Friday, 25 October 2013


Next on my list is churches. Churches of various dominations come in all shapes and sizes and many have an unusual story to tell.

Upleatham Church

Situated on the B1268 road half a mile east of Upleatham in North Yorkshire
this tiny church of St Andrew is a one of the smallest churches in the country. Known as the old church it is  just 6m  x 4m in size but  was once part of a larger church.

Upleatham Old Church

Greek temple or parish church?
The church of St Lawrence in the tiny village of Ayot St Lawrence in Hertfordshire (the last home of Sir George Bernard Shaw), is  like a Greek temple, with Doric portico and two colonnaded wings leading to pavilions on each side, a perfect example of the Paladian style.   The front of the church is stuccoed, but the back has been left in plain brick, whilst the roof is of copper sheeting.   The very fine interior is in keeping with the structure and the altar is at the west end.
Sir Lyonel Lyde of Ayot House and Lord of the Manor in 1778, was responsible for this curious edifice, having decided to build a new church for the village.  Actually, he decided that the old medieval church obstructed the view from his house  and decided to demolish it and to build the new church to the west of his house where he could see  and admire it from a distance.   Before he could demolish the old church, the Bishop intervened with an injunction, but the old building was never restored and was left in ruins as seen today.
The appearance of the exterior of the new church is due to the fact that Sir Lyonel could only see the front of the building and this also explains why the altar is at the west end of the church, i.e the opposite end to the front.
The tombs of Sir Lyonel and his wife are under the two side pavilions, one on each side.  It is said that these unusual separate mausoleums were the outcome of a life of nuptial discord.   Sir Lyonel had apparently vowed that since the church had united them in life, it should make amends by separating them in death.
St Lawrence's church
The original church
Concrete church
There is a rather curious church at Amwych on Anglesey – the catholic church of Our Lady is built mainly from concrete and appears to resemble and upturned boat.


Amwych R.C church

Muffled Bells


The church  at Llanfechell on Anglesey has a curious concrete ‘hump’ on top of its tower.  The story goes that the local squire complained that the beer in his brewery opposite the church was being disturbed by the church bell.  It also appears that a local retired army officer also had a similar complaint in that the bell affected his bees and their production of honey.   It seems that by building the ‘hump’ the church bell was suitably muffled.
Llanfechell church



Whitby Parish church


The parish church of Whitby in North Yorkshire, is one of the most unusual churches in the country.   This 12th century church on the windswept heights of the east cliff is reached by the unique 199 stone steps – The church stairs, mentioned in 1370, the steps were described in 1717 as wooden stairs.   Most of the older Whitby folk wanted their coffin to be carried up the steps and there are still resting places at various intervals on the climb.   A ‘donkey track’ runs steeply up alongside the steps.

199 steps

Whitby parish church

The church itself has been variously altered and extended over the years and is still lit by candlelight and heated by a huge stove.   The galleries, boxed pews and the three decker pulpit, with its old ear trumpets provided for a former vicar’s wife, present a fascinating picture and the Cholmley Pew is quite unique.   This all powerful family, Lords of the Manor in the 17th century had a social status which had to be recognised and their curious gallery was built across a very fine Norman arch in front of the chancel, the most conspicuous spot in the church.   This gallery, which rises on slim pillars that look like sugar twists, was built between 1600 and 1625 and has a separate entrance from outside the church in the form of a covered stairway.    There is much of interest in this unusual church which has been likened to the between decks on a ship.



The Cholmley Pew
 This stormy photograph of Whitby church reminds us of the Dracula story. Vampirism, the superstition that a ghost or evil spirit leaves the grave at night to suck the blood of a sleeping person is vividly portrayed by Bram Stoker in his novel Dracula. Stoker was in fact visiting the port of Whitby when he wrote the novel and part of the story entails a shipwreck off the coast at Whitby, when Count Dracula, in the shape of a huge dog, swims ashore, runs up the 199 steps to the churchyard and takes refuge in the grave of a suicide. There is a grave, which would be pointed out by officials at the church, bearing a skull and crossbones and said to be the very grave! The stark remains of Whitby Abbey are a fitting background.

Dracula !!!





The crooked spire


One of the greatest church curiosities in the land,  the ‘twisted spire’ of St Mary and All Saints church at Chesterfield, dominates the skyline.  This church was built between 1234 and 1360 and, rising to 228ft, the spire leans 9ft 5ins from its true centre.  Its eight sides are covered by a herringbone pattern of lead slates which trick the eye into seeing sixteen faces from the ground, and the result is a crooked spire.  

Legend has it that a powerful magician persuaded a Bolsover blacksmith to shoe the devil, who took flight over Chesterfield where he lashed out, caught the church spire and twisted it out of shape.

The truth probably lies in the fact that unseasoned timbers became distorted over the years due to the heavy lead covering.


Chesterfield church




The Boston Stump


The impressive St Boltoph’s church at Boston in Lincolnshire is one of the largest parish churches in England and its huge tower dominates the area.   The tower know famously as The Boston Stump is 272 feet high and can be seen from many miles away in this flat fenland countryside.   The lantern top was for many centuries a guide to travellers both on land and sea.   As well as the 365 steps up the tower, the church has 7 doors and 52 windows.

Boston Stump
Beacon Tower
The very fine beacon tower of All Saints Church, York, was in fact added to guide travellers in the forests which formerly surrounded the City. This church was also a place of sanctuary and there is a fine sancutary knocker on the door.
All Saints Church




Lantern tower


The church at Weldon in Northamptonshire also has an unusual lantern top to its tower.  This area was once surrounded by dense woodland and a traveller became hopelessly lost there until he spotted the tower of the church above the trees.   In gratitude he paid for the lantern top to be placed on the tower and so created an inland lighthouse!






Weldon Church




Leaning towers


The tiny fenland village of Surfleet has an ancient parish church which lies alongside the River Glen in Lincolnshire.   The spired tower of this church leans away from the body of the church – in fact it leans six feet out of true!    Apparently the tower settled at this angle soon after it was constructed in the middle ages and is quite safe!
Surfleet church

The neighbouring church at Pinchbeck also has a leaning tower, but not as severe.


Pinchbeck church

Top heavy tower


This extraordinary church tower is curiously wider at the top than at the base, its walls leaning out as they rise. Does anybody know the reason for this?
This church also has another curiosity - the font has traces of a lock from the time when it was thought necessary to prevent witches from stealing holy water.

Hayton Church

Unfortunately I was unable to obtain a photograph when I visited this church and I am very grateful to 'epicurus' for allowing me to copy this Panoramio photograph, whilst retaining full copyright. It should be noted that the photograph must not be used without his expressed permission.



A wooden church tower


The parish church of St Mary the Virgin at Raskelf near York in North Yorkshire which dates back to the 12th century, has an unusual wooden tower which was probably erected in the late 15th century.   The ground stage, though now enclosed, was formerly open to give light to the west window.   The overall look of the stone church and wooden tower is quite unusual.
Raskelf Church

In a circular churchyard


The parish church of St Mary at Cranwich in Norfolk is well worth close inspection.   This unusual church has a thatched roof and a pre-conquest round tower, the base of which is as early as 700AD, although the site is almost certainly pre-Christian.  The graveyard is circular, a feature although now unknown, is very rare.


 Cranwich Church
A tower and a steeple
The Parish Church at Ormskirk in Lancashire is unique in that it has a tower and a steeple at the same end. Local legend says that two sisters were unable to agree whilst building the church and settled for a tower and a steeple. The facts are that the steeple was actually built in 1430 being re-built in 1790 and in 1832, whilst the tower was built in 1570 to house the bells from nearby Burscough Priory at the Dissolution.

Ormskirk Church


Twin towers


The church of St Nicholas at Blakeney  in Norfolk has a curious small tower at the opposite end to the huge main tower. It  was added in the 15th century, probably to contain steps up to a chamber over the chancel.   However, local tradition says that it was built as a beacon to warn shipping passing nearby.

Blakeney Church



Abbey  feud



The Abbey Church of St Mary and St Thomas at Wymondham (pronounced Windham) in Norfolk also has two towers which apparently came about as the result of a feud and was the scene of unseemly controversy for many years in the 14th century.  It seems that there was a dispute between the monks and the parishioners which resulted in the monks dividing the church by blocking the central arch with an octagonal tower (now the east end of the church) and hanging their bells there.   In the meantime the parishioners built a second tower at the west end of the church for their bells, which was going to be bigger and better, but when they had reached a height of 143 feet, the two groups were reconciled and things were left at that.  And so it is today.



Family feud


A family feud in 1853 is said to have surrounded the unusual construction of St Helen and All Saints church at Wykeham near Scarborough in North Yorkshire. It is said that two sisters disagreed about the construction of this fine Victorian church with the result that the church and the tower were built apart.   At the foot of the tower, with spire and peal of five bells, is a gateway to the churchyard.

Wykeham Church

Here’s the church, where’s the steeple?


The tiny village of Latheron straddles the A9 road in the far north of Scotland’s east coast.  The village church lies in a hollow away from the village on the cliff top, whilst the church bell-tower is situated on a hill top on the other side of the village! – ‘so that the sound of the bell will carry further.’      

Latheron Church
and the detached steep

Dundee City Churches
St Mary’s church was built in 1190 but it was destroyed in 1303. In 1462 the church was rebuilt by the Dundee Town Council with contribution by the Abbey of Lindores. A unique feature of the church was the length of the north and south transepts, which together with the nave and choir, made it the longest ecclesiastical building in Europe. A huge square tower was completed in the 1480’s and The Old Steeple, as it is known today,  is the only part of the 15th century church which remains because the church was destroyed in 1547 and only the tower and the choir were saved. The Town Council subsequently rebuilt the open west end of the choir and established the St Mary’s church or East Kirk. Later the Town rebuilt the south transept to accommodate a second church, the South Kirk. In 1759 this curious building evolved further when the north transept was rebuilt and a third church, the North or Cross Church was established. Finally in 1789, the nave was rebuilt and St Clements or  Steeple Kirk, was introduced.
So the town had four separate churches under one roof with their own ministers and Kirk Session, sharing the one tower.
Sadly in 1841, a fire broke out in the East Kirk which engulfed the East, North and South churches with only the nave and tower being saved.  The North church was subsequently re-established elsewhere, but the East and South churches were rebuilt in 1844 with the three congregations continuing until the 1980’s when the Steeple Church and the South Church amalgamated with the South Church becoming a community centre.
St Mary’s Tower is better known as The Old Steeple. A fine example of the late 15th century Gothic style, it is the oldest surviving building in Dundee. The tower, with eight bells, is 160 feet high and there are 232 steps to the top. It has been used as watch-tower and prison and is now in the care of the Town Council.

Three churches in one churchyard


To discover that there are two churches in the churchyard at Reepham in Norfolk is unusual, yet in the past there were three churches in that one churchyard.  The present day church of St Mary stands end to end with St Michael’s church which is now used as a sunday school and for other parish functions, whilst the scant remains of All Saints church, destroyed by fire in 1543, stands alongside.

Why three churches?  Local legend says that three sisters, who are depicted on the village sign, each had their own church.   This may be true but the fact is that three parish boundaries meet in the churchyard.






Church bell cage


A church tower which was never completed leaves the church of St Mary the Virgin at East Bergholt in Suffolk looking somewhat forlorn.   The church was built between the mid 14th and the mid 16th centuries and the tower was begun in 1525 by Cardinal Wolsey.   Local tradition says that the devil dismantled the tower as fast as the builders put it up but in any event work stopped on Wolsey’s death in 1530 and the tower is still as it was then.

A bell cage was erected as a temporary measure in 1531 to house the church bells, one of which dates from 1450.  It originally stood in the eastern part of the churchyard  until the 17th century when it was moved to its present site behind the church at the wish and the expense of the local Squire, because the noise from the bells disturbed the family at the Old Hall.   The cage, now a firmly established feature of the church, is the only place where the bells are rung by pure force of hand applied directly to the bell and not by rope and wheel.    The bells are normally rung between 9.30am and 10.0am on Sundays throughout the year and between 6.0pm and 6.30pm on Sundays in summer being the heaviest five bells currently being rung in England.

John Constable was born in the village and his parents are buried in the church.



East Bergholt church and bell tower
A painting in the church shows bell ringers at work.

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