As with so many Parish Churches, details of the origins of St Mary's Church, Ringstead have been lost long ago. The Church seems always to have been associated with Denford Church as a daughter church or chapel-in-ease, but it was not until 1535 that any recorded reference is made to this fact. The first known Rector of Denford was Peter of Chester in 1237, however Ringstead is not mentioned in the records of his institution. In 1394 the advowson of the Church of Denford was obtained by Richard (le Scrope) Bishop of Coventry and Litchfield who, two years later, appropriated it to his table on condition that a Vicarage was ordained. In 1551 Richard (Sampson) Bishop of Coventry and Lichfield leased the advowson and the rectory. Thereafter the advowson passed through many hands until in 1898 it belonged to G. Stoppard Sackville of Drayton House Lowick and with this family it has remained.
Most of the building dates from the early part of the thirteenth century. According to William Slater, the earliest parts of the Church are the tower, the nave arcade and the south door, all of which he dates to about 1240. It seems extremely likely that the building developed from an aisle-orth aisle and tower were added to this, and a new chancel was built with a chantry leading from it on the north side. In the fourteenth century however, many alterations were made; it was at this time that the chancel was lengthened by about six feet, the base of the thirteenth century south wall of the chancel, with it's chamfered plinth remains below the existing wall, but stops short about six feet from the east end of the Church. At much the same time the whole of the south wall was rebuilt, and the arch between the north aisle and the chantry was removed. With the reason for the original building of the chantry having been lost or forgotten, the chapel was reconstructed with a vestry at the east end of it. It may be that the aisle and chapel were re-used. These changes seem to have taken place at two periods fairly close to each other and during each period a porch was added, one to the south door and later to the north door. It is probable that in those days the south door was used as the normal entrance, particularly as there was evidence of a track leading directly between Raunds and Ringstead Churches.
Early in the fifteenth century the north wall of the aisle, east of the porch was remodelled and two large windows inserted. In 1861 there was talk of building a new church, but the architect at the time, one William Slater, after surveying the Church decreed that this was both unnecessary and undesirable. Instead, in 1863 there was a general restoration of the fabric of the building, with the unfortunate loss of some very interesting features.
A hundred years later, there was further trouble when it was discovered that the north wall of the chancel was leaning outwards and in danger of falling away. Extensive work was carried out using tensioning rods to tie the north and south walls together. Work was also done on the lead roof at this time, although this was to become an ongoing problem.
The Church is entered by the North Doorway. The thirteenth century archway around the door is more elaborate than that of the South Doorway. The porch itself is fourteenth century. On entering the Church one is immediately struck by the beautiful arcade which separates the north aisle from the nave. It has five bays with quatrefoil pillars and double chamfered arches. The two windows in the north wall east of the door were remodelled early in the fifteenth century. In these windows originally were portraits of the twelve apostles. By 1790 only four of these were left intact, by 1861 only a few fragments remained, and these have since disappeared altogether. The Alter table in the Lady Chapel is believed to be Elizabethan, and was moved to it's present position in the early half of the 20th Century.
A corbel of the arch dividing the aisle from the chantry remains on the last pillar of the arcade. It has a carved head at it's base, although this appears to be more modern and may have been added during restoration. This was probably removed during the renovations of the fourteenth century. On the south side of this part of the chantry may be seen the bottom of a stone parclose, which at one time supported a decorated stone screen to separate the chantry from the chancel. Passing alongside the organ, the part of the chantry now used as a vestry may be entered through a fourteenth century doorway. In 1861 the remains of wall paintings were discovered on the west wall of the vestry, but sadly they were covered by the restoration work of the period. Returning to the chancel, which dates, in it's present form, to somewhere betwen 1320 and 1330, notice the sedilla, or priest's seat on the south wall, with the carved ogee arches above it. There is also a piscina (basin) with an ogee arch, this time with a flower finial. The High Alter itself was installed in 1926 after a faculty was obtained:- "...for providing a new Holy Table in the Sanctuary, moving the existing Holy Table to the North Aisle, and making other alterations at the Parish Church of Ringstead. At the South end of the chancel steps is the pulpit which with its fittings, dates from 1863. The brass lectern which stands on the floor beside the pulpit, was given in memory of the two sons of Mr and Mrs Baxter. The boys were both killed in the 1914-18 war, neither reaching his 21st birthday.
The tower, at the west end of the nave is entered through a very handsome thirteenth century arch of three chamfered orders. On the walls of the tower are several memorial tablets; among them being one to Ben Clay, curate of the Parish from 1823-26. He was drowned at the age of 31 while rescuing a dog from the river.
The peal of bells hangs in the lower part of the spire. The bells were cast in 1682 by Henry and Matthew Bagley of Chacumb. Their inscriptions run as follows.
Treble. Cantate Domino Canticum Novum 1682
Number 2. Henry Bagley made mee (sic) 1682
Number 3. God Save Thee O King 1682
Number 4. Matthew Bagley made mee (sic) 1682
Number 5. Thomas Lilleyman and Thomas Farey Churchwardens 1682
Bass. "I to the Church the Living Call, I to the Grave do Summon All" 1682
Four of the original bells remain in the tower. The treble and fourth were recast by Gillett and Johnston in 1914, keeping their inscriptions, with the addition of "Stopford Sackville Armiger Benefactor" to the Treble. The old bells were re-hung at this time, and the clock was added to the north face of the tower.
Returning to the nave, the font is of the early fourteenth century, and has a plain octagonal bowl with moulded under edge and shafted stem. The plinth does not appear to fit and is probably of a different date. There is a recess cut at the north-west angle, which was probably for the fastening of the cover.
A Few Points of Interest on the Exterior...
As previously mentioned, the north porch is of the fourteenth century, built around a thirteenth century doorway. The porch has an ogee hood mould with a carved finial believed to be a representation of the Tree of Life, with a serpent twined around the trunk. East of the porch are some interesting carved heads to be seen at the base of the parapet. They are all different and are probably all local likenesses of the period. They were most likely to have been set all round the parapet, but have largely disappeared from the rest of the church. Rounding the south east corner of the Church it is easy to see where the original thirteenth century wall and plinth end and the fourteenth century extension was made. The south porch has diagonal buttresses and octopartite vaulting. The ribs of this vaulting spring from roughly carved corbals.
The original high pitched roof is covered with slates. Inside the porch a scratch dial is inscribed low down on the west jamb of the door, while a second, possible older dial can be deciphered on the south west buttress of the tower, more or less at eye level. This has no radial lines, but the outer ring is quite clear, and also the central holes, where possibly a peg was inserted. Scratch dials were first used after sundials had gone out of vogue, and before clocks had come into commun use. They were not used to tell the time, but as Mass-Markers. On the majority of dials as on that of the south porch, the Mass line differs from all the other radial lines in some way either by being longer, deeper or wider. Occasionally, as on the dial on the tower, it is the only line. It may be marked on its length, or at its end, by a hole cut for a peg, or by an X.
The tower and spire are built as one, and are considered to be rather remarkable. The tower, which was described by L.G.H. Lee in his book on the Church Spires of Northamptonshire, as being "quite unusual, even freakish", is of three unequal stages. The uppermost stage is set well back. There is a moulded plinth, and two pairs of rather short buttresses which only just reach to the top of the very first stage. The only exterior opening to the tower is a very long slit window in the west face. It is like a lancet but with a square top and un-pierced arch head with good cusping which is in excellent condition. There are signs of a small square headed door having been made in the west face, but notes on the Church made in 1849 say that this had disappeared, and also say that this was not an original feature. All three stages of the tower on the north and south faces are blank, which is unusual, and gives the tower a rather severe look.
The spire is much taller than the tower, which is probably what offended the eye of Mr. Lee! The bell chamber is in the spire and so the lower set of lucarenes are unusually large gabled lights. The west wall of the Church to the north of the tower, shows the remains of another old door. The lintel to this one is still in position and the stone work beneath this is obviously not original. It is thought that this was the entrance to the crypt, but when or why this was closed is not known, it may have been when the vestry was made into the chantry.
Meet our PCC Members
Below are the photos of our PCC member and the roles that they play within the Church. Please feel free to ask them any questions as they are always happy to help.
|Paul Adams - Treasurer
|Rosie Coles - Churchwarden
|Jemma Waters - PCC Member
|Suzanne Duffill - Vice Chair
|Cliff Harris - Churchwarden/H&S Officer
|Sophie Atkins - PCC Member
|Emma Payne - Deputy Churchwarden/Deanery Synod Rep
|Petra Silverstone - PCC Secretary
|Sheila Silverstone - PCC Member
Information based on notes by K M Watson B.Sc. Photographs by F Waye