A Brief History - written by Peter Daniel
People have been worshipping God on this site for centuries. There was probably a church, or at least a small baptistery in Pavenham from Saxon times but the first documentary evidence confirming the existence of a church is contained in a papal letter of 1205. This establishes that Pavenham’s church was not independent but was a parochial chapel attached to Felmersham and that the advowson, that is the right to appoint clergy to the benefice, had been granted to Lenton Priory in Nottinghamshire. At this time, Felmersham with Pavenham was part of the diocese of Lincoln. The first stone structured church on the site was built in the thirteenth century by the d’Abernon family who were granted one of the three manors that existed in Pavenham after the Norman Conquest; the manor that subsequently became known as The Bury. The building stone, an oolitic limestone which outcrops locally, may well have been extracted from the quarry that was situated beside the footpath which leads from the top of the village playing field around the Pavenham Park golf course. Initially, the church was a relatively simple building consisting of a nave and a chancel. The only part of this building which can still be positively identified is the remnant of a more rounded and massive arch which can be seen in the wall of the south porch to the left of the entrance to the church.
The de Pabenham family who lived at Manor, subsequently Hill Farm were also benefactors of St. Peter’s and were probably responsible for building the north chapel and the south transept. The transept may originally have been a side-chapel commissioned by Joan de Pabenham to commemorate her husband Lawrence de Pabenham, who died, the last of his line, in 1399.
Lenton Priory relinquished Felmersham and the parochial chapel of Pavenham in 1283 and in 1342, the advowson was granted to King’s Hall, Cambridge which, as a result of University reorganisation, became Trinity College in 1543. When the Pavenham Enclosure Act was passed in1769 parish allotments of land in lieu of tithes were assigned to the master and fellows of Trinity College, who held the benefice, and to the vicar of Felmersham. It was not until 1859, when Trinity College passed on the advowson to Joseph Tucker, the owner of the Bury estate, that Pavenham became an independent Parish.
The link between the church and Trinity College is still remembered in a ceremony that dates back to the time when the college permitted the parish clerk to gather as much grass as he could collect in hay time between sunrise and sunset from Town Field, one of Pavenham’s three fields in the open field system. In July, eleven days after the feast of St. Peter, the aisles of the church are strewn with new-mown hay as a token of thanks for the gathering of the first hay harvest. The eleven day delay was a direct result of the adoption of the Gregorian Calendar in England in 1752 when eleven calendar days were effectively lost, 3rd September becoming 14th September.
St. Peter’s Church, Pavenham is a medieval building and contains examples of the three phases of medieval Gothic architecture, Early English, Decorated and Perpendicular. All three phases are characterised by pointed arches in contrast to the rounded arches of the earlier Romanesque period. The Early English phase extended from 1200 to about 1275; the Decorated phase from c. 1275 to c. 1375 and was replaced by the Perpendicular style in the late fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. In practice, each architectural style evolved gradually from the previous one so that precise demarcations between the three phases are often indistinct.
The Church Interior
You enter the church through the door of the south porch.
To help you orientate yourself bear in mind that the altar or Lord’s table is at the east end of the church, the organ and gallery are at the west end, the porch door and transept on the south side and the only example of stained glass in the church is in a window on the north side. The first thing you might notice on entering the church is that hardly any of the opposite walls are parallel. In fact the nave widens slightly from west to east, that is from the back to the front of the church and the transept widens from north to south. You may also notice that the floor of the church is not flat but follows the topography of its site. The upward slope is so considerable that there are four external steps from the approach path to the west door of the tower, two steps from the nave to the chancel and a further three steps from the floor of the chancel to exit to the churchyard. The ground also slopes from north to south so that the floor of the north chapel is one step higher than the floor of the chancel.
The layout of the church is relatively simple. There is a nave; a chancel; a north aisle with a chapel at its eastern end and a transept and a porch both projecting south from the nave. At the west end of the nave there is a door leading to the tower and at the west end of the north aisle there is a door leading to the vestry. The nave and the chancel are of thirteenth century origin; the tower and north chapel were added in the later thirteenth or fourteenth centuries and the north aisle and transept date from the fifteenth century. The vestry was added in 1847.
Before you enter the church via the SOUTH PORCH look carefully at the wall to the left of the door.
It contains the only existing remnant of a rounded arch and is, therefore, almost certainly the earliest existing part of the church, possibly dating back to the 12th century.
When you enter the church you will notice that the church is well lit by natural light. This is because, with one small exception, there is no stained glass in any of the windows and there is a second tier of windows in the upper part of the nave. This part of the nave is known as a clerestory which literally means a clear storey.
The south wall of the NAVE has three square-headed windows of two trefoiled lights on the level of the clerestory. These, together with a similar window beside the priest’s door in the south wall of the chancel, are, in effect, two adjacent lancet windows with a simple form of tracery at their tops and are probably thirteenth century or Early English in origin. The lower window on the south wall of the nave is much larger and consists of two trefoiled lights with a quatrefoil, that is shaped like a four leaved clover. On the south wall, above the entrance to the porch, there is a blocked arched doorway, or more likely window, separating the nave from the parvis or priest’s room situated above the porch. On the north side of the nave, the clerestory has four single light windows which have been replaced during restoration, probably in the nineteenth century. There are three Perpendicular fifteenth century arches separating the nave from the north aisle and forming a nave arcade.
The arches are supported by octagonal columns or piers. At the heads of two of the arches are shields containing a boar’s head and a deer respectively. The nave would have been without pews until the fifteenth or sixteenth centuries. Originally there was a rood screen supporting a rood loft which separated the nave from the chancel. The door and stairway leading to the rood loft would have been behind the pulpit but are no longer visible.
Immediately above the pulpit there is a heraldic shield of the de Pabenham family.
The de Pabenham family took their name from the village which had Anglo-Saxon origins as Paba’s or Papa’s Ham. The de Pabenhams occupied the Manor, later known as Hill Farm from about 1200 to 1414 when, through the lack of a male heir, this manor was divided between the two daughters of the family, Eleanor Tyringham and Katherine de Aylesbury. Being the elder sister, Eleanor’s share or ‘moiety’ was the larger and continued to be known as Pavenham Manor while Katherine’s smaller inheritance became known as Cheynes Manor. The de Pabenham family was influential both locally and nationally. A John de Pabenham was appointed sheriff of Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire in 1313 and was one of the original ‘knights from the shires’ serving the county as parliamentary representative. Rachel Marchbank, in her book ‘Pavenham, the Life Story of a Village’, relates that one of the earliest individuals to achieve a written mention in local history was Richard de Pabenham who in 1227, according to the coroner’s records, fell from his horse and was drowned when fording the Ouse at the site of the present Stafford Bridge between Pavenham and Oakley.
A font of nineteenth century origin is situated under the nave arcade on the east side of the middle bay. In the floor of the nave in front of the pulpit is a memorial tablet to the Reverend J. E. Linnell who was vicar of Pavenham from 1882 until his death in 1919. As a vicar he was somewhat unconventional but well liked by his parishioners. In church he had the disconcerting habit of calling upon any stranger he noticed in the congregation to read one of the lessons. He did practical things to assist the less well off in the village, such as, in 1910, purchasing the few remaining allotments that still existed in the village to assist those who were struggling to make ends meet. In addition to the church services, in the summer months he conducted open air services in the High Street outside the school and along the Moor by the river about half a mile downstream beside the Pavenham to Stevington footpath. He was also a great supporter of the village band which played at both church and Methodist chapel services.
The CHANCEL is of thirteenth century origin but has been considerably rebuilt. The chancel arch is fourteenth century. The east window was replaced during the extensive repair work of 1868-9 and is a replica of a medieval window with flowing tracery. The north wall of the chancel has two fourteenth century arches rising from octagonal columns. On the south side of the chancel there is a heavily restored square-headed window with three trefoiled lights. There is also a restored Early English priest’s doorway and a small restored square-headed window on the south side, the head only being more or less original. There are two thirteenth century coffin lids on the floor of the chancel, one of which is decorated with a foliated cross growing out of a lion. Who is buried there is unknown but it was evidently a prestigious person, possibly a member of the d’Abernon or de Pabenham families.
There is a grimacing, grotesque head on the north side of the arch leading from the north aisle to the NORTH CHAPEL. In the north chapel there is a considerable amount of old walling but the roof and window at the east end are part of the 1868-9 restoration. The replacement window is in the fifteenth century or Perpendicular style.
In the north wall of the north chapel is a sedilia, a group of stone seats for clergy. They have crocketed or leaf-like, ogee canopies above the stone benches. The term ogee refers to the shape of the arch which comprises an elongated s-shape and an inverted s-shape meeting in a point. They also have richly moulded jambs, capitals and bases and provide an excellent example of the Decorated style of architecture. Above the canopy of the sedilia are the arms of de Pabenham. In the same wall there are two other shields, the one combining the heraldic shields of Alston and Temple and the other the shields of Alston and Brooke. Sir William Alston had purchased the Pavenham Manor from John Tyringham in 1638 but died unmarried in the same year. His mother, Frances Alston, had remarried after her husband’s death and inherited the estate as Dame Frances Temple. The Brooke connection with the Alston family was Thomasin Brooke who married William Alston, the son of Dorothy and John Alston. Thomasin Brooke died in 1669 when only twenty five years old.
By 1650 the O’Dell branch of the Alston family had acquired all the manors that had previously existed in Pavenham and unified them into a single estate, thereby, effectively becoming owners of the entire village. Members of the Alston family occupied Hinwick Hall and Odell Castle as well as Berrystead Manor House in Pavenham which was later abbreviated to The Bury. There are memorials to several members of the Alston family in the north chapel of St. Peter’s. These include Dorothy, the wife of John Alston who died in 1668, John Alston who died in 1687, a William Alston who died in 1713 and another John Alston who died in 1718.
The Alston family sold the estate in 1745 to John Franklyn an ex-mariner and one time master of HMS Solebay. John Franklyn died three years later in 1748 and there is a mural monument to him on the north wall of the chapel. It is surmounted by the Franklyn arms which include two dolphins, an indication of his sea-going career. The Franklyn dolphins are also engraved in the back of the nearby bench.
Also in the north chapel there are memorials to Joseph Franklyn who died in 1763, his wife, Joan, who died in 1767 and, on the south wall of the chapel, a marble memorial slab to their daughter, Lucretia Newill, who died in 1779. On the floor of the chapel, there is also a much earlier thirteenth or fourteenth century coffin lid carved with a Maltese cross.
In the NORTH AISLE there is a fourteenth century window of two trefoiled lights with modern mullions. There is also a blocked fourteenth century doorway, the threshold of which, now below ground level, can be seen from the outside. In addition there is a square headed fourteenth century window of three trefoiled lights with two complete quatrefoil lights and a further two half lights. One of the complete lights is filled with a roundel of fifteenth century stained glass, representing a star. This is the only piece of stained glass remaining in the church after the Reformation.
At the eastern end of the north aisle, supporting roof timbers, is a distinctive green man corbel with foliage sprouting from the hair and covering the ears and cheeks of the face, leaving the eyes, nose, mouth and tightly closed mouth clearly visible. The green man was originally a Celtic symbol representing the cycle of growth and rejuvenation that occurs each spring after the dormancy of winter and also, perhaps, the interdependence of man and nature. It may seem strange that the stone masons should include a pagan symbol in the 15th century extension of the church but the green man was also used to help to convey the Christian message of Christ’s death and resurrection and the possibility of man’s rebirth through faith in Jesus Christ. In the east arch of the north aisle there is another grotesque corbel.
The nave is separated from the SOUTH TRANSEPT by a Perpendicular arch. In the east wall there are two fifteenth century niches with trefoiled heads and gabled canopies. One has a base comprising a foliated corbel with a grotesque head in the centre. At the base of the gabled canopy there is a carving of a bearded, elderly man balanced on the other side with a lion’s head. The other has male and female Breughel-like peasant faces at each end of its base and a well proportioned head with medieval hat at the centre of the base.
These niches would originally have contained statues of saints or the Virgin Mary. On the south wall of the transept there is a fourteenth century piscina with a small soakaway set in a rectangular stone base. This would have been used by the priest after the celebration of the Mass to wash the chalice and paten with the water draining into the consecrated ground of the churchyard. At the base of the piscina are two peasant-like faces. This piscina is a very good example of the Decorated phase of medieval architecture. The piscina, together with the two niches, provides evidence that the transept must, at one time have contained a side-chapel, perhaps a lady chapel.
One of the most remarkable features of the church’s interior is the wealth of seventeenth century woodwork which was installed as part of a programme of extensive Victorian restoration. The nave was repaired in 1838 and subsequently ornamented and the chancel included in the later repairs of 1841. The installation of the carved wood was at the instigation of the owner of the Bury Estate, Thomas Abbot Green. He had inherited the estate in 1840 from his uncle, Francis Green, who had acquired ownership in 1829. T. A. Green, who served as a church warden, was a timber merchant and donated to St. Peter’s some of the seventeenth century panelling he acquired both at home and abroad through his business dealings. He also transferred some of the carving from the Bury House to the church. This may have included one of the benches in the north aisle which incorporates carved dolphin motifs and which may have been originally commissioned by the naval commander, John Franklin, who had ownership of the Bury estate for a brief period from 1745.
You will notice that the entire interior of the church, with the exception of the east wall of the transept, is panelled to a height of between six and seven feet in this carved wood. This is probably the most striking and unusual feature of the church although not meeting with universal approval. For example, Nikolaus Pevsner criticises ‘this overcrowding with motifs of the past’ and dismisses T.A.Green and his like as ‘magpie squires’. The heavy dark panelling is oak and most of it is Jacobean. It is probable that some of it had been originally installed in French or Flemish Abbeys while other pieces were likely to have had former domestic uses, for example, as sections of chests. This would explain the subjects of some of the carvings which include a figure with a hen tucked under the arm and another with a musical instrument similar to a lute.
In addition to the panelling there is a carved wooden gallery which extends the full width of the west end of the church, across the nave and north aisle. It is supported on a post with a rude Ionic capital. The gallery was occupied at times by the band which accompanied the hymns. Charles Linnell, the son of the Reverend Linnell, in his reminiscences on life in Pavenham in the 1920s recalls one Whit-Sunday evening when a band of sixteen brass instruments made a joyful noise in the gallery. The next day he asked an old friend what he thought of it. ‘It wur beautiful’, he replied. ‘How the old gallery did rottle!’ There is also a carved wood screen separating the nave from the tower and the aisle from the vestry. The clergy and choir pews in the chancel are of a similar date and style as are the four richly carved oak benches in the transept and the armchairs in the Sanctuary and north chapel. To complement this array of richly carved oak, it is recorded in the parish records that a Mr. Tandy was paid £6 for ‘a new pulpit sounding board and desk’ and £4 for a new pew. The pulpit is faced with seventeenth century carved wood so that it is in keeping with the rest of the church’s interior. All the church pews were replaced as part of the Victorian restoration and a new organ, built by Theodore Charles Bates, was presented by T.A.Green in 1841. The vestry was added to the north aisle of the church in 1847. The cast iron communion rail was installed in1869.
The Church Exterior
Leave the church by the south porch and walk down the path towards the Felmersham Road. The Bury House stood due south of the church before it was demolished in the 1960s. The former stables and laundry have been converted into separate residences and are situated immediately beyond the wall of the churchyard. Skirt round the edge of the churchyard, keeping the Felmersham Road on your left. On the opposite side of the road is the former walled garden of the Bury House and the nineteenth century Garden cottage which would originally have been the home of the head gardener.
When you look back you will see how the church is dominated by its BROACH SPIRE, that is an octagonal spire rising from a square tower without a parapet. The term broach refers to the triangular shape of each face of the spire. The tower with its spire is an excellent example of Early English architecture and was probably built in the latter part of the thirteenth century. The tower buttresses project very considerably. There are two at each end of the west angles and one, in four stages, at the southeast, one, in five stages on the south side, one on the north in two stages and one on the west in six stages. The buttresses which support the corners of the tower provide excellent examples of early English angle buttresses. These massive structures were necessary to support the towers that were built in the early medieval period but, as building techniques became more sophisticated, the buttresses became more delicate culminating in the flying buttresses which characterise the later Perpendicular phase. The broach spire was built in five stages.
In the ground stage of the tower in the west face is a pointed doorway. The mouldings of the doorway terminate in corbels. The one is a lion’s head carving and the other is too weathered to identify. The blocked window on the fourth stage held a clock face from 1710, with a new clock being donated by Elizabeth Cavit in 1790. The clock was dismantled during the twentieth century. There is a grotesque figure at the apex to the label or drip-stone which protected the window from rainwater. The belfry stage has a window in each face.
There are five bells in the belfry with the inscriptions (1) Robt Taylor St Neots founder 1796. Danl Hipwell and William Dix c. wardens; (2) ‘God save the Queene, 1602’; (3) John Hodson made mee 1663. Richard Gilbert Robert Tole Churchwardens; (4) Newcome made mee Ao 1614; (5) I.K. God save our King 1623. Lightning struck the steeple on 4th May 1800 and it is recorded in the church records that ‘a fire-ball fell on the church, struck a bit out of the door and a stone out of the wall, and melted the wires of the clock’.
From the same viewpoint you can also observe the 1847 vestry with an exterior door set in the north wall. You will also see that the north aisle is much lower than the nave and is quite clearly a later (fifteenth century) addition. The arch surrounding the blocked doorway in the centre of the north wall of the north aisle has mouldings similar to those fringing the west door of the tower. The clerestory windows in the north wall of the nave are also clearly visible.
From the exterior of the church, it also becomes evident that the north chapel was built as a separate (fourteenth century) addition. An archaeological report of 09.01.04 provides evidence that there is a blocked window in the west gable of the chapel. This window may have been inserted after the construction of the north aisle in the fifteenth century. Supporting the exterior of the church there is a modern buttress situated about the middle of the north wall of the chapel and an old buttress to take the thrust of the west arch of the chapel. You may also notice that the roof of the chapel is much more recent and was probably replaced as part of the 1868-9 restoration.
Continue walking round to the east end of the church where you can observe that the windows in the east walls of both the north chapel and chancel are nineteenth century copies of the medieval originals. The exterior of the priest’s door is visible in the south wall of the chancel and beside it is a mural monument to John Brown who died in 1803. At the apex of the gable end of the south transept there is a sundial with two aspects.
There are some wonderful carved stone corbels at the ends of the mouldings of the doorway arches and drip-moulding which protects some of the windows. For example, at the terminus of the mouldings of the arch at the entrance to the south porch there are two finely carved corbels, the one depicting a knight with a visor and the other a nobleman’s bearded face with long hair and soft hat. At the ends of the drip-moulding on the south wall of the nave there is a grotesque head with a pig’s snout and a wide grimacing mouth on the one side and a more human-like bearded face on the other.
Above the south porch, on the west wall, there is a blocked doorway which gave access to the parvis, a small room lit by a plain two-light square headed window. A water colour by Thomas Fisher painted in about 1815 illustrates a flight of stone exterior steps leading to the door which gave access to the parvis. This door still exists but now can only be entered by a ladder.
This room is sometimes referred to as the priest’s room. Its function is not entirely clear and may have changed over time. It may have had some of the uses of the current vestry where the priest might have gone before and after the mass that he was officiating or, perhaps, have been used by a chantry priest who would have said mass for the repose of the soul of a departed benefactor. It may also have contained a chest in which some of the church records would have been stored and even a small library of books for the use of the priest. Perhaps later it may have acted as a schoolroom for some of the village’s children.
In the east wall of the south porch there is a lead plaque with the inscription ‘William Cremer, Samuel Peason Church Wardens 1701’. This lead would originally have been on the roof of the nave and removed and preserved when the roof was re-leaded in a subsequent restoration. Work on the most recent restoration of the nave roof was completed in 2004 and the names of the churchwardens, Harry Clegg and William Townsend were duly inscribed in the lead work.
The historian C.D.Linnell suggests that the CHURCHYARD probably predates the church as a burial ground. It is bounded by ancient stone walls to the south and west both of which have undergone extensive restoration within the last few years. In fact, the west wall, bordering Church Lane, was restored as a millennium project. In 1926 Sir George Lawson Johnston gave part of a plantation on the north side of the churchyard so that it could be enlarged in that direction and, more recently, the Beazley family has facilitated a further extension of the churchyard in an easterly direction.
There are several mature yew trees in the churchyard and under one of these near the centre of the churchyard is a headstone commemorating the death in 1910 of Thomas Flanders in his 102nd year. An inscription records that he was for 50 years gamekeeper of the parish. Nearby is the pink granite headstone of Joseph Tucker (1800-1877) and his wife Maria (1807-1895). Joseph Tucker purchased the Bury estate in 1851 and was a benevolent squire of Pavenham for 26 years. He funded the building of the village school in 1853 and on his death the people of the village added a clock to the building inscribed ‘in affectionate remembrance of Joseph Tucker’.
Charles Linnell provides details of one of the more scurrilous incidents that occurred in the churchyard. Sarah Harrison died in 1853 and was duly buried but when her will was read there was a clause which forbade her property being sold as long as she was ‘above ground’. Consequently her son, who wished to hold on to the property, decided to dig his mother up and bring her back home. To this end, he went at night with his friend to the churchyard and began digging. Before they had got far in their escapade, the dog at the Bury House began barking loudly and they took flight. Fearing a severe punishment, the son immediately left the village and it seems he was not heard of again for many years.