CHESTERTON, or Cestretone (the settlement by the Roman town) derives its name from its proximity to the Roman town of Cambridge which was built around what we now know as Castle Hill. The Normans built a castle on this hill, which came within the parish boundary.
it is impossible to state when there was first a church in Chesterton. There is no mention of a church in the Domesday Inquest, but this is no proof that one did not exist; in fact the Domesday Book states that “a priest has one virgate of land.” It is probable that a church existed here in Norman times; we know the names of the Rectors from c.1200.
The Manor of Chesterton belonged to the King, and there was therefore no resident Lord of the Manor to give a lead to the village. The church was probably a subscription church, built by the effort of the villagers, like many other churches in East Anglia. The residents at that tine were chiefly villeins, or serfs, who worked for the Governor of the Castle.
In 1216, just before King John died, England seemed to be on the verge of civil war. To avoid this catastrophe the Pope sent to England as his legate, the Italian Cardinal Guala, to try to reconcile the contending parties, and pacify the Kingdom. His labours were successful, and on 8 November 1217, Henry III presented him, as a token of gratitude, with the church and living of Chesterton.
Cardinal Guala, of Vercelli, was a prominent figure in the history of his time. He was a member of a wealthy family in Vercelli (near Milan, in Northern Italy), and had already founded an abbey there. The abbey church he dedicated to St Andrew, to whom he was particularly devoted. He my have been responsible for the present dedication of our own church; but dedicating churches to St Andrew seems to have been a local fashion.
He presented Vercelli Abbey with his Chesterton property, and thus it came about that the Abbey became the Rector of this parish in 1218, and it held the benefice for over 200 years. A copy of Cardinal Guala’s portrait hangs on the wall of the South aisle.
On 18 November 1218, the Cardinal instituted the priest Adam of Wissenbeach (or Wisbech) as ‘perpetual vicar’ of Chesterton (the first such appointment by Guala), who was succeeded by Stephen Rampton, who is generally thought of as being the first vicar.
The church was rebuilt in cruciform design about 1250 in the style known as Early English, the first form of Gothic to become established in this country. Of this building there remains only a small section of the chancel arch and parts of the East windows of the two aisles.
About 1330 a general rebuilding of the nave and aisles was begun the extension to its present length of the South aisle, the extension of the North aisle to form three bays, followed by the addition of the West tower and steeple.
In the middle of the 14th century a house was built for the priest on orders from Vercelli. This building remains to this day and is now called Chesterton. Tower”, standing until several years ago in the present vicarage grounds, but now forming the centrepiece of a new housing development which bears its name. The Tower is of two storeys and, despite recent restoration, of considerable architectural interest. It is a rare survival of a dwelling for the representative in England of a foreign appropriator.
During the 15th century the chancel was rebuilt, the North aisle completed to its present length and the North porch and clerestory were added. (An account of the church in 1748 describes a South porch in addition to the North, but when this was built and when it was subsequently pulled down is not known, but it is likely that it was built at the same time as the North porch.)
The Canons of Vercelli seem to have found Chesterton a source of difficulty. As early as 1298 they had the King’s assent to a project of transferring the church and land to the Minoresses of Waterbeach this, however, was not carried through. Later, in 1347, plans were put forward to grant it to Denny Abbey (near Waterbeach), and similarly in 1391 and 1392 to New College, Oxford, but these, too, were abandoned. Eventually, in 1436, Henry VI with the aid of Pope Eugenius IV seized the advowson from the Abbot and Convent of Vercelli and gave it to King’s Hall, Cambridge (though this was not confirmed by the Bishop of Ely until 24 May 1450); thus two centuries of Italian ‘rule’ at Chesterton came to an end. King’s Hall later became Trinity College, which is the patron today.
Efforts were made, however, by the Abbey to obtain restitution of the church in subsequent reigns. In the year 1480 a recommendation was made by the Pope to Henry VII that the land should be restored to the Abbey, which, however, was not accepted. A letter dated 24 May 1558 was sent by the Duke of Savoy to Queen Mary. In it he recommended to the Queen “the two religious persons who bear this letter for aid in regaining a benefice of St Andrew in the Diocese of Ely which by Royal gift and consent of all the Barons of the realm and the Prelate of the diocese was perpetually united to the monastery of St Andrew in the city of Vercelli and possessed by it for more than two hundred years. They beg her protection’. The Queen, who was closely connected to the Duke by family ties, would no doubt have given full consideration to this appeal had not her death on the 17 November of the same year intervened. This put an end to the negotiations and with the change of policy in Elizabeth I’s reign they were never resumed.
A North vestry was built early in the 16th century (this was extended in 1934 to form two vestries). The chancel was restored in 1842 44, the spire in 1847 and a general restoration took place in the following years. A Cambridgeshire directory of 1851 mentions that the restoration of the South side of the church had just been completed (which possibly included the pulling down of the South porch). A further restoration of the exterior of the chancel, and the tower and spire was completed in 1968.
On 25 May 1668 Samuel Pepys visited Chesterton and wrote in his diary “…walked to Chesterton to see our old walk; and there into the Church, the bells ringing, and saw the place I used to sit in; and so to the ferry, and ferried over to the other side and walked with great pleasure, the river being mighty high by Barnwell Abbey; and so by Jesus College to the town…”
During the 18th century many of the vicars were Fellows of Trinity College, and as such lived in College. In 1803 Parliament passed an Act that insisted that all parish priests must reside in their own parishes. In c.1820 a vicarage was built on Church Street (now a private residence), since when all the vicars have lived in the parish.
Although the church has been restored considerably since it was first: built so that very little of the original building is left, it is wonderful to think that for 700 years our parish church has had a continuous existence and life.