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Church Post Code LE15 8PA

Open to visitors

Redundant. Cared for by the Churches Conservation Trust.


I first visited the church of St John the Baptist, Wakerley on a warm spring morning back in 2007. It was a week long cycling churchcrawl, stopping in digs to the north of Bourne. To put it mildly, it was a circuitous cycle there; turning a 27 mile journey in to one of more than 60 miles!

I pulled in to a lay by on the A43, with St John the Baptist away across the fields to the south, framed on two sides by trees. Sheep were in the field to the foreground; with a field of oilseed rape in front of the church. A peaceful, tranquil scene on what was a warm sunny morning; but the photograph didn’t tell the whole story, with lorries thundering by on the busy main road a few feet behind me!

Wakerley is a very small Northamptonshire village which can be found just to the south of the River Welland, on the edge of the Northants Rutland border. Neighbouring Barrowden, less than a mile away to the North West is in Rutland. The south bank of Rutland Water is a little less than five miles off to the north. Stamford is eight miles or so off to the North East; Corby a little further away to the south west.

The village stood as part of the Rockingham Forest, a former royal hunting forest which covered 200 square miles. Today, Wakerley Great Woods represents one of the largest surviving remnants of this forest.


There was a priest mentioned here at the time of the Domesday Survey in 1086, but no church was mentioned. The oldest parts of the present structure date back to the early 12th century, a little after Domesday was compiled. Perhaps there might have been a basic early structure of which nothing remains today. Work was carried out on the church until the 15th century, with the church before being restored in 1875.

The church that we see today consists of west tower with spire, nave with north and south aisles and clerestories, north porch and chancel.

The construction of the west tower is thought to have started just after the Black Death had ravaged the country; around 1350. It is heavily buttressed and battlemented, with frieze of a repeated quatrefoil design running around the top. Two light windows can be seen at the belfry stage. The tower is thought to be the work of local stonemasons who worked on several churches in this area.

The 15th century recessed spire is octagonal and crocketed, with two tiers of gabled lucarne windows.

The north porch has an empty image niche over the door, which would have held a statue in pre reformation days. This leads through to the inner door, which has some fine strap hinges. Two weathered heads, male and female, look out at those entering the church.

A little graffiti shows that ‘ES’ was here in 1724 with AC also leaving his or her mark in 1740. Close by is what looks to be a marion mark, or witch mark. This looks like a letter ‘W’ but is two interlocking ‘V’s. This is a prayer of protection to the Virgin Mary, the Virgin of Virgins.

The previous roofline from pre clerestory days can be seen on the east wall of the nave. Also on the east wall of the nave are two remains of the early Norman church; the remains of a frieze and two corbels to be seen at the south east corner.


These days, the church at Barrowden covers both villages. By 1970, the church at Wakerley had become unsafe and worship ceased whilst repairs were carried out. Services resumed but the upkeep of the church proved to be too much for the congregation and the church was declared redundant in 1972; with it passing to the care of the Redundant Churches Fund; now known as the Churches Conservation Trust.

Interestingly, the church guide, which is dated January 1985, states that the Churches Conservation Trust had 181 churches in their care at that time. Today, the figure in their care is more than 350.

When Thomas North compiled his study of Lincolnshire church bells, which was published in 1882, he noted that there were three bells in the ring; with the situation being the same now.

The first and third of the ring were each cast by Newcombe and Watts of Leicester in the very late 16th century. The first of the ring is inscribed ‘UBIQUE BENE RESPON DEO 1598’. This translates as ‘I worship God everywhere’. The third is inscribed ‘cum cum and prae 1599’.

The second of the ring was cast locally, but Thomas Norris of the Stamford bellfoundry. This one is inscribed ‘Thomas Norris made me 1663’.

Thomas North was very thorough and he noted that there had been four bells hanging here in 1700. In living memory of people at the church at the time of North’s study, this fourth bell was broken, unhung and sitting in the belfry. North passes on that part of this bell had been stolen, with the rest sold towards repairs.


The church was open to visitors, as it had been on my previous visit here. When I first started visiting this area, this was a church that I found closed on a couple of occasions. It was good to see it open.

There are two bay arcades to north and south, with the arches in the position that you would expect to find transepts. The south arcade is 14th century with the north arcade dating from the 15th century. A glance upwards shows the remains of a small Norman arch high up on the south wall of the nave. The church organ is housed within the most easterly bay of the south arcade.

The chancel arch dates from the 12th century, with pointed archway with zig zag decoration. With this dating from the period that it does, it would be expected for this arch to be semi-circular, not pointed, and this may have been altered during the 13th century. Blind image niches can be seen on each side of the chancel arch, these having semi-circular arches, which is how the chancel arch would originally have been.


  The church here is noted for some wonderful carvings on pillars supporting the 12th century chancel arch. These are viewed as some of the best stone carvings in England. The finest of these depicts two men in chain mail, riding a single horse. The detail on the carving is superb with fine details such as the bridle on the horse being clearly marked. One of the soldiers has a hand raised, finger pointing upwards, possibly towards heaven.

The Knights are flanked by buildings which the official listing describes are being a castle under siege. If these are castles, then they are certainly not English in design. I typed in ‘two knights on one horse’ in Google and it mentioned that this was a design on a knights Templar seal, with this representing the initial poverty of the Templar’s, where two knights had to share a single horse. Could there be some Knights Templar influence here?

   Another carving to the south shows a dragon attacking a bizarre creature that carries an axe; or perhaps it is the figure with the axe doing the attacking! This figure has the body of a human but with a dog’s head. A carving of a beast with foliage coming out of its mouth reminds me of similar seen at Maxey and more particularly at Sutton near to Castor.

There is conjecture as to whether the same masons who worked here at Wakerley, also worked on the churches at Castor, Sutton and Maxey and the church guide also asks if it was the same masons who carved the Priors doorway at Ely cathedral around 1140. These carvings are superb in terms of quality, with their true meanings lost in the mists of time.


The fine east window is of patterned glass. With the exception of a few medieval stained glass fragments, there is no stained glass to be seen here. The altar is plain and simple, with 19th century tiled reredos which stretches the full width of the chancel.

An ogee headed piscina is set in to the south wall of the chancel, with similar at the east end of the north aisle; a reminder to those pre reformation days when the Mass would have been given out from both locations.

A monument to Richard Cecil, the second son of Lord Burghley, stands against the north wall of the chancel. This dates from 1633, and the top of the monument looks more ‘recent’ than the base. Given its location, I wondered if they have reused the base of an Easter Sepulchre.


  There is an interesting set of ceiling bosses here. Some of these are quite unusual to put it mildly. Two in particular are worth mentioning in detail. One of these has two human figures, both female I think, sat down with a large black ghostlike image rising up between the two. I was reminded of a wall painting of the seven deadly sins, where human figures were surrounded by ghoulish figures such as this! Perhaps we have two people here, with sin in the shape of this ghoulish image, looming over them, waiting to strike. A warning therefore as to the perils of sin!

The boss nearby depicts a man and woman. The man wears a red and black striped top and is wearing a mask. He is reaching out towards the woman's head. The woman has her eyes closed  My gut reaction on first seeing this was executioner and victim, with the ‘executioner’ reaching out towards the woman’s head, with wide grin; teeth and tongue exposed.

The other bosses are a bearded figure with wild grey hair and a sorrowful looking male figure with red and white nimbus, which carries something round. Given that this is a red nimbus, with red symbolising blood, I would suspect that this is Jesus, although it certainly does not look like any depiction of Jesus that I have seen. If this is Jesus, then it would doubtless be a globe that is being carried.

The font dates from the 13th century and has carvings on the two sides visible. One of these sides has a flower set within a quatrefoil shape. The second has a pointed trefoil arch.


  Moving outside and there are some fine quality Georgian gravestones here, and a few that go back a little further. A gravestone dated 1668 has its own Grade II listing, as does a chest tomb to one Jacob De Rippe, dated 1776.

 A couple of graves here feature the human skull. This was a symbol used to force home to the onlooker that Man is mortal and will die. This was done in symbol form as few of the population would have been able to read or write. In days where life expectancy was low and mortality rates were high, it was important to force home to the people to live a good life and be at peace with God; and in days of low life expectancy it could be later than you think!

Several gravestone show an angel with unfurled wings at the top of the stone, this symbolising the safe escorting of the soul towards Heaven. One of these has two small human skulls sheltering under the wings.

This is a beautiful church in lovely surroundings. It was quiet and peaceful, and a delightful place to spend a little time out of the rat race. The church here was open when visiting, and it is always worthwhile checking with the good folks at the CCT before setting out.

For the most part, this is also an area of open churches and this is a delightful area for the churchcrawler to explore; the odd village tea room also helping to enhance the experience! It was time to hit the road again; heading south west in the direction of Corby, with Gretton being the destination.

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