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Article from Kettering Evening Telegraph dated 30 January 1997

850 Years on .. and still going strong

Church Tower and Manor
House showing restoration
of 1894

What do you do when your church tower begins to crack and the spire is in danger of crashing into the nave?

Why, dismantle them both, number each ancient stone, and rebuild them piece by piece, of course! That was what the people of Burton Latimer did when their beloved Church of St Mary the Virgin looked like falling down.

This year marks the church's 850th anniversary - a landmark it would not have reached had such drastic action not been taken in the 1860s.

Historian and former churchwarden Douglas Ashby said: "The building was in a very bad state. The 13th century tower was cracked in six places and the spire was in danger of collapsing.

"It was said the rebuilding was impossible and the stone had better be disposed of to mend the roads. However, the tower was seen to rise slowly up in its old place and the spire securely placed on it - very little new stone was needed."

St Mary's is one of the county's oldest and prettiest churches. The earliest recorded date is 1147 and there are considerable Norman remains from the 12th century.

The chancel dates from 1280 and mural paintings on the north wall, restored in 1933, from 1300. There are also fine Tudor and Elizabethan wall paintings, restored in 1972, and a surviving Elizabethan poor box from 1600.

The original Norman font was only discovered 70 years ago, forming part of a rockery in the old Rectory garden! This was moved into the north porch in 1957.

The renovations of the 1860s, which also included a new vestry, pulpit, and organ chamber, cost £4,000 (most raised locally).

The last major revamp took place from 1957 to 1972, when (among other work) main beams were replaced, old pews were removed, and a nave altar installed.

Today St Mary's, under the Rev John Simmons, remains very active, with its own women's fellowship, Churchmen's Group (formed in 1954), young people's club and pastoral support group. A number of special events are being held to mark the anniversary.

Rector with a host of treasures

The church's most influential minister this century was the late Rev Ronald Williamson Sharpley, rector of Burton Latimer from 1937 to 1967.

Mr Sharpley, who died in 1969 aged 71, played a large part in getting the restoration programme off the ground in 1957. New wrought iron gates for the churchyard were dedicated to his memory in 1972.

He came from the distinguished Lamplugh family and one of his ancestors was Archbishop of York during the reign of Charles II. He furnished the old rectory, demolished in 1971, with antiques, works of art, and other artefacts inherited from his uncle.

These included Nelson's shaving mirror, a lock of Bonnie Prince Charlie's hair in a silver casket, the diamond from Disraeli's Order of the Garter, and a tea service which once belonged to Madam Tussaud!

Restoration work was continued during the enthusiastic ministry of the Rev Derek Hole, rector from 1967 to 1973 and now Provost of Leicester.

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