BEDFORDSHIRE DECEMBER

FARNDISH, PODINGTON & CARLTON
DECEMBER 2020; REVISIT JUNE 2022.

Fairly often, I visit a church and for whatever reason, want to do a return visit. Perhaps the weather was bad, perhaps there was scaffolding up when I visited. There have been occasions where that return visit has taken years to materialise. This was not the caser with Farndish, the return visit coming 48 hours after the first!

Farndish is a small rural hamlet, in North West Bedfordshire, very close to the Northamptonshire border. It was early December and we were in Buckinghamshire picking up something in Gary’s van. It was a foul day, raining steadily but I still had the camera with me. On the way back, the rain had eased and we took in a few churches.  Pandemic wise, the situation in the country was getting worse again and it was a case of wanting to travel whilst I still could. A third lockdown loomed and was to materialise shortly!

We managed half a dozen churches, with the last one being at Farndish. The church here has been closed for worship since 1970, and cared for by the Churches Conservation Trust since 1974.

The structure here dates from the 12th century. This is a simple structure of west tower, which rises from within the west end of the nave, aisleless nave and chancel. A very large builder’s ladder was propped against the south wall of the nave, which I wasn’t thrilled to see, but the church was open.

A friendly builder came in and it turned out that the church had suffered a lead theft recently and they were doing some work to put right the damage. Two days later we were on another churchcrawl in the same area and we started off with a swift revisit. The builders were gone but the church was closed. For that reason, exterior photographs of this church were from the revisit, with interior photographs from the first visit.

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This is a glorious little church; built on raised ground in picturesque, tree lined surroundings. There are just two cells to this late 12th century building. As mentioned earlier, the west tower, which is 15th century, rises from within the western end of the nave; this leading on to a small chancel.

Both north and south doorways here date from the late 12th century. The south doorway is a thing of great interest, with three orders of arches built from alternating blocks of orange and grey limestone. There are three orders of shafts with stiff leafed capitals.

The north doorway is blocked as many north doors are. Perhaps this north door was a devils door or perhaps it is a relic from those days when procession was an important part of church life. Devil’s doors are of interest and create some disagreement. .

 In medieval times the north side of the church was deemed to be the devil’s side. It was believed, some suggest, that the medieval mind thought that the devil resided in the souls of unbaptised children. During baptism, the devil would be released and would make his way out of the north door. Some dispute this but it is an interesting theory.  Many north doors were simply entrances and there are plenty of churches with entrances to north and south. A lot of north doors were bricked over, it is suggested, after the reformation to help move away from some of the superstitions that were part and parcel of religious life prior to then.

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The chancel is plain and small; as I was taking in the chancel it struck me that you would struggle to get more than six or seven people at the communion rail at one time. There is stained glass in the east window; a depiction of the crucifixion. Jesus is crucified wearing the crown of thorns, His followers gazing intently at Him with a Roman soldier holding a spear off to one side. What could well be Jesus’ tomb is depicted top right. In the tracery art the top of this window are depiction of the four Gospel writers, with the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove at the top of the tracery.

Other stained glass shows Jesus surrounded by sheep ‘I am the Good Shepherd’ and with three children. I was intrigued by the latter. Jesus holds a baby and a young girls looks intently towards Jesus, hands raised in prayer. The other child, an older boy looks at the girl and not at Jesus. Maybe I am reading something in to this that isn’t there but perhaps the message here is look at what she is doing and do similar!

We popped back to see Farndish again in June 2022, with the church being prepared for the forthcoming Queen's Platinum jubilee celebrations. We were greeted by a very large and friendly dog, with three people putting up bunting in readiness for the following week. The church was open to visitors.

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The church of St Mary, Podington.

We travelled a couple of miles to the south east, visiting the small, picturesque village of Podington.  The church of St Mary can be found in the centre of the village, with some lovely old cottages close by. It is always good to see a church in the centre of the village; a real focal point of the community. There was a war time airfield not too far away, RAF Podington, which is now home to Santa Pod raceway. Memories of a trip to nearby Souldrop a few years ago on a glorious Saturday morning; listening to the noise from the raceway across the fields,

There were a lot of people around on this delightfully sunny early December morning. It certainly wasn’t quiet though with the road being dug up outside the church.

The church here is not an easy one to photograph, due to the number of trees surrounding it. It consists of west tower with spire, nave with north and south aisles and clerestory, south porch and chancel. The church was closed to visitors, which was to set a trend for the next couple of hours.

There is some real age here, with parts of the nave dating back to the 12th century. Evidence of the age here can be seen in the walls of the south porch; medieval coffin lids being mounted in to the stonework.

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The tower and spire date from around the late 14th century. The tower is very heavily buttressed on the western side. In the 1870’s, the tower was in danger of collapse and much work was undertaken to stabilise it, this buttress being added at that time. At one point, there would have been a pinnacle at each of the four corners, just the stumps now remain.

The recessed, octagonal, crocketed spire stands a little over 150 feet at its peak. A very pleasing, symmetrical spire, with three layers of lucarne windows on north south east and west faces. A series of finely carved grotesques surround the tower.  One human figure with flared nostrils, grimaces; showing a fine set of teeth through a few hundred years growth of lichen. Another can be used to gauge the direction of the prevailing wind; its western edge badly weathered with the side shielded from the worst of the weather still intact.

The aisles, and most of the church that we see today, dates from the 13th century. The church was extended during the 15th century, at which point the clerestory was added. There are several square headed two light windows throughout, indicative of this period.  The fine, four light east window is more modern, dating from 1841.

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The June 2022 revisit saw the church open to visitors, along with several in the area which had been previously closed. There was a traffic cone outside the main gate, with a note up saying that a wedding was to take place shortly. Plenty of time to take a look inside before the guests started to arrive.

It was bright and welcoming inside, with Victorian pews leading down to the Norman chancel, with Victorian restoration. The chancel is very long and the four light east window is of clear glass.

It is interesting to see four 13th century tomb recesses along the north wall of the chancel, which are now filled in; with memorials to the seventeenth century Lords of the Manor of the village now inserted.

I would be interested to know the history behind this. Were the tomb recesses emptied simply to accommodate the memorials to the Lords of the Manor; giving them pride of place in the chancel?

A wall plaque in the chancel to Richard Orlebar dates from 1733. Two putti stand at either side, in attitudes of mourning. A carving of a human skull at the foot reminds the onlooker that Man is mortal and will die. Crossed trumpets below symbolise the resurrection and act as a testament to the faith of the deceased.

There is not much in the way of stained glass to be seen here, with just a couple of panels. One depicts Jesus as the Good Shepherd; the other shows St Peter holding the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven. Mention should be made as well of the font, which is Norman, drum shaped and decorated with zig zag patterns and blind arches. A delightful church! It was lovely to have been able to see inside it.

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It was getting towards lunchtime and the sun was blazing down. The quality of light was fabulous when we arrived at Carlton. Carlton is a mile or so south of Harrold, and was also affected by the November 1981 tornado that hit its neighbour as described previously.

There is some real history here, with the village mentioned in the Domesday Survey of 1086. The church of St Mary sits away from the rest of the village, and is thought to date back to around 950. There is Anglo Saxon stonework visible in the north wall of the chancel and the base of the tower.

It appears as if the original Saxon structure here was a single cell building; the present day chancel, with the church extending eastwards during the 14th century. Today, the church was closed to visitors.

The present structure consists of west tower, nave with north and south aisles, with clerestory, south porch and chancel. A ghostly outline of an arch on the south wall of the chancel indicated a chapel, which was demolished in the 16th century.

The square tower, which is battlemented, with a small pyramid top, has some finely carved grotesques at each corner. One of these figures to the south west corner of the tower is crouching down and has superbly carved facial features. He has an impressive head of hair which is standing upright! Close by, his neighbour, a human figure with small wings has been given what we used to call a pudding basin haircut! This sums up covid year hairstyles in a nutshell; the hair is either out of control or you or a family member has attempted it, with both parties possibly regretting it afterwards!

A lovely church, photographed on the most glorious of days; again, it would have been good to see inside, but it was just good to be able to get out and about while we still could. Infection rates were increasing again and it was obvious that our chances to travel were going to be ended again within a little while.

We popped back here again in the June revisit. I had been told that the church here would be locked again, and so it proved to be. 

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The church of St Mary, Carlton.