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18 September 2014
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Clues from the Past in Kirtling Parish Church

By Carol Davidson Cragoe

Image of the tower at Kirtling parish church
West tower - built from parishoners' donations ©
The outside of Kirtling church is dominated by the large west tower. Built in the 14th century, it bears testimony to the role of ordinary parishioners at Kirtling.

Unlike cathedrals and monasteries, which had substantial endowments to fund their building programmes, parish churches had to rely on the generosity of the local community. The tower would have been one of the parishioners’ main projects. In fact, parishes often engaged in competitive tower building, trying to outdo their neighbours with a bigger, taller, fancier tower.

'The parishioners’ responsibilities did not include the chancel ...'

Kirtling's tower does not have a spire, however, perhaps because the parishioners ran out of money before it could be added. There are five bells in Kirtling's tower, also paid for by the parishioners. These were - and indeed still are - rung to call people to church, and for special occasions such as weddings and funerals.

Another thing to notice on the outside of Kirtling is the chapel at the east end of the church, next to the chancel - not least because it is built of brick, and the rest of the church is stone. The parishioners’ responsibilities did not include the chancel, repairs to which were paid for by the rector.

The only person allowed to sit in the chancel during services was the patron of the church, who was usually the lord of the manor. The position of this chapel, therefore, suggests either that it was built by one of the rectors, or by someone whose social status was such that they could have their chapel in this prominent position.

The Tudor brickwork and the mullioned windows indicate that it was built in the 16th century. As it is quite similar in style to the gatehouse of Kirtling castle, it seems likely that it was built by Edward North at the same time as he was renovating the castle, in the 1530s.

Published: 2005-02-01

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