Here is our latest virtual tour of St Nicolas Church developed by our young volunteer Georgie:-
This Grade I listed building is the only brick-built pre-Reformation church of such completeness in Lincolnshire, and one of only six in England having brick arcades. It consists of clerestoried nave, chancel, aisles, porch, and a west tower with stone parapet spire. A lean-to vestry was added during the major restoration of the 19th century. The interior is almost wholly plaster-coated and limewashed.
Until the Dissolution of the Monasteries the church and its predecessor belonged to the Cluniac Order of Castle Acre Priory, Norfolk, which supplied the priests. Archeological evidence suggests a 12th century parochial chapel, also dedicated to St. Nicholas, was probably built on this site and the churchyard used for burials since the 13th century.
The church comes chiefly from the late 15th and early 16th centuries. Some older masonry (including 12th century handmade bricks) could be from the former church, as too could fragments of 14th century stained glass now in the upper tracery lights of three north aisle windows. A floor monument of 1422 predates the present building. The former roof line above the tower arch, and other architectural indications, imply the church was constructed (and altered) over time.
The nave has a fine Tudor roof of moulded tie beams and arched braces. Eighteen carved (wood) figures of saints are just below the wall posts, each canopied and resting on terracotta corbels. The quatrefoil pillars are in an earlier style to that of the period in which the church was built.
Twenty two windows come from the late-Perpendicular era. Others are Victorian including the stained-glass ‘Crucifixion’ (Heaton, Butler & Bayne 1872) in the chancel. Those in the clerestory are rare in having carved (or moulded) brick mullions and cusped brick-heads.
Floral motifs encircle the stem of the 500 year old octagonal, stone font with 18th century oak cover. A small carving depicts a demon’s face with pointed ears and protruding tongue symbolic of Holy Baptism casting out the devil.
Remains of the ‘rood loft’ stairway can be seen in the north aisle, adjacent to which is the hexagonal, inlaid Jacobean pulpit of 1702 – bequeathed by Richard Busby whose monogram is on one of the panels. Inlaid representations of the Holy Dove and Tongues Of Fire adorn the canopy.
Most of the furnishings are 19th century. The communion table (altar) in the north aisle is from 1694 as are the communion rails in the chancel – both donated by Busby during his lifetime and made by Noel Ansell of London. The parish chest, and door to the tower stair-turret are 17th century.
Among the monuments are several 18th century ledger stones, some with armorial carvings. Two life-sized engraved figures of the two wives of John Chilton are on the slab immediately before the chancel step. On the external south wall of the chancel is a pedimented cartouche to the memory of Gilbert Redhead, a patron of this church and a notorious drunkard who, at his own request, was buried upright so it could not be said ‘here lies drunken Redhead’.
The tower has a ring of six bells, and houses the clock winding gear (1890) by Potts of Leeds. Four bells hung in 1770 (at least two by Joseph Eayre) were recast by John Taylor more than a century later. The tenor (Osborn Foundry, Downham Market) was added in 1806 and the treble (John Taylor Foundry) in 1953. The latter weighs just two cwt; this installed in memory of Lionel Guy Perry, the only vicar here to have died in office.
On the churchyard wall to the east is this inscription: RICHARD PUTTRELL AND HIS WYF JOHANER TO MAKE THIS WALL PAYED XX POUND ANNO 1577 ER. Specialists have confirmed that the incised bricks are in keeping with the date. One tombstone (1677) has an example of the early use of upper and lower case lettering in stone. The last burial took place in 1890.
Registers from 1538, when the keeping of such documents became mandatory, are some of the oldest in the country. A re-worked Elizabethan silver chalice with the remains of an earlier hallmark (1522) is no longer kept in the church.
Richard Busby D.D.
The life of Richard Busby virtually spanned the whole of the 17th century. For much of that turbulent period he knew, and taught, many of those in positions of power and influence who shaped the history of this country. He was headmaster of Westminster School, a senior figure at Westminster Abbey, and much respected as a preacher, academic and benefactor.
Busby was born on September 22nd 1606 on the site now occupied by the village hall (old school) in Lutton and baptised in this church of which his father, Richard, was churchwarden. Following education at Westminster School he proceeded to Christchurch College, Oxford, where he distinguished himself in the classics.
For several years he tutored at Oxford and after taking Holy Orders became Rector of Cudworth and Knowle in Somerset, and with it a Prebendary stall at Wells. In 1640 he was appointed headmaster of Westminster School and held that position for the rest of his life. He was unwavering in his support of the monarchy during the Civil War but lost the Somerset ‘livings’ as a result.
Following the Restoration he became Prebendary and treasurer of both Westminster Abbey and Wells Cathedral, and assisted at the coronation of Charles Il at which he carried the ampulla. He served as proctor for the chapter of Bath and Wells at the 1661 Convocation which approved the Book Of Common Prayer. Ten years later he became Archdeacon of Westminster.
The entire manor of Willen in Buckinghamshire was purchased by Busby in 1672 where he built the church which still stands today. His reputation as a severe disciplinarian has often overshadowed his achievements and generosity but the customs and practices of those times were harsh indeed. He wrote several books and devised a 36 letter alphabet which encompassed the sounds of every language then known. At the age of eighty he was called on to carry the orb at the coronation of the ill-fated James Il.
Dr. Busby died in 1695 and is buried in Westminster Abbey. His resting place, beneath the marble floor of The Choir which he had gifted, is marked by a slab with the inscription Rd. B. 1695. A large monument faces Poet’s Corner and bears an effigy of him with pen in one hand and a book in the other. He died without issue and, having outlived both his only sibling and nephew, the family line became extinct. Numerous bequests were made in his will including those which ‘beautified’ this church during the early years of the 18th century. Four of the bells are inscribed to his memory and an old print of his portrait hangs in the chancel.