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Church Post Code NN14 3LQ

Open to visitors

It was a cold, crisp and bright Saturday afternoon in January 2023, and a revisit to the church of St Nicholas, Islip. The village here can be found just to the west of Thrapston, with the River Nene forming the parish boundary to the east; with Harpurs Brook, a tributary of the Nene forming the northern parish boundary. The population was recorded as 829 at the time of the 2011 census.

 I first visited the church here back in the early years of my interest in church photography. There was a good first impression as well, with the spire of St Nicholas standing above the trees, with the River Nene in the foreground, as I walked over the bridge at Thrapston; the most idyllic of settings.

The church was open that day, and has been on subsequent visits with the exception of when I stopped off on the cycle late in the day when on a five day churchcrawl of the area; a sweet and sour chicken consumed in the church grounds as the sun set. It was lovely to be there at that ‘golden’ time, when the sun just reaches the right point and all turns golden and beautiful for a couple of minutes


This Saturday in January was no exception; the church was open and welcoming but sad to see a notice which said that the church was closed for worship at that time due to the heating system breaking down. I would imagine that the ‘No Smoking’ sign just outside the south porch and the Gas van parked outside the church were connected to this.

The church sits alongside the main road; with access being through a lychgate to the west, and a flight of steps. An exquisite thatched cottage can be seen to the north,

There was no church or priest mentioned here at the time of the Domesday Survey in 1086. It is thought that there was a church here during the 13th century, but the church that we see today dates from then 14th and 15th centuries. It consists of west tower with spire, nave with north and south aisles and clerestories, south porch, vestry and chancel.

 Rebuilding of the present structure began about 1400 AD with the tower and the spire, followed by the nave about 1430 to 1440. There was much restoration here in Victorian times and sadly, in restoration undertaken in 1854, the existing stained glass was lost; some of which was medieval. Further work on the church in 1881 saw the addition of a north vestry.

I took a look around the exterior as five Red Kites circled together to the west of the church grounds; stubbornly refusing to circle close to the church itself, gradually circling away further west.


The west tower is perpendicular, heavily buttressed pinnacled and battlemented. The church clock is incorporated in to the tracery of a window at the east end of the tower. A fine west door has an ogee head with quatrefoil designs in the spandrels.

A frieze surrounds the tower, with repeated quatrefoil design within a diamond panel. Gargoyles peer out from all four corners.

A recessed, crocketed, octagonal broach spire rises up, with two tiers of unevenly positioned lucarne windows. Gargoyles of high quality can be seen on the nave, and higher up on the clerestory on both north and south sides, as well as on the east and west walls of the south porch. There are a range of mythical beasts to be seen among them; with one which looks to be more modern resembling an owl. An image niche over the south porch contains a modern statue of St Nicholas, after who this church is dedicated.


Moving around to the east a little, the previous roofline from pre clerestory days is visible on the east wall of the nave. Throughout, this is a church of pleasing lines and proportions!

    At the time of Thomas North's Victorian study of church bells in Northamptonshire, there were five bells hanging here, with three of these being attributed to Northamptonshire founder Henry Bagley, all three being dated 1678. One of these is inscribed with the name Thomas Medbury, the Rector of the day. One bell is recorded as being damaged with no founder’s name. The other bell is dated 1621, with no founder attributed.

These days there are six bells hanging here. Two of Bagley’s bells are still hanging; the other three of the ring were all recast by Taylor of Loughborough in 1892, with an additional bell being added at that time.


Moving inside, there are four bay arcades to north and south; with tall elegant pointed arches, the chancel arch is similar. An early 20th century chancel screen separates nave from chancel. This has a carving of the crucifixion at the top of it.

A wide expanse of plain wall over the chancel arch made me wonder what might be under the plaster! Perhaps a doom painting might be hiding underneath?

Stone heads look out from north and south walls of the nave. Some look to be wearing medieval tunics and are holding scrolls. There are angels depicted as well; one is at prayer, with head raised upwards towards Heaven. Another holds out a crown in its hands, ready to crown someone worthy; perhaps this is encouraging us to be that person.

The chancel has a sedilia in the form of a stone bench on the south wall, with piscina in the usual place to the east of that. The wooden reredos dates from the Victorian restoration, as do the angels holding candles at each corner of the altar.

Looking to the west, the tower arch is equally tall and elegant with the church organ nestling under the arch.


There is stained glass here of high quality. The east window of the chancel is by Kempe, a famous stained glass artist who operated out of London. The five light window here covers virtually the entire width of the chancel; with the crucifixion at the centre. Flanking Christ crucified are Mary the mother of Jesus and Peter to the left as we look at it, with a golden haired and bearded John and St Nicholas to the right.

Above this, are angles holding shields, on which are items of Christ’s passion. We have Jesus’ tunic, hammer and nails, dice, scourge, hyssop stick and spear. This is replicated at the top in the tracery, with similar items detailed.

At the foot of this window are panels which show Christ being taken down from the cross and prepared for burial, with these being watched over by angles, depicted as usual in Kempe’s work with glorious wings of peacock feathers.

Charles Eamer Kempe ‘signed’ his work by including a wheatsheaf at some point in the design. I have to say that I failed to find the one here, but part of the glass is obscured by the reredos so it may have been hidden behind that.

At the east end of the south aisle is stained glass of vivid colour, with three scenes depicted. .  The central panel shows the risen Christ emerging from the tomb, wounds visible and hand raised in blessing; Roman soldiers in a state of panic below.

This is flanked by Lazarus being raised from the deal; emerging from the tomb shrouded and at prayer, his sisters looking on at prayer.. We also have the paralytic man being lowered through a hole in the ceiling, to Jesus, from Luke Chapter 5. 


In the chancel is a monument to Mary, the wife of Sir John Washington of Thrapston. Dame Mary was the great grandmother of George Washington.

    A modern brass lays in the chancel, to John Nicoll and his wife Annys. John died in 1467 and the brass here is modern and was placed here in 1910 by his descendants in the United States. The font is plain and octagonal and has an 18th century cover. 


Moving outside, the church grounds are large and of interest; with many of the intricately carved 18th century gravestones having a delightful coating of orange lichen, which was highlighted by the weak winter sunshine. There is nothing in the church grounds though which has its own Grade II Listing.

Just to pick out a couple of stones. One is to John Coles late of Thrapston who, according to the script, ‘departed this life in the hope of a joyful resurrection’ in 1810. The stone has a carving of Old Father Time, who was sometimes used as a symbol of the passing of time and the transitory and fragile nature of human life’ He stands with scythe, leaning against an urn representing the deceased. On each side are the tools of the trade for the deceased, who appears to have been an architect.

There are a row of four stones to the east of the south aisle at nearby Titchmarsh, which all have this same Old Father Time design.

The other stone that I will mention shows a dove with a shoot of a plant in its beak. It flies towards a tree, branched snapped off and what little foliage there is hangs towards the ground. The tree in this form is a symbol of death, and more particularly a life cut short, in the same way that a broken column symbolises the same. The bird holds in its beak a symbol of new life or resurrection.  So there is hope amid the anguish!


The church grounds stretch a long way to the west and it was great to see this church in such beautiful light. A quick check so see if the Red Kites had come back; they hadn’t! My mind flashed back to an old TV advert for Kit Kat; the one where the man was spending ages attempting to photograph pandas at the zoo. As soon as he turned his back and got out his Kit Kat they came out of the cave, cycling and juggling! I suspect the same here; with the Kites putting on a fabulous aerial display as we headed for Titchmarsh.

Itwas good to be back at this glorious church; one that I am very fond of! It is open and welcoming, even with those current heating problems. We moved onwards to neighbouring Titchmarsh with not a single cloud in the sky. What a delight to be out and about; this is why we do what we do.

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All of the photographs used on this page are from my January 2023 visit, with the exception of the four photographs at the foot of the page, which were taken on a previous visit a few years previously.

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