Sectional Preface: Ecclesiastical Buildings

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An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in the Town of Stamford. Originally published by Her Majesty's Stationery Office, London, 1977.

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Ecclesiastical Buildings

Five medieval parish churches remain in Stamford and in Stamford Baron (All Saints, St. George, St. John Baptist, St. Martin, and St. Mary); another, St. Paul's, is now non-parochial. There are also four Nonconformist churches dating from before 1850 and a Roman Catholic church of later date, which has been included in the Inventory in view of its decorative quality.

Four churches are recorded in Domesday Book but only St. Peter's, which stood close to the post-Conquest castle, and All Saints' are specifically named. Twelfth-century documents show that the following churches were by then also in existence: St. Andrew, Holy Trinity, St. Michael the Great, St. Michael Cornstall, St. Mary at the Bridge, St. Mary Bynnewerk, and St. Paul. Of these former churches, St. Michael the Less or Cornstall was demolished in the 14th century, St. Paul's was partly pulled down, and the remainder were destroyed in the 15th century and later; one (St. Michael the Great) was totally rebuilt in the 19th century. The earliest references to the churches of St. Clement and St. John Baptist are in the early 13th century. The documentary history of these churches has been the subject of recent study (Stamford Report 2) and their sites have been generally identified (map in end-pocket).

The earliest surviving structure is that of St. Paul's church, the S. wall of which may be dated to the early years of the 12th century (Plate 6). With the exception of some quoins at All Saints' it is the only nonmonastic work of the Norman period to remain in situ; some displaced fragments survive at St. John's. However, at St. Leonard's Priory part of the standing nave arcade was completed in the mid 12th century; the piers are characteristically drum-like with capitals having re-entrant angles (Plate 7). Apsidal terminations to the presbytery and N. transept, revealed by recent excavation, are presumably also mid 12th-century (Fig. 39).

In the 13th century many of the earlier churches were rebuilt, often with much elaboration. Of the six medieval churches that survive, four were partially or totally rebuilt in the early part of the century, and much work of this period remains; at the other two churches (St. John's and St. Martin's) there are structural features in the 15th-century fabric which indicate former churches, perhaps also belonging to the 13th century. Architectural fragments recorded from St. Michael's also suggest the building of an arcade at this time (Drawing by Twopeny, 1834; 290 d. 13, p. 59). The use of blind arcading for the enrichment of external walls was characteristic of the period. At All Saints' in c. 1230, the lower stages of the walls were decorated with a continuous band of arcading (Plate 11), and at St. Mary's the W. tower was embellished with tier upon tier of blind arches of varying sizes and designs (Plates 10, 12). Judging from the relative heights of the external wall-arcading and the nave arcade at All Saints', the upper stages of the aisle wall, which was replaced in the 15th century, may have comprised groups of lancets rising into small gables thereby giving a serrated skyline to the side wall; wall-arcading was allowed to continue uninterrupted round the projections for a stair against the S. aisle wall and round a square turret at the S.W. corner; the stair served an upper compartment in the turret and was perhaps originally open to the aisle. Buttresses remained shallow, in the 12th-century tradition, and are often no more than part-octagonal pilasters. The W. doors of St. Mary's and St. Leonard's priory church, illustrate the development of arches and mouldings during the transitional period of the late 12th and early 13th centuries (Plate 9). Internally, piers with detached shafts, annulets, water-holding bases and stiff-leaf capitals follow the standard forms; bases with a less pronounced profile indicate a date late in the category, for example at St. George's. Capitals have ornament ranging from vestigial leaf decoration at St. Leonard's to standard stiff-leaf forms exemplified at All Saints', St. Mary's and St. Paul's (Plates 8, 9). Late in the century, capitals are simplified to a plain cove beneath a crowning moulding (e.g. All Saints', N. arcade).

Redundant weathercourses on the E. faces of W. towers in St. John's, St. Martin's and St. Mary's provide direct evidence of the character, and to some extent the date, of the naves with which they were formerly associated. They are often the only indication of the sequence of rebuilding in later periods. In most cases the weathercourses imply that the towers were built, or rebuilt, against older naves that have been subsequently rebuilt. At St. Mary's there are two roof-weathercourses at different pitches, one presumably associated with a 12th-century nave, the other with a nave of the 13th century (Plate 14). The weathercourse at St. Martin's (Plate 20) returns on the N. and S. of the tower showing that the aisles continued westward in the early period as they still do although rebuilt in the 15th century. The N.W. tower of St. John's retains a weathercourse which indicates the eaves-height of the former nave; a low-pitched weathercourse over the aisle roof strangely does not relate to the present aisle roof of the Perpendicular period.

Building activity during the 14th century does not appear to have been extensive, but during the first half of the century a former aisle at St. Mary's was replaced by a wide chapel (Plate 15), and a stone spire was added to the 13th-century tower. The dominant feature in the chapel is an enriched tomb recess, incorporating in its design a window in the back wall (Plate 16). The spire sits somewhat heavily on the early tower, but is enriched with sculpture of particular elegance (Plate 16). The 14th-century re-use of early round piers and bases in the nave arcade at St. George's, together with octagonal pier-drums, produced a bizarre result scarcely justifying the economy (Plate 14).

The general rebuilding and alteration of early churches during the second half of the 15th century have long been regarded as the consequences of Stamford's devastation in 1461 by Lancastrian forces after the Battle of Wakefield. Leland writing some 80 years later said that the town had not then been fully repaired (Itinerary (1907–10) vol. 4, 88–90). However, the effects of the sack may have been exaggerated at least in connection with the churches. One 15th-century church, St. John's, was almost certainly rebuilt about ten years before the Battle of Wakefield as testified by a reference to dated glass which in part remains (Peck, XIV, 35–7). At St. Martin's the body of the early church appears to have remained standing when the west tower was rebuilt, probably in the middle of the 15th century. At St. George's too, the chancel was apparently completed before the town's occupation in about 1461; a bequest from Sir William Bruges, who died in March 1450, suggests that the work was by then substantially complete. These activities imply a degree of church building immediately before the Lancastrian advance, the effects of which may have fallen more on domestic buildings than ecclesiastical. Two churches were certainly rebuilt after the town's occupation (All Saints' and St. Mary's), and the stimulus may well have come as much from the thriving economic conditions of the time, as illustrated by the affluence of the Browne family, as from a necessity to carry out repairs resulting from deliberate damage during the troubles.

The plans of the late medieval churches generally followed those of their 13th-century predecessors with variations limited to large porches and substantial rood-stair turrets. Elevations and architectural details are somewhat uniform in design. Some masons' marks noted in churches of this period are illustrated on Fig. 6. Mouldings conform to a standard pattern with piers and arches having hollow-chamfered and wave mouldings, and semicircular shafts with separate bases and capitals forming the inner order. Uniformity in design of towers is demonstrated at St. John's and St. Martin's, both of which may be dated on separate evidence to the middle of the 15th century (Plate 26); a large belfry window of two lights with the mullion rising to the apex is characteristic. The tower at All Saints' is slightly more elaborate, having areas of blind panelling, and is further embellished by a tall spire. Elaboration in design relied less on sculpture than on architecturally-derived decoration such as bands of cusped panelling (Plate 19). For example, the sculptured corbels in the nave of St. Martin's were probably afterthoughts and detract from the simple elegance of the arcade. Likewise, carved corbels terminating the tower vault at All Saints' are whimsies scarcely discernible from the ground; the vault is primarily enriched with blind panels, each with a cusped head (Plate 18). A similar vault was added to the 13th-century tower of St. Mary's, and the same decoration was used to ornament door jambs and heads, e.g. the vestry door of All Saints' (Plate 19). An element of fantasy was occasionally introduced to relieve the rigidity of the Perpendicular architecture: the north porch at All Saints' is conceived as a miniature castle, and buttresses at the same church are perversely placed beneath the parapet gutter-outlets resulting in an ingenious method for the disposal of rain-water through gargoyles on the lower part of the buttress (Plate 17). Incorporated in the architectural composition of the tower of All Saints' is a stone clock dial, set within a window-like opening (Plate 19). This rarity may be compared with one, also of the late 15th century, at Raunds church, Northamptonshire, which is set internally in the tower arch; two others are on the tower of Conington church, Huntingdonshire. With the exception of that at Browne's Hospital piscinae of this period are notably plain, and sedilia are without canopies.

Fig. 6 Masons' marks in churches.

a. (28) All Saints, tower; b. (30) St. John Baptist; c. (31) St. Martin.

The special purpose of the late 15th-century chapel attached to Browne's Hospital has led to a building of individual proportions. By continuing the roof height of the two-storey range on the west, and reducing its length by a western cross passage beneath a gallery, the interior presents a noble and lofty appearance in spite of the subsequent loss of a large east window (Plate 66).

An example of 17th-century Gothic survival has been recorded. At St. George's, where the W. tower was apparently rebuilt with a peculiarly oblong plan, the Gothic style was preserved for some pointedheaded openings (Plate 27).

One medieval church, St. Michael's, was entirely rebuilt in 1835–6. A revived 13th-century style was chosen specifically 'in exact imitation of the architecture of Salisbury Cathedral'. In the event, the E. end of the nave broadly reproduced the E. end of the Cathedral's Lady chapel and the triple arched porches were apparently derived from those on the Cathedral's west front (Plates 27, 28). A 13th-century style was also preferred for the tower although a 14th-century design was considered (drawings in church). The interior has no such medieval derivation, having greater affinity with the galleried halls of other denominations.

Nonconformist and Roman Catholic churches and chapels

Apart from a small Congregational community nonconformity seems to have made relatively little progress in Stamford before the early 19th century. Consequently there are few buildings of before 1850, and these have been much altered. The Methodist Chapel in Barn Hill of c. 1803 has been gutted and partly rebuilt (Plate 29); the later one of 1834 in North Street was almost totally rebuilt in 1901. The Congregationalists rebuilt their chapel in 1819, and it remains substantially intact (Plate 29). The Baptist chapel in Bath Row, opened in 1835, was converted to dwellings shortly after 1846.

Roman Catholics in Stamford were few, and regular masses were first celebrated at a house in All Saints' Street in 1815. By 1826 the congregation was large enough to build its own chapel, enlarged in 1833, and in 1864 the present church was opened in Broad Street (35). Its belfry, designed in a Continental Gothic vein, is a work of some distinction (Plate 163).

Churchyards and their monuments

The pressure of a large population on small urban graveyards was not regarded as a serious problem until the 19th century when townsfolk were becoming conscious of the hazards to health. St. Martin's was the first parish to acquire new burying ground, taking the opportunity afforded by enclosure in 1796. The new St. Michael's church included a catacomb partly for rehousing earlier burials from the old church, and partly for the use of the richer few who might be buried within the new building. In 1849 All Saints' acquired a catacomb, built by Robert Woolston for £50, which being capable of holding 100 to 120 coffins, was expected to remain in use for about two years. The municipal cemetery was only created in 1855.

The decoration of churchyard monuments generally follows the pattern of development seen elsewhere in the country, but weathering has made many of the epitaphs illegible. Most headstones are in local oolite and date from after 1780. There are some in Swithland slate which date from after 1767, and several in Welsh slate, first used in the early part of the 19th century but mainly after 1840. Many headstones were apparently carved in Stamford as shown by those which bear signatures. All the exceptions were in imported materials: three by Hibbitt of Colsterworth, and one by T. Smith of Grantham, all in Swithland slate, and one in Welsh slate to Daniel Lambert by Pollard and Shenton of Leicester, Lambert's home town.


Among ecclesiastical fittings, medieval glass in the churches of St. George, St. John and St. Martin, and in Browne's Hospital, is of particular importance. This mostly belongs to the middle and to the second half of the 15th century and is contemporary with the architecture although only a small amount is in situ. That which has remained in its original setting has however afforded valuable evidence for the dating of the architecture. For example, the heraldic panels in St. Martin's church, which relate to a sequence of bishops, establish the time-span for the rebuilding of the church, and confirm the evidence of heraldry carved in the masonry, which might otherwise be suspected as antiquarianism. Also, an 18th-century record of former inscriptions on glass in St. John's (Peck XIV, 35–7), referring to the provision of glass, has provided a close date for the completion of the N. aisle, at least, of that church. Unfortunately no documents survive to show conclusively that this and other 15th-century glass was the product of the important Stamford workshop of glaziers but it was probably the source of it. Evidence for the workshop is limited to the last quarter of the 15th century, but its activity doubtless covered a longer span. A detailed study of this and associated glass is currently in preparation (R. Marks, Corpus Vitrearum Medii aevi), and will include a stylistic analysis beyond the scope of this inventory. The best-preserved or otherwise important glass is illustrated on Plates 34–39.

Other medieval fittings, although of individual merit, do not fall into particular categories warranting discussion; reference to each type may be found in the Index. The more notable are the ceiling of the N. chapel in St. Mary's, the brasses in All Saints', the wooden screens in St. John's and Browne's Hospital, the clockface on the tower of All Saints' and the tomb probably of Sir David Phillips (d. 1506) in St. Mary's.

With the exception of monuments, post Reformation fittings are few. Some rarities and curiosities of this period include the 17th-century commemorative brass panel to the bellfounder Toby Norris, composed of letters from bell-inscription dies; the 17th-century wall-painting in All Saints' listing penalties for misuse of the bells; the early 18th-century altar frontal and pulpit cloth in St. John's. A number of bells dating from the 17th century are by the Norris family, bellfounders of Stamford.

Outstanding among the monuments in churches are the three Cecil monuments in St. Martin's (1, 4 and 5) and the Cust monument in St. George's (5). These are of metropolitan quality. Wall monuments of the 18th and early 19th centuries are mostly of simple design. A large number are signed by local masons particularly in the later period (see Index: Sculptors and Monumental Masons); in 1725 George Portwood, principally known for architectural work in the town, charged 1½d. a letter for cutting and blacking (Ex. MS, 21/24).

Restorations during the mid 19th century led to the repewing of most churches, and although the pews are of competent workmanship, the effect is rather ponderous. The architect principally engaged in this work was Edward Browning of Stamford (1816–1882). The altar frontal in St. Mary's installed under J. D. Sedding's direction in 1890 is a notable example of gilded metalwork in relief.


Some ten medieval guilds are recorded in Stamford, associated with seven of the parish churches. They varied greatly in wealth and influence, the three in St. Martin's parish being of little importance. Both of the guilds in St. Mary's parish were wealthy and one, St. Mary's, developed into the later borough corporation. These guilds have left scarcely any architectural evidence of their existence. The chapel of Corpus Christi guild in St. Mary's church (33), the elaboration of which was partly due to private munificence, is the only chapel to survive, unless the S.E. chapel in All Saints' was used by the guild of that name. The large room, known as the Audit Room, at Browne's Hospital may have been used for guild rather than almshouse purposes, and the undercroft in No. 4 St. Mary's Place (342) is almost certainly a remaining fragment of the guildhall of Corpus Christi.