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Church Post Code NG33 4PF

Open to visitors


It was October 2020 and it was good to revisit the church of St Mary, Swinstead. I had previously been here on a cold late February day in 2015, on a four day cycling tour of the area; with a few flakes of snow to fall later in the day.

On the revisit, the country was still struggling with Covid 19. We were allowed to travel but it wouldn’t be too long before we were locked down again. We have travelled when possible and found during those days most of the churches closed, or only open on certain days, for a few hours at a time. This crawl though started off at Edenham, which was open and I was pleased to find the church here open as well. Successive churches open was a real rarity in those days.

On my first visit here, I met a lady who was just coming out of the church. We chatted for a while and she said how important it was for them to keep their church open. Having to close during lockdowns and through subsequent restrictions was a bitter pill to swallow for many, and approaching this church I said to Gary that I was sure this one would be open! It was.


 An open church can be an important Christian witness, especially when times are challenging! A church close to where I live keeps its doors open all the time, even at night. A young man in the village was sadly diagnosed with terminal cancer. He was not a member of the congregation; that did not matter. The church was his still, and when times were particularly tough he made use of the church and just sat; getting what peace he could! He is now laid to rest in the grounds. It was important for him that the doors were open when he needed!

Swinstead is right over at the extreme north western catchment area of the churches covered by my websites. This pleasant South Kesteven village had a population of 234 at the time of the 2011 Census. Bourne is five miles or so off to the east; Stamford is 15 miles off to the south.

There was no mention of a church here at the time of the Domeseday Survey in 1086 but the earliest parts of the structure that we see today date from around 1200. It consists of west tower, nave with north and south aisles and clerestories, south porch, vault with boiler house and chancel.

Looking at the church from the south, the square west tower is battlemented with crocketed pinnacles. Grotesques of great quality can be seen on all four corners. A curious beast with small wings and an untrustworthy grin looks out from the south west; his neighbour at the south east has a long flowing mane; reminiscent of zoom church services at that time when barbers were pretty much a no go!

On the north there is a vaguely human figure at prayer; a coating of orange lichen coating his forehead. The fourth is the obligatory mouth puller, impressive fangs exposed


The nave is short, with just a single four light window. The clerestory has a steeply pitched roof and is unusual in that you can’t actually see the windows as they are hidden behind the nave.

There is a vault with boiler house, dating from 1789, which joins on to the east end of the nave with the boiler house extending part way across the chancel. An unusual, quirky exterior!

Four bells hang here, with each being of interest. The first of the ring was cast locally, by Thomas Norris of the Stamford bellfoundry in 1628. This one is inscribed ‘Omnia Fiant Ad Gloriam Dei’ which translates as ‘Let All Things be Done for the Glory of God’. This also has on it the names R Maxsey, I Nickols and R Kerk, with a further inscription which reads ‘Thomas Norris cast me 1628’.

The second bell is also from the Stamford bellfoundry, but this time was cast by Alexander Rigby, who appears to have been foreman there, taking over after the death of Tobias Norris III in 1699, and running this foundry until it closed in 1708. This has the name Edward Snart, the church warden of the day and is also inscribed ‘Alexander Rigby Made Me 1704’.

The third is from William Noone who worked out of Nottingham. This bell is dated 1717 and has the inscription ‘God Save His Church’ along with the name W Nixon, the church warden again.

The fourth is the oldest of the ring, being cast by the Leicester foundry around 1590. This is inscribed ‘Trinitae’.


Moving inside, my eye was caught by a sign which read ‘Please do not sit on this pew thank you’. Covid was still very much with us, and was to get much worse as winter wore on. We could still worship, but with social distancing.  Certain pews were out of bounds here, with reduced numbers on each pew.

It was very strange seeing how churches with modern stacking chairs were set out for worship when they were able to open again. I was in Nottinghamshire on the first Sunday that churches were able to open again and it seemed very strange seeing them set out at two meter distances. Then; when things were back to normal, it seemed strange when they were back to how they originally were!

There are three bay arcades to north and south. The north arcade dates to around 1200 with the south dated to the 14th century. The piers to the north are circular, with painting on the eastern most pier, which has the coats of arms of the benefactors who paid for the church, as well as a cross.

There is no altar at the east end of the south aisle but there is evidence that there was one in the past; with a piscina against the south wall and a squint cut in to the east wall allowing the onlooker to see the altar in the chancel; at the west end of the nave is a recumbent effigy of a knight; cross legged and wearing chain mail, with one arm over his shield.

Much of the fixtures and fittings here date from periods of Victorian restoration, including the font, which is made in the fashion of the 14th century.


This was the second church visited of the day and we had started off the day at Edenham, where we saw the memorials for the first four Dukes of Ancaster and Kesteven. Here, at Swinstead, on the north wall of the chancel, we have the memorial for the fifth and final duke; of nearby Grimsthorpe castle.

This was for, as the monument reads’ ‘the most noble Brownlow Bertie’ who died in 1809 at the age of 79; a fairly advanced age for the day. He was married twice with each of his wives pre deceasing him. He had no children with his first wife Harriet who died in 1763. He married his second wife Mary Elizabeth who died in 1804; they had one daughter Mary Elizabeth who died in her early 20’s in 1797.

As Brownlow died without leaving a male heir, the title Duke of Ancaster and Kesteven died with him.

As for the monument itself, this depicts the Duke and one wife on their death beds, with the female figure closest to us. They are attended by three female figures. One of these is in mourning at the bedside, hands clenched together and looking upwards towards Heaven.

To the left as we look at it is a woman holding a baby with a young boy at her feet. We know that this is not a depiction of his wife and children as he just had a single daughter. To the right is an angelic female figure. Perhaps the three figures represent faith hope and charity.

Looking around the chancel, the east window is of four lights, with plain glass with a coloured glass on the outer edges and in the tracery. The altar is plain and simple, with just a single cross. On the south wall is a triple sedilia, the seating for the priests and a double piscina, in which the priest would wash his hands and the holy vessels used in the mass.

The sedilia takes the form of a stone seat with three ogee arches rising up. Carvings of two human male figures can be seen here, with one of them, a bearded figure, pulling open the right hand side of his mouth with one hand.


The church grounds here are quiet and peaceful; but there is nothing of any great rarity or importance to mention. Nothing in the church grounds has its own listing. There are a fair few angels on top of the stones here; an often used symbol to signify the safe escorting of the soul to Heaven. On my previous visit here, the light quality was excellent and it highlighted beautifully the delicate coatings of lichen which appear on the stones.

There are no bells and whistles here, no frills; just an honest small village church with a big heart. I like it very much! I do like the structure, both inside and out; to be honest though I prefer what it represents. A safe welcoming place; a place of stability in challenging times! That is to be treasured. Worth a visit if you are around.

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