Cambridgeshire Churches

Little Ouse, St John

tree smothered St John

Of all the remote places we have visited in the fens, Little Ouse must stand a good chance of being the remotest of all. From the A1101, which runs between Littleport and Mildenhall, we took a small side road across Burnt Fen and out into the black fields.

After a little way, there is a small plantation of trees running alongside a river (which, as is usual here, sits between banks higher than the surrounding land). The river is the Little Ouse, marking the boundary between Cambridgeshire and Norfolk, and between trees and river is a tiny settlement of the same name.

Too small, one might think, to have a church. However, a new parish was created here in 1866, and in 1869 a philanthropic priest – the Reverend Canon E.B. Sparke – built the church of St John at his own cost, presumably to stem the tide of non-conformism that swept this area in the 19th century (there were already two Primitive Methodist chapels at that time). It sits quite close to the iron bridge that leads across the river to Norfolk, but quite a way back into the trees so that we had some difficulty finding it.

It is a pleasant enough little building, with a nice north-west tower containing a clock. Unsurprisingly, the tiny settlement couldn’t sustain a congregation here, and the church is now redundant. The tower is starting to be eaten up by ivy, and I suspect that it will fall at some point unless care is taken. The body of the church has been converted into two houses, which look very pleasant and have lovely gardens: it made me think that more churches should be surrounded by vegetable plots and sweet peas.

St John is now in private hands.

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