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HER Number:43
Type of record:Building


The church of St John the Baptist. Saxon-Norman in date.

Grid Reference:SE 881 218
Map Sheet:SE82SE
Map:Show location on Streetmap

Monument Types

  • ANGLICAN CHURCH (EMED:AS:C11/MED:C12,C14,C15/PM, Early Medieval/Dark Age to Medieval - 900 AD to 1499 AD)

Protected Status

  • Listed Building (I) 1241758: CHURCH OF SAINT JOHN THE BAPTIST

Associated Finds - None

Associated Events

  • Watching brief, St John The Baptist Church, Alkborough, 2006

Full description

SE88202188. St. John the Baptist's Church. Roman (?) moulded stones and Anglo-Saxon carved interlace stone in tower. Early English, Decorated, Perpendicular. Churchyard cross.
(1. Dudley 1949, 171; 2. Pevsner 1964, 167-8; 3. Taylor and Taylor 1965, i, 23-4). [1]

SE88202188. CHURCH. The lower part of the church's tower is Saxo-Norman, and Roman/Saxon moulded stones are built into the fabric.
(1. D S Davies, Lincolnshire Notes and Queries 13, 1914-15, 129-130; 2. G B Brown, Arts in Early England 2, 1925, 441; 3. Little Guide, Lincolnshire (2nd ed.), 1924, 43; 4. OS records; 5. Other information JFR 5.4.1977; 6. TS and DAS 1 no.5, 1961, 9; 7. W Andrew, History of Winterton, 1836, 79-81).
The font, Norman. The nave arcades are Early English. The chancel was rebuilt 1887. Roman or Saxon moulded stones are built into the fabric (See SE82SE7 for priory).
The church is in normal use: it retains a holywater stoop of c.1200. See GP40/64/40/1.
(1. OS 6"; 25. F R Harper F1 17.2.64) [2, 3]

ST JOHN BAPTIST. The church was given to Spalding Priory in 1052. Saxo-Norman W tower, see the W window and the unmistakable twin bell-openings. The details show Norman characteristics, with cushion capitals and roll-moulded arches. There were two tiers of bell-openings, the upper altered in the C13. The base of a timber spire, taken down in 1825, survives. A gable line on the E wall of the tower, with quoins above and NW quoins visible externally, indicates the position of the Saxo-Norman nave. Much of the early masonry is Yorkshire gritstone. The S doorway is E.E. and quite sumptous, with three orders of shafts, capitals with upright leaves, and a richly moulded arch with some dogtooth and some billet. Inside, the imposts and bases of the tower arch have re-used Roman(?) stones with mouldings. In the base of the N responds of the tower arch, below floor level, a stone with diaper work, again possibly Roman. The three-bay arcades are E.E. with quatrefoil piers, or rather square piers with four broad demi-shafts. Stiff-leaf capitals on the S, moulded capitals on the N side. Circular abaci. Double-chamfered arches. Dec N aisle windows, straight-headed with reticulation motifs. Perp S aisle window. C18 ceilings in nave and aisles. The chancel is of 1887 by John Oldrid Scott, who also restored the church. It is odd that he left the Georgian ceilings. Scott's chancel is E.E. in style. E Window of three stepped lancets embraced within by a super-arch with dogtooth. Trefoiled lancets to N and S within an arcade on shafts with stiff-leaf capitals. The effect is quite grand. Scott's also is the delightful wooden S porch. -Plain circular Norman FONT on a modern base. -In the floor of the S porch a MAZE, a small copy of that mentioned below. [4]

ST. JOHN THE BAPTIST CHURCH. Only the tower is pre-conquest; Baldwin Brown dates it vaguely as post-1040 (disputed - see Ref 19 below). It is a very fine tower of massive proportions, looking less massive then it really is owing to the good workmanship and the slender proportions of its quoins and openings. It is of four stages separated by string courses; the top stage is very slightly recessed. The embattled parpapet and corner pinnacles are later, probably fourteenth century. It has been stated that the top stage is also a later addition. Although the fabric of this stage appears a little lighter (different) in the plate, to the eye the walling appears to be closely similar to that of the lower stages, the only difference being that the quoin stones are longer. There has been a good deal of restoration work. It is significant that the original belfry was the second stage. The present belfry is the third stage, which has very tall apparently thirteenth-century double lights. The fourth stage has no openings, an unusual feature. Why was it built? It might be inferred that the third stage was added as a new belfry in the thirteenth century to the pattern of the stages below (except the windows) and that the fourth stage was added, perhaps later, to make a tower of very fine and imposing proportions. Without the top stage the tower would look rather squat, with the tall upper belfry windows reaching almost to the top string course.

The tower is built of flat rubble slabs. The quoins are of small cubical blocks of limestone reinforced in places by pairs of large blocks of equal size side by side which serve to bind the quoins into the walls, like clasping quoins. The lowest stage is nearly half the total height. The upper stages are low and increase slightly in height from the second to the fourth.

In the ground floor there are no openings in the north and south walls. In the west wall near the first string course is a narrow single-splayed window with roughly arched lintel; the jambs are of three flat slabs each with a small stone below. There is a western doorway, not now in use, almost hidden on the exterior by weeds and small bushes. It is unduly low on the exterior owing to rising ground-level. It has a round head of voussoirs with a wide strip-work hood mould chamfered below. The jambs are badly worn and of mixed face and side alternate arrangement. On the interior the opening is 6ft. 6ins. high to the imposts and c.3ft. 6ins. wide between jambs.

The second stage, the original belfry, has the usual type of double openings, with mid-wall shafts, in north, south and west walls. The shafts have primitive capitals which are really no more than oblong underblocks to the central imposts and cut on the outer faces only to rude cushion shape. The jambs are of slabs not unlike the quoins and rest on the string course. The heads are of voussoirs, and the chamfered jamb imposts project. The window in the south wall is partly blocked, and the clock covers the upper half. In the east wall is a wide rectangular window, higher up than those on the other walls and close to the upper string course. The projecting lintel is badly worn, and chamfered below. The lintel, sill and jambs are of four very large stones.

The third stage also has double-light windows, tall and slender and of late thirteenth-century type. The jambs are of six dressed slabs each, of equal heights, arranged face alternately. The central shafts are tall, thin and octagonal, with simple hollow-chamfered capitals below square abaci. The heads are of lancet type. The openings are not at identical levels: the sill of the south opening rests in the string course, that of the west one is a foot or so above.

The tower arch is tall with ashlar head of two rings of voussoirs with slight rubble filling between the rings. The jambs have two ot three stones per course. The plinths are 9 inches high and project 3 1/2 inches. The imposts are returned for 18 inches along the walls. Plinths and imposts are of Roman moulded stones and have distinct classical profiles. The western face of the arch has been renewed. The jams are 2 ft. 5 1/2 ins. thick, the arch 5ft 10 1/2 ins. wide between jambs and 5ft 3 1/2 ins. between plinths. [5]

6.11.67 Church. Mid C11 tower and nave, with C12 nave arcades, C14 aisles and C14-15 parapet to tower. Nave re-roofed 1825. North aisle restored and vestry, porch and chancel re-built 1887 by John Oldrid Scott. Coursed limestone rubble and dressed blocks with ashlar dressings. Plain tile roof to chancel and nave, slate roof to vestry. Timber porch. West tower, 3-bay aisled nave with south porch and north vestry, 3-bay chancel wuth organ chamber adjoining north side. 4-stage tower with quoins and plain string courses between stages. Tall first stage has round-headed west door with plain hoodmould and keyhole slit above. Second stage has twin round-headed belfry openings on north and west sides with cylindrical mid-wall shafts and cushion capitals, (opening on south side blocked, with later medieval chamfered shaft). Third stage has inserted twin pointed belfry openings with triangular and round heads, chamfered reveals and shafts. Stepped-in top stage has prominent gargoyles at angles, moulded cornice and embattled parapet with crocketed angle pinnacles. South aisle: chamfered plinth, moulded cill band, buttresses; pointed 3-light Perpendicular traceried windows, those to east and west walls with prominent gargoyles above. North aisle: 2 square-headed 3-light windows, pointed 3-light east and west windows, all with C19 Reticulated tracery. Chancel: quoins, chamfered plinth, cill band, buttresses; trefoil-headed lancets with hoodmould, arched priest's door, stepped east lancets. South porch: chamfered ashlar plinth, shafted outer doorway flanked by panels and traceried sidelights under open king-post roof with curved struts and carved bargeboards; traceried light to sides. Porch floor contains C19 inlaid stone copy of the nearby Julian's Bower turf maze. C12 inner door, of 3 orders of shafts (outer shafts are C19 replacements) with stiff-leaf capitals, pointed arch with keeled, roll and dog-tooth mouldings, and hoodmould with billet moulding. Interior. Round-headed tower arch with re-used Roman moulded stone for bases and imposts. North and south arcades of pointed double-chamfered arches supported on quatrefoil piers with water-holding bases, circular plinths, plain moulded capitals to north arcade and fine stiff-leaf capitals to south. C19 pointed moulded chancel arch with shafted responds and foliate capitals. Ornate chancel in Early English style with side lancets in shafted arcades and east lancets with dividing shafts under a moulded pointed arch; polychrome encaustic tile floor. Nave and aisles have C19 plastered ceilings with moulded cornices, chancel has open-framed roof. Cylindrical Norman font on C19 moulded column and medieval octagonal base. Rectangular medieval holy water stoup inside south door with mutilated relief carving, approximately 50 cm high.
(1. N Pevsner and J Harris, The Buildings of England: Lincolnshire, 1978, 167-8; 2. H M and J Taylor, Anglo-Saxon Architecture Vol 1, 1965, 23-24; 3. Drawing by C Nattes, 1794, Banks Collection, Lincoln City Library) [6, 15]

'There is a pretty good church there, but no epitaphs nor monuments in it at present visible, because that the chancel, being fall'n, has buried all. However, these words are written on a great stone in the wall of the sayd chancel, now almost illegible:-

Richardus Bruto, nec non Menonius Hugo,
Willelmus Trajo templum hoc lapidibus altum
Condebant patria, gloria digna Deo.

O! 'tis a great shame and a skansall to see that chancel as it is. It belongs to one …. Denman, esq., to repair and keep in order, who has near 1000l. p[er] ann[um], and lives hard by, and is lord of the town. Yet to his eternal shame he takes no care thereof.' [7]

Cross referece SMR8500 - Churchyard cross. Please note that the photo of the cross and map from the OS card are retained under SMR43 for location of church. Copy of this also in SMR8500. [8]

'Restoration of Church. When the Church was restored and the new chancel built in 1887 the floor was much higher than at present, the bases of the pillars being buried. The floor was therefore taken up and the earth removed, some being carted away and some used to fill up a low part of the churchyard on the north side.

As the floor was lowered it was found that many burials had taken place in the interior of the church, about 160 skeletons being found, these having been buried in very shallow graves, mostly in rows. Among them was a skeleton of a man nearly seven feet high, with a massive skull. Again, when a new heating apparatus was installed in or about 1904, further excavations were made on a lower level, and again many skeletons were found, among them that of another very large man, whose skull had been cleft with a clean cut through the bone.'

The above is an extract from notes by Mr J Gott from historical records compiled by Local History Group, 1934. See Alkborough parish file for this and further extracts from local histories and antiquarian descriptions. [9]

'An Anglo-Saxon carved stone may be seen by lifting a trap-door at the foot of the north jamb.

The side walls of the present nave, above the pointed Early English arches, and up to the off-set about 19ft from the floor, are probably the original side walls of the aisleless Anglo-Saxon nave, for clearly defined gable-lines may be seen on the east face of the tower, marking the position of the earlier and lower roof which ran steeply up from the tops of the original walls, that is to say from the position now marked by the off-set. Moreover, the east face of the tower, as seen within the nave, has quoins which are carried down to meet these gable-lines, thus indicating that the tower originally stood free above that level and that its east wall was only later enclosed within the nave when the side walls of the nave were raised. This raising of the walls may also be seen outside the west end of the church, where the surviving north-west quoin of the original nave is on line with the present north arcade and where it is also possible to see a change in texture of walling as an indication of the original west gable of the nave.'

'The details of its west tower … would be consistent with its having been built by Thorold of Buckenhale who founded the [Spalding] priory shortly before the conquest. Evidence for the existence of a church here before or very soon after the conquest is also given by Hugh Candidus who states that the church was given to Peterborough by Abbot Brand (1066-70).'
(1. J T Micklethwaite, Something about Saxon church building, Arch. J. 53, 1896, 337-9; 2. W T Mellows (ed.), The Peterborough Chronicle of Hugh Candidus, 1949, 72) [10]

Four stages, three string courses. Original belfry in second stage, present belfry in third; top stage later, probably not Saxon, no openings. Quoins, small cubical blocks duplicated here and there. Ground stage very tall, W door with strip work round voussoired round head with Roman stones in plinth and imposts. Second stage, double openings voussoired round heads, mid-wall shafts with crude capitals on N, S and W; wide rectangular window igh up in E wall, flat lintel. Third stage, very tall double openings of thirteenth-century type. [11]

'The church at Alkborough was, like Croyland, a bone of contention between the monks of Spalding and Peterbrough, each claiming it as a gift from the founder Thorold, in 1052. Tradition says that it was partly rebuilt by the three knights, Brito, Tracy, and Morville, who had taken refuge in this most remote corner of Lincolnshire, where one of them lived, after their murder of Becket in Canterbury Cathedral. The original Early tower and tower-arch remain, and a fragment of a very early cross is now to be seen by the north pier. One of the bells has this inscription:-
"Jesu for yi Modir sake
Save all ye sauls that me gart make". [12]

Archaeological watching brief undertaken during the excavation for a foundation slab for a new stair ladder in the church tower. A 0.5m deep trench was excavated in the NW corner of the tower interior revealing an earlier brick foundation for a possible stove. Preparation for this had involved the excavation of a hole, slightly larger in plan but no deeper than the new hole. Deposits of soot on what remained of the brick foundation suggested quite a period of use prior to removal in preparation for the laying of the present stone slab floor.This was removed and no further excavation was required. The brick base and the exposed bed of the tower's North wall were recorded. [13]

SMR record card. [14]

The church contains a brass roll of honor plaque incribed with 48 names of those who served 1939-45 from Alkborough parish. [15]

In 1887 John Oldrid Scott restored the church with the addition of a new chancel. Now, the stone building, with slate on the nave roof and tile on the slightly higher chancel, is the focal point of the village, while the fourstage tower is a prominent landmark in views from below the scarp and across farmland from the east and northeast. Scott also added the timber south porch, the floor of which is inlaid with the pattern of the turf maze at Julian’s Bower.

It is known that Julian’s Bower has been re-cut several times and the pattern in the floor of the church porch, laid in 1887, now serves as a reference. [17]

There is an Ordnance Survey triangulation point on the church tower. [18]

The church of St John has an example of a ‘Lincolnshire Tower’, a distinct class of bell tower constructed during the 40 years after the Norman conquest. Some churches with these towers were built in public spaces at the instigation of the indigenous sokemen, and others were within or near manorial enclosures, associated with the tenants in-chief of the new Norman lords. However, the location of Alkborough church was defined as ‘Group I’, a location governed by a pre-existing natural or pagan ritual landscape feature. At Alkborough this could have been a nearby spring, where baptisms took place – the dedication to St John may support this interpretation. The bell tower was important to a new liturgy, introduced into England by Lanfranc, that required the ringing of a bell ‘summoning St Michael’ during the burial service. The upper stage of the tower was added in the 13th century. [19 ] (NB this reference contains much detail on the architecture of the church, its location within the village, and its relation to similar Lincolnshire Tower churches in the historic county.)

A document compiled in 1566 includes a list of church furniture and other items that were destroyed at this church during the reformation. [20]

<1> Loughlin, N and Miller, KR, 1979, A Survey of Archaeological Sites in Humberside, 180 (BOOK). SLS523.

<2> Yorkshire Archaeological Society, YAS card index, 5329 (part) (CARD INDEX/INDEX CARD). SLS1339.

<3> National Record of the Historic Environment, Ordnance Survey/NAR/NMR/NRHE Records, SE82SE (COLLECTION / PARENT). SLS1263.

<4> Pevsner, N and Harris, 1989, The Buildings of Lincolnshire, 95-6 (BOOK). SLS2706.

<5> E A Fisher, 1962, The Greater Anglo-Saxon Churches (EXTRACT - CUTTING OR COPY FROM PUBLISHED WORK). SLS2912.

<6> Department of the Environment and Transport, Twentieth List of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historical Interest, SE82SE 1/1 (LISTED BUILDING LIST). SLS2913.

<7> Surtees Society, 1870, The Diary of Abraham de la Pryme, 138 (BOOK). SLS1404.

<8> R Teal, 1991, R Teal Pers. Ob. (PERSONAL OBSERVATION). SLS2914.

<9> North Lincolnshire Museum, Parish files, Alkborough (MUSEUM RECORDS). SLS1344.

<10> H M Taylor & Joan Taylor, 1965, Anglo-Saxon Architecture, 23-24 (EXTRACT - CUTTING OR COPY FROM PUBLISHED WORK). SLS2915.

<11> E A Fisher, 1969, Anglo-Saxon Towers, 148 (EXTRACT - CUTTING OR COPY FROM PUBLISHED WORK). SLS2916.

<12> Willingham Franklin Rawnsley, 1914, Highways and Byways in Lincolnshire (BOOK). SLS2946.

<13> Atkins, C., 2006, Caroline Atkins Consultants to Alison Williams - An Atkins Assortment, Alkborough Church (CORRESPONDENCE). SLS2985.

<14> Humber SMR, 1985 - 1998, SMR Record Sheet, 43 (RECORD SHEET/FORM). SLS527.

<15> English Heritage/NMR, 2005, Listed building system data in MIDAS XML format, 440970 (COMPUTER DISK/TAPE). SLS2963.

<16> UK National Inventory of War Memorials, 51694 (WEBSITE). SLS4370.

<17> Lyman, Tony, 2004, North Lincolnshire council Alkborough conservation area appraisal, 15 and 23 (ADMINISTRATIVE RECORDS). SLS4835.

<18> Ordnance Survey, 2004 onwards, Ordnance Survey MasterMap Dataset (OS MAP). SLS4594.

<19> Stocker, D and Everson, P, 2006, Summoning St Michael: Early Romanesque Towers in Lincolnshire, 94 - 99 (BOOK). SLS6553.

<20> Edward Peacock, Ed, 1866, English Church Furniture at the Period of the Reformation, 35-37 (BOOK). SLS7105.

Sources and further reading

<1>BOOK: Loughlin, N and Miller, KR. 1979. A Survey of Archaeological Sites in Humberside. A4 Bound. 180.
<2>CARD INDEX/INDEX CARD: Yorkshire Archaeological Society. YAS card index. 5329 (part).
<3>COLLECTION / PARENT: National Record of the Historic Environment. Ordnance Survey/NAR/NMR/NRHE Records. SE82SE.
<4>BOOK: Pevsner, N and Harris. 1989. The Buildings of Lincolnshire. 95-6.
<5>EXTRACT - CUTTING OR COPY FROM PUBLISHED WORK: E A Fisher. 1962. The Greater Anglo-Saxon Churches. Paper mounted on card.
<6>LISTED BUILDING LIST: Department of the Environment and Transport. Twentieth List of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historical Interest. SE82SE 1/1.
<7>BOOK: Surtees Society. 1870. The Diary of Abraham de la Pryme. 138.
<8>PERSONAL OBSERVATION: R Teal. 1991. R Teal Pers. Ob.. None.
<9>MUSEUM RECORDS: North Lincolnshire Museum. Parish files. Alkborough.
<10>EXTRACT - CUTTING OR COPY FROM PUBLISHED WORK: H M Taylor & Joan Taylor. 1965. Anglo-Saxon Architecture. 23-24.
<11>EXTRACT - CUTTING OR COPY FROM PUBLISHED WORK: E A Fisher. 1969. Anglo-Saxon Towers. Paper mounted on card. 148.
<12>BOOK: Willingham Franklin Rawnsley. 1914. Highways and Byways in Lincolnshire.
<13>CORRESPONDENCE: Atkins, C.. 2006. Caroline Atkins Consultants to Alison Williams - An Atkins Assortment, Alkborough Church. 17 March 2006.
<14>RECORD SHEET/FORM: Humber SMR. 1985 - 1998. SMR Record Sheet. 43.
<15>COMPUTER DISK/TAPE: English Heritage/NMR. 2005. Listed building system data in MIDAS XML format. CD. 440970.
<16>WEBSITE: UK National Inventory of War Memorials. www.ukniwm.org.uk. 51694.
<17>ADMINISTRATIVE RECORDS: Lyman, Tony. 2004. North Lincolnshire council Alkborough conservation area appraisal. PDF. 15 and 23.
<18>OS MAP: Ordnance Survey. 2004 onwards. Ordnance Survey MasterMap Dataset. Digital. Digital.
<19>BOOK: Stocker, D and Everson, P. 2006. Summoning St Michael: Early Romanesque Towers in Lincolnshire. Hardback. 94 - 99.
<20>BOOK: Edward Peacock, Ed. 1866. English Church Furniture at the Period of the Reformation. 35-37.

Related records

21659Related to: WAR MEMORIAL, CHURCH VIEW (Building)