Mid Summer and a return trip to the church of St Matthew at Eye. The church is a familiar landmark on the main A47 out of Peterborough. It is not the most peaceful and quiet of areas. The main road is very busy and the church is surrounded by houses and shops, a motorcycle dealership being situated just over the road from the church.
My last trip here was on a day that I also visited Thorney Abbey and Newborough. This turned out to be one of the coldest days that I have ever been out on with the camera. Not so today though, with a warm sun blazing down all afternoon and the sky filled with the most gloriously whispy clouds which people I am sure will swear I photoshopped on after the event!
There was a church in Eye long before the present structure was built, the foundations of todays church being laid in May 1846. There was a place of worship consecrated here in 1543. It is thought though that it was only consecrated at that time so that the local inhabitants had the right of burial there. It is thought that the structure itself might date from 200 years earlier. It was known locally as the 'chapel of Eye'. Nothing remains of it today, with it being destroyed by fire in 1846.
The present church was designed by George Basevi and it took eleven months to complete, with the work starting in May 1846. Basevi was a noted architect, and he did not live to see his work completed. In fact, Basevi did not even live to see the first stones laid as he was killed in an accident at Ely Cathedral in 1845 after he fell through an opening in the bell chamber whilst inspecting ongoing work.
The spire was added some 10 years later and was visible from far away due to the flat nature of the surrounding landscape. The spire was 125 feet tall and had a clock and two bells. One of the two bells was cast in 1712 by noted Peterborough bellfounder Henry Penn. The second was by John Warner and Sons of London and is dated 1865. The spire did not last all that long sadly and a storm in 1895 damaged the spire and the roof. In the 1950's some serious defects were found in the spire and despite being fixed the spire was taken down in the early 1980's after large cracks were found running through it.
It is interesting to refer back to Revd Sweeting's study of the churches in and around Peterborough, which was printed in 1868. There is an entry for St Matthew, Eye and there is a black and white photograph of the church, complete with spire, and it looks wonderful. The photograph is taken from a distance but it is noticeable how many graves there are in the church grounds. Sweeting notes himself that the church grounds are overflowing with graves, noting at the same time that none appear to remain from the 17th cnetury. How things change! These days there are no graves at all still standing in situ, just a few tombs still remaining, which would pre date the present structure.
Other graves have been removed and are leaning against the exterior wall of the church grounds. There is nothing remarkable to be seen anywhere with regards graves. A human skull, badly faded over the years, is still evident, warning the onlooker that Man is mortal and will die, not that many who pass will pick up the imigairy these days. Elsewhere, two cherubs rest side by side with a crown over their heads. The crown is a symbol of victory, in this case being victory over death as the deceased goes on to eternal glory.
I believe that the church here is normally kept locked. I did see inside on a previous visit but only had a very basic digital camera back then and the interior photograph included here is the only one that was even half decent. Will try and get back one day to re-shoot the interior. It is lovely inside. Lots of stained glass and there is a lovely, warm feel to the place.
Would have loved to have seen this church in Sweeting's time, without the traffic congestion, with the spire and with a churchyard filled with Georgian graves. Enjoyed my short time here, back in the car and off to Crowland Abbey.