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Church Post Code PE15 9PY

Church Open to visitors

It was August 2019 and a visit on a gloriously sunny summer afternoon to the church of St Wendreda, March. March is a large Cambridgeshire fenland town, which had a population of over 21,000 at the time of the 2021 census. Peterborough is some 20 miles off to the west, making this one of the most easterly churches covered by my sites. Wisbech is around 11 miles off to the north east.

March was once an island surrounded by marshes and became prosperous as a trading and religious centre following the drainage of the fens. There is a great deal of history here with evidence that the Romans settled in the area, with the Fen Causeway, a Roman road which ran from Denver in Norfolk to Peterborough, running close by.

March was mentioned in the Domesday Survey of 1086 but there was no mention of a church at that time. This is a unique church dedication; Wendreda was the daughter of King Anna of the East Angles who had a palace at Exning, to the north west of Newmarket. She moved to March and ministered to the people there. Her remains were moved to Canterbury cathedral but found their way back to March in 1343, where they became a focal point for pilgrims.


The oldest parts of the church that we see today; apart from the font, date from the mid 13th century and the church consists of west tower with spire, nave with north and south aisles and clerestories, south porch and chancel. The is a fine church; a church of pleasing proportions, with John Betjemen, who had a passion for church architecture, said that it was worth cycling 40 miles in to a head wind to see. That is doubtless true, but on this glorious Saturday the number 33 bus from Peterborough was a little easier!

The west tower and spire date from 1350 to 1400. The tower is of four stages, heavily buttressed and battlemented with stair turret to south east corner. The tower encroached on to an ancient road and there is an archway to allow access through the tower. This made the tower more insecure that it would otherwise have been and I daresay this would account for the large amount of buttressing.

The slender recessed octagonal broach spire has two tiers of gabled lucarne windows; with the base of tower to tip of spire being around 140 feet, a real statement piece across the flat fenland landscape.

The south porch is dated to 1528, with the doorway having an elegant ogee arch. Two pairs of finely carved grotesques look out across the church grounds to the south. The nave dates from the 14th century with the clerestory dating from the late 15th century. The outline of the previous roofline can be seen on the eastern wall of the tower.


The south porch, nave and clerestory are all battlemented, and the clerestory stage is of stone and flint. Grotesques of great quality and humour can be seen running the length of the nave. A close look at the eastern end of the nave shows a small crocketed, pinnacled bellcote, for a Sanctus bell used during the mass. The south aisle was rebuilt during the late 15th century.

The chancel, with steeply pitched tile roof, looks quite short relative to the dimensions of the rest of the church and was rebuilt in 1874.

There are six bells in the ring here, with the first of the ring cast by Taylor of Loughborough in 1929. The other five were all cast in Norfolk, by Downham Market founder Thomas Osborn in 1802. There are some interesting inscriptions on these bells including ‘Lift up our voices with joy’ ‘Long live George III’ ‘Our voices shall with cheerful sound make hills and valleys echo round’ and ‘I to the church the living call and to the grave I summon all’.


Moving inside, the eye is immediately caught by the spectacular angel roof. It is bright and welcoming inside, despite the large amount of stained glass here. There are five bay arcades to north and south, with octagonal piers and capitals. The south arcade dates back to the mid 13th century, with the north arcade a little after that. A close look shows a doorway to the south of the chancel arch which led to the rood loft stairs. A corresponding door higher up gave access to the rood loft itself.
The chancel was in a ruinous state in the mid 19th century and was rebuilt. The rebuilt chancel was not as long as it was originally intended to be; with the original plans scheduling it to be a bay longer. There is still a sedi
lia and piscina against the south wall of the chancel, and I am assuming that these were saved from the original chancel. 


The church here is most noted for its double hammer beam roof, considered to be among the finest, if not the finest in the country. This dates from 1526, and it consists of 120 oak carvings of angels, with work courtesy of the Rollesbury brothers who worked from premises in Bacton, Norfolk.

 In among the figures we see the risen Christ with hands raised in blessing, Wednreda and her sister Ethelreda. St Peter holds a key and St Paul carries a sword and book. We see Christian martyrs who carry the symbols of their martyrdom such as St Stephen who carries stones.

Other characters carry items that are biblically symbolic, such as St Philip who carries a loaf of bread. This refers back to the feeding of the 5,000 when Jesus turned to Philip and asked where they would find bread to feed all these people.

Other angels carry instruments of the crucifixion and smaller angels lower down form a celestial orchestra.

This is a fabulous, inspiring sight and it is always worth trying to imagine what things would have been like in pre reformation days. There would have been a rood screen separating nave from chancel and a rood loft above, which would have had a large carving of the crucifixion with Mary and John standing alongside the cross. Perhaps there would have been a doom painting over the chancel arch, illustrating the final judgement with the righteous being escorted to heaven whilst the condemned were thrown in to hell. What a sight this would have been!


There is plenty of stained glass here of great quality, but there is no ancient glass here. The east window of the chancel has Christ in majesty at the centre, surrounded by a swirl of angels, some of which are at prayer whilst others wield censers. At top right we see Peter and Paul with John and James to the right. A close look at John shows that he is holding a chalice from which a green dragon is emerging. Christian legend states that John was given poison in wine whilst in Ephesus. He prayed over the wine and the poison came out in the form of a dragon or serpent.

At the bottom of this window are five Bible scenes which are the annunciation, the nativity, the crucifixion, the deposition, where Christ’s body is taken from the cross and the three Mary’s at the tomb on Easter morning.

At the east end of the north aisle there is a very clear depiction of the Last Supper. As always, I always find it of interest how Judas is shown. Here he is depicted with nimbus (halo). Sometimes he is without nimbus, sometimes he is shown with black nimbus. Here he looks away from Jesus, clutching his bag of money while all other eyes are on Jesus.


One stunning window shows Jesus, crowned as the King of Heaven, with golden light pulsating from him; standing at the gates of Heaven, which are unlocked. He welcomes those at the gates; an angel holding a banner which reads ‘Come and be gathered together’. At the foot of this window it reads ‘In my father’s house there are many mansions. If it was not so I would have told you’.

We also have Mary presenting the Baby Jesus to Simeon in the temple, with Anna off to the right as we look at it. We also have two windows which detail times when people were raised from the dead. A two light window depicts Jesus raising up the son of the widow of Nain and Jairus’ daughter. On the other window we see Peter raising up Dorcas from death.

A three light depiction of faith hope and love is of interest. Faith reads her bible and holds a cross. Hope holds on to an anchor and love treads underfoot a sword whilst holding a dove of peace.  Interestingly, all three have the crown of thorns above them with a symbol inside. Faith has the Agnus Dei, hope has the pelican piety, where a mother pelican feeds its own chicks with her blood by pecking at her chest. This is often used as an analogy for the blood that Christ shed for us. Love has the symbol of the dove of peace.

We also see Wendreda and her sister Ethelreda depicted in glass. Wendreda holds up a church whilst Ethelreda, who was Abbess of Ely, holds up a prayer book. They flank St Michael, dressed in armour, who holds a spear and also a sword, which is pointed downwards.


The font here is interesting in as much as it is Norman, dating from the 12th century and pre dating this present structure; giving credence to the thought that there was an earlier Norman church on this site. This is further backed up by the fact that the font has been recut from its original design, to fit in with the octagonal design of the pillars.

Much of the church grounds have been cleared of gravestone, but some remaining 18th century chest tombs have their own Grade II Listing. A few stones do remain though and some are of interest. On one finely carved 18th century stone, two angels in flight hold between them a crown of victory; the victory here being over death. One holds a trumpet in its free hand, this being a symbol of the resurrection whilst the other holds a palm leaf, another symbol of victory.

Close by’ a small depiction of a human skull peers out through a coating of black and orange lichen. A message in symbol form, as most could not read in those days, that Man is mortal and will die. Therefore, live a good Christian life, trust in God and do not be caught short when your own time comes. There are several depictions of grieving widows, one of whom is clutching an anchor, an often used symbol of Christian faith. Close by, a very weathered  Old Father Time can be seen with hourglass, skull and crossed bones 'Tempus Fugit' time flies. 


The most interesting though is not in the church grounds but set in to a modern wall a little way off to the north. This was originally in the grounds but was moved and later reset. Two angels are depicted, one of whom carries a trumpet. The dead are piled up before them, responding to the trumpet call for the resurrection. The second angel holds a book in which they will be judged, with the first angel also holding a sword, which I am assuming will be used on those judged to be unrighteous!

A lot of gravestones that were moved had the letter ‘C’ carved on to them. This represented a death from cholera and in the mid 19tjh century, March had the highest death rate from cholera per head of population in the country.

What a joy to see this church! To experience it as it is now, to think back to what it might have been like in pre reformation times. One of the finest churches in the area covered by my sites; with the angel roof being very much among the finest individual features in any of those churches. As essential visit if you are in the area… and yes, for those who noticed its absence, I did forget to photograph the font!

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