As my car rolled up beside Friskney church that afternoon last July, it had been a dispiriting day. Church after church had been locked, over a year after the original COVID-19 closures. But Friskney was as welcoming as before, forty years since my previous visit, with doors wide open.

    From the outside, the church all looks Perpendicular; closer examination reveals a church of all the ages. The base of the tower is Norman, though the upper parts are 13th, then 15th century. The chancel and nave, including the clerestory, are substantially Perp., with a late mediaeval tie beam nave roof. The interior furnishings are uncommonly varied. Up in the chancel are notable 15th c. sedilia, not perhaps in their original form, and the Jacobean-style pulpit, complete with its original sounding-board, bears the date 1659 – not perhaps the time that you would have expected. At the back of the seating stands what looks like a sentry box, a graveside shelter (known in East Anglia as a ‘hudd’, aka hood), designed to protect a Georgian parson officiating at funerals from inclement weather. 

   The twentieth century produced significant contributions. A remarkable hanging rood group (1975) in front of the 15th century screen, by Frank Roper and George Pace, will stay in the memory. Several large paintings that hang from the walls of the nave, most strikingly that of the Epiphany, were executed between 1914 and 1924 by a Slade-trained vicar’s wife, Mrs May Cheales (1873-1964, née Claypon). But this remarkable lady was not just a talented artist. Bishop Edward King conducted her marriage to John Pacey Cheales, the Vicar of Friskney, whereupon she turned the Vicarage into a hotbed of activity. May Cheales organised visiting the sick people of the parish and took food to the poor; she founded and organised Scout, Guide, Cub and Brownie groups. She lived to the age of 92, by now wheelchair-bound. As December 1964 came in, she remarked to a visitor ‘I shall be home for Christmas’; on Sunday December 15th she went to Holy Communion in the morning and then Evening Prayer as usual, before going to sleep for the last time.


Map Reference:  TF 461554

Simon Cotton