Cambridgeshire Churches

Litlington, St Catherine

sat down in its churchyard like a lady in a farthingale

As we came north out of the Hertfordshire downs on the long straight road from Therfield we could look north-west towards the flat expanse of the Cam floodplain. After passing the splendidly named Duckpuddle Bush (a farm by the look of it) the road suddenly descends through a brief patch of woodland and then sweeps down Therfield Heath, the tumuli high on the skyline to our right. After such excitement, returning to Cambridgeshire (the border of which follows the odious A505 from Royston to Letchworth) was a bit disappointing. Still, St Catherine's was a worthy recompense for the loss of the hills and tumuli.

It's a big church, with a big tower. The exterior is a bit heavily restored, but the sight of a clerestory in the chancel piqued our interest and so Mark went to fetch the key. Inside, the church is much more interesting. The nave is very big indeed - five bays long. The south arcade is normal - Decorated, with head stops at the bottom of the arches. The north arcade mirrors it for three bays but then turns to octagonal piers and Transitional arches.

The rather awkward join between the two juxtaposes a dignified male head, bearded and hooded, and a young woman wearing a strange wimple with straps clamping her mouth shut. This is the older head of the two, but the carving is better quality, even if the subject matter is rather unhappy.

the Bridled Woman

Also worthy of attention in the nave is the unusual font. It has a square top with an unusually shallow bowl - the shape is reminiscent of the square capitals of Corinthian columns, though with angels at the corners rather than acanthus leaves.

The screen is original, and there's an interesting late doubled-ogeed window in the (otherwise Decorated) clerestory, obviously intended to light the rood. The chancel is very big and light, due in part to the presence of the clerestory but also the very big Perpendicular east window. In the north wall are a Norman arch and a very big Decorated arch, both filled in - this suggests to me that there was once a north chapel, though Pevsner for some reason asserts that he saw traces of a south chapel (which I didn't). There's now a vestry accessible from the north aisle where the chapel might have stood. It has quite fine wood panelling, rather naughtily removed from Clare College in 1840 by the Reverend William Webb. He was Master of the College, and happened also to be vicar here.

St Catherine's was locked when we visited, but keyholders were listed

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