St Mary’s - 900 years of history

St Mary's Church : A re-published guidebook reveals a fascinating history dating back 900 years. All photos: John Aron
St Mary's Church : A re-published guidebook reveals a fascinating history dating back 900 years. All photos: John Aron

The Friends of St Mary’s Church in Horncastle have re-issued the definitive church history book which was originally written by local historian, the late Norman Clarke.

The book brings the church restoration up to date and features new photographs and a more professional layout thanks to local designer Craig Lamb and photographer John Aron.

These scythes were originally hung outdoors above the Lady chapel door, and have now been re-hung in the South Aisle.

These scythes were originally hung outdoors above the Lady chapel door, and have now been re-hung in the South Aisle.

St Mary’s has a fascinating history, parts of the current building date back to the late 12th or early 13th century (tower).

However, it was almost certainly pre-dated by a Saxon building, traces of which were thought to have been found by the late Ray Elliot, during an exploratory excavation at the base of the nave/chancel archway.

The church was built using local green sand-stone, most probably obtained from Holbeck quarries to the east of Horncastle.

However, much of the stone was probably ‘robbed’ from the Roman walls that surrounded the church.

17th Century Reredos placed  over the main door. It lists the ten commandments and shows them being presented by Moses and Aron. It is oil on wood in typical 17th Century style, and restored in 2001.

17th Century Reredos placed over the main door. It lists the ten commandments and shows them being presented by Moses and Aron. It is oil on wood in typical 17th Century style, and restored in 2001.

This probably explains why there are very few examples of facing stone left on the remaining Roman wall.

The first known Priest was called William. He was appointed between 1153 and 1169.

King Stephen held the Lordship of the Manor at that period and no doubt made the appointment.

A charter of 1229 issued to the Lord of the Manor of Horncastle specifically refers to the advowson of the Church. The definition of advowson means the right of presentation of a candidate to a benefice or church office.

A window in memory of William Rayson, it depicts 'The Risen Christ' . It is the only window that pre-dates the 1860 restoration.  It was vandalised in 1999.

A window in memory of William Rayson, it depicts 'The Risen Christ' . It is the only window that pre-dates the 1860 restoration. It was vandalised in 1999.

A parish priest, originally known as the Rector or Parson drew all of the church tithes, rents on glebe land and offerings to himself.

He lived in a rectory or parsonage which was probably situated near where the community centre now stands.

Most of the appointments would have been made by the Lord of the Manor.

The Bishops of Carlisle were Lords of the Manor of Horncastle almost continuously from 1229 until 1856.

The angel on the south side of the nave, holding the scroll of the Gospel. Each angel has a different message. Expertly re-gilded in situ by Sue Lee in 2009.

The angel on the south side of the nave, holding the scroll of the Gospel. Each angel has a different message. Expertly re-gilded in situ by Sue Lee in 2009.

The Bishops seat was normally at Rose Castle in Cumberland, but during the frequent border troubles with Scotland the Bishop needed a safe place further south at Horncastle.

This may explain why the church was larger than would have been the case for a small hamlet such as Horncastle during that early period.

The church has played a major part in the rich history of the town.

Even today, a tour of the church and the churchyard takes you on a journey over the last 900 years...from Stephen and Matilda, to King Henry VIII, to the English Civil War, the Plague, to the first dispensary and work house, to William Marwood making his Hangman’s ropes, the 1860 Church restoration, and finally to the great roof replacement projects of recent years.

Our Rectors and Parsons have, over the last 900 years administered education, punishments, charity, governance and of course pastoral care.

Their names are carefully recorded in the book and provide our links back in time, caretakers and custodians, central to the role that our church has played in the long history of our ancient town.

A window in memory of Rev Robert Giles, vicar from 1868 to 1872.

A window in memory of Rev Robert Giles, vicar from 1868 to 1872.

•The book is available from local newsagent Perkins, the Joseph Banks Centre, and of course St Mary’s Church.

Priced at just £5, it is a must for every book shelf.