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Church Post Code  PE19 5XT

Open to visitors

It was an early start and a beautifully sunny late January morning in 2024. A day away from work and this churchcrawl was based around taking in a communion service at Shefford in Bedfordshire. The intention was to take in two churches in the Paxtons Benefice on the way there, namely the church of St Laurence at Diddington and Little Paxton, with a third, Great Paxton being visited on the way back later during the afternoon.

Diddington is a small Huntingdonshire village that sits alongside the busy A1; and which recorded a population of 140 at the time of the 2021 census. It can be found five miles south west of Huntingdon with neighbouring Buckden a short distance away to the north, with Grafham Water off to the south west across the fields. Peterborough itself is some 25 miles off to the north, making the church here one of the most southerly covered by my websites.

The church of St Laurence is a familiar landmark alongside the A1 and stands secluded to the north west of the village. We had arrived early, around 8.30 and the church was open to visitors.


The church that we see today consists of west tower, nave with north aisle, south chapel and clerestories, south porch, chancel and north vestry. There was a church mentioned here at the time of the Domesday Survey in 1086, with part of the village in lands owned by the Bishop of Lincoln. It is worth remembering just how big the Diocese of Lincoln was at one point, stretching from the Humber Estuary to the River Thames. Buckden Towers, a short distance away to the north was at one time a home for Bishops of Lincoln.

The present structure dates back to the first half of the 13th century, and was a basic structure of nave and chancel.  To this, a north aisle was added around 1275. Much work was undertaken on the church here around 1500, at which point the south chapel was added, the clerestory built and the north aisle rebuilt. The west tower followed shortly after. The south porch dates from the 16th century and the chancel was shortened during the 17th century. There was much Victorian restoration here with a north vestry added in 1865, with the chancel restored and re-roofed at that time.


Looking around the exterior, the early 16th century west tower is of red brick, dressed with Barnack stone. There is a stair turret to the south west corner; with the tower being buttressed and battlemented. Weathered gargoyles look out from the four corners. The south porch is also of red brick, with stepped battlemented parapet. The west side of the porch is rendered; the western wall of the south chapel butts up to the eastern side of the porch.

The south chapel and north aisle has two three light south windows but the eastern window has been filled in. The clerestory consists of three, three light windows.   The chancel, as mentioned earlier, was shortened back in the day and has an attractive ogee headed priest’s door to the south.

Three bells hang in the ring here. The first is blank except for a date of 1688 and was cast by Richard III Chandler of Drayton Parslow, Buckinghamshire. The second is dated 1865, courtesy of Mears and Stainbank, this being a re casting of a bell from the Watts foundry in Leicester and dating from 1595. This bell was inscribed ‘Cum Cum and Preay’. My spell checker does not care for Watts’ inscriptions!

The third was cast by Joseph Eayre of St Neots in 1748. This has a Latin inscription, being inscribed ‘DISCE MORI NOSTRO VIVERE DISCE SONO’. This inscription gave me some problems in translation, with Google’s Latin Translator not wanting to know! I opened this up to my Facebook page and had half a dozen replies, all of which were slightly different.  


Moving inside, all was quiet and peaceful, despite the close proximity of the A1. It was good to be back here again after a few years. This is a church that I am particularly fond of. The north arcade is of four bays, with circular piers and moulded capitals; the south arcade leading in to the chapel is of two bays with circular piers and octagonal capitals. The early 16th century tower arch is tall and slender. A red carpet leads up to the rebuilt 19th century chancel arch.

The altar has the Agnus Dei, the Lamb of God, on it. The reredos is in the form of a curtain; the three light east window is of clear glass. There is no sedilia or piscina against the south wall of the chancel; possibly these might have been lost during the 17th century reduction of the chancel or the Victorian restoration.

There are commandment boards to the west end of the nave and the font is ancient, dating back to the 13th century; having a plain octagonal bowl on a round stem. The top of the font features the Pelican in her piety. The pelican rips at her breast, feeding the young her blood. This was an often used symbol for Christ shedding his blood on the cross.


The early 16th century south chapel here is known as the St Catherine chapel, after Katherine Taylard; the Taylard family being landowners in the area. The same family also donated a chapel dedicated to St Katherine at Gamlingay 12 miles or so off to the south.

There are two windows in the south chapel here, with one containing medieval glass and one having an interesting assortment of secular and religious depictions. It is said that the glass here was found in fragments in a chest and was reassembled in 1947 – 1949. Normally you would say that the fragments were from the church here, which would have been destroyed during the reformation or by Puritans during the 17th century. A lot of the glass here is European, and is a long way from home. It is interesting to think of how the European glass found its way here!

Of the two windows, the most western contains the English medieval glass. We see a depiction of the risen Christ, surrounded by flames, emerging from the tomb. We see St Catherine (or Katherine), crowned and who carries a wheel on which she was due to be martyred; she also carries a sword which was actually the manner of her death, Katherine was beheaded after the wheel shattered when she touched it. This depiction has a modern replacement head which was made in the late 1960’s.

We also see St Margaret in stained glass, also crowned and carrying a processional cross.  Above the image of the resurrection is the head of St James, who wears a hat with scallop shell. At the bottom there are three human figures. I have seen it suggested that these might be for members of the Taylard family, the donors of the south chapel.


The more easterly window contains a mixture of Christian and secular glass, with the centre piece being a quite exquisite depiction of an elegant lady, with long flowing robes and an elaborate headdress.  This is one of my most favourite stained glass panels seen on my travels; fascinating to think of this as a snapshot back in time to someone who lived 450 odd years ago!

The rest is an eclectic mix. Flemish roundels consist of a superb depiction of Jesus at prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane; the cup from which He is to drink placed nearby. The disciples are asleep in the foreground, with Judas leading the arresting party in the background.

We also have St Laurence who is carrying a gridiron, on which he was roasted and St Anne who is carrying very small depictions of the Virgin Mary and the Baby Jesus.

There are a scattering of human heads that do appear to be English in origin and some of the other panels are quite bizarre including two bears standing up to each other, one of which is wearing a tunic with a flute tucked in to its belt. Close by there is a pensive looking bare chested woman, with arms folded; a horned demon covering her lower half!


At the north east corner of the south chapel is a limestone and Purbeck marble tomb dated to 1505, to William Taylard and his wife Elizabeth. This has a series of memorial brasses on it, with some family brasses now mossing. Six religious brasses flank these family brasses, all of which are intact.

To the north side we can see Christ in majesty, Christ holding out a Bible and John holding a goblet, out of which appears a serpent. The latter is not Biblical but is from a Christian legend which states that John was given poisoned wine whilst in Ephesus. He prayed over the wine before drinking it and the poison came out in the form of a serpent.

To the south we have the Virgin holding child, Mary of Bethany holding the jar of pure nard which would be used to anoint Jesus before the crucifixion and St Catherine who is depicted as per her glass panel nearby, holding a wheel and a sword.

A depiction of a human skull can often be found on memorials and gravestones, reminding the onlooker as to the mortality of Man; the fragility of human life. It was a message in symbol form that Man is mortal and will die, so therefore to live a good Christian life, trust in God and do not be caught short when your own time comes. In days of low life expectancy it could be later than you think. Be prepared! A wall plaque in the south chapel illustrates the suddenness of death.

The monument is to one Thomas Gillnian who died in the River Ouze (sic) ‘Endeavouring with uncommon fidelity to save his master Thomas Savage Esq was unfortunately drwnded with him in the Ouze in the 31 May 1717’.

There are three skulls on this monument; on at each side and another at the foot of the monument, peering out from a bag of other assorted human bones, with angels at either side, which symbolised the safe escorting of the soul to Heaven.


Moving back outside, the church grounds are of interest without there being anything of any real rarity or interest among the gravestone; with nothing in the grounds having its own listing. One gravestone, with many of the details weathered away by lichen, but the date of 1753 still readable has carvings of two human skulls; these passing over the same message as those on the wall memorial in the south chapel. This one is worth noting again as the scrip, though illegible for the most part, is surrounded by what appears to be a laurel wreath. The laurel wreath was an often used symbol for victory, with the victory here being over death.

I spent a very pleasant few minutes watching the changing light patterns on the church as the sun continued to rise. Despite the noise of the traffic this was a pleasant place to be; a place that I have visited several times over the years and always enjoy coming back to.

It was time to move on, heading off a couple of miles south to Little Paxton. It had been a good start to this churchcrawl. All photographs used on this page are from the January 2024 visit, with the exception of the long distance shot opposite, which was taken on a previous visit back in 2014.

Well worth taking a look at if you are in the area,

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