Most churchcrawlers go to the Fenland town of March to visit the church of St Wendreda, famous for its spectacular ceiling. Oddly, though, St Wendreda is about a mile outside the town centre, to the south on the road to Chatteris. The modern town has shifted considerably to the north, and it is St Peter that proclaims itself the main parish church of March. It sits on the High Street, set back somewhat from the road in a slightly desultory patch of green space.
Like the two other Victorian churches in March, St Peter was designed by T.H. Wyatt, and built in 1880. It is actually rather a large church, though its size is somewhat hidden from view due to the constrained site. The west front faces the road and is decorated with two big double windows and a rudimentary rose window above. The church is aisled, and the westernmost bay of the north aisle is occupied by a large porch tower. This is quite impressive. It is framed by shallow cross-buttresses, which rise to a Romanesque bell-stage which could have come from the eleventh century Rhine – big round openings with octagonal corner turrets and a large octagonal pyramid spire. There is a clock in the middle of the west face, and a statue of St Peter above the doorway.
Inside, the size of the church is a bit more apparent. The nave is both wide and long, with four bays of squat red piers and broad arches decorated with peculiar square moulding. The two big west windows contain Petrian symbols – keys, cockerels and the like. I thought the west end was somewhat disappointing, actually. The location of the tower leaves the wall free of obstruction, and it is surprising that Wyatt didn’t take the opportunity to put in a really big west window. As it is, the windows below are meagre and look a bit unfinished, and the tracery of the rose window above looks even more primitive from within than from without.
While I’m grumbling, I should also say that the east end is disappointing too. The chancel arch is quite grand – supported on red pillars which come from brackets emerging about halfway up the responds – but the chancel itself is grand, dull, and made excessively dark by the gloomy glass in the east window.
The rest is a bit better, though. The clerestory contains various plain windows and is surmounted by a timber barrel vault. The aisles are lit by simple windows set deep into the walls. I liked the effect very much – the walls have been recently whitewashed, and the light falling across the textured surface was rather beautiful. The windows in the south aisle contain some nice stained glass. While we were there, the aisles were being further adorned with a set of stations of the cross, with a man going round and preparing the walls for the ceramic images. Indeed, there was a nice buzz of activity in general, with lots of people popping in and out of the church. So many town centre churches sit locked and forgotten that it’s nice to see how St Peter is still a lively part of its community.
St Peter is open regularly.