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Church Post Code PE19 6NF

Church open in preparation for coffee morning

It was a bright and sunny Friday morning in January 2024; a day off of work and a churchcrawl which started and ended in Cambridgeshire, but with the bulk of the day being spent in Bedfordshire, where I was to take communion at Shefford. The day was started at neighbouring Diddington, arriving a little after the sun had risen.

The church of St James at Little Paxton was the second church of the day visited. This is a church that I had not been inside before, and I was not expecting to find it open on that morning, but it was open in preparation for a coffee morning. It was great to see that this is a well used church, with events on throughout the week; the church notice board advertising  the Little Paxton Pictures screening of Forrest Gump, to take place in the church the following week.

Little Paxton can be found just off the A1, five miles to the south of Huntingdon and two miles north of St Neots. Peterborough is some 28 miles away to the north, making this one of the most southerly churches covered by my sites.


There was no specific mention of Little Paxton at the time of the Domesday Survey in 1086; with it being suspected that the figures were included with Great Paxton. A church and priest were recorded at that time, with these referring to Great Paxton. There was no church at Little Paxton until the 12th century, with the initial stone church standing where the present day chancel is today.

The church of St James can be found central in the village, in a quiet and peaceful setting, despite the close proximity of the A1, set back a little from the main road which runs through the village.

The church that we see today consists of west tower, nave with south aisle, north and south porch and chancel. The three stage west tower dates back to the 14th century and is battlemented, with stair turret to the south west corner and church clock set in to the west face. Gargoyles and grotesques peer out from the four corners; a human figure looks out through bulging eyes, face covered with lichen, from the south east corner. Over to the south west a mythical beast with scales and impressive fangs supports an ornately carved water chute.


The nave retains little of the original structure with both north and south walls being altered due to rebuilding. In the early 16th century the south aisle was added with the north wall of the nave being rebuilt during the 17th century after damage caused during the English Civil War; after Royalists soldiers sheltered in the church after fleeing the battle of St Neots, which took place in July 1648, during the Second Civil War, which took place between February and August of that year.

The north wall was rebuilt again during a restoration of 1849, with two 12th century carved stones incorporated in to the lower part of this wall. At the same time the north porch and the nave roof was rebuilt. The chancel dates from the 12th century.


The bells here are of interest. When Thomas North published his study of the Church Bells Of Huntingdon, which was printed in 1899, there were four bells in the ring here, Today there are six, with one of the original four having been moved in to partial retirement, with three more added in 2011.

Starting with the bells that North recorded; the first of the ring was cast in 1610 by Richard Holdfield of Cambridge, This carries the inscription ‘SONORO SONO MEO SONO DEO’, which translates as ‘With a loud sound I sound to God’.

The second of the ring, North recorded as being cast by Thomas Newman of Cambridge in 1713, and is inscribed with the name Will Hedding who was church warden of the day.

The third was courtesy of Thomas Norris of the Stamford bellfoundry. This bell is dated 1669 and is inscribed ‘God Save the King’. The fourth was by Robert Taylor of St Neots; dated 1781 and inscribed with the name Henry Poynter Standley, the church warden.

A lot has changed here in the intervening years. In 2011, all of the bells were taken down and rehung and three were added to the ring. A new first of the ring was brought in from Brighton, having been originally cast by Thomas Mears II of London in 1825. A new second of the ring was cast by Taylor of Loughborough that year, having the inscription ‘PAX VOBUSCUM’ which translates as Peace be with you.

A new third of the ring was bought in from Cork, this originally having been cast by John Murphy in Dublin in 1869. This is a founder who I have not come across before and unsurprisingly there are no other examples of his work that I am aware of in the area!

 Of the four bells on North’s visit, three remain unaltered but the bell cast by Newman is now used for the clock chiming.


Visitors to the church enter in through the south porch, which is modern; having been built in the late 1990’s, in a style to match the rest of the exterior, including a narrow empty image niche over the door! There are tile roofs on nave, clerestory and chancel, with the latter being fairly shallow.

The south doorway has a wonderful repositioned 12th century tympanum doorway. As is often the case, the true meaning of what we see here may have been lost over the centuries, but at the centre we have the cross, which is unchanged in meaning since its carving.

There is conjecture regarding the rest. A human figure is seen, carrying a staff, with a lamb close by; with the immediate though that this is Jesus as the Good Shepherd. On the other side of the cross, away from the shepherd, a large animal appears to be attacking a smaller animal, a wolf attacking a lamb Perhaps this is a depiction of the dangers of attack the further away you are from the shepherd.

Others have suggested that the figure is an archbishop, who has his hand raised over a lamb that is shown at the foot of the cross. Certainly, the staff that the figure is holding appears to be decorated more than that of a shepherd.

Moving inside, there was a friendly welcome from the man setting up and it was really good to see inside the church here; which was set up for the coffee morning, which was due to start in an hour later. The church here was reordered in 2012 for the use of community groups as well as worship.

I travel a fair bit and see many churches. Some churches are thriving; others are struggling. I have seen four churches close in and around Peterborough since I started visiting churches in 2006. Others have been reordered and are also a community venue, which in at least one case has meant that the church has been able to continue in worship. If this is the way forward then great; a church as a focal point for the community throughout the week and maintaining regular worship!


The south arcade consists of four bays with octagonal piers and moulded capitals. The chancel arch is partially restored and dates from the 12th century. Moving in to the chancel there is a small piscina in its traditional position on the south wall of the chancel, which was used in draining away the water used in washing the holy vessels used in the mass.

The east window depicts the crucifixion’ with Christ crucified, with Mary the mother of Jesus and John in their traditional positions alongside the cross. Mary Magdalene is also in her traditional position, head in hands in grief. Up in the tracery here we have items of Christ’s passion; namely whipping post and scourge, ladder spear and hyssop stick, these being flanked by crowns.


There is also a fine stained glass window in the nave which tells the parable of the Good Samaritan, made by Hardman & Co and bequeathed by Sarah Hedding who died in 1875, the window being in memory of her ancestors, who were the Lords of the Manor in Little Paxton.

At the top we see a Jewish traveller on a journey, with two suspicious characters, looking at him from behind some bushes; the script below reading ‘A certain man went down to Jericho and fell among thieves’. We then see depicted the traveller, robbed and left for dead, being tended to by a Samaritan, the sworn enemies of the Jews, whilst a Priest and a Levite, one carrying a scroll and the other engrossed in his prayer book, each ignoring the plight of his countryman. The script continues ‘A priest a Levite walked by but a Samaritan had compassion and bound up his wounds and brought him to an inn.  The final panel shows the traveller in bed with head bandaged, with the Samaritan handed over money to the innkeeper for his board.

The font is plain and octagonal and dates from the 13th century. It is not found in its traditional position at the west end of the nave but rather mid way up the south aisle. I didn’t go in to the vestry but the church guide mentions that there are some ritual protection marks, including a hexfoil, or daisy wheel, a six petalled flower the same as we used to produce at school with a compass and pencil. There are also Marion marks in the form of interlocking letter V's, these being a prayer of protection to the Virgin Mary. Each of these symbols were carved to help protect the church and those inside it from evil.


Moving back outside, there was time for a quick look around the church grounds. There is nothing of any great rarity or interest here, with nothing in the grounds having its own Grade II Listing. It was a peaceful scene on a glorious day, without a single cloud in the sky; a rarity in the winter of 2024, which was recorded by the Met Office at the fifth wettest on record since 1862! This is a very attractive church, photographed in superb lighting!

It was time to hit the road again and we headed south to a communion service at Shefford, some 17 miles away, visiting a couple of (sadly locked) churches on the way.

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