Introduction

Many visitors to Fletton Church come especially to see the Anglo-Saxon carvings. These visitors will be also be knowledgeable about Church architecture and not need a guide to the rest of the building. Others who come into the Church ask “How old is it?” These notes are particularly for them. The main source of information is Pevsner’s 'Huntingdonshire' in 'The Building of England' series. I have also used a guide written 25 years ago by Clive George, a member of the congregation until he moved away. I cannot improve on his Forward.

St Margaret’s Church has a long history, deeply rooted in the Christian lives of the countless souls who have worshiped here since before the Normans came. It stands today a gracious witness to the Christian faith in Fletton, past and to come.

So how old is our church?

The quick answer is to be found by a look at the plan, on which I have put some dates. Dates before the twentieth century are approximate.

As with many ancient churches that have been rebuilt and extended several times, working out the sequence requires detective work. Not everything can be certain because some work is foundations or covered by plaster and items like windows can be, and were, moved. So, I have found that I do not agree with the experts about the date of the priest’s Vestry. They say it was added about 1300, but I think it was added to, and is therefore part of the oldest structural work in the building. I have also therefore, done a sequence of plans to show how I think the building has developed. Not everything is completely certain, and you may come to different conclusions.

The church is quite small and people find is welcoming. Despite the spire, it is not always very visible, and even people who live in Fletton do not always seem to know it is there.​

It is about seventy feet long by forty feet wide. The spire is 110 feet high. The Chancel is twice the length of its width, which might reflect the fascination of the people at the time it was built with the spiritual significance of the geometry and proportions. Other measurements do not seem to have such relationships.

The Oldest Building Work        Dated before 1150

The Church was mentioned in the late 11th century Doomsday survey and the oldest remaining walls may be from this church. If you stand outside and look at the south wall of the Chancel, a blocked Norman window is visible. The narrow buttresses are also Norman, as is the corbel-table visible just below the gutters. The east wall of the Church also has Norman buttresses. This east wall of the Chancel and Vestry seems to have no break between those two parts - the first clue to suggest the Vestry is early. There would have been narrow windows like the blocked one that survives, and probably three in number of the south side. The walls would be high. The Chancel Arch was originally, probably, round-headed, it’s capitals have the “scalloped” type, similar to the other Norman arches in the Church This suggests that the Nave is later than the Chancel, and of the same date as the North aisle. So, the first simple church was probably a Chancel plus Vestry.

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Late Norman Extension

About 1165 the Nave and North Aisle were built, so the Chancel Arch and Norman Arcade of six plain round arches were from this date. The Northern Aisle was about half of the width of the present one. We do not know what type of windows it had. At some time, the Chancel Arch was rebuilt with a pointed top. The capitals of these new arches are of the “scalloped” type. I am not sure, but I think that the stairs to the rood loft, now blocked at the top to hide their upper doorway, are also of this date. “Rood” means “Cross of Christ”, churches had a screen across the chancel arch, with a gallery or loft, on which would be a crucifix and depiction of Mary the Mother of Jesus and John the Beloved Disciple. No doubt there were candles to be attended to, and prayers were also said up there at certain seasons. The stairs suggest people were smaller in those days. It is easy to see where the Rood Screen was because bits of the stonework have been cut out.

The Priest' Vestry and a Digression

The vestry has what appears to be an external corner above the north end of the communion rail, and a small cross shaped window looking into the present north aisle, the inside of this little window is in the vestry, and the splayed sides are, as is often the case, of unequal angles to get the light best directed into the building. The splays indicate it was this way round originally. These features are what made me question its age; and concluded it to be older than the North Aisle. There is more;

inside the vestry is a stone shelf, which may well have supported a floor at just the height to bring the little window to eye level. The present door between the

chancel and vestry has a later top section, so that if the vestry‘s present floor level were brought down to that of the Nave as it probably was originally, the resulting ceiling of the floor above is about right for it to have been originally a two storied building, perhaps a vestry below, and a room for the priest above. Of course it could have been a tower, even a defensive one, for it would have been on the comer of the church facing the Stanground Lode. It was was once a wet, marshy area, with perhaps a bigger river in it. It was certainly a barrier because Stanground Church is less that half a mile away, but rivers are also routes for invaders! Stanground and Fletton must originally have been settlements on either side of the mouth of Stanground Lode where it joined the Nene. Incidentally, Stanground Church lies two or three metres lower than Fletton according to the Ordinance Map, which is not how it looks to be.

A look at the contours on the map, and tracing out the older routes from Stanground to Peterborough indicates that the route from Stanground to Peterborough crossed the Lode at the present little bridge on South Street, Stanground, followed Fletton High Street to London Rd. by the present traffic lights. Quite a long way round to avoid the wet ground around Fletton Spring. No railway or Fletton Avenue in those days, and our Church on the main road, but not today’s.

Gothic Building Work

About 1300, a great deal more work was carried out. The south aisle was added with its much less weighty arches, and stone heads above the capitals. Is it St. Margaret facing the door with a demon on the other side of the pillar? The tower is from this time, with its stone broach spire, as is also the large arch replacing two of the Norman north aisle round ones. The main doorway, the windows at the west end of both aisles, and the leaning east window of the south aisle are of this date. They are in the Early English style, whereas the three windows in the Chancel are in the later Decorated style. The low, unevenly splayed window originally gave light to the priest’s desk.

Later Building Work

The square topped window in the south aisle, and those high in the Nave are 17th century.

There was a Victorian restoration in 1872. The 14th century porch had collapsed and was replaced. A tower gallery erected in 1830, probably as a minstrel gallery and later used as an organ gallery was taken down, woodwork was renewed, and the east window was restored.

In 1901 the north aisle was extended to its present width. The Chancel roof and carving is from one of these restorations.

About 1917, the spire was hit by lightning, and the upper part rebuilt, one of three similar decapitations in the last 100 years.

In 1983, after an arson attack, the church was redecorated and the choir vestry built. In the fire the organ was so much damaged that little of the old one survives in the present instrument. The fire was started by youths, and by chance a retired fireman was working his allotment nearby. His prompt action saved the church from destruction.

In 2000 the choir vestry was replaced by a small kitchen, toilet and a meeting room, following the loss of facilities caused by the sale of the Rectory.

Anglo-Saxon carvings

‘How many people realize that Fletton has not only a national but international claim to fame to be visited? It’s Anglo-Saxon sculptures – startling in style – have no parallel in earlier or later Anglo-Saxon art, and none in contemporary foreign art’

Pevsner’s words tell us why we have frequent visitors to our church. The carvings were until 1981 outside on the southeast buttresses of the chancel. They are dated as from the early ninth century, over 1100 years old, and therefore amongst the oldest Christian objects in England.

Why they are in Fletton is a mystery, but one explanation is to link them with a fire in Peterborough Abbey, later the Cathedral, in 1116 because their pink colour shows ancient fire damage. There are carvings in the Cathedral that are similar; the other church with something similar is at Breedon-on-the-Hill in Leicestershire. I cannot recollect any other such suggestions of items from one place moving to another, and I would prefer to think of them as having always belonged to Fletton.

They do suggest by their shape that they may originally have formed part of a frieze, but their original position and order is not known. The present order is not likely to be original, except for the central trio of figures under arches, who may be Christ with Mary and John on either side. Two angels, fantastic beasts, and bats, a common Anglo- Saxon motif can be made out.

Pevsner’s final comment is ‘lively, humorous style clearly by someone who knew exactly what he wanted to do, and found his means to do it’.

The Carvings on the South Chancel Wall

(Added information from a recent survey by Professor Rosemary Cramp of the Durham University Anglo- Saxon Project April 2012)

Until recently some experts considered these figure were of Norman origin and dated them as around 1160. However Professor Crump has now authenticated them as Anglo-Saxon. The figures are of two Evangelists, on the left is Saint Michael, the one of the right is still under investigation. It is thought they may have been individual altar icons used for private prayer and could be part of the original small Anglo-Saxon church on this site. The now empty eye sockets would have contained small pieces of quartz which would have glistened in candlelight making the figures lively.

The Churchyard Cross

This stands outside the west wall of the tower. There is not agreement about its age. It is often described as 12th century, but by others as Anglo-Saxon; what I think may be the case is that the column is Anglo-Saxon. It has animals carved on it, but that the base is later. We do not know anything about the very Roman looking inscription, except that it seems to be a copy of very worn away lettering on the column itself. The base looks to be of Post-reformation date i.e. 16th or 17th century. Perhaps the true history is that a Saxon cross became a memorial to Radulph Filius Wilielmi, and that when the original lettering weathered badly, a new base was made, early recycling! The little stone attached to the top is not original either; the top was originally a circle with a cross within it. It is hoped eventually to bring this cross into the Church for is better protection. There is another very early cross by the porch, along with broken remains of some stone coffins.​

The Font and Bells

This used to stand on two steps in the north aisle, but was moved to the present position in the 1872 restoration work. It is from the 16th century, but may be a reworking of an older font. Like most fonts of an early date, it is big enough for total immersion of a baby.

There are five bells all are still in use. They are listed in the inventory as follows:

Treble weight 4cwt 0qtr 3lbs.

Inscription John Taylor & Co Founders Loughborough. In praise of God and in gratitude for many blessings. A gift from an Old Fletton family 1953

No. 2 Weight 4cwt 2qtr 24lbs

Inscription John Taylor & Co, Founders, Loughborough, to the glory of God, the gift of the parishioners of St. Margaret’s Fletton, Coronation Year 1953.

No. 3 Weight 5cwt 0qtr 5lbs cast by Newcombe’s of Leicester about the middle of the 16th century Inscription S. Palle

No. 4 weight 6cwt 0qtr 7lbs.

Cast by Tobias Norris of the Stamford Foundry 1620 Inscription “Omnia Fiant Ad Glorium Dei 1620

Tenor weight 7cwt 3qtr 26lbs.

Cast by William Watts of Bedford 1590. Inscription William Watts made me 1590.

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