History of Freckenham St Andrew’s

Five thousand years ago in the Neolithic age what we now call Freckenham was surrounded on three sides by fenland, penetrable only by those with good local knowledge. The fourth side adjacent to where St Andrew’s now stands comprised defensive earthworks. Before Roman times the village was probably a quay on what is now the Lee Brook, the downstream extension of the River Kennett and a tributary of the Lark. A hoard of Iceni gold coins was discovered here in 1885 confirming the old settlement. They remain on display in the British Museum. Subsequent invasions by Angles, Saxons and Vikings led to changes but it is likely the village name derives from the Saxon Frecena “the home of strong men and warriors”. In 896 A.D. King Alfred donated the village to the Bishop of Rochester but it was lost by Ethelred the Unready in battle to the Viking Sweyn who had already sacked Norwich and burnt Thetford.

After the Norman invasion Freckenham was bestowed on the Conqueror’s half brother Odo but when he fell into disgrace it again passed to the Bishop of Rochester who built the present church in the 1190’s on a site already sacred for one thousand years. Prior to the Reformation the parish was sold to Sir Ralph Warren, twice Mayor of London and great grandfather to Oliver Cromwell. The draining of the Fens in the eighteenth century had a profound effect on the parish – it lost its trading activity but gained fertile farmland, a theme continuing today.

The chancel of the present church dates from 1196. The nave and north isle were added in about 1325 and the tower in about 1475. It collapsed in 1882 but was rebuilt in the same style. The church was substantially restored in 1866. Since 1760 it has been in the patronage of Peterhouse, the oldest college within Cambridge University.

A couple of surviving secular features in the village are the Beacon Mound across Church Lane from the Manor House, an early defensive earthwork, and the Pound by the double bend in Mildenhall Road where stray stock were impounded in years preceding the Enclosure Act.

The restoration managed by ecclesiastical architect George Street in 1867 produced the structure we see today. The altar is placed seven steps above the nave floor but there is no chancel arch. A pulpit of Caen stone was installed, the east window was glazed with Hardman stained glass and a softwood frame was made for the five bells cast in 1623, 1792 and 1809. The thatched roof was replaced by tiles.

Particular interesting internal features are the bench ends, and the alabaster relief of St Eligius, the little known patron saint of blacksmiths.