top of page


Church Post Code NN17 3BU

Open to visitors

It was a sunny and warm afternoon in April 2023; a half day off of work and a mini churchcrawl, which started off in Rutland and ended up in Northamptonshire. We started off at Barrowden in Rutland, crossing the county line to visit Wakerley, Harringworth and Gretton, with all open and welcoming. After leaving Gretton we visited Deene, which sadly was closed and unwelcoming (with eight unsuccessful visits there going back 16 years!)

Gretton is a pleasant village in North Northamptonshire, which overlooks the valley of the River Welland; close to the Rutland border. The Welland/Harringworth/Seaton Viaduct is off to the north east across the fields. Gretton recorded a population of 1522 at the time of the 2021 census. It can be found some 24 miles to the west of Peterborough, making this one of the most westerly churches from Peterborough covered by my sites.

Uppingham, the second largest town in Rutland is five miles or so away to the North West; Corby is roughly the same distance off to the south.  There is a great deal of history here with Ironstone being mined by the Romans. The village was mentioned at the time of the Domesday Survey in 1086; a royal manor with a priest but no church noted. The village was to be found within Rockingham Forest, a Royal Hunting Forest which was used by King William I after the Norman Conquest in the 11th century.

 The church here was of some importance, being confirmed as a prebend to Lincoln Cathedral in 1146.


The church of St James the Great sits at the extreme North West of the village; in a picturesque setting a little back from the main road. Close by is a Christian coffee shop, which I have always wanted to visit but never managed! Also nearby is the village green which retains its stocks and whipping posts. These have a Grade II Listing and were last used in 1858.

The earliest parts of the present structure date back to the early 12th century with the original structure consisting of an aisleless nave, chancel and possibly a west tower. The church was rebuilt and extended over the next two centuries. It is suggested that there might have been a tower here as early as the 12th century, with that tower being further east than the tower that we see today, a ‘new’ tower being erected in its present position when the church was extended to the west.

There was much restoration here during the 18th and 19th centuries. The structure that we see today consists of west tower, nave with north and south aisles and clerestories, south porch, north and south transepts and chancel. This is a large and impressive church, very much in keeping with its importance in the past.


Looking at the church from the south, the visitor is struck by the impressive square ironstone perpendicular west tower, which is said to be then tallest church tower in Northamptonshire.

The tower is of four stages, with the first stage sub divided; and buttressed to half way up the top stage. The church clock faces out from the south face. At the top is a battlemented limestone ashlar parapet, with crocketed pinnacles. Gargoyles in the form of crouching beasts look out from the four corners.

On top of the tower, and very difficult to see due to the height of the tower is a dome, a cupola, which the Official Listing says holds a bell. There is one similar, but earlier to see, at neighbouring Weldon where it is said that this was lit at night as a navigation aid to those walking through Rockingham Forest.

There are a variety of windows of different styles and ages running along the nave with the clerestory windows, thought to date from a late Victorian restoration, having an elaborate six sided design on them, contained within either a circular or triangular frame.

On the south side of the long chancel is the outline of a previous window; which was very large, this being bricked up with a smaller window reset in its place. The south porch is also of limestone ashlar and is thought to date from the 19th century. The large south transept is dominated by a 19th century four light window.


When Thomas North compiled his study of the Church Bells In Northamptonshire, which was published in 1878, there was a ring of five here, all being cast by Thomas Eayre II of Kettering in 1761. The situation is still the same today. North, in usual detailed fashion, notes that this ring of five was cast from existing bells, information of which I have not been able to turn up.

The first of the ring has the Latin inscription ‘TININTUS RAPIDOUS SCINTILLANS SPARGO PER AURAS’ which translates as ‘I sparkling scatter through the air rapid sounds’. The second reads ‘STATUTUM EST OMNIBUS HOMINUBUS SEMEL MORI’ ‘It is appointed unto Men once to die’, with this being taken from Hebrews Chapter 9 verse 27.

The third says ‘LAUDATE DOMINUM CYMBALS SONORIS’ ‘Praise the Lord with the sound of cymbals’. The fourth reads ‘CREDE RESIPISCE MORI MEMENTO’ which reads (something like) ‘Believe and know that all men must die’.

The fifth of the ring has an English inscription which reads ‘My sounding is each one to call to serve the Lord both great and small’.

My Latin is as good as my Mandarin Chinese and attempting to translate using Google is frustrating but quite humorous at times. In putting in the inscription on the first bell I received advice for dealing with rapid onset tinnitus; with this being followed up very shortly after by a Facebook advertisement for hearing aids!


Moving inside, there is very much a touch of the ancient and more modern here, with much dating from the restorations of the 18th and 19th centuries, but also with elements of great age such as the traces of the window frames on the nave walls; with these dating from the original 12th century aisleless nave; this giving a brief glimpse of what the original structure would have been like before the church was extended upwards and outwards!

There are four bay arcades to north and south, with the centre two arches to north and south dating to the 12th century, but added a little after the original structure was erected. The north aisle was built a little before the south. These 12th century bays have round arches, circular piers and large capitals with scallop carving.  The eastern arches to north and south date to the 13th century; consisting of circular piers and capitals to the north and octagonal to the south. The western arches to north and south date to the 14th century, and are narrow with pointed arches.


As mentioned earlier, the chancel was remodelled during the 18th century, being raised up to provide a vault for the Hatton family, who lived at nearby Kirby Hall. The east window is of four lights and clear glass with the tracery curiously splaying outwards. To the right of the east window are traces of a medieval wall painting.

The chancel is 18th century elegance; with panelling on three sides and communion rails and choir stalls all dating from that period. The panelling would have covered up the earlier sedilia, piscina and aumbry that would likely to have been there previously. There is however a triple sedilia of three high backed wooden seats, I daresay in homage to what was there before.

There is very little in the way of stained glass in the church here, just a single light depiction of Jesus as the Good Shepherd in the north aisle. Jesus carried a lamb around his shoulders, with others gathered around his feet. Script along the bottom reads ‘And he layeth it on his shoulders rejoicing’ which is part of Luke Chapter 15 verse 5 in the Old King James version.

The south transept is of interest. There are two commandment boards, highly illuminated and in the language of the old Kings James. In the north east corner two intersecting arches join, with one of these enclosing a blank trefoil design; with dogtooth design over each arch and a couple of carved human heads looking out.


A wall monument in the form of an obelisk with two cherubs is to Christopher, 1st Viscount Hatton, who died in 1706. An interesting story regarding him is that he was blown out of his bed on to battlements on the night of December 29th 1672, when lightning struck Comet Castle in Guernsey, igniting a weapons store which exploded. His wife and mother were killed in the explosion but Viscount Hatton was uninjured and survived, along with his children who were elsewhere in the castle.

Over at the east end of the north aisle is a modern altar, with blue curtain as a reredos, with blue the colour associated with Mary the Mother of Jesus.. Close by is a recess which is used as a small shrine to Mary. The medieval font is octagonal, with a blank shield and blind arches.


There are some finely carved gravestones here, darting back to the 18th century; but nothing of any great interest or rarity to be fair. One lichen encrusted angel is shown with crossed human bones underneath; this being a memento mori symbol reminding the onlooker that Man is mortal and that you, the onlooker will follow in the path of the deceased. Angels can be seen on gravestones throughout the church grounds, with these used as a symbol of the safe escorting of the soul towards Heaven.

The only thing in the church grounds to be listed is the head of a churchyard cross, close to the south porch, which has a Grade II Listing and dates from the 14th to 15th centuries.


This is a fine church, reflecting its historic importance and with some interesting glimpses of its changes over the centuries. Open and welcoming; well worth taking a look at if you are in the area. It was time to hit the road again, aiming the short distance south east towards Deene, where the run of open churches was to end.

bottom of page