Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Contrasts: Wartnaby and Owthorpe

Nether Broughton

Between Melton Mowbray and Bingham, an area at the edge of the Vale of Belvoir, there are many interesting and contrasting churches, some built of ironstone such as Nether Broughton and Long Clawson, some ashlar faced like Hickling, and others have been totally rebuilt at differing times, such as  at Kinoulton and Owthorpe.  None of these churches is without interest and many have churchyards full of C18 slate gravestones, characterised by beautiful lettering, endearing heart felt doggerel, and many headed with cartoon-like Belvoir angels.

Long Clawson


"Belvoir Angels" at Hickling

Less than two miles from Ab Kettleby within the fields lies the hamlet of Wartnaby with its quaint little church.  It is another ironstone church of golden brown colour, much eroded, approached through a field, with a pretty little bellcote.  Quaint and little it may be but Pevsner (1960) describes it as “impressive and important” and its importance lies in its surviving C13 painted decorations on its round arched south arcade and the fact that it appears to be untouched by Victorian restorers.  The decorations consist of mainly red painted motifs of intertwining flowers, foliage, and ribbons, certainly like nothing I’ve seen anywhere else.  Last year, like Ab Kettleby, the church was undergoing repairs but it is now open again for visitors and it is well worth a diversion off the main road. 

Wartnaby: Painted South Arcade
Wartnaby: C13 Foliage

A few miles up the A46 is Owthorpe, another hamlet a mile or so off the main road, again with a church built in a field.  But this church is completely different.  For a start it replaces a much earlier and bigger church destroyed in the Civil War, for Owthorpe was the ancestral home of Colonel John Hutchinson, the principled Parliamentary commander of Nottingham Castle and co-signatory of the death warrant of Charles I.  While he was deployed in Nottingham his manor house was attacked by Royalist troops and much of the village was destroyed.  This is covered in the detailed biography, still in print, of Colonel Hutchinson written by his wife, Lucy.  After the war Colonel Hutchinson returned to Owthorpe, rebuilt his house and the church. though the house was again raided by Royalists after the Restoration when Col. Hutchinson was arrested and imprisoned as a regicide.  The house itself survived until 1825 when it was destroyed by fire. 

None of this turbulent history is evident in today’s peaceful hamlet.  A few humps and bumps in an adjacent field show where the manor house stood and no doubt there is much archaeology under the surface.  But what of the church?  When first seen it presents quite a strange shape with its rather dumpy tower, curving  western facade and almost domestic hipped roof.  Of the medieval church only parts of the north wall survive with a few fragments also built into the tower’s fabric.  Otherwise it is a simple rectangular room lit by southern windows built in a simple late C17 style.  Pevsner gives it a date of 1705.

Owthorpe: Atmospheric Interior
Inside one is struck immediately by the C17 painted screen which extends across the whole width of the church, said to have come from Owthorpe Hall, and also the C17 panelled pulpit.  However it is the number of memorials inside the church which gives the church its atmosphere, particularly the memorial to John Hutchinson himself with its inscription, said to have been written by his wife.  This refers to his being buried in a family vault beneath, though the monument is known to have been moved.  Also, it is said locally that Lucy Hutchinson herself is also buried in the vault, but buried upright.  Some excavations have been done in recent years around the church which have established that the vault does indeed exist.  What a pity that Time Team is no longer to continue; there surely would have been enough for several three day digs around Owthorpe so how about one of those special Time Team investigations?  Tony and Phil, it’s over to you.

Owthorpe: Part of the Inscription to Col. John Hutchinson

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