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We are fortunate in Melbourn to have a very lovely mediavel Parish Church with an enclosed churchyard, situated right in the centre of the village. There was almost certainly some form of building here in the Saxon period as Christianity came to the area in the 8th Century – but the present building was started during the mid 1200’s.

all Saints' 1865
All Saints’ Church taken c.1865*

The church is approached from the south via a broad path lined with flowering trees.

At the porch door, paths run to the east and west leading to kissing gates. Above the porch is a Parvis or priest’s room, in 1691 a local landowner William Ayloffe left money for the provision of free education for 40 boys and the Parvis Room was used as a schoolroom for over 100 years.

Entering the church by the south door, the font (dating from about 1130 and earlier than the present building) is on your left. It was originally square in shape but was cut to an octagonal in the 13th Century, possibly to stand against a pillar. It was moved to its present position in 1882. At the left is a narrow spiral stair to the Parvis Room.

Standing in the Nave you look up to the timbered roof with its gold bosses and carvings o Christ flanked by St. Peter (holding the keys to the Kingdom) and St Paul.

There is a very beautiful carved oak rood screen across the entrance to the Chancel given by Thomas Hitch in 1507. To the left is the organ and to the right is the Lady Chapel dating from about 1340 with an east window flanked byniches which must have held statues of the Virgin mary until Bishop Thomas Goodrich ordered the despoiling of the Lady Chapel during the reformation in the reign of Henry VIII.

The Chancel has two lancet windows in the north wall and one in the south wall, both are 13th Century. The large east window behind the altar is not original, probably being installed in 1487 when Bishop Alcock was at Ely. His rebus (a cock standing on a globe) can be seen in the roof above onec of the bosses and on aa a coat of arms at the end of a choir pew. Other armorial shields can also be seen in the choir.

At the Altar rail there is a 13th century door to the vestry on the left and on the right hand south wall there is a double piscina and aumbry (both 13th Century) above which can be seen an aumbry lamp and in the window the last remains of the medieval glass.

The aumbry is still used to hold the Blessed Sacrament for the benefit of the sick and dying.Behind the organ can be seen the remains of the stair to the rood loft which used to be above the chancel and was probably where the priest slept. Where the organ now stands was originally the Chapel of the Holy and Undivided Trinity, once the family chapel of the Argentines.

The tower was built towards the end of the 15th Century and curiously is out of line with the axis of the nave – this looks odd when looking down the Church from the altar, but was probably built off line due to the avoidance of earlier foundations. The tower arch has a 13th Century arch set upon responds of about 1500 – it is possible that the chancel arch was removed when the roof was raised and re-used in this position. The pretty west window is mid 14th Century.The tower has a tortuous circular leading to the ringing chamber and on up to the base of the steeple. It is worth the climb, for there is a wonderful view of Melbourn from the top. However due to the ever increasing encroaching of pigeons the area has been netted and can only be opened now on rare occasions. The rower looks spectacular when it is flood lit at night.

There is a strong history of bell ringing (the first bells installed in 1507) and now there is a fine peal of 8 bells which is regularly rung.

The Church came under attack a second time during the Commonwealth period when in 1642 William Dowsing was sent by parliament to remove all signs of Popery. His record states ‘March 14th, ordered 60 superstitious pictures, one of Christ, a cross on the Steeple and the steps to be taken away by William Browne’.

The Church has been in the Diocese of Ely since 1193 and in those days there would have been no pews and the floor would have been strewn with rushes. People would have stood for the Mass which was in Latin. In 1346 John Coke of Hauxton fled to the church at ‘Meldeburne’ and sought sanctuary until the coroner, Edward de Onyng arrived, when he admitted having stolen sheep at Shepreth and was made to foreswear the realm at the altar and was sent to Dover to exile. There must have been many more occasions when the Church was used as a sanctuary. After the reformation the service was conducted in English and pews were installed. On one of the front pews there is some 18th Century graffiti.

The Church is much loved by the present congregation and there is a fund raising group called ‘Supporters of All Saints’’ (S.O.A.S.), which has members from all denominations who support the fabric of this ancient and dignified building in the center of our village.

* from the Melbourn History collection