Chesterton is a very small village, which can be found five miles to the West of Peterborough. Small in size but big in history, the area is rich in Roman history. There is a hill in the village called Ivens Hill, and on top of this there was a Roman Signal Station which served the Roman military garrison at nearby Durobrivae, near to where the village of Water Newton is today. A measure of the importance of this area can be seen by the fact that the oldest ever Roman Christian Silver Plate was found here in the mid 1970's.
There is evidence of Roman occupation to be seen within the nicely kept church grounds at Chesterton. A Roman stone coffin, was found during mid 19th Century excavations, and was paced in the church grounds. Stone Roman coffins are also to be seen in the church grounds at neighbouring Water Newton and Castor. A little further afield, there are also some very fine examples to be found in the church grounds at Barnack.
There is also a base of a medieval cross to be seen. A recent theory has suggested that this cross base is a re-used section of a Roman column, possibly coming from a villa. It is thought that some of the stonework used when building St Michaels was recycled from buildings from Durobrivae.
A church and priest are mentioned in the Domesday Book but the present building dates back to the 12th century whilst the aisles and tower are 13th and early 14th centuries. In the 17th century the chancel and the porch were rebuilt for Robert Pigott, Lord of the Manor. Since then there has been no new building only constant restoration and repair. The most recent repairs to the tower and the nave roof were financed by American descendents of the Beville family who were Lords of the Manor before they emigrated in the early 17th century.
The highlights inside this exquisite church, to my mind, are to be found alongside the north wall. The tomb of William Beville dates from 1483/84. A short distance from that proudly sits the Beville monument, of which there are several photographs included. A very fine piece of work, but I feel that it was left unfinished. Other, smaller, but similar works in the area such as at Barnack and Thornhaugh, are fully painted. The Beville monument is unpainted and there is no evidence to show that it was ever painted. There is also a box left for text, with a few guide lines etched in to it so that the stonemason could keep the text straight. No text was ever carved in to this box though...curious!
A couple of other things regarding this monument. Firstly, amongst a row of female figures an extra head appears. An E Mail from a member of the Beville family has suggested that this might represent Susannah Beville, who was baptised at St Michaels in November 1570, but who sadly died six months later.
Also, two thirds of the way up the monument, in between two arches, is a representation of Man's Mortality. This features a human skull with the Grave Diggers tools of pick, shovel and torch. Over the top of those are crossed Flames Of Life. These are facing upwards indicating immortality, if they were doenturned it would symbolise mourning and loss.
Another major monument inside St Michael's commemorates the cousin of the famous poet John Dryden. Please note photograph second from bottom on the right below, where another skull is present, with Flames Of Life this time downturned as mentioned above.
One interesting thing that can be seen in this church is a small collection of pieces of lead, taken from the roof during restoration work some years ago, which all contain a tracing of the persons foot, with the persons name or initials, and a date. One picture included at the foot of page, dating from 1859. R Hibbert carved the impression of his foot, and carved his name, in 1940. Perhaps this was the work of a bored firewatcher, perched on the church roof during the Second World War. Perhaps one of the troops who were stationed nearby?
The three bells in the tower are very old. One is dated 1621 and this is by Tobias Norris of Stamford. Another was made by John Walgrave and would be dated between 1418 and 1440. The third was by John Michell and dates from around 1490. Much of the church interior dates from the 13th century. A lovely church, and a special place for me, this being my home village and the church where I was Christened.