Girton village website

St Andrew's Church, Girton


Introduction - Building - Windows - Altars - Organ - Other features

Girton Church probably dates from Saxon times. The earliest artifact in the present church is a Saxon altar-stone (discovered in the churchyard in 1951). The Church's history starts in 992 AD with the gift of a manor in Girton of about 500 hectares to Ramsey Abbey. If a church already existed, it was probably of timber and thatch construction, on the site of the present-day church. If not, it is probable that the Abbey would have built a church on this site soon after becoming Lord of the Manor.

The first official reference to a church in Girton comes in a Papal Bull of 1178 which validates the rights of Ramsey abbey to 'Girton with its church and all its appurtenances.' It was known as St Andrew's by 1240.

During the Middle Ages, there were five Girton guilds - fraternities of lay folk under the patronage of particular saints who organized welfare for the poorer members of the community, as well as funerals and feast days. These trade guilds undertook performances of plays, especially after the establishment of the Corpus Christi festival in 1311, a feast set apart especially for the performance of these pieces. As well as the major church festivals, there were twenty or thirty other feasts which they would have observed with services and processions. These guilds were craft-based, banding together master craftsmen, journeymen, apprentices and the various trades connected with a particular craft. Many guilds maintained some form of insurance for members, the elderly and widows. Until 1530, the guilds frequently received legacies, often of barley. By 1515 Girton had five guilds, each represented by individual colours: Trinity (gold), Corpus Christi (multi-coloured), St Mary (blue/white), St Nicholas (red), and All Saints (white).

A royal coat of arms can be seen above the archway to the chancel. This indicates that the Parish benefice was not from a local patron, but from the Lord Chancellor in London.
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Building & main architectural features
As you enter the churchyard from Cambridge Road, the full extent of the church is visible, with a line of large lime trees in the foreground (see photo). This view has been virtually unchanged for 500 years when the last major rebuilding was completed. The building appears as a squat solid structure; generally light brown in tone with mortared pebble walls, crenalated parapets, a range of attractive windows (all in the Perpendicular Gothic style), and a handsome clock on the tower south face.

The church building itself is constructed of field stone dressed with Barnack ashlar (square hewn stone used here as a facing to a rubble/ stone wall). The lowest part of the west wall of the tower contains herringbone masonry, probably surviving from the 12th century building.

From the stonework features evident on examination of the external west face of the church and tower, it is clearly indicated that the central part of the west end (now supporting the tower) is the site of the original (Saxon\Norman) church. The herringbone pattern of pebble-work indicates 11th-12th century construction. Quoins are clearly evident, now bedded in the outer west wall, from which a church building width of 6.5m can be established; and the gable and roof line is clearly visible with an apex\ridge height of 8.5m. However, the eastern extent of this building is not known, but would probably not have been more than 10m.

Similarly, the next stage of construction in the 13th and early 14th centuries, to the present church width of 13m and roof ridge at a height of 10m, is also clearly visible. From features at the east end of the present building, it is evident that the alignment of the 14th century building was the same, with a nave length of 19m (plus chancel length of 8m).

There are also existing marks on the inner and outer walls showing the steep pitch of the thatched roof of the church in the 14th and early 15th centuries. The roof would have been carried on a massive timber frame, supported on timber columns. Its appearance would have been like a large barn with eaves 4m above the floor level.

The base of the tower may have been built in the 14th or early 15th centuries, by upward extension of the old 11th/12th century walls. But in the 15th century rebuilding programme (probably at the start), the presently existing great pillars were constructed to carry the tower. It is thought that the original height of the tower was 11.5m, providing for a secure room for the treasury and documents, and a base for a timber belfry. A spiral staircase for access was built into the south-west corner. Finally the tower was heightened to 16m.

The south doorway from the porch room into the church is in Barnack stone. This doorway pre-dates the porch by about 100 years (early Decorated Gothic c1300 AD).

A room was built over the lower porch in about 1500, as a vestry for the priest. Access is from inside the church via a spiral staircase built into the wall, the back of which forms the clunch stonework in the north-west corner of the lower porch room. Externally in the adjacent corner, brickwork has been used. This is the only Tudor brickwork in St. Andrew's church and an exceptionally early example.

The south porch dates from about 1400AD (see photo). It was built on to the then existing 13-14th century church, to provide a place for the conduct of secular and social matters, which were then the church's responsibility in addition to religious matters. The porch entrance doorway is in the late Decorated Gothic style (c1300-1350). The four steps leading down to floor level were required because the original church was much narrower and sited on a slight south-north slope.

The stone in the north-west corner of the porch room including the side facing of the west window, is clunch - a soft chalk quarried in the Cambridge region. It is covered with scratchings and carvings, done mostly by school children and youths, who have always had ready access to the porch room. (The church also served as the village school for many years. Being the only stone readily available in Cambridge, clunch was used wherever possible. Although clunch is soft, it is strong in compression but cannot be used for external work because it is easily eroded by rainwater. For all external stonework, oolitic limestone from quarries to the north west of Peterborough, was used (for external doorways, windows, etc). The closest to Girton were the Barnack quarries. As these became depleted, stone was brought from Ketton, over a distance of 40 - 50 miles, requiring the use of both bullock-drawn carts and boats.

At about the time that Reverend Alexander Cotton became Rector of Girton in 1807, a clock was placed on the west face of the tower. This would have been looking towards the Rectory which was then in the High Street. The present clock was installed in 1908.

The north door is the way through to the North Room the recent extension to the church (see photo). It was the idea of a former rector, Reverend Rob Mackintosh, to advance St Andrew's ministry by the construction of this new building.
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Looking across the church there is a fine view of the great 15th century pillars and arches supporting the tower. In the foreground is the 14th century octagonal stone font, and on the far side the 13th century north doorway; one of the oldest features of the church.

On the left of the south doorway is the ancient timber door adorned with a variety of studs, hinges, locks repaired pieces and carvings. This, like the south doorway, may also date from the 14th century.

To the left of the side altar are the marks of the former entrance to the spiral staircase within the thickness of the wall behind the pulpit. The niche above shows the position of the upper doorway of this staircase which gave access to the rood loft.

All that now remains of this loft are the oak panels, still with traces of the paint and gilt figures of saints and bishops, which form part of the rood, or chancel, screen. The carpentry and carving are quite crude and might date from the 14th century. According to the Victorian History of the Counties of England, the rood screen was being gilded and painted in the 1520's, and by 1743 eight figures of saints, with only their faces scratched out, still survived. By 1884, however, only the bases of four panels remained intact.

Between the panels are the cut-down posts which formed the chancel screen tracery and supported the rood loft. The loft spanned the full width of the arch (about 4 metres) at a height of about 3.7 metres above the nave floor, and extended forwards into the church about 1.3 metres (as indicated by marks on the stonework). Access was via the spiral staircase on the south side. The exit doorway remains (above the pulpit), from where a short ladder or timber steps led up to the loft. Standing on the platform would have been large painted timber carvings of Christ on the Cross (the rood), the Virgin Mary and St. John. All this was removed, probably during the second half of the 16th century.

The chancel on its present alignment was built probably in the 14th century, the oldest features being the piscina (in the south east corner) and the priest door on the south side (seen from the outside this is a very beautiful feature). This was the priest's personal entrance because the clergy owned the chancel end of the church and the congregation owned the nave.

The chancel was rebuilt in the 15th century, with two fine Perpendicular windows on each side (see photo). Those on the north side were blocked up in about 1870, possibly because of decay and/or coldness. On the first window on the south side is a discrete etching on two small panes, recording the long service of the organist and choir mistress during the mid 20th century.

At one time, the chancel was used as a school. The first evidence of a school in the parish is in the licensing in 1529 of Peter Baynes B.A. as schoolmaster, an appointment recorded in the Episcopal Registers of Ely. Subsequent to a visitation on behalf of the Bishop of Ely in 1576, it was reported that 'the Quire or Chancel of Girton Church serveth for a schoole house and there is a partition aloft made with boards between ye bodye of the church and ye chancel.' Three months later, however, it was certified that the partition had been taken down.

In 1870, the vestry was built adjacent to the chancel and over the steps which lead down to the family vault of the Reverend Thomas Coombe.

There was once a gallery under the clock room, installed about 1700 and dismantled in 1870. This may have been constructed to provide a platform for the bellringers, at about the cill level of the west window. Access was via the tower staircase with an exit doorway about 0.5m below the platform; the platform then being reached by two or three timber steps. The gallery would have measured about 6m by 2m - sufficient for 3 rows of benches each seating 15 persons. It is not clear how the space under the gallery was used. If at the height indicated above, it would have been possible for a person to stand full height (but not if the platform level was lower - at the level of the staircase exit doorway). But the space would have received very little daylight. Perhaps it was used as storage space, the purpose of the gallery being to provide a better view up the church.
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The small west windows at either end of the south and north aisles date from the 13th century and early 14th century, respectively, and are in the Gothic style (see photo of West End). The window shows the pale yellow of the medieval glass.

The central west window (in the Decorated Gothic Style) may date from the early 14th century, and still contains medieval stained glass in the upper tracery (which missed being smashed in the 17th century).

The windows on the east and west sides of the porch room are in the Perpendicular Style and were inserted during the 15th century.

In 1643, during the Civil War, Cromwell's soldiers, under the command of General Dowsing, broke the church windows. This act was part of a widespread attack upon East Anglian churches in an attempt to wipe out popish practices. The churchwardens' accounts for the time show that the windows were repaired at a cost of 2/3/0 (two pounds and three shillings).

The stained glass in the sanctuary window, comprising five lights divided into two sets by a transom, recalls the life of St Andrew. The window, installed in 1882, was designed by the Rev. Charles Underwood, Rector of Histon, and manufactured by Meyer of Munich. The window was the gift of the Rev. G.B.F. Potticary, Rector from 1850 to 1883.

In the central window of the north aisle, there is a small square panel of stained glass made with fragments of medieval glass smashed during the Civil War (in 1643) and reset in this window in 1910.

Above the altar is a stained glass window commissioned in 1953 to commemorate the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth the Second. It was designed by Leonard Evetts (of Durham University), who also designed the east window of Girton College Chapel, and manufactured in Sunderland. The style and design provide the church with a notable feature typical of the mid 20th century, but blending in with the 15th century Perpendicular window structure and tracery.

The main windows on each side, and the clerestory windows on the north side are glazed in leaded rectangles of clear glass, installed between 1982 and 1986. The natural light coming through this clear glass is now one of the most beautiful features of the church. It is at its best at about noon on a clear winter's day.
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There has been an altar at the east end of the south aisle (see photo) since the 13th century (the piscina in the adjacent south wall also dates from this time). The altar-stone is the Saxon one referred to earlier. Although originally an altar stone, it was cut down in Norman times to make a coffin lid, but restored to its original use after being found in the churchyard in 1951.

The floor arrangements with one step up at the communion rail and another to provide the base for the altar-table was established (or re-established) in the 17th century before the start of the Civil War. During the refurbishment in the second half of the 19th century an oak reredos was installed behind the altar table. Floor tiles were also laid and the walls painted and stencilled.

During restoration and redecoration in 1995 traces of the stencilled patterns were revealed. Also at this time, the reredos was moved into the side vestry, enabling the altar table to be brought forward from the east wall.
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Organ & Gallery
The organ was built in about 1835 by Hill and Davison for the church of St. Mary the Less, Cambridge. In 1868 it was bought by Girto Church, where, up to that time, the singing had been accompanied by a band. The band and choir were accommodated in a gallery at the west end of the nave. The organ was probably placed alongside the gallery. However, the gallery was removed shortly afterwards (in about 1870), when the seating in the church was rearranged to accommodate an increasing village population. Then, in 1910, seating arrangements were again re-organized, and the choir and organ moved to the east end. In 1925 the organ was again renovated, and in 1998 was completely re-built and improved, with new panelling constructed on the west side.

A gallery across the west end of the nave was entered via a door in the spiral staircase in the tower. You can see this door by looking up to the left. A band used to play in this gallery. The instruments in the second half of the 19th century were: 'a flute, two clarinets, a cornopean, trombone, violin and bass viol' according to the recollection of the late T. Osborne. Still in use in 1860, the band was eventually succeeded by a harmonium, and in 1868 by the organ bought from St Mary's the Less for 125. In 1870, after the arrival of this organ, the gallery was taken down.

A legacy from Fanny Coombe (died 1925), daughter of the Reverend Thomas Coombe who was Rector of Girton from 1846-1848, made it possible for substantial repairs to be carried out on the instrument towards the end of the 1920's. The etched panels on this window commemorate Miss Mildred Frost, who was a Girton resident from 1897 to 1985, and organist and choir mistress from 1957 to 1976.
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Other features
In 1549 it is recorded that there were then three bells and one Sanctus bell. Over the next 100 years these were repaired, replaced and added to (in 1617, 1619, 1660 and 1699), resulting in the existing four bells. The old Sanctus bell was set above the main belfry outside on the roof of the tower, where it remained probably until the 19th century. It now sits in the clock room, not able to be hung because its boss is broken. The bellframe, inside the top of the tower, dates from at least the 16th century, comprising five parallel scissor-brace trusses built with exceptionally massive timbers. Each bell has a timber stock and wheel with cylinder pulleys on one side. Due to decay and settlement, the frame is unsafe for full circle bell ringing, and only clappers are now used.

These later bells bear the following inscriptions:

1. Christopher Graye made me 167-
2. Charles Newman made me 1699
3. + Non clamor sed amor cantat in aure Dei 1619 (Not loudness but love sounds in the ears of God)
4. + Jesus:::spede:::vs:::omnia:::fiant:::ad:::Gloriam:::dei:::1617. ( Jesus ??? Let all things be done to the glory of God)

Brasses were laid in the floor of the chancel in the 15th century to commemorate two rectors - William Malster (died 1492) and William Stevyns (died 1497).

The brass rail used to convey the idea of the organ gallery is a former altar rail removed from the chancel in 1971.

At about the time that Reverend Alexander Cotton became Rector of Girton in 1807, a clock was placed on the west face of the tower. This would have been looking towards the Rectory which was then in the High Street. The present clock was installed in 1908, replacing an 1810 clock on the west side of the tower facing the village high street and rectory. It was refurbished in 1986 when the slate face was repainted and gilded, and in 1994 the brick and concrete moulding round the face was replaced by a carefully designed stone surround.

The font may have been installed in its present position, the centre of the earlier church, at about the time of the first recorded baptism which was in 1298 (see photo).

13th century piscina - the perforated stone basin near an altar used for carrying away the water in which the chalice has been washed.

By the small west window is the prayer net, commemorating St Andrew as the patron saint of fishermen.

The small doorway beside the main door leads to the priest's room above the porch. Here monks used to stay when they came to attend to Ramsey Abbey lands in the parish, collect tithes etc. The room was used as a Sunday School at some point around the end of the last century and the beginning of this one.

The oak pulpit was installed in the church in 1853, but originally located on the north side of the chancel arch, as is normal. It was moved across to the south side when the organ was moved to its present position in 1910. This is why the pulpit entrance steps do not lead directly from the centre of the church.

Two tombs with commemorative brasses in the floor of the chancel, belong to two of the church rectors (William Malster, rector 1457 - 1492, and William Stevyns, rector 1492 - 1497) who had particular responsibility for the church rebuilding programme in the second half of the 15th century.
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church and limes

"As you enter the churchyard from Cambridge Road, the full extent of the church is visible, with a line of large lime trees in the foreground."


south porch

"The south porch dates from
about 1400AD"


north room

"North Room- the recent extension
to the church."


chancel arch

"The chancel was rebuilt in the 15th century, with two fine Perpendicular windows on each side."


west end

"The small west windows at either
end of the south and north aisles
date from the 13th century
and early 14th century


south aisle altar

"There has been an altar at the east
end of the south aisle since the
13th century."




"The font may have been installed
in its present position, the centre
of the earlier church."



"Door into the Sanctuary"