This wall played an important part in the Second World War (or at least a wall like it). I believe that my grandad, Albert Barham, was churchwarden of St Andrew’s church in Chesterton. He was a manager at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, so remained at home. Family tradition says that one of the jobs he did was as Fire Warden, based at the church. My uncle Derrick was a teenager, my dad Jeffrey a bit younger. They would offer to test the stirrup pumps. The churchyard wall was a favourite spot for American troops to say “good night” to their girlfriends. Many an American serviceman had his ardour dampened by my uncle, my dad, and their stirrup pump.
Friend Rob and I visited on Tuesday 23 January while our wives were spending money in town. We arrived as a midweek Communion service was taking place, so sat at the back and read the information folder, before we said Hello. I was hoping someone might have remembered grandad, but as he died in 1965 that was probably unlikely. We then got working with our cameras – the best photos are those taken by Rob. The church has an excellent website. Its OS grid reference is TL 463596.
Chesterton Cestretone, is the settlement by the Roman town. There is no mention of a church in Doomsday, but “a priest has one virgate of land”. The list of Rectors goes back to 1200, the manor belonged to the King, most of the inhabitants probably serfs who worked for the Governor of the Castle. In 1216 England seemed to be on the verge of civil war. The pope sent his legate, Cardinal Guala, to England to try and pacify the Kingdom. He was successful, and on 8 November 1216 was presented with the church and living. He then presented it to Vercelli Abbey near Milan, so the Abbey became the Rector and held the benefice for 200 years. His portrait hangs in the church.
The church was rebuilt in the Early English style in about 1250, and there was another rebuilding about 80 years later when the spire was added. The Chancel was rebuilt in the C15, the North aisle extended, and the north porch added. Here is the porch with automatic door, northern vicar, and a van from Smith’s Clocks of Derby.
When you stand in the nave and look up, the Doom painting catches your eye. It was painted around the giant rood (or cross) that was the focal point of every parish church before the Reformation. There is a lovely Doom at Penn in Buckinghamshire, see this blog. In the top panel, now limewashed, was Christ in Majesty (visible still in the early C19), beneath him are the saved and the damned. A faded St Peter welcomes the just into the celestial city on our left, whilst on our right a red flat-footed devil tugs one unfortunate soul towards his destiny, whilst below a yellow devil transports his victim piggy-back. Kings, popes and monks are among the condemned. It must have been painted over at the Reformation, and the guide doesn’t say when it was unveiled again. It is rather special – enjoy the photos (they are mainly Rob’s). The history page of the website is excellent. I like the history of the church in a hundred objects.
There is some lovely woodwork. You can work out which of the pew ends are original and which are Victorian copies. A nice fisherman as well – presumably Andrew, not Peter.
The East Window is rather lovely, but I can’t find any more details on the website. Rob got some good close-ups (I still need him to give me a lesson on photoing stained glass).
The Mansel window is at the east end of the south aisle. It was commissioned by William Lord Mansel, who was Vicar here 1788-1808. He was also Master of Trinity from 1798 to 1820 and Bishop of Bristol 1808-20. I love the idea of being Master of a Cambridge College and Bishop of Bristol, especially in the days before the Great Western. “He was a renowned wit, mimic and satirist – but, in revolutionary days, was also conservative, orthodox and a safe pair of hands, trusted by William Pitt and his government.” The window was installed in memory of his wife Isabella, who died in 1803 at the age of 36, the mother of 12 children. In the bottom panel you can see the day of Pentecost. The guide notes that Mary is present, perhaps an affirmation of Isabella’s role.
The Smedley window was commissioned by Edward Arthur Smedley, vicar 1836 and 1873. We have Adam, Abraham and Jacob. It was designed by Gilbert Scott, father of the C20 architect who designed the red telephone box and Cambridge University Library. The window dates to 1873.
This window (below left), at the south-east end of the south aisle, was installed by Samuel Perry (Vicar 1874-90) in memory of his first wife and child, who both died following the child’s birth. Mary died on 3 May 1875 aged 3 days, Frances died the following day aged 35, Samuel died in 1897 aged 55. The glass is by Ward and Hughes, a London firm that pioneered the use of pot-metal coloured glass, an appearance that harked back to the glory days of the medieval period. I like the Epiphany window (below right), though there is no mention of whom made it. The Wragg window (below centre), in memory of Francis Wragg, who died in 1884.
Under the tower we have some lovely peal boards – I hoped “Albert Barham, Churchwarden” might have appeared – and a rather fun carving.
The South aisle chapel is dedicated to all those who died in WW1. Alec Johnson was from the family of John Johnson who for many generations ran a tailors’ shop in central Cambridge. His cousin was the actress Celia Johnson, who played Laura Jesson in Brief Encounter. The war memorial is outside, and we’ll end our visit to the interior of the church with an angel.
On the north wall of the church (just outside and to the east of the porch) is a plaque remembering “Anna Maria Vassa, daughter of Gustavus Vassa, the African. She died July 21 1797 aged 4 years.” Her father, who also bore the name Olaudah Equiano, was living in Nigeria when he was captured from his village at the age of 11 and sold into slavery. He was taken to Virginia, then sold to a ship’s captain. After 16 years he managed to save enough money and buy his freedom. He eventually came to England and wrote a book abut his experiences which became a best-seller and turned many people against slavery.
There are some lovely gravestones in the churchyard, but I wasn’t going to have a long walk round – and we have had quite a lot of photos!
It was a pleasure exploring this church. I don’t remember grandad as I was two when he died, although I do remember Nana (Frances Mary Barham) – she died 1979 or thereabouts. Nana Tin we called her, as she had a biscuit tin with the Panorama of London on. (The other granny was Nana Brum, as she had a car). May they rest in peace and rise in glory.
My sister-in-law, with her role as family archivist, has found me this photo of Albert and Frances.
Samuel Pepys visited Chesterton on 25 May 1668. He wrote “walked to Chesterton to see our old walk; and there into the Church, the bells ringing, and saw the place I used to sit, and so to the ferry, and ferried over to the other side and walked with great pleasure, the river being mighty high by Barnwell Abbey; and so by Jesus College to the town …”. We walked back into town via Jesus College, and let’s finish with a curiosity – on the south bank of the Cam, not far from the church and the Cambridge Museum of Technology is this post box. It has no Royal cipher. Can anyone tell me why not?