St Andrew - A History of the church

St. Andrew’s Church (known locally as the “low” church) was appropriated to the Precentor of Ely by Bishop Nigel (1133-69) to increase funds for writing and acquiring books. The Church is now essentially of the Decorated and Perpendicular styles, dating mainly from the 14th century, with a 16th century pinnacled tower.

The church’s east wall backs directly onto the pavement of Church Street with the other three sides set in the now “closed” church yard.

Like the rest of the church, the 3-storeyed tower is of honey coloured stone. It is supported by slender corner buttresses and has tiny oblong or square “squint” windows in the north, south and east walls of the lower two storeys. In the top storey, there are two light Decorated windows, which, because of the bells, are filled with grillwork instead of glass. Above this storey, the tower has clock faces on the town (east) side and on the north side. It has castellations around the top and tall graceful crocketed pinnacles at each corner with gargoyle waterspouts.

Housed in the tower is the church’s fine peal of eight bells. Several of the bells are of great age, but until 1930 only six existed. In that year the original six were recast and re-hung and two new ones added. They were the gift of Charles Aveling, who gave them as a permanent and tuneful memorial to his father, William Aveling.

The church consisted of a tower, nave and aisles – but these, together with the chancel, were extended and rebuilt at varying dates through to the 15th century. The nave roof was heightened to form a clerestory, which has a gabled roof with castellations on the north and south sides and at the east end the gable is finished with a cross. The four windows of the clerestory give the building a light, airy feeling. Major restoration took place in 1872, when the south porch was added.

The earliest part of the church is the south-west window of the south aisle, which is mid 13th century.

At the east end of the nave the broad chancel arch leads to the chancel, which is light and spacious. This is due in part to the side chapels which both have Tudor square-topped windows of 2 lights on the side walls and 3 light late-Decorated period windows at their east ends of clear or pale green glass.

The 14th century east window in the chancel, is the church’s finest with five lights, which almost fill the wall. It is of late-Decorated or early Perpendicular style and its stone tracery is intrically carved. The glass, although not as old as the tracery, is rich in glorious colours and shows Christ upon the cross in the centre panel. It also features the Nativity, Christ’s Baptism, the Resurrection and the Ascension, with symbols of the four gospel writers beneath.

In 1954, some re-ordering of the church interior was completed and the organ and choir stalls were moved to the west end of the church, as was the Vicar’s Vestry. This enabled St Peter’s Chapel to be formed at the north aisle to balance the Lady Chapel at the end of the south aisle. In addition the stone font was sited to the south side of the choir stalls.

The carved oak pulpit was given to the church in 1916, as a memorial to Lieutenant J. D. Smalley and the beautiful carved oak altar dates from 1928, a memorial to Mr & Mrs Ellis Stafforth.

Inside the south porch can be seen the remains of the grave stone of a local butcher, Abraham Read, who died on May 1st 1771. Legend has it that he killed a sheep on a Sunday and was struck down dead!

The first recorded incumbent of St Andrew’s was John Ickeburgh in 1345. He, and the ensuing clergy have guided, inspired and fostered the devoted faith of the congregation in their care.

We hope you will enjoy the peaceful and warm atmosphere of our church, enhanced by the centuries of worship and prayers experienced here.

With acknowledgement for some information to M.A.P. Beeby, Chair of Whittlesea Museum Trustees.