History of St Andrew’s Girton

What the church building looks like now

Centuries of Gothic

An alternative history of the church Centuries of Gothic is available here.

Graffiti 1646

A Longer History of St Andrew’s Church, Girton

by John Robson, 1996.


Christianity was probably introduced to the Saxon village of Greotton – ‘the settlement on the gravel’ – in the 8th century. During the 9th century the village is likely to have been influenced by the Danish invasions of East Anglia. By the 10th century Girton comprised three manors, and in the early 11th century the largest of these was acquired by the Abbey of Ramsey (founded in 969). If not already in existence, a church would almost certainly have been established at this time.

The oldest church artefact is a Saxon altar-stone, cut down in Norman times to make a coffin lid. This is now installed in the church as a side altar at the east end of the south aisle, having been discovered in the churchyard in 1951.

The oldest part of the existing building is the base of the west wall of the tower. This has been dated as 12th century or earlier, from the herringbone pattern of the courses of mortared pebbles.

The first known written reference to Girton church is in a Papal Bull of 1178, which validates the right of Ramsey Abbey to “Girton with its church and all its appurtances”. There is also a reference shortly afterwards in an Inquest of the Abbot, to the acquisition of land to support a rector.

From these beginnings, the church building was developed through the 13th, 14th and 15th centuries, and by the start of the 16th century its appearance was much the same as it is today nearly 500 years later a functioning village church of simple beauty and dignity



The church is located (at an elevation of 21m above sea level) at the end of a gravel spur extending northwards from the vicinity of Cambridge. The Saxon village may have been situated to the south of the church, but the centre of the medieval village developed to the west and north on the Ramsey manor lands sloping down to Washpit Brook.

The gravel, about 1.5m below ground level, provides an excellent foundation for the church building. However, as it is normally saturated, there is upward movement of moisture through the porous stone base of the building, causing general dampness.
In the absence of any local quarry stone, the walls, dating from Norman times, were constructed with local field stones bedded in lime-sand mortar.

For doorways, windows, quoins and other external masonry features, oolitic limestone was obtained from the Barnack quarries north of Peterborough. These were owned by the Abbey of Peterborough, with whom the Abbey of Ramsey had an arrangement to take stone. This had to be transported about 35 miles by boat, using the Car and Canute dykes to Ramsey mere, then the West Water to the original Ouse at Earith; then through the fen channels to the east of Willingham and Rampton. From here through the higher grounds only small boats would have been useable taking the small channel of Beck Brook through Westwick and up to Girton. Alternatively, animal transport may have been used from Rampton, as a road bridge is known to have existed at Westwick from early medieval times.

For internal columns and arches, clunch, a soft rock from the chalk deposits to the east of Cambridge, was more readily available. This too would have been transported by boat, using the lodes connecting into the east side of the Cam and then across Waterbeach fen (possibly using the Car dyke) round the northeast of Cottenham to Rampton, and then up Beck Brook.

Clunch is particularly susceptible to rising moisture, which then evaporates from the surface causing surface decay.

Until the end of the 15th century, thatch was used for the roof. Thereafter, lead and later some slate were employed.


According to the Domesday Survey of 1086, there were 35 families in Girton – a population of about 150. This community was served by a small church, the west wall of which now forms the lower part of the existing tower, with its distinct herringbone pattern of pebble courses. Its width was about 6.5m, as indicated by the quoins forming its northwest corner which remain clearly visible embedded in the tower wall. The line of its pitched roof and ridge point 8.5m above floor level, are also clearly visible. The eastward extent of the building cannot be determined, but from general proportions is unlikely to have exceeded 10m, and may have been somewhat less. The roof would have been thatched, as indicated by the relatively steep pitch (at about 40 degrees to the horizontal).

Outline 11 and 12


During this period the village prospered. According to the Hundred Rolls Survey in 1279, the population had risen to about 200. At the start of the 13th century, the rector had a holding of 20 acres and 2 crofts. By 1279 this had increased to 30 acres and a messuage.The first known name of a rector occurs about this time – Henry of Ramsey.

By 1240 the church had been named St Andrew’s. In 1298 there is an historical reference to a baptism in the church.

Christianity was now well established, and the church was the focus of village life. As such, space was needed for both religious and secular activities. With three daily services, communal worship, and the supervision of village affairs, the church would have been in constant use and the only substantial building in the village.

Outline 13 14


During the thirteenth century the church was enlarged, as indicated by a number of presently existing features. The north doorway (blocked up in the 20th century to form a boiler room), the south aisle west window (in the Early English style) and the piscena in the south wall at the east end of the south aisle, all date from this time. From these it may be deduced that the 13th century building followed the alignment of the present north and south aisle walls, with the west wall extending from the corner of the earlier church. The lower parts of the present walls (which are without buttresses or stringer courses) probably date from this time. This resulted in a rectangular building with external dimensions of19m by 13m.

S aisle W

The new building would have had a pitched roof, at an angle similar to that of the earlier building but with a higher ridge level of about 10m. This higher roof line was needed so that it came above the south aisle west window (and also corresponds with the known roof line in the 15th century). The roof would have been carried on a massive timber frame, supported internally on timber columns. Its appearance would have been like a large barn with a thatched roof and eaves 4m above floor level. However, because the original church had been sited along sloping ground with floor level corresponding to ground level on the north side, the floor on the south side of the widened building was about 0.5m below ground level.

Further features, dating from the early 14th century, are the south doorway (and possibly the existing timber door) and the west window of the north aisle (in the Decorated Gothic style). The nave west window and the font in its present position (at the centre of the earlier church) may also date from this time.

Internally the church would have been quite gloomy. To alleviate this, and for teaching purposes, there would have been bright paintings on the walls.

At the east end a chancel was built about this time, on the present alignment. This may he deduced from three existing features. The piscena on the south wall of the Sanctuary has been dated as 14th century. Externally on the east wall is a recess which may have been a ‘low side window’ (often wrongly termed a ‘lepers’ window’) which could have had a hinged opening for ringing a sanctus bell during Mass CO alert people outside. The third feature is the priest’s door in the south wall of the chancel which appears to predate the 15th century walls and Perpendicular style windows. The chancel would have had a thatched pitched roof, probably with a ridge about 6m above floor level and eaves just above the priest’s door arch.

Some idea of the furnishings of the church can be gleamed from information available about the associated chapel of St James at Howes (near present-day Bunkers Hill on the Cambridge-Godmanchester road). This is referred to in the Ely Register of 1277 which records an inventory of one missal, one chalice, one vestment, two towels, two phials, one censer, and an altar cloth. In the 1279 Hundred Rolls, there is a reference to John the Chaplain, with a freehold of 9 acres, and a croft next to Girton church which was let, the rent being paid to ‘the oratory at Howes’.

In 1340, Cambridgeshire was struck by serious drought and famine. Then between 1348 and 1351 the plague epidemic killed off a large part of the population. The extent of this disaster on Girton can be inferred from the situation in neighbouring Oakington where 35 out of 50 tenants on the Crowland Abbey manor died. Thus an era of rural life was brought to a drastic end. 

N aisle w



Following the disastrous Black Death, rural depression and unrest continued for many years. However Girton appears to have remained fairly settled and gradually recovered.
The addition of the church porch in about 1400 indicates that the village was prospering again by this time, the porch being needed for various secular affairs (business, legal and possibly marriage). Being on the south side, the porch was close to the centre of village activities including the cattle pound and pond.

The entrance arch mouldings are in the Late Decorated Gothic style. The east and west windows, in the Perpendicular style, may have been inserted at a later date. The niche above the entrance may also date from this period, but the present sculpture of St Andrew was placed in 1926. (The upper vestry room was not added until the late 15th or early 16th century, together with the outer corner buttresses.)

S Doorway Porch


William Sawtry, a King’s clerk, was Rector from 1324 and resident in Girton from 1354. From 1374 onwards there is a continuous record of rectors (see Appendix 1). It is noticeable that during the thirty-four years up to 1408 there were nine rectors, indicative of a fairly transient association with the village. But from 1408 onwards, rectors of substantial standing were appointed. John Gryssele held the incumbency for thirteen years. John Depyns was a canon of Lincoln Cathedral and an authority on civil law. He established the finances of the church on a sounder footing and a close connection between St Andrew’s and Cambridge University. Among his successors were: John Bothe (1454-57) who became the King’s secretary, a bishop, and Chancellor of the University in 1463; William Malster (1457-92); and William Stevyns (1492-97). Both Malster and Stevyns were licentiates in ecclesiastical law and canons, one of York and the other of Lincoln. All the 15th century rectors were pluralists and served by assistant curates and chaplains, although Malster was a member of a local family.

In John Depyns’ time (1421-54), it is recorded that the church had two altars, the smaller one being dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Both were well furnished with chalices, missals, vestments and all things required for services. There is also reference to the font, three crosses and seven standards.

The standards would have been for processions, and may have been related to Guilds. It is known that Girton had five Guilds: All Saints, Our Lady, Trinity, Corpus Christi and St Nicholas. These would have been associations of layfolk under particular patronage. They provided individual members with a good funeral and subsequent masses for their souls, and organised welfare schemes for poorer members. Each had special fasts and feast days, holding processions and services endowed with incense, bells and music, and perhaps occasional pageants and plays. Funds would have come from bequests and special collections.

With sophisticated clergy and active guilds there would have been an obvious desire to enhance the church, with its dark interior, great pitched ceiling, small windows, dampness and dust. There would have been an aspiration for a light modem building with a stone arcaded nave leading up to a high chancel and sanctuary. Fine buildings were to be seen being constructed close by in Cambridge, and the clergy at least would have been aware of the Perpendicular Gothic style and the plans for such great projects as the rebuilding of St Mary the Great and the start of King’s College Chapel. It is however interesting that the decision to rebuild the church in a humble village like Girton, probably predated these great projects.

It seems probable that rebuilding started during John Depyns’ incumbency. The first stage appears to have been undertaken within the existing walls and roof. It probably comprised the chancel at the east end, and the columns, arches and tower base at the west end. The style of the chancel arch is unusual, with pillars and capitals in the Perpendicular style but with an almost round arch. This is one of the dominant visual features of the present church. Also the arch is relatively low, (about 5.5m above nave floor level). Its shape and height would have been determined by the width and height of the old chancel. A spiral staircase was built within the south column of the chancel arch for access to the rood loft over the chancel screen. The entrance and exit to this staircase still exist, as well as the oak panels forming the lower part of the chancel screen.

At the west end of the nave, four columns support the tower. The transverse arch with a 5m span and 7m high apex, is the finest in the church. The columns are massive with semi-octagonal shafts on the transverse faces and semi-circular shafts on the longitudinal faces. Being located at the north and south wall-lines of the original church, the columns would have been constructed using the original foundations, set well into the gravel. The stone used for these columns and arches is Cambridgeshire clunch.

W end and Font


As mentioned above, the first stage rebuilding appears to have been undertaken within the existing roof. The evidence for this is the markings of the pitched roof-line on the faces of the upper walls above the chancel arch and the transverse tower arch at each end of the nave. These are still clearly visible, and can also been seen externally on the east end of the nave above the chancel roof.

The tower (6.5m x 5.5m in cross section) would have projected above the roof, probably to a height of 11.5m above floor level (corresponding to the stringer line half way up the present tower, at the ceiling level of the present clock room). This would have provided for a tower room with timber belfry and thatched roof above. Access was provided by a spiral staircase partially within the south-west column. A bell from this time, but now out of use having a broken boss, is in the present clock room. There would probably also have been a large timber cross on the roof-top.



The next stage of rebuilding probably followed on fairly quickly, comprising the nave arcade and clerestory; the aisle wall heightening and windows; and the nave roof.

The nave arcade extends from the west end on the same alignment as the tower columns. The arch under the tower and the next arch (centred on the axis of the north and south doors) each span 2.5m with apex height 4.8m. The next three arches each span 2.9m with the same apex height. All the stonework is clunch.

Above the nave arches are four clerestory windows in the early Perpendicular style, using Barnack stone. Externally they are particularly handsome with pleasing shape, each with a hood-moulding terminating with carved heads. Internally they are deeply recessed with poorly shaped plastered arches.

The aisle side walls were heightened to 5m above floor level (without buttresses), with three windows in each of the north and south walls, one to the west of the doorways, two to the east, and one on the east face of the each aisle. They are also in the early Perpendicular style using Barnack stone, and particularly beautiful viewed internally.

The nave roof spans 6m with a common rafter construction comprising five massive tie beams without king posts. The end of each beam is supported on a wall post resting on a simply carved corbel, and strengthened by a gently curved brace. The roof ridge is 10m above floor level (at the same height as the previous roof), adorned with nine finely carved bosses. The roof is timber panelled, and slated externally (but may have been leaded originally).

The old chancel may have been left undisturbed during the nave rebuilding, enabling Mass celebration to continue. Rebuilding is thought to have been undertaken about the end of the 15th century, being completed perhaps during the incumbency of Thomas Hutton. The design is modest in keeping with the rest of the church, the internal width being under 5m, and the roof ridge 6.4m above floor level. The foundation and wall construction appears to have been of poorer quality than elsewhere, with subsequent cracking and deterioration.

Each side had two fine Perpendicular style windows (those on the north side being blocked in during the 19th century). Each has three lights, matching the aisle windows but of different proportions. The east window has five lights divided into two sets by a transom. The overall dimensions are 2.8m by 3.5m, the apex being slightly above ceiling level.

The chancel roof is gently pitched, with rafters resting on large wall posts supported on handsome timber corbels. There are no tie beams, but the walls have outer buttresses. The ceiling is timber panelled, and the outer roof is leaded.

Also about this time, the tower would have been completed to its full height with four Perpendicular style belfry openings, and pyramid roof. According to a Commission appointed to make an inventory during the reign of Edward VI in 1549, “in the steeple there are three bells (and) one Sanctus bell”.

Finally the vestry over the south porch was constructed, probably in the early 16th century. Buttresses were added at the corners of the existing porch, and possibly the lower windows inserted on the sides. The upper room has three late Perpendicular windows, the one on the south face being particularly handsome with three lights. Inside on the east wall is an aperture which may have served as a small altar. Access was provided by a spiral staircase in the northwest corner, using external brickwork – the earliest brickwork in the church. The entrance from the south aisle has a tracery pediment. The battlements on the porch, the aisle walls and on the nave clerestory were added probably at this time (but not on the chancel or tower which are of later plastered brick-work with a different design of coping).

To commemorate the church rebuilding, brasses were installed in the floor of the chancel for William Malster (died 13 January 1492) and William Stevyns (died 2 March 1497).

Priests Door


Thomas Hutton, who was Rector from 1497, was followed by Thomas Hynde. It is known that Hynde was Rector by 1518 and continued to hold the incumbency until 1564 – an eventful period of at least 46 years. The Hynde family had considerable standing. Thomas’ brother, John Hynde, was Sergeant-at-Arms of the King’s Council and Recorder of Cambridge. By the 1520s he owned considerable property in Girton alongside the Ramsey and the Trumpington-Pigott manors, and prospered during the Reformation and impending major changes. It seems probable that Thomas was resident in Girton, but also had assistant curates.

At this period during the early decades of the 16th century, the recently re-built St Andrew’s would have been at its finest. The interior was now beautifully illuminated with the fine window lighting; the panels of the chancel screen were painted and gilded with eight full length figures of saints and bishops (as later recorded by William Cole in 1743); above the screen on the rood loft would have been large carvings of Christ on the Cross, the Virgin Mary and St John; and there would also have been paintings on the walls. Ornaments and vestments (as later recorded in 1549) included:

“One chalice with patens of sylver ornaments
one crosse clothe of silke
one cope of blue silke
one vestment of the same
one cope of yellow silk
one vestment with a white cross braunched with red velvet
two pairs of sensers of brass
one pyx of brass”.

Then in 1539 came the dissolution of the monasteries and the connection of over 500 years between Girton and the Abbey of Ramsey was severed.


Following the dissolution of the monasteries, Sir John Hynde purchased the Ramsey manor and the patronage of Girton church, so his brother Thomas Hynde continued as Rector.

In 1541 it had been enacted that “all images, relicks, table monuments of miracles, shrines… “ should be removed. In 1549 the Commission which prepared the Girton church inventory (referred to previously), decreed that only the chalice and blue silk cape and vestment should be used, the rest being lodged with four parishioners for safe keeping. The old Latin Mass was abolished, the Book of English Common Prayer was introduced, lay people received both the bread and the wine at Communion, and priests were allowed to marry.

In 1547, John Hynde also acquired the Trumpington-Piggott manor in Girton, including the patronage of St James’s chapel at Howes, thus effectively owning the whole of Girton. Between 1553 and 1558, during the reign of Queen Mary, Roman Catholicism was reintroduced, but Thomas Hynde continued as Rector. Following the accession of Queen Elizabeth, the revised Prayer Book came into use, including the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion and the service of Holy Communion.

In 1563 there were about 170 people living in Girton and still only 35 houses. In 1559 the Rector made a terrier for 24 acres of church lands held in the open fields. The rectory was then a substantial building with gardens, barns, workshop and an enclosed paddock. (It is likely that this was on the site of the later 18th century rectory on the west side of the High Street.)

During the Reformation most guilds were closed down, but in Girton the Guild of St Nicholas was still in existence in 1578 according to a bequest record. However, the church carried the main responsibility for care of the poor and needy. From 1572 a compulsory Poor Rate was levied. Collection and administration concerning the aged, infirm, orphans and unemployed, were the responsibility of the Churchwardens. The village also had a school and licensed schoolmaster. In 1576 a Visitation by the Bishop of Ely reported that “the quire and chancel of Girton church serveth for a school house, and there is a partition aloft made of boards between ye bodye of the church and ye chancel”. This was ordered to be taken down. It may indicate that the chancel had not been used for services for some time, and that the rood loft had been extended in some way, and may then have been demolished. 

The church may well have been neglected at this time, with the Rector absent for much of the time, affairs being left in the hands of assistants. The tradition of appointing senior members of the University to the Girton incumbency continued. Of particular note is Robert Soame (1573 to 1608), a moderate puritan. When appointed he was then Vice President of Queens’ College. In 1589 he became Master of Peterhouse and was the University Vice Chancellor in 1590. As such he would almost certainly have resided in Cambridge. (The church’s list of rectors shows Soame continuing until 1622. This seems very unlikely as by then he would have been extremely old. 1608, as stated in the Girton Historical Survey seems more probable.) Plurality was common, John Copley, Rector 1609-29, also held benefices in the Isle of Ely. 

During the 17th century, Girton appears to have followed the Anglican and Royalist traditions more than those of the Puritans and Parliamentarians. In 1617 and 1619 two new bells were installed. The 1617 bell is a F# pitch inscribed “JESUS SPEDEVS OMNIA FIANT AD GLORIAM DEI 1617”. The 1619 bell is a G# pitch, inscribed “NON CLAMOR LED AMOR CANTAT IN AURE DEI 1619”. The timber font cover with curving arches also dates from this period. 

The Rector from 1629 to 1656 was William Lyng, a resolute and determined High Churchman and follower of Archbishop Laud and Matthew Wren, Bishop of Ely. On a visitation in 1626, when he may have been a curate, it was decreed “that there shall be two decent assents of such height and breadth as shall be decided by Mr Lyng…”, presumably reference to altar steps; and a rail “…for railing of the Communion table, with two doors in the middle of the rail opening inwards”. Lyng was also a Royalist and in the Churchwardens’ Accounts for 1631 there is expenditure of £3.3.4 “to ye painter for setting up the King’s arms and painting ye church and sentences of scripture”. So the present arrangement of the altar steps, communion rail and royal arms all date back to the early 17th century. 

Then in 1638 there is reference the Bishop of Ely holding an Inquisition in each village of the diocese, giving close attention to church affairs and village life. Included in the findings at Girton were marital matters, hedges and “the church porch was to be repaired, ye windows unstoppt and ye ladder removed”. This indicates that the porch had fallen into disrepair.

During the Civil War, the church ran into many problems. In 1643, William Dowsing was authorised by Parliament to visit the parish churches throughout East Anglia and to level steps, destroy railings and deface superstitious pictures and popish inscriptions. The Girton Churchwardens’ Accounts for 1643 record: “Laid out for mending ye glass
windows ye soldiers broke £2.3.0″
. In 1644, William Lyng was reported
to an Inquisition as having:

“hindered workmen levelling steps, and the communion table back in the chancel”, and was accused of “praying towards the south, reading the Epistle and Gospel towards the west, and saying the Belief towards the east”. Also, “he would sit in the chancel (before sermon) until the Clerk came to fetch him out, to go before him to the pulpit, he following after in a proud majestic manner in his surplice and hood”.

Shortly afterwards he was ejected from the incumbency. Then in 1647 a complaint was lodged:

“that Mr Ling, the Rector, bath lately by combination with and encouragement of John Smee, William Collett the Elder, William Collett the Younger, James Gifford, William Richman and Anthony Wate, parishioners, endeavoured to intrude himself into the said parsonage house, and of the glebe thereunto belonging and hath taken on himself to officiate the cure thereof, and that he hath read the Book of Common Prayer abolished by Parliament, and published a Pamphlet pretending to be a Procklimation from the King against payment of titles to such as are put into sequestered livings by Authority of Parliament, and that he bath forbidden the parishioners from payment of their tithes unto the said Mr Wilson”

Apparently he succeeded in maintaining his position in Girton for some time but eventually was banished for the duration of the Commonwealth (1649-60), returning at the Restoration. However in the list of rectors, he is shown as rector until 1656 when Samuel Pettit was appointed jointly by Sir John Cotton and his wife Jane Hynde (who married in 1647).

There is reference in 1670 to the rectory “to the west of the junction of the High Street and Church Lane” with a 2 1/2 acre close. Presumably Church Lane then started at the High Street (at what is now Cambridge Road) running westwards up to the church and then turning southwards along the present Church Lane towards Duck End. This appears to confirm that this was the site of the rectory in the 16th century, and possibly from medieval times.

A third bell, a C# pitch, inscribed “CHRISTOPHER GRAPE MADE ME 167_” was installed, followed by a A# pitch inscribed “CHARLES NEWMAN MADE ME 1699”. This completed the present set of four bells, with the present frame dating from this time (but now too weak for the bells to be swung, only chiming being possible).

The existing oak chest also dates from this time or earlier.


DRAWN BY Revd Wm COLE c.1750

During the 18th century, no additions were made to the church building except possibly the tower battlements during the first half of the century. There is a record in 1725 of the Chancel being repaired. In 1743, the Rev. William Cole visited Girton and made a drawing of the church. Cole, a noted antiquarian, is reputed for his accuracy of detail. The drawing shows the church very much as it is today, with battlements on the nave, aisles, porch and tower, but not on the chancel. Marks of a previous gable roof against the south face of the tower just above the south aisle roof are shown. This may indicate a previous arrangement for the spiral staircase entrance into the tower room, the present external projection on the southwest corner not being depicted. The tower roof is of particular interest, showing a large cross, bell and weather cock. The bell would have been used to strike times of day. (This is the 15th century bell now sitting in the clock room.)

Between 1683 and 1800 there were only five rectors, but they were not necessarily always resident, and it was common for them to hold other livings and engage curates. They did however have important civil as well as religious duties in the village. Edmund Halfhyde (or Halfhead), 1723-40, also held Coton in plurality throughout his tenure at Girton, but resided in Girton, rebuilding the rectory at the junction of the High Street. This was a two storey building, still existing in the northern wing of the enlarged 19th century building. Jeremy Pemberton, Rector 17581800, is known to have served Girton in person but also had a curate, and lived from 1762 on his inherited manor at Trumpington. From 1790 his curate was Alexander Cotton (brother of Sir Charles Cotton) who at this time also held another living but lived at Girton for three quarters of the year. An expression of Jeremy Pemberton’s concern for the villages social and moral welfare, is his offer in 1780 of prizes for those village girls who were not already pregnant at the time of their marriage.

The earliest marked graves in the churchyard date from the latter period of the 18th century. They are all located close to the church on the south and east side. The oldest are next to the porch – Mary Howell (died 1777) and John Howell (died 1782). It seems to indicate that the southeast sector was the ancient graveyard, but the south boundary of the churchyard was then along the line of the old lime trees, not extending to the road as at the present time.

The gallery at the west end of the nave beneath the tower (which remained until about 1870) may have been constructed during the 18th century. The floor level is thought to have been just below the sill of the west window. Access was via the tower staircase, a doorway being inserted with a further two or three wooden steps up to the gallery floor. It may have extended forward about two metres – sufficient for three rows of benches.

W end nave 1996

The furnishings of the church would have been fairly simple. There would have been desks for the priest and assistants in the chancel, a pulpit on the north side of the chancel arch, box pews in the nave (marks on the pillars show where these were fixed) and benches. By the end of the century the population of Girton had increased to about 230, so the church would have been very crowded at main services with seating barely sufficient for the adults.

In 1800 the Rev. Thomas Fisher (of Holt, Norfolk) acquired the patronage of the church and held the incumbency himself until 1807 when the patronage reverted to the Cotton family. Thomas Fisher’s grave is located in the corner of the churchyard by the east window of the south aisle (marked by a stone block structure originally with a pinnacle). This indicates that he resided in Girton, and may have had family connections with the Cottons.

In 1807, Alexander Cotton, then aged 40 years, was appointed Rector of Girton. About this time, a clock was installed on the west face of the tower (facing towards the rectory in the High Street). The strike was attached to the bell on the roof of the tower.

Inside the church, the Royal Arms were repainted (sometime between 1801 and 1816) and still remain above the chancel arch. They depict the quarters: for England (two); Scotland; and Ireland; plus a central `pretence’ for Hanover (including Brunswick, Liineburgh, Westphalia, and the crown of Charlemagne).

Churchwardens’ Accounts from 1824 are lodged in the County Records Office (Shire Hall, Cambridge). The names of the Churchwardens (at this time leading village farmers) from 1825 are listed in Appendix 2.

In the late 1820s, Alexander Cotton greatly enlarged the rectory. The existing building was heightened to three storeys and a three storeyed south wing was added. Then in 1841 his daughter Anne Maria (later Mrs Richard Houblon) built a school adjacent to the churchyard and provided an endowment for a schoolmaster and upkeep. (This is now the Cotton Hall used for various church and village activities since ceasing to be used as the village school in 1951.) The Houblon grave is in the churchyard on the south side of the chancel.


In 1840 the main Cotton estates in Girton were sold off and the patronage of the church was acquired by the Rev. Thomas Coombe. Alexander Cotton continued as Rector until his death in 1846, as recorded in the marble memorial plaque in the chancel. Thomas Coombe held the incumbency himself from 1846 to 1848 and may have been resident, the family vault being in the churchyard on the north side of the chancel with entrance steps on the east side (now under the later vestry). The Coombe family were subsequent benefactors of the church (a memorial on the church organ commemorates the death of Fanny Coombe in 1925).

In 1850, the Rev. George Potticary acquired the church patronage and presented himself, continuing as Rector until 1883. However in 1863 he sold the patronage to the Rev. Alfred Peach who then ceded it in an exchange to the Bishop of Ely, from whom it passed to the Lord Chancellor in 1877.

George Potticary combined the roles of village priest and village squire with apparently close involvement in everything going on. In 1853 a major programme of repair and refurbishing of the church was carried out, as recorded on the large board mounted on the wall at the west end of the north aisle. A complete set of carved pine pews were installed on timber platforms in the nave, aisles and west end, which together with the gallery were sufficient to seat 250 (very closely packed). These are shown in a photograph taken in about 1900, and referred to on a plaque above the main south door (which records a grant for re-pewing and stipulates that 230 seats are to be reserved for use by “poorer inhabitants” and the seats and rows numbered). A new oak pulpit, lectern and reading desks were presented by the Rev. and Mrs Houblon. The pulpit was on the north side of the chancel arch (replacing the old one) but later moved to its present position on the south side.

Vestry Meeting minute books from 1849 are kept in the County Records Office. They are mainly concerned with the appointment of Churchwardens, land and charity finance matters.

In 1868 the present organ was purchased from the church of St Mary the Less in Cambridge and placed at the west end. Up to this time there had been a band in the gallery to provide church music and lead the singing.

Shortly after this time the gallery was removed. There was a strong choir (numbering 36 in 1885, and the first record of a paid organist in 1896).

In 1870, the vestry on the north side of the chancel was built. The external chancel walls were obviously in poor condition, and the windows on the north side were blocked up and the walls heavily rendered with mortar. The battlements on the chancel were probably added at this time, built in brick with mortar rendering – the coping and embrasure sides being quite different from the older battlements.

The stained glass in the east window of the chancel, depicting the life of St Andrew, was a gift of George Potticary in 1882 (this is recorded on a plaque now on the south wall of the sanctuary but originally above the altar beneath the window). The window was designed by the Rev. Charles Underwood (Rector of Histon 1863-97) and thought to have been made by Meyer of Munich.

George Potticary retired in 1883 and died in 1891. He is buried in the churchyard by the west corner of the porch, the grave being marked by a stone edifice originally surrounded by iron railings.

interior 19c


By 1900 the population of Girton had reached 500 with increasing responsibilities for the church. In 1896 the churchyard was extended on the south side from the line of old lime trees to the present boundary of Cambridge Road and the car park (then the village pond). The land was presented by Mr George Houblon to mark the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1897.

The last undertaking at the end of the century was the redecoration of the chancel in 1899. A photograph of the interior of the church at the end of the 19th century shows the pulpit on the north side and a curtained-off area at the east end of the north aisle, possibly used as a choir vestry. On the south side is the lectern adjacent to the column containing the rood staircase, painted with a heavy dado half way up. The wall plaster above the chancel arch appears to be in very poor condition. The altar table and oak reredos are as they were until 1995 when the reredos was moved into the vestry. On either side of the chancel are large raised pews and desks. The pews in the nave are those referred to earlier, installed in the middle of the 19th century. Lighting is provided by two lines of elegant hanging oil lamps.

A photograph of the church interior in 1910 was taken on the 6th May, when draped in mourning for the death of King Edward VII. The condition of the church looks to be much better than in the earlier photograph. The dado had been painted higher and continued round all the columns. In the third photograph the dado extends along the chancel walls at a height of about 2.5m with a decorated border along the top.

1910 1

Then on either side of the east window and the walls of the sanctuary there is a broadly stencilled floral pattern (the remains of which were visible when the limewash walls were cleaned for redecoration on 1995). This stencilled pattern is referred to in “County Churches of Cambridgeshire” by C.H. Evelyn-White, Rector of Rampton, published in 1911. He states that: “the chancel walls are partly stencilled with the lower portions tastelessly painted and plastered … the font lately barbarously covered with white enamel paint; and “the rood screen recently varnished and badly treated”. He also mentions “some old open seats” and the “old coffin stones much worn, of great interest forming the coping of the east churchyard wall”. The reference to the font is interesting. In the May 1910 photograph the shape of the Jacobean cover can be seen beneath the cloth cover, and in the third photograph the cover is removed (and these is no oak surround on top of the stone as at present).

Later in 1910, the organ was moved from the west end to the east end of the north aisle. (In the third photograph there appears to be timber panelling round this area.) To accommodate the organ, the pulpit was moved to its present position on the south side, making the access steps rather remote.

1910 2

The earliest photographs of the church exterior are two taken in the spring of 1904, one from the south-west and the other from the south. They show that all the walls were mortar rendered except for part of the south aisle where the mortared rubble is exposed. The south-west view shows the old clock on the west face of the tower, and iron railings along the road frontage (removed in 1940 for wartime iron, compensation being received). A new clock was installed in 1908, made by William Potts & Sons of Leeds. The face was placed on the south side of the tower and the strike transferred to the main bells within the belfry, the old clock bell being left on the roof. Also at this time in 1908, the main chiming bell (the 1617 F#) was recast by John Taylor & Co, Loughborough.

In 1910, shortly after the arrival of a new Rector, Robert Linton (1909 to 1921), a new rectory was built in Church Lane, replacing the old very large rectory in the High Street. At the start of the First World War in 1914, Girton was still a small village with only about 550 inhabitants. Nineteen were killed in action.

In 1915, a coke boiler and heating system were installed in the church, which must have been very beneficial against the constant problem of dampness. In 1921 electric lighting was installed.

1904 1

During the 1920s, substantial repairs, restoration and decoration were carried out, including a major programme between 1926 and 1928 paid for by the Coombe bequest fund. The tower and porch were strengthened, with steel tie-rods inserted. The mortar rendering on the nave and aisle walls was removed and the mortared rubble exposed and repointed. The statue of St Andrew was installed in the niche over the porch entrance, and a new weather-cock was placed on the tower. Also about this time the stone cross superimposed with a cross of St Andrew was placed on the east end of the nave battlements.

Internally, the organ was completely renovated and panelled, and new oak pews were installed in the nave and aisles. A memorial inscription on the organ commemorates the death of Fanny Coombe in 1925 and the restoration undertaken.

In 1936 the oldest pews were removed from the west end and replaced by two pairs of oak pews. In 1934, “the existing green painted dado was redecorated“, and between 1934 and 1938, oak choir stalls were installed in the chancel.

In 1936 a field on the north side of the churchyard was purchased for extension of the graveyard.

1904 2

In 1937 the Rev. Lewis Tucker became Rector, remaining for the next 20 years. By this time the population of Girton had exceeded 1000. There was considerable interest taken in the records and history of the church, and in 1947, three albums of annotated photographs of details of the church were assembled.

Between 1948 and 1951, another large programme of maintenance was undertaken. The interior was cleaned and redecorated with limewash (1948/49); major repairs to the organ were undertaken (1950); the churchyard wall was repaired and the row of ten poplars planted; and the whole of the mortar rendering on the east and south walls of the chancel was removed and the mortared rubble repointed (1950/51), greatly improving the appearance.

S Aisle E


To commemorate the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953, the stained glass window at the east end of the south aisle was commissioned. It was designed by L.C. Evetts of the University of Durham, and manufactured in Sunderland. It symbolised Christ’s Passion and Resurrection, and designed to harmonise with the medieval setting of the building. (The east window of Girton College chapel is by the same designer).

In 1986, the Rev. Tony Leighton, looking back over his period as Rector since 1961, wrote:

“On my first visit, the church was in the hands of builders and it is interesting to remember what has been done in 25 years: the whole roof has been renewed, including a substantially new support system in the chancel which has retained the original oak beams. Before that was done I recall embarrassing experiences when water poured through the roof, particularly at weddings! There is a new wooden floor throughout and also in the clock chamber; continuous attention to the external stonework; windows have been replaced and we plan to complete this work in 1986. Like our ancestors in every generation, I suspect, we have been concerned about rising damp in the walls. New furnishings have included an altar frontal, pulpit and lectern falls; we have removed the ancient stone altar to an appropriate place in the south aisle; we have a new altar rail and processional cross; aisle and sanctuary carpets have been replaced. The clock face has been repainted and a new weather vane fixed after the mysterious disappearance of the old one. Some of this work will last for generations but much will need attention again before the end of the century, reminding us that a church building is a ‘living’ thing into which each age pours its heart and skill. I sometimes wonder how many craftsmen have given their skill to our parish church during the 8 centuries of its history. I estimate that during the past 25 years £25,000 has been spent which if adjusted to today’s prices would amount to at least £100,000.”

Of particular importance was the replacement of glass in all the main windows (except east windows of the chancel and the south aisle) between 1982 and 1986. The existing lights were leaded mottled diagonals with a green tinged border (as remaining in the small west windows of the south and north aisles). These were replaced with rectangular clear leaded lights, greatly enhancing their beauty and the interior illumination.

In 1986, substantial repairs were made to the window on the south side of the chancel at the east end. Settlement at this corner of the chancel had been detected for some time. The window was well out of vertical, and substantially rebuilt.

The next major programme of restoration and redecoration was completed 1993 to 1995. Externally the roof of the south aisle was re-leaded, the tower roof re-slated and the parapets repaired, and repairs carried out on the other roofs. The south wall of the nave was repointed and a new stone surround provided for the clock face.

Internally decayed stone-work in the columns and window quoins was replaced, decayed soft-wood wainscot removed, and the whole interior cleaned and limewashed, including highlighting clunch detail which had been partially painted previously.

Consideration was also given to renovation of the vestry over the porch, but was not undertaken due to access difficulties, the old spiral staircase being too confined. Instead it was decided to build an extension to the church on the north side, connected via the old north doorway. It was decided to limit extent to avoid building over existing graves. The final plan was approved after a Consistory Court hearing in the church on 17 February 1996, comprising external access avoiding any steps to, facilitate wheelchair access, toilets, a small kitchen, boiler-room, storage, and a multipurpose room.

A decision was also made in 1996 to bring into use the field on the north side as a graveyard extension, suitably landscaped, the space in the old churchyard being fully filled up.

To procure funding for the 1990s programme of church restoration, church extension and churchyard extension, the Friends of St Andrew’s was established as a village-wide organisation. It exists to provide a focus for interest in the future use of the church for the benefit of all village residents.

Detailed plan


The Royal Coat of Arms: a description from our friend in the College of Arms:

Royal Arms in Girton Church

 ‘A necessity to revise the royal arms occurred in 1801 when the union with Ireland was effected. The arms of France were finally omitted and England was put in the first and fourth quarters, Scotland in the second and Ireland in the third; the shield of Hanover, surmounted by the Electoral bonnet, or cap of estate, was placed in the centre, overall. When Hanover became a kingdom in 1814, the crown of that kingdom was substituted for the bonnet.’ 

This is a quotation from The Kings & Queens of England by Sir George Bellow, Garter King of Arms. ‘So the Girton Royal Arms must be dated between 1801 and 1814 and is the coat of arms of George III.’

This historical account has been prepared to provide a background for these on-going activities, reaching back over a thousand years.


1374 Will de Sautre
1378 Walter de Rode
1378 Reginald de Braybrook
1379 Robert de Braybrook
1379 John Cochowe
1379 Walter Wodeward
1403 Will Stepy
1407 John Gryssele
1421 John Depyns
1454 John Bothe
1457 Will Malster
1492 Will Stevyns
1497 Thomas Hutton
1518 Thomas Hyndc
1564 Will Adamson
1573 Robert Soame
1622 John Cropley
1629 Will Lyng
1656 Samuel Pettit
1683 Will Hooke
1723 Edward Halfhyde
1740 Christopher Hatton
1756 Thomas Lipyeatt
1758 Jeremy Pemberton
1800 Thomas Fisher
1807 Ambrose Alexander Cotton
1846 Thomas Coombe
1848 Francis Tate
1850 George Brown Francis Potticary
1883 John Morris
1886 Robert Spedding Wilson
1895 Thomas Joseph Lawrence
1902 Henry Jordan Cheeseman
1909 Robert Mayor Linton
1921 Thomas Acheson Butcher
1924 Thomas Cecil Spurgin
1931 Philip Nathaniel Hitchen Palmer
1937 Lewis Gordon Tucker
1957 John Redmayne
1961 Anthony Hindess Leighton
1989 Robin Geoffrey James Mackintosh
2003 William Adams
2011 Mandy Maxwell
2020 Michael Bigg


1825 Richard Cockerton 
1835 Frederick Crick William Youngman
1843 Francis Westley William Youngman
1849 Charles Westley Charles Sanderson
1854 Berry Wayman Charles Sanderson
1861 Beryy Wayman George Westley
1862 George Wayman George Westley
1866 William Cockerton Richard Westley
1872 William Cockerton Charles Sanderson
1889 James Osborne Charles Sanderson
1893 James Osborne Joseph Proctor
1894 John Doggett Albert Farey
1896 John Doggett George Skeel
1898 George Gtitsell Theobald Searle
1900 George Skeel Theobald Searle
1902 John Doggett Theobald Searle
1915 John Doggett Edward Newton
1921 Barnard Newton Theobald Searle
1938 Frank Engledow Theobald Searle
1946 Frank Engledow Theebeirci—Seerrie6to-v5t
1951 Frank Engledow – Bonny
1958 Frank Engledow Charles Connolly
1969 Jock Pine Charles Connolly
1972 Jock Pine Keith Barber
1979 John Loder Keith Barber
1984 Peter Nancarrow Keith Barber
1986 Peter Nancarrow Margaret Robson
1990 Stanley Briggs Margaret Robson
1991 Stanley Briggs Jillinda Tiley

More recently:

1992Jillinda TileyStan Briggs
1993Jillinda TileyStan Briggs
1994Janet EvansStan Briggs
1995Janet EvansStan Briggs
1996Janet EvansStan Briggs
1997Janet EvansDon Absalom
1998Janet EvansDon Absalom
1999Nora RutherfordBill Orton
2000Nora RutherfordBill Orton
2001Nora RutherfordBill Orton
2002Nora RutherfordLorraine Perril
2003Nora RutherfordLorraine Perril
2004Chris BarrowLorraine Perril
2005Chris BarrowLorraine Perril
2006Chris BarrowAlastair Lorimer
2007Chris BarrowAlastair Lorimer
2008Alice FewAlastair Lorimer
2009Alice FewAlastair Lorimer
2010Alice FewAlastair Lorimer
2011Alice FewAlastair Lorimer
2012Alice FewRob Stone (6 months)
2013Alice FewSheila Hiley
2014James Barnard  (2 months)Sheila Hiley
2015Roger and Alice Few Penny de LaceySheila Hiley Wendy and Bruce Hunter
2016Roger and Alice Few Penny de LaceyRobin Bradford Wendy and Bruce Hunter
2017Robin Bradford Penny de LaceyWendy and Bruce Hunter
2018Robin BradfordWendy and Bruce Hunter
 2019   Robin Bradford Wendy and Bruce Hunter 
 2020    Robin BradfordWendy and Bruce Hunter 
 2021 Robin BradfordWendy and Bruce Hunter 
 2022 Wendy Hunter Bruce Hunter


  • Girton: An Historical Survey of a Cambridgeshire Village, edited by H.J.C. Bashford and R.R. Bolgar, 1951 (70, 79)
  • St Andrew’s Girton Churchyard. Monumental Inscriptions
  • The Castle Branch of the Townswomens Guild, Cambridge 1986-87
  • Victoria County History of Cambridgeshire
  • N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England and Cambridge
  • C. Taylor, The Cambridgeshire Landscape
  • C.H. Evelyn-White Country Churches of Cambridgeshire (1911)
  • A.R. Rabbula (Royal Commission on Historic Monuments)


This historical account of St Andrew’s Church, Girton brings together the information contained in the previous church booklet and the above references, particularly the Girton Historical Survey. To this has been added information from documents in the County Record Office and from personal observation.

Page last updated on Monday 16th January 2023 by Michael Bigg