January 2016, and a return trip to the church of St Mary The Virgin, Wansford. This was one of the first churches that I had visited when starting this site off, more years ago than I care to remember, and it is still a favourite place to visit. I had the great pleasure of being friendly with the late Rector, Thomas Christie, who was very encouraging to me in this sites early days. The church of St Mary sits proudly at a crossroads in the centre of the village, with some picturesque cottages surrounding it. The river Nene flows close by to the south, with a fine 12 arch bridge crossing it, this dating from 1577 and replacing an earlier wooden structure which was damaged by floods six years previously.
It was early morning on a bitterly cold Saturday morning. There was a golden quality to the light that one sometimes sees early on a winter morning. A light dusting of snow was to fall later that day.
St Mary is not the biggest of churches, in fact, until some building work was done in the very early 20th century, Wansford claimed to be the smallest parish church in England. St Mary was originally a chapel of ease to Thornhaugh. It lost its chancel at the end of the 15th century, and from then on, until 1902, it consisted of just tower, nave and north aisle. A chancel was built in 1902, along with an organ chamber and vestry.
All that remains of the original Saxon church that stood on this site is the west wall of the nave, with possibly part of the south wall of the nave dating from that time as well. Rebuilding work occurred here in the 1660's, with the south porch being added at that time, a date stone of 1663 being clearly seen over the porch.
These days there is a ring of six bells at St Mary, with five of these being cast by Taylors of Loughborough. The other is the work of John Warner & Sons. Looking back to the 1860's, when North was compiling his impressive study of church bells, he notes two bells in the tower here. As well as the bell cast by Warners, there was a second bell, with date and founder unknown, which had the Latin Inscription "IHS NASARENVS REX IVNEORM". North has this bell down as being pre 1600.
The church grounds contain several graestones dating from the second half of the 17th century and the visitor walking up the path to the south porch will be greeted by a human skull carved on to the base of an eighteenth century gravestone, pointing out to the onlooker that Man is mortal and will die.
The church here has always been open when I have visited and the church is probably best known for the magnificent font, which is thought to date from 1120. This was found at nearby Sibberton House, partially buried, and cattle had been drinking out of it! There was a village nearby called Sibberton which had a church. This village is thought to have been decimated by the Black Death and dwindled away to nothing. No records of the church there are mentioned after 1389. It is suggested that this magnificent font might have once been inside the church at Sibberton. As with the gravstone mentioned above, this font features carvings which would appeal to those people who could not read or write, in the same way as medieval wall painting could tell bible stories to the illiterate.
There are 13 different panels in this font, which are as follows....
A standing figure of what is thought is Christ , who is pointing to the figure in next panel / A bearded and robed figure with book turned, and looking towards Christ in previous panel / A plant / Baptism scene, In the next panel a haloed, robed, bearded figure gestures towards the next panel, in which a naked haloed figure is submerged to the waist in water. There is a dove above him and this is thought to represent the Baptism of Christ by John the Baptist / Foliage / The next panel shows a robed angel. which appears to have wings and also a beard / Robed figure which might have a large key on his person. If this is a key it would indicate that it is St Peter / Two soldiers fighting / Foliage / Robed and haloed figure, probably Christ, holding a book and pointing towards the figure in next panel, showing a robed figure with bald head and beard suggesting that this is St Paul.
The altar was built by a local craftsman, in 1967, and includes some oak from an earlier altar. Also, in 1967, pews were installed to replace chairs. The pews had previously been in the church of St Mark at Camberwell in London.
Wansford is some times called Wansford-in-England, because, so legend has it, many years ago a man fell asleep on a haystack. The hay stack fell in to the river and he and the haystack were both washed down the river. When the man was rescued he asked where he was and was told "Wansford". "What--Wansford in England?" the man asked "The very same" he was told. Not sure if this is true, but it is a nice story anyway. You can't beat a good urban myth...or in this case, a good rural myth.
A lovely church in a delightful village. The church of St Mary The Virgin is well worth visiting should you be in the area.