WHITTLESEY : CHURCH OF ST ANDREW
Church Post Code PE7 1DD
Was open to visitors pre covid
It was early February 2018 and a visit to Whittlesey, to take in both Anglican churches. This was a return visit, with each church being taken in on a Cambridgeshire Historic Churches tour afternoon some five years earlier. It was a beautiful warm summer afternoon on that previous visit; and England had just beaten Australia to go one up in the ashes. Fond memories of the churches, the sunshine and the cricket!
When rewriting this page though just before Christmas 2021, I thought that I would substitute those previous photos with ones from the revisit as I was happier with these later photos. It is good to be at these tour afternoons, meeting like minded people, but it is good to wander around a church in solitude as well!
The church of St Andrew is over to the west of the town, with a main road running literally past the east of the church. Those in the church grounds here can see the spire of St Mary standing proud across the town.
The church here was known locally as the 'low church' and dates mainly from the 14th century, with the tower dating from the 16th century. There was much rebuilding here in the 15th century, at which time the clerestory was added. There was major restoration here in the early 1870's and it was then that the south porch was added.
The structure that we see today consists of a three stage, battlemented west tower, nave with north and south aisles and clerestories, south porch and chancel. The north and south aisles each extent out to a chapel; which leaves a very impressive east end.
A church clock in the traditional blue and gold is attached to the east face of the tower. A few ancient looking gargoyles appear to be considerably older than the downspouts under them, which are dated 1871. The gravestones are not in situ, but are lined up in rows in various places, leaving much of the grounds free from gravestones and easier to maintain.
The church was open to visitors and those entering in through the south porch will notice a fragment of gravestone leaning against the west wall of the porch; which has an interesting design on it. A figure appears to be bent over and in the process of slaughtering an animal whilst what appears to be a ghostlike figure lurks in the background. It turns out that this was the gravestone for a Whittlesey butcher, Abraham Read who, legend states, slaughtered a sheep on the Sabbath and was immediately struck dead. A fabulous piece of local history and it is good to see that this grave is now safely inside.
As I went in, a lady was inside cleaning ready for a service the following day. As is often the case, she was pleased to see that someone was taking an interested in her church and I spent a pleasant few minutes being shown a few things that I might otherwise have missed.
The church inside is bright and welcoming, with all of the interior walls painted in a neutral cream colour. There are four bays to north and south leading to the chancel; with bays inside the chancel leading to north and south chapel.
The five light east window depicts the nativity, Jesus being baptised by John the Baptist, the crucifixion, the resurrection and the ascension. Two angels wielding censers can be seen up in the tracery and the symbols of the four evangelists can be seen at the foot of the window. In the depiction of the crucifixion, Christ is surrounded by an aureole, a radiant light of red and orange tongues of flame. With it being early in the day, the sun was still very much in the east, so much so that beautiful multi coloured shadows were cast through the stained glass of the east window.
The altar is plain and simple with just a cross and two candlesticks. A few carved human faces look out across the nave, including one male figure with sightless eyes and a boxer’s nose, mouth open and tongue exposed in medieval gesture of insult.
Much of the furnishings here date to the time of the 1870’s restoration. The lectern is held aloft on an angels’ back and the altar, despite being plain on top, is intricately carved, the top of the altar being held aloft by four angels! Standing at the chancel and looking back to the west, we see that the organ fits neatly in to the tower arch.
The font cover, which again I think is Victorian, has an interesting selection of symbols painted on to it. Christ’s hands and feet are depicted, showing the crucifixion wounds. Also present is a chalice and communion wafer, and a Bible in front of an altar. Also included is an hourglass, symbolising the passing of time; an image of the mortality of Man. In this hourglass, the sands of time have nearly run out, with just a trickle still left to fall through. A reminder of one’s own mortality at a time of baptism!
A couple of wall plaques are very old and both feature the human skull as an image of the mortality of man. One of these is a small brass plaque and Revd Sweeting, in his mid Victorian look at the churches in and around Peterborough was particularly disparaging about this. He made mention that there were spelling mistakes in the text, with the person putting this together having a not so great grasp of Latin.
An impressive eight bells hang here with two of these being modern, cast by Gillett and Johnston in 1930. The other six were cast by Joseph Eayre of St Neots. Five of these dated from 1759, with the inscription on one of the bells reading 'These five bells was cast May the 12 1759'. A sixth was added by the same founder in 1769 with the bell having the wonderful inscription 'I to the church the living call and to the grave do summon all'. Three of the Eayre bells were taken down in exchange for three bells from Thomas Mears II in 1843 and one of the remaining Eayre bells was re-cast by Gillett and Johnston in 1911.
Moving back outside and the church grounds are well maintained. As mentioned earlier, at some point in the past the gravestones have been moved and are now lined up in two rows back to back to the south of the church. There are further gravestones lined up against the walls. Nothing really interesting to be found here but hiding against a wall underneath some bushes, a carving of a human skull rests in a bowl full of human bones, reminding the onlooker that man is mortal and will die; the same message that is on the plaques inside.
This is a lovely church and I enjoyed my visits here very much. Pre covid the church was open to visitors but I am not sure what the situation is presently. If you can get to see inside this one though then do so. For those in need of liquid refreshment after the exertions of visiting the church, there is a pub about twenty yards away from the church!
For anyone wishing to take a look at my report for the visit to the church of St Mary, across the town, please click on the photograph immediately above on the right. This will open in another window.