OLD BOLINGBROKE : CHURCH OF ST PETER & ST PAUL

Church Post Code PE23 4HH

Church usually open to visitors

It was August 2022; the long hot summer which had created records for heat and lack of rainfall. The hot spell had eased for this Lincolnshire churchcrawl.

 It was dull and dry as we left Peterborough, which was forecast. The rain though, which started within five minutes of leaving home was not forecast; but was welcomed by many! It looked as if this trip was going to be a washout with the steady drizzle turning in to a downpour; deciding to stay in the vehicle as we went past Anwick, our scheduled first point of call.

 The rain wasn’t forecast; but neither was the sunshine which followed it, and by the time that we arrived at Old Bolingbroke, the fifth church of the day in what turned out to be a 15 church crawl, the sun was out and the lighting was a delight!

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Old Bolingbroke is a historic village, which had a population of 325 at the time of the 2011 census. It can be found just to the west of the A16, some 16 miles north of Boston.  The church of St Peter & St Paul is situated at the north of the village, with the mounds of the castle close by.

It is always fascinating visiting a place with a wealth of history; and that is certainly the case here. The village was included in the Domesday Survey of 1086, with a church mentioned here at that time.

A castle was built here in the 12th century, which replaced an earlier defensive structure. This in turn was replaced by a new castle, built by Ranulph de Blondeville in 1220, following his return from the fifth crusade.     This castle was acquired by John of Gaunt, the son of Edward III and in 1367 John’s son Henry, known as Henry of Bolingbroke was born. He went on to become King Henry IV of England; ruling the country from 1399 until 1413.

A couple of miles or so off to the North West is the hamlet of Winceby; where an English Civil War battle was fought in October 1643. At this time, there were Royalist troops holed up in Bolingbroke Castle. Parliamentary troops were on Dewey Hill attempting to oust them. The church was literally caught in the middle and was severely damaged with the nave and north aisle being destroyed.

This was a return visit; with a previous trip to this area having taken place in 2020. At that time the majority of churches were closed due to covid concerns and the vast majority of churches in this area were shut. A sign up noted the dates for ringing practices in March 2020, with dates immediately before and after the first national lockdown.

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Things were more stable nationally on this return visit, with the church open and preparations ongoing for a concert, which was part of a weekend Civil War re-enactment.

The church that we see today is thought to date from around 1360 and consists of tower, nave, north aisle, south porch and chancel. The tower is offset to the North West and would originally stood at the end of the nave, before the old nave and north aisle were lost during the Civil War. The south aisle survived and became the nave, with a new north aisle being built during the late 1800’s.

The three stage tower is perpendicular and built of squared greenstone; it is heavily buttressed and with four crocketed corner and central pinnacles. Grotesques of some age look out from three of the four corners. A winged creature with horns looks out from the north east corner; with an eagle at the south east with a very weathered human figure completing the set.

Lower down there are further carvings which include a sleeping dog, a bald headed man with flowing beard and a couple of Bishops. Close by, a beautifully carved female head, with serene expression, looks out through some ivy.

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At the time of North’s study of the church bells of Lincolnshire, which was published in 1882, there was a single bell hanging here; this being cast by Henry Oldfield II of Nottingham in 1604. North notes that this is inscribed ‘I sweetly toling men do call to taste of meats that feeds the soule’

According to North; in 1553 there was three ‘great belles’ and a Sanctus bell hanging here.

These days, there is a ring of six bells hanging here, with five bells being cast by Taylor of Loughborough in 1897, which I am assuming were cast at that time to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee.

Still on the subject of bells, there is an interesting note posted up detailing the story of Revd Robert Graham, who was imprisoned for a time in 1940 for having the church bell tolled before service. This was in contravention of legislature which stated that church bells should only be used to signify the start of a German invasion, with any clergy responsible for their bells being rung liable for prosecution for causing unnecessary alarm among the population.

And still on the subject of bells, there is a Ellacombe Chiming Apparatus here, which is a device which allows one person to ring a series of bells, with the bells being struck by hammers instead of the bells ringing by being turned full circle! This system was invented by Revd Henry Ellacombe in 1821; as he sought to find an alternative to the church bells being rung by teams of drunken and unruly bell ringers. It is thought that there are around 400 mechanisms of this type still working in this country.

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Moving inside, entry is through the south porch, which dates from 1889, and which leads directly in to what was the south aisle in pre Civil War days. I was fortunate to meet a friendly and knowledgeable local whilst there. As always it is good to meet a kindred spirit and the snippets of the church history picked up were appreciated very much.

Inside, it was bright and welcoming, with the unexpected and welcome sunlight flooding in through the south windows. That altar is plain and simple, with a curtain forming a reredos against the east wall. The fine five light window is of clear glass and there is an empty image niche on either side of this window, which would have held a statue in pre reformation days.

A good gauge as to the prestige of this church is that there is a triple sedilia, the seating for the clergy. And a piscina alongside, which would have been used in washing the holy vessels used in the mass. Remember that this was originally not the nave; this was the south aisle and the visitor can only wonder what the chancel here would have looked like pre 1643!

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 There is an arcade of four bays leading to the north aisle, with this new north aisle dating from the late `19th century. The arcade itself dates from the 14th century and the arches would have been bricked up after the nave was lost after the Civil War damage. These were opened up again when the new Victorian north aisle was built.

Another indicator of the prestige of the church here can be seen by looking at the piers, which are continuously moulded, with no capitals part way up; which lead to elegant pointed arches. Craftsmanship of the highest quality! The most eastern of the four bays plays host to the church organ.

The four light west window is of stained glass, with this dating from the early 1900’s. There is depicted from left to right, St George with vanquished dragon at his feet; St Peter who holds the key to the Kingdom of Heaven, St Paul who holds a downturned sword and St Hugh of Lincoln.

The latter is depicted holding a replica of Lincoln cathedral, with a swan at the side of him. Hugh was elected Bishop of Lincoln in 1186 and was responsible for starting restoration work on Lincoln Cathedral after it had been damaged in an earthquake. Legend says that he had a great friend in a white swan who used to guard him whilst he slept.

The font is 14th century and might well have been used to baptise a future King of England! It was interesting to see a pentagram carved in to one of the walls. This is associated today with witchcraft, but it had early Christian connections and was a symbol used to depict the five wounds of Christ.

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Moving in to the bell tower there is a delightful fireplace, above which is a plaque which states that sixpence for ever will be given to those poor widows who attend the divine service.

A date of 1410 is carved in to one of the walls, which would be the oldest dated graffiti that I have come upon. Close by is a gargoyle set in to a recess.  There is a stone carving missing centrally, high up on the east side of the tower and I did wonder if this might have come from there. It is always interesting to see these 'retired' gargoyles and grotesques at ground level!

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This is a wonderful church; full of history and interest, and I enjoyed my time here very much. We moved on towards Bag Enderby and its association with Poet Laureate Tennyson and then on to Loosby, where there was a flock of sheep in the church grounds. It was turning in to a good crawl!

All photographs on this page, with the exception of the one to the left, were taken in the August 2022 revisit. The photograph of the church from the north east was from the original visit in the summer of 2020, when most churches were closed due to covid restrictions.