Church History

Welcome to the church community pages for the Church of St Mary the Virgin, Titchmarsh.  In common with many Northamptonshire villages, the Anglican church community plays an important part in the social and religious activities within Titchmarsh and is blessed with the beautiful Grade 1 listed church of St Mary the Virgin; a building dating back to the 12th century and perhaps earlier.  We hope the web pages provide you with the information you seek regarding church life and the building itself.

A Short Guide

The Parish Church of St Mary the Virgin, standing in a prominent position on the higher ground to the North of the village, has been the centre of the Christian community in Titchmarsh for some 800 years.

The name of Tichmarsh (or the modern version Titchmarsh) seems to date from Anglo-Saxon times when a piece of land was granted to one Ticcea and became known as Ticcea’s marsh (Ticceanmersce, Tychemerche, etc).

The earliest records of the church date from 1240.  It was from Tichmarsh that Viscount Lovell left his manor to fight with Richard III at Bosworth.  Before that he had employed his Somerset mason to build what Pevsner described as “the noblest village tower outside Somerset”, on top of which in 1588 an Armada beacon was lit.

The church is remarkable for its magnificent tower, its long and lofty clerestory, its spacious chancel, and for its light and uncluttered interior.  It also houses a collection of unique and interesting wall monuments, fine stained glass windows and a recently restored 1870 TC Lewis organ. (see separate links)

The building that you see today is not the first church to have existed on this site.  The remains of a 12th century doorway in the chancel is the only relic of the Norman building, and the subsequent centuries have each made their distinctive architectural contribution.  The building assumed its present appearance when, late in the 15th century, the tower, clerestory and porch were added, and the present perpendicular style windows were inserted.  In the late 17th and early 18th century the Pickering family contributed a number of important memorials, including one to John Dryden the poet- laureate, who spent his childhood in Titchmarsh.  In the 19th century a number of the windows had stained glass inserted, a vestry was added in the northwest corner, and much of the internal woodwork was replaced (including the pews, recently adapted to provide more mobile seating).

Church Plan

Click on the plan below for a full screen view.

churchPlan-low

The Chancel

The focus of the church, both architecturally and spiritually, is the Altar.  This is God’s table, at which the faithful share in the power of Christ’s Risen Life, by feeding on the Sacrament of his Body and Blood under the forms of bread and wine.  The reredos of Caen stone and Derby alabaster (1866) depicts the Old Testament scenes of Melchizedek’s offering of bread and wine, and Abraham’s offering of his only son Isaac, illustrating different aspects of the eucharistic theme.

The semi-circular Norman arch to the south side is a visible reminder that Christian worship has been offered on this site for at least some eight centuries.

The two-level sedilia and the piscine are of the 13th century, as is also the arcading which opens into the north chapel (now occupied by the organ).  The opening known as a hagioscope or squint, gave additional visual access from the north chapel to the High Altar.  The low, pointed 13th century doorway to the north of the Altar probably led to a tomb or chantry adjoining the Chancel on the north side.  Much of this work can be attributed to the patronage of the Lovel family, who were Lords of the Manor from about 1268 until 1485.

Piercing the north-west corner of the Chancel wall are the remains of the stairway which originally led to the Rood-loft.

Dimly discernible in the apex of the Chancel arch is a crowned head.  Experts suggest that it most closely resembles Edward IV who died in 1483 when Francis 1st (and only) Viscount Lovel was Lord of the Manor.  The last years of the reign of Edward IV covered a peaceful period, favourable to the rebuilding of a church.  In 1486 Henry VII granted the Manor of Tichmarsh to Sir Charles Somerset when Francis Lord Lovel who had supported Richard III was deprived of his estates at the end of the War of the Roses.  This is the Lovell, who as Richard III’s Chamberlain and friend, was lampooned in the contemporary rhyme:

‘The Cat, the Rat, and Lovell our dog

Rule all England under the Hog’.

The walls and windows of the chancel were much embellished in Victorian times. The stained glass in the chancel windows is all by Messrs. Hardman of Birmingham.  The east window depicts Christ’s Nativity, Baptism, Crucifixion and Ascension, and several episodes from the life of the Blessed Virgin Mary, to whom the church is dedicated.  The windows on the south side of the chancel  depict various incidents from the New Testament, giving particular prominence to St Mary Magdalene and St Peter.

The reredos of Caen stone and Derby alabaster were completed.

The organ, a good example of the work of TC Lewis was installed and first used in 1870. (fully restored in 2016). We learn from the Parish Magazine that prior to the installation of the instrument, music for Devine service had been supplied by a barrel organ, the introduction of which in 1837 replaced the services of the eight singers who had occupied a musicians gallery under the tower, and sang very loud.  Singing was also led by string and woodwind instruments until 1861.

According to the parish magazines, the paintings on the chancel walls were by Miss Agnes Saunders, who was sister-in-law to the Rev. F M Stopford,  (rector 1861-1912).   The fine limed oak chancel screen was the gift of Canon A M Luckock, (rector 1912-1962).

The North Chapel and Transept

This was largely rebuilt in the 14th century, and now houses many mural memorials to the Pickering family

Gilbert Pickering bought the manor of Tichmarsh from Charles Somerset’s grandson in 1553, and for more than two hundred years it remained in the possession of his descendants.  When the direct line came to an end, the estates were acquired in 1778 by Thomas Powys, later the first Lord Lilford.

John Pickering married Susannah Dryden of Canons Ashby in 1609, and twenty-one years later, Susannah’s brother Erasmus married John’s cousin Mary Pickering.  Of these unions were born two men well known in the highest circles of their day, the notorious Sir Gilbert Pickering (1613-1668) and the famous John Dryden the poet (1631-1700).

Sir Gilbert was a convinced Parliamentarian, and became Lord Chamberlain to Oliver Cromwell.  John Dryden’s upbringing in Tichmarsh is mentioned in one of the memorials.  This and another were painted by Sir Gilbert’s daughter, Elizabeth, who became the wife of John Creed.

A woman of talent with needle, pen and brush, Elizabeth Creed was responsible also for the wording of the altar tomb and wall angle memorials of the south aisle as well as the Dryden monument which has been moved to the north transept.

The South Aisle

Here we find Mrs Creed lamenting the death of her husband, a boon companion of Samuel Pepys, of their son Richard, killed at Blenheim in 1704, their daughter Jemima, and the sad list of lost infants.  Nearby, in the south wall, is a 14th century recessed tomb, where possibly lies buried a Lord Lovel.

The east window of this aisle contains two charming panels of stained glass depicting the Annunciation and the Nativity.  These are the work of C E Kempe, and were given to Canon Luckock in memory of his mother.

In the west wall of the south aisle is a touching and interesting memorial which records the death by drowning of a certain Hugh Richard who had previously saved his master, Gilbert Pickering, from a deadly attack.  Unfortunately the monument is undated, and no more is known of the circumstances referred to.

The Nave

This is the principal space within the body of the church, where the faithful gather for worship.  The space has been extended to the north and south by the addition of aisles.  In 1926 the limed oak pulpit and screen were put in by the generosity of Canon Luckock who also gave, in 1952 the beautiful lectern with its carved magnolia, as a memorial to his wife.  Note too, the arcades with their cylindrical piers and capitals. The nail-head ornament on the north side is of the 13th century, whilst the upturned leaf motif on the south side suggests an early-mid 14th century date.

The Baptistery

The  baptistery, at the west end of the church, occupies the large space created by the base of the tower. The Font dates from the 15th century.  This is where the Sacrament of Baptism is administered, by which new members are received into the Christian community and born again into Christ’s family.  By ancient custom the Font stands near the main (west) door of the physical building, as a reminder that it is through Baptism that we enter Christ’s Church.

The West Window

The tracery of the tower window is 15th century, (extensively restored in 2016).  In 1904 the west window was filled with stained glass, the gift of Rev’d F M Stopford to mark his 50th year in Holy Orders.  It is a powerful representation of Christ’s Second Coming and the Day of Judgement, and approximately balances the episodes of Christ’s first Advent depicted in the east window.  The same firm of artists, Messrs Hardman of Birmingham, was employed for the work, and it is interesting to notice how the passage of some forty years makes a considerable difference in style and taste between the tower window and their earlier work.

The Bells

The tower houses a fine ring of eight bells.  All were recast and re-hung in 1913 as a memorial to Rev’d F M Stopford who died in office in 1912 having been rector for 51 years, and a chaplain to Queen Victoria, Edward VII and George V.  Before recasting, the oldest bells dated from 1688, with additions in 1708 and 1781.  The ring was completed in1885 by the gift of two bells in memory of Florence Augusta Stopford, the rector’s first wife. At the same time the present church clock, which strikes the hours and quarters, replaced the previous one made by George Eayre in 1745.

At the base of the tower are some interesting photographs of the re-hanging of the bells.

The South Porch

The original porch was a single storey structure, with window openings to east and west.  The upper storey was added in1583 and housed the Pickering family pew, complete with fire place!  After the death of the last Tichmarsh Pickerings the wall opening was blocked up.  It was reopened in 1931, when Canon Luckock (rector 1912-1962) and his wife put in the present glass panel and hung the massive oak south door as a thanksgiving for their silver wedding. The seating around the walls of the porch is a reminder of its earlier function as a place of meeting.

The Exterior

The large and splendid tower is built in four stages, richly decorated with triple bands of quatrefoils in circles on the ground storey and similar bands on the second and third stages. The niches on the west face contain modern stone figures representing Moses and Aaron, the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Peter, and the archangels Michael and Gabriel.  The parish magazine for 1901 records that the rector’s wife paid for the replacements by breeding and selling black fantail pigeons.

The ‘crown’, ie. parapet and pinnacles above the fourth stage is considered by experts to date from about 1500.  The will of one Thomas Gryndall, dated 1474, bequeaths money towards the building of the tower, probably completed except for the ‘crown’ in about 1480.

The prominence and size of the tower made it a significant landmark. In 1585 when the country prepared to resist the threatened invasion from Spain, the Lord Lieutenant, Sir Christopher Hatton of Kirby Hall, gave order for Beacons to be made in places accustomed and that  ‘Tychemershe Beacon’ be sett upon Tychemershe church steeple

On the south wall of the tower is a painted sundial, dated 1798, and below it a disused clock face made in 1745. There are three scratch dials on the south side of the church – on the porch and on two of the buttresses.

The churchyard, which contains many good examples of local stonemasons’ work of the 18th  and 19th centuries, is remarkable and perhaps unique in being bounded almost entirely by a ha-ha.

Acknowlegements:  The Victoria County History of Northamptonshire; Northamptonshire by Niklaus Pevsner; and to various numbers of the Titchmarsh Parish Magazine; Titchmarsh Past and Present by Helen Belgion, published 1979

St Mary’s Today

Extensive repairs to the fabric and reordering over the past 25 years, including the roof, stained glass windows, organ restoration and addition of toilets and a kitchen facility, has created a multi purpose venue at the heart of the village.  Apart from regular weekly services (link to schedule), the church is now home to an increasing number of events which include, a popular Monday Morning Cafe, the Village Fete (the church tower is integral to the famous flying teddies feature!), the annual Village Fruit and Vegetable Show, Harvest lunch, theatre and concerts (with excellent acoustics).  The church is also available for private events.

The church is open daily from 9am to dusk in winter and 6pm in summer.  For access outside these times contact the churchwarden Julia Powell  ju.powell@btinternet.com or telephone 01832 732283.  The church is accessible for wheelchair users.

Funding and Giving

Over the past twenty five years we have been very lucky in obtaining capital grants and receiving donations to carry out major repairs and restorations to the church.

However, paying the day to day costs for a large medieval Grade I listed building is no easy task. The running costs – including utilities and insurance – amount to over £12,000 p.a. In addition, the cost of our share of a part time priest to take Sunday worship, baptisms and school services, be available for weddings and funerals and visit the sick and needy cost nearly £18,000 in 2017.

We have a small and generous group of regular givers and a fantastic group who organise lots of successful fundraising events. However, this is not enough to break even.

We would welcome any contribution to funds however small. For example you could:

  • Dedicate a chair to the memory of a loved one (£125; £100 gift aided)
  • Sponsor the cost of floodlighting for a week or more in memory of a loved one or to commemorate a birthday or anniversary (£20 per week)
  • Become a regular giver – anything from £10 per month upwards.

If you feel able to help your church or for more information on giving, then please contact the treasurer Jackie Rowe on Jackie.rowe@dsl.pipex.com

And if you Gift Aid it we can get another 25% back from Government!