During the Victorian phase of the long draining of the fens, a number of settlements sprang up in the wide flat lands. One such was Prickwillow, carved out of the vast hinterland of the parish of Ely, and placed here presumably to watch over the drainage engines and sluices on the River Lark.
Like all such settlements, I found it somewhat oppressive to be in, burdened by too much sky and the pervasive knowledge that one day the drains will fail, the dykes will fall and the sea will roll in over the land. The buildings of Prickwillow look impermanent, rootless; when the water comes they might just float away, or fade like a peculiarly ugly collection of will o’ the wisps produced by the marshes.
The village is mostly composed of nondescript bungalows now, but there are a few older buildings. The first building here was in 1830, and the church followed thirty-six years later, being built by R.R. Rowe between 1866 and 1868. These Victorian fenland churches tend to be a bit grim, pinched by economy and unimaginative architects. However, St Peter is actually quite interesting from the exterior. It is cross-shaped, with a rounded apse at the east end and a little porch in the south-west corner.
There is no clerestory, and so the steep roofs rise sharply to form an interesting combination of shapes. Above the crossing is a tall fleche with a lead spire, presumably containing a bell. It is built of yellow Cambridge brick (miraculously unblighted by green lichen for once) decorated with panels of dark blue flint.
Sadly, there were no keyholders listed, and so no obvious way to get in. This is a shame because Pevsner mentions that there is a wonderful font hidden away inside this dark, modest building. It came from Ely Cathedral, where it had been a gift from Dean Spencer in 1693. It sounds quite extraordinary: a white marble bowl decorated with shells, strings of pearls, acanthus leaves and cherubs. Terribly vulgar, no doubt, but it would have been nice to see a touch of 17th century whimsy in this bleak place.
St Peter is kept closed.