It is sad to see churches closing for worship; whether it be for dwindling numbers, lack of helpers, prohibitive cost of keeping the building in good order, or all of the above. This is being typed out at the end of June 2022; three weeks or so after news emerged that the church of St Augustine, Woodston could close for worship at the end of September, for each of the reasons highlighted above.
In the 15 years or so since I started photographing churches, three churches locally have closed for worship, with all three now being cared for by the Churches Conservation Trust. These are at Ufford in Cambridgeshire, Tickencote in Lincolnshire and Allexton on the Leicestershire Rutland border.
Others have struggled but remain open. Sutton near to Castor, for example, has survived by adapting the church building in a to community space, becoming in effect a village hall. The church here is down to one service a month with a congregation in single figures. Still they struggle on, and all credit to them for doing so!
Could the next generation or two see a big upturn in the number of churches closing? Yes! Would the resources of the Churches Conservation Trust and other similar charities be stretched further as a result? Absolutely!
Woodston can be found a short distance to the west of Peterborough, a village in its own right but which has been swallowed by the western expansion of Peterborough. There is a great deal of history here, with the village mentioned as having a church and priest in the Domesday Survey of 1086.
The church of St Augustine is to be found by the side of the main road which runs west out of Peterborough. A bustling, multi-cultural area with the church surrounded by shops and terraced houses. A Baptist church in a beautiful art deco building can be found close by on the other side of the road with the church of St Olga, a Ukrainian Catholic church a little way off to the west. Peterborough cathedral itself is not more than a mile away to the north east.
By the way, despite its close proximity to Peterborough cathedral, Woodston is in the Diocese of Ely, despite Ely being 30 miles away. Interestingly, churches in Northampton, a little over 40 miles away, are in the Diocese of Peterborough! This is a geographical quirk; the details of which I will not bore you with, partially due to the fact that I am not sure of them myself! It is something to do with the churches in relation to the river Nene…
This is a difficult church to photograph, with challenges to be found from all sides! The church is partially hidden behind trees when shooting from the north. A clearer view can be had from the south but a large pipe running down the centre of the south face of the tower does not make for a decent photo. The church is hemmed in by building to east and west so those are a no go as well!
The entrance to this church is from the north, with those passing by seeing a carving of Christ crucified close to the north porch.
The structure that we see today consists of west tower, nave with north and south aisles, north porch, north and south transepts and chancel. There are no clerestory windows here but there are skylights on the north and south sides of the roof itself, which allows in extra light.
The oldest part of the present structure is a very small window on the west wall of the tower, which dates from the 11th century. The church was almost completely rebuilt in 1844 but before that it is believed that the church had a 14th century chancel with an 11th century tower and 12th century belfry.
There was more restoration of this church later in the 19th century. In 1883 the aisles were rebuilt and widened; the north porch was built and a south porch demolished. In 1896 the chancel was enlarged.
According to the National Church Bell Database, there is a ring of six bells here, all by Gillett and Johnstone, who worked out of Croydon. The situation was different when Revd Owen compiled his study of the church bells of Huntingdonshire, which was published in 1899,
At that time there were three bells in the ring here. The first of the ring was attributed to Richard Holdfeld of Cambridge, and was dated 1608. This one was inscribed ‘OMNIA FIANT AD GLORIAM DEI’, which translates as ‘Let all things be done for the glory of God’.
The second bell of the ring at that time was cast by Joseph Eayre of St Neots in 1749. This one has the inscription ‘GRATA SIT ARGUTA RESONANS CAMPANULA VOCE’, which has the charming translation of ‘Pleasant be the sound of this little bell's clear Voice’.
The third of the ring was dated 1636 and was attributed by Owen to the Stamford Bellfoundry. At that time, the founder would have been Thomas Norris. This bell is inscribed with the name of the rector of the day, Johannes Clement and the church warden Petrus Chune.
Owen notes that the bells here at the time of his study hadn’t been rung for 30 years due to an unstable bell frame. He also notes that the tower replaced a previous one which was deemed unsafe but which still required dynamite to finally bring it down!
The church here is normally closed to visitors. David and I attended a service here on a sunny December morning in 2011. The locals were friendly and it was a pleasant time spent. I wanted to reshoot the interior of this church for the new site but no one replied to my request to visit. This is fine; the faithful here have more to worry about currently than me. This page is being put together though with photographs that I am not totally happy with!
As you would expect from a church that was substantially rebuilt in the mid 19th century, there is a very Victorian feel to the interior, with the 13th century font being around 600 years or so older than most of the rest of the fittings. Also of great age is a three light window on the south transept, which dates from around 1300 and the 14th century south arcade.
It was a bright December morning outside, but it was quite dark inside and the lights were on and very much needed. The altar is plain and simple, with just a couple of candlesticks and a Bible standing on it. Panelling covers the chancel from north to south and the frame of the reredos is gilded, with a repeated internal pattern. The church organ is at the east end of the south aisle and there is an altar at the east end of the north chapel.
There is a decent amount of stained glass here, nothing of any great age, all dating from the various periods of Victorian restoration, but all of interest. The east window is of three lights and has a depiction of the ascension. There is an interesting three light window which has the crucifixion as central with Jesus at Gethsemane and the risen Christ on Easter morning flanking it.
Jesus at Gethsemane, on the night before the crucifixion, is in anguish and is watched over by an angel. The interesting panel for me is that on the right as we look at it. Christ has risen; appearing to Mary Magdalene. Here Christ takes on an almost ghostlike appearance, with the only colour coming from the gold gilding on His tunic. Elsewhere, Jesus looks directly towards the onlooker, holding a piece of bread in each hand. ‘I am the bread of life’. Close by, Jesus calms the storm, to the disbelief of the disciples and blesses the woman at the well.
A variety of stone heads, each with sightless eyes, look out over the nave. One wears a Bishops mitre, another wears what appears to be a small crown. One further female figure wears a headdress.
The church grounds are entered from the north through a lychgate which commemorates those who fell in World War I. It is busy and noisy to the north of church, with the main road which leads in to Peterborough running close by the church. It is calmer to the south though with an interesting selection of gravestones to be found in the compact church grounds.
There is a very fine example of a deaths head stone to be found amongst the graves on the south side, a human skull and hourglass, both used to denote the passage of time and the mortality of Man, sitting either side of a pair of cherubs. In days of low life expectancy the message that Man is mortal and will die was an important one; and with life expectancy being in the 40’s it could be later than you think! These symbols are reminding you to be right with God when your time does come, passed on in symbol form with many not being able to read or write. The script is faded but it looks as if this stone could be mid 18th century.
This was a pleasant time spent with good people. I wish them well in the future. Time will tell if the church here does indeed close. If it does close, it is not the first and it won’t be the last sadly. David and myself headed off in the direction of nearby Stanground, where a service was due to take place half an hour or so after this one finished.
To visit the page for my visit to neighbouring Orton Longueville, please click on the photograph immediately above left. To visit the page for neighbouring Stanground, click on the photograph above centre, To be taken to the page for Fletton, click on the photograph above right. All of these pages will open up in another window.