St Mary's Church is a building with a rich historical heritage.
The original structure dates back to circa 1250 and all the evidence points to there being an earlier Saxon Minster on the site, and quite possibly, a Roman church before that. The Church also has strong connections with the Lincolnshire rebellion of 1532 against the policies of King Henry VIII. The English Civil War, particularly the battle of nearby Wiinceby had repercussions at St. Mary's. In the battle, Cromwell was brought down from his horse by Sir Ingram Hopton. However, he managed to scramble free and escape death. Later in the battle Sir Ingram was himself killed. Afterwards it is understood that Cromwell arranged and paid for Sir Ingram's honourable burial at St. Mary's

A Tour of St Mary’s Horncastle



The church of St Mary Horncastle is a curious mixture of styles and, though the Victorian style predominates, much of the earlier work is still to be seen.


The different styles in the church are as follows:




Early English

(12th – 13th centuries)

Tower Arch

Lancet Windows in Tower

Nave Arcade



(Gothic style of 14th – 15th centuries

Nave Clerestory

North and South Chapels of Chancel


Victorian and Georgian

(18th and 19th centuries)

Chancel Arch

Nave Isles

East Window

Porches and Vestry Office


In the past the church has been caught up in momentous events.  Horncastle was one of the centres of the Lincolnshire Rebellion and a suit of armour in the church, formerly belonging to Sir Lionel Dymoke, was taken from the building and worn by a Philip Trotter at the head of the insurgents.  Unfortunately there has been no trace of the armour since that day in 1536.

The rebellion was put down ruthlessly by Henry VIII.  Many rebels were hanged for their involvement in the uprising; some were executed at Tyburn and some, we believe, were hanged at Hangman's Corner just opposite the present Town Hall.

Horncastle was also involved in the Civil War when the Battle of Winceby took place nearby in 1643.  After the battle, Sir Ingram Hopton, who was killed in the fray, was buried in this church.  Tradition has it that Oliver Cromwell saw the churchwardens personally to ensure that Sir Ingram received the honours he merited for his conduct during the battle.

Beginning at the main door, walk up the north aisle.  On the left is a list of past Rectors and Vicars (1).  This includes John of Langton who became Bishop of Chichester in 1305, Simon d’Islip who became Archbishop of Canterbury in 1349, John Rouceby – murdered 1388 and William Strickland – appointed Bishop of Carlisle in 1400.

A recent addition is the memorial to those who served in the Korean War, halfway up the aisle (2).  Then comes the carved wooden memorial to those who gave their lives in the two World Wars (3).  The bookstall was given by in memory of Rev A C F Davies.  At the very end of the Aisle is the brass to Sir Lionel Dymoke who died in 1519 (4).  He is clad in armour and kneels on a cushion.  A prayer scroll issues from him to a lost ‘Trinity’ plate.  The shields bear the crescent sign indicating his status as a second son.  At the base of the slab are plates showing his three daughters in their ‘kennel’ headdresses and his two stepsons with their purses.  Sir Lionel was knighted at the Siege of Tournai by King Henry VIII.  Very unusually, Sir Lionel is commemorated by two brasses for on the floor nearby he is depicted on a ‘shroud’ brass, but this is excessively worn (5) and it is difficult to picture its originasl appearance.  It is possible to lift the nearby carpet to view this brass.

Turnming towards the pulpit, notice the vigorously carved stone corbel (6).  This and the plain one on the other side of the chancel arch probably supported a rood screen which has long since disappeared.  The pulpit is a ‘modern’ acquisition in memory of a former M.P., Henry Haslam (7).

The Chancel

Turn left up the chancel steps through the present sanctuary.  Note the carved wooden screens between the chancel and side aisles.  These are medieval and originally separated this part of the church from its chantry chapels on either side (8).

You will walk over Jane Dymoke’s grave slab which used to be visible next to the choir stalls, but it is now hidden by the carpet (9), similarly so for the Heald family tomb slab.  Dr Thomas Lodington was Vicar of Horncastle from 1679 to 1724.  This is recorded on the gravestone, especially the forty-five years he was incumbent.  Unfortunately the slab is also covered by carpet and cannot be read easily (11).

Against the North wall is the striking blank and white marble monument to the Heald family (12).  On the south side opposite is the gravestone of the Lodington Family vault.  There are two rather fine Victorian candlesticks on the sanctuary steps.

From the high alter rails look to the north wall, about three feet from the floor you will see a small opening covered by a metal grill.  This is a ‘squint’ or ‘hagioscope’ (13).  Such openings are found in many churches but their purpose is obscure.  The usual reason given is that lepers and other outcasts could see the high altar but also kept at a distance.  As the wall originally formed part of the outside of the church this is a possibility.  Notice the blocked-up doorway close by which shows clearly how much the floor level was raised at the 1861 restoration.  The stained glass window is in memory of Canon W H Milner who was chiefly responsible for this church restoration.

South Chapel

Turning from the sanctuary go through the medieval screen into the side chapel area.  Note the carved detail on the archway.  Beneath the altar is the incised stone to Thomas Raithbeck and his wife who founded the Bede House in the 16th century (14).

On the south wall near to the altar rails is a large metal painted plaque to Thomas Gibson, Vicar of Horncastle, who was ill treated during the Civil War and deprived of his living until the 1660 restoration when the people joyfully welcomed his return (15).  The present plaque replaces the original which was painted directly on the plaster and we have no idea what type of lettering was used nor whether the present wording is faithful to that inscription.

The plain parish chest is kept in this part of the church (16).  It has three traditional locks; one for the parson and one each for the churchwardens.  The date 1621 is incised on the front but we do not know to whom the incised letters refer.

All the windows in this side chapel are examples of the perpendicular style.  The walls are of brick, similar to those used in Tattershall Castle, but have been rendered to harmonise with the rest of the church.

Above and around the arch which leads back into the church are the thirteen scythe blades (17).  Some are mounted on poles and it is p[possible that they were intended as weapons of war and not tools of husbandry.  They have been attributed to the Battle of Winceby in 1643, but as this was chiefly a vicious cavalry skirmish, it seems unlikely.  It is possible that they were used in the Lincolnshire Rebellion in 1536 but without any firm measure of certainty.  As there was a large Scythe Fair in the Town, possibly during the Horse Fair, they could refer to this event.  Carbon dating is not much use as that only gives as accuracy of 400 years or so.

Nave South Aisle

Moving on through the archway look behind you to the south side of the chancel arch.  Here, high up on the wall is a plain square stone inscribed with the names of Thomas Gibson, Vicar, and John Hamerton and John Goake, churchwardens, with the date 1673 (18).  This may refer to a restoration that took place after the Civil War or to the installation of box pews and the building of the balcony at the west to accommodate the ‘Band’ and the charity children.  Not a vestige of those box pews remains.

As you go down this aisle you walk over the blue stone in memory of Sarah Sellwood (19), niece of Sir John Franklin and mother of Emily who married Alfred Lord Tennyson, who eventually became Poet Laureate.  Sarah was only 28 when she died, and as the carpet covers the stone it shows how we gain in comfort we lose in close contact with so many of the interesting artefacts in the church.

If you look above to the ceiling in the south aisles there are many very handsomely carved bosses which were worked by local craftsmen under the guidance of Thomas Scrivener.  Thomas’s wife helped, as did well known carvers such as Richard Finn of Fulletby.  The boss at the end of the aisle bears the device of a castle and horn and is well worth searching out, as is the Stanhope shield on the other side of the church (24).

On the wall in the middle of the aisle is the funeral hatchment of Doctor Thomas Lodington, vicar of the parish 1679 to 1724 (20).

The left hand side of the canvas is painted with the Lodington arms of a golden lion above vertical blue and white stripes and the right hand side carries the arms of the Earle family, three scallop shells between a decorative white border.  Prudence Earle is probably not entitled to these arms – but that is another story.  The whole hatchment bears evidence of the haste in which it was painted.  At the base is a sombre Latin tag which translates to ‘Death is the way to life.’  Next to this hatchment is the one to Jane Dymoke (21) whose tombstone is also in the chancel (9) where she lies next to her father.  Different areas sometimes had differing approaches to hatchments.

The tradition usually observed was that the hatchment of the deceased was carried in the funeral procession from the house to the church, a substitute possibly for the armour that was one time carried.  Often the hatchment was placed above the doorway of the deceased and taken into the church after a year.  Churches which followed this tradition faithfully often have many hatchments in the local church.

Jane Dymoke bears two devices on her hatchment.  The two white lions are the Dymoke arms and the golden lion is from the Snoden family of which she was an heiress.  She was the wife of the Hon Charles Dymoke who was ‘champion’ at the coronation of William and Mary and secondly to Anne.  As ladie3s were not allowed to bear arms, her devices are depicted on a lozenge and not a shield.  She had no children and so the title of Champion went from her husband to his brother Lewis whose formidable visage may be seen on a marble monument at Scrivelsby.  A recently found copper plate that was from Jane’s coffin has been mounted on a wooden plaque and placed beneath this hatchment.

The font is of Caen stone and replaced the medieval one at the restoration.  This eventually was installed in Belchford church.  In the room at the base of the tower is a board listing the charities of former times.  Above the main door is a large wooden board that at one time was a reredos.  It pictures Moses and Aaron with the Ten Commandments.  It would look brilliant if the money could be found to clean it (25)!

On the wall above the font is the memorial canvas to Sir Ingram Hopton (24).  Traditionally he is said to have unseated Oliver Cromwell at the Battle of Winceby but was himself killed in the subsequent fighting.  The canvas was installed after the ‘Restoration’.  It was installed in his memory and is a blaze of colour and carries the cipher of Charles I as well as a crowded picture of the accoutrements of war.  The inscription describes Cromwell as the ‘Arch Rebel’ and gives the date of the Battle of Winceby as October 6th 1643 when the correct date was October 11th of that year.

Now stand just in front of the font and cast your eyes upwards to the nave roof.  This is probably the most distinguished feature of the church.  It is made of oak and has many and varied carved bosses.  Sharp eyes might find the carving of the ‘Man in Green’.  The angels which adorn the ends of the main beams are very fine and the marks of the adze may still be seen.  They are well worth study through binoculars.  Contemporary with the Tudor roof is the white stone clerestory which has interesting carvings on the exterior of the south side.

Although the arcades are a little squat, they must have presented a much more elegant aspect before the floor was raised by some two feet at the 1861 restoration to accommodate a central heating system.

Leaving the church by the main door, look at the exterior of the building and note how it is chiefly constructed of local green sandstone.  This is a material of little durability and the insertion of blocks of limestone and a variety of other stones and layered grouting testify to the poor quality of original stone.

Just around the corner of the porch is the grave, now neglected and vandalised, of Dr John Fawsett (26).  He lies with his family where little or no sun penetrates and formerly only outcasts and suicides were interred.  The practice of segregating people at their deaths was repugnant to him and he specially arranged for his own, and his family’s burial to be amongst those who had been less fortunate than himself.


The church was fully restored in 1861 and, though we must appreciate that it saved it from collapse, it is a pity that the job was done so thoroughly that much of the original detail was destroyed in the process.  We hope that the conservation and restoration we carry out today will preserve the richness of our church’s history while keeping it useful for its modern lifestyle.

Note:  There is much more that could be written about this wonderful old parish church but this little leaflet is not meant to be exhaustive.  For more detailed information, you should read J N Clarke’s booklet which may be seen at Horncastle library.