YARWELL : CHURCH OF ST MARY MAGDALENE
Church Post Code PE8 6QB
Normally Open To Visitors
It was a gloriously sunny and warm Saturday afternoon in April 2022, and the church of St Mary Magdalene at Yarwell was the final church of the day; in what turned out to be a nine church crawl. There was hardly a cloud in the sky and it was great to visit a few places that I had not seen for several years.
Looking back at the last 15 years of churchcrawling; many of my fondest memories involve food! The lemon drizzle at Buckden, with ‘I’m In The Mood For Love’ being played on the church organ; the Cheese Scone at Belton near to Grantham, which won Cheese Scone Of The Year for 2013 on my Facebook page, and the all day breakfast at Reepham in Norfolk. Yarwell can be added to the list!
Cycling in, I saw a sign outside the church. I thought it was a ‘church open’ sign but in fact it stated that the church was open for tea and cake from 3pm until 5pm. It was just after 3pm when I arrived and the place was filled with people; with a lovely buzz of conversation.
It would be rude not to support our ancient parish churches in their fundraising, so I took one for the team and spent a very pleasant time sat in the church grounds, with a cup of tea and a slab of ginger cake large enough that I was already regretting the prospects of the five miles cycle home!
Yarwell is a village of around 300 people, at the extreme eastern edge of Northamptonshire, set close to the south bank of the river Nene. The Cambridgeshire border is a short distance away; with Peterborough some nine miles away to the east. Nassington is a mile and a half or so to the south. The church of St Mary Magdalene can be found at the centre of the village, by the side of the main road which runs through the village; the Angel Inn opposite.
It is obvious that the church here has had a challenging life, with bricked up arches on north and south walls indicating that there used to be aisles here. In April 1782 there was a very heavy fall of snow. The weight of the snow, plus the weight of new lead on the roof, led to a collapse. A report a little while beforehand stated that the church was in need of structural repairs but these had not been actioned before the collapse.
Both the North and South Aisles were put out of action. It was decided that the nave and chancel were "more than adequate to contain the inhabitants" so these two aisles were removed and their arcades bricked up; the ghosted outlines still visible.
In pre covid days, the church here was always open and welcoming; and it is good to report that it is open to visitors at present as well. There were a large number of people inside the church; but I had a go and photographed what I could. The interior shots included on this page are a mixture of what I took on the day and from a previous visit.
The church that we see today consists of west tower, nave and chancel with north and south chapels. Part of this church used to be thatched. In 1804, James French was paid £6 10s for thatching the chancel, which remained thatched until 1892. From memory, I can’t honestly recall hearing of any other church within the catchment area of this site which had any part of it thatched in the past.
This church dates back to the 13th century, but for obvious reasons given what happened in 1782, there is much 18th century restoration here. The tower was remodelled at that time; this is of two stages with plain parapet around the top, part of which appears to have been restored recently. A single hare can be seen on one of the older sections. The church clock is set on to the north face, in the traditional colours of blue and gold.
There are no porches here, with entrance being through a north door, which is cut in to the central of the three bricked in arches to the north. This door again dates to the time of the 18th century rebuilding; a similar door to the south side has subsequently been bricked in.
Today, four bells hang here, but when North complied his Victorian study of the church bells of Northamptonshire, there were only three in the ring. The first of the ring is ancient, being attributed to Richard Seliok II, a Nottingham founder, who worked between the years 1523 T0 1548. The bell is blank with the exception of the initials "hi" which may refer to the donor of the bell.
The second bell is from Peterborough founder Henry Penn and is dated 1714. This has a latin inscription on it which reads ‘Cvm Voco Venite’ which translates as Come when I call (to church). This bell is inscribed with the name Edwards Lisle.
The third bell is dated 1754 and was cast by Joseph Eayre of St Neots. This has the inscription "Multi Vocata Pavci Electi", which translates as Many are called few are chosen and is also inscribed with the names Thomas Tilton and Edward Peak, who were the church wardens of the day.
The final bell is a much more recent affair, coming courtesy of Gillett and Johnstone in 1926, after North’s study. Talking to a lady in the church, I was told that plans were in hand to install a fifth bell during the Queen’s platinum jubilee year of 2022; an interesting and very nice idea given that the fourth of the ring was hung in 1926, the year of the Queen’s birth.
Moving inside, the arcades are still able to be seen along the north and south walls, becoming a part of the structure rather than being covered over. It reminded me of the Japanese art of Kintsugi; where a damage or imperfection is embraced when being repaired; acknowledging the damage as being a part of its history!
A statue of Christ crucified hangs in the chancel. There is one stained glass window here, this being in the east wall of the chancel.
This is a modern depiction of Christ in majesty. He is depicted crowned as King of Heaven, hand raised in blessing whilst holding a globe. He wears a red robe, symbolic of the boob shed for us; quite fitting as I visited the church here over the Easter weekend. No crucifixion wounds are visible, which I always have an issue with to be honest.
Christ’s nimbus is mainly blue, which appears to swirl; beautifully done, with a golden inner. Pulsating light radiates out from Christ in the shape of the cross.
Inside the chancel there are two bays leading in to the north and south chapels. The south chapel is exactly that, a south chapel. The north chapel though hosts the organ under the western bay with the vestry at the east.
In the vestry there is a memorialto one Humphrey Bellamy. As a child, Bellamy came to Yarwell ill and destitute, whilst walking to London to find his uncle, who was a rich merchant. He was looked after by the locals, and he vowed to, one day, repay their kindness. He was successful, and became Alderman of London. He died in 1715 and was buried at Yarwell. He endowed a local charity to aid the poor of the area. His beautiful tomb can be found on the North side of the chancel; It is suggested that the tale of Dick Whittington is based on Bellamy's life.
The font is octagonal, and dates from the 19th century. Most of the fixtures and fittings date from the 19th and 20th centuries.
A gargoyle rests to the south, with mismatched eyes, a fine set of teeth, beard and moustache. I daresay that this has been here since parts of the church fell in 1782. It is always lovely to see these up close.
The church grounds are well maintained and three chest tombs have Grade II Listings in their own right. One of these, to the north of the grounds has a just discernible date of 1633 on it, the rest of the script being lost to the elements.
There are a few interesting gravestones here, but nothing of any great importance. A couple of the stones depict the deaths head; a carving of a skull, one of the symbols of death, to remind the onlooker that Man is mortal and will die. One of these is accompanied by crossed bones and the other is set against an hourglass’ The sands of time have run out for the deceased and one day they will run out for yourself; and in days of low life expectancy that could come sooner than you might think!
This is a very pleasant village church. Open and welcoming and with an interesting history, well worth a look at if you are in the area; with the village pub right across the road if you are so inclined!