Autumn 2011 and a long weekend photographing some of the furthest flung churches in the south west corner of the catchment area of this site. It was a long cycle ride from my home village of Chesterton to my first point of call, which was the church of St Mary at Leighton Bromswold. According to Google Maps it was nearly 16 miles...but it felt like much more as most of that had been in to a strong wind.
Approaching from the north, the church of St Mary looked very attractive in the morning mist. The church here has had a chequered past to say the least. There was no church mentioned here at the time of the Domesday Survey in 1086, but there is thought to have been a basic structure of chancel and aisled nave built around 1250. The chancel was rebuilt around 1310 and work was undertaken regularly throughout the years. However, by the early years of the 17th century, ther church was in very poor condition and in 1606 rebuilding was started. The work, however, was stopped for lack of funds, and for twenty years the church was 'so decayed, so little, and so useless, that the parishioners could not meet to perform their duty to God in public prayer and praises.' The roofs had fallen in, and the tower was in ruins as were the upper courses of the walls. It is thought that the situation was so bad that some services were held in a barn owned by the Duke Of Lennox.
Shortly after 1626, the Rev. George Herbert completed the work by pulling down the north arcade and aisle and building the north porch. He reroofed the whole church and put in a pulpit, reading desk, screens and seating. The west tower was built by the Duke of Lennox in 1634.
The re-building work was a massive undertaking with, at one point, 18 masons and 10 carpenters at work. Much of the financial support for this project was given by Revd Herbert himself, with the rebuilding being supervised by John Ferrar, the brother of Nicholas Ferrar, who founded his famous Christian community two miles away at Little Gidding.
Five bells hang here, with four of these being cast by Thomas Norris at the Stamford Bellfoundry in 1641. Three of these bells are inscribed "ABCDE FGHIKL MNOPQR. Thomas Norris made mee 1641" whilst the fourth is inscribed "Esme Catherina" She was the mother of James, Duke of Lennox.
The other bell is dated 1720 and was cast by Thomas Eayre of Kettering. I am not sure if this was a completely new bell, or if this was a re-casting of another bell by Norris. This bell is inscribed with the name George Woolf, the Vicar of the day, and also features the name I Michel, who was the churchwarden of the day.
There is a story, which may just be an urban (or in this case rural) legend, which says that at one point in history the neighbouring parish of Buckworth refused to bury the body of a person who was found in their parish. Leighton interred the person, and claimed a church bell from Buckworth in payment!
When I visited the church was locked to visitors. The church grounds are well kept, and looked very attractive with the Autumn colours starting to take hold. It looks as if there had been a substantial graveyard clearence at some point as there was very little there of any real age, with a few Georgian stones being very worn.
As with just about every other village in this picturesque area, the church is surrounded by beautiful cottages. To the north of the church there is a small green with a large stone on it. This is the Leightonstone and was used a thousand years ago. The Leightonstone was the ancient marker where may years ago the Moot Court of the Hundred of Leightonstone once gathered to collect taxes and cast judgement of many local issues that were within the jurisdiction of the court.
These Moot Courts were held in the open air and it is thought that the judge or elder presiding either sat or stood on the stone, probably both.
A beautiful church in a delightful village, in a picturesque part of the country. It was good to visit here. The very fact that this church is still standing is due to a few people who refused to let this house of God die.
Back on the cycle and off to neighbouring Winwick, whch I had also seen shrounded in mist across the fields when approaching Leighton. Well worth a look if you are in the area.