St Michael and All Angels, Highworth

Sharing Jesus through faithful worship, care for one another and effective outreach

St Leonard’s

Information for this article is taken with grateful thanks from a booklet by Brian Pearce in 2002. Which was researched from a book About Blunsdon by Richard Radway, written together with Mrs E M Levinge in 1976, and provided a good deal of information.

Welcome to the parish church of St Leonard in Broad Blunsdon. We hope that if you have time to visit you will enjoy looking round this church. It stands as a memorial to the vision and skill of earlier generations, and is  a reminder of the grandeur and love of God. Here the people of Blunsdon have worshipped God for more than 700  years. 

The church is built from local limestone, and consists of a nave, a south aisle, a chantry chapel - now the choir vestry - the chancel where the communion table and choir stalls are situated, the tower and the  vestry.The church is built from local limestone, and consists of a nave, a  south aisle, a chantry chapel - now the choir vestry - the chancel where the  communion table and choir stalls are situated, the tower and the vestry. 

You have entered the church through the south doorway and are standing in the south aisle, which is the original church, dating from the latter part of the 13th century. The main body of the church is of the 14th century and the tower was added in the 15th. In the Victorian period the church was heavily restored by Butterfield, but much of the original architecture remains.

Until 1867, St Leonard's, at that time being a very small parish, was administered by a curate from Highworth, the Revd Samuel Forbes Auchmuty. In that year he was appointed the first rector, and a large rectory was built for his use at the east end of the churchyard.

It was the Revd Auchmuty who initiated the restoration of the church in 1872, but he died before the work was started. The ancient coffer and box pews were taken away, the rood screen was moved to the entrance to the tower, and the Potenger Memorial was taken from the chancel wall and placed in the tower where it was largely unnoticed.

In 1998 repairs to the church were carried out and the roof tiles were replaced. The original roof tiles from quarries near Burford in Oxfordshire were re-used where possible, but the stone for the major part of the replacement tiles came from quarries in France.

The repairs were made possible by grants from English Heritage and the Historic Churches Trust, but a large amount of the money was raised by the people of Blunsdon, who bought tiles and dedicated them to family members. These dedications can be seen in the book which is kept in a cabinet near the lectern. The cabinet was built by Malcolm Hobday and the book was inscribed by Clive Moore, both of this village.

At this time the Potenger memorial was restored and moved to the north wall opposite the doorway.

St Leonard

Nothing is known for certain about St Leonard, to whom the church is dedicated. He is said to have been an early 6th century French nobleman, who became a hermit when he converted to Christianity. St Leonard took a particular interest in prisoners (hence the chains in his hand in the window and banner), and is once reputed to have saved the queen's life with prayer. A grateful king granted him the privilege of giving liberty to prisoners and he became their patron saint. He is commemorated on November 6th. 

On your left as you enter the church is the old oak communion table. This was rescued early in the last century, and is Jacobean. It bears the inscription, 'This God's board at which several generations have worshipped was replaced within the walls AD 1902'. Above this table is a stained glass window depicting St George and the dragon.
It is in memory of Eden Wyn Robeson (d.1931), only son of Revd Robeson, a former rector.

On the opposite side of the doorway is the village bier. This bears a brass plate stating that it was 'presented to the parishes of St Leonard and St Andrew in the coronation year of King George and Queen Mary, AD 1911.' The bier was rescued by Mr Gordon Ockwell and given back to the village in 1996. It was made by the local blacksmith and wheelwright in premises next to the church. 

The south aisle is separated from the nave by a series of four bays with circular piers, circular abaci and double chamfered arches dating from the late 131 century. The south window next to the doorway is original perpendicular and contains fragments of medieval stained glass found during the 1872 excavations.

The central window in the south wall is Victorian and is apparently situated where the original south doorway would have been. It belongs to the 1872 restoration and contains stained glass, 'I am the Good Shepherd and am known of Mine', a memorial to Henry Hinder (d.1898), given by his niece Sarah Munday.

The window at the eastern end of the south aisle, with its two pointed trefoil lights and a circle in plate tracery, is from the late 13th century. This small deep-set window now contains stained glass depicting Timothy and Saul which was placed there by 'children of the parish and friends' at Easter 1903.

At the east end, to the left of the entrance to choir vestry, is a piscina (a stone basin for carrying away water used for rinsing the chalice) so it is likely that there would have been a communion table nearby.

The choir vestry or chantry chapel contains two Victorian windows, the one at the east end having three panes of glass in memory of the first Rector, the Revd Auchmuty, who died in 1871.

The Chancel

The focal point of the church is the communion table in the chancel, used for the bread and wine in the service of Holy Communion. The coloured frontals vary with the seasons of the church year.

The east window above the table is from the 1872 restoration, but that in the north wall is of the perpendicular period and contains a stained glass representation of St Leonard. It was placed there in memory of Mrs Auchmuty, who died in 1897. Below this window is an interesting Glastonbury chair made from timbers recovered from the belfry in 1871, and presented by a Mr J Merrett. A brass wall plate nearby tells us that the Revd and Mrs Robeson had a stone cross placed on the chancel roof in memory of Archdeacon Robeson. In one corner is a banner depicting St Leonard, which was worked by Peter Watts and his mother Rose in 1998.

A treasure of St Leonard's not often seen is the memorial brass under the chancel carpet. This depicts a lady of the Hay dock family and her two daughters, dressed in the fashionable clothes of the yeoman's wife of their day - farthingales and ruffs with the familiar late Elizabethan cap headdresses. The daughters are shown dutifully kneeling. The brasses are in fine condition but although the Tudor roses at the corners are intact some of the inscription has been lost and now reads as follows: '.... 1608 of XI Day of...'

Other features of interest are the brass ceremonial cross and the telescopic communion rail of 1872. There are also several brass plates which remember people who have given service to the church, the most recent being in memory of Peter Holmes, choirmaster from 1971 to 1996 and still very much missed by the choir and congregation.

The Nave

At the east end of the nave is the other main focal point of the church, a fine Jacobean carved and panelled oak pulpit. The teaching and preaching of the Word of God, the Bible, was reinstated at the time of the Reformation in the 16th century, and a raised pulpit enabled the preacher to be seen and heard. 

The brass lectern (reading desk, from which the Bible is read) is of the late Victorian period. The two windows to the right of the blocked-in north doorway also date from this time. An ancient stoup (water-basin) in this former doorway makes an attractive niche for the flower arrangers. To the left is a good perpendicular window, which, like the one opposite, contains fragments of medieval glass. On the threshold of this former doorway, but only seen from the outside of the church, are the marks left by the many feet that once entered the church this way.

The perpendicular styled font is carved with Tudor roses in lozenge shaped carved sections. As in most churches, the font is near the door, symbolising entry into the family of God. It is quite large, since infants were originally dipped into the water, rather than sprinkled as they usually are today. Water for the baptisms was originally taken from the fern-lined well of Church Cottage, opposite the church. While you are by the font, look up at the nearby pillar. There is a small carved head of a monk on the north side.

The wooden pews were put in at the end of the nineteenth century but the kneelers were placed there a hundred years later. They were worked by members of the congregation and donated in memory of friends or family. The folding padded kneeler was put there by Mr Ebenezer Morse, for the use of his family early in the 20th century.

The hanging oil lamps were converted to electricity, but became redundant in 1998 when a new lighting system was installed.

At the west end of the nave, again under the carpet, is another memorial brass to Thomas Hay dock and his family, inscribed 1612. Thomas is depicted wearing armour, and there are two shields above bearing the arms of Elrington and Hay dock, and of Ernie and Haydock. The inscription below reads rather ominously, 'AS Y AR SO HAVE I BINE, AS I AM SO SHALL YOU BEE.' Beneath the inscription are two more figures of kneeling ladies.

Next to the Haydock brasses is a black marble slab bearing an inscription to Lady Susanna Ernie, who died in 1669, but the rest of the inscription is obscured by the heating system.

The Potenger Memorial

This fine monument is now situated on the north wall opposite the doorway. It was restored and moved to its present position in 1999, and at the same time a beautiful inscription by Mr Clive Moore giving a translation and explanation was placed by the side. The marble tablet is the work of Peter Schleemakers, an eminent 18th century sculptor, and shows two cherub's heads to the right and left, and one at the foot. Schleemakers came from Antwerp, but lived most of his life in England. He is noted for his memorial to William Shakespeare in Westminster Abbey.
Philadelphia Potenger was a member of the Ernie family who inherited the nearby Bury town estate in the 17th century. Her arms appear on the right of the shield at the top of the memorial. The arms of Potenger on the left passed down through the line of Bingham of Dorset and are still quartered by the Earls of Lucan.

The Tower

Like many churches, St Leonard's has a tower, which was added in the 15th century. It points upwards, reminding us that God is the creator and sustainer of the universe. Those who designed it want us to lift our hearts in worship, thanksgiving and prayer.

The entrance to the base of the tower is through a door in the 17th century carved oak screen. This has balusters and is surmounted by a carving cut from a block of solid oak. The screen was moved from the entrance to the chancel to its present position during the Victorian restoration.

The tower is perpendicular in style and outside the west doorway has an ogee arch with Tudor rose decoration in the spandrels. The ancient door has a massive wooden lock with an iron key to match but is no longer opened. The tower is surmounted by a balustrade and rainwater is discharged through gargoyles at the corners. 

There is now a peal of 8 bells, two treble bells having been cast on 21st June 2002 at the Whitechapel bell foundry. These were cast in memory of Walter Trueman, who was for many years the tower captain, and May Naylor, who was a long-standing member of the choir and whose family were bell-ringers at St Leonard's. The other six bells were re-cast and re-hung in the early part of the last century, but in 1997 the bell frame was found to be unsafe. A new frame was made by Nicholsons of Bridport in Dorset in 2002. The bells are now rung from a new first floor just below the west window.

The Churchyard

This is now closed to new burials and is maintained by the parish council. It contains a number of interesting tombs. At the west end of the church is that of Thomas and Caroline Plummer of Holdcroft House, dating from 1870. Nearby is a row of table tombs belonging to the Akermans. These have typical carvings of the late 18l or early 19th century and include a winged cherub's head, a girl standing by an urn on a pedestal, and a girl holding flowers by an urn. On the north side of the church near the vestry is the grade 2 listed Robert Litton tomb which has rebated corners with a decoration of husks, fluting and tendrils on the panel.

In the spring the churchyard has primroses, snowdrops and daffodils and is an absolute joy. It all adds to the charm of this lovely and peaceful church.