Holy Trinity, Balsham, Cambridgeshire
GOING WALK-ABOUT IN BALSHAM CHURCH.
Thank you for coming to our Church. This is not a detailed guide, but one for you to use as you walk about our Church and its grounds. Remember in a Church the Altar end is East; the Tower West; and the sides North and South.
What you see is from the mid-1200s to the mid 1400s. What came before? This is the highest point in Balsham and from early Christian times here probably stood a church. In 1014 the Danes invaded East Anglia and returned by way of Balsham to the Essex coast. They tossed up the babies and children on the points of their weapons, killing all bar one man who defended himself in a Tower: were it not of stone the Danes could have burnt it, so maybe here was a Saxon church – why else a tower in a village ? So you stand in a place of turmoil and peace and, as you come into this Church, try to visualise the people here before you; try to understand why they came; and in that company place yourself.
In 1035 Balsham parish became the property of the Monastery of Ely (the landholdings are mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086); in 1109 when the Bishopric of Ely was founded it became the property of the Bishop and here he had a residence for it was a convenient stage on the journey between Ely and London. It was because of ecclesiastical connection and not because of any large population that such a big church was built in Balsham.
Though there is evidence of older stonework, to judge by its style the church in which you now stand was built in the mid 1200s, perhaps at the behest of Hugh of Balsham, Bishop of Ely, 1258-1286, and founder of Peterhouse, the oldest Cambridge College.
STAND BY THE NAVE ALTAR With your back to the Screen face the Tower; high on the wall you will see an old roof line; extend that slope sideways half-way into the aisles and now you can visualise what was here in the 1200s, a Tower, single chamber Nave and a Chancel.
Behind you in the Chancel you will later see the Brass of John Sleford, unless you are here in winter when it is covered by carpet. The inscription records that it was he who built the Church and gave the Chancel stalls. Probably that was about 1384 from which year there is a record of a £400 debt of his later marked "paid." The older Nave was demolished and what you now see was built with Aisles on either side. The Aisle windows were filled by stained glass, remains of which are in the tracery of the North side. This glass would have made the church fairly dark but light would have come down through the Clerestory windows above the arcade. Above the Screen there was a gallery or loft which bore a crucifix, with statues of SS. Mary the mother of Jesus and John the beloved disciple (hence "Rood" Screen from the Saxon word "rood" meaning crucifix). The Screen had a canopy added c. 1440s. Thereafter (save for pews and Font cover) the church has remained virtually the same.
STAND NOW AT THE BASE OF THE TOWER On the floor to your left is a large Saxon (pre-1966) grave stone; imagination suggests it may be the stone of the man who in 1014 defended himself in the Tower before this one. Also on the floor is a stone with a cross (maybe a "consecration cross" from an earlier building). Pieces of stone moulding (and corbels not on display) were found "re-cycled" into the 1200s buttress that had completely to be re-built in 1986-1988. The Tower brings together technology over 700 years. In 1589 the exterior buttresses were thickened and increased in number; in the 1870s there was a proposal completely to re-build the Tower on its foundations; in the 1970s a concrete "sleeve" was created inside the Tower (on top of 24 inches of concrete) and to this the exterior material was "stitched."
There is a spiral staircase in the S W corner of the Tower, blocked at lower level, though still in use higher up to get to the top. Above your head is the concrete grillage of the next floor, above that is another on which rest the foundation beams of the new bell installation, brought to sound in 1989. On the wall there arc an old bell wheel, two clappers, and bell ringers’ notices. There are now six bells, the oldest c. 1530s cast by John Tonne, an itinerant bell founder who might have cast the bell inside the church itself, as was often the custom. There is a separate Guide for the Bells.
On the south wall you will see the Hannoverian Royal Arms of the style 1714-1804, probably painted in the early 1700s.
LOOK AT THE FONT. The stone bowl is from the 1200s; once it had a flat lid but in the mid 1930s the then Rector John Burrell (amongst whose many gifts was carpentry) made the cover as his gift to the church. It has as counterweight a World War I howitzer shell which can be seen inside the top lattice work. About the church are other examples of his work and, in the North aisle, is his memorial window with the appropriate figure of S. Joseph the Carpenter.
GO ACROSS TO THE NORTH AISLE AT THE WEST END.
There is the former clock, 1842, by J.W. Wright of Cambridge. The present Clock is an electric one which needs no winding, but stops when there are power cuts Here also is the Bier, given in 1915; this was used to bring coffins from house to church before the era of black limousines.
WALK UP THE NORTH AISLE TOWARDS THE EAST. On your left you will see the World War I Memorial Book stand and the Rectors’ Board, both made by Burrell. Above the blocked North Dow is a Charities Board. Because of wide spread ignorance and maladministration a Royal Commission, set up in the 1830s, to enquire into and record all the Charities of England, ordered Charity details to be set up in public places, such as a church, for all to see. The Novel "The Warden" by Anthony Trollope centres around just such an episode. Look across to the other side, above the South door, and there is another board this time recording that a gallery was inserted in 1839, long since removed.
As you go up the North Aisle you will see fragments of the mediaeval glass remaining in some of the North Aisle windows tracery; here is the Burrell memorial window by I.E. Nuttgens of High Wycombe. Ahead is a "Chapel" formed from panelling taken from the old Rectory and adapted to screen an altar table that might date from the Elizabethan era after the time that stone altars were broken up. In mediaeval times there was a Guild of S. Nicholas (Patron Saint of children) sailors and even thieves who were called "Clerks of S. Nicholas") and that is why his statue is above.
Ahead of you is the entry leading at lower level to the Vestry and at higher level to the Pipe Organ, by J.W. Walker 1858, formerly in a Convent at Clewer and brought here in 1 955; in the Nave there is an electronic Organ.
STAND NOW BEFORE AND FACING THE NAVE ALTAR This was given in 1971; so also the statue of Mary and the child Jesus, carved by Gwyneth Holt. The Nave altar has no dedication; it might be called the "Holy Family" altar had it a matching statue of S. Joseph.
The dais on which it stands has been extended which makes choral performances easier. The Lectern on the south side was also carved by Burrell. The Screen in front of you is from the 1380s but the carved canopy above is an addition C. 1440s. What looks like round headed tracery this side is actually square headed when seen from the other side. The Screen was heightened in the 1870s, you can see the extra 21" let into the mullions. The acrylic glazing was added so that the Chancel might be more efficiently heated (it is used as "the winter church1"). Look back and up at the Nave roof timbers. Their style is "18th. Century Gothick" and it is likely the earlier ones were removed in the 1830s for use in the Chancel.
GO NOW THROUGH THE ARCH, INTO THE CHANCEL AND SIT IN ONE OF THE SEATS. Touch the wood and use your imagination. You sit where over 600 years others have sat before you. These are called "Choir stalls" not because of a modern singing choir but because the word is used to describe the clerics and monks who worshipped here.
You are in a Chancel that has seen changes. It is probable that all the windows are later insertions: the east and lower windows from the 1380s and when the Chancel was heightened to take the larger cast window the Clerestory windows were inserted too. Wm. Cole the antiquarian sketched the church in the 1740s and showed these upper windows as larger and square. The present "double lancets" date from the 1830s. The roof timbers are not original to the Chance, and probably came from the Nave. There is a date 1835 on one at the north-west corner which could fix the date when the work was done.
When John Sleford put in the stalls the South door was simply blocked: in the 1870s when the vestry on the north side was added, the two eastern stalls on either side were removed and the north door inserted.
There may be a more detailed guide to the woodwork in the church. The stalls have double armrests, the lower ones for use when seated. Sonic of the seats have their "misericordia" ledges beneath so that people could "perch" yet still seem to be standing: that is why there are upper armrests. The third armrest from the front on the north side has a fen fowler, dressed in a kilt, on stilts and with his dog on a leash. This suggests an East Anglian provenance for their origin.
The altar and communion rails were designed by Wm. Butterworth, consulting Architect for the 1870s restoration. The riddle posts were made by Burrell. The tablet to Mrs. Pritchett on the north side describes her as the best – what the second Mrs. Pritchett thought of that is not known. it the bats have their roost. The east window is by a.K.Nicholson, I!B4. In the Chancel are the re-located Brasses of John Sleford d. 1400 (buried just inside) and John Blodwell d. 1452 (buried just outside).
RETURN TO THE NAVE, BY WAY OF THE SOUTH AISLE, AND BACK TO THE DOOR On your left you will pass the small door that gives access to the top of the Chancel screen which once had a balustraded gallery. As you walk West look up at the roof timbers in the South aisle and see how like these (as also those in the North aisle) are to the ones in the Chancel. Notice the roof bosses, and also the stone corbels at the springing of the arches and those supporting the roof timbers. Some of the figures may have been taken from life.
GO OUT INTO THE PORCH. Touch the door; it has probably been here since the 1380s. Cut into the outer arch, about 24" from the ground on the west side, is a niche – there was another opposite; these held a hurdle, inserted to keep out of the church the sheep grazing in the Churchyard.
TURN LEFT AND WALK RIGHT ROUND THE CHURCH. On the second buttress from the Porch there are two "scratch dials" – sundials to tell the time before there was a Church Clock. Notice the blocked Chancel South door, and above at upper window level the lines in the flintwork outside the present Clerestory windows – these marking the older window edges. At the east end stand back to look at the gable. You can make out the older roof line slope which matches projections on the corner buttress.
WALK ROUND THE NORTH SIDE. The miscellaneous vestry block was added over the years 1870-1920, one of the buttresses has "stone” that is actually concrete Further round is the North door, with much decayed external stone. In the middle North buttress of the Tower are incised TS 1589 to mark the work done when buttresses were thickened and the central ones added, the one on the west side blocks up the Tower door! The buttress just before the South West corner was completely rebuilt recently which is why it has the date 1986 at its apex. It now contains more bricks than a medium sized house ! Back now on the South Side of the Tower is the doorway that once led to the interior. You can see an older arch within the recess.
RETURN TO THE PORCH, FACE SOUTH ACROSS THE CHURCHYARD. To your left, on the ground by a bush, is the base of the old Churchyard cross, destroyed probably during the early Reformation era of the 1530-1550s. Ahead of you is the new Cross, a World War I memorial designed by F.E. Howard (who also designed the Font Cover). The shaft of the cross is a single piece of stone; the top is another single piece, carved on the one side with Christ on the Cross and beside him SS. Mary and John, on the other Mary and the child Jesus.
BUILDING PLANS. For some years now we have been considering alterations at the west end of the Church. There is one "Grand design" for enclosing the last bay of the nave and two bays in either aisle which f ould have provided accommodation at lower level for warmer meeting and junior church rooms with a kitchenette and lavatory in the tower and then, at upper level, a balcony floor and, in the tower, an enclosed chamber for bell ringers. It is presently a very cold church tower, especially in winter ! That for the time being has had to be set aside but the overall plans and faculty permission are there to be brought into operation at some suitable moment. As usual, it all depends on money!
Maintaining an ancient Church, and trying to adapt it for modern expectation, is a compound of privilege and frustration, complicated by tensions of "conservation" and "use." There are many people who help us along the way and it taken patience and a great deal of money. If you can help by donation we should be grateful; there is a box in the church (cleared regularly because of thefts). Gift Aid and Covenants are better ways of providing regular funds for they are "topped-up" with tax refunds. Donations can be more widely spread by way of the Cambridgeshire Historic Churches Trust (local) or the Historic Churches Preservation Trust (national).
Tagged: , Balsham , Cambridgeshire , Royal Arms