Leicestershire November 2021

Stapleford  St Mary Magdalene - Open
Cold Overton - St John the Baptist - Closed but let in by vicar!

Remembrance Sunday 2021, and an afternoon Leicestershire churchcrawl. We started off with a visit to the church of St Mary Magdalene, Stapleford. This one had been on the bucket list for several years. An attempt during the summer of 2020 ended in failure, with the park gates closed due to the pandemic, The church here can be found in picturesque Stapleford Park, with a high quality hotel close by. Despite the infection rates remaining high, the park and the church were both open. 

    The church here was built in 1783, and was designed by architect George Richardson, who designed two churches for the Fourth Earl of Harborough; the other being the exquisite church of Holy Trinity, Teigh in Rutland which is an absolute must visit if you are in the area.

    The church here replaced an earlier church in the village. which I am assuming was on the same site. I am really struggling to find out any information on this previous structure. Unless I missed anything there is nothing in the church grounds that appears to pre date the present structure. 

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The church is redundant and is looked after by the Churches Conservation Trust. It says on their website that the best time to visit here is in the spring, with the multitude of spring flowers. Well, it looked pretty good in the winter as well to be honest, with a variety of colours in the trees and a golden carpet of leaves coating the grass leading up tp the church. The church open sign was out and we were good to go!

    The three stage, perpendicular tower is slim and elegant. Battlemented and pinnacled with entry through the west door, above which is a carving of a peacock's tail, part of the Harborough family crest. Walking around the exterior, we see a church of west tower, nave with north and south transepts and chancel.  The slender tower appears a little out of place considering the large dimensions of the rest of the church. Coats or arms can be seen on all four sides of the church. Windows on each transept were bricked in and the church clock, set to the west face of the tower suggested that it was 9.35. It was closer to 2pm! A lovely church in the most beautiful of surroundings.

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My word, this is an impressive interior! Three tiers of stalls run the length of the nave, from west to east rather than north to south. With the exception of the electric lamps this is a scene which would have altered little since the church was built in 1783. This is an interior where it is very easy to visualize the past! Easy to bring to mind the stalls being packed with people, all turning to face the east when the creed was read. 

   Gary came in to this one with me and every word that was spoken echoed! Walking to the chancel, past a memorial brass dating from 1490 to one Geoffrey Sherard, his wife Joyce and 14 children, the visitor can see an impressive gallery at the west end of the church. This was a private gallery for the Earl of Harborough's family. A fireplace is still in place there, which helped to keep them warm up there during the winter.

    The chancel is pretty much in keeping with the rest of the interior; tasteful and elegant. The east window is of plain glass, the altar is simple with just a single cross on it, with a beautiful marble reredos. Commandment boards are positioned either side of the east window.

    I shot the interior twice, with and without lights. I don't for the most part like to photograph with the church lights on but here the lights really brought out the beautiful colours in the chancel.

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A memorial in the north transept to the First Earl of Harborough, Bennet Sherard, and his wife Mary is of great quality and interest.  This was carved by Flemish sculptor John Michael Rysbrack. Rysbrack was one of the most talented sculptors of that age and his monument to Isaac Newton can be found in Westminster Abbey.

   The earl is dressed in a Roman toga and leans back, with bare feet on a cushion. Mary sits at the side of him, holding a small boy on her lap. They were married in 1696 but Mary died in 1702, shortly after giving birth to her son, who was in turn to die shortly after. Bennet was to pass on in 1732. A stunning piece of work. 

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In the south transept is a black and white marble chest tomb to Willian, the First Baron Sherard and his wife Abigail, which dates to 1640. The couple lay side by side, unusually their hands are not at prayer. William is dressed in armour and one of his hands is against his sword, the other is draped across his chest. Surrounding the couple are their children, which include at least two chrisoms, which are depictions of very young children who died before their swaddling clothes were taken off. I say at least two as the monument is tight up against the wall of the south transept and some of the children are hidden from view. 

   The detail on this monument is stunning with one young female figure catching the eye, looking proudly in front of her, with perfect posture as she daintily lifts up the hem of her dress as she kneels on a cushion. A ram lies at the feet of William and a greyhound lies at the feet of Abigail, I believe both of these having to do with the family coat of arms. 

    This monument pre dates the present church and would have come from the previous church, along with the brass in the nave. There is a distinct lack of information regarding the previous church in the village. A look around the grounds didn't show anything that would predate the present church, and I am not sure that the present church was on the same site as the previous.

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Leaving Stapleford, we headed south in to and then out of Rutland, which doesn’t take a great deal of doing to be truthful, across the A606 and in to Leicestershire; with Cold Overton being the destination.

This was a return visit; having seen the church here late one Sunday evening back in 2016. We were surprised to find the church open that late, a sign up on the main door which read ‘Do Not Close Birds Nesting’ explaining why.

It was good to find it open but the lighting was such that very little of what I shot on the day was of any use; so it was good to see it again.

Cold Overton can be found close to the Rutland border, some three miles west of Oakham. The village itself is picturesque, with the church of St John The Baptist standing central; consisting of west tower, with recessed spire, nave with north and south aisles and clerestories, south porch and chancel.

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The church is built from ironstone and limestone and is battlemented and buttressed throughout. A church clock can be seen high up on the east face of the tower, and lower down on the south wall. A variety of stone heads, both human and beast, look out over the church grounds. One more modern human male figure expresses his disgust at something or someone that has offended him!

Sadly, the church was closed to visitors but as I was leaving the grounds, the vicar arrived to check things were okay for a Remembrance service later that afternoon. He asked me if I would like to see inside and that was a definite yes!

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The east window is of three lights and of stained glass. The central panel depicts Jesus, cradling a lamb, as the Good Shepherd. Flanked by Mary the Mother of Jesus to the left as we look at it; holding Lilies as a symbol of purity. To the right is St John the Baptist.

The reredos is a Victorian addition. Three scenes run from left to right; starting with a nativity scene with just Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus. Central is the crucifixion, a fairly formal illustration, but whoever carved this has made a wonderful job of capturing the sorrow on Mary’s face.

To the right is the resurrection, with Jesus emerging triumphant from the tomb, hand raised in blessing, and with wounds visible; a sleeping Roman soldier off to one side. A rather over scale angel watches over proceedings!

A floor slab dating from the very late 17th century, marks the final resting place of a married couple, and warns the onlooker that they too will pass. It reads ‘As you are so was we. As we are you must be'.

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The church here is known best for a collection of 12th century wall paintings in the south aisle. A couple are easily identifiable, such as St Catherine, with wheel and John The Baptist but others are less easy to identify.

Catherine is crowned and is by the side of the wheel, which was the manner of her martyrdom. The top part of a processional cross is nearby. This painting, of which only parts remain, can be found on the east wall of the south aisle; it is therefore possibly reasonable to say that there may well have been a chapel here dedicated to St Catherine.

A quick look around the rest of the interior prior to leaving showed St Michael; dressed in armour with long flowing vibrantly coloured red wings, just about to bring his sword down on evil in the form of a dragon. This is from Revelation Chapter 12 verses 7 - 9 which reads

‘Then war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. 8 But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. 9 The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him’

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Infection rates were high, and the country was bracing itself for another long, hard winter, albeit this year with the benefit of vaccines. It was good to see this remembrance service was to take place as for most, this service was cancelled due to covid concerns the previous. year.

We headed off in a vaguely north westerly direction on search of a few Belvoir Angel gravestones that I had missed on a previous visit. For whatever reason, Gary seemed more interested in Leicester City’s £100 million training facility, which had opened the previous year. To be fair, in my pre churchcrawling days I would have agreed with him, before this hobby took over and affected my life for the better.