Titchmarsh Church Guide

A Guide to

St. Mary the VirginTitchmarsh


Dear Visitor,


Welcome to the Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Titchmarsh.  We hope that these brief notes will help you to enjoy the beauties of this ancient and interesting Parish Church.

This building is not a museum, but the living home of the Christian Family in this place.  Unlike a museum, we are always open.  Unlike a castle, we cannot charge you to come in, nor would we wish to.

But this building is over six hundred years old and, like all old buildings, it is a challenge to maintain and requires frequent expert assistance to keep it in good repair. 

The Church family, and the friends of the Church in this small village are unceasingly generous, but maintaining an ancient building is not the only demand upon our resources.  Can you help us?

WE will make sure that the life and ministry of the Christian Church continue in this place.

Will you please help us by contributing towards the upkeep of this ancient and beautiful building?


The Rector and Churchwardens

St. Mary the Virgin



The Parish Church of St. Mary the Virgin, standing in a prominent position on the higher ground to the north of the village, has been the centre of the Christian community in Titchmarsh for some 800 years.  The Church is remarkable for its magnificent tower, its long and lofty clerestory, its spacious Chancel, and for its light and uncluttered interior.  It also houses a collection of unique and interesting wall monuments.  We hope that these notes will help you to understand the building and to enjoy your visit.

The building that you see today is not the first Church to have existed on this site.  The remains of a C12th doorway in the chancel are the only relic of the Norman building, and the subsequent centuries have each made their distinctive architectural contribution.  The building assumed its present appearance when, late in the C15th, the tower, clerestory and porch were added, and the present perpendicular style windows were inserted.


The South Porch

The original porch was a single storey structure, with window openings to east and west.  The upper storey was added in 1583 and housed the Pickering family pew, complete with fireplace!  After the death of the last Tichmarsh Pickerings the wall opening was blocked up.  It was reopened in 1931 when Canon Luckock (Rector 1912-1962) and his wife put in the present glass panel and hung the massive oak south door as a thanksgiving for their silver wedding.  The seating around the walls of the porch is a reminder of its earlier function as a place of meeting.

The Nave

This is the principal space within the body of the Church, where the faithful gather for worship.  The space has been extended to the north and south by the addition of aisles.  In 1926 the limed oak pulpit and screen were put in by the generosity of Canon Luckock who also gave, in 1952, the beautiful lectern with its carved magnolia, as a memorial to his wife.  Note too, the arcades with their cylindrical piers and capitals.  The nail-head ornament on the north side is of the C13th, whilst the upturned leaf motif on the south side suggests an early-mid C14th date.


The North Chapel and Transept

This was largely rebuilt in the C14th and now houses many monuments of the Pickering family.

Gilbert Pickering bought the manor of Tichmarsh from Charles Somerset's grandson in 1553, and for more than two hundred years it remained in the possession of his descendants.  When the direct line came to an end, the estates were acquired in 1778 by Thomas Powys, later the first Lord Lilford.

John Pickering married Susannah Dryden of Canons Ashby in 1609, and twenty-one years later Susannah's brother, Erasmus, married John's cousin, Mary Pickering.  Of these unions were born two men well known in the highest circles of their day; the notorious Sir Gilbert Pickering (1613-1668) and the famous John Dryden, the poet (1613-1700).

Sir Gilbert was a convinced Parliamentarian and became Lord Chamberlain to Oliver Cromwell.  John Dryden's upbringing in Tichmarsh is mentioned in one of the monuments.  This and another were painted by Sir Gilbert's daughter Elizabeth, who became the wife of John Creed.  A woman of talent with needle, pen and brush, Elizabeth Creed was responsible also for the wording of the altar tomb and wall-angle memorials in the south aisle, as well as the Dryden monument which has been moved to the north transept. She is mentioned in the diaries of Samuel Pepys.


The South Aisle

Here we find Mrs Creed lamenting the death of her husband, a boon companion of Samuel Pepys, of their son Richard, killed at Blenheim in 1704, their daughter Jemima, and a sad list of lost infants.  Nearby in the south wall is a C14th  recessed tomb, where may lie buried a Lord Lovel.

The east window of this aisle contains two charming panels of stained glass depicting the Annunciation and the Nativity.  These are the work of C. E. Kempe, and were given by Canon Luckock in memory of his mother.

In the west wall of the south aisle is a touching and interesting memorial which records the death by drowning of a certain Hugh Richard who had previously saved his master, Gilbert Pickering, from a deadly attack.  Unfortunately the monument is undated, and no more is known of the circumstances referred to.


The Chancel

The focus of the Church, both architecturally and spiritually, is the Communion Table (sometimes referred to as the Altar).  Here the faithful enter into Christ’s Risen Life, sharing bread and wine in the Sacrament of Communion (or the Eucharist - meaning thanksgiving).  Beneath the east window the reredos of Caen stone and Derby alabaster (1866) depicts the Old Testament scenes of Melchizedek’s offering of bread and wine, and Abraham’s offering of his only son Isaac, illustrating different aspects of the eucharistic theme.

The semi-circular Norman arch to the south side is a visible reminder that Christian worship has been offered on this site for at least some eight centuries.

The two-level sedilia and the piscina are of the C13th, as is also the arcading which opens into the north chapel (now occupied by the organ).  The opening known as a hagioscope or squint, gave additional visual access from the north chapel to the High Altar.  The low, pointed C13th doorway to the north of the Altar probably led to a tomb or chantry, adjoining the Chancel on the north side.  Much of this work can probably be attributed to the patronage of the Lovel family, who were Lords of the Manor from about 1268 until 1485.

Piercing the north-west corner of the Chancel wall are the remains of the stairway which originally led to the Rood-loft.

Dimly discernible in the apex of the Chancel arch is a crowned head.  Experts suggest that it most closely resembles Edward IV, who died in 1483 when Francis (first and only) Viscount Lovel was Lord of the Manor.  The last years of the reign of Edward IV covered a peaceful period, favourable to the rebuilding of a church.  In 1486 Henry VII granted the manor of Tichmarsh to Sir Charles Somerset when Francis Lord Lovell was deprived of his estates at the end of the Wars of the Roses.  This is the Lovell who, as Richard 111’s Chamberlain and friend, was lampooned in the contemporary rhyme:


The Cat, the Rat, and Lovell our dog,

Rule all England under the Hog.


The walls and windows of the Chancel were much embellished in the C19th.  The paintings on the Chancel walls were executed over a period of twelve years by Miss Agnes Saunders, who was sister-in-law to the Revd. F .M. Stopford, (Rector 1861 to 1912)  On the completion of her work in 1895 Miss Saunders, with another Northamptonshire lady, took up mission work among the Indian children of the South African diocese of Lebombo.  A representation of the Annunciation, painted on canvas formerly a lambrequin to the east window, was painted by a Miss Anson in 1885.

The stained glass in the Chancel windows is all by Messrs. Hardman of Birmingham.  The east window depicts Christ’s Nativity and Baptism, Crucifixion and Ascension, and several episodes from the life of the Blessed Virgin Mary, to whom the Church is dedicated.  The windows on the south side of the Chancel depict various incidents from the New Testament, giving particular prominence to St. Mary Magdalene and St. Peter.

The organ, a good example of the work of T. C. Lewis, was first used in 1870.  We learn from the Parish Magazine that, prior to the installation of this instrument, music for divine service had been supplied by a barrel-organ the introduction of which in 1837 replaced the services of the eight singers who had occupied a musicians gallery under the tower, and sang very loud.  Singing was also led by string and woodwind instruments until 1861.  see http://titchmarshorgan.org.uk/


The Baptistery

The Baptistery, at the west end of the Church, occupies the large space created by the base of the tower.  The Font dates from the C15th.  This is where the Sacrament of Baptism is administered, by which new members are received into the Christian community.  By ancient custom the Font stands near the main (west) doors of the physical building, as a reminder that it is through Baptism that we enter Christ’s Church.

The tracery of the tower window is C15th, as are the other windows, with the exception of those in the north wall of the Chancel, and at the west end of the north aisle, which are C13th.  In 1904 the tower window was filled with stained glass, the gift of the Revd. F. M. Stopford to mark his 50th year in Holy Orders.  It is a powerful representation of Christ’s Second Coming and the Day of Judgement, and appropriately balances the episodes of Christ’s first Advent depicted in the east window.  The same firm of artists, Messrs. Hardman of Birmingham, was employed for the work, and it is interesting to notice how the passage of some forty years makes a considerable difference in style and taste between the tower window and their earlier work.


The Bells

The tower houses a fine ring of eight bells.  All were recast and re-hung in 1913, as a memorial to the Revd. F. M. Stopford who died in office in 1912, having been Rector of Tichmarsh for 51 years, and a Chaplain to Queen Victoria, Edward VII, and George V.  Before recasting, the oldest bells dated from 1688, with additions in 1708 and 1781.  The ring was completed in 1885 by the gift of two bells in memory of Florence Augusta Stopford, the Rector’s first wife.  At the same time the present Church clock, which strikes the hours and quarters, replaced the previous one made by George Eayre in 1745.

At the base of the tower, on the interior south wall, are some interesting photographs and descriptions relating to the clock and the recasting and re-hanging of the bells.



Church Registers & Plate

The Parish Registers date back to 1543.  They and the other older parish records are now housed at the County Record Office.

The Plate includes five C17th pieces of good quality - a flagon, two chalices and two cover patens.  For security reasons these are not now kept in the Church.



The Exterior

The large splendid tower has been described as one of the finest Parish Church towers outside Somerset.  It is built in four stages,  richly decorated with bands of quatrefoils.  The niches on the west face contained modern stone figures representing Moses and Aaron, the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Peter, and the archangels Michael and Gabriel.  The parish magazine of 1901 records that the Rector's wife paid for the replacements by breeding and selling black fantail pigeons.


The 'crown', i.e. parapet and pinnacles above the fourth stage, is considered by experts to date from about 1500.  The will of one Thomas Gryndall, dated 1474, bequeaths money towards the building of the tower, which was probably completed except for the 'crown' in about 1480. 

The prominence and size of the tower made it a significant landmark.  In 1585, as the country prepared to resist the threatened invasion from Spain, the Lord Lieutenant, Sir Christopher Hatton of Kirby Hall, gave order for Beacons to be made in places accustomed and that Tychemershe beacon be sett upon Tychemershe church steeple.

On the south wall of the tower is a painted sundial, dated 1798, and below it a disused clock face made in 1745.  There are three scratch dials on the south side of the Church - on the porch, and on two of the buttresses.

The Churchyard, which contains many charming examples of local stonemasons’ work of the C18th and C19th, is remarkable and perhaps unique in being bounded almost entirely by a ha-ha.




Recent Work

Following a long period of minor repairs, including the renewal of the north chapel roof, it was realised in 1992 that a much fuller restoration was needed.  The external stonework, Nave, Chancel, north and south aisle roofs all needed serious attention.  The east window was found unexpectedly to be in a state close to collapse and the internal memorials were suffering from gradual degradation.  Assisted by English Heritage, by 1998 the east window had been cleaned, restored and reinstated and restored stonework, urgent stonework on the parapets and porch had been finished.  The main roofs were then repaired including the Chancel roof, and associated stonework. In 2011 we removed unsightly pipes, replaced rotten pew platforms with stone and reconfigured the seating. The following year toilets and a servery were introduced. In 2016 we plan the restoration of the organ.


We hope that visitors will look at displays and leave a donation for work still in the future.  Your help would be greatly appreciated.

The Village

The name of Tichmarsh dates from Anglo-Saxon times and implies that a tract of land here was granted to one Ticcea and so became known as Ticcea’s Marsh (Ticceanmersce, Tychemerche, etc.).  Whilst the civil authorities now generally spell the name with a second “t”, the Church has continued to use the more traditional alternative spelling.

At a time of Domesday, Tichmarsh was already a sizeable village consisting of two manors with their ploughlands in full cultivation, and a probable population of 200 or more.  A mill was recorded in 1086, and its successor was still working in the 1950s, but is now occupied by a river cruising club.

A grassy mound visible from the High Street marks the site of the Lovels’ castle (ca.1300) and nothing remains of the manor house of the Pickerings, which stood to the south of the Church and which was pulled down in 1778.

There are several good stone houses of the C17th and C18th in the village and some of the cottages are basically older.  Brookside farmhouse, in Polopit, was possibly the home of Erasmus and Mary Dryden, parents of John Dryden, Poet Laureate 1670-1688.  The C18th Almshouses have recently been modernised by the Trustees.

The Old Rectory was built in 1861, and is now a private house.  The Parish of Titchmarsh is now a United Benefice with Aldwincle, Clopton Pilton, Stoke Doyle, Thorpe Achurch and Wadenhoe, and the Rector lives in Aldwincle  The population of Tichmarsh in 1841 was 905 and in 1971 had fallen to 480.  Currently the population of the parish stands at about 700.