top of page


Church Post Code PE28 0RE

Opened by arrangement


It was an unseasonably mild and sunny Saturday morning in November 2022; with a five church crawl planned looking at churches along the A14, in particular the section which connects Thrapston to Huntingdon.

 Keyston was the first point of call, a pleasant village which can be found some 12 miles west of Huntingdon, close to the Northamptonshire border.

Keyston and neighbouring Bythorn form a single parish; each having a church. The A14 runs through the centre, with a village on each side. The population of the two villages combined was a little over 300 at the time of the 2011 census.

The church of St John the Baptist, Keyston only has occasional services now and is generally closed to visitors. The keyholders were very helpful though and popped out to open up for me which was appreciated.

The church sits centrally in the village, surrounded by delightful cottages. It had been a dull start to the day, but pale sunshine had just started to take over; an angry sounding donkey was expressing his or her concerns very loudly in a field to the south! Gary dropped me and the cycle close to the church and I made my way in to the church grounds via a lychgate to the east.


The church that we see today is cruciform in structure and consists of west tower with spire, nave with north and south aisles and clerestories, south porch, north and south transepts and chancel.

There was no church mentioned here at the time of the Domesday Survey in 1086; the earliest surviving parts of the present church being the nave and aisles which date from around 1250. The chancel dates from 1280 with the tower and south porch dating from around 1350. Fascinating to think that these structures may have been built just before or just after the Black Death decimated Europe.

There was a substantial reconstruction of the building around 1480. At this time the walls were heightened and clerestory added. The large and impressive south transept was also added at that time with the equally impressive north transept following around 20 years later.  Several periods of Victorian restoration give us the church that we see today.

There are five bells in the ring here, with the first, third and the fourth all being cast in 1592 by Newcombe and Watts of Leicester. The first is inscribed ‘Feare the Lorde’, the third reads ‘Remember the ende’ and the fourth is inscribed ‘Give God the Praise’.

The second of the ring was cast by Joseph Eayre of St Neots in 1743. This one has Latin on it which reads ‘Gloria Deo Soli’ which translates as give glory to God alone.

The fifth of the ring is from a founder that I have not come across before, which is a little surprising given that he was an active founder, working out of Wootton in Bedfordshire from 1712 until 1743. The bell here is dated 1733 and is inscribed with the name Thomas Simonts, the church warden of the day.


Taking a closer look at the exterior, the three stage west tower is perpendicular and heavily buttressed; an octagonal broache spire rises up with three tiers of lucarne windows. At the top of the tower is a series of blind arcading with repeated trefoil design at the top.

An elegant door can be seen in the west face of the tower, with ornate arch above it. Carved heads can be seen throughout the exterior. An ancient, weathered head and shoulders wears a Bishops hat. Close by a human male figure looks out through lichen encrusted eyes.

A stonemason from long ago no doubt created with a glint in his eye a smiling figure exposing its rear end; legs acrobatically folded around the head and a grotesquely large tongue reaching down towards the aforementioned rear end!

This is a large and impressive church, with the transepts drawing the eye in particular. It should be said that medieval churches were not built in relation to the population of the village. It more reflects the wealth of the benefactor who had this built with the belief being that a large church would mean that the donor and his family would spend less time in purgatory in those pre reformation Catholic days.


Moving inside, much of the interior was covered in plastic sheeting and I had been tipped off beforehand that this would be the case due to bats. Evidently, there are four different species inhabiting, with a thousand or more though to live here.

Bats are common in our churches and there are very often areas covered up to protect from where they mess. Some are worse than others though and, to be fair, the problem here looks to be quite severe.

The bat problem at All Saints at Theddlethorpe on the Lincolnshire coast a few miles from Mablethorpe was bad enough that I used my drinking water to wash my hands on leaving. The church of St John the Baptist at Parson Drove in Cambridgeshire was similarly affected but this time, post covid, we had hand sanitiser in the car on leaving!

With limited services at Keyston and with each of the two churches just mentioned being closed to worship and run by the Churches Conversation Trust, we can probably surmise that as the people move out then the bats are more comfortable and increase in numbers!

It was interesting to see the problems that churches encounter when dealing with what is a protected species. An example is that there a small break in one of the windows in one of the transepts. This could not be mended without due authorisation as it might mean that the bats access in to and out of the church could be affected. There is a website called ‘Bats in Churches’ and there is a page up looking at Keyston.


Inside, there are five bay arcades to north and south with alternating piers and capitals of circular and octagonal design. The capitals to the north are decorated with nail head pattern. Underneath the plastic sheeting there are some pews here which date to the early 17th century.

Standing at the chancel arch and looking west, the church organ can be found under the tower arch; this being one of the few fittings which was uncovered, this being so due to the large size of it.

The chancel is long and wide; impressive in size and stature and as such in keeping with the rest of the church. Again all is covered up. There is a treble sedilia and a piscina against the south wall, the former providing seating for the clergy and the latter involved in the washing of the holy vessels used during the mass in pre reformation days.

The east window is of five lights with elaborate stained glass of high quality. Central is the crucifixion, with Christ flanked by Mary and John; with both Jesus and John depicted as golden haired! A closer look shows that angels carry goblets, in which is collected the blood of Christ, which runs freely from wounds in hands, side and feet.

The two outer panels show St Mary Magdalene, also with long flowing golden hair and St George, who is in the process of dispatching a blue dragon with ferocious teeth.

High up in the tracery of this window is the risen Christ, crowned as the King of Heaven. Angels on either side carry instruments of Christ’s passion. One to the left carries a spear and hyssop stick, whilst the one to the right carries the crown of thorns.

At the bottom are the four evangelists with the associated symbols. Matthew is shown with angel, Mark with a Lion Luke with an Ox and John with an eagle.


In the south transept is a fine three light window of great quality, detailing part of Matthew chapter 25 verses 34 to 36 which reads (NIV Translation) 

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

In the north aisle a three light window shows Christ central, carrying a lamb. He is flanked by Peter, who carries the key to the Kingdom of Heaven and St Paul who carries a downturned sword.

Over in the north transept there are a few fragments of medieval glass. As always it was great to see these and the mind wandered as to what things must have looked like in pre reformation days when there would probably have been a great deal of stained glass here.


Safely under glass and also covered up for protection, against the north wall of the chancel is a wooden cadaver carving. Thought to date from the early 15th century, these take the form of a decomposed skeleton. I have seen a few of these over the years in stone memorials and they symbolise the fragile and transitory nature of human life and the inevitability of death.

This one is extremely rare though as it is in wood, with only one other similar surviving. The body, which is suggested to be a depiction of cleric William Stukeley is recumbent and is in a shroud which is tied at the top but open at the front so that we can see the body.

It is thought that this was part of a larger memorial with the rest having rotted away over the years.

In the south transept there are some fabulous wooden ceiling bosses. One human male figure has curiously positioned eyes, with one eye a little higher than the other. I wondered if this one is called Isaiah!

A few others are unusual in that they run along the wooden beam rather than hide the joins where the beams meet. These have curiously long faces. One vaguely human figure appears to be asleep; depicted with quiff of hair, large nose and impressive beard. Close by, his neighbour has one eye and tongue stuck out an unfeasibly long way!


Moving back outside, the donkey was still expressing his feelings in a manner that many of us wished we could! I spent a few minutes in the large church grounds before heading off the short distance to Bythorn. This is a lovely church and I wish those looking after it all the very best. Worth taking a look at if you get the chance.

bottom of page