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Barnwell, St Andrew & All Saints, Polebrook, Warmington & Haddon.

Thurning left behind, it was a three mile cycle to Barnwell.  This delightful Northamptonshire village can be found two miles to the south of Oundle, the river Nene separating the two.  There was a long standing Royal connection to the village. The Queen’s Aunt Alice lived in Elizabethan Barnwell Manor from 1938 until a few years before her death, at the age of 102.

A brook runs through the village, running past the ruins of a castle and alongside the main street. The pub is central and was busy. A very impressive looking car was being shown off by its proud owner close to the pub. I have no idea what the car was. I can date a gravestone to within a few years from a distance of a hundred yards but cars are a mystery to me! I am not proud of this fact, and it is not something that would impress women at parties, if I ever got invited to any!

 Lots of people were out and about, making use of what had turned in to a glorious day. There are two churches in the village, the present day Barnwell being a joining up of Barnwell St Andrew and Barnwell All Saints, each having its own church.  Today, the parish church for the village is St Andrew and this was my first point of call.


The church of St Andrew, Barnwell.

An early lunch was had, leaning against the church gate at the side of the main road. Just about everyone who went past spoke. English village life!  The church here dates mainly from the 13th and 14th centuries. By some way the biggest church that I had seen thus far that day.

The path leading to the south porch is tree lined, with the wall to the west of the path, which separates church from rectory, being composed of material, including a window frame, from the demolished church of All Saints.

As to the church itself, the square tower has a broache spire, with three windows. There is a stair turret to the south east corner of the tower and the church clock faces out to the south.  An intriguing circular window below the clock is composed of three circles decreasing in size, all of dogtooth design. The nave and chancel are impressive and the south porch is similar. Some obvious wealth here when this church was built! This was reflected in the quality of the gravestones over to the south and east, some very fine work here; memorials to those of means!

The church was closed.  A couple approached, masks in hand, who wanted to see inside the church; the man having lived in the village many years before. They went away disappointed. A few thoughts went through my head, none of which were particularly productive. The pub was open and the church was closed. Yes, we need to ensure that people are safe but is this taking it too far?  It is important here to realise that this is, pre covid, an open and welcoming benefice. A benefice that I have visited often, worshiped in and one that I have a great love for! I imagine that it is hard for those connected with these churches to turn people away.  But they were turned away!

The day before writing this I was turned away from a church in Buckinghamshire by the vicar, there was no problem from me with regards this and we had a chat before I left. I said to the Vicar that it was poor when a Christian is turned away from a church. In fact it is poor when anyone is turned away from a church, he simple answer was “Yes, it is wrong”.


The church of All Saints, Barnwell.

It was a different story across the village at All Saints. This was a full sized church at one point before it fell in to disrepair. The chancel is all that remains now, the rest having been pulled down by 1825. This was a very relaxed scene. The chancel was open and a table was set out a few yards away with two friendly and helpful ladies on duty. A third helper was taking the opportunity to mow the grounds. It was good to see that my favourite dead tree was still standing in a field to the south.  What a pleasant way of spending a glorious Saturday afternoon. 

An amazing difference in outlook between two churches a few hundred yards apart! It brought to mind a Sunday trip out to Lincolnshire from the summer. On a day of almost totally closed churches Silk Willoughby was hosting a Heritage open weekend. The church was open, home made cakes were available, the tiffin was exceptional, and all was relaxed! I

As mentioned earlier, just the chancel remains standing. Entry is through a door in the west end, where the chancel arch would have been prior to the rest of the church being demolished. The east end and sides are beautifully panelled, these dating from 1740. The alter is simple and tasteful.

Memorials date back to 1611, to Dame Lettice Montagu, nearby is a memorial to her son Henry, who drowned in the moat at Barnwell castle. Close by is a memorial to Dorothy Creed, designed by her mother in law Elizabeth Creed, a relative of Samuel Pepys. The Montagu Earls of Sandwich were buried here until the 19th century. As you would expect it is small and confined inside, no chance of any real social distancing here but there was no need. One out and one in! Contact number left in case of any covid related issues. Just be careful, as we all should have been during the last nine months!


The church of All Saints, Polebrook.

It was around three miles to Polebrook and the legs were still okay surprisingly!  Polebrook is a village of around 500, two and a half miles south east of Oundle. Work on RAF Polebrook began in 1940 and actor Clark Gable flew combat missions for the American Air Force from here in 1943. The airfield was closed in 1948. A memorial outside the village stands to those members of the 351st Bomber Group USAAF who were filled.

The church of All Saints stands on raised ground in the centre of the village. A row of lovely old cottages stand to the west of the church. Two thatched cottages nearby each have thatched animals on them. Two swans touch beaks in one, whilst next door a cat raises its tail in greeting! To the north of the church stands a war memorial with an old red phone box close by, which has a Grade II listing in its own right!

The church here dates from the 12th century, but it is suggested that an earlier wooden structure stood on this site.  The square buttressed tower leads to a broache spire, similar to Barnwell earlier. There is a one handed church clock, recently restored, in the traditional colours of blue and gold. One handed clocks are unusual but not unique, and there is another just a few miles away at Stoke Doyle, the other side of Oundle.

There are north and south porches, the former being particularly impressive. There is a large south transept, and if I remember correctly the American flag was flying inside the church, as a further reminder of the fallen in World War II. I am sure that it still flies there today!

This was my ninth church of the day, and as I arrived, a couple of cyclists were just leaving. These were the first Ride and Stride cyclists that I had seen all day! A man connected with the church came over to check that there were enough refreshments still laid out for anyone visiting. As with before, there were apologies for the church being closed and a promise that things would be different next year when, hopefully, all of this will have cleared.

There are some very fine gravestones to be found here, mainly from the 18th century. One of the more interesting church grounds locally. Many are quite badly weathered now but worthy of note is a figure flying through clouds blowing a trumpet, symbol of the resurrection. Close by, two angels hold aloft a crown of victory, the victory here being over death. The symbols of each of these gravestones was meant to be a lesson for those looking on, in symbol form as most onlookers could not read or write, as well as proclaiming in each case the faith of the deceased.


The church of St Mary The Virgin, Warmington.

It was around three miles to Warmington and the church of St Mary. We had moved to a different benefice here and pre covid four out of the five churches were open daily. At that time, September, at least two of these were open for private prayer daily, one of them being Warmington.. Not sure what the situation is as this is being typed in early December 2020.

In my early days of working for myself I had a customer who lived opposite the church. Fond memories of the customers big black Labrador who stole my lunch one day, a very playful kitten and a chicken who shredded my kneeling mat one day when I was at lunch. My lunch times in those days were spent in the 13th century church, just looking around and enjoying the stillness. Looking up at the collection of ceiling bosses depicting various green men, for which this church is well known.

The church here is viewed as having one of the best broache spires in the area, and for anyone visiting here the elaborately carved doorway to the west face of the tower is of great interest.

The church open sign was out. Visitors were welcomed and there were slight restrictions of movement within the church itself. It was good to be able to do a little private Bible study, enjoying the quiet as I followed a series of panels depicting the life of Christ, with Mary prominent in each of the panels except one, where He taught in the temple as a child. Jesus alone in another window, dressed in white and surrounded by Lilies as a symbol of purity shows the onlooker his crucifixion wounds. Even though Jesus is looking off slightly to one side it is a direct statement for those looking on. I died for you!

I enjoyed my time here very much and it was good to see a few other people enjoying the church as well.


The church of St Mary, Haddon (Cambridgeshire)

Final church of the day was St Mary, Haddon. Those who have followed what I have been doing these last few years will probably know my love for this church. Pre covid the doors never closed. It was open during the night in case anyone ever needed it! I have attended many services here, including an open air nativity service a few years ago in the bitter cold. More recently, a contemporary service had become a regular favourite of mine before the first lockdown stopped it in its tracks.

I was not going to visit Haddon that day but I wanted to be reassured that the church was open; that something was as it had been pre covid! St Mary was open; I was convinced that it would be.  At the risk of being over sentimental, which I really don’t want to be, I felt quite emotional being here. A 20 minute cycle ride from my home and there is somewhere where I could spend the day in peace and calm if I wanted. If someone came in they would be pleased to see me! A small church but big in love!

Ten years ago things were very difficult. I had lost my job and my health was not great. I needed peace and cycled to Haddon, standing in a field to the south east of the church and photographing the church repeatedly as the sun was setting.  Little intricate changes in cloud and colours! It was beautiful. As I went back in to the church a person came in who I knew and ten minutes later we were having a cup of tea together in her house.

When times were tough and I needed somewhere to go; somewhere where I could find peace and calm; somewhere where I could feel safe; when I was fearful of what the future might bring, I chose a church. Plenty of people would have need for the same this year and find doors closed that would normally be open. Whatever decision are made by the individual churches I am sure have been made with a good heart and a lot of thought. The doors have been closed though in times of crisis and no one will ever convince me that this is the right!

It was good to be on the cycle again, and this was a really good day out. The legs were not in a great state when I got back home but I was really pleased to have been out and about.

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