THE CHURCH OF ST NICHOLAS - ULCEBY
History of the Church
The first known records of a Church in “Ulvesbie” appeared in Domesday Book (1086), where it was recorded that there was a Church and a priest in the settlement. This is not the present building although detailed examination of the building during our Heritage Lottery project may prove earlier fabric may still be in existence.
The present church comprises a nave, chancel, north and south aisles, north and south porches and a west tower with a needle spire. It is constructed from a mixture of local ironstone and chalk ashlars with some later areas of brickwork repair. The spire and tower parapets are of limestone ashlar construction. The church is beneath pitched slate roofs with the exception of the south aisle which is a shallow pitched lead covered roof. Internally most of the wall surfaces are of exposed stonework although isolated patches of plasterwork remain around the chancel arch and in the north aisle.
Architecturally the church is mainly of 13th, 14th and 15th century date with Early English, Decorated and Perpendicular styles evident. The tower exhibits all of these styles and unusually for this part of Lincolnshire is topped by an octagonal needle spire which is in the Perpendicular style with diagnostic roll mouldings on each corner. The spire was restored in 1885 and the top 15ft was taken down and rebuilt in 1928. This repair work was later deemed unsafe due to the rusting of the iron cramps used in the spire fabric, which resulted in the top section of the spire having to be rebuilt again in 1982. The bell openings of the tower although in the Perpendicular style are in fact Victorian replacements.
The remainder of the main building is of the Decorated style with the nave arcading having double chamfered arches typical of the period. The chancel and aisle windows albeit heavily restored have curvilinear and reticulated tracery and thus hint at a date of 1320 – 1330s. Other windows in these parts of the building are in the Perpendicular style and are therefore later additions or replacements. On the east wall of the tower is the raggle line of the former nave roof which shows that the roof level was raised when the 15th century clerestory was added. This clerestory has since been heavily restored in the Victorian period.
Earlier fabric is evident in the chancel arch where the keeled reponds of Early English date appear to be reused as they do not quite line up with the double chamfered arch above.
The church has been restored and changed over the years and the large post-medieval arch leading into the north aisle chapel may have replaced a two arched bays from the medieval period. The chancel also appears to have been changed perhaps in the 18th century. The later changes can all be attributed to the Victorian period, first with a restoration by the Hull architect Keyworth in 1852; the north porch was added in 1856, the south porch in 1876. In 1879 the south aisle was restored and in 1887 the chancel was almost completely rebuilt.
The interior of the church has a number of interesting features beside the architecture. The screen in the north aisle incorporates 15th century Perpendicular elements perhaps from the former rood screen. Similarly the later Victorian benches have earlier medieval timberwork reused in them. The most significant survival however is the Saxo-Norman style font which may be a survivor from the earlier church on the site; perhaps even the one mentioned in the Domesday Book.
Sir C H Anderson in his “Lincoln Pocket Guide” of 1880 states that “the Church was much spoilt by the removal of plaster work inside”. This does suggest that there had been painted walls before the Church was restored during that period. There are still traces of red and blue colouring over the chancel arch and until the 1970s there was an inscription which read ” The Lord is in His Holy Temple. Let all the Earth keep silence before him”. Later significant additions come from the Victorian period and later. The decorative stained glass window above the children’s altar is of great significance as it is believed to have been designed by Edward Burne-Jones who was the glass designer for renowned Arts and Crafts designer William Morris. In commemoration of the Vicar at the time, Rev. William Flowers, his image has been incorporated into the design. This window is featured in a study of “Damsels and Deity’s, Pre-Raphaelite Stained Glass 1870-1898” by Alastair Carew-Cox who has provided us with the following information:
“Ulceby, has two important windows installed in 1876 by James Powell & Sons of Whitefriars, London. The Crucifixion window, designed by John William Brown (1842-1928) is a highly complex mixture of images taken from Renaissance and medieval design. The general layout is based upon a painting by Perugino, now in the National Gallery, Washington, USA. The other window has large figures of Abraham, Moses, Joshua and David designed by Harry Ellis Wooldridge (1845-1917), a stained glass designer and a pupil of William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones. Below them are small panels, known as predellas, designed by J.W. Brown. The windows, typical of the English Aesthetic Movement, were made when this country led the world in stained glass design. The works by the two men are not found commonly and those at Ulceby are exceptionally good examples. The Powell firm was a maker of coloured glass which the two exploited to the full in these highly important windows. Consequently, these exceptional windows deserve to be much better known.”
Besides the rich heritage of the building outlined above our project will also investigate further lesser known aspects about the building and village including the suggested links between the church and nearby Thornton Abbey, for example, the 15th Century Rood Screen across the north aisle is rumoured to have originated from Thornton Abbey. Similarly there is evidence of reused stone spolia around the village incorporated in a number of older buildings and we would like to record and explore these with the local community and try to establish (with professional assistance) whether they originate from the church or Thornton Abbey or perhaps a now lost medieval building.
The North Porch – This was restored in 1856 by William Field in memory of his wife and son.
The North Aisle – The oak screen which forms the entrance to the vestry is 15th century. It has trefoil arches with large opening for tracery which are tipped with roses. The screen was previously in the Chancel arch but had been moved to its present position in 1880. It has been cut in width sometime and could possibly have formed part of the rood loft before 1565. It is possible it came from Thornton Abbey or another larger church.
The Nave – This is of 14th century construction and is remarkable for its hieght. The arcade is set in rough masonry which could be the remnant of an earlier building. The pews are of oak and richly decorated, they were remade in 1852 reusing the ancient bench ends.
The Chancel Arch – The piers of the arch are older than the rest of the Nave.
The Chancel – This is 13th century and one of the oldest parts of the Church, it was heavily restored in 1887. The stained glass windows are fine examples of Victorian glass-making and are all dedication windows.
The Altar – Behind the Altar is a tiled glazed Victorian freeze with words “I am the Bread of Life”
The South Aisle – This is also 14th century but was restored and raised in 1879. The presence of a priscina and ambry show that there has been altered here since early times. The present alter, know as the Childrens Altar was installed in 1925.
The Font – This is probably Norman or even older and certainly pre dates the present Church.
The South Porch – This was built in 1876 by the Rev Fletcher in memory of his wife.
The Tower – This is 13th century and one of the oldest parts of the Church. The spire was added 100 years later. The Tower is built of ironstone and is badly eroded but is still 3 feet thick in some parts. There are 6 bells in the tower. The earliest one dates from 1606 and were rehung in a stell frame in 1906 with the treble bell being added in 1953,
The Spire – This is Medieval and is built of hard, white limestone. As far back as Henry VII, the spire is recorded as being twisted at the top.
Thank you to Margaret Thompson, Alastair Carew-Cox and Dr Matthew Godfrey for their assistance with the history of the Church
In the archives at Lincolns and as set out on the west wall of the Church the first known incumbent was Alan who was presented in 1209 to the Abbots and Convents of Thornton and Walter of York. Registers of births, deaths and marriages in the parish began in 1567. The original register of that year is written on parchment, bound between wooden covers and held in the archives in Lincoln. On the 17th January 1541 Henry VIII granted to the Dean and Chapter of Thornton, the Manor of Ulcey and the Rectory and Church.