Resting in the valley of the village is a place called “The Nook”, where you will find St. Martin’s Church – Patron Saint of Cripples. St. Martin’s is a very unusual and beautiful building, octagonal in shape. There is only one other like it in the country, in Teignmouth, South Devon.
Joan Eyre built St. Martin’s in the 15th Century in thanksgiving for the safe return of her husband from Agincourt (1415). The present west doorway and windows were inserted in 1861. The normal shaped Church that stood there previously was destroyed by fire and in 1759 it was replaced by the new octagonal building. This shape is very interesting as all the pews face the centre of the Church. Originally there was a west gallery, which was removed in 1861, and a doorway in the south wall was built up. At the same time the roof was renewed, (no wonder we get a few leaks now and then!). The Organ was installed in 1903 and was in reasonably good condition, until a rather large leak in 2001, directly above the organ, flooded the organ pipes and it now has to be completely renovated. As a child I remember someone had to sit by the side of the Organ going red in the face pumping air in to it as that was the only way it would work in those days.
Over the years many things have been dedicated to the Church by parishioners, to make it what it is today. The villagers provided the beautiful East Window in the early part of the 20th century. A local craftsman, a woodcarver called Mr H Peters, designed and carved the Tower Screen in 1938. It was completed in 1952 thanks to the generosity of the people of Stoney Middleton.
Most people take great pride in St. Martins and give generously to keep the doors open. It is always beautifully kept inside and out, by the people who care. Fresh flowers adorn the altar and the comments left in the Visitors Book make it all worthwhile for those who give their time. It is a very popular Church for weddings as it has a lovely atmosphere for large or small gatherings.
St Martin’s has a reputation for people giving long service to its upkeep. One Church Warden had 60 years of service and when he retired the P.C.C. asked permission to hang a plaque in Church in his memory, only to be told by the hierarchy at the top “You will be asking next to put plaques up for Mrs Mops!” – Why not? Many years ago there was only one Church Warden and he had to do everything himself. When it came to ringing the bells (there were three) not one to be deterred he would put the third rope around his foot and ring all the three bells at the same time!
As every one knows we are always asking for help towards essential maintenance, but with money in short supply we have to think of the cheapest way of achieving this. The Church was in desperate need of redecoration but there was no money in the kitty. In 1989 the Vicar of the time was a very resourceful man, and not to be beaten came up with a plan. He borrowed some young men from the local remand home who were first time offenders, doing voluntary work. They worked for nothing and their only reward was endless supplies of tea and cakes provided by the ladies of the village. After a job well done, and a beautiful Church we all saw a different side to these young men, they had taken such a pride in their work, nothing was too much trouble for them. Later the boys’ families visited the Church to see their handiwork and were very proud of them, as were the people of Stoney Middleton.
Sadly in 1993 the Church was broken into and the tables and chairs were stolen. Part of our history was gone, never to be replaced.
As we go into the 21st Century things are changing in the Church but not always for the better, the prayer book has been rewritten not to everyone’s approval, yet some things do stay the same like the Christingle Service which is held every Christmas at St Martin’s.
We have a very special member of the congregation at St. Martins. It is a ginger cat who loves
to come into Church during the Service. He has been known to sit through PCC Meetings and
if he gets bored he goes to sleep. On one occasion he came into Church at a funeral and sat
beneath the coffin, it was very appropriate as the man was a great cat lover!
Twice a day someone must lock and unlock the Church for safekeeping. One night the keeper
of the keys locked up as usual but on returning home he had a nagging feeling about it so he
returned to the Church. Unlocking it again he went in and there sat an old gentleman quietly
saying his prayers totally unaware of the comings and goings of ‘the keeper of the key’!
We now come to the last chapter of our story which is the Well Dressings which take place each
year to thank God for the water no one can do without. These are beautiful pictures made out
of flower petals. It all begins with a square frame of wood covered with clay, a picture is drawn
into the clay, and then flower petals are pressed into it to form a picture, usually illustrating a beautiful biblical story. The completed pictures are displayed on The Nook by the wells where a service of thanksgiving is held. At night they are floodlit and community singing takes place.
On the Sunday of Well Dressing week the school children come to Church and bring posies of flowers, laying them on the floor in the centre of the Church to form a Cross. Afterwards the flowers are taken to the old and the sick in the village.
St Martin’s Church
Patron Saint of Cripples
St Martin’s ceiling by Simon Barnett