St Mary, Wansford, Soke of Peterborough

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Feature Sets (2)


St Mary's has a nave with a two-bay N aisle without any windows and a S doorway under a porch. The square-ended chancel has a N vestry and organ chamber, and there is a W tower with a broach spire with two tiers of lucarnes. An 11thc. window in the W wall of the nave indicates an early date for the core building. The S doorway dates from the early 13thc., and the N arcade and tower are slightly later. The S porch is dated 1663, and at that date too the S nave wall was rebuilt. The clerestoreys to N and S were presumably added at that time too. At some point, probably in the 15thc., the chancel fell down, and the E nave wall was rebuilt without a chancel. Until the new chancel was built in 1902 on the old foundations, St Mary's was claimed to be the smallest parish church in England. Construction is of stone rubble and ashlar. The church boasts an exceptional font of the 1120s, which is the only feature described here.


Wansford does not appear in Domesday. A charter dated 664 confirms a grant of land there to Peterborough Abbey, but this is generally thought to be a post-Conquest forgery. It was certainly part of the Soke (or jurisdiction) of Peterborough Abbey in the relevant period.

Chapel of Ease to Thornhaugh, St Andrew. Now part of the benefice of Thornhaugh and Wansford.





The font stands at the W end of the nave. The cylindrical bowl stands on a cylindrical pedestal with a chamfered plinth. The lower part of this pedestal is the bowl of another font, found during excavations for the rebuilding of the chancel in 1902 (see VIII below).

The bowl is carved with a 13-bay arcade with round arches on double shafts with double-roll bases and capitals divided horizontally into three bands. The arches themselves are articulated with double rolls. Above the arcade, below the upper rim, is a broad band of foliage in the form of a snaking stem with a furled trilobed leaf in each loop. Above this, around the rim, is a row of embattled ornament (described by Bond (1908) as billet). Each arch contains a figure or other motif. Arches are numbered anticlockwise starting at the E:

1. Standing figure of Christ (?), beardless, robed, frontal and haloed, his R hand raised and his L pointing to the figure in bay 2.

2. Standing, bearded, robed figure with book turned three-quarters towards Christ in bay 1.

3. Vertical plant with trefoil flower at the top, and three pairs of leaves to either side of the stem.

4 - 5. Baptism scene. In bay 4 a haloed, robed, bearded figure, body to R, face frontal, gesturing with his R hand towards bay 5, in which a naked haloed figure is submerged to the waist in water. Above him and to the L is a dove; above his head to the R an indecipherable object. Presumably the Baptism of Christ by John the Baptist.

6. A figure-of-eight foliage scroll with straggling hook-ended tendrils issuing from it.

7. A robed angel, body to R, face frontal with R hand raised. The figure appears to have wings but also, unusually for an angel, a beard.

8. Standing robed figure, body to L, face frontal, book in L hand, pointing upwards with R hand. Projecting downwards from the waist area is a straight object with what appears to be a knot at the end. This is either his belt or a large key. If the latter it is St Peter, and his curly hair would suit this interpretation. In this case, bays 7 and 8 together form the scene of St Peter and the angel (Acts 12, 6-8).

9 - 10. Two soldiers fighting. Each has an oval shield with central boss in his L hand and brandishes a mace in his R. The L figure (bay 9) has a beard; the R is clean-shaven.

11. Foliage motif; the lower part worn but the upper terminating in a pair of symmetrical furled leaves.

12. Standing, frontal robed and haloed figure, probably Christ, holding a book in his R hand and pointing with his L towards the figure in bay 13.

13. Standing, robed figure turned three-quarters towards Christ in bay 12. He holds a book in his R hand and this, together with his bald head and beard, suggests St Paul.

The figures are stocky with overlarge heads and hands. Drapery is depicted by parallel grooves. Faces have round bulging eyes and cheeks, and hair is often depicted as a series of pellets. In this they resemble contemporary coin portraits.

The bowl is lead lined with a mortar repair running all around the rim.

ext. diameter of bowl at top 0.78 m
h of bowl 0.53 m
h overall 1.17 m
int. diameter of basin 0.53 m


The font was brought to the church from Sibberton Lodge, where it had been in use as a cattle trough. It is unlikely, therefore, that Wansford was its original home, especially as a broken font bowl was found during excavation for the rebuilding of the chancel in 1902. This was used to make the base for the rescued font. The narrative treatment is interesting in that it consists of figure scenes separated by foliage motifs. The Baptism of Christ is normal for a font, and the scene of fighting warriors, suggestive of man's battle against sin, has iconographic parallels elsewhere e.g. in work of the Herefordshire School. The scenes involving Christ, St Peter and the Angel, and St Paul are unusual. They may refer to an earlier dedication of the church although there is no other evidence for this. According to Pevsner (1968), Zarnecki has supported a date of c.1120, and the present author accepts this too.


  • F. Bond, Fonts and Font Covers. Oxford 1908, 37, 149, 153, 171, 182 (plate).

  • N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England. Bedfordshire and the County of Huntingdon and Peterborough, Harmondsworth 1968, 361-62.

  • E. S. Prior and A. Gardner, An Account of Medieval Figure-Sculpture in England. Cambridge 1912, 157.

  • P. H. Sawyer, Anglo-Saxon Charters: an Annotated List and Bibliography. London, 1968, 68.

  • Victoria County History: Northamptonshire. II (1906).

Exterior from SW.
Exterior from N.


Site Location
National Grid Reference
TL 072 992 
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales): Soke of Peterborough
now: Peterborough
medieval: Lincoln (Dorchester to 1085)
now: Peterborough
now: St Mary
medieval: not confirmed
Type of building/monument
Chapel of ease  
Report authors
Ron Baxter 
Visit Date
18 February 2004