Kirtling: Church

A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 10, Cheveley, Flendish, Staine and Staploe Hundreds (North-Eastern Cambridgeshire). Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 2002.

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A F Wareham, A P M Wright, 'Kirtling: Church', in A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 10, Cheveley, Flendish, Staine and Staploe Hundreds (North-Eastern Cambridgeshire)( London, 2002), British History Online [accessed 18 July 2024].

A F Wareham, A P M Wright, 'Kirtling: Church', in A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 10, Cheveley, Flendish, Staine and Staploe Hundreds (North-Eastern Cambridgeshire)( London, 2002), British History Online, accessed July 18, 2024,

A F Wareham, A P M Wright. "Kirtling: Church". A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 10, Cheveley, Flendish, Staine and Staploe Hundreds (North-Eastern Cambridgeshire). (London, 2002), , British History Online. Web. 18 July 2024.


Kirtling church stands next to the site of the medieval castle, and the advowson of the rectory belonged to the lords of the manor throughout the Middle Ages. (fn. 1) In 1251 a rector was presented by the king as guardian of Roger de Tony (V) rather than by the queen, who had custody of his lands. (fn. 2) The bishop of Norwich presented by lapse in 1457. At the division of Anne Neville's lands in 1474, the advowson was evidently assigned to her younger daughter Anne and her husband Richard Plantagenet, duke of Gloucester, who presented in 1478. William Stankym presented for a turn in 1486. The Crown retained the advowson when it sold the manor in 1514, and presented in 1521. John Everton and others presented for a turn in 1532. (fn. 3)

The advowson was reunited with the manor in the hands of Edward North by 1537, when he exchanged it for the manor of Freckenham (Suff.) with the bishop of Rochester, who was given permission to appropriate the church on the death or resignation of the rector. (fn. 4) The bishop appropriated it probably in 1537, and in 1538 leased the advowson of the vicarage with the rectorial glebe to North, stipulating that he was to pay a vicar £10 a year and keep the chancel in repair. (fn. 5) Successive renewals of the lease from later bishops to members of the North family kept the advowson in the same hands as the Kirtling estate until the 20th century. (fn. 6)

Edward North presented a vicar in 1538, (fn. 7) but his successors instead served the parish church through their domestic chaplains. The failure to present to the vicarage meant that the presentation lapsed to the Crown, but in practice there was no need for a vicar and no one wanted the living while large arrears of the clerical tenth were due. (fn. 8) The supply of domestic chaplains from Kirtling Hall dried up in 1691, and in 1695 and 1731 the Crown exercised its right and presented a vicar to the living. (fn. 9)

The non-resident lords of the manor exercised their patronage from 1751 and continued to present vicars (fn. 10) until W.H.J. North, 11th Lord North and a Roman Catholic, became patron in 1884. (fn. 11) The right to present fell in law to the university of Cambridge, (fn. 12) though by 1909 Lord North had arranged for J.H.D. Ryder, 5th earl of Harrowby, to present, (fn. 13) which he did in 1927. The university presented in 1938 (fn. 14) and continued to exercise the patronage after 1941 in lieu of Mrs. D. A. Bowlby, sister of the last Lord North. Under pastoral schemes of 1969, 1975, and 1984, the living was held in plurality with Cheveley 1969-75, with Woodditton and Saxon Street 1975-84, and with both of them and Ashley with Silverley 1984-7. In 1987 the four benefices were united. (fn. 15)

The medieval rectory was moderately valuable, assessed at £14 13s. 4d. in 1254, £20 in 1291, and £24 2s. 10½d. in 1535, around the middle of the range for parishes in Fordham deanery. (fn. 16) In 1538 the vicar's stipend was set at £10 a year, payable from the rectory manor, (fn. 17) but the supplement of £3 6s. 8d. ordered in the will of Edward, Lord North, proved 1565, (fn. 18) seems to have been ineffective.

The domestic chaplains who served the cure in place of a vicar in the later 16th and earlier 17th century were paid directly by the Norths; the chaplain in 1603 had c. £30 a year from various sources. (fn. 19) Parliament augmented the living with £15 a year in 1645 and an additional £2 in 1648, (fn. 20) thus transferring to the minister serving the church the rent for the rectory manor which the Norths had been paying to the bishop of Rochester before the Civil War. (fn. 21) In the early 1650s the Norths rounded up to £50 the various payments due to the incumbent, namely c. £20 in small tithes, £10 due under the original lease from the bishop, and £17 ordered by parliament. (fn. 22) From 1660 the vicarial income was reduced to the £10 due under the lease of the rectory estate, and moduses of less than £20 for the small tithes. (fn. 23) That was a very low income and in practice the cure could not be served independently. (fn. 24)

At inclosure in 1815 the vicar was allotted 173 a., (fn. 25) which produced an improved but still low annual income between £70 and £100. (fn. 26) The living was augmented with £1,200 (half from Queen Anne's Bounty, half from the marquess of Bute as patron) in 1832, and another £800 (a quarter from Queen Anne's Bounty, the rest from the marquess) to build a vicarage house in 1842, (fn. 27) thus raising the income to £144 in 1851. (fn. 28) The glebe was sold in 1920. (fn. 29)

The medieval rectory house became the farmhouse of Parsonage farm. (fn. 30) There was no vicarage house (fn. 31) until one was built in red brick with limestone dressings and Tudor detailing in 1843 on land given by the marquess of Bute. Designed by the architect Benjamin Ferrey and extended in 1856-7, (fn. 32) it was sold into private ownership c. 1975. (fn. 33)

A free chapel or chantry belonging to the lord of the manor was valued at £2 in 1291; (fn. 34) its chaplain had a stipend of £1 in the 1390s; (fn. 35) and it was last recorded in 1489, when a new warden was appointed. (fn. 36)

Rectors appointed by the earls of Warwick included men who held other livings in their gift, and there were at least three exchanges of Kirtling for benefices within the earls' sphere of influence in Warwickshire and Worcestershire. (fn. 37) Their appointees also included well connected university-educated men. (fn. 38) The nominees of the Crown included pluralists and a bishop 'in foreign parts'. (fn. 39) At times the church was served by deputies: the rector in 1261 had a vicar (fn. 40) and there was a parochial chaplain in or shortly before 1379 and under the episcopal rector in 1499. (fn. 41) Guilds of All Saints and St. Mary existed in 1461. (fn. 42)

Among the household chaplains of the Norths who served the cure in the later 16th and earlier 17th century was Ezekiel Catchpole, who was also tutor at Kirtling Hall and rector of Ashley with Silverley 1639-82. (fn. 43) Most, including Catchpole, served for only short periods. (fn. 44) Under the vicar appointed by the Crown in 1695, services were actually held by curates. (fn. 45) The curate serving the church in the 1720s was appointed vicar of Kirtling and rector of Ashley with Silverley in 1731, (fn. 46) and from then until 1831 the two livings were held in plurality. (fn. 47) Incumbents in the 1810s and 1820s employed curates at Kirtling. (fn. 48)

During the plurality with Ashley there was only a single service each Sunday, but from 1832 a second service was added (fn. 49) and in 1851 the curate reckoned to attract on average 40 adults in the morning and 200 in the afternoon, (fn. 50) the latter figure perhaps half the adult population. (fn. 51) By 1897 the vicar thought that only a third of the population were Church of England and most of rest dissenters and Roman Catholics. (fn. 52) An enthusiastic vicar appointed in 1904, R. E. Colebrook, held four services each Sunday but was forced to resign the living in 1906 after a bitter dispute with Lord North over control of the Norths' burial chapel. (fn. 53)

The church, dedicated to ALL SAINTS by 1441, (fn. 54) consists of chancel with south chapel, aisled and clerestoried nave with transeptal north chapel and north and south porches, and west tower. The medieval work is of flint rubble with limestone and clunch dressings; the 16th-century south chapel is of red brick, and brick was also used for extensive repairs to the chancel in the later 19th century.

The church was once cruciform, with a low central tower over the crossing and a long aisleless nave. The foundations of the crossing survive below ground level. (fn. 55) The proportions of the building have been thought characteristic of an Anglo-Saxon church of high status, perhaps a minster, (fn. 56) but churches were still being built in that form after 1066, and no features remain which are unambiguously pre-Conquest. Apart from what can be deduced of the original plan, the oldest surviving feature above ground is a small round-headed window at the west end of the south nave wall, the only part of the nave walls not altered in later centuries. The window head is carved from a single large block of stone, scooped out underneath to form an arch, and very simply decorated on the external face with concentric round arches. It dates from the later 11th century and may be pre-Conquest, but the window opening is straight, not splayed as many late Anglo-Saxon windows were. (fn. 57)

In the later 12th century a new south doorway was made in the bay east of the surviving early window. (fn. 58) It has Christ in Majesty in a circular panel in the tympanum, under an arch decorated with chevron mouldings. The tympanum is supported on bearded corbel heads, as at Great Bradley (Suff.), which also had the Tony family as patrons. (fn. 59) Part of the 12th-century ironwork of the door also survives.

In the 13th century, probably to a single building plan, the chancel was rebuilt, the north transept was extended north (leaving some of the quoins from its original north wall visible on the outside), and a north aisle was added to the nave. Blocked single lancet windows from that period survive in the west wall of the aisle and the north wall of the chancel, as does the double lancet east window of the enlarged transept. A little later, but perhaps still in the 13th century, a west tower was begun. It never had an archway into the nave (only a door set slightly off-centre in the wall), or a west door. The completion of its lower stages, to a height just above what was then a steeply pitched nave roof, probably coincided with the refenestration of the north aisle with three two-light windows. A south porch was added in the 14th or the early 15th century; the plinth on either side of its external doorway incorporates the only knapped flintwork in the building.

In the 15th century a large new north window of three lights was inserted in the north transept. The transept already served as a chapel, its east window flanked by statue niches of different design. More extensive work was completed in stages in the later 15th century and probably continuing after 1500. The north arcade was rebuilt, the chancel arch was altered, the tower was completed, and, probably finally, a clerestory of six bays was added. The addition of the clerestory entailed the removal of any surviving part of the central tower.

The chapel south of the chancel was built as a mausoleum for the North family. It dates perhaps from after 1553, when Edward North's stepson Edward Myrfin was buried not in the chapel but in the chancel, where he was commemorated by a brass. (fn. 60) The work may have been completed in 1567, the date on one of the shields in the roof. The chapel is almost entirely of red brick, apart from freestone quoins on the buttresses and the one unbuttressed corner. Finely moulded brickwork was used for the windows. That to the east is of five lights, with small rectangular openings glazed with leaded diamond-shaped panes, set in tall blank panels under flattened arches and a moulded drip course. The south wall has two three-light windows with taller glazed sections over blank panels. Inside, the mausoleum opened into the chancel through an arcade of two bays but on the west had only a door into the south transept. Edward North (d. 1564) was buried (or reburied) in the chapel under a black marble tomb chest and wall plate set against the east wall. He was joined later by his son Roger, Lord North (d. 1600), with a tomb chest and recumbent effigy under an elaborately detailed six-poster canopy. (fn. 61) Family burials in the 17th century, in the vault under the chapel, were commemorated by plain inscribed slabs in the chapel or the chancel. (fn. 62)

Contemporary with the mausoleum, work was done on the north wall of the chancel, probably in part to strengthen it, since the upper part was rebuilt and a large buttress was added in the middle of the external wall, both in red brick. The lancet window east of the buttress was blocked up, and the fenestration west of it was replaced with a three-light window with Renaissance detailing, dated 1564 on the inside.

Probably c. 1600 a south aisle was added, extending from the mausoleum to the porch, evidently to house pews for the North family, whose arms were displayed facing into the nave over an arcade of three round-headed arches which were given simple mouldings similar to those of the arcade into the mausoleum. The work entailed truncating the south transept to the width of the new aisle, into which it was incorporated, but retaining its existing arch into the former crossing. The position of its former outer wall is visible against the side of the mausoleum. The aisle has four three-light windows arranged in pairs on either side of a low doorway. A second, more elaborate doorway at the east end, next to the mausoleum wall, may signal separate entrances to the aisle for family members and servants.

Figures of angels were removed in 1644, presumably from the roof. (fn. 63) In the later 18th century Francis North, earl of Guilford, paid for repairs throughout the church, replacing the south aisle windows, cleaning the North monuments, and repairing the thatched roof of the chancel. (fn. 64) The deaths of members of the Wroxton branch of the Norths between 1766 and 1841 are marked by eight hatchments. (fn. 65) The aisle roofs were repaired in the 1820s, (fn. 66) but the first major restoration was necessitated by the collapse of the chancel east wall in 1862. The repairs, which had been completed by 1868, (fn. 67) involved rebuilding the entire chancel east wall in red brick, to match the adjoining mausoleum. It was given a large five-light window with Perpendicular tracery. Medieval and 16thcentury pews, a mutilated rood screen, and other fittings were destroyed during the works. (fn. 68) A north porch, of brick with a tiled roof, was added perhaps at the same time. A further restoration took place in the late 1970s and early 1980s. (fn. 69)

The parish registers begin in 1585 and the bishop's transcripts in 1570. (fn. 70)


  • 1. Norf. R.O., REG/31, p. 1279.
  • 2. Cal. Pat. 1247-58, 121; above, manors.
  • 3. Norf. R.O., REG/31, p. 1279; above, manors.
  • 4. L. & P. Hen. VIII, xii (1), p. 351.
  • 5. Norf. R.O., REG/31, letter of 1723 inserted at pp. 1278-9.
  • 6. Above, manors (rectory).
  • 7. Norf. R.O., REG/31, p. 1279.
  • 8. Ibid.; C.U.L., MS. Mm. 1.48, ff. 94-5; K.S.R.L., uncat. North MSS., E:Vl:14.
  • 9. P.R.O., IND 17009, p. 273; IND 17013, f. 278; above, manors.
  • 10. P.R.O., IND 17013, ff. 278-9; Norf. R.O., MF/307/1, f. 198.
  • 11. Below, Rom. Cath.
  • 12. e.g. Ely Dioc. Dir. (1940 and later edns.); cf. above, Ashley, churches.
  • 13. Church Com., file F 2701, return 1909.
  • 14. Ibid. file 54039, certificates of presentation 1927 and 1938.
  • 15. Ely Dioc. Dir. (1960 and later edns.).
  • 16. Val. of Norwich, ed. Lunt, 431; Tax. Eccl. (Rec. Com.), 121; Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), iii. 503.
  • 17. Above (this section).
  • 18. P.R.O., PROB 11/48, f. 50v.
  • 19. Proc. Suff. Inst. Arch. xi. 17-18.
  • 20. L.J. vii. 669, 678; x. 11-12; W. A. Shaw, Hist. Eng. Ch. 1640-60, ii. 501; Bodl. MS. North b. 1, f. 238; Cal. S.P. Dom. 1655-6, 391.
  • 21. Bodl. MSS. North b. 1, f. 214 and v.; c. 7, ff. 67-68v.
  • 22. Ibid. b. 12, ff. 310-11; P.R.O., C 94/4, no. 5B.
  • 23. K.S.R.L., uncat. North MSS., E:VI:14; W. Suff. R.O. 806/1/96 (1709, 1784).
  • 24. Below (this section); Church Com., file F 2701, correspondence 1792; C.U.L., Add. MS. 5777, ff. 147-9.
  • 25. C.R.O., P 101/26/1, schedule pp. 7-8.
  • 26. Church Com., file F 2701, return 1810; Rep. Com. Eccl. Revenues, 726-7.
  • 27. Hodgson, Queen Anne's Bounty (1845), pp. ccxiv, ccxxxi, cclxxvii.
  • 28. P.R.O., HO 129/189, f. 8.
  • 29. Church Com., file 58880, correspondence 1920; C.R.O., P 101/3/14.
  • 30. K.S.R.L., uncat. North MSS., EL:Ki:10.
  • 31. e.g. Church Com., file F 2701, return 1832; D. E. Davy, Jnl. of Excursions Through Suff., 1823-44 (Suff. Rec. Soc. xxiv), 212.
  • 32. Church Com., file NB 14/152, extract from register 1842; C.R.O. 439/Q 15-16; ibid. P 101/3/6.
  • 33. Camb. Evening News, 7 May 1983.
  • 34. Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), iii. 504.
  • 35. K.S.R.L., uncat. North MSS., MCA:Ki:1; MCA:Ki:4.
  • 36. Cal. Pat. 1485-94, 258.
  • 37. Norf. R.O., REG/31, p. 1279; Cal. Papal Reg. ii. 176; V.C.H. Warws. iv. 29, 33; V.C.H. Worcs. iii. 346.
  • 38. Emden, Biog. Reg. Univ. Camb. 56-7, 608.
  • 39. Cal. Pat. 1247-58, 107, 121; 1307-13, 11, 19, 112, 209; 1494-1509, 13; L. & P. Hen. VIII, i (1), p. 249.
  • 40. Close R. 1259-61, 380-1; Val. of Norwich, ed. Lunt, 431.
  • 41. K.S.R.L., uncat. North MSS., M:Ki:1, rot. [1d.]; Reg. Morton (Cant. & York Soc.), iii, no. 728.
  • 42. Trans. C.H.A.S. i. 394.
  • 43. C.R.O., P 101/5/1; R. North, Lives of the Norths, ed. A. Jessopp, iii. 9; 286; above, Ashley, churches.
  • 44. Norf. R.O., REG/31, p. 1279; C.R.O., P 101/5/1; Bodl. MSS. North b. 1, ff. 232-235v.; b. 12, ff. 309, 311; c.20, ff. 66-78, 100.
  • 45. Norf. R.O., VIS/10/1/Fordham deanery 1706; C.R.O., P 55/1/3.
  • 46. Norf. R.O., VIS/13/Fordham deanery; Bodl. MS. North a. 7, ff. 33v.-34; P.R.O., IND 17013, f. 278.
  • 47. Above, Ashley, churches.
  • 48. Church Com., file F 2701, return 1810; C.R.O., P 101/2/1-2.
  • 49. Norf. R.O., VIS/24/Newmarket ct. 1770; Church Com., file F 2701, papers for 1792, 1810, 1832, 1842.
  • 50. P.R.O., HO 129/189, f. 8.
  • 51. Census, 1851.
  • 52. C.U.L., E.D.R., C 3/38.
  • 53. Lewis, Hist. Kirtling, 85-6.
  • 54. W. Suff. R.O., R 2/9/37.
  • 55. A. P. Baggs, excavation report forthcoming in Proc. C.A.S.
  • 56. Lewis, Hist. Kirtling, 5-6.
  • 57. Cf. H. M. and J. Taylor, Anglo-Saxon Archit. iii. 839-53.
  • 58. See plate 4.
  • 59. N. Scarfe, Shell Guide: Cambs. 154.
  • 60. Cf. Hist. Parl., Commons, 1509-58, iii. 21.
  • 61. See plates 13-14.
  • 62. Mon. Inscr. Cambs. 92-3.
  • 63. Trans. C.H.A.S. iii. 90.
  • 64. Bodl. MSS. North d. 11, ff. 39-40; d. 21, ff. 14-15; d. 22, f. 15 and v.
  • 65. P. Summers, Hatchments in Brit. vi. 15-16.
  • 66. C.R.O., P 101/5/2., esp. pp. 7-8 from end.
  • 67. Camb. Chron. 29 Mar. 1862, p. 8; 5 Dec. 1868, p. 5.
  • 68. Cf. Palmer, Wm. Cole, 102, and Eccl. Top. Eng. vi, no. 182, with what survives.
  • 69. Newmarket Jnl. 17 Nov. 1977; Camb. Evening News, 4 June 1980; Scarfe, Cambs. 154.
  • 70. C.R.O., P 101/1/1-9; C.R.O. Ann. Rep. (1990), 25.