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Church Post Code PE26 2QF

Open to Visitors

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It was a dry but dull day in April 2016, and a visit to the church of St Peter at Upwood. This was the third and final church of the day in what was to be a mini churchcrawl which started at Ramsey (and included the gatehouse of Ramsey Abbey) before moving on to Bury and then on to Upwood. Most of the photographs on this page are from that visit, but I paid a revisit a couple of weeks before Christmas in 2023 to reshoot the interior and a few shots are from then. Therefore, if there are any ‘continuity errors’ such as altar cloths changing colour or Christmas decorations suddenly appearing, that is the reason!

Upwood is a pleasant and peaceful village, which recorded a population of 1389 at the time of the 2021 census; with these figures including neighbouring Great and Little Raveley.  Going back over the centuries Upwood and neighbouring Great Raveley had a close connection and shared a church. Little Raveley, a little further away to the south, had its own church which is now a private house. All three were joined together when the parish of Upwood and the Raveleys was created in 1935.

Ramsey is two miles or so off to the north east, with Huntingdon some nine miles away to the south. Peterborough is 14 miles off to the north. Former RAF Upwood is a short distance off to the north east.

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The church of St Peter stands central in the village, on the junction of Church Street and High Street, with trees close up on three sides, and the associated noise of the crows that goes with this! It is reputed that a plague pit is at the west end of the church grounds.

There was a church and a priest mentioned here at the time of the Domesday Survey in 1086. That original structure is liable to have been wooden, of which nothing remains. Around 1100 the first stone church was erected; with just nave and chancel. Of this early structure only the chancel arch and part of the north wall of the nave remains.

In 1150 the chancel was rebuilt and the north aisle was added. There was much rebuilding here during the 13th century. At this time the west tower was built, a south aisle added and the western most arch of the north arcade was rebuilt.

The south arcade was rebuilt during the 15th century, at which point the clerestory was added. The chancel walls were raised and a new roof was added in 1642. In more modern times, the north aisle was rebuilt between 1884 and 1885 and the west tower was rebuilt in 1890.

The church that we see today consists of west tower, nave with north and south aisles and clerestories, north chapel and chancel. The west tower is of three stages, battlemented and with crocketed pinnacles at the four corners. On the west face is a circular 19th century window, which would date from the time that the tower was rebuilt. Above that is an ancient bricked in recess, with a damaged female head alongside.

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A change in building materials on the south wall of the nave shows where that wall has been rebuilt. There is also sign of rebuilding on the north wall of the nave. The chancel is battlemented and the line can be seen where the walls were raised.

When Revd Owen’s look at the church bells in Huntingdonshire was published in 1899, there were three bells here, and that is still the situation now. The first bell is dated 1709, and has no founder attributed to it. It is inscribed with the names John Gregory and Thomas Charter who were the church wardens of the day.

The second in the ring was cast by the Newcombe foundry in Leicester, and is dated to the 16th century. This bell is inscribed ‘A Penetente Harte Is Goode’. My spell checker does not care for Newcomb’e inscriptions!

The third was cast by Tobias Norris I of the Stamford Bellfoundry in 1615. This bell is inscribed ‘Non sono animabus mortuorum sed auribus vivencium’' which translates as ‘I sound not for the souls of the dead but for the ears of the living’.

Owen goes on to note that at the time of his study the bells were not being rung. The tower was rebuilt in 1890 and needed time to settle before the bells could safely be rung.

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Entry is through the north door, with the visitor at that time making their way past potted daffodils and hyacinth. This friendly and welcoming church was open to visitors. Fond memories of my first visit here back in 2009 where I met a man cleaning ready for the following day’s service. He looked all over for a church guide for me; couldn’t find one so popped home for one and brought it back for me!

Entering inside, the visitors’ eye is immediately caught by the wonderful chancel arch, which is original to the first stone structure here built in 1100. A chancel screen, dating from the 15th century separates nave from chancel.

The arcades to north and south are each of three bays. The north arcade dates from the mid 12th century, but the most westerly bay was rebuilt during the 13th century. This has a pointed arch whilst the other two have rounded arches, as per the styles of the day. This arcade has circular piers with scalloped capitals.

The south arcade dates from the 13th century and has octagonal piers with moulded capitals and pointed arches. The tower arch also dates from the same period.

Moving in to the chancel, the east window is of three lights and contains a small stained glass depiction of the Holy Spirit in the form of a flaming dove, descending towards earth. On the south wall of the chancel is an ancient piscina, which was used in washing the holy vessels used in the Mass, and for the priest to wash his hands. I popped back to reshoot parts of the interior in December 2023, in readiness for this page to be uploaded. As is nearly always the case in post covid years, if that is the right terminology to describe something which is still with us, this piscina contains a bottle of hand sanitiser.

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On the north wall of the chancel is a memorial to Peter Pheasant, who was Justice of the Kings Bench, who died in 1649. The inscription on this monument is in Latin but one small part translates as ‘who after 40 years of loving marriage lies at rest awaiting the coming of He who is the Head’. At the bottom of this monument is a winged human skull; a symbol of the mortality of Man and the safe escorting of the soul to Heaven.

On the east wall of the chancel is a memorial to Maria and Jane Bickerton, with the script flanked by two downturned torches. A downturned torch symbolises death and mourning.

At the east end of the south aisle is a war memorial to those from the parish who fell during the First World War. This takes the form of a reredos with a depiction of the crucifixion; with Christ crucified flanked by two angels at prayer. Against the south wall is a 14th century piscina, indicating the Mass was celebrated at an altar there.

There is a little 15th century stained glass in the tracery of the windows to the east and south east of the south aisle. As always, it is fascinating to try and think back to what things must have been like in pre reformation days, before stained glass, and other treasures were destroyed as being idolatrous.

There is great age to the font. It is plain and square with a modern base and is thought to date from around 1150. If that is the case it would be contemporary to the first wave of additions to the original stone church.

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The church grounds are of interest, with many finely carved 18th century gravestones; with several depicting the angel, which was a symbol of the safe escorting of the soul towards Heaven. There is nothing of any great rarity to be seen here, and there is nothing that has its own listing, but this is an interesting church grounds.

Several gravestones have Christian symbols on them. The trumpet is mentioned in both Old and New Testaments, and is a symbol of the resurrection. It says in I Corinthians Chapter 15 verse 52 (NIV Translation) ‘For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed’. Crossed trumpets can be seen on one stone, with an angel in flight blowing a trumpet on another. Another has crossed human bones, a symbol of the mortality of Man.

A scallop shell can be seen on one stone, with a crown on another. The scallop shell has many lines on it, all converging on a central point; with many directions in life all converging on Christ! Depictions of James often show him with a scallop shell attached to his cloak or hat. The crown is a symbol of victory, with the victory here being over death. A lot of the symbolism here testifies to the faith of the deceased and the implication is for the onlooker to live the way of those who have passed on; to live a good Christian life, to trust in God and not to be caught lacking when their own time came. And in those days of low life expectancy it could be later than you think!

One gravestone, sunk in to the ground with age, but still readable is to Alice the daughter of John and Alice Blinston. The date of her death is sunk below ground but from the style, it looks to date from the mid 18th century.

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This is a lovely church. Open and welcoming; full of interest and always a pleasure to visit here! Well worth taking a look at if you are in the area. This is, to be fair, an area where quite a few of the churches are to be found closed to visitors. In the immediate vicinity though, Warboys and Ramsey are normally to be found open and an interesting churchcrawl can be had in this area.

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