Linton in Pictures
A History of Linton
in Photographs
Available here

All sections of the Victorian Anglican Church came under the influence of the movement dedicated to the abolition of church pews and to opening up the churches to all classes of society. Richard Hurrell Froude, a fellow of Keeble College in Oxford was an early advocate of the abolition of private pews and pew rents. He was a leading founder of the Oxford Movement, and by the time he died in 1836 the Pew abolition movement was growing in strength.

A report by a Select Committee on Church Rates and Pew Rents in 1851 brought the abolition issue to the forefront of national debate. Supporters of abolition declared that it was a fundamental principle of the Gospel that no distinction should be made in the House of God between rich and poor. Disregard for this principle had proved to be most injurious to the cause of religion, and remained a great hindrance to the Church fulfilling her mission as a National Church.

Powerful pressure groups were established to lobby both individual parishes and the episcopate, in order to bring about total abolition. The resultant structural changes required large sums of money, and this accounts for the slow pace of change.

Two major national organisations campaigned for the abolition of pews: The Manchester Association for the Freedom of Worship founded in 1844 and The Free and Open Church Association established in 1856. This latter body was re-named the Church Reform League in 1895.

From the mid nineteenth century the terms, “free pews” and “free sittings” were in common usage, especially by the Anglo-Catholic Movement, within the Church of England. The need to abolish pews and beautify the interiors of often neglected Medieval Church buildings, was also acknowledged by the Evangelical wing of the Church.

Linton Church had been neglected over the centuries and the building was in a poor state of repair by the 1850’s. The Reverend Brett seems to have concentrated on the welfare of the poor, the reform of morals, the expansion of education and the enlargement of the congregation rather than repairing the fabric of the Church building. However, his successful preaching packed out the services and accentuated the already acute accommodation problems.

Overcrowding and neglect had been commented upon by local newspaper correspondents. In 1855 William Creaser of Linton wrote, “ Our Church ill becomes the Town. Blocked up arches, wooded mullions, discarded tracery, bricked up windows, sound destroying galleries and black repulsive pews are the leading features of our house of God. Common decency calls aloud for reform”. The Cambridge Independent Press added to these negative comments in 1859 and stated that accommodation in Linton Church was inadequate. Two families were reported to be monopolising seven pews and paper demanded that Churchwardens do something about the situation.

The newly appointed Linton vicar, the Reverend Edward Wilkinson came from Sudbury in 1859 and was determined to renovate the Church and remove the old pews and galleries. He was 37 years of age, a fellow of Christ’s College in Cambridge and resided with his wife at the Great House, the present day Linton House. It required a ten year battle before the vicar secured majority support in the small group of influential people who controlled the Linton Vestry. In 1866, Wilkinson’s position was strengthened when he became the Rural Dean of the Camps Deanery and the arrival in Linton of Doctor Ireland sealed his eventual victory. Dr. Ireland resided at the” Limes” in Horn Lane, present day Amherst and was a strong and persuasive advocate of reform.

On 22 July 1870 the Vestry voted by seven votes to six to petition the Chancellor of the Diocese of Ely for a Faculty to remodel the Church, at a cost of around £477. The Reverend Wilkinson was to pay for most of the alterations, and I assume that he received financial support from the National Association for Freedom of Worship.

The Vestry majority argued that“the Church was out of repair, unsightly and inadequate for the present congregation. There was an urgent need for increased accommodation since the pews covered areas of forty to sixty square feet and often only seated eight to twelve people. They were often completely empty and it was impossible to seat the vastly increased Church congregation”. It should be remembered that Linton’s population had virtually doubled to over 2,000 people in the period from 1800 to 1850. Wilkinson’s appointment as Local Treasurer of the National Association of the Freedom of Worship Movement in July, 1871 confirmed his importance in the national campaign for “freeing up churches for rich and poor alike”.

The Church Plan labelled “A” was drawn up Daniel Pitches Day, the main Linton builder and undertaker. He resided on the present day Paintin’s site. The plan shows the layout of the Church interior before Ely granted Wilkinson his Faculty.

The Church looked completely different from its present appearance. Breast high Pews dominated both Aisles, the Chancel and the south part of the Nave. There were a few “free” seats under the blocked up West Gallery and further seats for the poorer members of the congregation on the oaken benches in the north section of the Nave. There was additional seating in the West Gallery of 1791 and the North Gallery of 1832. The West Gallery was reached by a staircase leading from the South Porch side of the Church. The larger North Gallery was entered from a staircase located near the children’s seats beside the northern Porch.

The small finger organ was located in the West Gallery. The Royal Arms were displayed on the front of the West Gallery and there was a gilt clock face above the Gallery. The Tower base could only be entered from the outside of the Church via the West door. Inside the belfry area the town kept its small Napoleonic Fire Engine and leather fire buckets. The Font was placed close to the south Porch by the second arch of the north Aisle.

The greatest difference we would notice in the pre-1870 layout was the positioning of the Pulpit. There was a large three-decker Pulpit fixed to a huge pillar on the south side of the Nave. This location demonstrates the dominance of the sermon in Church services at this time. During the alterations the remains of a staircase was discovered in the pier itself. Repairs to this arcade also exposed the three Norman Clerestory roundels of an earlier building.

The Chancel Arch was filled with wooden boarding and some of these were inscribed with the Ten Commandments set out in gilt letters. The Screen had long gone. The Chancel itself was in a poor state of repair and the old wooden ceiling was partially filled in. Very little, if any of the present day wooden panelling surrounded the altar. Most of the present day Nave and Aisle Monuments were then fixed to the northern and western walls of the Chancel. The Sclater-Bacon Monument blocked much of the arch leading to the former Paris Chapel, at the eastern end of the south Aisle.

The Faculty sanctioned radical changes to this pre-1870 layout. The Church interior plan was changed and acquired an entirely new look, very similar to the appearance of our present Church. All the existing pews and seats were removed and replaced with chairs. The floors were made good using four thousand brick tiles purchased from Haverhill. At the west end of the Church the West Gallery was removed and the Royal Arms consigned to Daniel Day’s builder’s yard. The half arch by the Tower marks the point where the staircase was filled in, and the entrance to the base of the Tower was now opened up. The external door to the Tower was sealed up and only re-opened in 1904. The small organ was removed to the Millicent Chapel.

The Northern Gallery seems survived in the post-1870 Plan “B” because it was deemed to be impractical to remove this Gallery unless the Church was enlarged. The precise date of its removal is unclear, but probably took place in the late 1870’s or 1880’s when it became evident that Linton’s population was in rapid decline.The Font was relocated closer to the west end of the south Aisle.

The three decker pulpit ended up in the builder’s yard and its removal exposed the structural weaknesses of the huge pier it had been attached to. The old large arch at the east end of the Nave had to be replaced by two arches. These are not shown in Daniel Day’s proposed alterations in Plan “B ” since he had not envisaged the replacement of the large pier. If one views the two arches from the south aisle you can still see the wide curve of the old single arch in the plaster work. A new pulpit was built into the southern arch of the Chancel and two Desks were positioned on either side of the Chancel arch.

All the wooden boards were stripped from the Chancel arch and deposited in the builder’s yard. However, the rest of the Chancel was left untouched because Pembroke College, the Rectors of Linton were responsible for the upkeep of the Chancel. They were unable to come to an immediate agreement with the Rev. Wilkinson but agreed to contribute a further £200 to the general restoration if the Vicar accepted the plans of their architect. Eventually the Vestry agreed to Mr. Cory’s plans for the restoration of the Chancel and this work was completed in 1878 to 1879 during the Ministry of Wilkinson’s successor, the Rev. Herbert Hall.

The total cost of repairs to the Chancel and the Millicent Chapel was in the region of £552, and the final bill was largely met by the College. The new Master of Pembroke College in 1870 was John Power and he completely re-modelled the Old Court buildings of the College. The Master and Fellows were now more receptive to change and Linton Church benefited from this willingness to spend money.

The Chancel roof was repaired and the original open timbered roof exposed. All the windows were repaired and re-glazed. A handsome oak reredos was positioned across the whole of the eastern wall and wood from the old screen and pews was used in its construction. A new oak altar rail was also installed.

The Chancel contained numerous monuments placed high up on the inside wall arch and the lower sections of the northern wall. These were all re-positioned to other parts of the Church. The three Flack Monuments were relocated to the wall of the northern Aisle, and the Lone Monuments were fixed to the south wall of the base of the Tower. Some smaller Monuments were placed in the floor of the Millicent Chapel. The Sclater-Bacon Monument was moved to its present position in the south Aisle.

In 1879 a new organ was installed in the Millicent Chapel, completely obscuring the magnificent Millicent Memorial. Plans to re-position this on the wall of the north Aisle were abandoned. The priest’s door in the Chancel was unblocked during this restoration.

Changes to the window glass were largely completed whilst John Charles Longe was Vicar, from 1887 to 1905. He finally secured a Vicarage for Linton in 1896, the present day number 3 Church Lane.