St Mary’s Church, Weston



St Mary’s Church in Weston is one of the finest 13th Century early English Churches in Lincolnshire.

The Parish of Weston, about three miles north-east of Spalding, is the most westerly of all the settlements east of the River Welland (“West town” or “tune” — Weston).

It consists of a narrow strip of land 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, 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.

The population of these two large parishes was about 83 men and their families living in wattle-and-daub 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 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 travelling masons, who might stay in one place to erect pillars or decorate arches and then move on.

Thomas of Multen’s family continued to be benefactors of the Church and stern lords of the manor for 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.

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.

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 the church’s lack of mediaeval glass?

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.

After 1660, for 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.

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.

The work of restoration of the Church was continued by the Rev. Edward Manners Sanderson (1875-90).

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.

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.

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!