Church of St Mary, Huntingdon
Description: Church of St Mary
Date Listed: 10 January 1951
English Heritage Building ID: 53619
OS Grid Reference: TL2409671648
OS Grid Coordinates: 524096, 271648
Latitude/Longitude: 52.3289, -0.1804
Location: High Street, Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire PE29 3AQ
Incorrect location/postcode? Submit a correction!
Explore more of the area around Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire at Explore Britain.
898/3/2 HIGH STREET
10-JAN-51 (Northeast side)
CHURCH OF ST MARY
There was a church here before the Norman Conquest, but there is no visible Anglo-Saxon fabric. The SW and NE corners of the S aisle are C12, indicating a substantial church by that date. The chancel and S nave arcade were rebuilt in the C13, and the N aisle and arcade were built or rebuilt. The W tower and S porch are late C14. The nave clerestory is c.1500. The N arcade, N aisle and part of the W tower were rebuilt following the fall of the tower in 1609. The vestry and organ chamber were added in 1869 and the church was further restored in 1876 to designs by Reginald Blomfield.
Stone rubble with Barnack stone dressings, except for the N aisle and W tower, which are C17 ashlar. Tiled and leaded roofs.
Nave with N and S aisles, W tower and S porch. Chancel with NE vestry and organ chamber.
The massive late C14 W tower, although repaired on the N side in the C17, presents an impressive vista down the High Street. Of three stages with an embattled parapet and tall pinnacles, it is richly decorated. The buttresses have very fancy gables and niches at each level; they are particular rich towards the W; there is a band of enriched quatrefoils between the second and third stages and more on the parapet. There was formerly further decoration on the N side, only fragments of which survive. The ogee headed W door is set within an elaborate frame with statue niches with nodding ogee heads and quatrefoils in the spandrels. The W window is C14 in style, but the tracery was renewed in the C19. The collapse seems to have mainly affected the NE corner, although it is possible that some of the upper level, notably the two light bell openings with uncusped lights, may also be C17; in particular, the parapet appears to have been rebuilt as some of the ornament now faces inwards.
The chancel has a C19 triplet of lancets in the E wall. The buttresses are the remains of the former side walls of the chancel before it was shortened. The N wall has a C13 lancet with the label carried on small shafts. In the chancel S wall is a good C13 doorway with dogtooth ornament and jamb shafts, a C19 door with a pointed head, square surround and punched roundels in the spandrels, and two three-light late C15 windows. The C19 NE organ chamber is arranged like a transept with its gable at right angles to the chancel, and has a Y-tracery window; the lean-to vestry has a reset C13 lancet like that in the chancel.
The slightly projecting N transept at the E end of the N aisle has a late C15 or early C16 window reset in the C17. The N aisle is ashlar faced and has two early C17 windows in a late Gothic style with foiled lights in a four-centred head; they retain their original stanchions and saddle bars. Between the windows is a blocked C17 door with a pointed head and worn headstops, possibly C13 reset. Above the door is an inscription panel noting the commencement of the rebuilding of the aisle in 1608, and on the aisle parapet above this door in an inscription recording its completion in 1620. At the NE corner of the S aisle, where it joins the nave, there is a flat C12 buttress; there is another C12 buttress at the SW angle and a third against the SE corner of the tower. A shaped stop on the E side of the NE buttress is probably the remains of the C12 chancel corbel table. The S aisle E window is C15, heavily restored; those on the S are C19 in a C15 style, and there is a blocked, possibly C15 window in the aisle W wall that was at one time converted to a door.
The S porch is late C14 and has an embattled gable. The outer opening is of two slender orders with shafts and moulded capitals; the S door is also late C14 and has two order of small mouldings separated by a band of foliate bosses. The S clerestory is late C15. The clerestory on the N is C17, ashlar faced, and has windows similar to those in the N aisle, with shallow, four-centred heads and three cusped lights under a moulded label.
The spacious interior is plastered and painted throughout. The nave arcades are of five bays, the E bay on each side being a narrower arch cut through the long E respond. The N nave arcade was rebuilt in the early C17 following the fall of the tower in 1607, reusing some C13 materials including moulded capitals and waterholding bases. The capitals have inscriptions commemorating the rebuilding. From the W, the piers are alternatively polygonal, round and polygonal; the eastern most pier, inserted in the C19 when the narrow E arch was built, is also polygonal. The SW respond has a C17 moulded corbel, and E respond has C17 style moulded corbel, possibly reset. The S arcade is C13, with a range of piers, all with moulded capitals and water holding bases. The western most is polygonal, followed by a round pier, then a pier with clustered shafts. The eastern most pier is also polygonal and is apparently C17, with an inscription, and belongs with the narrow E bay, apparently also inserted in the C17. The NW respond has a cluster of short shafts; at the E end the chamfers of the arches die into the wall. The S arcade has a pronounced southwards lean. The tower arch, inserted in the C19, has corbelled pilaster responds. The late C13 chancel arch is of two orders, the outer continuous, the inner on polygonal corbels of probably early C17 date. The C13 lancet in the chancel N wall has shafted splays; similar shafts are reset in the splays of the C15 windows on the S side. The C19 E lancets have a richly moulded label on detached shafts; the remains of the large, possibly C17 window they replaced are visible at the top.
The font is C13 and has an octagonal bowl of shelly marble on eight detached shafts around a central stem. The shafts have moulded capitals and waterholding bases, and are probably contemporary with the arcades. C15 piscina in the S aisle. A fragment of late C15 or early C16 screenwork hangs in the tower. Otherwise, the church was almost entirely refurnished in the C19 and early C20. Late C19 pulpit in a C13-style with cusped arcading on clustered shafts. Chancel altar of 1924 by Ninian Comper has riddel posts with carved angels. C20 altar rails with splat balusters. The late C19 reredos, removed from the chancel in 1924, and re-erected under the tower as a war memorial. Of stone and alabaster, it has gilded, four-centred ogee arcading over angels and the list of the dead. Simple, open nave benches and choir stalls with some openwork. Some good C19 and C20 glass.
The nave roof, of hammerbeam construction with curved braces, square rafters and simple, pendant drops on the ends of the hammers, is early C17. It is strengthened with iron tie rods. The C17 N aisle roof was rebuilt in 1876, and has embattled tie beams with curved braces and short king posts. The chancel roof was also rebuilt in 1876, replacing a roof of much lower pitch, and is now similar in design to that in the nave. The S aisle roof is low pitched and has short, curved braces to the principal rafters, all apparently C19. Four wall posts with carved figures of c1500, possibly from the former chancel roof, hang above the chancel arch. The bell chamber of the tower has a heavy tie beam with braces, probably early C17.
Extensive range of C17 inscriptions on the N aisle, N arcade and E pier of the S arcade, commemorating the rebuilding in the C17. Among those mentioned is R(obert) Cromwell, father of Oliver. Two large, C18 benefaction boards with cherub heads above the inscriptions at the W end of the S aisle.
There are some wall tablets, the best collected under the W tower as part of the 1876 restoration. That to the Carcassonnett family of 1749 with pilasters and an open pediment, signed by Scheemakers, is particularly interesting.
There are some good C18 and C19 table tombs and other monuments in the churchyard.
St Mary's is perhaps the most ancient of Huntingdon's once numerous churches. At the time of Domesday book in 1086 it was clearly already a large and valuable church that was the subject of a dispute over its ownership. The surviving C12 buttresses on the S side suggest that the nave had reached its full extent by the early C12, and that the S aisle was apparently also C12 in origin. The vestigial N transept may suggest that the early church was cruciform. The S nave arcade was rebuilt and the N arcade and aisle built or rebuilt in the C13. The chancel was also rebuilt in the C13 and was originally perhaps as much as 18'longer than it is now. The W tower was built in its present form in the late C14, and the S porch was also added in the C14. It is possible that this was a result of the consolidation of parishes in Huntingdon after the Black Death, which is said to have hit the town hard. In 1428 the church was said to be impoverished and destroyed by fire; this probably provides a date for the rebuilding of the clerestory and the insertion of the C15 windows. In 1607 the tower, and perhaps its then spire, collapsed at the NE corner. Its fall demolished the N aisle and clerestory, which were subsequently rebuilt. Work of this date also included the nave roof, the chancel arch, and the E bay of the S arcade. The chancel was shortened at an unknown date; a C19 photograph shows it to have been a large window with a pointed head and simple Y tracery, possibly suggesting a late C18 date for the work, although an early C17 date is equally likely. It was almost certainly entirely refurnished in the C17. By the C18 it had at least one gallery, at the W. It was re-pewed with uniform box pews in 1835, and the triple-decker pulpit was removed in 1862 and replaced by a small wooden pulpit, which itself was replaced by the present pulpit in the later C19. The NE vestry and organ chamber were added in 1869, and the present E window was installed in 1876 as part of the restoration by Blomfield, that also included the replacement of some of the roofs. The restorer, Reginald Blomfield, was a well known and well respected church architect. There was further restoration in the C20.
RCHME Huntingdonshire (1926), 146-149
VCH Huntingdonshire 2 (1932), 139-48
Buildings of England: Bedfordshire, Huntingdon and Peterborough (1968), 269-70
Burder, C V. A Picture Book of St Mary's Church, Huntingdon (1931)
REASONS FOR DESIGNATION
The church of St Mary, Huntingdon, is designated at Grade I for the following principal reasons:
* Large parish church of C12 or earlier origin, with good work of the C13, C14 and C15, and a well documented rebuilding of the early C17.
* Excellent, architecturally very ambitious, late C14 W tower, partly rebuilt on the N side after its partial collapse in 1607.
* Tower is an important part of the townscape.
* C13 S nave arcade and C13 chancel.
* Good C13 shelly marble font.
* C15 S clerestory and some C15 windows; C17 N clerestory.
* Early C17 N nave arcade, reusing some C13 materials and with C17 inscriptions commemorating its construction.
* Early C17 hammerbeam nave roof.
* Restored in 1876 by Blomfield.
Source: English Heritage
Listed building text is © Crown Copyright. Reproduced under licence.