Every now and again I rediscover the joy of hopping in the car and driving aimlessly to a nearby village in search of a church. Living in Lincolnshire, this is a remarkably simple and rewarding task. A few weeks ago I felt like frittering away some precious petrol and headed out, only stopping when I saw the spire of Raithby cum Maltby.
Raithby cum Maltby is a tiny civil parish in East Lindsey’s Lincolnshire Wolds, just south of the market town of Louth. Being in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, I knew that Raithby church would tick many boxes – it would be old, listed and dusty. And, if my usual experiences were anything to go by, there would be ecclesiastical treasures aplenty. Raithby was once one of the centres of the booming sheep farming industry, with a wool factory of its own. Being situated by a stream – one of the sources of the larger river Lud which flows through Louth – it was ideal for wool production and treatment. However, this business is long gone and the surrounding land is primarily used for arable farming.
St Peter’s at Raithby is a Grade II listed church dating from the late 13th century, with a good old unavoidable 19th century renovation to boot. The ancient structure was rebuilt in 1839 by W. A Nicholson who used rendered brick to construct the church building we see today. This whole undertaking was paid for by Rev. Henry Chaplin who would oversee the build, and the inclusion of many older church features.
What stopped me in my racks when stepping through the church doors was the beautiful collection of window roundels. The eleven decorated roundels were installed a few decades after the church was completed, in 1884 and portray beautiful biblical scenes.
At the east end of the north aisle is a scene depicting Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. The yellow-toned painting shows Eve tempting Adam, who has taken the apple and has bitten into it. The Garden of Eden isn’t shown as a beautiful wilderness, but a very sculpted ideal of controlled nature. Behind the biblical couple is a wall, fountain and a selection of masonry. While this fits into many Victorian sensibilities about well-tended gardens, the work itself was made around 1575.
Another beautiful example was pointed out by Jean Howard, whose personal information sheets scatter the church. Here, Saint Jerome is depicted with a staff and galero, being a wide brimmed hat worn by cardinals in the roman catholic church. Never mind that there was no position of office like this during the lifetime of St Jerome (342-420AD), he looks rather dashing indeed. Behind the Saint is a lion, representing how St Jerome once removed a thorn from the paw of an injured lion, such was his wisdom and kindness. After treating and cleaning the lion’s paw, it moved into the monastery where St Jerome was living and the two are frequently depicted together in artistic interpretations.
Of all the sculpted faces that peer from the interior of the church, some are remarkably cheerier than all the others. Forming the ends of hood mould stops above the chancel arch, this pair of green men peer out from a surround of oak leaves. One is rather solemn faced, whereas the other smiles cheerily with one snaggle tooth. Green men are rather unusual things to find in churches, but not a complete rarity.
Originating as pagan and Celtic symbols of fertility, they were associated with the May King of May Day ceremonies and were co-opted by Christian communities as symbols of the resurrection and Easter. The examples at Raithby may look ancient, but were actually created as part of the 1839 rebuild.
The floor at Raithby St Peter is equally as interesting as the decorated windows that surround it. Created from Yorkstone, it has several memorial flagstones set into the pattern, operating as a 19th century equivalent of today’s ‘buy a brick’, as explained by Jean Howard, being ‘replacements for earlier ledger stones purged in favour of the new flooring.’
In 1956 the Grimsby Telegraph took a trip to Raithby and commented on the church’s treasures, stating that ‘A great attraction to tourists is a barrel organ – no longer used – in the west gallery. The organ is said to be one of the last still in good repair in the country.’ The former rector Mr Swaby commented that ‘I am beginning to think it must be valuable. We have had various Americans here who have wanted to buy it and take it back home.’
The entrance to the churchyard bears a sign saying to mind your step due to uneven ground. This will be a warning well heeded, as I nearly came a cropper several times myself.
There are some beautiful examples of scrollwork and floral carvings, and a cross commemorating the death of one Sam A. Oliver who was born in March 1838 and died at Agra, India in October 1906.
The peaceful surroundings of St Peter’s at Raithby offer a beautiful and much needed oasis of calm in a criss-cross of country roads. From its simple white walls to the stream gently flowing beside it, its welcoming and tranquil environment is one I’ll be sure to enjoy again.
Also, as a personal family note, I asked my stepdad about his memories of the church:
‘My dads cousin Kay was married to the vicar of Raithby. Kay used to play the organ and it was a job not to laugh…she would look like the archetypal 1950s vicars wife and the organ sounded like the death throes of a winded animal.
We spent many hours at the vicarage playing croquet as it had a proper banked croquet lawn.’
Alas, I have no such croquet memories, but I have a hockey stick and a length of wire, so its all to play for.
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