Monday, 15 April 2013

Ab Kettleby

Ab Kettleby St James in May 2012
8 April 2013, the first trip of the year.  Ab Kettleby.  It sounds like a station on a long closed rural branch line immortalised in a poem by John Betjeman.  Actually it’s a village of ironstone houses just north of Melton Mowbray, blessed with a lovely C13 spired church, described in the 1960 Pevsner as being “in a nicely decayed state”.  I don’t know what constitutes “nicely decayed” but the church has in fact been closed since 2006 having been declared unsafe and not so nicely decayed.  The parish was then faced with a tricky decision, either to close the church and let nature take its course or try to raise the money to save it.  They opted for the latter course and following a vigorous campaign, including a feature on BBC1's One Show and help from English Heritage, work on the church has now progressed to the point where Easter has just been celebrated in the church for the first time in years.  Well done to the campaigners!

Working on the spire in April 2013
There seems to be some mystery as to why the church had become so unstable.  Exploratory excavations have revealed that the church was built over a Roman villa site and an ancient ditch running north-south under the church may also have contributed to the problem.  Many ancient burials and inhumations were also discovered showing that the site has had a history of occupation and worship for many centuries before the present church was built.  Many church sites, and maybe most, have similar long histories but in many cases all remains are hidden below the church or all traces of previous occupation may have gone.  Whatever the cause of the problems at Ab Kettleby it looks as if the church will soon be back in use which really is an achievement to celebrate.

Ab Kettleby St James interior

 But we didn’t know that when we came to the church, out on our first trip this year.  I’d expected the church still to be closed but when we arrived the stone masons working on the church were on their lunch break in the back of the church and they were happy for us to come in and look around.  It must have been a welcome break for them inside the church as they were working that day high up on the spire and there was a vicious east wind outside, despite the bright sunlight.  They told us that they’d had to remove 10 courses from the top of the spire and then replace them after stabilising it.  That had followed extensive work on the C13 south aisle wall which had required substantial strengthening.  What a job it must have been but I hope that the church will now survive for many more centuries to come.

North arcade: C19 copy
South arcade: C13 capital

The church has a normal plan for one of its size with the C13 south aisle matched by a nicely executed north aisle built in the C19.  The chancel is also C13, perhaps an unusual survival when so many in the area were replaced in Victorian times.  Of special note is the tomb of Everard Digby of Holwell, who died in 1628, a relative of his namesake, Sir Everard Digby, one of the Gunpowder Plotters, who was executed in 1606.  Also to note are the C15 carved bench ends, some with curious faces, including one little man with his tongue sticking out.  How many times have we seen that in other churches?   

Everard Digby Memorial (1628)

C15 man with tongue sticking out

Another bearded man
And yet another!

 Another survival is the massive boiler by the London Warming Company.  I seem to remember a lot of these still in use in churches 50 years ago but they are quite a rarity these days so I hope it will be retained.  Despite its size and its industrial nature it has a certain beauty.  Another unusual feature is the C18 slate memorial to Thomas and Lucy Keal, not unusual in itself, particularly in this part of Leicestershire where there are many beautiful C18 Swithland slate memorials in local graveyards.  This one is unusual in its placing outside on the chancel wall below the east window.

Monumental Boiler - Not Many of These Left

Memorial to Thomas and Lucy Keal
 By the way the Ab in Ab Kettleby apparently derives from a long forgotten local tribal leader Abba so I hope you’ll note that I’ve resisted the temptation to weave in a lot of Abba song puns into this piece.  Maybe that’s just because I’ve got good taste or maybe it would have been different if some of those song titles had been more appropriate to the piece.  I guess we’ll never know…

For now let’s be thankful that the seemingly never ending winter weather looks like it’s finally retreated back to the Arctic.  Now we can get down to planning some more trips out in the country.

No comments:

Post a Comment