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If you’re looking for information about the history of the church we have a book called ‘A History of St. Peter’s Church, Yaxley’ by J. Aveling. If you would like to purchase a copy, they are £5.00 each and are available by contacting us. If you have any queries about burials or the history of the church, please get in touch with us and our local historian will be happy to help. If you would like to visit the church, please get in touch with us. Please be aware the church is not left open and visits need to be prearranged.

In the meantime, please enjoy this historical summary from Barry, our local historian. There has been a church in Yaxley for roughly 1050 years as the original village church was founded around 970 probably as a private chapel for the Lord of the Manor who lived nearby. This church would have been linked to Thorney Abbey which had been founded in 625 as they were the landlords for the majority of the village. This may explain why it is on the outskirts of the village and not near to the main village in Main Street near the village pump. Another reason is that it would be easier to defend being at the high point of the village and being up high would stop it from flooding. This original church which would have been a timber and thatched structure measuring about 48ft x 16ft and was located about 16ft from the existing chancel arch. (All measurements are based on the pole which was 16ft) The existing church is built based on this basis, tower 16ft square, aisles, chapels and transepts 1 pole wide. The original church was replaced about 100 years later between the years 1080 - 1100 by a rubble stonework structure with internally plastered and lime-washed walls which could have been covered in crude religious paintings.

In the late 13th, early 14th century (1290 - 1340) The font is from this time as it has been dated to 1290 Yaxley was a small market town with at least 14 merchants trading with London, Lincoln, Lincoln, Lynn, Spalding, Wisbech, Cambridge Stourbridge Fair and Northampton. As such it was decided by these yuppies of the time that they needed a church befitting their status, so the new church was built with side aisles, transepts and chapels all a pole wide. This structure was also used as the town hall, court house and community centre.

The faces of some of these merchants can be seen by looking up at the top of the walls in the North Chapel, the South Chapel and the Transepts.

Within this new church there would have been 5 altars, the High altar in the Chancel, The Lady Altar in the North Chapel (now the Crèche), The Holy Trinity alter in the South Chapel, and one in each transept which would have been Chantry Chapels where the souls of the dead were prayed for.. All of these altars would have been set up against the wall as the priest stood with his back to the congregation and mumbled the service, almost to himself (all in Latin!) and not facing the congregation as now.

There were also 8 guilds in Yaxley at this time, St Peter, Our Lady, Holy Trinity, St Giles, Holy Cross, St Katharine, St George and St John the Baptist. These Guilds would have paid for the upkeep of the altars and votive candles.

The South Chapel – The Chapel of the Holy Trinity was extended in the early 14th century as can be seen from the different designs of the two piscinas and the windows, one being early English plain style and the other more decorated. This Chapel is now known as the ‘Childs Chapel’ because of the various monuments to the Child Family.

The westernmost window in the North Chapel which was the Lady Chapel was also replaced at a later date as this is the only Perpendicular window in the whole church and is late 15th century. There is a fine triple stepped sedilia in this chapel where the priest and curates would have sat during part of the service.

During the years 1485 – 1540 the church was mainly rebuilt with higher columns, a clerestory, flatter roofs, new south porch, tower and steeple. The screen and the poppy head choir stalls are from this date and if you look carefully at the bottom of the screen you can see some of the original decoration.

The South Porch as is, was built around 1500 when it replaced a smaller porch. Traces of this smaller porch’s outline can be seen above the South Door. Dating evidence is also provided by a Tudor Rose boss in the roof. Three heraldic beasts are positioned above the entrance on the roof, a lion, Yale (griffin) and a dog all of these are seated.

Four wooden bell cages were installed in the tower but only 2 bells were installed. A later Act of Parliament required that vestiges of the Old Religion (Roman Catholicism) were to be removed as in 1534 the Pope’s authority ended and the Church of England was founded.

In 1552 the Church Commissioners found that there was still one bell in the tower. This was there because Princess Elizabeth as Rector of the parish had given permission for one to be installed as a warning bell in case of fire.

The first peal of 5 bells was installed in 1721 and in 1881 the 6th bell was installed. These 6 bells in the tower were rung from ground level and if you go into the upper room you can see where the ropes have worn away the stonework.

The clock in the tower was installed in 1721 and originally faced north towards the Manor House. Much of this original clock remains but it was fitted with an electric winder in 1979.

The tower is 16ft square (a pole each way) and is 160 feet high surmounted by a 112 ft steeple. There are flying buttresses and gargoyles at the top of the tower.

As this was during the reformation years a lot of the earlier finery, statues and paintings would have been removed, destroyed or painted over. The walls of the church would have been covered in religious texts and paintings which would have been considered heretical by the new church leaders and the King. Fragments of these paintings can be seen at either side of the Chancel Arch and also in the north chapel where you can see the ‘Road to Emmaus’.

During the Civil War in 1643 when that great Englishman (and a local boy) Oliver Cromwell was on the march north they decided to carry out a ritual killing of the church and bombarded it with cannon fire. We know it was not done by the local militia who used the base of a tower as a store as no lead residue has been found in the holes. The holes can be seen in the west wall. It is also said that some of Cromwell’s troops entered the church and baptised a foal in the font! You can see similar holes in the walls of Peterborough Cathedral!

Between the years 1680 and 1902 a lot of works to the church was done by various vicars. The pulpit dated 1631 was made into a double decker type where the Vicar was at the top and the Verger underneath (it was dismantled in 1842 from a triple decker to present style), and box pews (normally rented to families) were installed.

The wall painting at the western end of the nave dates from when James 1 was on the throne as the coat of arms are of his son Charles 1 when he was the Prince of Wales and Lord of the Manor (from 1611).

During the Napoleonic wars when Norman Cross Prisoner of War camp which housed up to 6000 lower ranked seamen prisoners was in operation there was an influx of people which included prison staff and militia soldiers ( One being Sir Harry Smith from Whittlesey who started as a very junior officer and ended up a general) who guarded the place. A gallery was built across the west end where the choir and orchestra (nothing new in having a band) were situated. Extra pews were installed under the gallery – these were removed in 1869 and a new organ installed in 1880.

There are several reminders of Norman Cross in the Church. Two of the agents who ran the camp are buried in the church, John Draper in the North Aisle and Thomas Pressland under the chancel arch. The wall memorial to John Draper in the North Chapel is interesting in that it was paid for by the prisoners who admired him so much. Another memorial is to Captain William Tapp of the East Norfolk Regiment who obviously wasn’t liked as much as the monument was paid for by his fellow officers!

Two pieces of the original camp can be seen as you walk up to the church, the round balls on the gate posts are from the camp.

During the early years of the 20th century the church was remodelled into its present state by Temple Moore with a new high altar, pews (these are one of the best examples of Arts and Crafts pews and as such are listed and cannot be taken away) and heating (boiler under the grating in nave) where everybody sat when it was cold!

The floor was re-laid using a lot of the existing grave marker stones so we cannot be sure if they are in the correct place. Some of the broken markers can be seen at the bases of the piers.

The east window (1949) was designed by Sir Ninian Comper and is signed with his mark, a wild strawberry and this can be seen at the lower right side of the window.

The reredos behind the high altar was designed by Ninian Comper and it is said that the faces of the two outermost saints are that of the donor’s children who was a Mr W H Stretton a local builder. Mr WJ Buchart of West Croydon was the painter and guilder of the Reredos.

For the Millennium an upper room was created at the west end with a kitchen and toilet under and since then new gas fired heating, lighting and redecoration have been carried out.

During 2021 a new upper room was built along with a new kitchen area and new toilets.

One of the main items of interest within the church is the Heart Memorial in the North Transept which was supposedly the burial place of William de Yaxley’s heart. He was the Abbot of Thorney and died in 1293. The burial place was discovered in 1842 when the vicar decided to take off the memorial and see if there was anything behind it. What he discovered was a casket which when opened emitted a sweet smell and showed a complete human heart which immediately turned to dust.

There is a Churchwarden’s chest dated 1640 in the north chapel which has three different padlocks so that each warden and the vicar had to be present when it was opened. There is also an inner compartment which has three locks as well!

Other items of interest are the door to the organ loft which is of a fine early 15th century linen fold design. There is a lot of graffiti inside and outside the church so there is nothing new there and if you look carefully you can see a green man on the rood screen (designed by Temple Moore).

Around the outside of the church are several stone coffin lids dating from the 13th century.
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St Peter's Church Yaxley
43 Church Street, Yaxley, PE7 3LH
Tel: 01733 248690/07498 230858
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