LINCOLNSHIRE OCTOBER 2020
AUNSBY, SWARBY, NEWTON & PICKWORTH
We left Ropsley and headed onwards in bright sunshine. This Lincolnshire churchcrawl was proving to be a very pleasant one. It was good to be able to get out again, and it was a case of making the most of the chance with a second English lockdown being talked about; and coming to pass a few days later.
The weather was glorious; there was hardly a cloud in the sky, still pleasantly warm, and it was good to be able to escape from things for a few hours. My version of an ostrich burying its head in the sand I daresay but these trips out were an important part of my own coping mechanism; so, so be it!
I had done a little internet research during the previous few days and there were three churches liable to be open; which I had planned for the afternoon. The first of these was Aunsby, a small village which can be found on the A15 a few miles from Sleaford. This was a re-visit; having previously braved the A15 on cycle a few years before; not something that I would recommend to anyone!
The Church of St Thomas A Beckett, Aunsby.
The church of St Thomas A Beckett sits immediately to the side of the main road. The hand gate leading to the south porch had the ‘church open’ sign out. It was good to see this church again. It was really quiet! A single lady walking her dog passed by and we exchange pleasantries; her dog said hello in an excited, over friendly manner but apart from that there was not a soul to be seen.
The church here is a pleasant affair of west tower, nave with north and south aisles, chancel and south porch. The earliest parts of the church date back to the 12th century. The west tower is square and heavily buttressed, with a lovely broache spire. The church here was heavily restored in the early 1860’s, and at that time the spire and tower were taken down and rebuilt using the same materials.
As with many of the churches in this part of Lincolnshire, there are some very fine carvings on the exterior. A weathered head with long flowing hair cries out to the onlooker in distress; close by a small rodent like creature shows a fine set of teeth through a coating of lichen. An animal of indeterminate species sticks out a grotesquely long tongue, longer even than the dog who had said hi a few minutes before. There is more than one owl carved here and; for whatever reason, the south doorway has several carvings of frogs on it.
On the inside of the doorframe of the south porch, there is a small and very faded hexfoil design, similar to what we would have made with a compass and pencil as school children. This was a symbol of protection; with the belief being that evil would be enticed in to the design and be unable to escape!
Inside, the sunlight was flooding in through the south windows. It was bright and welcoming inside. There was hand sanitiser on entry and unrestricted movement throughout the church, with the exception of the pews, which were taped off.
I was interested to see a Lincolnshire imp on the wall at the west end; two fearsome looking beasts, snarling and with wild lockdown haircuts guarded the entrance to the chancel. A red carpet stretched the length of the nave to the alter. A warm, comfortable church; it was good to see it and I was grateful for those who deemed that it was safe to be open, when so many had felt otherwise.
There are some tints of colour in the traceries of the windows here but there is little stained glass itself. There is stained glass though in the east window though; a depiction of Jesus shows Him standing on a cloud; wearing a long flowing robe, hands raised in blessing with crucifixion wound visible on hands and feet.
I spent a pleasant few minutes outside, admiring the golden colours of the leaves and trying not to think about the next few weeks at work when I would be sweeping them all up! This really is a very attractive church, photographed on the most beautiful of afternoons.
The church of St Mary, Swarby.
We travelled a little further north, heading towards Sleaford, and arrived at the church of St Mary and All Saints, Swarby. This was another re-visit; I had been here in my early days of churchcrawling, back in 2007, armed with a very basic digital camera. The church was closed that day; it was good to see it open here.
What a lovely setting! The church is set on slightly high ground, roads run to the north and south of the church, leaving it in its own little island! The top of the church wall sits level with the grass, giving an uninterrupted view across the church grounds. The oldest parts of the church here date back to the 13th century, with the church being restored in the late 1880’s. The square, buttressed, battlemented and pinnacled tower dates back to the 15th century; with gargoyles looking out from all four corners.
These gargoyles are of great age, with a tethered beast, wearing a halter; and with flaring nostrils and closed eyes, looks out to the west. There are more grotesque stone carvings running the length of the nave, arranged in twos; vicious teeth shown on some, tongues stuck out on others. No real age to these; probably carved during the Victorian restoration.
Moving inside and this is another very pleasing interior. As with Aunsby, there was hand sanitiser on entry and the only restriction inside was that the pews were taped off. This church is also carpeted; this time a blue carpet running the length of the nave and in to the chancel. It was a glorious day; and the sheer brightness inside did cause me a few problems when shooting inside!
There are no windows in the chancel, with the exception of the east window, which is of clear glass. This is a simple pleasing chancel, which was rebuilt at the time of the restoration. There is little stained glass here, but there is a beautiful depiction of Mary at the east end of the south chapel, dressed in flowing blue robe, with radiant nimbus and hands together in prayer.
The church of St Mary, Swarby.
The year of 2020 has seen very hard times for many churches. I type this in late December 2020. The whole of Cambridgeshire is now in tier 4, the highest tier currently. I am just back from an evening prayer service. We are still allowed communal worship! There was just eight in the congregation, including church wardens, who took the service as there was no vicar.
Talking to one of the wardens after the service she said that they were desperate to carry on worshiping and that it was important to them to keep the doors open and they intended to keep going unless they were closed down. It brought back a conversation with two people after I had left Swarby. They were members of a Baptist church in another village a few miles away. They told me that their church had opened for the first time since March that previous Sunday and they were thrilled! Sadly, that was to be their only service as England was locked down again a few days later and churches closed by order again. There is a real desire for many to keep their churches open, whether for private prayer or communal worship. It means so much for so many throughout the country who have devoted their lives to these churches and I have a great deal of respect for those who are carrying on in challenging times.
The church of St Botolph, Newton.
We started back towards Folkingham, aiming for Newton, and the church of St Botolph. I have very fond memories of this whole area; spending hours on the cycle visiting the churches and developing a great love for the area. Newton is a small village that I have passed through several times over the years. Lovely memories of taking communion at Scott Willoughby, a short distance away, a few years ago on a freezing cold winters day; this being one of the smallest churches in Lincolnshire. Lovely memories!
The church of St Botolph, is set in picturesque surroundings, tucked in behind some trees. Not the easiest of churches to photograph due to the trees, but easier in winter once the leaves have fallen. There was a church in the village as far back as the Domesday Survey in 1086, but the present building dates back to the 13th century. The fairly slender four stage tower dates back to this time, some fairly ancient looking gargoyles peering out from each corner; including one which appears to have eight legs; another wailing in distress!
The south chapel was open for private prayer here; the rest of the church out of bounds. The south chapel had an interesting east window, depicting St Gilbert, The Virgin Mary and St Hugh of Lincoln. St Gilbert is probably better known in Lincolnshire than in any other part of England. He founded the Gilbertine Order at Sempringham, near to Billingborough. He is depicted carrying a staff and reading his Bible.
St Hugh of Lincoln is of great interest. He is normally depicted with a swan. Legend was that he was great friends with a particular swan which used to protect him whilst he was asleep. He was Bishop of Lincoln and he is seen here carrying a representation of Lincoln cathedral. Swan at his side.
Mary, at the centre of the three panels, carries the infant Jesus. Very few stained glass depictions of Jesus show Him as he was; from the east! These depictions are tailored to fit in with the audience looking on. Here, Jesus has blonde curly hair. I once saw a depiction of Jesus, and I can’t remember the church; where my gut reaction was that He looked like a blonde surfer who had just left a beach in California!
It was late afternoon. It would have been a busy main road, even on a Sunday. However, there were very few cars about. No people at all, just the distant noise of a chainsaw. I had a brief wander through the church grounds; slate gravestones of a plain design, mostly dating from the mid 19th century were common here, several leaning over at improbable angles.
A gravestone depiction of a lady in a long flowing dress was holding out her hand; I am not sure what the symbolism of this was but a ladybird, making the most of the last of the year’s heat, was basking on the stone right at the side of, but sadly not in, her hand!
The church of St Andrew, Pickworth.
Final church of this very pleasant Sunday afternoon churchcrawl was the church of St Andrew, Pickworth. This was stated on the internet as not liable to be open, and so it proved to be. This is another village with great history, there being mention of 40 houses and a church at the time of the Domesday Survey.
This is a very attractive church; square tower with broache spire, nave with aisles and four clerestory windows. The south porch is battlemented and has a date of 1659 on it. The chancel is long with just a single small window facing out to the south. A gargoyle, low down on the wall of the porch, has a hairstyle similar to mine during lockdown before I bought myself some hair trimmers. The entire church is fairly heavily buttressed.
A little internet research indicated that there some wall paintings over the chancel arch, which date from the late 14th century. This is a doom painting, where the righteous are taken off to heaven on the day of judgement with the condemned being thrown in to hell; or in the case of three condemned souls here, being boiled in a cauldron. Evidently, an exploding bomb during World War II shook some plaster off of the wall, uncovering fragments of the painting below.
The wall of the church grounds to the south is small, giving an uninterrupted view across the well maintained church grounds. A very tranquil, peaceful scene and I could easily imagine being here at the end of a warm summer evening; thunder rumbling off in the distance, just sitting and enjoying the evening chorus of bird song. Peace and calm! I suspect that most of us have been trying to find as much of this as possible during this truly terrible year. I had found some myself on what was a lovely day out.