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Church Post Code PE19 5TL

Open to Visitors

It was a gloriously sunny afternoon in April 2023; the early morning cloud had broken up and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky as we arrived at the church of St Mary, Buckden. This was the fourth church of the day in what was to be a five church mini crawl, with all churches being open.

Of all the churches within the catchment area of my sites, there can’t be many better sights than this beautiful church, with Buckden Towers; at one time a palace for the Bishop of Lincoln, sitting to the north of the church.

Buckden can be found some 23 miles to the south of Peterborough, with the A1(M) running immediately to the west of the village. This is a large village, with the population recorded at 2,805 at the time of the 2011 census. St Neots is six miles off to the south with Huntingdon four miles away to the north east. Grafham Water is a short distance away to the west.  

There is a great deal of history here with evidence of Roman occupation here, including a Roman villa close to the church.

Records reputedly show that notorious highwayman Dick Turpin stayed at the George hotel in the village. Given its close proximity to the Great North Road, Buckden was important geographically, with there being several coaching inns in the village during the 18th century.

I have visited here on several occasions over the years; the first being just before Christmas back in 2008. I arrived at the church here to find that there was a coffee morning on. There was a lovely buzz of conversation and ‘I’m In the Mood for Love’ was being played on the church organ; the homemade lemon drizzle still memorable all these years later!

 The church of St Mary, Buckden.

 As mentioned earlier, Buckden Towers was at one point a palace for the Bishops of Lincoln. Buckden was contained within the Diocese of Lincoln, which was the largest diocese in the country, stretching from the River Thames to the Humber Estuary. The present Buckden Towers dates from the 15th century but there has been a building here since the 12th century, with many royal visitors visiting here over the years, going back to Henry III in 1248.

There was a church and a priest mentioned at the time of the Domesday Survey in 1086, but nothing remains of that early structure.

The earliest parts of the structure that we see today date from the 13th century, with the repositioned inner south door and parts of the chancel dating from that time. The rest was largely rebuilt by William Alnwick during his time as the Bishop of Lincoln, between 1436 and 1449.

 The church of St Mary consists of west tower with spire, nave with north and south aisles and clerestories, south porch, north vestry and chancel. There were two periods of restoration here in the mid 17th century and three more in Victorian times, with the last being in 1884 when the north vestry was built.


The church can be found over to the west of the village, on slightly raised ground. This is a church of pleasing proportions, externally one of my favourites to be found within the catchment area of my sites.

 The three stage perpendicular west tower is battlemented, with a finely carved gargoyle central on each side and strings of grotesque heads running underneath the battlements. A clock face in black and gold is fitted to the west and south faces of the tower.

A recessed spire rises up, with three tiers of lucarne windows at the main compass points.

The richly decorated two storey south porch is said to have once housed a library. It is battlemented and pinnacled; with an ancient image niche over the doorway which contains a more modern statue of the Virgin Mary. A frieze runs under the battlements, which consists of various animals, including a fox stalking a goose, a dog chasing a rabbit, a lion and a muzzled bear amongst others. The ceiling inside the porch is vaulted, with ribs leading to a central boss, which is a carving of the Virgin Mary, surrounded by radiant, flaming aureole.

The nave and clerestory are battlemented; there are finely carved gargoyles to the south wall of the nave, including a mouth puller and a human figure with mouth wide open in despair!


Today, there are six bells in the ring here, but when Revd Owen compiled his study of the church bells in Huntingdonshire, which was published in 1899, there were five bells hanging here.

The first of the ring in Owen’s time is of great age, being cast by Thomas Bullisdon of Aldgate, London in 1510. This bell is inscribed ‘’ST KATHERINE ORA PRO NOBIS’ which translates as ‘St Katherine pray for us’.

The second of the ring is undated, but was cast by Robert Taylor of St Neots, so that would mean that it was cast between 1786 and 1821, when Taylor was an active founder. This bell contains the names of the church wardens of the day, John Green and John Waller.

Perhaps it was cast earlier in that period than later, as John Green’s name also appears on the third of the ring; with this being cast by Edward Arnold of St Neots in 1779.

The fourth of the ring was cast by Miles Graye in 1654. There were two founders of the same name working at the same time and Owen attributes this bell to Miles Graye II who worked out of Colchester, but his base appears to have been at Gamlingay when he cast this bell,.

The fifth of the ring in Revd Owen’s day was cast by William Haulsey of St Ives in 1627. Again, this has inscribed on it the church wardens of the day, John Bardar and Michel Iarmand.

The additional bell since Owen’s study was cast by the Whitechapel Bellfoundry in 1997, with this becoming the new first of the ring.

Interestingly Owen notes that there had been a dispute with the bell ringers here and the bells had failed to ring since the Prince of Wales marriage in 1863!


The church here was open to visitors, and has been on each occasion visited over the years. It was bright and welcoming inside, with little in the way of stained glass helping in that respect.

There are five bay arcades to north and south, with clustered piers and capitals; with tall, slim, pointed arches.  The pews look to date mainly from one of the periods of Victorian restoration, but there are a few medieval poppy heads, which include a mouth puller and a very cross looking angel.

The east window of the chancel is of five lights and clear glass. The altar is plain and simple, and was without a cross, but this wiouldbe put out for services. The reredos is a blue curtain.

Of great interest is the triple sedilia, the seating for the priests, which is graduated with the seats getting higher, the highest seat being the furthest east; with the holiest person having the highest seat. This dates from the 13th century, as does the piscina to the east of the sedilia, in which the priest would wash the holy vessels used during the mass. The piscina came with the almost obligatory bottle of hand sanitiser, dating this churchcrawl to post covid restrictions!

At the east end of the north wall of the chancel is an elaborate monument to Thomas Barlow, who was Bishop of Lincoln for 16 years until his death in 1691. He was known as the ‘Bishop of Buckden’ and it is said that in his 16 years as Bishop he never set foot in his own cathedral in Lincoln.


The only stained glass to be found here is in the tracery in the windows in the south aisle, with this glass dating from the 15th century, from the time of the rebuilding pf this church. At one point there would have been more medieval glass here, but most would have been destroyed during the reformation.

We have several figures of golden haired angels, with feathers, holding banners with Latin inscription and I suspect that this may be Norwich School glass as I have seen similar in Norfolk.

Close by is a depiction of Christ in majesty. Christ holds a globe, with one hand raised in blessing. Christ’s head is missing, replaced by clear glass. There is also a panel showing part of the annunciation. The Virgin Mary holds her hands out in surprise as the long since lost Angel Gabriel appears. Mary also has her head replaced with clear glass.

A door can be seen at the east end of the south aisle. This would have led to the rood loft, which would have stood here in pre reformation days; with this in all probability being destroyed at the same time as the stained glass and other items considered idolatrous.


The roofs are 15th century throughout; but there was restoration of the chancel roof in 1665; this date being inscribed on to a ceiling boss.  The date is worth noting as this is the first year of the Bubonic Plague that hit the country so severely. Perhaps this work was ongoing before the plague first struck, or perhaps the work was undertaken by workmen who had heard reports of the coming plague. If the latter is true then it would be fascinating to find out what was going through their minds at that time!

There is also a date of restoration carved in to a beam in the have, with work ongoing here in 1649. Further restoration was marked here in 1937.

On the roofs throughout there are beautifully carved angels, with unfurled wings. Some are depicted carrying books, others in the south aisle forming a heavenly band.

An exquisite carving of a kneeling woman in white marble can be seen at the east end of the north aisle; the veiled figure having her arms crossed over her chest with a book in front of her.


The church grounds here are spacious, well maintained and with much of interest. There are two items within the grounds which have a Grade II Listing. A table tomb to the south of the porch is decorated with blank shields and dates from the 16th century. This tomb is thought to commemorate Henry and Charles Brandon. Henry was 15 years old and was Dyke of Suffolk. The brothers had travelled to Buckden to escape a disease called the ‘English Sweat’. They both caught it anyways and died within twenty minutes of each other in July 1551. The elder brother died first, which meant that Charles became Duke for twenty minutes, the shortest lived Peer in English history.

Close by a gravestone to Mary Norwood, who passed away in 1680 is also listed. This has a depiction of a human skull with crossed bones alongside, both being symbols of the mortality of Man. The skull is perched on top of a hourglass, which symbolises the passing of time and the inevitability of death.

Elsewhere, another human skull has wings, this symbolising the safe passage of the soul towards Heaven.

Life was hard and life expectancy was low and these stones were a message to those looking on, in symbol form as most could not read, urging them to be at peace with God; as your own time would come and it could be sooner than you think.

The fragility of human life is illustrated on a stone to one Mary Ann Peck, who died aged 27 years in 1819. The epitaph reads ‘My dearest parents read this stone / It tells that Mary Ann is gone / My weeping parents weep no more / I am gone but a step before / Though short my life the long is my rest / God took me hence because he thought it best.

The last two lines is often seen, but in a slightly different form, with many reading ‘Short was my life long is my rest / God takes them first who he loves the best.


A fine, fine church! I have nothing more to say. Open to visitors and well worth taking a look at if you are around. We headed onwards, with Alconbury being the fifth and final church of this very rewarding mini churchcrawl.

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