Wednesday, 28 March 2012

A Duxford Dawdle.

Today's footsteps lead to the village of Duxford in Cambridgeshire. The name of the village is well known to those who come to visit the nearby Imperial War Museum, but few of those visitors come to the village itself. Our objective is something a little more peaceful and much more ancient.

Quite close to the A505 road and the Cambridge to London railway stands a small, stone building which could easily be overlooked. It is known as The Chapel Of St John The Baptist, though it's many years since it was used for worship. It was founded by Sir William de Colville some time around 1220 and served as a hospital. It was staffed by one or two Augustinian brothers who sheltered poor travellers and tended to the sick and aged. They collected tolls from the nearby bridge which they kept repaired. The chapel also held land and owned a watermill which financed their operation.

It passed to the Knight's Hospitalers in 1324 and continued to be used as a chapel though their activities were scaled down. It was largely rebuilt around this time. By 1540 the chapel had ceased to operate and fell into disrepair. It was converted into a barn and was used as an agricultural building until it was restored in 1947.

But Duxford is also one of those unusual parishes which, besides the little chapel, has two churches. One of these, St John's, is no longer in use as a church.

The building, as you can see, is a hotch-potch of styles from various centuries. Nothing quite fits together though somehow the church is undeniably beautiful and its situation is perfect. Sadly the door was closed and I was unable to track down the key-holder so I didn't get to see the interior but had to content myself with sitting in the churchyard gazing up at the twisted spire.

I wandered on and came across the delightful village green....

....before encountering the church of St Peter, the one which is still in use today. It was much restored, but not much improved, by the efforts of Victorian builders. 

Just for good measure there's even a United Reformed Church too.

Somehow I can't help but feel that, over the centuries, we've largely lost the art of building attractive churches!

Take care.


  1. Such history! Loving those gothic-windows at the top. I’ve seen the old churches restored inside for housing and up for sale on Escape to the Country. Imagine looking down to the foxes on your front lawn through those windows now..the village green is equally delightful. The ‘green’ is like a parkland, public thoroughfare I imagine. How lovely planted out with the daffodils. Your final observation stands testimony with the very modernized church for your finale’ photograph. Great series, thanks John.

  2. Religion, like architecture, follows fashion. Pity.

  3. You might be right, but it is hard proving it through today's photos. The first church is a confusing building, with pieces stapled onto the original church. The last is probably simply a plain church with a congregation too small to finance a stately structure.

  4. What a wonderful building the chapel of St John the Baptist is and what a fascinating history too. Duxford village looks nice, I think Neil is planning to take me to the Museum at Duxford this summer so I'll make sure we visit the village too.

  5. I'm one of those visitors guilty of just visiting the Museum at Duxford! Next time we visit I will make sure we include the village as well as the museum, the Chapel of St John the Baptist looks wonderful with such an interesting history:)

  6. Agree absolutely about church architecture John - although I have to make an exception for Coventry Cathedral and the RC Cathedral in Liverpool, both of which I think are stunning.

  7. I tend to agree with you John, you really can't beat a restored church that was founded in 1220, but depending on what the world will be like in a hundred years from now (how fantastic it would be to know!) people in the future might be saying exactly the buildings that we consider today to be a bit banal.

  8. I don't think many churches are getting built these days, are they? I agree with The Weaver above, that both Coventry and Liverpool RC cathedrals are stunning in their modernity. The only new church I can think of round here is actually part of a much bigger social and community centre - it might not be all that stunning but it's very useful.

  9. Thanks for your comments, especially those disagreeing with my hasty and ill-thought-out observations; you're right of course, there are exceptions. Anyone visiting St John's Church should make every effort to get the key in the unlikely event of it being closed; some interesting medieval wall paintings.

  10. I'm nearly 6 years behind everyone else's comments but I now make sure that St John's Church is open daily (and, I can promise you, it's worth a visit - wall paintings, beautiful Norman arches at the tower crossing etc). People often mistake Duxford Chapel for St John's Church but both have their appeal. I'm glad you saw all three but it's sad you couldn't get in. I heard it from too many people and decided to become a volunteer and now look after 10 in Cambs/Beds/Herts for the CCT. St Peter's is still a 12th century church but the Victorian restorations made it a very bland space. It's a shame really that St John's wasn't the one to survive - and St Peter's nicked their bells in 1949!

    1. Thanks for the info, Adrian, and for your efforts in keeping the building accessible. I did manage to revisit one weekend a few years ago when it was open.


Thanks for taking the time to comment. I'll try to answer any questions via a comment or e-mail within the next day or two (no hard questions, please!).