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A BRIEF HISTORY OF AND GUIDE TO THE CHURCH

The Vicar and Parochial Church Council warmly welcome you to our Church, in which the people of this village have worshipped for more than 850 years.

We hope that you will enjoy your visit and will pray for us, the current generation, to whose care this beautiful House of God is committed.

Photo by John Marsh

A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE PRIORY CHURCH

The settlements which are today known as Market Deeping and Deeping St. James are recorded in Domesday Book as 'East Deeping', distinguishing them from the settlement based on the old Roman road, King Street, which became known as 'West Deeping'.

Recent archeological finds have revealed that this area of South Lincolnshire has been inhabited since late Bronze Age times. There have been several discoveries of Roman artifacts and coins, including more recently evidence of a villa, while graveyard remains indicate an Anglo-Saxon settlement at Baston and place-names their Danish successors at Thurlby and Langtoft.

A Christian presence came to the area with the foundation of Peterborough Abbey in 654 AD, Thorney in 662 and at Crowland with the arrival of St. Guthlac in 699AD. Domesday Book shows that churches existed in 1086 at Baston and Tallington, but modern assessments of monastic chronicles suggest that there was no consecrated church in the Deepings until the 1120's when the Norman Richard de Rulos is credited with raising the status of the chapel dedicated to St. Guthlac to a parish church.

The impressive size of St. James' Church indicates that we have here a building which was rather more than the church of a small village. It was in fact founded as part of a Benedictine Priory by Baldwin Fitzgilbert, a junior member of the Clare family which was much favoured by King Henry I. Baldwin married Richard de Rulos' daughter Adelina. He amassed a group of lands mainly in the south of the county which became known as "The honour of Bourne and Deeping," and continued the policy initiated by Richard de Rulos of extending them in the east by reclamation from the fens. He then provided for the spiritual needs of his family and tenants in the customary manner for someone of his devotion and rank; the endowment of religious foundations. The church at Bourne in 1139 became the nucleus of a house of Arrouaisian Canons but at Deeping in 1139 Baldwin favoured the Benedictine Order.

13th century tomb

All indications point towards the church at Deeping St. James being a new construction. It was consecrated by Alexander, Bishop of Lincoln, on St. James' day, 1139 and subsequent charters confirm its status as a daughter cell of Thorney Abbey. Although Thorney Abbey appointed the priest and supervised the administration of the Priory, the church was still the parish church of the local villagers. In 1235 this was underlined by Bishop Hugh Wells, who stipulated that a vicar (rather than a chaplain) should be provided by Thorney and that he should have a separate vicarage house and his own key to the church.

The first church building, as shown in a recent architectural study, was much smaller as evidenced by an early chevron and lozenge string course on the exterior of the north aisle and a similar surviving fragment on the present baptistry wall. Within fifty years a much larger structure had been embarked on, reflecting on the one hand the church's monastic connections and on the other the general growth of population in the twelfth century.

Internally, the monastic is revealed by circular arches in the sanctuary marking the sites of seats (sedilia) used by monks attending the daily offices. The nave arcade with its triforium above are of great architectural merit, much grander than the average parish church, while blocked doorways on the north wall are likely to have connected the church with the Priory's domestic buildings. The remains of springers on the piers of the nave arcade and a walled-up arch behind the pulpit suggest planning for further developments to the monastic portion of the church which was subsequently abandoned, possibly owing to subsidence, possibly to a decline in the number of vocations or the provisions of the Statute of Mortmain in 1279 which made matters more difficult for potential donors to religious foundations. Deeping Priory itself probably had at the most five or six brothers. This is borne out by comparisons with the mother house of Thorney (for which numbers survive), a statement of the annual revenues of the Priory (only enough to support a handful of monks) and Poll Tax returns for the fourteenth century which even record their names. The Black Death in 1349 took a heavy toll; there are no separate figures for the Priory, but at Thorney numbers fell from 33 in 1347 to 13 brothers in 1350. The Prior of Deeping was, nevertheless, an important official and several priors went on to become abbot of Thorney itself.

In the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, as the influence of monastic houses declined, there was an increase in sacramental devotion, as evidenced by the foundation of chantry chapels and religious (as opposed to trade) guilds. In 1231 Guy Wake, a member of the family who were lords of Bourne and Deeping, gave properties in the parish of All Saints, Stamford, for the endowment of a chantry chapel and chaplain to say masses for the souls of himself and his wife Annabel. Accounts dating from the early sixteenth century prove the existence of at least four religious guilds, one of which was the Corpus Christi guild. It is likely that the creation of a large south aisle reflects the importance of these groups and piscinas mark the site of altars used for their devotions.

At the end of the fifteenth century, Lady Margaret Beaufort, mother of King Henry VII, took a particular interest in the affairs of the Priory. She had inherited the manors of Bourne and Deeping by descent going back to Joan Wake, "Fair Maid of Kent" who became the wife of the Black Prince. Lady Margaret was well known locally; a palace at Collyweston and the castle at Maxey were her residences and she acted as Commissioner for sewers (drainage of the Fens being then, as now, an important concern. She granted the brothers of the Priory the right to have their own mill (a major source of income in the Middle Ages) and in return was granted the privilege of confraternity and was mentioned in the brothers' prayers.

Under the influence of her confessor, John Fisher, she founded a preachership at Cambridge University; the holder had to preach on at least six occasions in a year in certain churches, Deeping St. James being one of the selected churches.

In common with other monastic houses Deeping Priory was dissolved in 1539, its prior being pensioned and its lands sold to a lay owner, in this case the Duke of Norfolk. The church was retained for parish worship but the priory buildings fell into decay until the seventeenth century when the stone was used to build a manor house. In the reign of Edward VI many of the church's ornaments were removed by Reformers, but the greatest destruction was carried out in the reign of Elizabeth I, when the rood screen was taken down and its burning on the village green supervised by the churchwardens. The altar hangings and vestments were sold, and the money partly given to the poor and partly used for the campaign in France.

The chantry and guild chapels had been dissolved following the general inquiry made in the reign of Edward VI. Although the proceeds should have been used to set up schools, this does not appear to have happened at Deeping St. James. However, a trust was set up by Robert Tyghe for the upkeep of highways and bridges, the education of poor scholars and relief of the poor. It still exists today as part of the Deeping St. James United Charities. Tyghe's scholars were educated in the south aisle of the church until a schoolhouse was built in the early nineteenth century.

During the Commonwealth period, evidence points to the village remaining royalist. A puritan lecturer was appointed to preach in church, and the vicar, Christopher Smith, was imprisoned and fined in 1642 for saying from the pulpit that orders of Parliament were invalid without the royal signature. The patrons of the living were also charged with compelling others to become soldiers for the king.

After the Restoration, plans to drain the Fens and clear the Welland for navigation went ahead and these factors help to account for the growth in population to around 1,500 in 1703, a large population for the time - so much so that a vicar who took the living in 1712 resigned as he felt unable to minister to a parish of its size.

A major problem occurred in 1717 when the church tower collapsed, rotten to its foundations as the result of centuries of flooding. Magistrates granted the church a brief enabling them to solicit help from other parishes and by the early 1730's the tower was rebuilt in the present form. In the late eighteenth century the work of the church was carried on by the resident curate, the Rev'd John Mossop, who founded a Sunday School, the first in the county according to diocesan records. He also helped finance repairs to the roof in 1828 when the chancel ceiling was lowered. By all accounts he was liked for his clear preaching voice; the size of the Priory had earned it the nick-name of "kill-parson".

A troubled period for the church occurred during the incumbency of the Rev'd Tryon who subsequently resigned in order to found the Baptist Chapel. His successor, John Wilson, who had been chaplain of the House of Correction at Folkingham, took on the living and saw through the building of the new (and present) vicarage house which had been contemplated for some time. His curate, the Rev'd John George, succeeded him as vicar in a long incumbency lasting over fifty years. His ministry saw through many changes in the organisation of worship, including the demolition of the singing gallery, the abolition of the use of instruments, and the introduction of an organ and a surpliced choir.

At the end of the nineteenth century the Rev'd William Henry Cooper, a former parishioner, did much to preserve the fabric of the church, providing a new roof for the south aisle, stained glass windows, central heating and new oak pews. In 1900, Isabella Marchioness of Exeter was churchwarden, one of the first ladies in the country to hold that post. At that time the sanctuary floor was raised, the altar brought forward, and a dark oak reredos and canopy installed. The latter was removed in 1954 and the altar returned to its present position under the east window where new stained glass panels were installed.

The latest major changes in the fabric of the church were made in 1971 at the instigation of the then vicar, the late Canon Ernest Knight. The present fine organ, originally from St. Martin's in Lincoln, was installed and the side chapel was created.

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A GUIDE TO THE PRIORY CHURCH

As you approached the church you may well have been struck by its size which is 55 metres or 180 feet long; the spire can be seen up to ten miles away. The size of the church reflects its origins being the church of a monastic foundation as well as the parish church of the village. The stone used in the building is Barnack rag and the south wall belongs to the late second pointed order (fourteenth century) but anticipates the coming Perpendicular style of the fifteenth. The tower, though it marries well with the rest of the building, is eighteenth century, the original tower collapsing, probably as a result of flood damage to foundations over the years.

south porch

The porch is early English (thirteenth century) with a hood mould and dog tooth decoration. The sundial and iron gates are eighteenth century. Passing through the door, on the left is the font, a twelfth century gem of tub shape with interlaced Romanesque arcading.

font

In the baptistry nebule moulding above and traces of a chevron and lozenge string course below suggest that this section marked the outside wall of a smaller, earlier building. Other traces have disappeared; the south aisle was in any case extended and its roof raised between 1250 and 1349. Walking on further you will see on the left the tower door surmounted by an early nineteenth century royal coat of arms and above that the St. James window installed in 1884. Nearby is the bequests board listing benefactions to the poor of the parish.


Turn right and you are looking straight down the nave. Note the impressive late twelfth century nave arcade of seven bays. It is continued by a long chancel, again reflecting the existence of the medieval priory.

Above the nave arcade is the triforium made up of thirteen painted arches, four of them pierced. These originally continued further east and are Early English (thirteenth century). On the north side the three perpendicular windows date from 1408. Gervase Holles in 1632 said that they were then inscribed, "Pray for Sir Thomas Berham, formerly vicar of this church."

Look again at the arcade and you will see that two of the arches have broken springers. Experts disagree on their former function; a central crossing or reconstruction to form a northern side aisle have been posited, but a more recent and plausible suggestion is the subdivision of the church into monastic and lay areas before the enlargement of the south aisle. A blocked arch behind the pulpit suggests a plan for a transept which was subsequently aborted. The south aisle also shows traces in the shape of a roof line which did not survive the aisle's enlargement.

interior

Look upwards and on one of the beams you will see the names M. Kenney and J. Welldon C.W. 1830. These were the churchwardens in office at the time of the re-roofing of the chancel. It is obviously lower than its medieval original. An eighteenth century engraving indicates a ruined chancel roof and upper walls, though unfortunately no further documentary evidence has been so far discovered to determine precisely when this may have occurred. The pulpit dates from 1873 and was given in memory of the Rev'd J.M.Cooper (father of the Rev'd W.Cooper). The window above it in memory of the Rev'd W.H.Cooper dates from 1904 and commemorates Richard de Rulos, Lord of Deeping in the early twelfth century and his son- in-law, Baldwin Fitzgilbert, founder of the Priory.

Passing through the choir stalls you will see on your left the lectern given by the Marchioness of Exeter in 1900 and in the wall to its side a blocked-up arch known as the "Priory Door". It is counterbalanced on the south side by another filled-in arch, traditionally understood as the "Vicar's Door".Also on the south wall of the sanctuary are six circular arches. These mark the site of seats (sedilia) used by the brothers of the Priory and are of the transitional period of architecture (twelfth century). The double piscina next to them dates from the mid thirteenth century; one of the bowls was to be used for washing Communion vessels, the other for the priest's hands. The window just above with foliated capitals is said to have been donated by Prior David (who later became Abbot of Thorney) and dates from around 1230.

David's window

It is likely that Prior David's window marked the extent of an early thirteenth century presbytery. At some stage later in the thirteenth century the chancel was again extended and work on its windows continued during the fourteenth century, though without the flourish of earlier periods. The east window is thought to date from the mid nineteenth century; its stained glass was installed in 1955.



On either side of the chancel are stone effigies, unfortunately heavily defaced. These are likely to have marked the burial places of benefactors of the Priory. Stylistic details would date the tomb on the north side to the fourteenth century whereas a trace of dog-tooth ornament and the style of the armour give an early thirteenth century dating to the tomb on the south. The latter may well be that of Guy Wake, who endowed a chantry chapel here in 1231. The founder of the Priory, Baldwin Fitzgilbert, was himself interred in Thorney Abbey.

Miscellaneous


Walk southwards and you will see on your left an altar now serving as a Lady Chapel. An aumbry to the left of the altar and a piscina to its right reveal its medieval origins. Pass through the gate into the Corpus Christi Chapel; this also retains its medieval piscina and aumbry though the present furnishings were fitted at the time of the installation of the present organ in 1971.




There are several monuments on the south wall. Perhaps the most notable is that of the Rev'd John George, who served the parish for over fifty years and during whose incumbency the Church School, now extended and serving as the Church Hall, was built. Also to be found in the church is an eighteenth century curiosity - not a confessional or sentry box but a graveside shelter used to protect the vicar from inclement weather during burial services. The parish chest, without ornamentation and the lid of which is a hollowed-out quarter log, is difficult to date but may be from the late seventeenth century from which the earliest surviving parish registers date.







We hope that you will enjoy visiting our church, which for more than 850 years has borne witness to Jesus Christ in the parish of Deeping St. James, and invite you to spend a quiet moment in prayer within its walls before going on your way.


ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

  • Research: Revd. Sonia Marshall BA (London)
  • Text: Revd. Sonia Marshall
  • Illustrations: Geoffrey Armstrong
  • Word Processing: Diana Baker
  • Layout: The Rev Mark Warrick

Please note: A booklet giving this brief history is also available in the church.


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