20 September 2023

Saint Mary’s Church in
Badby, a 14th century
village church in rural
west Northamptonshire

Saint Mary’s Church in Badby, west Northamptonshire, in the fading evening lights of autumn (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

I was in Badby in west Northamptonshire in the middle of last week to speak in Saint Mary’s Church on mission on behalf of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) at a meeting of the Daventry Area Deanery Synod in the Diocese of Peterborough.

Badby is a village and a rural parish of about 650 people and extending to 820 ha (2,020 acres). It is about 3 km (2 miles) south of Daventry, on the A361 road from Daventry to Banbury.

In the ninth century, the parish was in the Diocese of Dorchester (Oxfordshire), a safer location adopted by an earlier Bishop of Leicester to avoid the invading Danes. The seat of the diocese was moved to Lincoln in 1073 by Remigius de Fécamp.

But the Diocese of Lincoln was split in 1541 and Badby became part of the new Diocese of Peterborough, in which it remains. But, surprisingly, as I found out last week, Badby is closer to six other cathedrals than Peterborough: Coventry, Leicester, Oxford, Birmingham, Lichfield and Worcester.

The wide chancel arch at the east end of Saint Mary’s Church in Badby, Northamptonshire (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The main structure of Saint Mary’s Church dates from the early 14th century with a very fine continuous clerestory added in the 15th century.

The south porch was added in the 16th century laying slabs directly on to skeletons and breaching the south wall. The north aisle chapel and the rood screen were dismantle at the Reformation.

The tower was rebuilt in 1707-1709. In the late 18th century, the pews were changed and a west gallery installed. The building was restored in 1880-1881 by the architect Edmund Francis Law and is a Grade II* listed building. Four of the chest tombs in the churchyard were separately listed as Grade II in 1987.

However, the church has no large memorials because no major families lived in the parish. The manor has been in the hands only of Evesham Abbey and the Knightley family, who used Fawsley church for most of their family memorials.

The chancel and altar in Saint Mary’s Church, Badby (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Features to note in Saint Mary’s Church include the wide chancel arch, the unusual step down to the chancel – which I managed to trip over on Wednesday evening; the World War I memorial window at the west of the south side; the double sedilia of two stone seats and piscina wash basin on the south side of the altar; the 17th century altar rails; the metal text panels each side of the window; and the 1995 aumbry and perpetual light.

The north vestry and organ chamber were built in 1880-1881, and a small organ was housed there from 1894 until 1996.

In the north aisle are: a tall scooped recess for a statue of Saint Catherine, destroyed some time between 1547 and 1553; a small piscina built into the half pillar; a disused aumbry in the north wall; ball flower decorations around the top of the eastern and western half pillars; and the east end side window glass, reformed in 1982 to show the coats of arms of Evesham Abbey and of the king in 15th century stained glass – the initials TN are of Thomas Newbold, Abbot of Evesham in 1491-1514.

Facing the west end in Saint Mary’s Church, Badby (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

In the nave, I noticed the west arch, built in 1880; the glazed screen, installed in 1933; the magnificent clerestory windows, added in the 15th century; the line of an earlier roof on east wall; and the octagonal pulpit, dating from the 17th century.

In the south aisle, I saw the east-side window that replaced a smaller one in the mid-19th century; the font that was moved there in 2018 and that has a 15th century pedestal and a stone bowl from 1880; and the charity trust boards on the wall.

The tower was rebuilt in 1705. The height from its base to the top of the pinnacles is 72 ft, and its solid floor is above the nave floor. The 1888 west window has tracery in two planes and is a memorial to Major John Francis Green.

The sedilia and piscina in the south side of the chancel in iSaint Mary’s Church, Badby (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

A religious relic was found in the garden of Ashworth Cottage in 1880, 95 ft from the church tower. Sir Henry Dryden said it comprised human ribs on which were a lead seal of Pope Alexander III (1159-1181) and a barbed iron arrow head, buried above two horse bones. The relics are believed to have been buried to prevent their destruction by Protestant during the reign of Edward VI in 1547-1553.

Five bells were hung in an oak frame in 1709. A new metal frame and an extra bell were provided by I Taylor of Loughborough in 1932, producing a fine ring of six bells. The fourth bell cracked and was recast by Whitechapel Bell Foundry in 2000. The bells are rung full-circle, with practices on Wednesdays, including the evening of my talk in the church.

The treble weighs 297 kg and was cast in 1931; bell 2, weighing 389 kg, is from 1623; bell 3 weighs 440 kg and is dated 1623; bell 4 at 535 kg, is from 2000; bell 5 at 679 kg is also from 1623; and the Tenor, 716 kg, is from 1822.

The electrically-wound mechanical clock was made in the 1780s and drives the clock face which was regilded in 2022. Since July 2007, the Westminster quarter chimes are radio-controlled – and are always right.

The nave gable cross was fitted in 2001 to mark the Millennium. A large chest tomb of the Watkins family, who funded some Victorian restorations, is south-east of the chancel. Three older nearby tombs and one across the path are listed as Grade 2. A large floor slab and the former porch threshold stone, complete with boot scraper, were relocated alongside the south aisle wall, when the access was sloped in 2018.

A window re-formed in 1982 show the coats of arms of Evesham Abbey and of the king in 15th century stained glass (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The churchyard was closed for burials in 1886. The present cemetery is on the hill facing the east of the church and is reached from Brookside Lane.

The first Rector of Badby, Henry de Cokenato, was appointed in the mid-13th century. From 1285, appointments were made by Evesham Abbey. The first vicar was Reginald Musard in 1343.

After the dissolution of the monastic houses in the 16th century, including Evesham Abbey, appointments to Badby were made by Christ Church Oxford from 1597. Since 1919, appointments have been made by the Bishop of Peterborough.

Symbols of the Four Evangelists in a window in the south aisle (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The Revd Roy Wilfred Dooley became Vicar of Badby in 1971, and was additionally priest-in-charge of Fawsley from 1982 until he died in 1989.

The United Benefice of Badby with Newnham and Charwelton with Fawsley and Preston Capes was then formed. The vicars since then have included the Revd Stephen Paul Adams (1991-1997); the Revd Michael David Petitt (1998-2008); and the Revd Susan Ann Faulkner (2010-2019).

Today, Badby is one of five parishes in the united benefice of the Knightley Parishes, and the Vicar is the Revd Malcolm Ingham, who welcomed me to Saint Mary’s last week

The parish has a varying schedule of services.

The baptismal font has a 15th century pedestal and a stone bowl from 1880 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

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