Easter Bank Holiday Monday 2009 and the sun shines gloriously on what was the final day of a four day cycling tour of East Northants and Rutland churches. It had been gloomy and drizzling for most of the previous three days but the Monday was bright and warm and it was a joy to be out.

    Stoke Doyle is a small village two miles from Oundle, on the road to Wadenhoe. I have to admit that I have mixed feelings about the church here. To my mind this eighteenth century re-build is very much a case of not judging a book by its cover. In fairness it is not the most interesting od structures externally, but inside this is a wonderful place, with its tasteful simplistic elegance and the church itself is set in gorgeous East Northamptonshire countryside, and it is a favourite place of mine to stay for a while whilst in the area. According to the village sign, Stoke Doyle is twinned with Barcelona. With no disrespect meant to anyone this appears to be a slight mismatch with regards size!

   The story of St Rumblad, after who the church at Stoke Doyle is dedicated, is a fascinating one. He was a child of the royal family of the Midland kingdom of Mercia, a grandson of King Penda and son of a Christian mother and pagan father, from Northumbria. He is said to have been born at King's Sutton near Banbury. His legend has it that he died aged just three days, but that in that time he said several times "I am a Christian", expressed his faith in the Holy Trinity, asked for Baptism and Holy Communion, preached on the Holy Trinity and the need for a virtuous life and quoted scripture.

   St Rumbald's church stands pretty much on its own at the East end of the village. It was erected in the years 1722 to 1725, on the site of an earlier church, the original structure thought to date from the mid 13th Century. This earlier building was much larger than todays structure, but was in a very poor state of repair. In a petition to the Bishop, it was said that the old building was so dilapidated that any cost of repair would have been too heavy a burden on the parish. The place was in such disrepair that the spire was in danger of falling. It was also pointed out that the existing church was just too big for a village as small as Stoke Doyle.

   The original church was pulled down in the Spring of 1722, with the first stone of the present St Rumbalds being laid that May. The church was opened in March 1725. The original church bells were re-cast by Thomas Eayre of Kettering in the Winter of 1727, and these were re-hung in the Summer of 1728, at roughly the same time that the one handed clock, also made by Eayre, was installed on to the west tower. Since that time the structure has altered little.

   One haanded clocks are unusual, but not unique, with another to be found not too far away at Polebrook. Thomas Eayre was an interesting character. Not only was he a bellfounder of some repute and a clock maker, he was also a surveyor and map maker and was responsible for starting the first detailed map of Northamptonshire. Sadly, he died before this work was finished.

   To the East of the church is a figure of a recumbant priest, hands up in prayer, which is said to date from the 14th century. This effigy was originally situated inside the original church, and I have heard it said that the position that it occupies in the churchyard now is the same spot where it would have laid when inside the old church.

   Just to the right of the path leading to the south porch is the base of a churchyard cross. This one is slightly unusual in that this has had a step carved in to it, and was at one time moved out of the church grounds, so that a previous rector in days long gone could easily mount his horse!

    I was able to attend an evening prayer service here during April 2013 and I was most impressed with the interior. This is just a basic single cell comprising nave and chancel with a south vestry. The Georgian East Windows are a delight. Beautifully carved wooden angels flank the windows on two sides and the panes are edged in orange. This makes for the most wonderful lighting effect and gives the impression that the sun is shining in through the windows, even when it isn't!

   A monument sits high up on the south wall of the chancel. This depicts Dame Frances Palmer, who died in 1628. She is seen on her deathbed, propped up on her elbow, being attended to by her husband Edward. Below left  are seen their two surviving children, one boy and a girl, with four skulls on the right hand side representing four children who had died before their mother. The useage of skulls on monuments is pretty common and is used to symbolise the mortality of Man. They can be almost a generic kind of symbol. This one however, is different and unusual in that each of the skulls represents a deceased child. Off the top of my head, I can't recall ever seeing this before.

   The real delight here though is to be found in the vestry. This is a delightfully carved marble monument to Sir Edward Ward, Lord Chief Baron of the Exchequer, who lived in the village.He died in 1714 and the monument was completed by 1725, carved by brilliant Belgian sculptor JM Rysbrack, who went on to work on the tomb of Sir Isaac Newton in Westminster Abbey.

   A very lovely church in glorious countryside. Well worth a visit if you are in the area. I am told that the church is open throughout the week during the summer months.





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