St Andrew's Church, Soham
The history of Soham as a religious site dates back as far as AD 650 when St Felix, the "Apostle to the East Angles", founded a monastery here. This was destroyed late in the ninth century by the Danes who burnt the buildings, killed the monks and looted the monastery's treasure.
Soham's importance was restored circa AD 900 when Luttingus, a Saxon nobleman built a cathedral and palace here (predating the cathedral at Ely). The remains of St Felix are said to have rested in Soham until AD 1030 when they were removed in a daring night time raid by boat and taken to Ramsey Abbey (with the blessing of King Cnut). It is recorded that King Cnut stayed in Soham when he visited Ely.
St Andrew's is usually open daily from around 9.15am until dusk. Visitors are welcome to drop in for prayer and reflection, or to look around our beautiful historic building. Members of the congregation often pop in and will try to answer any questions you may have. There is a guide book on the leaflet shelves near the door.
St Laurence's Church, Wicken
Only four churches in Cambridgeshire are dedicated to St Laurence, and all have fabric of the thirteenth century or earlier. St Laurence was one of the seven deacons of Rome. He was martyred in 258 when, on being asked to hand over the treasures of the church, he presented the poor and sick as its “treasures”.
Wicken stands in the deep black fen. This is unsafe ground for building, as the fabric of the church shows. There seems to have been a constant battle to keep the church standing, and the arcades and walls are well out of vertical. The church is sited on the Eastern edge of the village and it has been suggested that this was to take advantage of the transport of stone by water. There is evidence of a canal to the North beyond the cemetery.
The earliest visible part is the North Doorway from c.1190, set in the brick walling of the north aisle. Next comes the chancel which retains one thirteenth century lancet, despite considerable reconstruction. There is some old seating in the chancel in the form of stalls with bold misericords and linenfold panelling. (Could these have come from the nearby Spinney Abbey?) There is a trefoiled piscina.
The principal feature of the fourteenth century is the nave which is broad and dignified, though greatly buttressed. The piers are octagonal and the arches have two orders of wave mouldings. The nave roof appears to be contemporary with the arcades. It is a uniform scantling roof of the braced collar rafter type that has been repaired and added to. If this roof is the original it is an important survival. There are ugly corbel heads with heavy moustaches. The clerestory windows may be contemporary with the repair of the roof structure dated 1695. However, William Cole’s sketch of the mid eighteenth century shows the walls above the arcades without windows. In the north aisle, elements of the sixteenth century roof have been retained in a construction role following the rebuilding.
The windows are generally in the Perpendicular style and the east window of five lights is an attractive example. The west tower is also later medieval. There are five bells; the third is listed for preservation being of c.1480.
The furnishings are undistinguished. In the south aisle are two small, delightful brasses to the Peytons (a local family with fine monuments at Isleham). Margaret Peyton ob. 1414 and John Peyton ob. 1520 are both well dressed.
On the chancel floor are slabs to the Cromwells, most notably to Henry Cromwell who was Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. It is a mean relic for a powerful man. Later members of the Cromwell family donated the chancel screen in 1902.
Early in the last century the church had deteriorated so badly that it became, in the opinion of the archdeacon, the worst maintained in his archdeaconry. The church was described as ‘scarcely affording shelter for its congregation’. However, following efforts made by the Reverend R L Alnutt, attempts were made to renovate the church, and in 1844 enough money had been found to complete five months’ work. This work included restoring the roof, unblocking and reglazing windows, removing earth accumulated against the walls, and removing and replacing all the rotting seats and pews. Provision was also made for seats for the poor in the nave and part of the south aisle. The church then seated 450 and, when it was reopened, the morning and evening services of thanksgiving were well attended.
Further renovations took place in 1879-80 and the 1930s and 1960s to reinforce the north aisle. The huge explosion at Soham station during the Second World War may well have hastened the subsidence of the north aisle. In more recent years the church tower was restored, the woodwork treated, and the entire church re-wired. The interior of the church was also redecorated but, due to problems with dampness and bats, redecoration is needed frequently.
More recently, work has been carried out to the South Aisle roof with the help of an English Heritage grant and a grant from Waste Recycling Environmental Ltd (WREN).
It is known that repairs will need to be carried out to the North Aisle roof and to the windows of the church during the next few years. Maintaining any building of this age and historical value is a huge, ongoing task.
For information about the Friends of St Laurence's, and about donating, please contact: Richard Vousden 01353 624208 or Julie Rash 01353 722008