Pages 236-239

An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in Huntingdonshire. Originally published by His Majesty's Stationery Office, London, 1926.

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74. SOMERSHAM (E.d.).

Somersham, the Parish Church of St. John the Baptist

(O.S. 6 in. (a) XV S.E., (b) XIX N.W.)

Somersham is a parish and large village, 5 m. N.E. of St. Ives. The Church is the principal monument.


a(1). Village Site, on the N.W. side of the Somersham-Chatteris road, about 1 m. N.E. of the church. The discoveries were made in and about a gravel-pit in 1904 and 1905. An irregular trench 3 to 4 ft. deep and 4 to 5 ft. wide, with sloping sides and running E. and W. was followed for 30 ft. Resting on the bottom was grey friable soil 2¼ ft. deep, full of Roman objects, 2nd., 3rd., and possibly 4th-century pottery, two sestertii of Marcus Aurelius, a 'third brass' of Victorinus, a denarius of Postumus, four 'third brass' of Constantine I, one 'Urbs Roma,' two Constantine II, one Magnentius, one Gratian or Valentinian and other objects. (G. L. Keynes "A late Roman settlement near Somersham, Hunts." in Supplement to Report of Rugby School Nat. Hist. Soc. 1905). Somewhere in this neighbourhood a burnt burial was found in an urn of 3rd-century type. (penes Rev. F. C. Boultbee, Hargrave, Northants.) See also sub Colne.


b(2). Parish Church of St. John the Baptist stands in the village. The walls are of stone and pebble-rubble with the pebble predominating in the upper part of the N. wall of the N. aisle and the walls of the W. tower; the dressings are of Barnack stone. All the roofs are covered with lead except that over the nave which is tiled. The Chancel, Nave and Tower-Arch are of mid13th-century date; the West Tower itself does not appear to have been built until early in the 14th-century. The North and South Aisles are of the 13th century but were probably heightened late in the 14th century when the clearstorey was added to the nave. The North Porch is also a 14th-century addition and the South Porch was added in the 15th century. The church was restored in 1883 when the tower-arch which had previously been blocked was re-opened and in 1885 the Organ Chamber was built.

The building is architecturally interesting and the roof to the nave is a fine example of its period, the carved corbels being of particularly good workmanship.

Architectural Description—The Chancel (41¾ ft. by 20¼ ft.) has a mid 13th-century window of three lancets, rebated externally and having a hollow-chamfered outer order which is carried over the whole window in a four-centred arch with a moulded label, the arch being a 15th-century alteration; internally the lancets are divided by detached shafts with moulded capitals, bases and central bands and have moulded rear-arches with moulded labels and mask-stops. In the N. wall are four mid 13th-century lancet-windows with moulded splays and segmental-pointed rear-arches; in the W. end of the wall, with the threshold a little below the springing of the chancel-arch, is an early 16th-century rood-loft doorway with stop-chamfered jambs and a four-centred head. In the S. wall are three lancet-windows similar to those in the N. wall; the S. doorway, between the second and third windows, has detached shafts, to the jambs with capitals carved with 'stiff-leaf' foliage, much weathered moulded bases and a two-centred moulded arch with a moulded label; in the W. end of the wall, now covered by the modern organ-chamber, is an early 16th-century window of three cinque-foiled lights in a four-centred head; the mullions are modern and the jambs have been cut down below the sill to form an opening into the organ-chamber. An internal moulded string-course runs round the chancel below the level of the window-sills and is carried over the head of the S. doorway in a different section. The 13th-century chancel-arch is two-centred and of two hollow-chamfered orders with a moulded label towards the nave; the responds have attached 'keeled' shafts with moulded capitals and bases.

The Nave (57 ft. by 23¼ ft.) has a N. arcade of four bays with two-centred arches similar to the chancel-arch with a moulded label towards the nave with mask-stops; the piers are square with chamfered angles and have an attached shaft on each face with moulded capitals with embattled abaci and moulded bases; the capitals and bases appear to have been left rough when built and re-cut late in the 14th or early in the 15th century; the responds correspond to the piers but the capitals and bases are original 13th-century work though the latter are both mutilated. The S. arcade is in four bays and is generally similar to the N. arcade but the capitals to the piers are of slightly different section to those opposite and the responds have 'keeled' shafts. The late 14th-century clear-storey has on each side a range of four slightly restored windows, each of two cinque-foiled lights with a quatrefoil in a two-centred head with a moulded label; the second window on each side has carved head-stops to the labels.

The North Aisle (9 ft. wide) has a 15th-century E. window of three cinque-foiled lights with vertical tracery in a four-centred head with a moulded label and carved stops. Across the S.E. angle of the aisle is an early 16th-century doorway to the blocked rood-staircase, with moulded jambs and four-centred head. In the N. wall are three windows; the easternmost is of c. 1500 and of three lights (the cusping of which has been cut away) in a four-centred head with a moulded label; the second window is of three lights and is similar to the E. window but the tracery, and most of the mullions, are modern, as are also the head-stops to the label; the third window is of 13th-century date and of two plain lights with two-centred heads with a modern quatrefoil above under a two-centred arch; the mid 13th-century N. doorway has a two-centred arch of two orders, the inner chamfered and the outer moulded and having a moulded label and mask-stops; the jambs are of two chamfered orders with a detached shaft between them; the eastern has a capital carved with 'stiff-leaf' foliage and the western a moulded capital; the bases are both hidden. In the W. wall is a single lancet of two chamfered orders not struck from the same centres.

The South Aisle (9 ft. wide) has a late 15th-century E. window, now opening into the modern organ-chamber; it has casement-moulded jambs and splays and a four-centred head, but the tracery has been taken out and the mullions carried up to the head. In the S. wall are three 15th-century windows each of three cinque-foiled lights with vertical tracery, casement-moulded jambs and four-centred head with a moulded label; all have been partly restored; the mid 13th-century S. doorway has a two-centred arch of one richly moulded order; the jambs have each a detached shaft with carved 'stiff-leaf' capital and moulded base. In the W. wall is a late 13th-century window of three lights with a modern head.

The West Tower (13 ft. square) is of three stages (Plate 5) with an embattled parapet and a small needle-spire of timber, covered with lead. The tower is of early 14th-century date with a modern stair-turret. The mid 13th-century two-centred tower-arch is similar in detail to the nave-arcades; the responds have attached and 'keeled' shafts, with moulded capitals and bases. The early 14th-century W. window is of two trefoiled lights with a quatrefoil in a two-centred head with a moulded label; the altered 13th-century W. doorway has chamfered jambs and three-centred head, with a moulded label. The second stage has in the N., S. and W. walls a 14th-century window of a single cinque-foiled light with a moulded label; the line of the former root of the nave is visible on the E. wall. The bell-chamber has in each wall a partly restored 14th-century window of two trefoiled lights with a quatrefoil in a two-centred head with a moulded label.

The North Porch is of the 14th century and has a two-centred outer archway with jambs of two chamfered orders and arch of two moulded orders with a moulded label. The side walls have each a window of one square-headed light.

The South Porch is of the 15th century and has a two-centred outer archway of two moulded orders with a moulded label and head-stops; the moulded responds have each three attached shafts with moulded capitals and bases. The side walls have each a partly restored window of two cinque-foiled lights in a square head with a moulded label; the reveals are casement moulded.

The Roof of the chancel is modern except for four head-corbels on each side which are of the 15th century. The late 14th-century roof of the nave is of four bays with curved principals and intermediate principals, moulded tie-beams, cutting across the principals but with the mouldings mitred at the junctions, king-posts with two-way struts to the ridge, moulded purlins and ridge and pendant-posts at the apex of the intermediate principals, with bosses carved with two falcons and foliage; at the purlin-intersections are carved bosses—on N. (a) beast's head (?), (b) man's head with dragons issuing from mouth, (c) man's head, (d) foliage, (e) crowned man's head, (f) queen's head with nebuly head-dress, (g) foliage, (h) man and monster, (i) winged beast with scroll; on S. (a) two dragons, (b) mermaid and fish, (c) bishop's head (?), (d) grotesque face, (e) two human heads, (f) double-headed eagle, (g) leopard, (h) tree and beast; the wall-posts rest on well-carved stone corbels representing—on N. (a) angel with sword and garland, (b) man in tunic and cloak, praying; (c) man in tunic and coif, one pendant sleeve, praying; (d) crouching man stroking beard; on S. (a) angel, (b) bearded man, kneeling on one knee, (c) bearded man sitting cross-legged, (d) man in tunic, hood thrown back; roof partly restored, remains of colour on purlins. The roof of the N. aisle is modern except for three 13th-century head-corbels and two shaped corbels on the outer wall, for a roof of steeper pitch. The roof of the S. aisle is modern but has three moulded hookcorbels on the outer wall and one on the inner wall, of late 13th- or 14th-century date, for a roof of steeper pitch. The roof of the N. porch is modern except for four 13th- or 14th-century head-corbels. The 15th-century roof of the S. porch has curved and moulded principals, moulded plates, purlins and ridge.

Fittings—Bell-frame: The bell-frame is old but the bells are modern. Brackets; In nave, six feet W. of chancel-arch, two head-corbels, woman on N., man on S., late 14th-century. Brass and Indents: Brass: In chancel—N. side, of priest in mass-vestments, holding chalice and wafer, poor engraving, probably local, indents of foot-inscription and four roundels early 16th-century. Indents. In chancel—S. side, (1) of figure of priest, foot-inscription and four square plates. In nave—(2) of inscription-plate; (3) of rectangular plate and inscription-plate; (4) of figure of man in armour with feet on dog, inscription-plate and five shields, slab broken in two and separated. In S. porch—(5) of figure and foot-inscription, indents of four cocks (?) at angles. Chair: In chancel—some early 17th-century material, including carved and inlaid back, curved arms, etc., made up with modern work. Chest: In second stage of tower—dug-out chest with cavity in middle only, iron-bound lid, formerly with three staples, two missing, elaborate iron lock-plate with five locks, mediæval. Image: Loose in N. aisle—headless and armless crucifix of stone on fragment of cusped cross, 14th-century, perhaps from head of churchyard-cross. Monument and Floor-slabs. Monument: In chancel—on N. wall, to Anthony Hammond, 1680, Dep. Lieut. of Hunts., black and white veined marble tablet with Ionic side columns, entablature and achievement-of-arms supported by two cherubs. Floor-slabs: In chancel—(1) to William, infant son of Sir Charles Howard, 1646; (2) to Lawrence Blatt, 1702, High Sheriff of Cambs, and Hunts., and others dated later; (3) to Anthony Thomson, 1714, and others later. Niches: In S. aisle—in S.E. angle, (1) with two-centred head, canopy and pedestal cut back, 15th-century. In N. porch—over N. doorway, (2) large recess with chamfered jambs and trefoiled head, stone with ornamental cross in low relief above, 13th-century. In S. porch—over S. doorway, (3) similar niche but without cross above, 13th-century. Piscinae: In chancel—double, with hollow-chamfered jambs and moulded trefoiled arches, two sex-foiled drains, 13th-century, middle and side shafts modern. In N. aisle—in N. wall, wide recess with stop-chamfered jambs each with a free shaft with moulded capital and base, moulded trefoiled arch and deep octofoiled drain, 13th-century, front of sill modern. In S. aisle—in S. wall, double with hollow-chamfered jambs, free central and jamb-shafts, with moulded capitals and bases, moulded trefoiled heads with moulded two-centred labels, two sex-foiled drains, 13th-century, front of sill modern. Plate: includes a cup of 1569 with a band of incised ornament; flagon of 1638, inscribed, and an early 18th-century paten without date-letter, also inscribed. Sedilia: In chancel—three bays with moulded two-centred arches, hollow-chamfered jambs with moulded and richly foliated corbels, free shafts between the bays with moulded capitals and bases, 13th-century, stepped seats modern. Stoup: In N. porch—E. of N. doorway, semi-octagonal projecting bowl with round basin set in semi-octagonal recess, underside of bowl moulded and carved with three large square paterae, 15th-century., partly restored. Sundial: On. S. porch—on pedestal at apex of gable, dial with iron gnomon-plate, 17th- or early 18th-century. Weather-vane: On spire—shaped vane with baluster stem and ball-base, late 17th- or early 18th-century.



b(3). Homestead Moat, 700 yards W.S.W. of the church.

b(4). Somersham Park, bridge, walls, moat and fish-ponds, 300 yards S. of the church. The modern house stands on the site of a house formerly belonging to the Bishops of Ely. The Bridge (Plate 131) crosses the N. arm of the moat and has an arch of modern brick, springing from ashlar abutments perhaps of mediæval date. The garden to the S. of the house has a 16th-century brick wall on the N. and E. sides. In the N. wall is an old opening with the springers of a four-centred arch.

The Moat is of irregular oval shape and formerly surrounded the house. There are two large rectangular fish-ponds, outside the moat on the N. side.

Condition—Fairly good.

a(5). Manor Hall, house 300 yards N.N.E. of the church, is of two storeys; the walls are of brick and the roofs are tiled. The chimney-stacks with moulded offsets at the two ends of the house are of 16th-century date but the rest of the structure was re-built c. 1720. Recently the top storey has been removed and the house divided. The S. stack has a brick inscribed IT (A?) in Tudor letters. Inside the building one room is lined with early 18th-century panelling and has a fireplace with a marble surround and a Doric overmantel.


b(6). Walls, enclosing a large area on the N. side of the main street, 150 yards N.W. of the church. The walls are of 16th- or early 17th-century brick. The house within the enclosure is modern.

Condition—Fairly good.

b(7). Barn, on the S. side of the main street, opposite (6), is timber-framed and weather-boarded; the roof is covered with thatch and corrugated-iron. It was built late in the 16th or early in the 17th century. On the street-front are hung two thatch-hooks.

Condition—Fairly good.