Soon after the formation of the Trust in 2001 it was discovered the 15th Century East Window was falling out. It was quite literally moving in the wind! Our newly appointed but very experienced Church Architect, Julian Limentani, initiated us into the mysteries of Faculties, Grant Applications and all the necessary processes that have to be gone through when dealing with a Grade 1 Listed Building. Scaffolding went up externally and internally overnight and several brides were warned to include metal poles in their wedding flower schemes!
I think the urgency of the situation plus our naive enthusiasm made everyone extra helpful. We were unbelievably fortunate to be given a Grant by English Heritage and thanks to them and Julian our first project came in on time and under budget. Although it had been a steep and slightly frightening learning curve it did give our fledgling organization some knowledge and great confidence for future projects.
Incidentally every time there is a repair on the fabric of the Church we learn something of its past. During these repairs large masonry foundations were found beneath the Sanctuary. This would strengthen the argument that the Chancel was originally apsidal (round ended) as was common with Norman Churches. Fragments of the three Early English Lancet windows, which were originally in the East wall, were found being used as rubble fill in.
At one of the St.Kyneburgha Trust’s regular meetings William our Rector casually announced that the broken piece of masonry lying on the Chancel floor was actually a Medieval Mensa (table/altar) and wouldn’t it be good if it were restored? It was in three pieces and before being brought back into the Church had made up part of the path leading to the Priest’s Door into the Chancel. The size of the slab – 6½ft x 3ft –and the fact it was beveled on three sides and square cut on one long side indicated it was the old High Altar originally set against the East wall of the Chancel.
It was decided to reinstall it in the Church and the Lady Chapel was reordered to accommodate it. The Trust was asked to undertake the restoration of the Altar in 2003, which we did with generous Grants from the Council for the Care of Churches, The Jack Patson Memorial Trust and the Frances Coal Foundation to whom we are extremely grateful. The slab itself was restored by the Skillington Workshop and re-set on 6 bluestone columns, the design of which reflected the origins of the Altar and worked well with the Barnack Rag from which the Altar is carved.
The refurbished Altar looks beautiful in the Lady Chapel where it is in weekly use. If you visit look for the crosses on the corners of the stone slab which again underline its earlier use. You may also notice the Altar is against the south wall of the Chapel. Although traditionally Altars face East they don’t have to – God is everywhere!
We are incredibly lucky to have in the Church a significant 8th Century Saxon Carving. It is thought to be part of the Sarcophagus of St.Kyneburgha. The pattern and shape of the carving would suggest it came from the Peterborough School, 8/9th Century Master Sculptors, probably based at the Abbey of Medeshamstede. The fact that the figures in the carving are standing on tiptoe and their limbs are visible through their garments is indicative of this period. The figure is possibly that of St.Mark with Mathew on his left and Luke on his right.
The carving was found buried in sand under the then Alter Rails during a Re-ordering of the Chancel in 1924. At that time it was placed on the South wall of the Sanctuary.
By 2002 it was in serious need of conservation work as the iron pins holding it to the wall were very rusty and in danger of marking the Carving. The Trust was asked to fund this project, which was undertaken by the Skillington Workshop. We did not have enough money ourselves to fund this and are very grateful to The Barbara Whatmore Trust for making the conservation and resiting of this important Carving possible.
It had long been felt that such an important piece should be better displayed and so after considerable discussions with English Heritage and the Diocese it was agreed that on its return to the Church but would be resited on the East wall of the North Aisle, close to where the original Shrine of St.Kyneburgha is thought to have been. It is an interesting thought that although we have just one piece, the rest of the frieze surrounding the Tomb may well be somewhere in the Church.
We differentiate in the Trust between projects like the East window, which are urgent and projects which are not essential at the time but improve the fabric of the Church.
Arguably some of these become essential if left and of course any conservation work prolongs the life of the fabric and can forestall later trouble. We can only carry out this work if it is grant aided, our own funds being insufficient despite enthusiastic fund raising. We nick name these projects ‘warm and cosies’ as there is a good feeling when they are achieved! From conception to completion can be months if not a year or two as the grant obtaining process can be lengthy, in addition to the time needed to obtain a Faculty and go out to tender. We are always thrilled when a Charitable Trust awards us a Grant as they have many calls on their resources.
The restoration of the South Porch was one such. This dates from 1220/30 when the South Aisle was added. Hugh Harrison, one of our leading Timber Conservationists, carried out the treatment and conservation of the roof timbers. After discussions with English Heritage it was decided not to attempt to restore the Angels you can see on the roof of the porch to their former painted glory. It was felt they might look modern and garish, as the fragments of original paint were not extensive enough to indicate the former colours. A good example that complete restoration is not always the best solution. We are very grateful to the Council for the Care of Churches for their generosity towards this project.
At the same time the Church was given beautiful wooden notice boards made locally, a bequest from the Pell Family.