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Church Post Code PE29 3TF

Usually closed to visitors.

It was Historic Churches Ride and Stride day 2014, and a chance to see a few churches which are not usually open to visitors. It was a mini Huntingdonshire churchcrawl, starting off with the Stukeleys, Little and Great, before moving on to spend the rest of the day in Huntingdon itself.

Huntingdon can be found alongside the left bank of the river Great Ouse, just over 20 miles south of Peterborough; a large market town which recorded a population of 25,600 at the time of the 2021 census. Hartford joins up to Huntingdon to the east, with Godmanchester a short walk away to the south.

There is plenty of history here, with Huntingdon situated alongside Ermine Street, a major Roman road which connected London to Lincoln. One of the largest Roman coin hoards ever found in this country, dating from the 3rd century, was discovered here in 2018. Oliver Cromwell was born here in 1599 and was the town’s Member of Parliament in 1628.

There has been no shortage of churches in the town over the years with there being no fewer than 16 medieval churches to be found in the town during the centuries. By the mid 17th centuries there were four remaining with St Benedict and St John the Baptist each being pulled down during that period; leaving St Mary and All Saints that we see today. A third church, St Barnabas is a modern plant and will be disregarded by this site for historical, but certainly not spiritual reasons. There were two churches and two priests recorded at the time of the Domesday Survey in 1086.


There is nothing left of any possible Saxon church here, with the earliest parts of the present structure being the south east and North West corners of the south aisle; which date back to the 12th century and indicates that there was a substantial church here at that time.

The church that we see today consists of North West tower, nave with north and south aisles and clerestories, south porch, north east vestry, organ chamber and chancel.  There was much rebuilding here during the 13th century, with the tower and south porch being added during the 14th century. The clerestory windows were added around 1500.

The tower partially collapsed in 1607, with the north arcade, north aisle and parts of the west tower having to be rebuilt as a result. The vestry and the organ chamber were added in 1869 and the church was restored in 1878.

The late 14th century North West tower is a thing of beauty; of three stages and richly decorated. It is heavily buttressed, battlemented and pinnacled. There is a frieze between second and third stages, which consists of a repeated quatrefoil design. There is evidence of the collapse and rebuilding to the north; with a close look showing that a similar frieze running across the top of all four sides of the tower is missing on the rebuilt section. A date stamp of 1613 can be seen on the north face. Looking up high, a grotesque face on a pinnacle to the south sticks out its tongue at anyone who cares to glance its way. Sadly, these days this would not be many; too busy looking down at our phones!

There is an ornately carved ogee headed west door, with intricately carved quatrefoil; designs high up to each side and two empty image niches; one on either side of the door, which would have held statues in pre reformation days.


The church here is hard to shoot from the south due to the number of trees. Stone heads can be seen throughout the exterior; with one in particular catching the eye. This is a very weathered human figure at prayer, with another equally weathered figure immediately above this; facial features all but lost but the holes for eyes still peering out. Close by a curious bird like creature appears to be missing a beak! The three triple lancet windows at the east end of the chancel date from the 19th century and the chancel was reduced in size from three bays to the two that we see today. On the south wall of the chancel is a 13th century door with fine dogtooth ornamentation.

   Today, there is a ring of eight bells, all of which were cast by Taylors of Loughborough in 1876. Owen, in his late Victorian study of the church bells of Huntingdonshire, goes in to some depth about these bells with two inscriptions being of particular note. One inscription reads 'The two smallest bells in this peal were presented by Matthew Edis Maile Church Warden 1876'. Another inscription reads 'The six largest bells were given by Matthew Edis Maile 1876 in the place of a former smaller peal'.

   Carruthers in his 1824 History of Huntingdon goes in to a little detail about the peal that hung here prior to 1876. The tenor bell was one of the earliest by local founder Joseph Eayre of St Neots and has a Latin inscription, which when translated reads 'Labour itself is a pleasure. Let what is useful be united with what is delightful'. There was also a bell here by Thomas Norris of the Stamford bellfoundry, dated 1659. No more details given on the other bells but Owen showed 'great regret' that a peal of six decent bells went in to the melting pot to help cast the new ring of eight.

  Still on the subject of bell founders, an entry in the parish registry from 1729 states 'Henry Penn stranger buried'. Penn was a celebrated bellfounder who worked out of premises in Peterborough.


The church here is normally closed to visitors and it was good to be able to see inside. There were a decent number of people inside, with helpful guides to show any interested visitor around.

There are five bay arcades to north and south with these originally dating from the 13th century. The tower collapse in the early 17th century saw rebuilding to the north side. As will be mentioned later, names are carved in to the piers on the north arcade of those who were involved in the rebuilding at that time.

The chancel arch and chancel itself dates from the 13th century; with the chancel reduced by one bay from the east. There are no sedilia or piscina to be seen here, and this doubtless suggests why.  The reredos here consists of a red curtain; the previous reredos now standing under the tower as a war memorial.

The altar is plain and simple, with just a cross and two candlesticks. Gilded angles guard the sanctuary, with a gilded depiction of Jesus stands close by, arms outstretched.  There is a piscina against the south wall at the eastern end of the south aisle; which would have been used in washing the holy vessels during the communion in pre reformation days.


There is a large amount of fine quality stained glass to be seen here. The east window is of three single lancets with a depiction of the crucifixion central.  As usual, Mary the Mother of Jesus and John are by the cross, with Mary to the left as normal as we look at it. At the foot of the cross is Mary Magdalene, bend over in distress with long golden hair flowing. ‘He died for our sins’ reads the text below.  To the left as we view it, Jesus is depicted with children and to the right, Jesus heals the sick. Above is a depiction of the risen Christ, tended by angels ‘He rose again for our justification’.

At the east end of the south aisle are the three Mary’s, Mary the mother of Jesus, Mary Magdalene and Mary of Clopas/Cleopas; with these three said to be present at the crucifixion according to John’s gospel.

The three Mary’s are also present on another window, which shows the scene on Easter morning. The tomb is empty, and an angel of the Lord says ‘He is risen as he said come see the place where the Lord lay’.

Elsewhere the risen Christ holds out his hands; showing the wounds. He is flanked by Mary his mother and John the Baptist. Mary looks over at her son; Jesus and John both look outward at those looking in!


Faith hope and charity are depicted, as usual in the form of three women. Faith holds a cross, hope holds an anchor and charity, as usual placed central, holds a child with another at her feet. The word charity is replaced by Love is many modern translations, with I Corinthians Chapter 13 verse 13 reading, in the NIV version ‘and now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love’

Another window also features three female figures, all from the Old Testament. We have Ruth, holding wheat that she had gleaned from the harvest and Dorcas, holding clothes that she had made for the poor. Central is Phoebe, or Phebe as it reads here in confusing italic script! She was a woman of means who was appointed a Deacon in the church of Cenchreae. She was a great help to Paul as he wrote to the early Christian churches in Rome.


There is some interesting graffiti to be seen here, with several names dating to the time of the collapse of the tower, and subsequent rebuilding. Robert Law carved his name in 1608, adding his title, vicar as well. Robert Lambe carved his name on to a pillar, with some spacing issues leaving him to squeeze in the ‘T’ of Robert before the ‘R’. I can still feel his frustration more than 400 years later as he realised he was running out of space! We’ve all been there…

Several other names include An Lamb, an interesting one this with the Christian name probably being spelled incorrectly with the name in block capitals with the exception  of the final letter ‘b’ which is lower case.

  It was interesting to see the name R Cromwel, note the one ‘l’ in the surname, on a plaque on the north side of the nave, he being one of the church wardens of the day, the wardens being called Bailiefs at that time. This plaque is dated 1609, again the time of the collapse and rebuilding, and the Cromwel in question here was Oliver’s father.

It was interesting to see a grotesque, now enjoying retirement inside. I daresay this once was set in to the part of the tower that collapsed. Always good to see these at ground level!


A few tombs are in situ in the church grounds but gravestones are leaning against the churchyard walls. There is nothing of any great importance here, but a couple of finely carved, but very weathered angels, would have been a superb piece of work in its day. At one point these may have carried a crown of victory. One other stone depicts a human skull, crossed human bones and the gravediggers tools of pick and shovel, all also crossed. All of these are symbols of the mortality of Man and a reminder to the onlooker that their time will also come; so be at peace with God when that happens. It was interesting to see a stone medieval coffin, without lid; head cut out visible inside.


It was good to see inside the church here. I enjoyed my brief time here very much. This is an interesting church with a wealth of history and this, combined with some good company from the friendly locals made this an enjoyable visit. That was pretty much it for the afternoon. It was a good mini crawl and days such as these give an opportunity to see inside churches that are normally closed to visitors.

All interior shots come from this 2014 visit; exterior shots are a mixture of shots from that day and a revisit in the summer of 2023.

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