Kettering's Oldest Building: The Church of St. Peter and St. Paul

April 9, 2021
by Sege Rosella

It probably won’t come as any surprise to hear that Kettering’s oldest building is in fact the Parish Church, or to call it by its formal name: The Church of St. Peter and St. Paul.

I’m told that the origins of this church can be traced as far back as the 8th or 9th century owing to the fact there’s a fragment of pre-Conquest cross shaft in the outer wall of the south aisle, and there’s also a Norman corbel in one of the window jambs. I tried to get a picture of this, but I didn’t have the time. It’s rare to find any church in the UK that has many remains dating from before the 14th century due to the extensive rebuilding that took place during the late mediaeval period.

The vast majority of the church’s fabric belongs to the middle or third quarter of the 15th century and is built in a style called Perpendicular Gothic. Gothic architecture had three main stages: Early English, Decorated, and Perpendicular, which was by far the longest of the three periods from the late 14th up until the early 16th century.

Kettering gothic arch

You can probably deduce from its name that the foremost characteristic of Perpendicular architecture is an emphasis on strong vertical lines. In the photos below you can see this quite clearly along with other key features such as the elaborate and ornate roof vaulting and buttresses.

What I find rather striking is that, at 180 ft (55m) the magnificent tower and the spire are of equal height. I say “striking” because it’s very hard to tell from looking up at it from ground level. This is probably to do with the parallax error you get in these situations. It is a lovely piece of architecture, though, with the buttresses carefully designed to follow the exact angle of the spire.

Whilst researching the Parish Church I was reading Tony Smith’s excellent book, Fred Moore’s Kettering, where I came across a great little story. “…the then Duke of Buccleuch said in passing to the rector, Canon Henry Lindsay (referring to the pews), ‘When are you going to clear out the old sheep pens from the church?’” This casual remark led to an extensive overhaul of the church that lasted from 1890 to 1892 for the total cost of £9,000, which in today’s money is about £1.06 million – not a small amount of cash back then (or in 2017 if I’m honest).

The work ended up being a complete overhaul and restoration of the church, including a new roof, floor, pews, clock and bells. You can see in the image below you can see seven of the eight bells that had been removed to be refurbished. I don’t even like to think how they got these bells up and down from the tower, long before cranes (and any safety gear) were a factor. The bells were replaced again in 2004 after a fundraising campaign raised the necessary £120,000.

This beautiful church has had pride of place in Kettering town centre for more than 500 years. Here’s to the next 500.