06 May 2024

Visiting All Saints’ Church
in Lamport village and
a former private chapel
in Lamport Hall

All Saints’ Church, Lamport, dates from the 12th century, with additions in the 13th century and major alterations from the 17th to the 19th century (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Patrick Comerford

Our recent visit to Lamport Hall in Northamptonshire included the opening celebrations to mark 50 years of the Lamport Hall Preservation Trust, with a new exhibition and special events.

Lamport is a hidden gem, nestled in the Northamptonshire countryside midway between Northampton and Market Harborough. Lamport Hall faces out onto the parish Church of All Saints, a Grade I listed building on the north side of the High Street in the village.

All Saints’ Church was first built in the 12th and 13th centuries. It has a mediaeval tower but the remainder was rebuilt and added to in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. As might be expected, the church has many monuments to members of the Isham family who lived at Lamport Hall from 1560 to 1976.

The church is usually locked, although I understand a key is available at Lamport Hall on days the hall is open to the public. Charlotte and I were in Lamport only for that Saturday evening event, and we never managed to see inside the parish church before making our way back to the train station in Northampton. However, there is a beautiful description of the church by the architectural historian Bruce Bailey in the exhibition catalogue, to which I have contributed a paper on the ‘Lamport Crucifix.’

The earliest part of All Saints’ Church is the stocky mediaeval tower, but the remainder of the church was built in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.

The Lamport Crucifix … once on display in All Saints’ Church, Lamport (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

There is no reference to a church or priest in the entry for the parish in the Domesday Book (1086). This may indicate the absence of a church building at that stage or, alternatively, only the absence of a resident priest.

All Saints’ Church dates from the 12th century, with additions in the 13th century and major alterations from the 17th to the 19th century.

The church is built of limestone ashlar and lias stone beneath a lead roof. The design is traditional, with a west tower, nave with aisle, chancel, and south chapel.

The oldest part of the church is the lower section of the tower, which shows the round-headed, narrow windows with deep splays that are associated with the Norman period. The upper section of the tower, the tower arch, and the nave arcades date from the 13th century.

Much of the church interior was commissioned by Sir Justinian Isham (1610-1675), the second baronet, of Lamport Hall, who added the chancel in 1652 and 20 years later added the north chapel in 1672 as a place of burial for members of the Isham family. It was built by a local mason, Henry Jones, probably using plans first drafted by John Webb, Inigo Jones’s principal assistant.

Sir Justinian’s great-grandson, another Sir Justinian Isham (1687-1737), the fifth baronet, travelled extensively in Italy and was heavily influenced by the classical architecture he saw there. When Sir Justinian died in 1737, he left money in his will to remodel the 17th century interiors in the Italianate style. The result is elegant without being overpowering, although it overshadows the mediaeval elements of All Saints’ Church.

This major rebuilding under William Smith of Warwick began in 1737, when classical pilasters and an Italianate east window were introduced, the chancel was rebuilt and the aisles were built. The chancel and south porch are by Francis Smith of Warwick, or his family.

Other features in the church include a delicate Georgian plastered ceiling in the nave, created by John Woolston. It has three large roundels, the centre one depicting an ‘eye of God’ with doves. Over the chancel arch is a royal coat of arms to George II, also in plaster. The pulpit dates from the 18th century.

The 19th century south vestry dates from 1879. It was designed by the Gothic Revival architect George Frederick Bodley (1827-1907), who was also closely associated with William Morris and the Pre-Raphaelites and a lifelong friend of Charles Eamer Kempe. Bodley also designed the font and its Victorian wooden cover, and the small organ chamber.

The main points of interest inside All Saints’ Church, as might be expected, are a series of memorials, from the subdued to the grandiose, to members of the Isham family, who lived at Lamport Hall from 1560 to 1976.

There are earlier brasses to John Isham, who died in 1595, and his wife Elizabeth, who died in 1594. Near the high altar is a small tablet to John Isham, who died as an infant in 1638.

The most ornate of the Isham tombs in the chancel is of Sir Justinian Isham (1687-1737), the fifth baronet, with a large bust of the dead man that overpowers the rest of his memorial. There are wall tablets to John Isham (died 1746) and to the Revd Dr Euseby Isham (1697-1755) who was the Rector of Lamport, Rector of Lincoln College, Oxford, and Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University.

The East Window by William Warrington in All Saints’ Church, Lamport (Photograph © Historic Houses https://www.historichouses.org/)

The last addition to the church is the unusual East Window depicting the Resurrection and designed by William Warrington (1796-1869).

Warrington’s firm operated from 1832 to 1875 was one of the earliest working in the English mediaeval revival. His windows became the preferred choice of AWN Pugin for most of his earliest churches (1838-1842), and his clients included Norwich Cathedral and Peterborough Cathedral.

The Lamport Crucifix dates from ca 1475 and was found when alterations were made to the dairy at Lamport Hall in 1674. It was preserved by the Isham family until 1905, when Sir Vere Isham presented it to the parish of Lamport in thanksgiving for his recovery from illness earlier that year. At some point, the cross was moved to Peterborough Cathedral for safekeeping, and it has been on display there for several decades.

Sir Gyles Isham (1903-1976), the twelfth baronet who founded the Lamport Hall Preservation Trust 50 years ago, is buried in the churchyard by the path leading to the Old Rectory.

When he inherited Lamport Hall, the house was in a dilapidated condition, and Sarah Stronger recalls in the catalogue that while Lamport Hall was being restored and renovated, he lived for six years in the Old Rectory.

Gyles Isham became a Roman Catholic and as a devout Catholic and Sarah Stronger recounts that ‘religion was highly important to him. He became a Knight of Malta in 1957, and took the oath of obedience to become a Knight of Obedience in 1968.

He transformed the Cabinet Room in Lamport Hall into his private chapel, and there was a standing invitation to anyone who wanted to join him at Mass at the hall and to join him for a glass of sherry afterwards.

The ‘Lamport Crucifix’, which I have described in the exhibition catalogue, is on display in the cabinet room. So, while Charlotte and I did not manage to see the interior of All Saints’ Church, Lamport that evening, we had our own private viewing of Sir Gyles Isham’s private chapel in Lamport Hall.

• Lamport is part of the Faxton Group of Parishes, two benefices with seven parishes and nine villages in the Diocese of Peterborough. The Revd James Watson is the Rector. The pattern of services is under review at the moment, but the Eucharist (Common Worship Holy Communion) is being celebrated in All Saints’ Church, Lamport, next Sunday (12 May, Easter VII) at 9:30.

The Lamport Crucifix on display in the Cabinet Room, the former chapel in Lamport Hall, Northamptonshire (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

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