LINCOLNSHIRE OCTOBER 2020

EDENHAM, SWINSTEAD, BITCHFIELD, BASSINGTHORPE & ROPSLEY

 Mid October, another foray in to Lincolnshire, and what was to be my second to last churchcrawl before the second English lockdown. This was to be a day of revisits, to places that I previously visited on a four day cycling tour of the area several years ago.

    First up was Edenham, always open and welcoming, and so it was today as well. Edenham is a village three miles north west of Bourne, Grimsthorpe castle is a short distance away to the west. My previous visit here saw the church covered in scaffolding, and covers over most of the furnishings. It was still open though! So, this was my first proper look inside the church, and it did not disappoint!

The church of St Michael sits to the side of the main road which runs through the village. The church itself is difficult to photograph, with the church grounds containing several cedar trees, one of which overhangs the main road and is thought to be more than 150 years old.  The present church dates back to the 12th century.

The 16th century  perpendicular, battlemented, pinnacled tower appears above the carpet of cedar trees. Finely carved gargoyles keep watch, looking down from all four corners of the tower.  The chancel windows, with the exception of the east window, are bricked up with the reason becoming evident later! Part of a Saxon cross can be seen in the grounds.

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Moving inside, the walls are whitewashed. There is plenty of stained glass here, and it was good to spend a little while in quiet study, moving from panel to panel.  In one panel Paul sits and writes, chained by the Romans. Peter’s chains are broken by the angel who leads him out of prison. Jesus feeds either the 3,000 or 5,000 and raises a young girl from the dead. Despite the dull start to the day, it is light and welcoming inside.

The chancel was out of bounds on my previous visit due to building work and it was interesting to see monuments to members of the Ancaster family lining the north and south walls of the chancel. This is why the chancel windows were bricked up. However impressive these monuments are, and they are, the very fact that the church was altered to accommodate monuments to the great and the good of the day did not sit too well with me.  The privilege of riches!

I remember visiting Salle in Norfolk on a freezing cold, snowy day a few years ago and seeing similar. A magnificent 14th century window was bricked in to allow for a memorial to be erected against the north wall of the chancel. The locals were not happy and the vicar and parishioners went to court to try and prevent this from happening. They were unsuccessful and the monument was erected. This was before the faculty system was introduced and I believe that this case led to the faculty system being introduced!

There are some interesting medieval monuments to be seen here. A depiction of a lady praying dates from the 13th century, with two coffin slabs, figures with hands raised in prayer, date from the 14th century.  Considerably older though is a fragment of a Saxon cross shaft, which is said to date from the 8th century! There is some evidence structurally to indicate that there was a church here at that time. What an incredibly important place of Christian worship over the centuries. A rather good way to start this trip!

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The church of St Michael, Edenham.

Next point of call was the church of St Mary, Swinstead.  This was another re-visit, and I have a great deal of time for this church. When I was here previously, a lady was coming out of the church as I was going in. She told me that the church doors here never closed. I am not sure if that is still the case, several years and a pandemic down the line but St Mary was open that morning and it was great for it to be so.

There is no wow factor here, nothing remarkable in the structure; it is more what it stands for that means so much to me. An open door; a safe place; always important but especially so at a time of challenge such as this! When the first lockdown was ending and churches were able to open for services and for private prayer, I had thoughts about what I hoped I would see. Swinstead, and their attitude, is pretty much what I hoped that I would see!

Hand sanitiser on entry and no restriction on movement throughout the church, with the exception of a very polite sign which said “Please Do Not Sit On This Pew. Thank you” There is no stained glass here, but the clear glass is edged with colour and looks to be Victorian.  A painted cross, which I took to be medieval, can be seen on one of the pillars in the north aisle.

At the west end, is  a recumbent effigy of a Knight, with crossed legs. . It is thought that this indicates that he fought in the Crusades and died in the Christian faith.  On the north wall of the chancel, an exquisite monument commemorates “The most noble Brownlow Bertie”, the 5th and last Duke of Ancaster, who died in 1809. Bertie is mourned on his death bed by a male figure, with the scene flanked by two female figures, one having two infant children at her breast and side. Bertie was married twice but I am thinking that these are not depictions of his two wives as the first wife died childless and the second wife had one child when he passed on.

As I was making my way back to the can, I looked up and took in the gargoyles. One on each corner of the tower. These were designed to repel evil away from the church. The gap toothed, smiling dragon like creation looking down at me, looked incapable of repelling anything.

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The church of St Mary, Swinstead.

We are in an area where churches were more often than not open in pre covid days. Next on the list was Bitchfield, the collective name for two small hamlets, Bitchfield and Lower Bitchfield.  I had been here before on two occasions in the last 15 years and on each occasion the church had been open.  The main reason for popping in again this time was just to see if it was open, whether the pandemic had had an effect on churches such as this, in tiny hamlets where very few would visit. Sadly, it had and the church was closed. Obviously, things might have changed in the last few years. The person unlocking and locking may have passed away; a theft may have changed the PCC’s attitude on opening. All of this is understandable. If the church was closed due to covid though, a small village in the middle of nowhere, a very pleasant middle of nowhere, that is not said with a shred of disrespect, then I find that hard to understand. The risk of picking up the virus from the church here must be incredibly small! It is what it is though!

The church of St Mary dates back to the 11thcentury, with some internal herringbone masonry dated to that point.  An impressive church for the size of the village, square tower with recessed spire, lots of graffiti in the porch, a strong wind blowing across the open countryside to the north and a large German Shepherd across the road, who had climbed on to his kennel roof to see what I was doing!

Looking back at my photographs from that previous visit, it springs to my mind how unusual the stained glass in the east window is. Normally, there would be a depiction of Christ Crucified, or possibly panels containing various scenes from the life of Christ. This is one of the very few times where Christ is missing from the east window. Instead, we have panels illustrating the Good Samaritan. Lovely glass and an important lesson, but unusual nonetheless.

Just before the pandemic outbreak I visited Wirksworth in Derbyshire. A very pleasant local took it upon himself to give me an unofficial tour around the church, which I was grateful for. This is an important and historic church but the first thing my guide showed me was the east window, which was a depiction of the parable of the talents. That is how unusual this is!

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The church of St Mary Magdalene, Bitchfield

The church of St Thomas A Becket Bassingthorpe

A mile or so away and we came to Bassingthorpe, a new church for me. My word this is remote. The sun had come out and the wind was now pretty ferocious, screaming over the fields. The village of Bassingthorpe consists of four houses and a church.

To be fair, one of the houses is a big one, with the manor house to the south of the church being built by Thomas Coney in 1568. The size of the church in relation to the size of the village is a good indicator of the wealth that was in this area in the past. The path from the manor house to the south porch of the church is lined with bushes on both sides. There was no sound except the wind. This is beautiful.

A large church, but in the past it looked as if it would have been a little bigger still, the ghostly outline of a now vanished south chapel visible in the brickwork.

The church of St Thomas A Becket was closed and I refer you back to my comments for Bitchfield. There may be reasons as to why this church is closed other than covid. The church is remote and vulnerable and if that is the case, I don’t blame them for keeping it closed. If the reason is covid though then, with great respect, I just shrug my shoulders and wonder why!

The porch was open and there was the usual graffiti, mainly initials and dates from the 18th century. There was the traced outline of a shoe, with a very broad fit for those days. This one does not have a date or initials; it is thought that where there is a shoe traced in to the stonework with date and initial it is a memorial to someone who has died. If that is true, then perhaps initials and dates on their own could also be termed as a memorial to someone who has died rather than simply the initials of someone visiting and leaving their mark.

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The church of St Peter, Ropsley.

We moved on to Ropsley; the largest of the seven villages in the friendly and welcoming North Beltisloe benefice.  The church here was open and it was lovely to be able to see inside. I was here several years ago, with a very basic digital camera and the results were not great!

The church of St Peter, sits in the centre of the village, and dates back to the 11th century, with some long and short Saxon stonework helping to date it to that time. The tower is 13th century, with the broache spire dating to the 14th century.  A black and white cat, after a fashion, came up and sort of said hi, before losing his or her nerve and fleeing off in the direction of the nearby retirement bungalows.

All was peace and calm inside. I really relish these periods of complete silence!  Hand sanitiser on entry and unrestricted access throughout the church.  My eye was caught by a stained glass window in the south aisle to one William Dales, a pilot who was shot down and killed in 1941. He is depicted, in uniform, with two dogs, one at his side and one at his feet. The face of the pilot looks to be an actual photograph superimposed in to the window. Wonder if the dogs were his in real life?

Other glass shows the risen Christ, wounds visible on hands, appearing to Mary Magdalene.  Peter, holding keys to the kingdom of Heaven and Paul with sword are also here. Some interesting Latin inscription is carved around one of the pillars in the south aisle. My Latin is as good as my Mandarin Chinese so it remains untranslated from my end. The chancel is plain, understated and beautiful!

A recumbent figure of a lady at prayer can be seen in the south aisle, pretty much hemmed in by chairs. A curious carving of a figure with bald head, large nose and one eye closed peers down from the nave.

The church grounds are large and have much of interest. There are a couple of Belvoir Angel stones here, one in situ and one lying against the wall of the church close to the south porch.  These are a long way from home, having thought to have been carved in or around Hickling on the Nottinghamshire / Leicestershire border.  Beautifully carved in swithland slate, the in situ one dates from 1730. Slate gravestones do not deteriorate over the years but this one has taken a battering.  At one point, two Belvoir Angels would have sat across the top of the grave; most have now been broken off, with the words “Be Ye Also Ready” in between the two.

A good day out; travelling whilst we still able to do so!

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