St Wendreda’s Church is the only known Church to be dedicated to the saint, an Anglo Saxon princess who lived in March during the 7th century and who dedicated most of her life to ministry and healing. A papal indulgence enabled the Church to be rebuilt in 1343 when it became a shrine and place of pilgrimage, it was then that medieval carvers began work on making the Church spectacularly beautiful.
The building has a mix of 13th, 14th, 16th and 19th century architecture, most of the Church dates from the 14th Century onwards with the famous roof being constructed during the early 16th century. It is mainly perpendicular with a Victorian chancel, built in 1872, shortly after the parish of St Wendreda separated from Doddington. The tower is unusual in having a right of way running through its base and there is a sanctus bell turret, where the nave and chancel meet.
St Wendreda’s Church has a fine steeple and the roof is famous and easily recognisable. It has a double hammer beam design featuring 118 beautifully carved angels, most of which are attached to the hammer beams and appear to be flying but others are in relief and it is believed to be one of the finest timber roofs in Britain. Some of the angels are made up of figures depicting martyrs and saints with emblems, whilst the lower tier consists of angels holding medieval, musical instruments. The roof has a ‘spoiler’ which is a symbolic figure of the medieval craftsman designed to ‘spoil’ an otherwise perfect example of work. And although difficult to see, the spoiler, is thought to be of a green man, and can be found on the second spandrel on the north side. The entire roof is decorated with 2,700 fleur de lys.
The roof was built sometime after 1523 when the present clerestory was created, and it was possibly paid for with money raised by local guilds capitalising on St Wendreda’s shrine. The roof was ordered from a workshop in Bacton in Suffolk.
The interior is light and spacious. The 12th century font pre-dates the main building and originally square, it was later re-cut to become octagonal. Looking closely, will reveal some simple compass designs which have survived.
Also inside the building, visitors will find an interesting brass dedicated to Sir Anthony Hansart. The Hansart brass dates from 1507 and shows two figures in period dress. The scrolls above their heads are unusual and lead up to the scene of the annunciation.
There is a beautiful and elaborately carved Victorian pulpit. All of the stained glass is Victorian and the ‘Last Supper’ window in the north aisle is a good example of gothic style glass from that era.
Under the tower the visitor will find a memorial to Jim Hocking, a young 21 year old, Trainee Royal Australian Air Force Pilot who saved the town of March from obliteration towards the end of WW2, whilst on a training flight when he was sadly killed when his aircraft crashed, whilst he bravely navigated it away from the town, having commanded his crew to evacuate to safety. The pilot officer’s uniform and copies of his medals, including Australia’s Star of Courage, posthumously awarded to him, can be found on display in the town’s museum, in the North Room.
Mason’s marks are visible on the outside of the building, and there is a carved name of a dedicatee in the clerestory. There is a vaulted passageway under the tower preserving the ancient right of way. The passageway has ‘squint’ windows enabling passers-by to see the sanctuary and wonderful gargoyles, (medieval rain water spouts) can be found especially on the south side of the Church.
St Wendreda’s Church is usually locked and the key can be obtained from the Robin Hood Service Station adjacent to the Neale Wade Academy, which is approximately 100 metres away from the Church on Wimblington Road.
St Wendreda’s Church is on the south side of March near to the A141 and can be easily accessed from it.
Outside St Wendreda’s in March
Trainee Pilot Officer, Jim Hocking RAAF
Ceiling, St Wendreda’s Church, March
Hocking Memorial, St Wendreda’s Church, March