Sawtry is one of the largest places to be covered by this website. Looking at it today, with its single parish church, it is possibly easy to underestimate its past importance. In days gone past there was a Cistercian Abbey here, with Sawtry itself being divided in to three parishes, each of which had it's own church. The three parishes were Sawtry Judith, whose church, St Mary, was taken down in the 16th century, the parish of All Saints and the parish of St Peter. The churches at the latter two were both demolished in the 1870's, and a new church built in 1879 to cover the needs of the village. This is also called All Saints and is built on the site of the original All Saints.
So what happened to the church ground of St Peter after it was demolished? Well, actually, the grounds are still there, with graves still standing (well, most of them still are!) and the area has been looked after by the Friends Of St Peter's Churchyard. As at Spring 2010 there is talk of the gravestones being taken out and re-set, as many have either already fallen or are perched over at all sorts of improbable angles.
To the side of the old church grounds there is an area set aside for modern burials, which is very well tended.I took a look around the old graves when I was in the area visiting the parish church of All Saints.
I sometimes get asked why I photograph ancient graves. The honest answer is that the quailty of some of the carvings that I see week in week out are of the highest quality. Modern day pollution levels are such that these carvings will fade and rot, and I want to record these stonemasons work whilst they are still here to enjoy.
The church grounds of St Peter are not an oasis of calm, set as they are at the side of a main road! Weeds are very tall and underfoot conditions are precarious. If going here be careful of rabbit holes! Many stones have fallen or appear to be on the verge of doing so....but some of the stones here are of exceptionally high quality.
One stone in particular is a superb example, and rich in symbolism. An image of the deceased, who is laying on a bed, is being looked down on by two angels. On either side of the deceased is a cherub, standing on top of a column and each holds au upturned torch. In gravestone symbolism, an upturned torch indicates eternity, a downturned torch symbolises death and mourning. Underneath the cherub on the left hand side is a human skull and crossed bones, whilst an hourglass appears underneath the cherub opposite. Both of these are images that represent the Mortality of man. Basically, in image form, what they are showing to the onlooker is that where I have gone you will follow. We are all mortal and will all come to the same end.
In past days, when most of the population were unable to read, these images told a story that all could understand, whether they could read or not.
There are many different forms of gravestone symbolism, and if anyone is interested in seeing any further information on this subject then I have produced two pages on this site. One deals with the Death Head, and the other is a general list of gravestone images, and what they symbolise, and both pages can be accessed by scrolling down under the WELCOME tab.
For me, the most interesting stone here is a very badly damaged slate stone from the mid 18th century. This is pictured below right. As you can see, the stone has been severed in half, with the name of the deceased being lost. What is interesting though is the script at the bottom of the grave, which tells the story that the deceased, who came from Leicester, fought a duel with his best friend and was killed. The script reads as follows....
"Near to this stone, who ere thou art draw near. In pity drop one pious friendly tear. Far from his native land, he lost his life by one who seemd his friend. Ill timed strife. The best of husbands, to his children dear, courteous to all and to his friend sincere. Remorseless fate, well may the wretch feel woe. Whilst he in endless bliss and pleasures go"
I would think that some of the quality of the work on show here is as good as anything seen within the catchment area of the site. Some of the Georgian stones at Ramsey are particularly fine, as is some of the work at Thorney Abbey. Overall, the quality here is exceptional and it is good to think that people are interested enough to try and save it.
I revisited the church grounds here on a drab day in the summer of 2014. I re-shot the graves here and all of the photos included on this page are from that re-visit. A man was tending the grounds and was pleased to show us to a row of five graves which had been given a grade 2 listing in their own right.
The rain had cleared and the clouds had lifted as we carried on our way towards the Hemmingfords. The church grounds here are worth a visit for anyone interested, but watch your footing!