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Church Post Code PE13 4LF

Open to visitors


   It was the spring of 2022, and a return visit to the church of St John the Baptist, Parson Drove. The church here is redundant, and has been in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust since 1974. The church was closed on that original visit but a quick check with the good folks at the CCT beforehand confirmed that it would be open and we were good to go.

Parson Drove is a Cambridgeshire Fen village, which had a population of 1198 at the time of the 2021 census. Peterborough is some 19 miles off to the west (roughly) making this the most easterly church from Peterborough covered by my sites. Wisbech is some seven miles off to the east. There is a deal of history here, with the Romans farming the area. Samuel Pepys visited the village in 1663; seeing his aunt and uncle, and wasn’t struck on it to be honest, describing it as being a ‘heathen place’. His mood was doubtless not helped by the fact that his uncle’s horse was stolen during his visit.

This was important area spiritually in days past, with nearby Thorney and Crowland each having a substantial Abbey. The church of St John the Baptist can be found towards the east end of this long Fenland village. A second church, Emmanuel, was built more centrally in the village in 1872 with St John the Baptist gradually falling in to disuse, being declared redundant before coming under the care of the Churches Conservation Trust. St John the Baptist was known locally as the ‘Old Church’.


The church that we see today dates mainly from the late 15th to early 16th centuries, but the oldest part of the present structure is an arch over the north porch which is dated to the 13th century, and was possibly from an earlier structure on this site.

The church here consists of west tower, nave with north and south aisles and clerestories and north and south porches. There is no chancel, which was badly damaged during a flood, being destroyed and not replaced. I have seen two different dates for this. The official listing suggests 1613 but a date of 1571 was suggested in volume 2 of Fenland Notes and Queries, published in 1891. This goes on to note that a commission was set up in 1571 to look at the damage caused by the greatest flood that had ever been known.

To be fair, the church grounds were difficult to walk around safely, even on the first visit when it wasn’t so overgrown, so exterior photographs are limited as a result. We have to be honest and say that the church here is battered a bruised but a battered a bruised church is far better than a church that has collapsed or been taken down.

The four stage west tower is buttressed and battlemented with a large three light window to the south at the second stage having been bricked up and there is a stair turret at the north east corner. Ancient gargoyles, in various stages of distress look out from all sides of the tower.


There is a north and south porch, but entry is through the south. The nave is long with the clerestory stage being rendered. There are five two light windows low down and six three light windows in the clerestory.

An initial thought on first seeing the exterior was that nave flowed seamlessly in to chancel but no, the chancel was lost; with excavations showing that the chancel extended a further 34 feet to the east.

When John Raven looked at the church bells in Cambridgeshire, which was published in 1882, there were five bells in the ring here.  The first of the ring was blank and the other four were each cast by Downham Market founder Thomas Osborn in 1787. The third of the ring indicates that these four bells at least were recast from existing bells, and was a gift from Vicar J Dickerson. I haven’t been able to find out any information on these ancient bells nor the current situation with regards whether the bells still hang here.


Moving inside, it was bright and welcoming inside with the clerestory windows doing their work on this pleasant sunny morning. Looking down the nave, there is no chancel arch as the original chancel has been lost for more than 400 years. The thought was how impressive this church is; and how impressive it must have looked when the chancel was in place!

The arcades to north and south are of seven bays, with the western most bay being partially blocked. These have moulded piers and capitals and surprisingly have almost rounded arches, which was going against the fashion of the day. Perhaps this was to replicate what might have stood here before.

There is a doorway against immediately to the north of the reredos against the east wall; which would have once led to the stairway for the rood loft. This door would have originally stood at the chancel arch when there was a chancel. The east window is of three light and clear glass, with a change in stonework highlighting the outline of the former chancel arch.

Moving back to the west, the tower arch has a beautifully vaulted ceiling, with two Tudor Rose bosses and two others with human faces, one of which could be Jesus wearing the crown of thorns. Five small holes are for the bell ropes, allowing the bells to be rung at ground level.


The most easterly bay of the north aisle acted as a vestry, complete with its own fireplace. The east end of the south aisle has a single two light window that is delightfully skewed! Both the north and south aisles are narrow and pretty bare, and the flooring is ancient; showing the wear and tear of thousands of feet over hundreds of years.

 The pulpit is finely carved and is dated 1637. The font dates from the 15th century, and is octagonal with a different traceried design on each of the eight sides.


To be fair, the church grounds were pretty overgrown on this revisit, but it was possible to check out the gravestones on the original visit; and there is much of interest in the church grounds, with several finely crafted 18th century stones having their own Grade II Listing.

Several gravestones depict the deaths head, a carving of a human skull, which was designed to remind the onlooker 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; and in days of low life expectancy it might be later than you think.

On a couple of stones the skull is in an urn, along with other human bones. On another, two skulls are safely tucked under an angel’s wings. One further skull can be seen alongside Old Father Time, who pours out an effigy of the deceased from an hourglass. The sands of time have run out for the deceased.

In among the symbols of mortality there are symbols of victory. Two angels in flight each carry a crown in one hand whilst wearing a laurel wreath. Each are a symbol of victory, the victory here being over death; a testament as to the faith of the deceased.

Close by crossed trumpets can be seen over a crown. The trumpet was an often used symbol of the resurrection. Resurrection and victory! Each symbols of victory over death; and again a statement as to the faith of the deceased. Now onlooker, you probably can’t read but you have seen the message in symbol form. Now go and live likewise.


It was really good to see inside the church here, and as always it is worth pointing out the work that the CCT and other similar charities do in helping to preserve our historic churches. If visiting it might be an idea to have some water of hand sanitiser handy due to the amount of bat droppings. It was time to hit the road again; this was the first church of the day visited and we headed off a few miles to the east, in the direction of Leverington, before crossing the border and spending the rest of this churchcrawl in Norfolk.

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