Thursday, 30 May 2013

All Saints, Holbeach

Holbeach has a large parish church which dates from the 14th century, almost entirely in the Decorated Gothic style, with some interesting furnishings and fittings.

The church was built largely from 1340-80, with the addition of the porch in c. 1700. The main Victorian addition was the heavy and dark stained glass.

From the outside, the church is dominated by its tall spire, built in the 14th century, but remodelled in the 15th. The porch has distinctive turrets on either side of the door, doubtless giving rise to the contention that it came from Moulton Castle. Once inside, the nave is dominated by the elegant Decorated Gothic arcade of 7 bays, supported by quatrefoil piers, built around 1350. The chancel arch is slightly later, c. 1360, next to which are the remains of the staircase to the rood loft. The Decorated Gothic windows which fill the walls are a wonderful combination of ogee arches and fleur-de-lis - textbook patterns of curvilinear tracery. They would be so much nicer with clear glass.

Much of the furnishing is Victorian, but the font is mid 14th century, and in the north aisle are tombs of special interest. Pride of place goes to the tomb chest and effigy of Sir Humphrey Littlebury of Holbeach Hurn, (d. c.1380). His effigy, in full plate and mail armour, is well preserved. It has a sword belt, sword and shield, his feet resting on a lion and his head on a helm - decorated with the rather alarming image of a woman's face. The tomb chest below has elaborate niches of ogee arches. Adjacent, on the floor, is a brass of a knight which has sadly lost its head, and against the wall is a tomb chest bearing a memorial brass of Joan Welby, d. 1488.

The church is the centre of a busy parish life, with regular services and a tea shop open in the modernised tower space.

Church Street, Holbeach, Lincolnshire PE12 7LL

All Saints, Moulton

Moulton is a pretty village close to Spalding, known for having the tallest windmill in the country. The church has an imposing tower and spire and can be seen for miles around.

The church dates largely from 1180, but was much altered in the 14th and 15th centuries, and restored in the 19th. The tower and spire are the main draw on the outside: the windows were inserted in the 15th century, but most of the fabric, including the spire supported on tall flyers, is 14th century. The tower is decorated with some wonderfully elaborate blind arcading.

Inside, the long nave with its arcade supported on robust piers is largely 12th century, with the 15th century clerestory windows having been inserted to the 12th century fabric. The 19th century restoration was rather heavy, but at least restored the fine late 14th century rood screen. There is an interesting early 18th century font, supported by figures of Adam and Eve.

The church supports a busy parish life with regular services and social events.

High Street, Moulton, Spalding, Lincolnshire PE12 6QB

St Mary, Weston (near Spalding)

Weston has a delightful parish church, with a dark and atmospheric interior.

The church dates from 1170, with a tower added in the 15th. It was restored by two of the giants of 19th century ecclesiastical architecture, George Gilbert Scott in 1858 and and J L Pearson in 1885.

The interior retains much from the original building, including the Early English porch, nave arcades and the chancel. This has triple lancets at the east end, and more lancets on the north and south sides, all with deep recesses. The nave arcade has splendid piers, each with detached shafts and a generous band of stiff leaf carving on the capitals. The aisle and transept windows are Decorated Gothic in style, and mostly filled with heavy Victorian glass.

Furnishings of interest are limited, except the font, dated 1200, which is decorated with panels divided by attached shafts, containing flowing fleur-de-lis. The gloomy interior is enlivened by a bright display of tapestry kneelers.

High Road, Weston, Spalding, Lincolnshire PE12 6HS

St Mary Magdalene, Gedney

The small Lincolnshire village of Gedney possesses a magnificent mediaeval parish church. From a distance, it seems almost to float along the fenland, with much to interest the visitor.

From a distance, the church could almost be mistaken for a cathedral, with its handsome tower and tall, clerestoried nave. Begun in the 13th century, the church has architecture of all the major Gothic periods, including Early English (largely confined to the lower stages of the tower), Decorated and Perpendicular. The west wall of the nave shows the roof line to have been raised twice, once in the 14th and then later in the 15th centuries. The chancel was substantially altered in the 19th century.

The church is comprised of a large aisled nave, west tower, chancel, and a two-storeyed porch. The stumpy spire is the only disappointment, clearly a compromise, presumably over fears the foundations would not support anything taller.

As you enter the church, you immediately encounter one of its treasures: a rare, original mediaeval wooden door, decorated with heraldic devices and with an original, smaller wicket door within. Once inside the nave, all is space and light: most of the extensive glass is clear, although there are patches of mediaeval glass, most notably a Jesse window in the east window of the north aisle. A small window in the south wall of the chancel has a delightful mediaeval depiction of Christ, presumably with St John the Divine - or possibly the window's donor? - looking on in rapture.

The graceful octagonal arcade columns are from the Decorated period, and many of the nave windows have beautiful flowing tracery. The nave ceiling dates from the 15th century, with tie beams, roof bosses and a single hammerbeam. Both the arcade, and the 15th century clerestory above it, have label stops and corbels with the heads of angels, kings and queens, ogres and some delightful representations of common ailments such as deafness and toothache.

In the south aisle is an early 15th century brass of a woman with a puppy at her feet, and behind the adjacent side altar are the remains of a 13th century tomb effigy over a large 15th century carved tomb chest. Above them is the magnificent memorial to Alard Welby and his wife Cassandra, erected in 1605. There are many other items of interest - much of the woodwork is late mediaeval or Jacobean, and the font base is dated 1664 (the font itself being late mediaeval).

The church hosts regular services and is also used by the children from the adjacent primary school.

Church End, Gedney, Spalding, Lincolnshire PE12 0BU

St Mary Magdalene, Sandringham

St Mary Magdalene is well known as the church that the Queen attends at Christmas at Sandringham. Although a parish church, the extensive interior decoration and royal memorials are evidence of its close royal links since the late 19th century.

The building itself is made of the distinctive dark brown carstone, set off by white stone dressings. Although mediaeval in origin, the largely 15th century church was heavily rebuilt in the 19th century, first by the architect Samuel Sanders Teulon in 1855 and then by Arthur Blomfield in 1890.

From the outside, it looks like an ordinary parish church, with a west tower, porch, nave and a small chancel, a small north aisle and south transept. Inside, the church has an intimate atmosphere, but the elaborate decoration is clear evidence that it is not your average parish: the chancel in particular has a complex decorative scheme of painted panels and roof in the 15th century style.

There are fragments of 15th and 17th century glass, but the eye is inevitably drawn to the furnishings: the striking altar frontal is of beaten silver and was a gift in memory of Edward VII. The pulpit similarly has decorative beaten silver panels. The walls are covered in memorials of royals, from Princess Alice in 1879 to the late Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, along with some of Sandringham Estate workers who died in the Great War.

Outside, are the graves of Prince John (1905-19), son of George V, and of Prince Alexander John (d. 1871), youngest son of Edward VII, who died after one day, having been born prematurely.

The church is open for visitors in the summer months and only for services in the winter. Photographs are not permitted of the interior. There is a small shop selling guides, cards, and gifts at the rear.

Sandringham Estate, Sandringham, Norfolk PE35 6EH

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Crowland Abbey

Crowland Abbey is a magnificent building - now part church, part ruin, near Spalding in Lincolnshire, with an interesting but turbulent history.


The abbey was founded in memory of St Guthlac (673-714), a monk who founded a hermitage on the island of Crowland in the 8th century. King Aethelbald of Mercia founded a monastery on the island in 716 in his honour, but it was destroyed in a Danish raid in 866. Refounded as a Benedictine house in the reign of King Edred (reigned 946-955), it was destroyed by fire in 1091, but rebuilt about twenty years later. Another fire burned the abbey again in 1170, after which it was rebuilt once more.

Thereafter, it thrived until the dissolution in 1539, by which time it had become one of the wealthiest abbeys in the country.
The remains were fortified by the Royalists during the Civil War and damaged further by the Roundhead forces. The nave roof fell in 1720, the main south wall was taken down in 1744. The north aisle survived the troubles, however, as it had long functioned as the parish church, and still does today.

The church

The west front of the abbey is startling: the north aisle has a robust tower, built in the 12th-15th centuries, next to the remains of the great west front of the nave, all niches and statues. Above the former west door is a superb 14th century quatrefoil carving with images of the life of St Guthlac. Looking along the length of the former nave, the view is framed by the delicate remains of the Romanesque Crossing arch. To the south of the west front, fragmentary remains of the original west end of c. 1165, include some fine blind arcading.

Inside, the former aisle is impressive. It was remodelled in the 15th century and has superb vaulting, as well as a magnificent panelled tower arch. Fittings and furnishings are of great interest. The early 15th century chancel screen has panels decorated with images of angels, dragons, flowers, fish and one with Guthlac in his boat. Above is a lovely ceiling boss of a Green Man.

There is an octagonal 15th century font, and the tower arch has a large stoup incorporating a 12th century drum font under a cusped arch. Close by are two interesting tomb stones: one, very small, is ascribed to enclosing a crusader's heart, but is more likely to be Saxon; the other is to the mason William de Wermington, (d. 1427) depicting him holding his compasses and set square.

Today, the church hosts regular services in the Anglo-Catholic tradition.

Monday, 27 May 2013

St Mary's (RC), Newport

This is a very attractive Victorian Roman Catholic church, just up Stow Hill from Newport City centre.


A small chapel was built on the site of the then-expanding seaport and industrial centre in 1812, but the town's continued growth meant that a larger church was soon needed, and the original chapel was demolished in 1839. The new church was built in the neo-Gothic style, with a prominent tower at the west end, which also formed the main entrance. Inside, the nave arcade was built with slender columns made of cast iron - the first such use of metal pillars in Wales.

The construction of St Mary’s took place around the same time as the Chartist uprising; the Chartist rioters passed the church and ordered workmen to join them, although they declined. In 1901 the original east window was replaced by one of the Assumption of the Virgin by John Hardman, who worked with the Pugins.

The church

The church is essentially in the Early English Gothic style, with tall lancets with shafts and hoods, and the slender piers have frilly stiff-leaf capitals. The most notable feature of the church from the outside is its tower, the muscular design of which, decorated with abundant blind arcading, provides a distinct contrast with the light and airy interior. Indeed, the pale pink walls with white arcades and detailing gives almost a wedding-cake like appearance.

Today, the church is part of the united parish of 'All Saints' in Newport, formed in 2007 and incorporating six former parishes. Although the interior is not open outside service times, the outer doors are kept open, allowing one a good view into the nave.

 9 Stow Hill, Newport, Wales NP20 1TP

All Saints, Barry

All Saints church is one of Barry’s most imposing landmarks: set high on the crest of a hill, its tower can be seen from along the coast.

The decision to build a new Anglican church in Barry was taken in response to the rapid growth of the town in the late 1880s, following the construction in 1884 of the Barry Railway and Barry Docks. To begin with, much of the town was built hurriedly in wood, before the more familiar brick terraces began to be built. The original parish church of St Nicholas, overlooking the harbour, was no longer large enough for the fast growing new town. So, in 1902 a decision was taken to built a new church, named All Saints, on land vacated by the Admiralty, to plans by the local architect E M Bruce Vaughan. Construction began in 1907 and the church was consecrated in 1908. A second stage of building began the same year, including the familiar tower, and was completed in 1915. The ‘mother’ church of St Nicholas was closed in the 1950s.

The new church was largely built in the early Decorated Gothic style. The plan has large north and south aisles, a broad nave with simple Gothic arcades on round piers, and a chancel. The church retains much of its original appearance, although it has chairs rather than the traditional pews. For me, the interior is rather more successful architecturally than the exterior, which looks somewhat uninspiring - and its setting is not helped by being flanked by some rather dull, grey blocks of flats.

Worship is in a middle-of-the-road style, and the church has an active congregation and busy parish life, with a number of different groups meeting during the week (see website for details). The daughter church of St Baruc’s in Barry Island is also part of the parish.

Park Road, Barry, Wales CF62 6NU

Monday, 6 May 2013

Peterborough Cathedral

Peterborough has one of England’s best preserved large Norman churches. The former abbey has had a colourful past – raided by Vikings, attacked by both rebel Saxons and Cromwellian troops, and burned down twice. It is also the burial place of Katherine of Aragon and the temporary burial place of Mary, Queen of Scots. It is now known formally as the Cathedral Church of St Peter, St Paul and St Andrew.


The Anglo-Saxon King Peada founded a monastery on the site in 655 although, like many, it was destroyed in a Viking raid in 870. Rebuilt as a Benedictine Abbey in 970, it survived a further attack around 1069, this time from Hereward the Wake, only to be destroyed by an accidental fire in 1116.

The present building was built largely between 1118 and 1238, although the central tower was rebuilt in the Decorated Gothic style 1350-80. The East End was extended behind the apse to form a retrochoir in the Perpendicular Gothic style, between 1496 and 1508. Much of the cost of building the cathedral was funded by Pilgrims visiting some of the relics of St Thomas a Beckett, brought to Peterborough by Abbott Benedict – a former Prior of Canterbury - in 1177.

Katherine of Aragon (Henry VIII's first wife) was buried here in 1536. After the dissolution of the monasteries, it became the Cathedral of the new Diocese of Peterborough in 1541. It was the also burial place of Mary, Queen of Scots, from her execution in 1587 until her reburial in Westminster Abbey in 1612. The cathedral was severely damaged during the Civil War by Cromwell’s troops in 1643, but restored by J L Pearson in 1882-6.

The Church

The most notable external feature is the unique great west portico, consisting of three huge arches in the Early English Gothic style, flanked by square buttresses decorated with Gothic blind arcading and topped with tall pinnacles. The narrower centre arch had a smaller porch inserted into it in the late 14th century.

Inside, the long nave of 10 bays is one of the best preserved examples of Norman (Romanesque) architecture in the country. Of particular interest is the wooden ceiling, a very rare survival, built in 1230-50 and consisting of lozenge-shaped panels decorated with figures of kings, queens, saints and monsters.

The crossing, transepts and choir are also Norman work, and contrast sharply with the Perpendicular retrochoir, which is notable for its profusion of fan vaulting. Most of the nave and choir windows were renewed in the 14th and 15th centuries, but only two windows above the High Altar retain fragments of mediaeval glass.

Cromwell’s troops destroyed many of the original fittings and furnishings, although the monument to Abbot Hedda (c. 800), caved with images of Jesus and Mary and ten disciples, survives in the East End. Also extant are a number of marble effigies of Abbots dating between 1195 and 1225, and a fine carved 13th century font in the nave. A marble slab on the north choir aisle denotes the resting place of Katherine of Aragon (1485-1536) and in the opposite aisle the location of the former tomb of Mary, Queen of Scots is marked. An interesting picture hanging at the west end of the nave depicts Robert Scarlett (1496-1594), a gravedigger who buried both Katherine and Mary, and who lived to the age of 98.

Today, the cathedral provides regular daily services and has a renowned choir, which sings a daily Evensong as well as during the Sunday services. It is open every day for visitors, except Boxing Day.

 Minster Precincts, Peterborough PE1 1XS