Cambridgeshire Churches

Great Wilbraham, St Nicholas

most splendid tree walk to the church

St Nicholas is a fine cruciform church, though it has lost its crossing tower (replaced by the present Perpendicular west tower, one assumes). Although there are the usual later windows dotted around, the main body seems to be Early English. One enters through a nice doorway with lots of semi-engaged columns and moulded arches.

The first thing that caught my eye was the huge Norman font. I was swiftly distracted, though, b the wonderful crossing. It's very grand, and it's all original - I was getting a bit depressed at finding central crossings that were inserted by the Victorians. The arches still have some of their original chequered paint - it must have been a splendid sight when new. There are signs that the church was once bigger: in the south transept, there's a big Early English arch in the east face that has been filled in. I wondered if it was a window, but looking at the outside shows that the arch went all the way down to the ground - presumably there was an extra chapel which has since been lost.

looking east

Why is St Nicholas so grand, then? After all, Great Wilbraham was never a big place, despite its name. I assume that the reason was the presence in the village of Wilbraham Temple. The Templars established a preceptory here in 1226 when the manor was given to Alan Martel at that time Master of the Knights of the Temple in England. Aside from the surprising size of the church, we also see their presence in a big Templar tombstone hidden away under the tower, and in a Templar cross in flushwork outside, on the north wall. They also had influence just up the road at Little Wilbraham, where they held the patronage. The Temple has long since disappeared - the site is occupied by an Elizabethan manor house now - but that end of the village is still called Temple End.

[Mark adds: this church holds the distinction of being the last in the county that Dowsing visited his bigoted iconoclasm upon - '13 superstitious pictures, a crosse to be taken of the steple, and the steps to be levelled, which were promised to be done.' he recorded on March 26th 1643, before setting off back to Suffolk.]

St Nicholas was open when we visited

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