Cambridgeshire Churches

Longstanton, All Saints


All Saints is one of two churches in the village of Longstanton. Until 1953, there were two parishes here – All Saints, and the separate parish of St Michael. Unsurprisingly, I suppose, there came a time when it became impossible for the congregations to sustain two separate churches. So, they were united, and St Michael was declared redundant. This too is unsurprising, for while St Michael is a lovely building (and now very well cared-for by the Churches Conservation Trust), All Saints is even lovelier, and much more conveniently located.

It sits at a crossroads in the heart of the village, in a graveyard bordered by tall lime trees and filled with graves commemorating airmen based at the local base. The building is not especially large, but it is still imposing – perhaps it’s something to do with the way that the porch, transepts and chancel all cluster around the nave in a rather complex mass of shapes. It all culminates in the fine west tower, whose height is emphasised by a substantial stair-turret, a little spire on the top, and by the diagonal buttresses which rise in five stages to its bell-tower.

As all of that implies, the exterior of All Saints is a bit of a jumble, both of periods and of forms. The tower is Perpendicular, but the rest of the exterior dates from between about 1320 and 1340. In shape, it resembles some of the other grand churches here on the edges of the Fens. But, unlike Swavesey and Over and Willingham, it is mostly rather plain and unadorned. Like the poorer churches to the south and west, it is built not from dressed stone but from sandstone rubble, and it lacks any of the richly decorated battlements or parapets that are a prominent feature elsewhere. The one exception is the prominent south transept chapel, which has splendid substantial cross-buttresses and a very big window in the south wall, filled with complex flowing tracery.

There is no clerestory, so the nave of four bays is rather dark. This is unusual: in the early Perpendicular period the nave arcades were rebuilt in their current form, and almost always when that happened the builders would raise a clerestory over the new work. As it is, the light comes exclusively from the earlier aisle windows. Not that it matters, particularly – this is a charming and interesting interior. The roof has recently been replastered, and the plain white surface sets off the dark medieval tie-beams very nicely. At the same time, a wood and glass partition was put in to screen off the tower space. It’s nice to see restoration work and adaptation done so sensitively.

The seating in the nave is new, but one splendid piece of ancient furniture remains. Up at the east end of the south aisle is a beautiful Perpendicular font. Like many in East Anglia, its basic form is a big octagonal bowl on a similar stem. Most such fonts just have shields or quatrefoils decorating the faces, though. Here, each face is carved with a different design of blind arcading, almost as though the mason aspired to architecture and was trying out various forms to see how they sat together. On one face, for example, we have two big plain blind arches; but next door, there is an elaborate panel with two layers of tracery and ogees, separated by crenellation. It’s definitely my favourite font in Cambridgeshire now. The one at Leverington (with its elegant architectural canopies and weathered sandstone figures) is probably better, but this one radiates enjoyment and satisfaction on the part of the craftsman.

The aisles have nice roofs – the north aisle has a medieval kingpost roof, and the south aisle has a modern one built in precise imitation. The windows are also good, with broad generous Decorated swirls in the tracery. As with the nave, there is almost no ancient seating, save for a good box pew at the east end of the north aisle, carved with early Renaissance patterns.

The south aisle leads through (via a big archway, almost like a smaller chancel arch) into the magnificent south transept chapel. This is really the highlight of the church. The south, east and west walls all have big windows with the same fine flowing Decorated tracery that is so prominent in the south wall from the exterior. This was evidently built as a sort of mausoleum for the local Hatton family, and fragments of heraldic glass depicting their emblems survive in the heads of the windows.

The southern half of the chapel is filled with a most extraordinary 18th century construction. The floor level of the transept drops a couple of feet at that point, so that the southern end is half way to being a crypt – and then, from floor level, rises a big block, about five feet high and filling the width of the chapel, blocking off the remains of some rather interesting-looking medieval niches. The surface is slightly uneven, with rounded edges and a surface of plaster which is sufficiently rough that it resembles adobe. At the top of the north face is a black marble plaque which reads ‘Sepulchrum 1770’. Arranged below it are twelve shallow niches, broader than they are tall, and unadorned save for a very shallow curve on their upper edge. Most of these contain black marble plaques commemorating members of the Hatton family. I’ve never seen anything like this anywhere else. Frustratingly, Pevsner doesn’t even deign to mention it in his guide, which is most peculiar. I’d almost guess that it was a modern attempt to display the family memorials nicely, but it would be odd to fake an 18th century inscription, and I don’t think any modern congregation would be allowed to deface the medieval niches under the south window like this. Strange.

Less unusual, but more beautiful, is the monument to Sir Thomas Hatton (who died in 1658 aged 75), and his wife Mary Allington, daughter of one of the Sir Giles Allingtons who are so copiously commemorated at Horseheath. The moment sits at the northern end of the chapel, perpendicular to the east wall, and separating the chapel from the east end of the nave. Against the wall itself rises a fine blind alabaster arch, supported on little Corinthian columns and decorated with lots of little painted shields depicting Sir Thomas and Lady Mary’s arms (and those of their various connections, too). Below it, a chest tomb supports life-sized effigies of the pair, beautifully carved in pink-veined marble. He reclines in full cavalier costume – we can assume that the monument was made a couple of years after his death, once the Restoration had taken place – and she in a rather more modest dress, though she lies on pillows which are just as luxurious and soft-looking as his. Around the edges of the chest are little kneeling statues of their children, boys on one side and girls on the other. It is well-carved and really very tasteful, one of the nicest monuments in the county. The style would not be out of place in London, or indeed on the content – as Pevsner says, this is ‘no longer Jacobean but classical’. As it happens I quite like earlier Jacobean mannerist stuff – cheerfully disharmonious and bumpkinish, quite a lot of the time – but it’s interesting to see that such elegant and sophisticated workmanship had found its way into rural Cambridgeshire by the middle of the 17th century.

The chancel arch is Perpendicular, and there are some fragments of wall-painting on the wall above it. Only a few bits remain, and it’s all so degraded that one can really only make out a couple of figures, but presumably this was once a rather grand doom. The chancel itself also speaks of lost grandeur. At the west end, each wall contains a big blind arch, with the western responds flush against the east side of the chancel arch. It’s difficult to tell, but perhaps there were once side chapels here too. No sign remains, however, and the east end as it now exists is small and plain by comparison with the south transept. There is at least a good set of triple sedilia in the south wall, contained in a rectangular frame and carved into delicate thin ogees above the seats, but on the whole there isn’t much to see. Evidently the Hattons – assuming, as seems likely, that they held the living of Longstanton – preferred to pour all their money into the family chapel, rather than adorning All Saints with a grand chancel. Still, no need to gild the lily – this is still a lovely church.

All Saints is open regularly.


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