I re-visited the church of St Peter at Oundle early In january 2015. It had been a horrible morning, with pouring rain and a strong wind scuppering my orininal plan to head to Uppingham. Instead, making use of a break in the weather, I decided to head the short distance to Oundle. Those who are regular visitors to this site might know that I have a poor sense of direction, and regularly get lost on my travels. There was no chance of getting lost heading for St Peter at Oundle though. This is the highest church spire in Northamptonshire, standing an impressive 210 feet high. A full 58 feet higher than St Benedict at Glinton!
I have no head for heights at all and felt dizzy just standing at the bottom looking towards the top of the tower. This made me think of the working conditions of the medieval stonemason. Working very high up, and several hundred years from any Health and Safety laws. I wonder how many workmen died during the construction of this glorious perpundicular tower. Perhaps next time we look upwards we might spare a second and remember those who perished making what we enjoy today.
The present church of St Peter dates mainly from the 13th century, but parts are older than that. It was recently discovered that the pillars of this church stand on the site of an earlier building. Evidence has shown that there was once an important Saxon church in Oundle. Perhaps this is the site of more than 1,000 years of continous worship.
Construction of the tower started in the late 14th Century, and was completed in the 15th century. The spire is dated 1634, which is the date in which it was re-built. The porch was built in 1455 at the expense of Robert Wyatt, a merchant of the day. The room above the porch may have been used as a schoolroom at some point.
Eight bells hang here, with the first being cast by Thomas Osborne of Downham Market in 1780, the second is by the same founder and the same date. Henry Bagley II cast the third from his premesis at Ecton, Northants. This bells has the inscription on it EX DONO JOHANNIS LEWIS DE OUNDLE APOTHECARII. This translates as 'A gift from John Lewis of Oundle Clerk'.
Four bells were cast by the Eayre family. Three of these came from Thomas Eayre who worked from a foundry at Kettering. His bells were the fourth (1735), fifth (1742) and eighth (1748) of the ring of eight with Joseph Eayre, working from St Neots casting the sixth of the ring in 1763. This just leaves the seventh of the ring that was another cast by Thomas Osborne, this time in 1801.
In August 1868 a fire broke out in the bellfry at St Peter. It was brought under control before serious damaged occurred to the tower and spire. However, four of the bells were cracked and the first, second, third and eighth of the ring were all re-cast by Mears and Stainbank shortly after as a result.
The church was open and it was pleasing to see a few people enjoying the peace and the history. Plenty of stained glass can be seen throughout the church, but despite that it was bright and welcoming inside. The largest of the stained glass windows is to be found at the east end of the chancel, with ten scene from the life of Christ. Another window to the west of the nave depicts the nativity, the Virgin Mary wearing blue cradling the infant Jesus, with the Angel Gabriel, with blue wings, looking on from the left as wise men and shepherds both worship the new born King.
This window is in memory of the seven daughters of Richard and Eliza Todd, with each of the seven daughters dressed in crinolines, who are each depicted along the bottom of the window.
The 15th century lectern, in the shape of an eagle, was said to be originally from Fotheringhay church. This was thrown in to the river by Roundhead troops during the English Civil War, but fortunately later found and returned. The brightly coloured pulpit dates from the 15th century and was restored back to its original colours in 1966.
A memorial on the north wall of the chancel remembers Susanna, widow of Willaim Walcott, who died in 1737. A human skull reminds those kneeling at the communion rails that Man is mortal and will die.
Before some modern re-plastering work was carried out, the stonework in the nave was looked at and it was found that some of this was pre 13th Century. A large amount of Victorian restoration was carried out in the 1860's and in more modern times some more was done in the early 1990's.
Some work carried out then proved to be controversial. The former Bishop of Peterborough, the Right Rev Bill Westwood, and St Peter's former vicar, Canon Lloyd Caddick, were depicted in 6 inch high limestone carvings. This proved to be unpopular with a small number of the congregation who believed that carvings such as these should only be made of the dead. This went to court and the carvings were made, see image of Bill Westwood half wa down on the left of this page.
The church grounds are spacious and filled with some high quality stones dating back to the eighteenth century. A couple of these contain images of the tools of the trade for the deceased. Not great examples but quite rare in this area. A box tomb, which looks to pre date most of the other stones in the grounds has inscribed 'Richard Mason Made This' carved on to the western end.
A fabulous church in a historic market town. The church of St Peter is a must see for anyone in this picturesque part of East Northamptonshire.