WILSTHORPE : CHURCH OF ST FAITH
Church Post Code PE9 4PE
The church is usually open to visitors.
It was a crisp Saturday morning in January 2022, and a return visit to the church of St Faith, Wilsthorpe. The early morning frost had failed to clear at that time and the sky was a beautiful blue with hardly a cloud in the sky.
This was a far cry from my previous visit here, when David and I attended on a gloriously warm and sunny late September afternoon, with dragonflies flitting around the church grounds in large numbers and the last of the harvest being taken in.
It was to turn out to be a ten church crawl, this January day, primarily focusing on churches between Stamford and Market Deeping, with Wilsthorpe being one of the most northerly visited that day. Wilsthorpe is a quiet, pleasant village, some six miles north east of Stamford and four miles south of Bourne. There is a wealth of history here with the Roman King Street running just to the east of the village. The village was mentioned in the Domesday Survey of 1086.
We had just visited Braceborough and the small broach spire of St Faith was visible across the fields. The church here dates from 1715. There was a church here prior to that, but there is virtually no information on it to be found on line.
There is conjecture as to whether the church was on the same site as the present church or was on a different location. There are precious few clues in the church grounds, with only a box tomb to the south of the church looking to predate 1715.
The church that we see today consists of west tower, nave, south vestry and chancel. There are no aisles or clerestories. Entrance is through a door on the ornate west side. The date of building, 1715, can be seen on two obelisks to north and south. The small tower rises up from the west front, with a small broach spire on top. A roundel with a hexagonal design on it can be seen above the west door. The whole west end is perpendicular and very attractive; with it reminding me of that at Little Gidding, albeit this being on a larger scale, which can be seen off to the extreme south of the catchment area of this site.
There are four large two light windows running the length of the nave on north and south sides, each with the same roundel containing hexagonal design that we see on the west end. There is a large three light window at the east of the chancel.
The church was restored in 1869. There is a single bell hanging here, which is dated 1907, and was cast by Llewellins and James bellfounder of Bristol. This is not a founder that I have come across before and I can’t imagine that there are many of their bells in this area.
Moving in to the church, my attention was immediately caught by graffiti inside the west end of the nave, on both north and south walls. Most of these were initials and dates but Richard Parkinson carved his name in 1759 with skill and a flourish. William Smith signed in 1755 with the ‘S’ of his surname being carved backwards. E.C 1744 is beautifully carved and would not have been completed in a few minutes, whilst looking anxiously over their shoulder to see if anyone was coming. It does make you wonder if many of these were legitimately there for whatever reason.
The real interest for me here though is what appears to be a marion mark, a witch mark. This takes the form of what appears to be a single letter W. These were prayers of protection to the Virgin Mary, with the letter actually being two interlocked V’s, with the prayer being to the Virgin of Virgins. It was believed that evil could enter a building in draughts, with doors and windows being high risk areas. Prayers for protection would be said and a mark made!
It is a bright, uncluttered interior. The walls are tastefully painted in cream and there is no stained glass to the south, so it was bright and welcoming inside. At the south side of the semi circular chancel arch is a small church organ, with above that a wall monument to the Curtis family, the Lords of the Manor, including Edward who the memorial records built this church. Standing at the chancel arch and looking west, there is a small balcony at the west end. It looks as if the majority of the fittings possibly date from the Victorian restoration rather than being original to the church.
The east window is of three lights, with coloured Victorian glass with a repeated quatre foil design, within a large quatre foil design. Also included is the Greek letters for Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, as well as the letters HIS, a Christogram and an ancient way of writing the name Jesus Christ. Above this is a roundel which depicts the Star of David. The chancel roof is balanced on stone corbels which are carved in an imitation Romanesque style.
Of greatest interest in the chancel though is to be seen at the north side of the sanctuary, which has a 13th century effigy of a knight, dressed in chainmail armour. One hand is on his sword with the other being on his shield. His feet rest on a dog; some initialled graffiti to be found on him. This predates the church, by a few hundred years! Obviously, this could have come from the previous church but it does raise questions. Why did nothing else get saved from a previous structure? Possibly a question that will never be answered!
As we were looking around the exterior, a friendly local came over to say hi. We looked at the external graffiti on the west wall close to the porch. The highlight for me is what looked like a very faded carving of a windmill. It was badly weathered but steps could be seen leading in to the main body of the building, with four very crudely carved sails.
The lady said that there used to be a mill really close. The mark of the common man or woman is fascinating to me. To stand there, in the same place as someone was carving this, possibly 300 years ago is a wonderful thing. To witness what they had seen with their own eyes all those years ago. A small connection with someone who has been dead for many years and who may be buried in the grounds here.
Close by is the traced outlines of two shoes. These are very small and look to be children’s. There are other carvings here; some shapes and others being just initials and dates but these are very weathered and will one day be lost to us.
As mentioned earlier, a single box tomb to the south of the church looks to predate 1715. Everything else looked to post date that. One gravestone features the death head with crossed bones beneath. Both of these were symbols of the mortality of Man, and were there to remind the onlooker that Man is mortal and will die, a reminder to live a good life as in times of low life expectancy you never knew when your own time would come; so be ready and right with God for whenever that time would be! This message was passed over in symbol form as many could not read or write at that time.
A delightful church; friendly and welcoming. I finished looking around the grounds and worked my way back to the van. Gary was still chatting to the local lady. He said, as we were on our way to neighbouring Greatford, that they were talking about football but I suspect that he may have been telling her how boring I had been so far that morning. The church here is open to visitors and is well worth taking a look at.
If you would like to take a look at my visit to the church of St Andrew, West Deeping, another church in the Uffington benefice, please click on the photograph immediately above right to be directed there. This new page will open up in another window.