Warboys is a village on the edge of the Fens that has a remarkable Christian heritage and yet so quickly those who think they know better can abandon the truth with an astounding arrogance. Take for example the Parish church, not what many would identify as a typical village Anglican church that has had a genuine gospel focus with sound orthodox bible teaching. Within five years an incomer who thinks they know better has changed a vibrant young church into an old church with no vision and that is going nowhere.

How can this happen? Unfortunately it is all too easy, and it is a story repeated time and again in Anglican churches.

A very good friend and former Reader at Warboys Parish Church has stated on a number of occasions that in all of Huntingdonshire up the the late 1960’s and very early 1970’s there were only two places at which the gospel was preached and from where the bible was accepted as the word of God and preached. They were Warboys and Hemingford Grey. There may be some who disagree, but that was the reality. Even today Christians moving into the Huntingdon area find it very difficult to find a church with which they can identify.

Here we are going to look at the gospel, the good news’ the church and the examine any hope there might be.

At the same time in this remarkable village the Baptist Church retains a strong commitment to the gospel and the community and here we see the hope for the future of the gospel in our English villages.

There is also a Methodist Church in the village and the committed community that meet there and without a doubt it is one of the larger congregations in a village of it’s own circuit. I have to be completely upfront. However we can look at their commitment to their community and the gospel to see what lessons we can learn from them and compare them with others.

When we moved to the one of the first places we visited was the Baptist Church it was a church that as far as we were aware was the place locally we would most closely identified having spent come from a baptist church before we moved. We were well received and made some very good and long lasting friends. However we did notice that there were some differences with what we had known previously. A visit by the pastor soon revealed some of the causes of the issues. The church identified as Strict and Particular and e discovered that this accounted for the differences we had noticed. A key issue was membership and our understanding differs from that the church adopted and while our theology fitted well we decided that we needed to look elsewhere.

The Parish Church in Warboys had an evangelical minister Tony Coombes and while we were clearly not Anglicans we thought we did believe it is important to worship in a local church if at all possible. We found the church very different to anything we had previously experienced but the people loved the Lord and loved the bible. Tony Coombes was a good bible teacher and we were welcome, the major issue was that we had was only that we were 20 years younger than the next youngest meber of the congregation and the only young family in the church.

Let's start with the Baptist Church

Warboys Baptist Church has a very long history, here it is described for us in brief, notice how the account begins and ends with the faithfulness of God.

For over 300 years, God has been faithful to us. Here are a few highlights:

Early Days

In 1644, during the English Civil War, a chaplain from Cromwell's army, named Henry Denne, preached in the village. People were converted and he baptised these new believers - William Dunn, John Richards, John Ward, John Kidson and William Askew - and a church was formed. The first pastor was William Dunn. Those early believers would meet in each other's homes to worship. It's clear that close link were established with a church at Fenstanton, near St Ives. 

Hard times and a merging

For non-conformists, there were times of persecution in the late 1600s. In 1683, a minute from a church meeting reads; 'This year presents us with rumours of trouble abroad.' From 1700 onwards, times were more peaceful. In 1714, the church formally united with the believers at Fenstanton. Meetings would take place in both villages.

For a time, when the merged church met in Warboys, it used a cottage on Station Rd, which is still known as 'Chapel Cottage'. But in 1827, a more permanent place for the church was sought. They purchased a thatched barn from the Wesleyan Methodists. This is where the present church building is today. 

New Beginnings.

The church sort of started afresh in 1829. It became independent from Fenstanton. A new pastor came. The building was renovated and completed in 1831, using bricks from nearby Pingle Wood. In 1899 the current frontage of the building was completed at a cost of £1,140.

Schools, Baptisms and Books

In 1869 the church decided to establish a British School in Warboys. This was opened in 1870 and was given over to the government in 1902.

The Weir (village pond) began to be used for baptisms around this time. On April 6th, 1900, around 2000 people gathered for the baptisms of 9 believers. In 1933 a new baptistry was built - inside the building! - which is still used today. 

The history of the church is recorded in 'The Warboys Baptists', by Horace A Hyde, published in 1963, but out of print now. It contains fascinating insights into village and church life over the centuries. Perhaps one day we'll reprint and add the up to date news!

Faithful God

We look back, not to give glory to people, but to Jesus Christ, who is the builder of his church.

We look forward to Christ continuing to build his church in Warboys.

While they remain faithful to their gospel heritage and faithfully teach and proclaim they are also very active within the local community. The children ministry on a Friday evening is very ling standing and is very popular not only with the children, but it also provides good contacts with their parents. Christmas services see the church full, the summer barbecue is a great event enjoyed by many. The monthly coffee and cake mornings are extremely popular as is the lunch the the coffee morning people are privileged to enjoy. Regular visitors and there Truth to Transform bring good gospel teachers to support the work. Several good man have taught handled by example. Following Pastor Stone (of which more later, David Bugden a somewhat controversial figure and in every sense a Strict Baptist but sound gospel teacher, Mr Harmon, Peter Stead and currently Nigel Graham.

They minister to a faithful, and strong congregation all of whom are soundly gospel.

The Anglican Church has an interesting heritage, typical of many village churches but was wealthy church because of the land that it owned and the living (the payment to the Rector) has been identified as one of the largest in the C of E.

Parish Church History 

The original church was built around 1086 and was surrounded by a medieval village. Nothing remains of this building and the oldest part of the existing building dates from the 12th century.  The church was originally dedicated to the Virgin Mary, but this was later changed to St Mary Magdalene.  The current Parish Church is on the same site but is now on the edge of the village, the village no longer surrounds the church.

The earliest part of the current church was built during the 12th century—this church consisted of a chancel, the present nave and a north aisle.  From this Norman church only the chancel arch (see adjacent picture) and a small piece of walling in the south west corner of the nave have survived.  

Early in the 13th century the north aisle was rebuilt followed by the building of the south aisle.  During the mid 13th century the broach spire was built.  

During the 14th century the south aisle was extended (by the side of the tower) and a south porch added.  

The north aisle was extended (or rebuilt) in the 15th century when the north porch was added.  

Sometime before the 19th century the chancel was rebuilt and shortened but during the 19th century (1832) the chancel was extended eastward to its original length and considerably altered.  

At this time large galleries were erected in both north and south aisles and the tower, the floor being lowered a foot to give headroom under them.  Some walls were plastered, such as above the Norman arch.  The vestry at the end of the north aisle was created.  

In 1896 the spire was restored.  Look towards the tower from the east end of the nave to see a majestic arch and elegant lancet window.  

In 1926 the tower and south aisle were underpinned.  Also the changes of 1832 (apart from the chancel) were removed i.e. the plaster and galleries also the floor was restored to the former level.  You can see where the wooden joists were inserted in the piers.  It is interesting that one of the piers is octagonal while the rest are circular!   

The font is of the early 13th century, the square bowl is carved with crude foliage standing on one large and four smaller shafts mounted on the base.  The wooden cover also has an interesting background:  It was made during the restoration work of 1926 from old beams salvaged during the restoration work. The font was moved from the west end of the nave in July 2007 to it’s new position in the east end of the north aisle. Baptisms are no longer a separate service where people just gather round the font, it is now usually part of morning service and the new position enables most of the congregation to see the Baptism.

Church Bells: There are now six bells, the sixth one (the treble) being a recent addition (1953) in honour of our Queen. The original sixth bell was said to have been lost at sea, many years ago. Apart from the fact that the bells record that they were made by Joseph Eayre of St Neots, they have interesting inscriptions. The bells were hung and rung in 1765, and on them are recorded the names of the church wardens and rector of that time, namely, Edward Dring and Oliver Hills together with Allen Cowper, Rector. In addition, bell number two says: 'Cum voco nenite', bell number three says: 'Omnia fiant ad glorium Dei', bell number six (tenor) says: Ego sum vox c1amantis'. Translating with some licence the combined messages of the bells into one sentence, we might say, ‘I cry aloud with my voice, all praise to our glorious God’. The bells are regularly rung.

The organ, paid for by donations, was made by Messrs Harrison and Harrison of County Durham and installed in the east end of the north aisle in July 1901. In 1947 it was restored and enlarged. In July 2007 the organ was moved from the east end to the west end of the north aisle and it had a full refurbishment and tuning.

War Time:

During the second world war there was an airfield at Warboys. Many forces personnel who lost their lives are remembered in the church on plaques or in the Book of Remembrance. 156 Path Finder Squadron has a lasting association with the church. A stained glass window in the south aisle marks this period.

In 1946 a joint service took place in Warboys Parish Church a sermon was preached in German and English when 150 German prisoners-of-war marched from their camp worshipped with villagers. The POW  Lutheran Chaplain, Pastor Schroeder, of Old Hurst Camp read a translation prepared by the then Rector (Rev Nelson Trafford).

Other Aspects:

The church has a fine 12th century bronze knocker consisting of a lion’s face holding a ring of two dragons fighting although this is no longer fitted to the main church door.

The electrical switch gear at the east end of the north aisle has been boxed in using panels from the old pulpit.

At the east end of the north aisle is a bracket containing a 15th century lion. Look closely and you will find other gargoyles around the church (inside and outside the church).

A list of Rectors in charge of the church since the 12th century is on a plaque mounted on the organ.

There are two stained glass windows in the chancel (east wall and south wall). One in south aisle (already mentioned) and another in the south vestry.

In 2007 the traditional wooden pews were removed and replaced with upholstered chairs. This makes sitting more comfortable and enables a flexible use of the space. 

In 2010 new staging, carpets and a gas heating system to radiators were installed.

Though earlier years Warboys was rather high church in it’s theology Rev Hill, Rector until 1901 was good example in that he wanted his choir to be properly accommodated in an appropriate setting so he paid for the building of a new chancel with choir stalls to suit. It testifies to the wealth of the living that he paid for it out his own pocket! That chancel is what can be seen today, built of Warboys White Bricks and unlike the remainder of the church where the plaster was removed from the wall in 1926 the chancel walls are plastered. No doubt under the current facility system of the C of E the new chancel would never have been permitted. The new chancel replaced a much old and much smaller chancel and only a small remnant of what what was can be seen as the outline of the roof apex can still be seen on the outside of the nave wall.

Mr Hill was followed by a most influential man the Revd Serjeant. A solidly evangelical minister who no doubt very strongly influence by the former Bishop of Liverpool J C Ryle. Under his leadership the significant changes of the 1920’s were made giving the church a much more low church style. Under Mr Serjeant the bible was taught and the message of the gospel was heard. Generations of Warboys people were to ensue in which it could be said of them they were strong gospel mane and women. None of the ways of the high church Anglican was to be found here. Mr Serjeant died in post but his widow, the redoubtable Mrs Serjeant ensured the evangelical legacy of the church. Anglican churches have patrons and it is the right of the patron to present the minister of the living. Mrs Serjeant ensured the patronage of Warboys Church was past to the Church Society. This should ensure evangelical ministers for Warboys Church in perpetuity. Though the Society has continued to be influential, the creation of a group of which Warboys is but one has lessened the influence and given the Bishop a stronger hold on appointments.

Before his demise Revd Serjeant appointed a young man as his curate. Rev Nelson Trafford was both an imposing and inspiring man who continued strongly in the established tradition of bible teaching and scriptural authority. Generations of well taught bible believing Christians were to follow. This was strengthened in the share ministry of Nelson Trafford and Pastor Stone of the Baptist Church who shared a great deal of the ministry in the village, during Feast Week they would alternate for the privilege of preaching from the dodgems when the fair arrived at a village service the Sunday evening. This shared ministry had a lasting impact upon many in the village.

Nelson Trafford ministered in Warboys for over 40 years as both Curate and Rector.  Upon his retirement Revd Tony Coombe was appointed who followed in the established tradition of bible teachers and preachers, a fine man and a solid teacher he was a Godly man who continued encourage the Christians of the village. However things were to start to change and Warboys was grouped with the neighbouring village of Broughton where the parish church was traditionally very High Anglican. Following Tony Coombes move due to ill health Warboys was grouped with three other parishes Broughton, Wistow and Bury and things started to change. Bury and Wistow had become evangelical churches within recent memory under the ministries of Peter Ratcliffe and the Peter Cutting. However Warboys and Bury were growing villages and there were those moving to the villages that expected their church to be much more in keeping with what they had experienced elsewhere. Sadly a reflection of the C of E few if any of these came from Evangelical bible believing ministries. Some sought to bring about change, wanting, as one put it a normal village Anglican church. Those looking for more traditional church have found them last Ramsey and Somersham, but some have remained at Warboys and brought about changes much more to their liking. As a result each of the congregations has diminished significantly to be shows of their former selves. Congregations of 100+ now number significantly less than 30, and the bible teaching is watered down under the influences of the wider C of E.

The Methodists have a history in Warboys the current chapel was removed brick by brick from Ramsey Heights and changes have been made over the years to continue to give the build a contemporary feel. The building is used by a number of groups as well as the church itself.

© David Casey weband project management 2016