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Church Post Code PE28 4DX

Open to visitors.

alc1.jpg  The church of St Peter & St Paul, Alconbury.

It was a gloriously sunny afternoon in April 2023 and a revisit to the church of St Peter & St Paul, Alconbury; this being the sixth and final church visited in what was a rare half day off of work, with all six being open.

 I had previously visited Alconbury with David back in May 2014; a sunny Sunday evening with cricket being played on the adjoining sports ground, with the church spire providing an attractive background. We had arrived from nearby Buckworth; with the fields between the two villages covered in oilseed rape. It was warm and humid, with storms threatening and the air heavy with pollen.

Alconbury is a village with a population of 1569 at the time of the 2011 census. It can be found just to the west of the busy A1(M), some 17 miles south of Peterborough and five miles to the north west of Huntingdon.

Prior to the A1 being built, the Great North Road, the main highway between England and Scotland ran through the village. The village gave its name to Alconbury airbase, with United States Airforce stationed there between 1942 and 1945 and 1953 to 1995. The base itself is closer to Great and Little Stukeley, with the fighter jet parked outside the gates a familiar sight to travellers.


There was a village mentioned here at the time of the Domesday Survey in 1086, but there was no church or priest mentioned here at that time. The church of St Peter & St Paul can be found at the north west of the village; with the structure that we see today dating back to the 13th century, albeit with some reused materials from a 12th century structure.

The church consists of west tower with spire, nave with north and south aisles and clerestories, south porch and chancel. An aisled nave was built here around 1250, at which point the chancel and western tower were also built. Around 1330 the nave arcades were rebuilt, with the spire added to the tower, as well as clerestory and south porch being added.

In the late 15th century the chancel and aisles were reroofed, with the nave reroofed the following century. The church here was thoroughly restored in 1877, at which point the spire was shored up whilst the tower below was rebuilt. A tremendous feat of engineering!

The church itself is a fine structure, though difficult to photograph from the south due to trees. The west tower is of three stages, and is buttressed up to the top of the second stage. The church clock faces out from the south face and a frieze of ancient, contorted, almost cartoonlike stone heads runs across the top of the tower.

The octagonal broach spire has three tiers of gabled lucarne windows at the main compass points. Throughout the exterior are a series of finely carved gargoyles and grotesques; mainly mythical creatures, with more than one having long tongue stuck out in gesture of insult.

The church is battlemented throughout, and has a very long and impressive chancel. The name W Childs and a date of what looks to be 1897 is carved over the top of the south porch.


There are six bells in the ring here, and the same was the case in 1899, when Revd Owen published his study of the church bells in Huntingdonshire. Four of the bells here were recast by Taylor of Loughborough in 1876.

Previously there was a ring of five, of which three were broken. These three were melted down and four being cast in their place. Owen was pretty thorough in his research, and he attempted to find out who cast the bells that were recast. No one al Alconbury at that time could give any concrete information.

With regards the other two bells in the ring, Thomas Norris of the Stamford bellfoundry cast the fourth of the ring, with this bell inscribed ‘Thomas Norris Made Me 1673’.

The sixth of the ring was cast by Taylor of St Neots in 1812, and is inscribed with the name D Williams, who was the vicar of the day and church wardens J Pattison Homes and J Garrott.


The church was open, with visitors entering in through a mid 14th century south porch and an inner doorway from around 1260. The initial though on taking in the interior, was that the chancel which appeared impressive from the outside was equally impressive from the inside!

 The nave in its present form dates from the 14th century, with four bay arcades to north and south. The chancel arch is tall and elegant, with evidence of a previous roofline above it.

At the east end of the north aisle there is the remains of a staircase, which would have led to the rood loft which would have, in pre reformation times have contained a carving of Christ crucified. There is also a piscina here; which would have been used to draining the water and win used in the mass, indicating that there would once have been an altar here.

There is an altar still set up at the east end of the south aisle, with a medieval piscina also set in to the south wall.

Standing at the east end and looking westwards, there is a window on the west wall, offset to the north a little, with the bottom section of a two light window visible below the roof.


 The 13th century chancel was described by John Betjamen described as being ‘noble and serene’. The chancel is long and wide, with blank arcading of six bays on north and south walls, and is quite plain with just the odd memorial and a bracket on the north wall which would have at one point held a statue; this probably being of St Peter, which was described as being here in 1500 but which no doubt was destroyed during the reformation.

A red carpet runs up to the altar rails, with ancient stonework in the floor showing the tread of thousands of pairs of feet over hundreds of years.

The east end of the chancel is of unusual design. There is no piscina set in to the south wall and the sedilia; the seating for the priests during the mass, consists of a raised stone bench. It could be that this isn’t even a sedilia is there is a similar raised stone bench against the north wall as well!

The really unusual thing though is the three large recesses set in to the east wall. These cupboards, or aumbries, were where things such as the communion plate were stored and these are normally to be found set in to the north wall.

The small altar had a white and gold altar cloth and there is no reredos. The raised sanctuary floor shows the hand of the Victorian restorers.


There is little in the way of stained glass here, but there is a three light window at the east end of the south aisle. This depicts three scenes from the life and death of Christ. We start off with the nativity, just as the first of the shepherds arrive.

In the central panel Jesus, who wears the crown of thorns, carries his cross to crucifixion. Mary the mother of Jesus and Mary Magdalene look on at Jesus in anguish whilst two Roman soldiers look away from Jesus.

Finally we have the ascension; with Jesus rising up in front of six disciples, Peter and John in the foreground. The risen Christ displays the wounds on his hands and feet.

A single panel depicts Charity in the form of a woman with two small children. Charity is one of the three virtues, as described in I Corinthians Chapter 13 verse 13, but some more modern translations has replaced the word charity with love.

The roof of the chancel dates from the 15th century with the roof of the nave dating from the 16th century. A glance upwards shows a series of beautifully carved angels, with wings unfurled. One angel, with head curiously tilted plays a lute whilst another holds a palm leaf. Others hold out shields, with veiling bosses close by containing grotesque carvings of mythical beasts, several of which have their tongues out in medieval gesture of insult.


Throughout the interior are carvings of human heads, looking to be of varying ages, with one particular female figure, wearing a ruff, hands at prayer, catching my eye. One further male figure towards the west end of the nave appears to be in contemplative mood, with chin in hand, with eyes tightly closed, reflecting I daresay on something that probably appeared important at the time a few hundred years ago!

It is recorded that in the 17th century the walls of the church here had paintings of the 12 disciples, the 12 patriarchs and the tomb of Queen Elizabeth I. No trace of these remains; with their original position within the church being unknown.


The church grounds are very large and peaceful, with Alconbury Brook running a short distance off to the west. There are some interesting gravestones here, but just to concentrate on a couple.

A very weathered 18th century stone depicts and angel in flight, blowing a trumpet and holding a palm leaf. The trumpet is an often used symbol of the resurrection; the palm leaf is a symbol of victory; with each of these stating that death has been beaten.

Elsewhere, a finely carved gravestone in slate features a carving of a human skull, the deaths head, along with a cross and anchor, each symbols of the Christian faith. A book stands open on top of the skull, with text on it which reads ‘As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive’. This is from I Corinthians Chapter 15 verse 22.


The church here has been open to visitors on each time that I have visited and is well worth taking a look at if you are in the area. To be fair, the area as a whole is quite rewarding for those interested in churches with Buckden, Grafham, Kimbolton and Stow Longa all being open to visitors that afternoon. The other church visited that afternoon, at Spaldwick was opened by arrangement.

All of the interior photographs on this page are from the April 2023 visit; exterior photographs are a mixture, with most from the same April visit but with others taken from previous visits.

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