Spires and Squires: the county was christened this centuries ago and it still holds true; magnificent churches whose spires populate the skyline and equally great country houses. Both stretch back to early medieval times and the ten best churches selected reflect this stretching from Saxon times through to the 20th century. Easy to access and full of treasures, not only architectural, the county offers a wealth of interesting things to the travelling tourist.

A rare Saxon survivor

One of the most important examples of Anglo Saxon architecture in Britain, certainly the largest. The church dates from the late 8th and early 9th century and is a basilica with a semi circular apse. Much remains of this highly unusual church. The exterior reveals impressive use of Roman building materials including slim bricks, stone and larger pieces of masonry said to derive from Roman buildings in Leicester and Towcester. The tower is especially impressive with an austere almost round staircase tower attached. The interior has white painted walls which emphasise the scale of the Saxon stone arches.

All Saints, Brixworth

The height of Norman sophistication

One of the best Norman churches in Britain. Its sophistication in design and ornament is a reflection of the national importance of Northampton in the Middle Ages. It was a Royal seat, and it was here that the Thomas à Becket trial took place in 1164. Built on a large Saxon site near the castle, the church was built around 1170 and is associated with the 1st Earl of Northampton, Simon de St Liz. The striking feature is the carved frieze topped by grotesque corbels along both sides of the basilica. It was restored by Sir GG Scott in 1850.

St Peter, Northampton

Medieval masterpieces

The church stands at the highest point of the village and dates from the 12th and 13th centuries. It was built by the Lucy family whose crest of three pikes can be seen in the medieval stained glass of the east window. The interior is famous for its late medieval wall paintings. The largest is a towering St Christopher with the Christ child on his shoulder on the north wall. The most unusual is of St Elio in the south chapel. The saint is shown shoeing an intransigent horse by removing his leg, leaving the horse supported by scaffolding.

St Botolph, Slapton

Richard IIIs birthplace

A royal church but also a very significant victim of the Dissolution of the Monasteries. The village, Manor and church had been royal property since the Conquest when it was granted to William I’s niece. By a circuitous route it descended in 1337 to Edmund Duke of York. From then it developed into the religious headquarters of the Yorkist faction with a church founded here in 1415 which in turn became the principal burial site of the family. The great nave survives with its beautiful fenestration and flying buttresses. It was at Fotheringhay that Mary Queen of Scots was executed.

St Mary & All Saints, Fotheringhay

A truly magnificent tomb

This archetypal medieval church is set in the heart of the village. It abuts a later square tower (1633) topped by a good spire. On the south side a chapel, refashioned in 1621, juts into the churchyard. The Mildmays arrived here in the 1550’s and were the original creators of Apethorpe Hall, one of the most magnificent 16th century houses in the county. The south chapel became their mausoleum centred on the monument to Anthony Mildmay (d1613) by the royal sculptor Maximilian Colt.

St Leonard, Apethorpe

Church and landscape

A romantic church that stands alone, shorn of its former medieval village, looking out across the Capability Brown landscape of the 1760s toward Fawsley Hall. Crossing the field you find the church separated from its landscape by a HaHa, crossed by the tiniest of bridges to the tiniest of doors. Stepping in you enter a wonderfully light open space with a broad nave leading to a handsome chancel. The church contains one of the most spectacular and well preserved alabaster tomb chests in the County. On its lid lie the recumbent figures of Sir Richard Knightley (d1534) and his wife.

St Mary the Virgin, Fawsley

The Spencers & Washingtons

The church dates from around 1300 but it is the intervention of the Spencer family of nearby Althorp that transforms the medieval building. Sir John Spencer (d1522) rebuilt the chancel and commenced the funerary chapel that lies adjacent to it. Here you will find the splendid tombs of the family dating from the 16th century. The east window of The Adoration of the Lamb by William Morris & Co in 1912, is a memorial to Countess Spencer. In the chancel there is a memorial plaque to Lawrence Washington, George Washington’s ancestor.

St Mary the Virgin with St John, Great Brington

Four magnificent monuments

In the mid 18th century the medieval church was radically altered as it took on the mantle of the mausoleum of the Dukes of Montagu of nearby Boughton House. Following the death of the second Duke in 1749 an entirely new chancel was formed with pairs of huge alcoves either side of the altar. In due course, monuments were raised to the 2nd Duke and to his Duchess, their daughter Mary and her daughter Elizabeth. They are the finest group of monuments in the Midlands.

St Edmund, Warkton

Ninian Comper’s masterpiece

A thrilling experience built between 1908 and 1930. It is in the gothic style fearlessly mixed with classical appropriations. Externally the massive iron stone tower, which can be seen for miles around, provides the vertical thrust against the horizontal of the long nave and chancel. Internally the clarity of the structure, filled with light, is suborned by fantastical decoration, especially in the chancel area and in the vaulted ceiling with its plaster pendants, some gilded and painted blue. There is also excellent early 20th century stained glass and magnificent fittings.

St Mary the Virgin, Wellingborough

A true work of art

The creation of this outstanding late Victorian gothic church was made possible by its patron and local brewer Pickering Phipps, the local architect Matthew Henry Holding and its first incumbent Revd JR Hussey. It went up remarkably quickly between 1893-5 and was well furnished with an alabaster font and pulpit by Aumonier, a reredos by Nathaniel Hitch, an iron work screen by GR de Wilde, and stained glass by Clayton & Bell. The vicar’s son and successor, Revd Walter Hussey, added two mid 20th century masterpieces. These are a Madonna by Henry Moore and Graham Sutherland's Crucifixion.

St Matthew, Kingsley

Northamptonshire Historic Churches Trust

The Northamptonshire Historic Churches Trust was founded in 1955 with the object of raising funds to make grants to churches in Northamptonshire of all denominations for their ‘preservation, repair and maintenance, improvement, upkeep, beautification and reconstruction’. The Trust's funds are raised by donations, subscriptions from friends, the proceeds of the annual sponsored Ride & Stride, which takes place on the second Saturday in September each year, and the Annual May County Sculpture Tour.

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