LINCOLNSHIRE  AUGUST 2020

MARSTON, HOUGHAM, FENTON, BALDERTON, FOSTON & LONG BENNINGTON.

It was August 2020, and named storm Francis had hit the UK, inflicting torrential rain and gale force winds. I don’t know who is responsible for naming the storms but Francis did not really do this one justice. Francis is a gentle name, a librarian or a social worker perhaps; should have named it Genghis or Vlad!

Work had been cancelled for the day due to the heavy rain from earlier, but the forecast for the rest of the day was decent so we headed out for a time, starting out a Marston, five miles to the north of Grantham in South Kesteven, Lincolnshire later crossing in to Nottinghamshire, ending the afternoon back in Lincolnshire, the day being curtailed slightly with the wind speed increasing to the extent that the van was rocking about a fair bit!

Each church visited that day was closed to visitors. Church services go to zoom and youtube, no problem; it’s not the same but no problem! In some respects the church has never been more open than they are now. I took midnight communion at Christmas with a church in Jersey! Evidently numbers of people taking part in Alpha this year is very high. The churches themselves though, are of great importance. Places of quiet and calm; an escape from the stresses of a time that will be taught about in future generation school history lessons! It was sad to see so many closed.

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The church of St Mary, Marston.

The church of St Mary at Marston dates from the second half of the 12th century. The structure that we see today consists of West tower with octagonal broach spire, nave with north and south aisles, south porch and chancel with chapel to the south east.

A variety of carved heads look out from the spire. The south porch has three images niches, with the statues that would have stood there removed I daresay during the Reformation. Fascinating to think back to those days, and try to picture the scene as churches were desecrated and the spiritual life of the country ripped apart.

The village sign stands just outside the church grounds, a depiction of the church included, along with the village school and a scene of the river Witham approaching the village, with the church of St Mary off in the distance. A well placed village sign, allowing the visiting churchcrawler to get a photograph of the church spire looming over the artist’s impression on the sign.

As is normally the case in this area, there are some finely carved slate gravestones here. One mid 18th century grave depicts Old Father Time, standing on a plinth and carrying an hour glass in one hand and a scythe in the other. Tempus Fugit, time flies! A skull stands on the ground nearby. Man is mortal and will die; live a good life and do not be caught short when your time comes. The same message to the onlooker now as it was on the day that it was carved.

Close by, a very ancient gravestone, this one not in slate; sunk in to the ground with age, also has a skull carved on to it, one eye socket turned white through lichen.

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We headed north, for a mile or so, to neighbouring Hougham and the church of All Saints. The church here dates back to the 11th century, with ongoing work on it throughout the centuries. It consists of west tower, nave with north and south aisles and clerestories, south porch and chancel.

The tower dates from the 14th century and is square pinnacled and battlemented. The south porch is also pinnacled, and also has three small empty image niches. No security light addition here!  Standing in the grounds and looking at the church from the south, there has certainly been work here during the 18th century, with the windows in the curiously short in length but tall chancel dating from that time. This is a pleasing church to look at; on what had turned in to a gloriously sunny but still very windy summer afternoon.

There are carved stone heads throughout the exterior of the church. A grotesque winged creature with one ear and two teeth, stares out across the church grounds. Close by, a similar figure with scales on its stomach lifts up an arm to touch its face that has eroded to nothing.

Also to be seen here is a human face with goatee beard had most of his face covered in lichen; with boxer’s nose and foliage growing out of its head. Most strange though was a bizarre figure which has small human faces lined up on each side of its face!

I tried the door, more in hope than expectation.  It would have been good to have seen inside this one as I believe that there is a monument in there to Hugh De Bussey, who is said to have been a senior figure in the Knights Templar. For whatever reason Lincolnshire seemed to be important with regards the Knights Templars, with Temple Bruer, Aslackby and South Witham all reasonably close.

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There had been a great deal of rain during the previous few hours and there was the sound of fast running water coming from the south end of the spacious church grounds, which were interesting without offering anything of great importance.

Simple crossed bones were carved in to the top of one gravestone; like there is at Marston but without the skull. The bones were another symbol of the mortality of Man, with the message being the same. If we look a little more in to this though we can read more in to it!

 The medieval mind believed that the skull and the large bones such as the thigh bones were important for the body of the deceased to be resurrected on the final day. That is why these bones were treated with such care and respect in bone crypts. Here we have a carving that could serve two purposes. Firstly, this would remind the onlooker to live a good life and not be caught out when their time came; an important message in times of low life expectancy.  Secondly though, this could also be something to proclaim the faith of the deceased.  

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The church of All Saints, Hougham

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We headed off in a vaguely north westerly direction, to Fenton, and  the church of All Saints. This is a strange one with regards access to be truthful. We drove up a back lane and saw a footpath leading to the church, which appeared to go through someone’s garden!

The church was closed to visitors, but a sign up in the porch said that the church would be open for private prayer all day on Saturdays.

The church grounds are cleared of gravestones, the stones being lined up against whatever walls of outbuildings are available. A lot of these gravestones are 18th century, but nothing really caught the eye as being of interest.

This is a lovely sight; an attractive church in a secluded rural setting, the church framed by trees and bushes on three sides.  The church consists of west tower with recessed, crocketed spire, nave with north and south aisles, south porch and chancel.

The earliest parts of the church here date back to the 12th century. The perpendicular west tower is 15th century, and is of three stages. Gargoyles surround the tower, with the one at the south eastern corner having suffered a blockage at some point; the resultant growth of foliage sprouting wildly out of its head no doubt striking a chord with many people who had need of a hairdresser during lockdown.  There was Victorian restoration here during 1875 and 1888.

A frieze running across the top of the tower is of a repeated ‘X’ design. The outline of a previous roofline can be seen on the east wall of the tower. There are some lovely 14th century windows in the south aisle; and to be fair the chancel is not going to be winning any architectural awards!  Having said that, this is a lovely church!

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The church of All Saints, Fenton.

We crossed over the border in to Nottinghamshire, aiming for the church of St Giles, Balderton. This is a large, bustling village of getting on for 10,000, making this one of the largest villages in the county.

Making my way to the north porch from the high street, the visitor will be immediately struck by an impressive Norman doorway; there is obviously some age to parts of this church. The church here dates back to the 12th century, with the church enlarged during the next two hundred years or so. There was restoration here in the `1880’s, at which time the tower was encased in ashlar.

The structure that we see today consists of tower with spire, nave with north and south aisles, north and south porches and chancel with north chapel. The tower dates back to the 13th century, and is battlemented and pinnacled, with finely carved grotesque figures, vaguely human and with at least one dressed in armour, at the four corners.

The broach spire is recessed and crocketed; dating from the late 14th century or thereabouts. At the west end, a visitor had left his mark, ‘WB’ carving his or her initials here in 1736.

The crowning glory of this church is the north and south doorways, with these dating from around 1140; the north door being the more ornate of the two. What a statement piece the north door is! The arches are of three orders, with the inner arch of beakhead design; the other two orders being of zig zag patterns. Above the doorway is an image niche, in which there is the very weathered and ancient looking depiction of a saint.

There is little of note in the church grounds to be fair, but an engraving on a mid 18th century slate grave reads ‘Plain and sincere of a pious life, a tender mother and a faithfull (sic) wife, good to the poor kind to her family, frugal yet of extensive charity’.

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The church of St Giles Balderton (Notts)

We headed south, back in the direction of Grantham. The sun was blazing down and the light quality was stunning. The clouds were starting to gather though and the wind was increasing. We aimed for Foston, a village five miles to the north west of Grantham, the busy A1 running just to the south of the village.

The spire of Claypole church was visible to the north across the fields; this being one of my favourite churches in Lincolnshire. In fact, it is one of my favourite churches in any county!

The church of St Peter dates back to the 12th century, being extended during the 13th and 15th centuries, before being restored in 1859. The structure that we see today consists of west tower, nave with north and south aisles and clerestories, south porch and chancel with south chapel.

The west tower is battlemented and pinnacled, and dates back to the late 12th century. There is a stair turret to the south west corner and a church clock in the traditional blue and gold looks out from the south face. A door dating from the same period can be seen on the west wall of the tower, now bricked in. Gargoyles surround the tower, each one headless!

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There was a resigned acceptance that the church would be closed, and so it proved to be. This is another that I would have liked to have seen inside, with the chancel arch and font each being late 12th century.

The church grounds here are of great interest. The grounds are large, and well maintained. A bench is put up to the south of the church; a pleasant place to spend a relaxing hour or so, with a cool drink and a book on a warm summer evening.  Despite the sunshine, today was not a good day to be sitting on a bench reading!

There are several slate gravestones here, all on a similar theme. The letters HIS, the first three letters of Jesus’ name in Greek, are carved on to a cloud. The suns rays, representing the Holy Spirit, shine down on a scene containing a book with a cross on it, a skull on the floor alongside.  Each contains a Bible quote.

One reads ‘As in Adam all die even so in Christ all shall be made alive’, this coming from 1 Corinthians Chapter 15 verse 22, with all of these coming from the King James Translation for obvious reasons, given that they were carved in the 18th century.

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Another has a stark message for the onlooker ‘Dust thou art and unto dust thou shalt return’ which is from Genesis chapter 3 verse 19.  Another reads ‘What man is he that liveth and shall not see death’, this coming from Psalm 89, verse 48. Bible Gateway is really useful!

With many of the gravestones here being of slate, they are very well preserved and there is scope for including some details about the deceased, with the carvings virtually as crisp as on the day that they were carved. A couple of these are signed, with ‘J Sparrow Sculp’ appearing on stones from 1728 and 1740. One of these has the following carved on to it ‘Near this tone here lieth one, laid in the silent dust, who unto all both great and small, was in his dealings just’.

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The church of St Peter, Foston.

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The church of St Swithun, Long Bennington.

The intention was to end the day with a re-visit to the church of St Swithun, Long Benington. This is a delightfully rural church, surrounded by trees, with a note on the gate when I visited asking that the gate be kept closed to keep the deer out. There was a friendly and helpful lady Vicar and a lovely church to visit.

Not so lovely on this day though. The wind had picked up again and the noise as it went through the trees was amazing. I popped out of the van, made a half hearted attempt at taking some photographs and then made an executive decision to head straight back in to the van again; and that it was it for the day.