St Mary’s one of the finest 13th Century early English Churches in Lincolnshire
This book describes the growth of the church in Weston over its long history
Parish of Weston, about three miles N.E. of Spalding, is the most westerly of all the settlements east of the River Welland (West town or tune — Weston).
It consists of a long narrow strip of land of about 7000 acres or 14 square miles, and includes two villages, Weston with its Gothic Church of St. Mary, and Weston Hills, with its Victorian Chapel of Ease of St. John, built in 1889.
During this century there has been a great deal of new housing in both villages and there are a few older houses left. The population is now near 1,300. At the time when St. Mary’s Church was built, however, things were different.
The Domesday Book ( 1086 A.D.) tells us that in Westune and Multune (about 30 square miles) Ivo Talibois, nephew of William the Conqueror, had 10 caracutes, (each as much as a plough could till in a year and a day, usually about 120 acres) and one oxgang to be ploughed (15 acres) and Wido de Cruden held 15 oxgangs .
So, about 1,440 acres were tilled and the rest was undrained marsh.
Ivo had 26 soke men, who held land by performing services in husbandry, 31 villeins who belonged to their lord and could not acquire land or leave his manor without his permission, and 20 bordars or cottagers, who supplied their lord with eggs, poultry , etc. Wido had 6 villeins.
So the population of these two large parishes was about 83 men and their families living in wattle-and-doub huts .
There were probably small wooden churches in both villages, the property of the Lord of the Manor to whom the villagers paid their tithes; but the Normans were great builders in stone and Barnack quarries only a few miles up river.
If you travel from Holbeach to Spalding you can trace in the village churches, the developing styles in building in the Norman period. Weston is the latest of these, built just when the massive roundness of the Norman style was giving way to the graceful pointing of Early English Gothic. We call it Transitional.
In 1154 Thomas of Multen gave to the prior of Spalding, the advowson of the Church in Weston.
“During the celebration of Solemn Obsequies at his father’s funeral at Spalding Priory, he went into the Chapter House and in the presence of his mother, brother, sisters, kinsmen and friends, gave to God and this convent, the Church of Weston, depositing his own sheathed knife on the Altar, therewith declaring he gave and invested then in the said Church and the tithes belonging thereto.”
The monks then proceeded to help him to get a small stone church built, the only parts of which now remain, are the lower parts of the chancel walls, the stone benches where weak members of the congregation sat while healthy people stood throughout the service (viz: the old saying “the weak to the wall”) and the little Norman doorway on the south side.
A church might not usually be built as one project, depending on the availability of skill or inspiration or even good intentions. Much of the work would be done by the monks themselves with the help sometimes unwilling, of local labour. But the important skilled work was done by groups of travel ling masons, who might stay in one Place to erect pillars or decorate arches and then move on.
For example, you will notice that although our nave is dated about 1260, the pillars which support the arches are different in style, round on the south side and octagonal on the north side, all being encircled by four slender detached shafts linked together at the base and by capitals of rich foliage.
Obviously, and two sets of masons became worked, available those after employed a disagreement by the Priory with another group who Croyland Abbey during their work on Moulton Church on or about 1160. The nave and porch belong to this period and style, but the chancel was rebuilt after 1290 and the transepts added between 1350 and 1360 followed by the aisles in 1380.
The font with its bold carving of foliage on each of eight sides with platform for the priest, was probably built in Thomas of Multon’s Church in 1180 but was moved to its present Bite when the chancel was rebuilt a century later.
The family continued to be benefactors of the Church and stern lords of the manor of many years. During the late 12th century Lambert of Multen (probably son or grandson of Thomas) built a stone manor house in Weston, part of which survived in St. Lambert s Hall, until it was demolished in the 1960s.
A sepulchral slab, now in the north transept but originally covering a vault in the Chancel, has the remains of an incised representation of a nan and a woman, but no inscription. Village tradition ascribes this, without visible evidence, to Lambert of Multen and his wife Matilda, she has worn better than he has!
In 1216 King John, on his final journey to Swineshead, riding along the sea wall road from Wisbech, lost his baggage between Sutton Bridge and Long Sutton in a high tide of which he was not forewarned, and rested at St. Lambert’s before going on to Spalding Priory. It is likely that this was an unwilling pause, since the Lord of Multen had been one of the barons who had forced him to sign the Magna Carta in the previous year. John then got a partial revenge by confirming the Prior in the endowment of Weston Church and its tithes which had recently been seized back by the Multens.
The greater tithes of corn and wool, with responsibility for the repair of the Church and the lesser tithes of lambs, pigs, geese and eggs, and responsibility of pastoral care and Divine service, were retained by the Priors for over 300 years, until Henry VIII closed the Monasteries in 1535 and 1536 and Weston Church became crown property served by a non-resident secular Vicar.
William of Littleport who became Prior in 1284 and built Spalding Parish Church, rebuilt and enlarged Weston Church raising the height of the Chancel, giving the eastern wall, four slender buttresses enclosing three perfect lancets surmounted by a single quatrefoil. The north and south walls were lighted by three deeply hooded lancets and a piscina was set beside the alter. His name appears at the head of our list of Vicars of Weston, with the date 1286.
During the next few years the five nave arcades (to which reference has already been made) were built. The pillars support pointed arches with plain mouldings but are themselves encircled by four slender shafts linked together at the base and by capitals of rich foliage. The clevestory windows above them also belong to this period, except two at the south-east end which were replaced when the transept was added and then restored incongruously in the 19th century. Between 1350 and 1360 the aisles and transepts were built, thus making the Church cruciform, and a beautiful porch was also added. It is finely proportioned with stone seats.
Pointed arcading with detached shafts crowned by leafy capitals enriches the walls and makes a handsome setting for the tall inner doorway and its massive oak door of a later date. The tower arch soars almost as high as the tower which was built about 1420. The westward leaning of the tower is not in imitation of Pisa, but is a result of the nature of its foundation. It is unique in this district in having no spire and is also the lowest for many miles around. There are only three bells of the 18th Century and poor quality.
It is noticeable that after the closing of Spalding Priory, which had done so much for Weston, although it oppressed the people quite much as the lay Lords of the Manor of its time, there were no major building works.
We have the usual stories of Cromwellian damage. One of the Roundhead captains, the Duke of Manchester, paid a visit to the squire of Wimberley Hall (a beautiful sixteenth century H shaped house demolished in the 1960s), and his escort and horses encamped in the church. Could they have been responsible for our lack of mediaeval glass? Only a few fragments remain dug up in the churchyard and wired together haphazardly on a south window near the door. Sundry projections in the walls of the north transept may at one time have supported statues of saints.
There is an interesting stone slab in the floor between the pulpit and the north transept.
“HEERE LYETH THE BODY OF WILLYAM WHETTAKER CLARK INTERED: A REVERENT MINISTER OF GOD WORD IN WESTON XX YEARS AND WAS BURYIED THE 5 OF APRILL ANN.D. 1640.”
William Whettaker was vicar of this parish in the reign of Charles I (1625—1640) but at the time of Willyam’s death the Puritans were attacking the English Church and the Long Parliament of 1640 took control of national and ecclesiastical affairs. Churches were often wrecked and pillaged by Puritan mobs and in 1645 the Book of Common Prayer was abolished and episcopacy was suppressed in 646. Thus it was that Willyam Whettaker was called a Clark and reverent minister of God’s word, as the titles of Priest and Vicar were very unpopular at the time of his death.
Lower, on the game stone is the following inscription:-
“JAMES BRECKNOCK, CLERK, LATE VICAR OF THIS PLACE
BURIED APRIL 1 1691″
He was vicar in happier times, after the restoration of the monarchy in 1660. The Church was once more recognised and popular.
During the next 200 years, the building gradually fell into disrepair. The flat roofs decayed and the masonry of the clerestory was marred by leakages and became unsafe. The floors became dangerous and the old box pews were rotted and mildewed. The churchyard was practically a bog. One gathers that churchgoing must have reached a low ebb until the religious revival in the 19th century when we were blessed with a series of energetic priests who sought to put all this right. The names of Walter Maurice Johnson and Edward Moore, but not their deeds, are recorded over their vaults in the chancel and porch.
The Johnson family were great benefactors of Spalding where they lived and were largely responsible for the new Grammar School, St. Peter’s Church (now demolished), the Johnson Hospital, St. John the Baptist’s Church and they also gave generously to Weston. Our eastern stained glass window is their memorial, though it must be admitted that it is a second attempt, as the original was replaced by “more suitable and worthy” glass under the will of Mrs. Edward Moore in 1890.
The Rev. Edward Moore, a nephew of the Rev. Walter Maurice Johnson, was Vicar from 1835 to 1866 when he became Vicar of Spalding, though he continued to take a great interest in Weston. In his time, services were usually conducted by a curate who plodded out from Spalding, or rode out on horseback. (His mounting block is beside the Lychgate) . He was paid the princely sum of £1 a year.
Edward Moore was a tremendously energetic man with the welfare of many parishes in his charge and was responsible for the restoration of a number of churches in the deanery. He is chiefly remembered by us for reroofing our chancel in 1863. Under the direction of Gilbert Scott the flat roof was replaced by a roof of steep pitch and covered with lead, so that the Priest and choir remained dry. He is said to have spent more on Weston church in his 31 years, than the whole income of his benefice, but he was also a great collector of funds and travel led widely with appeals for his various projects. Dear to his heart were Church Schools and by 1850 he had collected about €1160 for the building of Weston St Mary School and a house for its master.
A few years later, he built the Vicarage so that for the first time for many years, his successor became a resident Vicar.
The work of restoration of the Church was continued by the Rev. Edward Manners Sanderson (1875-90) who replaced the decayed oak roof of the nave, aisles and transepts. The architect, J. L. Pearson recommended oak, but for economy’s sake, pitch pine was used and a new lead covering was provided. Even so, it was a tremendous task to raise funds in a time of agricultural depression. The main pier and north aisle arch were rebuilt, the church floor was paved with stone and wood blocks, new open benches were provided for the congregation and the east fence of the churchyard was replaced.
When all the work was finished, the great Bishop King of Lincoln preached at the re-opening of the Church on October 10th 1885 and gave well—deserved praise to the Vicar and encouragement to the parishioners.
There is an incomprehensible but quite legible piece of misinformation on the lead of the south chancel roof
REV. J. M. BALDWIN MA VICAR
M. BIRCH )
J. EYETT ) WARDENS
W. L. DILLWORTH, SECRETARY CHURCH COUNCIL 1895
By 1895 Rev. J. H. Spokes who followed Rev. E. Manners Sanderson was Vicar, Thomas Diggle and William Grummit were wardens and the work was long completed, so why are the names of J. M. Baldwin who came in 1917, or his wardens and secretary inscribed?
No – one seens to know – now.
One of the last events of Mr. Sanderson’s incumbency. was the opening of the Chapel of Ease, dedicated in the name of St. John at Weston Hills, for the benefit of parishioners who found the walk to the Mother Church onerous, though they still had to be brought to Weston to be married or buried.
The next Vicar, Rev. Henry Spokes, was a great tree planter. He undertook, and succeeded in, the drainage of the Churchyard, largely by planting 299 forest and evergreen trees, many of which still survive and enhance the setting of the Church. He was also a great organiser of village concerts and entertainment for raising money for good causes including the Church. There is a large collection of his notices which show what a musical village this was, and he had a huge choir with very strict rules of conduct, all beautifully written out. (This book, together with the old Registers of Baptisms, Marriages and Burials dating back to 1670 when Parish Registers became obligatory, had to be deposited in the Lincoln Archives in 1979. )
When he became Vicar, Weston was dependent for the time on Moulton and Fulney Church clocks, and there was invariably at least five minutes difference between them. To celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1897, a clock with an external dial of 6ft in diameter with painted rims and gilded figures was placed on the south side of the tower by James Dann, clock-maker of Wisbech. In the same year, the Parish Cross was restored, (modelled after one at Somersby , the poet Tennyson’s birthplace) and placed in the churchyard near the porch.
The clock was repainted and gilded in 1982 by the gift of Miss Erena Mary Atkinson, a generous benefactor of the Church who died in that year.
The beautiful thatched Lychgate by which you enter the churchyard is a war memorial built in 1921 to celebrate the memory of the men of Weston who gave their lives for their country in the 1914—18 war. Two of these heroes, Edwin George Mawby, whose family gave the brass processional cross, used in the church, and Harold Dean, are commemorated on tablets on the south wall of the Church. Unfortunately, there is no memorial to the men of the 1939-45 war, although one hero is commemorated on a carved wooden plaque on the same wall – Wing Commander Walter Dring DSO, DFC, RAF, who was killed in 1945 and buried in Holland. There must have been many other heroes, but at the time, when a memorial would have been erected the Vicar, the Rev. Raymond Wimbush, suffered irreparable spinal damage by a fall from a tree and the parishioners lacked a leader in such an enterprise.
During the incumbency of the Vicar who preceeded him, (Rev. Arthur Rooke 1933—44) several alterations in the furnishings of the Church were made. The altar was restored in 1933 according to the English use and the original stone Mensa was placed upright by the west wall of the tower where it can still be seen. An altar was placed in the north transept which came to be known as the Chapel of the Holy Innocents and a new organ which replaced a decrepit one, was built nearer to the Chancel steps after the removal of a Victorian wooden screen, considered unworthy and unsightly. This made it possible for the organist to see the choir (or they him?) The basoon which had at one time supplied the Church music were mounted in a glass fronted case on the south wall of the Baptistry — the south transept then became a childrens’ corner with a beatuiful figure of the Holy Child and kneeling—desks and books, but this necessitated the moving of the Vestry to its present position near the south door in 1940. It now became an urgent matter to consider the lighting and heating of the Church. people were becoming accustomed to more light and heat at hone and were now able to read. Before the 1870 Education Act, which brought in compulsory schooling for children, the Vicar was probably the only person in Church who needed light to read by and the altar candles sufficed. Gradualy, literacy spread, paraffin lamps and the acetylene lighting were introduced, to be followed in 1936 by the installation of electricity.
The human organ blower was replaced in 1950 by an electric pump.
The church was heated by three subterranean coke stoves which were later replaced by two coke stoves at ground level, which remained in use until 1962 when oil—fired central heating replaced them in turn. The problem of sufficient heat remains with us in these days when most of us are used to centrally heated homes A thorough wood worm disinfestation was carried out in 1958.
Many items of interest which have accumulated over the years abound:
We have a brass Mazer (Almsish) 18.5″ in diameter, which was originally inscribed “Christophorus Meerkatz, pastor, Margaretha Nolton 1660”. (The Fens were being drained by Dutchmen at that period) .
A later inscription on the nazer is “To the glory of God and in memory of a dear son Richard Barlow Simpson Barlow, B.A. Priest, who was laid to rest in this Churchyard 5th March 1883, an offering from his loving mother, widow of the Rev. Sam. Simpson M.A.
Neither of these priests appear in our list as Vicar of Weston, though they may have had village connections, and the name Simpson appears later above a north west window and on the altar rail .
In the north wall of the Baptistry are two carvings of undoubted age and Dutch origin, which portray the Nativity of our Lord and the Presentation in the Temple. There is no evidence of a connection with Christophorus Meerkatz the pastor, but it seems likely that they were originally the frontices of the two square cavities beside the Altar, treasure houses for our 17th century flagon and other sacred vessels. The carvings have been put into their present place with a later carved chest—lid between them. Nearby is an old iron—bound chest which once held village records but later became the repository for Church rubbish such as old psalters and hymn books.
The brass eagle lectern was given in 1895 by Vicar John Henry Spokes and our lectern of greater age was transferred to the Church of St. Mary and St. Nicholas, Spalding.
The stone base of an old village cross and a stone coffin of early age but unknown date and badly restored are near the north door.
The highly coloured lancet windows in the chancel portray scenes from the Life of Our Lord, but you have to zigzag from side to side to get the sequence .
There is only one piece of modern stained glass, the memorial to Harold and Ella Birch, placed behind the Vicar’s stall in 1958.
An aumbry for the Reservation of the Blessed Sacrament was made in the North wall of the Innocents’ Chapel in 1951 but fell into disuse owing to dampness, and an altar aumbry was placed nearby in the next year so that the reserved sacrament could be taken to the sick and dying at anytime.
Some of the beautiful hassocks which attract the eyes of visitors to the Church were made and given by ladies of the congregation in memory of family or friends, but by far the greater number were the work of one lady who continues to produce another from time to time.
In 1978 an “Order in Council” was passed combining the Benefices Of Cowbit, Moulton St James and Weston, so we now have one Vicar for three parishes with four churches!
This text was researched and written by Mrs E. A. Basford