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.
It was a sunny and warm Sunday in June 2023, and it was Cambridgeshire historic churches tour afternoon. Three churches were covered in North West Cambridgeshire, with the church of St John the Baptist at Stibbington being the first visited.
The weather was glorious; the promised storms had not yet materialised (and failed to materialise) and a healthy group of church enthusiast gathered. Do we have a collective noun for a group of Churchcrawlers? I asked a friend this once and received the unkind and helpful, but possibly true suggestion of a ‘boredom’ of churchcrawlers!
Stibbington can be found some six miles to the west of Peterborough, with the village having a population of 473 at the time of the 2011 census. We are close here to the Lincolnshire border and the village is set against the busy A1. The church is set well back from this main road though; to the east of the village, and all was quiet and peaceful. Stibbington Hall, a 17th century country house stands close to the church.
This was a revisit, with the church here being one of the first churches that I visited, after taking up the hobby in the autumn of 2006. The church was closed that afternoon, but I was able to borrow the key on a secondary visit back in 2009. That was with an old and fairly basic digital camera. It was good to revisit with the Nikon.
There was a church mentioned here in the Domesday Survey of 1086, but nothing of that early structure remains. Interestingly, there was also a church and priest mentioned for neighbouring Sibson, with that structure long since gone!
The church at Stibbington was rebuilt as a basic structure of nave and chancel during the early to mid 12th century. The north aisle was added around 1180 with the chancel rebuilt during the mid 13th century, with the south aisle and arcade rebuilt at the same time.
The church was thoroughly restored in 1848/49 with the north and south aisles rebuilt, the west tower demolished with dynamite as it was deemed too unsafe to take down by hand. What could possibly go wrong? The archdeacon’s notebook from 1847 noted that the tower was in ruins.
The vestry, large organ chamber and south porch were all added at that time.
The church that we see today is pretty much a modern exterior built around the medieval interior. The west front is impressive, and unusual in design, with steeply pitched roofline of nave and aisles with beautiful 13th century door with rounded arch and tympanum. The north transept, built as a organ chamber, is very large.
At one time there were three bells hanging here with two being sold in 1849; these being replaced by two bells cast by Mears of London. A third bell, dated 1767, and cast by Joseph Eayre of St Neots stood in the rectory for many years. Revd Owen, in his study of the church bells in Huntingdonshire, which was published in 1899, looked at the bells here in a little detail. He spoke in less than flattering terms of the wooden bellcote added at the time of the 1849 restoration; describing it as a ‘wretched little pigeon cote’!
Inside, as mentioned earlier, we have a medieval interior inside a Victorian exterior. The north arcade dates from the late 12th century, and consists of two arches only, each of great width, with impressive scalloped capitals.
The south arcade is of three bays, this dating from the 13th century. An impressive north transept houses the church organ and I believe that this is an addition from the Victorian restoration built for this purpose.
Those entering the chancel will notice commandment boards to north and south with further boards detailing the Lord’s Prayer and the creed higher up.
An altar is set up at the west end of the chancel, with another at the east end of the chancel, this latter being a small one with white altar cloth. I had expected there to be a green altar cloth, with this being the liturgical colour used for ‘ordinary times’, which in this case would be the period between Pentecost and Advent. However, white is the liturgical colour associated with John the Baptist, after who this church is dedicated.
The east window consists of two narrow lancet windows, spaced out widely, with quatrefoil tracery over the top. Within this tracery is a stained glass depiction of a trinity shield. A trinity shield. This was a diagram which was often used to explain the concept of the trinity. It consists of four nodes. The three outer nodes would have been labelled with the elements of the trinity “Father” “Son” and “Holy Spirit”. The inner node would have been labelled “God”. Six lines connect the nodes and these lines would have been marked either “is” or “is not” Twelve statements can be made as follows…
The Father is God" "The Son is God" "The Holy Spirit is God" "God is the Father" "God is the Son" "God is the Holy Spirit" "The Father is not the Son" "The Father is not the Holy Spirit" "The Son is not the Father" "The Son is not the Holy Spirit" "The Holy Spirit is not the Father" "The Holy Spirit is not the Son"
It is unusual to see a ‘modern’ trinity shield design in glass, more so possibly as this one is labelled in Latin. The thought did cross my mind as I was looking at this is that perhaps we might have a more modern replacement of an ancient window which stood here before the 1840’s restoration.
Other stained glass in the chancel includes two women illustrating Faith and Hope. Faith holds a cross whilst Hope holds her hand to her heart. Faith, Hope and Charity, with the latter being replaced by the word Love in some more modern Bible translations, go hand in hand. Love is missing; no actually it isn’t, with Jesus surrounded by and blessing small children in a two light window nearby!
The reredos against the east wall is in the form of an oak panel, which has a repeated pattern of blind arches. Also of interest in the chancel is a recumbent effigy of a priest, along with some stonework which dates from the 12th to 13th centuries.
The octagonal font dates from the early 13th century and has a semi circular arch carved on to each side. The bowl rests on a central shaft, with eight smaller shafts around the outside.
Talk over; there was time to look around the well maintained grounds. Several of the headstones here are Grade II Listed, as is a chest tomb to the east of the chancel. However, main interest for me was in a chest tomb which is inscribed
"Heare lyes the bodyes of Thomas Trve and Lenard Trve the tow sonnes of Thomas Trve bueryed the 08 day of Janvary 1667". Here we have two children laid to rest on the same day. Peterborough is just a few miles distant, with the city there being struck by the Bubonic Plague between 1665 and 1667, during which time getting on for a quarter of the city perished. Perhaps what we see here is a reminder of those tragic days.
There are some finely carved headstones here, and one is of particular interest. Weathered badly, and covered in lichen, this shows an interesting scene which illustrates the safe escorting of the soul of the deceased towards Heaven.
A plinth contains and effigy of the deceased. Rising up; an angel carries the book of life, which records the deeds of the deceased. A further angel points upwards towards Heaven with one hand, whilst holding a crown in the other; the crown being an often used symbol of victory, with the victory here being over death. Higher up, smaller angels carry a cross.
This scene can be seen as being a testament as to the faith of the deceased and a message for those looking on to go and do likewise!
This is an interesting church and it was good to have seen it; with the accompanying talk going down well. Sadly the church here is at risk, and was added in 2019 to Historic England’s at risk register, due mainly to damp issues. As with most churches, things are kept going by a band of helpers and we wish them all the best for the future.
It was time to hit the road again, with a visit to neighbouring Water Newton next on the list. In truth, however much I was enjoying the afternoon, a small part of me was thinking of the refreshments laid out at Alwalton, our third and final church of the afternoon. As always, food and churchcrawling go hand in hand!