Fotheringhay, Northamptonshire – St Mary and All Saints

On Friday 27 January we went off towards Rutland Water where we were meeting friends for lunch. The first church of call was Fotheringhay – St Mary and All Saints (TL060932). We entered the village over the old bridge, and saw the remains of the Castle on the right – but it was cold and foggy, so not really a day to go wandering round castles.

The church is well worth visiting. There is a website for the whole of the Oundle Deanery and links to each parish – here – a lot of work has gone into it. There is also a very strong Friends’ – website. I am writing this diary on Wednesday 8 February  2017, the 430th anniversary of the execution of Mary Queen of Scots, executed at the Castle on the orders of Elizabeth I in 1587. The church had a Memorial Service this morning – sadly I wasn’t able to attend. 135 years earlier, on 2 October 1452, the future Richard III was born here. The castle was Norman, and lasted until about 1630.

In Norman times there would have been a chapel in the Castle, and a parish church. Around 1100 a Cluniac nunnery was founded here. In the C14 Edmund Langley founded a College, and in 1412 it moved to a site on the south and east of the parish church. The Chancel was rebuilt and extended in 1415, and formed the Quire and Lady Chapel of the Collegiate church. The nave was rebuilt in 1434 – a copy of the paperwork (which includes the earliest use of the word “Freemason”) is displayed inside.

The College had a staff of 34 including a Master, Preceptor, eleven chaplains or fellows, with 8 clerks and 13 choristers who sang the services. It was surrendered to the Crown in 1539, and closed in 1348. You can see the marks of the College on the East End of the church. The photos would have been better if the sun was shining. When you enter the church it is a wow!

There is a lovely stone lion by the North Door which was once part of the castle.

The font is C16, and the cover has been made from a medieval Misericord seat which was originally situated in the Quire.

Rather nice rainwater goods now inside – the lead would be worth a bit – and lovely fan vaulting under the tower.

The pulpit is rather lovely. It is C15 and was said to have been donated by Edward IV. The Royal Arms is George III.

The altar and communion rails are modern, but the cross and candles were made from bell frame timber when the bells were re-hung in the mid 1990s. The monuments on either side are C16. When Elizabeth I visited in 1566 she saw the desecrated tombs of the royal dukes among the ruins of the Collegiate Church, and ordered that her ancestors should be exhumed and reburied in the church. To the left of the altar is Richard, 3rd Duke of York, killed in Wakefield in 1460, and his wife Cecily Neville. To the right Edward, 2nd Duke of York, killed at Agincourt in 1415.


On the south east side is the York Chapel. The guidebook doesn’t tell me who the memorial is to, and I didn’t get a photo of the Richard III window.

This is an amazing church, which warrants a longer visit. There is plenty of history to read and some good displays, but Julie was in the car and no doubt getting cold. Time to move on – I’ll come back in the summer.


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Robinson College, Cambridge


On Thursday 26 January we had a Cambridge day. My wife’s book-buying odyssey started in Waterstone’s (I escaped to the café), and continued to Heffer’s. Then we had a lunch break. Julie went back to Heffer’s and I went for a walk. I cut through King’s College, Clare Memorial Court, past the University Library, instead turned down Burrell’s Walk and crossed Grange Road to enter Robinson College.

Robinson College – website – is a new foundation he types, then realises that 1977 is hardly “new”. Her Majesty opened the College on 29 May 1981, and Julie and I were in the crowd watching. (We were at Selwyn, which is the next college along Grange Road).

I remembered Robinson as a very red brick place, now the bricks have mellowed. The architects were a Glasgow firm, Gillespie, Kidd and Coia. The first undergraduates arrived in 1980 – that was a good year. The man who gave the money did not go to the opening.

I remember my mum telling me that David Robinson had made his fortune in “radio rentals”. Reading about him I find out he had a TV and radio business, then saw the impact Her Majesty’s Coronation made, and started his rental business. My mother did not mention that he also made a fortune as a racehorse owner … mum would not have approved. He used his money wisely – including this Cambridge College, the Rosie Maternity Hospital (named after his mother – our Theo was born and well cared for there), and large donations to Papworth Hospital (Gareth was under their care for a while). Thank you. He is remembered in the Chapel.

I think I had only been in the Chapel once – indeed I haven’t been in the College that much. I remembered the lovely windows. There is a little on the College website about the chapel, a music list and a few sermons, but nothing about the choir – I then found their own website not linked to the main one! There is a choir video on youtube.

The windows are by John Piper. I can find some interesting articles about him, but nothing that really covers these windows. The articles are here and here.

You can find better photos on the web. I remember it being commented on that you can only see the full light of the sun when you go forward to receive Communion.

The other Piper window is in a side chapel, which is being used as a storage area. I like the window, but was not impressed at the level of care.

I enjoyed my visit – no tourists get out this far. The Gardens are supposed to be rather beautiful – I’ll come back later in the year.Julie was still in Heffer’s …


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Whissendine, Rutland – St Andrew

We drove south out of Wymondham and, as it was getting late and foggy, didn’t go via Edmonthorpe (which is a CCT church). Another minor road – this car will need a clean – and we crossed the railway at Whissendine Station SK837166. It was opened on 1 May 1848 and closed on 3 October 1955. The signal box was built in 1898 and renewed during WW2. It is still there, though the gates have gone. There is an older photo at this website. I got some photos, but failed to get any of the Royal Train as it speeded past. Apparently Prince Charles was on board.

We came into Whissendine, and stopped at St Andrew’s church,  SK833143. The church is in the Oakham Team, and has a website. It is a magnificent church – apparently the tower is regular used for parachuting teddy bears. The original church is C13. There is a lot of interest, and I was tired. The light was not good, and there is a bookstall at the back of the church. That alone is enough to warrant another visit. In words of Arnie “We’ll be back”!

We then drove across to Ashwell – there is a signal box where we cross the line – past the Rutland Railway Museum, Cottesmore – website – and onto the A1. It was getting very foggy. A warm room was waiting at the Premier Inn at Norman Cross. This holiday, and more churches, will continue (though no more level crossing gates … sorry).



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Wymondham, Leicestershire – St Peter

The minor road brought us into the village of Wymondham, and I drove up to the church of St Peter’s, at SK182186. The church doesn’t seem to have its own website but there is a lovely one here. His photos are better than mine. There is a 36 page guidebook, and I was amazed how much there was in this church.

The lower stages of the tower are C13, the arches of the nave, chancel and the windows are C14, and the clerestory and some other details are C15. The six bells date to the early C17 – a hundred years ago the Gleaning Bell was rung every evening of harvest. The clock is by John Smith of Derby.

Entering the church, my eye was caught by the lovely brass rotating notice about the need to be a good giver.

Then I looked at the Nave, and looked up. Wonderful medieval carvings – enjoy!

An octagonal font, and an eagle under cover – I wonder if they have bat problems? The altar is C19, and I like the way they leave it uncovered – altar frontals can be lovely, but there are some hideous ones around. According to the guidebook, “Beneath the East window and rightly hidden in shame is a reredos of glazed tiles in appalling but typical Victorian bad taste”.

The East window is by Alexander Gibbs, and is also typical Victorian. A nice Sedilla too.

I like the costumes in this Victorian window.

The South Transept once held the Chantry founded by William Hamelin in 1290. An Inquisition held that year founded that it would not be to the damage of the King if William gave 2 messuages and 8 bovates of land in Saxby, Wymondham and Thorp Edmer to a chaplain to celebrate divine offices in the chapel of St Mary on the south side of the church of Wymondham “in pure and perpetual alms.” There is a large oak Jacobean cupboard carved with the Annunciation and Baptism, but no record where or when it came to the church. In a glass case is a recorder-like instrument once played by John Bursnall (1803-73) in the church band, before the organ was installed. You may know the lovely passage by Thomas Hardy, if not read the passage on this website. The brass is of Dame Margery Berkeley (died 1521), her husband Sir Morris has gone.

The guidebook describes this as “the once fine alabaster-topped altar-tomb of Sir Thomas Berkeley (died 1488) and Petronilla, his wife.

The effigy is of Sir John Hamelin. He was a crusader on three occasions. I wonder how far he travelled and what sights he saw. Did he reach the walls of Jerusalem? You can imagine him telling his stories when he return home. It is a rather lovely effigy.

A pretty amazing church.


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Stapleford, Leicestershire – St Mary Magdalene

The Churches Conservation Trust website describes Stapleford church as “A tasteful church with fabulous family tombs”. It is at SK811182 and stands in Stapleford Park – website – advertised as a Hotel and Sporting Estate. Lots of places you can get married, including the church, but is it any wonder our churches are struggling to attract weddings when there is so much money being poured in to secular venues? I wonder how much people spend attending the “Health and Well-being Centre” – while the last church I visited has no money for a new roof, and here the church stands un-used. In my depressed moments, I wonder what future we have. Sorry, end of moan.

The manor of Stapleford was given to the Ferrers family after the Norman Conquest. In 1366 John of Gaunt settled it on his first wife Blanche as part of her dowry. In 1402 it went to the Sherard family, and they held it for almost 500 years. It was sold in 1885, and passed to the Gretton family in 1894 – they were a Bass brewing family. The family sold it in 1987, and the church passed to the CCT in 1996.

There was a medieval church on this site, but this one was designed by George Richardson and built by Staveley of Melton Mowbray in 1783. Richardson was a draughtsman in the London architectural office of Robert and James Adam, and accompanied James on his Grand Tour of 1760-63. I feel I should chuck it all in and go on a Grand Tour – I didn’t even manage to go inter-railing in my youth. He is responsible for the ceiling of the Marble Hall at Kedleston Hall.

The exterior is of smooth local limestone ashlar, and has what the guidebook describes as “a series of fancifully shaped heraldic shields”. They depict the arms of families allied by marriage to the Sherards. Apparently it looks rather lovely in Spring – it has not been a sunny January, we are missing it.

The church is lovely. Nice ceiling, lovely spacious feel, and very light. They had had a recent wedding, which gave it a nice feel too. The woodwork is of high quality – this may be a parish church, but really it was the family chapel. You can climb into the Balcony, where the family used to sit – nice fire.

There is a brass in the middle of the floor. It commemorates Geoffrey Sherard, who died in 1490, and his wife Joan, and their fourteen children.

On the north side of the altar is the tomb of the 1st Earl Harborough. He died in 1732, and this tomb was moved from the old church. It was sculpted by Michael Rysbrack (c 1693-1770), a Flemish sculptor. The Earl is in Roman civil dress, reclining in a Roman pose. She is clothed as a Roman matron, and holds their son who died in infancy.

On the south side is the magnificent tomb of Sir William Sherard, ennobled by Charles I as Lord Sherard and Baron Leitrim. He died in 1540, and his tomb was erected by his wife Abigail. He rests his feet on a ram, the supporter of the Sherard arms, while Abigail’s are on a greyhound, the supporter of her Cave family arms. Lovely figures of the children too. The guide does not say who made it.

A lovely simple altar. The marble reredos, with Blue John inserts for the centre, is by Richard Brown of Derby, and was added to the church in 1795. Worth a visit.

19 February – I have just discovered the website of the Stapleford Miniature Railway – here. Two open weekends a year – 10/11 June 2017 and August Bank Holiday. I already have Darley Abbey Day and a wedding on 10 June, now to find someone to do Evensong on Sunday 11th.

We drove out of the estate, curved round the south of it, and headed along a minor road to Wymondham. We came to the level crossing at  SK830174 where the crossing keeper has a good collection of bird feeeders, and lots of birds. Chatting to the keeper and his supervisor while we waited for a gap in the trains, the keeper said he joined the railway 19 years ago and was told he’d have a couple of years before the gates were replaced. The gates are about to be replaced – with more wooden ones, so he reckons he has another decade of opening and closing them.


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Brentingby and Wyfordby, Leicestershire

We left Melton on the B676 and turned right to Brentingby, where the church is now a house. I didn’t stop and photo it as I didn’t feel I should, but then found out that the tower is owned/managed by the Churches Conservation Trust and I could have done – website. Here is their photo.

The next church is St Mary Wyfordby – SK793189. The noticeboard is blank, the door is firmly locked, the lead has gone. The church is mentioned on “A church near you” with a contact number for the Secretary, but no mention on any services. A newspaper report tells of a sponsored walk to raise money in 2014, and then the lead went at the beginning of last year. There is a Ride and Stride page from 2016 – website – to raise money for a new roof. They have a mountain to climb, and the question has to be asked how we maintain and protect a Grade II listed church (or do we?).

We crossed the Melton-Stamford line at SK798189. It is a level crossing where you drive up the gates and the signaller opens them for you. In 2013 there was an advert for a “Signaller Grade 1 Crossing Keeper” based here. I know I should have applied. A previous keeper was featured on the bbc – website – 13 years later the crossing is still open and staffed.



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Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire

Wednesday 25 January and we are staying at Norman Cross Premier Inn. That is not very far from Derby. We left about 10.45, drove down the A6 and across to Melton Mowbray. We found a parking place at the north side of the town and the main drag is very Julie-friendly. The Age Concern charity shop has books on sale, and a coffee bar – two toasted tea cakes, a latte and a chocolate for £5. I couldn’t really complain when J bought books.  The she (actually, we) bought books at Works. Spotted these two converted chapels.

I then left her to walk to the church SK753190. We have driven through Melton Mowbray on a few occasions, and had thought the church – St Mary’s – looked rather stunning. Today was the first day we have stopped. I was surprised that there were lots of builders around, and then realised the church was closed. There was a poster telling me where services are taking place, and the chap at the station told me it will be closed for ten months. Later I went onto the website where there is an excellent write up of what they are doing, and where to go for everything while the church is closed – here – and here. Excellent websites, but I would suggest a few laminated posters outside with some photos would be good. Enjoy these photos, and make a date to come back with me later this year.

The building opposite is the Bede Almshouses – thank you to this website, lots of good photos (including of the church interior).

I walked to the station – SK753187. It is the Midland station, on the line from Leicester to Peterborough (with one train a day from Corby to Derby – see my previous blog). The original company was the Syston and Peterborough – and there is a website. The original line to Melton was 1846, I think this station dates from 1848. I can’t immediately find a date for the ‘box. There is another website (by the same chap). I might treat myself to this signal box book – Central England Signal Boxes, by Dafydd Whyles, published by Amberley, £14.99. The siding served Pedigree Petfoods. The Town Council offices have been built on the old yard.

It was a lovely stroll round. Melton is a place we will return to.

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Kirk Ireton, Derbyshire – Holy Trinity

We followed a lovely minor road to Kirk Ireton. A larger village than I expected and probably worth a walk round, but for now we parked by Holy Trinity church –  SK 269502 – and I went for an explore. They are also part of the Wirksworth team – website – but they have no history on the website.

I entered, starting taking photos, then the organist arrived, then the Churchwarden arrived. We had a good chat, I got into the vestry (Table of Fees dating 1987), but I didn’t see if they have a guidebook on sale.

Pevsner tells me it has an “embattled West tower, low, broad and unbuttressed, probably Norman, C14 upper stage”. The porch is rather lovely – enjoy the angles – again it is probably Norman.

The Chancel is C14, with nice carvings at the east end. Door into the vestry is C14. I like the sheep – should have asked when it was carved – but missed the Chancel tiles (“Good, with fat moths, birds, etc.”).

The place is overloaded with pews, and not particularly good ones at that – they have put in a good disabled ramp, they could do more.

I have done a google, but I can’t find any more details of Elinor Blackwall.

Interesting lights in the Chancel, and the Crib out until Candlemas.

They have a sword – which is apparently a stage prop from a production they put on a few years ago! I think you could build a legend up surrounding it, and really get the tourists in.

Pevsner tells me that the gateposts are early C18, brought from elsewhere.I need to make a trip back.


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Carsington, Derbyshire – St Margaret

The second day of my post-Christmas break. On Tuesday 24 January we headed across to Ashbourne, spent too much in the Oxfam Bookshop, had lunch in Jack Rabbits (a café that is accessible with an accessible loo – WIN). Then Waitrose – such excitement, but I got my free Latte. We took the Wirksworth road out of town and then turned off to Carsington. I had walked through the village earlier this month, but didn’t do the church. St Margaret’s church is on a slope in the middle of the village – SK252533 – and the Welcome sign is posted. In the porch are posters offering rather vicious Keep Fit in the church.


When you open the door you see that they have cleared the church and market it as the space. It says they have access to kitchen and disabled toilet (but how do you get in if you are disabled?), and it can be used for Celebrations, Keep-fit classes, Quiz nights, music events, society meetings, local exhibitions, concerts and plays and cultural evenings. Good for them – well done. It is a parish in the Wirksworth Team Ministry – website – and they had some useful leaflets on display (though not one aimed at tourists who might be encouraged to visit all ten churches). Nice marmalade on sale too.

The area has been inhabited since 4,000 BC – shallow graves from this Beaker period were found in the churchyard in 1971. Bronze Age burials were found when the reservoir was constructed. The Romans mined lead in these hills. There is an Anglo-Saxon cross on the Green (I missed it). It is mentioned in Doomsday and a 1291 Taxation  Roll values it at £5. The first incumbent was Hugo de Warkenham in 1311. The parish went with Wirksworth as a gift of Henry I to Lincoln Cathedral circa 1100, and was granted parochial independence in the reign of Henry III. It went back to Wirksworth in 1922, and was united with the Wirksworth Team Ministry in 1992. According to the guidebook “In 2007 the group of parishes was designated as the Wirksworth Mission and inistry Area” – I bet that has made all the difference!

It is a C13 church, with only the pediment and bell cote being altered in the C19, when the porch and boiler rooms were added. Inside, the gallery was added in 1704 by Sir John Philip Gell to accommodate the Hopton Estate tenants.

The font is C14, and I love the little figures. The cover is more modern.

There is a plaster statuette of St Paul preaching on the Acropolis. This is a model of one of the four figures produced by the Reverend Benjamin Jowett, sometime Master of Balliol College, Oxford, and intended (but not used) for the pulpitum of the Cathedral of St David’s. It was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1851, bequeathed to one of the Gell family, and presented to the church in 1956.

Nice idea of snowflakes as a Christmas memorial.

This Royal Arms dates from 1706 and is a loyal pledge to Queen Anne. It was restored in 1977, Jubilee Year.The pulpit, lectern and altar rails date to the C19, installed by the wonderfully named Chandos Pole-Gell. You would think they could buy a little microphone that could clip to the reading desk (if you really need amplification in a church this small). The East Window was given in 1913 by Harry Anthony Chandos Gell and his wife Ada in memory of his parents Henry and Teresa Chandos Pole Gell. “I am the Light of the World” in the middle, St John the Evangelist on the left, and Margaret of Antioch “accompanied by the murderous dragon from which she burst out alive”.

The other windows were presented by Edith Lyttleton Gell in 1929, in memory of her husband Philip. They were crafted by Wippell of Exeter. Philip Gell is presented as Philip the apostle, carrying loaves and fish. John the Divine on the left. The Good Centurion in the middle – the Gells believed they were descended from Romans. Am I the only one who remembers the “Blackadder Back and Forth” film in the Millennium Dome where Stephen Fry and others played Romans – and the more important they were, the shorter their skirt. In the south window are St Giles, St Helena and St Margaret.

As well as the War Memorial is a little Roll of Honour book – I do hope they have copied it. I had enjoyed exploring this little church.

Then I had a wander round the churchyard, and that was fascinating too. Plenty of members of the Gell family, and a large memorial to The Reverend Reginald Currey (1938-40) who was a modest man, and would probably have been embarrassed at the size of the memorial. How do you bury on a slope like this? Snowdrops were just starting to come through – Spring will be here soon, not that we’ve had winter yet.

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Littleover, Derby – St Peter

Sorry the blog has been a bit quiet – and I think I’ve solved the technical problems. Open each photo with “paint”, reduce its size, do the odd bit of cropping or adjusting (but I don’t play with colours or anything clever like that), remember to save, then transfer to the wordpress media library. Do all this without swearing, and you are a better man than I am Gunga Din.

On Thursday 19 January we had Deanery Chapter – not my favourite pastime, but it gives me a chance to look round churches. St Peter’s, Littleover is at SK333342, in the centre of the old village (now a suburb of Derby). There is a large churchyard, with an impressive war memorial – probably worth a proper wander round in sunnier weather.

You enter the church through the west door and find a high, well-lit building, nicely painted and cared for. When you read the guide you realise that the door at the end of the south aisle is the Norman door turned inside out; it now leads to the bell tower. The current church dates to 1335, then the north aisle was added and the roof raised in 1857. South aisle added in 1908, the west end added in 1961, and the chancel reorganised in 1988.  No doubt I am the only person who wishes they would put the screen away.

The pulpit and reredos were given in 1872, and the East Window was added twenty years later.

The Harpur Memorial is lovely. “Richard Harpur, Knight, Justice of the Peace, the most honourable of the Justices of the County, for 35 years. He married Mary, daughter of Sir Thomas Reresby, of Thirbur, Yorkshire, Knight, by whom he had four sons and three daughters. He did on 16th March 1635.” You will note that one of their children died.

The saint windows in the South Aisle date to the 1930s, but the guide does not tell me who the artist was. The Resurrection and the Incarnation were installed in 1873 and 1879 respectively.

The font is C11. I liked this piece of carving – but there is no mention of it in the guidebook.

It seems to be a church with a lot going on – here is their website – and the Vicar makes excellent cake.



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