NORTHAMPTONSHIRE DECEMBER

WICKEN, POTTERSPURY, CASTLETHORPE (BUCKS) 

It was a filthy early December day in 2020. It had rained all night and it was due to rain throughout the day. All work had been cancelled for the day. Not an ideal day for a churchcrawl but that is what it turned in to.

Gary needed to pick up a Christmas present for his son and I was offered the chance of a ride out. We made the most of the chance whilst we still could. Covid rates were rising again and it was not too long before we were locked down for the third time and from then on it was essential travel only until the end of March.

The rain was steady as we left home, and for only the second time in nearly 15 years of doing this; I didn’t really want to leave the vehicle!  The time prior to this was a snowy trip to Norfolk by bus during the Beast from the East three years previous.

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First stop was Wicken, and the church of St John The Evangelist.  By the time that we arrived the rain had eased off to a light drizzle and the camera came out! Wicken is a small village between Buckingham and Milton Keynes, despite this though the village itself is in South Northants.

There is some good history here, with a Roman settlement on the edge of the village. The village that we see today dates from Saxon times and was once two villages, Wick Dive and Wick Hamon; the two separated by a stream. Time Team was here years ago and deduced that the Saxons settled here, attracted by the previous Roman settlement.

I miss Time Team very much and have some fond memories of this programme. Great to see that finances have been raised to film a few new ones. Archaeologist would have been my chosen career if things had been different! Mind you, as a gardener I dig holes and once turned up as small piece of Roman Nene Valley Ware pottery!

The church here is medieval, with the impressive west tower being rebuilt in 1617. There was much rebuilding here in in 1753 and further enlargement in the 1870’s. The present structure consists of west tower, nave with aisles, south porch, south chapel and chancel.

The church here is well looked after by a large and friendly dog who ambushed me in the lychgate as I was getting my camera ready; with much exposed tongue and wagging tail! His or her owner also came over just to double check that I was not going to lift the lead off the roof. This is always appreciated; it is good to know that people are looking out for our churches.

My visit here was limited due to the drizzle; a few shots of the exterior from under the cover of trees. On another day I would have explored more the gravestones to the north of the church, looking to date from the first half of the 18th century, but too weathered to date.

There is a war memorial to the east of the church, still adorned with many poppy wreaths from the previous months Remembrance Day. The church was closed to visitors.

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The church of St Nicholas, Potterspury.

We moved on, the van now filled, to put it mildly with a go cart; big enough that I could probably have ridden home on it if required. We stopped off at Potterspury, and the church of St Nicholas. Again; this is a village with much history with it being on the site of the Roman road, Watling Street. The village is on the edge of Whittlewood Forest, an area of ancient woodland and a church was noted as being here at the time of the Domesday Survey in 1086. This is a village of a decent size; with the population logged at nearly 1.500 at the time of the 2011 census.

I entered the church grounds via a narrow lane to the north west, a few houses sporting early Christmas trees; lights on them shining brightly in the very dark conditions. My heart really wasn’t in it to be truthful but the church was open, which was a bonus.

The church here dates from the 12th century, with the church extended and enlarged during the 13th and 15th centuries.  There were periods of restoration in 1848 and 1860-61. It comprises of west tower, nave with aisles and clerestories, south porch, north chapel and chancel.

The tower is very substantial, with ancient doorway to the west face. The diagonal buttresses give the impression that the tower tapers inwards, the higher it gets. The church clock faces out from the south side. It read 12,05 pm, it was dark enough to have been 4.30 pm!

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Services had obviously taken place here during the year, with some seats having a very polite sign asking people not to sit there. Hands were sanitised on entry and there was freedom of movement throughout the church. It was really dark inside but I went with what I had; not wanting to hunt for and use light switches. Was grateful just to find the church open!

There is some decent stained glass here. The parable of the sower and the seed and Jesus as the good shepherd are both included. The latter has a lovely touch; the sky behind Jesus being a vivid blue, with the exception of where His nimbus would have been, a lighter blue here taking the place of the nimbus. A stream runs nearby, the ‘stream of living water’ no doubt, with one sheep drinking from it.

Close by, Jesus is wrapped in white robes, surrounded by children of different nationalities. Ironically, Jesus Himself, as is often the case, has been turned in to a character looking very un Jewish!

The four light east window shows scenes from the Easter story.  The centre two panels depict the scene on Easter morning, an angel appearing to the three women at Jesus’ empty tomb. ‘He is not here, He has risen’. The panel far left shows Jesus appearing to Mary Magdalene, the panel far right shows Jesus walking with the two men on the road to Emmaus.

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Christ crucified, at the east end of the south chapel acts as a memorial window to those who fell in the First World War. Close by a modern stained glass depiction of the nativity shows a smiling Mary, holding out a naked Jesus at arm’s length.  Joseph looks excitedly at the approaching shepherds. Almost cartoonlike in appearance, there is a lovely energy to the scene depicted but I suspect that it would not be to everyone’s taste!

The chancel arch is interesting here, or rather three arches. This is a tri partite arch, with three tall arches, with the central arch being taller than the others. This is thought to date from the 1848 restoration.

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The church of St Nicholas, Potterspury.

We moved on, in to Buckinghamshire, with the weather improving a little; unlike my disposition, which deteriorated a little for a while.

I want this website to be a record of my churchcrawling during what was a historically significant and tragic year. I want to record how our churches had adapted and coped to the situation that evolved throughout the year.  We arrived at a church, which will remain nameless. This one made me cross; but I don’t want to disparage any individual church.

Walking up the path to the porch there were two cars parked and the lights were on.  Two people came out of the church as I arrived at the porch. I asked if the church was open to visitors, to which the lady said ‘No, blame Boris’ closing the door in my face. The other person who was the Vicar was really pleasant and said that if he had not been going to an advent service he would have taken me around himself.

Blame Boris! What a ridiculous thing to say. Okay, death rates were on the rise again and it was pretty obvious that we would be locked down again within a short period of time. At that time though, churches were allowed to be open for worship and for private prayer.  There was no government restrictions on churches at that time and indeed, churches were allowed to remain open through the third lockdown, although the vast majority opted to voluntarily close, which I totally agreed with.

Blame Boris! During the course of my travels I have heard plenty of concerns as to how the Church of England itself has hamstrung many churches with strict cleaning regimes, to the extent that many who would like to have opened not been able to do so. Clergy have said this; church wardens have said this! Members of the congregation have said this!

I am a church photographer; I have no problems with the churches being closed. The churches will still be there long after all this has blown through.  I am a practicing Christian; I have no problem with the church being closed in as much as I can pray anywhere; it doesn’t have to be inside a church. Having said that, it would have been good to have seen it open for the following reason!

What if the person being turned away had a real need! What if they had had enough and just wanted somewhere to sit and be at peace for a while. Some of you know me and know the struggles that I have had. There have been plenty of times where I have just needed peace and sought a church, even in my pre Christian life. If someone needing similar had been turned away this would be completely unacceptable.  This is really close to my heart.

Obviously we have to counter my own thoughts by looking at the other side. Perhaps the lady was fearful of things going on herself and didn’t want people around. Perhaps she was vulnerable health wise. Perhaps!  If someone struggling with life had asked for entry would they have been admitted? Perhaps!

Take a look at tiny Humby Chapel in Lincolnshire. Pledged to be open all daylight hours during the course of the pandemic; a quiet place for any to sit in should they wish, whoever they are! My opinion, for what it is worth, is that there is more need for the churches to be open during this last year than at any other time since the second world war.

By the way, the church in questions website says that they are always pleased to welcome visitors. Well they didn’t on this drizzly December afternoon.

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We moved on to nearby Castlethorpe, and the church of St Simon and St Jude, a village of around 1,000, which can be found four miles north of Newport Pagnell, right on the border with Northamptonshire. The village here has an interesting history; starting out as a cluster of houses for servants and labourers who worked at the nearby Castle.

The castle was owned by the Mauduit family, who sided with the barons in a dispute between some major landowner, the aforementioned barons, and King John. In the autumn of 1215, the castle was destroyed as part of this conflict and was never rebuilt.  All that remains now are the grassy banks that formed the motte and bailey.

As someone who has a lifelong love of history, I find it fascinating to try to think back as to how things used to look like in the past. Try to picture the scene here in Norman times, with a church smaller than what we see today, a scattering of houses around the church and the castle off to one side.

It is thought that there was a church on this site since Anglo Saxon times but the structure that we see today is Norman in origin. The nave here dates from the late 12th century, before the castle was demolished. The chancel dates from the 14th century, with the aisles added a century later. The tower dates from the 18th century.

Shots from this church were few and far between again, due to the drizzle which had started up again. The church is set by the side of the main road which runs through the village. There has been a substantial gravestone clearance to the south side, with large areas completely cleared.

I walked up the path which leads to the entrance in the west face of the tower with hope rather than expectation and the church was closed to visitors. A couple of benches are set out against the south of the nave; looking out over the village, which would have been very appetising on a warm summer day, a packed lunch in hand, but not so today.

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This is a basic structure of west tower, nave with aisles but no clerestories, and chancel. If I had been able to get inside this one, clerestories would have been very useful. The west tower has a plain parapet, with small pinnacles and a stair turret to the south east. There is just a single lancet window at the belfry stage.

British listed buildings, where I get most of my historical information from, states that the tower here dates from after 1729. Well, the rounded archway over the west door looks to be considerably older than that, as does the window above it. There does look to be evidence of rebuilding though, particularly on the north face. Possibly the 18th century date is the date of tower restoration?

Okay, not the best churchcrawl ever but a third lockdown was imminent and it was a case of getting out and enjoying the chance to travel whilst we still could. I sit here typing this out at the end of the third lockdown with the country hopefully edging our way out of the worst of the pandemic. In two days time we are allowed non essential travel again and I hope that all who will be travelling again, for whatever reason, will appreciate the freedoms that we have, and not them for granted; as it is very easy to do.