St Peter and St Paul
Steeple Morden is a picturesque village situated in rural South Cambridgeshire about 4.5 miles north-west of Royston. While South Morden or just Morden - "the hill in the marsh" - appears in the Domesday Book, less is known of its earlier history than that of its neighbours. It was an identifiable village in the late Saxon period but has little to compete with the Roman settlements at Guilden Morden and Litlington, or prehistoric hut circles near Abington Pigotts. Nevertheless, its higher elevation would have been attractive, so perhaps it was occupied earlier and more extensively than today's scant records suggest.
from the south.
St. Peter and St. Paul is strikingly distinct from other South Cambridgeshire churches. Its most noticable feature is its steeple: a shingled spire above a tile-covered belfry, both supported on a much older porch. It was the church steeple - but not this one - that gave rise to the village name.
A church certainly existed here in the Saxon era; there are even references to it from neighbouring villages. For example, Clopton and Abington Pigotts buried their dead at Steeple Morden despite having their own churches, with records of Clopton paying it "churchscot" and "soulscot" burial tithes. That information and evidence that the church was larger than a small settlement would require, suggest a superior Saxon "minster" church with a community of priests serving the surrounding area.
By the early 13th century, the (probably) timber-framed Saxon structure had been replaced by a stone one. It was at this point (by 1242) that the village is refered to as Steeple Morden. That steeple was in a dangerous state by 1600 and fell to the ground in 1625, damaging the nave and the chancel. A sign near the village pub refers to that catastrophe.
A likely story!
"Steeple Morden, Silly People, Sold the Bells and built the Steeple."
- from the Guilden Morden Parish website.
The nave was rebuilt quickly, but remaining work was delayed by disputes over who should pay for it and further postponed by the Civil War. It was not until the 1670's that matters were settled and work got underway. A new chancel was built and a spire and belfry were constructed over the existing south porch. However, further repairs were required 100 years later and two bells sold in 1772 to cover the costs. Yet more major work was completed between 1866 and 1869: the belfry was reconstructed - again; the south aisle was restored; and a new shorter chancel was completed.
The church is usually open to visitors and is worth a look inside. The interior has attracted some criticism for being "scrubbed and whitewashed to the point of sterility" but I find that rather harsh. Steeple Morden has a more modest story to tell than many, but its church has a rich and dramatic history of development, destruction, alteration, and preservation.
Steeple Morden, SS Peter and Paul - http://www.druidic.org/camchurch/churches/steeplemorden.htm
Steeple Morden: a potted history, D.A. Lundberg 1992. Available from The Friends of St Peter and St Paul church
Steeple Morden Church p1, Guilden Morden Parish Council website: http://www.guildenmorden.gov.uk/node/251
If anybody would like to expand this series please do, I would just ask that you could let Sadexploration know first so he can keep track of the Church numbers and names to avoid duplication.