Early January 2012 and a chance to take the cycle out and enjoy the winter sunshine. It was quite cold and blustery but winter had still failed to set in and there were literally dozens of cyclists and ramblers out enjoying the afternoon and taking the opportunity to get rid of a little of the Christmas excess. Etton is a small village three miles to the north of Peterborough, the tower and spire being visible from the nearby A15. Despite the close proximity of this busy road, Etton itself is quiet and peaceful.
I can't imagine that Etton has had many claims to fame over the years but its most famous resident would doubtless be Daniel De Foe, the author of Robinson Crusoe, who lived in the farm next to the church. This was not my first visit to St Stephen at Etton, having made a couple of trips previously. In past visits I noticed boarded up windows on the north side. I was pleased to see that the windows were not boarded up anymore and it looked a great deal better. Was really pleased to see the improvements. The present structure dates back to the 13th century, but there is a record in the Peterborough Chronicle of a church being here in the 12th century.The striking and attractive quatrefoil clerestory windows date from the late 14th century. The west tower is heavily butressed, and is a three stage affair with corbel table separating the top stage from the broach spire. There used to be a north chapel here, with the outline of the bricked up archway still discernible. Three bells hang here, with all of them being cast by the Norris family at the nearby Stamford bellfoundry. The National Church Bell Database attributes all three to Thomas Norris, who was the son of Tobias Norris I who started up the foundry. The first bell in the ring of three was cast in 1630, with the other two each being dated 1618. According to my own research Thomas Norris was born in 1604 (ish) and would therefore only have been 14 years old or thereabouts when these two bells were cast. I think that the bells dated 1618 were cast by Tobias Norris I. The church itself is probably most famous for a figure that appears on the corbel table. This is a Sheela Na Gig, and these are quite scarce. To my knowledge there is only one other to be found in any church within the catchment area of this site, that being at Empingham.These are ancient erotic carved figures of women, sexually explicit with in most cases the woman holding open her vulva. These are seen as fertility symbols and are often cartoonish in nature. This particular figure is laid down on her side at the far left of a row of figures and it seems out of place with the rest of the fugures on the corbel table. It also has a flat head, see photograph above, and it is possible that originally this figure might have been stood upright with something resting on its head. There is a theory that many of the Sheela Na Gigs that are found on Norman churches today might have been taken from earlier structures so it is entirely possible that this figure might not be in situ and may have come from an earlier church on this site. It is possible to say that this is a very strange thing to be depicted on a church, and true enough it is. This would be classified as a pagan image, and so would the green man, the male equivialent, be seen in the same way. I saw a theory proposed some while back which stated that when Christianity was introduced to the English, it was done so in a gradual manner, with new doctrine placed alongside more familiar pagan imagiary. There is a single in tact gargoyle on the south wall, damaged somewhat by a modern spout. It looks as if this may have once been pulling his mouth wide open in a typical medieval gesture of insult. Other gargoyles have been broken over the years. Close to the south porch a childs stone coffin is now used as a planter. Close to the south wall of the nave there is a beautifully carved slate grave. This is to a member of the Ellis family who were long standing church wardens. This is carved with a depiction of St Stephen's church on it. Beautifully detailed and a lovely piece of work. There was literally not a cloud in the sky this gorgeous January afternoon and it was a delight to be out. All that I could hear was birdsong and two horses walking past the church gates was as close to rush hour as Etton ever gets I daresay! There are some very nicely carved gravestones to be seen in the church grounds here. Some fine Georgian work can be seen, with fabulously carved cherubs. One of two looked to me as if they might date as far back as the late 17th or early 18th centuries but that is just conjecture on my part as the script on most of these older graves has long since weathered away. This had been an enjoyable day out. This was the sixth church that I had visited and it had been quite a while since I had seen light quality that good. The sun was just starting to dip down a little as I headed off towards Marholm, which was to be my final call of the day. Etton is a nice place to visit should you ever be in the area.