is a key it would indicate that it is St Peter / Two soldiers fighting / Foliage / Robed and haloed figure, probably Christ, holding a book and pointing towards the figure in next panel, showing a robed figure with bald head and beard suggesting that this is St Paul.
These days there is a ring of six bells at St Mary, with five of these being cast by Taylors of Loughborough. The other is the work of John Warner & Sons. Looking back to the 1860's, when North was compiling his impressive study of church bells, he notes two bells in the tower here. As well as the bell cast by Warners, there was a second bell, with date and founder unknown, which had the Latin Inscription "IHS NASARENVS REX IVNEORM". North has this bell down as being pre 1600.
The church grounds are on interest, with some finely carved Georgian gravestones to be seen. An elaborate 18th century box tomb has a carving of Old Father Time on it. He is shown pouring out a depiction of the deceased from a broken hour glass.
A few of the gravestones here date back to the late 1600’s; these are not in situ but are used to help edge a path which goes past the chancel. These are crudely carved, but can be equally as interesting as elaborate carvings from a hundred years later. A stone to what looks like John Mitchell dates back to 1690 and has a mixture of small letters in among the capitals.
Close by, almost sunken in to the ground, is a small carving of a human skull; one eye socket visible through a layer of yellow lichen.
This is a delightful church in a beautiful village. Open and welcoming in pre covid days, and I hope that the same can be said now, at whatever time you are reading this.
Of you would like to take a look at neighbouring Thornhaugh, the church of St Andrew, which is also part of the Watersmete benefice, click on the photograph above right. This will open in another window.