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St John the Baptist Church, Holywell-cum-Needingworth

The parish

The two villages of Holywell and Needingworth, lying a mile apart, form one civil and ecclesiastical parish and one ­village community. Holywell is the smaller settlement, located at the side of the River Ouse. An ancient Anglo-Saxon ring ­village of about 80 houses, it is a conservation area. Needingworth is the larger part of the parish, with over 900 households: the historic centre of the village grew up along the former St Ives–Ely road, now the High Street, and Church Street, leading to Holywell. Our thriving community supports three pubs and other local businesses, many voluntary and social groups, and a much-used village hall, home on Thursdays to Chatters Community Café. Both the village and the church benefit greatly from having our own village school,  Holywell Church of England Primary School.

The church

The parish church of St John the Baptist is situated at the western end of Holywell. There has been a church here since AD 990; the current building (Grade I listed) dates from about 1250 (the chancel) to early 16th century (the tower, which was brought from Ramsey Abbey and re-erected here). Most of the church is  of 14th-century construction. The church has undergone major renovations and repairs in recent years. In 2005–6 the church roof was restored, along with associated works, at a cost of approx. £300,000, about £90,000 of which came from local direct fund-raising and donations. In 2010–11 a new maintenance programme included complete rewiring, extensive repairs to the windows and plasterwork and the acquisition of a new sound system with a loop installation for the hard of hearing. In the south of the churchyard is the Holy Well from which the village takes its name, a site of pre-Christian worship and Christian pilgrimage in the Middle Ages; it is now enclosed by a Victorian structure. The parish is one of very few in southern England to hold a well-dressing festival, similar to those in Derbyshire, around the Feast of St John the Baptist (24th June). South of the church and holy well is the church’s Wild Garden, planted with native shrubs and wild flowers. Through it runs a stream issuing from the holy well; in former times this fed a watercress bed. The garden is intended as a place of tranquillity, wildlife-friendly and open for anyone to enjoy. A bench donated in 2010 by the local Women’s Institute enables visitors to sit and enjoy the peaceful surroundings.

Click here to download our church annual report for 2023

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