The Church of St Mary the Blessed Virgin, Great Houghton, Northampton
Ever since man was created there has always been some form of religion within every community. Great Houghton has been no exception and over the centuries the Church has had great influence on village life.
The first known village Church was established by the Anglo Saxons in the early 13th century and stood on the site occupied by the present Church until the mid 1700s. It saw many changes in the county during this time and was witness to all the political trends of the times, including those of King Henry VIII etc, all of which would have affected life in the village. The present Church was built in the mid 18th century and more detail is given below.
Until 1735 there appears to be no record of Nonconformist Churches in the village but they probably existed, as the whole area is known to have been strongly Parliamentarian at the time of the Civil War. The register of Baptisms for 1735 describes a father as a Quaker and the mother as a dissenter, although when she married again, due to her first husband's death, her new husband was described as a 'Churchman'. Other references to Quakers are made in the baptismal records of 1767 so there was obviously a following of that faith in the village.
In 1831 the Weslyan Methodists attempted to form a Class Meeting but only six were enrolled, so it came to nothing although a Weslyan chapel was built in Little Houghton and is now a private house in Lodge Road.
In about 1885 the Northampton College Street Baptist Chapel formed a branch in the village and a small chapel was built on the High Street at the junction with Willow Lane. Apparently initial attendance was very good with almost half the village attending but by 1910 it had dropped off sharply and the Chapel closed. Efforts were made to keep it open but failed. The Salvation Army took it over for a short period.
The Girl Guides and the Women's Institute used it as a meeting venue but it was unpopular, as they could not play games or cards, since it was a dedicated building. This also prevented it from becoming a Parish Hall.
During the Second World War it was used to store evacuation requisites until finally it was converted into a cottage in about 1948 and which has since been extended to include a second floor and dormer windows and is the building we know today. This photograph dates from the 1970s.
Other Nonconformists within the village included 'The Brethren' who used to visit the village and put up their evangelistic tent just off Willow Lane for their 'revival' meetings and the Jehovah's witness who continue to visit the village on a regular basis.
The Parish Church - A Brief History
The first church in the Anglo-Saxon parish of Great Houghton was built in the early 13th century. Following the reformation, an inventory of the church was taken in 1552. At that time the church apparently had 'very few pictures' and had been 'purged of popery with thoroughness'. In the mid 16th century the church was given a silver chalice by the Atterbury family. This is so valuable that it is presently held in safe keeping in Peterborough Cathedral.
Although there are records of repair work being carried out in the 16th and 17th centuries, the church gradually fell into disrepair. By 1753 the building was in such a poor state that it was pulled down. There may have been a period before the church was rebuilt, but it was around this time that it got its present name, St. Mary Blessed Virgin. The rebuilt church is almost certainly on the same site as the original - the spiral staircase and lower portion of the bell tower retain the old stone and are much older than the rest of the building. The rebuilding was carried out in the Italianate style fashionable at that time.
By 1780 repairs were needed to the roof, walls, bells and windows. In 1842 a gallery was installed at a cost of £48, and four years later a new font was installed. In 1878 further restoration work took place, and the windows were divided into two lights. The gallery was removed, the lower arch opened, the south porch added and the interior re-seated. The stained glass window in the north wall is likely to have been added at this time.
This photograph shows the interior of the Church taken c1900 after the lowback pews were installed in 1878 but before 1911 when the sanctuary was enlarged.
Since this account was written a number of changes have taken place as part of the ongoing maintenance and development of the Church.
A gas fired central heating system with 14 radiators was installed in November 1994 and a new Viscount Jubileum J227 electronic organ replaced the Wurlitzer in December 1996. The fake set of organ pipes on the west wall have been retained!
Restoration of the Northwest and Southwest windows of the Nave and the vestry window were completed in 1997 and the clock was converted to an automatic electric winding mechanism in 1999 by the original manufacturers, Smith and Son of Derby.
Some of the pews have been removed and others repositioned to create a meeting area where the congregation can enjoy refreshments after the service.
The church Millennium project saw the installation of an electrically operated automatic winding mechanism for the clock and bells. Thus Frank Gibson is saved the laborious task of winding the mechanism by hand each week.
Ground-level floodlighting, and of the steeple, has provided the village with a further dimension during the hours of darkness, the brick pathway leading from the High Street has been widened to aid the job of pall-bearers, and a new oak gate has been hung to replace the old, and somewhat dilapidated one.
Within the Church, new vestments in memory of the late Bernard and Neil Morris have been provided together with a new Lectern Bible in memory of Joy Evans, churchwarden of 24 years until her passing in 2009.
Plans are well advanced for basic kitchen and toilet facilities to be provided in the north west corner of the church, occupying space currently taken by an old boiler house, and work is expected to commence in 2011. This latest project is intended to make the Church more appealing to 21st century families, both from within Great Houghton and beyond, and will make the building more user friendly and functional.
Post 1994 update
The window in the south wall is a much more recent addition; being commissioned by the Preparatory School in 1977 to celebrate the Queen's Silver Jubilee and the school's first quarter century.
The church clock was installed in 1884 by Smith and Son of Derby. As well as the clock, the bell tower houses six bells. These are not pealed in the usual way, but chimed via a mechanism linked to the lower bell chamber. It is possible for one person to operate these bells, and ring modified versions of traditional changes.
In 1967 major structural faults were discovered in the spire. Repairs to this and other work totalling around £5,000 were funded mainly from within the village, which, at that time, still only had around 350 occupants.
Further extensive remedial work to the roof to remedy infestation by death watch beetle and other problems of building decay have recently been completed.
A personal view of the church by Andrew Behrens, written in 1994, who was the incumbent priest from 1987 to 1994 is here.
The Church and the Village