The number of large and impressive churches dotted across the Fenland never fails to surprise; tiny little villages with massive churches are a common thing and Whaplode fits into this category perfectly.
Like many English churches, St. Mary’s at Whaplode began life during the Saxon period. Some remnants of Saxon work survives here. At the time of construction Whaplode was an important port, the area south and east of here was effectively swampland criss-crossed with navigable rivers with Whaplode being, to all intents and purposes, coastal.
At the time of the Domesday Book this area was under the aegis of Croyland Abbey, but there seems to have been no traceable deed giving the Abbey control of the lands and both Kings John and Henry III repeatedly tried to cease the land, and most importantly, the port for themselves.
It seems likely that the monks of Croyland had intended to build a second large Abbey Church here at Whaplode and perhaps to have created a ‘daughter-house’ for the main Abbey. The earliest work, which dates from 1125-1190 is massively constructed and looks disproportionate to the size of church which stands today. The tower, which stands almost detached to the north east of the church is very early and has at its lowest course the familiar blind arcading that is so often seen in early post-Norman churches. It would appear that the tower took another 200-300 years to complete as the architectural style changes the further up you go!
It seems that some time during the 15th and 16th Centuries the church was either reduced in size or the ambitions plans to build a large Abbey church were abandoned in favour of a more regular sized parish church. The hammer-beam roof dates from this period and everything has been rather heavy handedly “improved” by the Victorians.
By the time Croyland Abbey was dissolved Whaplode Church was already acting in a purely parochial function which it has continued to do to this day.
Photo - Andrew J. Müller
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Andrew J. Müller,
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