Horbling is a Lincolnshire village, situated on the edge of the fens, just North of Billingborough. The origins of the parish are based on agriculture and it continues to be a farming community.
There has been a settlement here for many hundreds of years, as testified by the name: experts agree that this indicates a community which arrived here with the first wave of Anglo-Saxon invaders in the late fifth or early sixth century, following the departure of the Romans.
We have no record of when the first church was built, but by 1086, when the Domesday Book was compiled, the entry for Horbelinge lists a church (unlike our neighbours in Billingborough, who only had half a church!) and 2 mills, which were shared with the community at Harrowby. Whether that building constituted what we know to be the oldest parts of the present parish church dedicated to St. Andrew cannot be claimed with certainty; nevertheless, there is much structural evidence, both externally and internally, pointing to the building of a village church towards the end of the eleventh century.
It is a fine Grade 1 listed building with many interesting features, not least of which are the varying angles seen in the tower and some of the pillars. Much work was undertaken about 100 years ago to restrain these problems, which fortunately seems to have been successful.
The first thing that the visitor will see on entering the church is a fine octagonal medieval font, with carvings showing the Instruments of the Passion. Over the centuries, many hundreds of Horbling children have been baptized at this font, and some outsiders too, among whom was a future Archbishop of Canterbury, Michael Ramsey, in 1904. His grandfather, The Revd. Plumpton Stravenson Wilson, was priest of Horbling; his name can be found on the list which begins with Joscius of Bilingburg. His family dedicated the East Window to his memory.
One other name on that list is worthy of mention: Symon Bradstreete, rector of this parish 1596-1621. His son, also named Simon, was born in Horbling in 1603, and was no doubt baptized in St. Andrew’s font by his father. After education at Cambridge, he married the daughter of the steward of the Earl of Lincoln, who lived at Sempringham. He was, like his new wife, a Puritan, and decided to leave England to settle in the Colony of Massachusetts, which he did in 1630. There he prospered, eventually becoming Governor of the colony in 1679 and President of the Dominion of New England in 1689. His wife, Ann, was the first notable American poet, and the first woman to be published in Colonial America.
Like most ancient English village parish churches, Horbling St. Andrew’s is a mixture of architectural and decorative styles, reflecting changing tastes and fashion over a thousand years. There are still many surviving external structural signs that the present church was originally built in what is now called the Norman style: it is cruciform in shape, with a solid central tower to which further decoration was added some centuries later. On the western wall there are the remains of arcading that was removed to accommodate a new west window, and also the north and south chancel windows with their typical dog-tooth decoration. Inside the building there are the capitals on the alarmingly leaning columns of the crossing arches that provide the most striking spectacle on entering the church, and also the sedilia (seats for the priests) and piscina (the basin for washing the Mass vessels) both under unusual large round arches set in the south wall of the chancel.
The nave belongs to the next period of church architecture - Early English - and was constructed in the first half of the 13th century, perhaps when the first name recorded on the list of incumbents, Joscius of Bilingburg (Billingborough) in 1222, was priest. Presumably the existing nave was destroyed to make way for the new fabric. A quick glance at the columns of the north and south arcades show that there was no attempt at symmetry in the construction.
The final two styles of medieval ecclesiastical architecture - Decorated and Perpendicular - are also represented in St. Andrew’s: the former most noticeably in the north aisle and the window tracery of the north transept, the latter in the south aisle and the south transept window stone-work. On the outside, the addition of battlements to the nave and battlements and pinnacles to the tower are typical of the 15th century.
Note the Royal Coat of Arms above the entrance to the Chancel. These were placed above the chancel in all churches to indicate that the monarch was the Head of the Church.
Note the unusual sight of the Bell Ropes in the chancel. Our ringers in Horbling perform under the central tower, in full view of the congregation.
The churchwardens holding office in 1719, John Crosby and Thomas Thimbleby, had their names inscribed on the church bells which were hung that year. John Cragg gives particulars of the inscription in his diary in 1790. The bells have since been re-cast, the original five bells now being hung as six.
The peal of six bells, which are considered very fine are in regular use by both local and more distant campanologists.
The West Window
The fabric of St. Andrew’s has remained virtually untouched since the end of the Middle Ages; the church did not suffer any major Victorian make-over, unlike some churches in the area. There are however, the east end lancet widows and, most strikingly, the west end stained glass window showing the twelve disciples (St. Matthias having replaced Judas the traitor) together with St. Paul, St. John the Baptist and St. Barnabas. This very fine window was installed in 1854 by the Commissioners of the Black Sluice Drainage Board, in recognition of the 50 years service as Clerk given to the Board by Benjamin Smith, a native of Horbling, “a token of esteem for his public and private character”.
This is one of a number of interesting monuments in the church. On the north wall there is a brass plate to the memory of a local solicitor, Benjamin Wilkinson, informing us that he died in 1848 “from over application to business”.
The East Window
The East Window is dedicated to The Revd. Plumpton Stravenson Wilson, grandfather of Archbishop Michael Ramsey, and Vicar of Horbling from 1876 to 1909.
There are several monuments of interest as you walk up the Chancel towards the High Altar, where you will also see the sedilia and piscina.
Over the entrance to the Vestry the Hatchment to a member of the Brown family can be seen.
The Lady Chapel
The most notable monuments are to be found in the Lady Chapel in the north transept of the church.
On the west wall of the Lady Chapel is the monument to the memory of Edward Brown, who died in 1692. By the terms of his will, a considerable sum of money was bequeathed for the foundation of a school for 10 children from the village, together with £5 per year, to be paid quarterly, for the salary of a suitable man or woman to teach the children, in addition to living expenses. The school Edward Brown endowed still exists today in the village and bears his name. It is one of the oldest Primary foundations in the country. Edward Brown also left money to provide Christian reading matter as well as a fixed sum to pay for the apprenticeship of a boy from the village.
On the north wall of the Chapel there is a memorial tablet to another Edward Brown, a cousin perhaps, who died in 1731 and left the very generous sum of £200 as a donation towards Queen Anne’s Bounty, a fund set up by the crown to help the clergy in poorer parishes. It can be inferred therefore that in the 18th century the parish of Horbling was not a wealthy living.
The Easter Sepulchre
Also on the north wall of the Lady Chapel there is the front of a medieval tomb chest, although the recess behind is not in fact a tomb. It bears the arms of Sir Thomas de la Launde of Horbling who together with Sir Robert Wells, led a pro-Lancastrian uprising in Lincolnshire against King Edward IV during the Wars of the Roses, the culmination of which was the popularly named Battle of Losecoat Field just north of Stamford in 1470. After the King’s use of artillery the rebels panicked and fled, but the ringleaders were captured and Sir Thomas was executed in Grantham a week later. On the death of his son, also named Thomas, more than 30 years later, a sum of money was bequeathed for the setting up of a chantry in St. Andrew’s and for the payment to a priest to say Mass regularly for the soul of his rebel father. Above this tomb chest front there is a carving showing Christ, flanked by two figures, rising from his tomb. This is not thought to have any connection to what has just been described, and it may perhaps have been part of an Easter Sepulchre, originally placed near the main entrance to the church, examples of which are found in some other local churches.
We have two very special monuments in Horbling Church. The monument to Benjamin Wilkinson is situated in the North aisle just before you enter the Lady Chapel. The brass plate was designed by Pugin and made by Hardman.
The second Pugin monument is to be found in the Lady Chapel on the west wall. It is a monument to the Reverand Thomas Brown. This brass plate was also designed by Pugin and made by Hardman.