Cottenham Church, Cambridgeshire

All Saints’ Church in Cottenham is a pretty hefty structure standing at one end of one of the larger villages north of Cambridge. This area is on the Fen edge and there are a number of very prominent churches built here, as if to guard against the wildness beyond.

The origins of the church, like many, are lost in the mists of time. But it was certainly built by the 13th Century as the Chancel Arch is from that period, the main bulk of the church is 14th Century. The tower was most added in the 15th Century, as is often the case, and is a solidly massive affair… well, as much as can be seen of it, for sometime in the early 17th Century the top half of the tower collapsed – why is not clear – and the tower was subsequently rebuilt around 1617. We know this date as it is carved into the new work in several places.

This rebuilding gives Cottenham its most distinctive feature – the grey stone of the original church gives way to warm orange brick where the 17th Century rebuild starts. Atop the tower overly elaborate machiolations lead up to very unusual onion domes on the corners of the tower. These have big spikes coming from the “onions” giving the impression of giant sea urchins hoist up into the sky. Fanciful, but distinctive and memorable.

The interior of the church is much less exciting, although the rebuild means that the nave and the tower mismatch slightly giving a bit of an odd lean to the structure. Most of the rest is Victorian, including the stained glass.

The church looks particularly fine when approached from the village on a sunny afternoon with the sun catching the warm stone of the tower, all in all one of Cambridgeshire’s most satisfying country churches.

Photo - Andrew J. Müller

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