fWhilst at the church (on an open day) I also heard a theory that it was a dormitory or pilgrims on their way to visiting Peterborough Cathedral.
In 1165 the nave and north aisle were added. This aisle extended along the chancel as well as the nave producing the five-bay arcade that we see on the north side. The chancel arch has scalloped capitals similar to those of the aisle; and although the arch has since been changed to a gothic pointed profile those capitals strongly support the idea that the the arch and the nave were part of the 1165 changes and not parts of the original Norman church. Externally, we see evidence of the Norman period in a undecorated corbel table and in Norman buttresses at the east end.
The south aisle (which extends only along the nave) was added in 1300. The arches are high and wide and supported by thin pillars, contrasting greatly with the Norman solidity of the north aisle. The tower with a broach spire (which has endured three lightning strikes in the last 100 years!) was added at the same time. The Guide claims that the east windows of both aisles are also from this period in “Early English” although 1300 is a little late for Early English: but we must keep reminding ourselves that the styles did not reach all corners of the kingdom overnight. One slight mystery is the gothic arch at the west end of the south arcade. The pillars are Norman and the width of the bay is the same as for the others. Why was the round arch replaced by a pointed one and, stranger still, made the same height as its southern counterpart rather than its fellows on the north side? Was it just an error of judgement? The clerestory was added in in c17 and the square headed windows of the south aisle also date from this time.
Victorian restoration was carried out in 1872. The present porch dates from that time, replacing the c14 one that had collapsed. The east window was “restored” - the Victorians could rarely resist tampering with east windows, although it may have needed it in this case. The north aisle was widened.
I’ve kept the best to last. Behind the altar is a series of Anglo-Saxon carvings that are reckoned to be early c9. It is something of a mystery why they should be here. One theory is that they were put here after Peterborough Cathedral was damaged by fire in 1116. The pink hue of the carvings appears to be fire damage. There are, however, carvings at Breedon-on-the-Hill in Leicestershire that are of a similar style and not obviously fire damaged. This rather weakens the Cathedral theory in my view. They were actually mounted on the east buttresses of the church until quite recently when they were moved to their present position for the sake of their preservation.
The excitement doesn’t end there. In the south chancel wall are two more carvings. One is St Michael and the other is still unidentified. Prof Rosemary Cramp of Durham University (the acknowledged expert on Anglo-Saxon churches) claims these of being of that period not of the Norman period as originally thought. She believes they were used in individual altars within an Anglo-Saxon church on this site. This ties in with the theory that the vestry had accommodation for pilgrims and is supported by the presence of the Anglo-Saxon frieze carvings.
Finally, there is a stone cross at the west end of the church. It may be c12; it may be Anglo-Saxon; it certainly is no later. Its base, however, is inscribed with the name “Radulph Filius Wilelmi” It looks for all the world like a Roman inscription but is obviously much later than the cross itself. Who was he?