Friday, 29 October 2010

Oakington, Cambridgeshire

St Andrew is the site for the burial of three Cambridgeshire non-conformist "martyrs" - Francis Holcroft, Joseph Oddy and Henry Osland. These three men established thirty churches in South Cambridgeshire alone. The church was called 'The Church of Christ in Cambridgeshire', and all those involved made a covenant, which was a declaration of faith and unity. At that time, nonconformists were ridiculed, scorned, imprisoned, fined for not carrying out their 'Eccliesiastical' duties and not buried in consecrated ground (hence the three graves being apart from the graveyard) and threatened to de-stabilise the established church.

As usual with these Cambridgeshire churches St Andrew was pretty much stripped bare during the Commonwealth and whilst pleasant enough with some nice glass, a coffin and two coffin lids, the graves are of the most interest here.

ST ANDREW. Pebble rubble and stone rubble. W tower of c. 1300 except for the diagonal buttresses added in ashlar stone. The tower is complete with typical bell-openings, with a corbel-table and battlements no later. On the E face of the tower appears the roof line of the higher pre-Perp roof. Of this pre-Perp church the S aisle survives with its doorway (S porch C19) and its three-light windows. The chancel is earlier still, C13, see the side lancets (the E window is C19). The interior is somewhat dull; the arcade long and low and of proportions of no feeling. The S arcade has very renewed circular C13 piers, the N arcade octagonal piers only a little later. Both seem to be cut roughly through an existing (Norman?) wall. The arches have thus only one slight chamfer. Niches l. and r. of the N aisle E window. - FONT. Square, of stone, with three blank arcades on each side; five polygonal supports. The date is C12. - ROOD SCREEN. Dado only, against the S aisle W wall. - MONUMENTS. Several coffin-lids with foliated crosses.

St Andrew

St Andrew (2)

Window detail (3)


OAKINGTON. It has a little garden which has become a shrine. In it are no gilded canopies, no sculptured arches over marble tombs, but three brick graves with iron railings round.

They are the graves of three Puritan ministers, spiritual fathers of Cambridge Nonconformity, Francis Holcroft, Joseph Oddy, and  Henry Osland. All three lost their livings for their preaching, and one of them his liberty; and here all three were laid within 25 years from 1687, three men who, in their own words, bowed not down.

Francis Holcroft was one of the victims of that intolerant era when our ancestors were certain that with their little plummets they had sounded the depths of the universe, and each religious party persecuted another as power and opportunity arrived. Cambridge sent Francis Holcroft forth an MA, fellow of his college, a clergyman but a Puritan. A profound scholar, he had no secular ambition, but laboured modestly first at Litlington and then at Bassingbourn, until in 1662 he was ejected, and fronted an almost friendless world, implacably hostile to the Church which had shattered his life and ruined his fruitful ministry. Preaching stealthily up and down the county to those who held steadfast to Puritanism, he was seized, tried for unlawful preaching, and actually banished the realm. The intercession of Lord Anglesey, who approached Charles the Second on the matter, prevented the fulfillment of this terrible punishment, but Holcroft was thrown into prison as an insolvent debtor.

Compelled thus to suffer as criminally responsible for the poverty persecution had brought upon him, he was kept in gaol until his debts were paid, being generously assisted by Archbishop Tillotson, who had been with him at Cambridge. After the Revolution he was able to return to his work, taking general charge of a chain of congregations in his native county and over the border. His earlier sufferings, however, told upon his health, which broke down, and he died a victim of melancholia, to be buried here in 1692. He is still remembered with honour throughout Cambridgeshire, where in every village he preached the gospel as he understood it.

The church near the little graveyard has a 15th century tower with gargoyles under the parapet, and a 13th century doorway opening on an interior with arcades that have been leaning about 700 years. The sanctuary has Jacobean panelling, and a canopied niche at each side of the east window. The font and a piscina are 700 years old, so are three coffin stones, one carved with crosses. In one of the windows are fragments of old glass with the head of a golden-haired man.

Flickr set.

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