Northamptonshire’s redundant churches
There is an afterlife – at least for some Church of England churches that are made redundant. The medieval period saw an explosion in church building and many of them are grade I or II* listed buildings of important historical or architectural significance. Churches become redundant for a variety of reasons, sometimes whole villages moved simply to be closer to trade routes or, as in the case of All Saints, Holdenby, a powerful landowner simply moved the village to make way for his grand mansion with a view of the countryside.
In 1969 the Church of England, recognising that it possessed one of the largest collections of historic and architectural gems in England created what was called the Redundant Churches Fund to look after churches that were no longer used for public worship. In 1994 its name was changed to the Churches Conservation Trust and today it cares for more than 350 redundant churches across England. Most are in isolated or rural locations.
The CCT is a registered charity which receives grants from the Church Commissioners and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. Other income is received from legacies, donations, membership fees and the Heritage Lottery Fund for special projects.
With a relatively small full-time staff the CCT relies heavily on its 2,000 volunteers who make up ‘friends’ groups, act as local key-holders, single volunteers who clean a church, mobile volunteer groups or, as in my case, are area volunteers that look after groups of churches. The CCT has estimated that volunteers contribute nearly one million pounds worth of labour each year in caring for its churches allowing it to spend around 90% of its income on maintenance and repairs.
In this, and subsequent, articles I am going to tell you something about some of these CCT churches in and around Northamptonshire, some not far from Finedon. Although these churches are redundant as far as regular worship is concerned they are still consecrated and used for occasional services. Most of these much loved buildings are open daily and every year receive around two million visitors who come to explore, look, enjoy, pray, or just to sit quietly as many are well off the beaten track.
The first of these churches is All Saints Church, Aldwincle just 10 miles from Finedon off the A605. This fine perpendicular building has an imposing tower with four pinnacles which once held metal pennants that are now in the tower arch. Parts of the church date back to the 13th century. In 1243 the land was held by Henry de Aldwinkle. It was the custom of the Normans who conquered England and settled here to take the name of the place where they settled. Thus Henry of Aldwinkle was not just saying that he lived there but that he claimed it for his own.
At the end of the 13th century there were two Aldwincles: Aldwincle All Saints and Aldwincle St. Peter, two villages adjoining each other each with a church. It was not uncommon for local lords of the manor to build churches on the land that they held,
even close together, for this was seen as a way of obtaining God’s favour. By the 19th century, however, with no lords of the manor to pay for the upkeep of the churches the maintenance of two churches was beyond the ability of the parish which by now had become just Aldwincle. All Saints in on the very edge of the village and so the parish coalesced around St. Peter’s Church which is more central.
All Saints therefore became redundant although it was still in use for funerals at the beginning of the 20th century. It was vested in the CCT in 1971.
If you want to see what the interior of a medieval church looked like before pews and whitewashed walls were invented All Saints Aldwincle is a must see. Inside is a memorial plaque to the poet John Dryden who was born in the rectory just across the road and was baptised by the rector, Henry Pykering, his grandfather.
(Barry works for the Churches Conservation Trust and looks after eleven redundant medieval churches in and around Northamptonshire.” )