Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Little Wilbraham, Cambridgeshire

St John the Baptist has had some serious work done on it at some stage; half the tower is yellow stone and the lower levels, nave and porch are all clad in a cement render but despite this its really rather charming - the setting helps.

In the original south wall there is a small narrow window set into a wall more than a metre thick. Outside, the construction is by "long and short" arrangement of squared stone blocks, typical of the late Saxon period (circa 900-1066). This remains in the south wall to the present day. On the same wall near the chancel are two blocked doorways, one above the other, dating from the Norman period in the twelfth century. The lower doorway had been an entrance to the church, but the upper door led onto the rood loft. The main body of the church dates from the mid-13th century.

The steep pointed arch separating the nave from the belfry area and high curved arches dividing the nave from the north aisle are typical of many churches built at this time in the East Midlands. Late in the 13th  century, the north aisle was added, perhaps originally as a chapel: the date being fixed approximately by the discovery of the lower half of a Crusader Cross set in the outside of the flint wall. This cross, together with the memory of the Order of the Templars, is preserved by the name Temple in part of Great Wilbraham and demonstrates the close links between the two villages and one of the Military Orders of the Crusading period.

At this stage, the church probably had a flat roof, as indicated by the row of corbels set high up on the wall of both sides of the nave: the roof beams would have rested on these. The porch also belongs to this period, with the Early English windows on either side. On the right hand side of the doorway is a bearded crowned head, perhaps Henry III (1216-1272), and on the left hand side is a woman’s head, perhaps representing his wife, Eleanor of Provence, whom he married in 1236. To judge by the stonework, these sculptures seem to be original and not the result of 19th century restoration.

The fourteenth century saw major changes to the church. Early in the century, the square tower was added at the west end, strengthened by supporting abutments or flying arches. On the north side, the wall was reconstructed so that the top half of the Crusader cross was lost and new windows built into it. Near the end of the century, five ornate windows in English Decorated style were added. They dominate the east and west end of the church and also provide added light and beauty to the south side.

In the fifteenth century, the south side of the chancel was reconstructed and a new set of windows in the Perpendicular Style inserted and the earlier 13th century arch between the nave and chancel replaced by one in the same style.

The present oak door leading into the church is also of that period if not a little earlier. Originally, the spaces between the representations of windows were filled by the Coat of Arms of four of the leading families in the district. On the wall at the back of the church copies of these illustrate the arms of the Burghs, John de Lisle, Sir Baldwin de Lisle and the Bourchiers.

The octagonal font is also a remarkably well preserved example of Perpendicular period stone-work. At this time the church must have looked very like the building we see today.

Standing in niches either side of the chancel arch and in the wall of the north-east corner of the north aisle are three wooden figures. They originally formed part of a group of ten, which in turn formed part of the lower beams of the Mediaeval roof. Six of the original figures were sold to Anglesey Abbey and four to Saffron Walden Museum Society. Three of these latter have been loaned back to the church. All are connected with Mediaeval music:

• the figure on the right side of the Church has a shawm, a woodwind instrument.
• the figure on the left has a citole, a lute like stringed instrument widely used in the 13th to 17th centuries and the ancestor of the modern guitar.
• the figure in the north aisle carries a book, perhaps a Psalter or other collection of church music.

All provide a rare insight into church orchestral music in the 15th century.

In the chancel are two further tombs: one a fine miniature brass commemorating the kneeling figure of William Blakwey, dressed as a Master of Arts, who died 11th April 1521; the second the Rev. John Hooke, sometime fellow of Bene’t College who died on 12th August 1777, aged 45.

During the refurbishment of the Chancel in the Spring of 2001, two new, important, discoveries were made. Stripping the plaster from the south wall revealed a large double piscina crowned with decorated carving, dating probably to the mid-14th century. Sometime, probably in the 18th century, it had been blocked up with fragments of chalk building stone and a brick of that period, and hidden under a coating of plaster, until it was rediscovered in the course of the repairs.

In addition, to the right of the piscina was revealed a small rectangular aperture sunk into the wall at an angle. This was undoubtedly a "leper squint" through which parishioners suffering from leprosy or other infectious diseases (and therefore banned from entering the Church) could still take apart in the worship and receive the Sacrament. The perpendicular construction of the squint suggests a 15th century date.

ST JOHN. An E.E. chancel, rebuilt in 1850. Lancet windows on the N side and remains of the jambs of lancets on the E, blocked here, when a Dec E window was put in. This is of three lights with flowing tracery and also renewed. The nave also must in its structure be E.E., if not earlier. For there can be no other reason why the W tower should have received its odd flying buttresses to the N and S, when it was built early in the C14. Its date is clear by its details up to the bell-openings. The flushwork battlements are later. The arch towards the nave is especially typical. C14 also the N chapel. Perp the S Porch, S windows - large and of three lights - and N arcade with polygonal shafts and hollows in the diagonals; double-chamfered arches. - FONT. Octagonal, Perp, with pointed quatrefoil panels. - BENCHES. Plain and buttressed. - BRASS. William Blakway d. 1521 (chancel floor), 9 in. figure.

St John the Evangelist (3)

Consecration cross

Tower window

LITTLE WILBRAHAM. It shares with its Great namesake the honours of antiquity and a famous Saxon cemetery in which about 200 graves have been found. Some of them may be seen in a chalk pit.

The most interesting possession the village has preserved since those days is a fine little brass portrait of one of its priests whom we see kneeling at prayer in his robes, holding a rosary. It has been in the chancel floor since 1521; his name was William Blakwey. The church was old when William Blakwey came, for it is 14th and 15th century and has a 600-year-old tower which projects into the nave at the west end on three very pointed arches, the tall eastern arch singularly striking as it stands between segments of arches at each side looking like flying buttresses. There is a peephole in the chancel arch which, like the font, is 15th century. By the porch are two steps with the base of the old cross on them, and by the gate lies an old lady who lived through every hour of the 18th century, Elizabeth Hobbs.

Flickr set.

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