THE PARISH OF LEIGHTON BUZZARD
ecclesiastical parish of Leighton Buzzard, historically, encompassed
a much larger area than just the town itself, and included the hamlets
of Billington, Eggington, Heath & Reach and Stanbridge. It was only
at the beginning of the 19th century that the hamlets were all made into
ecclesiastical parishes. The hamlets each have their own church or chapel.
In 1075 the Episcopal See was transferred from Dorchester
to Lincoln. In 1189, the Bishop of Lincoln, St. Hugh, converted
Leighton into a Prebendal Stall. As a result a Prebendary was
appointed for Leighton Buzzard, he was an officer of the cathedral
church of Lincoln and
he received income from a manor in the town ( see the history of Prebendal
In 1837 the Prebendal Stall was transferred to the Diocese
of Ely, and then subsequently transferred in 1914 to St. Albans. The
position having by this time become purely an honorary title.
here to see
a list of Prebendaries up to 1926.
In 1160, Robert de Chesney, Bishop of Lincoln, established
'Peculiar Parishes'. Peculiar parishes were areas within an archdeaconry,
but which were outside the jurisdiction of the archdeacon, and, generally,
the bishop as well.
Under Robert's seal all Prebends in the Church were perpetually
released from episcopal rights and exactions. Consequently, Leighton
Buzzard, became a Peculiar
In the 19th century
the Prebendary held his own visitations, duplicates of registers were
sent to the Prebendary, and the Peculiar Court proved all wills and
registered all places of worship. No marriage licences except those granted
by the Peculiar were deemed legal.
The Act of Parliament 1835/6, which constituted the Ecclesiastical
Commissioners, empowered them to abolish Peculiars, and the last
visitation of the Prebendary was in 1852.
Due to the work of Richard Gravesend, Bishop of
Lincoln, 1258 - 1280, Vicarages were established in the Pebendal Churches
attached to the stalls of Lincoln Cathedral. As a result, in 1277,
the prebendary of Leighton Buzzard, Nicholas de Heigham, endowed the
Vicarage of Leighton
with a portion of the income of the Church.
The meaning of the "Ordination" deed is effectively
for the appointment of a certain income for a person serving (vice)
in the place of the Prebendary i.e. his Vicarius. Three priests
had to be provided, namely a deacon for Leighton, one for Stanbridge,
however, the duties of the third is unclear, as Egginton and Billington
• Click here to
see a list of Vicars of Leighton Buzzard.
ALL SAINTS CHURCH
The church is located at the end of Church Square in the
heart of Leighton Buzzard, and because of its high steeple, can be seen
from many miles outside the town, and is the most prominant building on
the towns skyline.
The first recorded reference appears in the Domesday
book where it records that in the time of Edward the Confessor (1042
- 1066) it was in the hands of Bishop Wulfig, Bishop of Dorchester.
The building at that time was not the current building,
this was constructed toward the end of the 13th century, but instead
it was probably a much smaller Saxon building
The church is large, and of cruciform shape, with a central
tower and spire, and with a long chancel which is only slightly shorter
than the nave. The majority of the walls, tower, spire and nave arcading
date from the 13th century,
ground plan of
the church is basically
the same as it was at that time, except for some later additions, such
as porches and coffee shop etc.
The tower is approximately 9 metres (30 feet) square and
21 metres (69 feet) high. It is mainly constructed from local
sandstone with quoins of Tottenhoe stone, and the walls of rough masonry.
On the sides of the tower can be seen the traces of the older 13th
century high pitched roofs. In an 1818 drawing, the tower was shown
the current ones were added in 1842.
The spire is approximately 58 metres (191 feet) high, and
is constructed with a slight bulge (entasis) designed to make the tower
appear straight from a distance. It is constructed of oolitic limestone,
probably from Oxfordshire. In the year 1852 the spire was struck by
lightning and this necessitated the top 6 metres (20 feet) being rebuilt.
The majority of the walls have perpendicular battlements,
the principal exceptions being those of the south transept and the
gable ends of the chancel and of the parish office.
are 25 gargoyles around the outside of the church, dating from the
15th century. There are also five sundials fixed to
the outside of the church including one on the north transept wall
which only catches the sun soon after sunrise or just before sunset.
On the south side of the building are two seventeenth century
stone coffins. The lids of these coffins can actually be seen on the
inside of the church, on the south transept wall.
The west door is notable for its vast hinges, made by Thomas
of Leighton, a famous ironsmith of the 13th century, and responsible
for the Queen Eleanor Grille in Westminster Abbey.
The oldest part of the church is the Chancel. The sedilia
and piscinæ are Early English and indicate a construction date of
before 1288. There are two piscinæ and the most important of the
three sedilia seats is at the west end and is a step below the other
The chancel was unfortunately damaged in a major fire on
13 April 1985. Previous to this fire the window over the altar was
a traditional stained glass window, however, due to fire damage,
this was replaced with plain glass. The roof, which dates from the
15th century, also suffered from
stone corbels supporting the roof brackets have small bunches of foliage
carved on them, and are Victorian replacements. On top of the corbels
are statues of various saints.
The chancel is seperated from the crossing by the rood screen.
This is a good example of 15th century work. The lower part is relatively
perfect but the upper part has evidently been cut away and the beam
lowered. The screen has some interesting carvings, including dolphin-like
figures in the centre arch.
side of the chancel are 14th century stalls containing 27 misericords
(tip up seats with ledges for resting aginst when standing).
These have excellent carvings, including: fourteen with heads, six
of foliage, two heraldic birds, one with two men (or monkeys) fighting.
carvings of the remaining four have been destroyed. It is believed
that the misericords probably originated from monastic stalls at St
Albans Abbey. Fortunately, they survived the 1985 fire undamaged.
The wooden altar and altar rails are 17th century and are
of good workmanship, but the rails do show some signs of damage from
the 1985 fire.
reredos is a carved oak triptych designed by G. F. Bodley around
the turn of the 20th century. The central section consists of three
alabaster panels, the work of R. Bridgeman of Lichfield, and depict
the Crucifixion, St. Mary and St. John. The side sections are of
leather and have four angels embossed, richly coloured and lacquered
and are the work of Minnie King and Arthur Smallbones (members of the
Leighton Buzzard Handicraft Class for Cripples). All the panels have
finely carved oak canopies and bordered with a deep cut, vine pattern.
Most of the carving is the work of H. Wibberley, also a member of
the Leighton Buzzard Handicraft Class for Cripples.
The eagle lecturn, of oak, is believed to be the oldest
piece of carved woodwork in the church, and the
oldest of its type in the country. The base would appear to date from
the 13th century and the eagle from the 14th.
The nave arcades have four bays. The arches have a chamfered
moulding and are supported by octagonal pillars which have moulded
capitals and bases. Many of the bases were renewed in 1886.
The nave roof,
known as the 'angel roof', for its magnificent carvings of angels,
poised on the ends of alternate beams, is one of the church's finest
features. The roof was added in the 15th century, and
Alice de la Pole, Duchess of Suffolk. She was also responsible for
in the chancel and transepts. Although damaged during the fire of
1985, it has now been superbly restored. On each corbel are carved
figures representing various saints, and the carvings on the corbels
themselves represent various objects associated with the Passion.
All the windows in the nave are stained and are
the work of C. E. Kempe, a Victorian craftsman. They represent various
saints, and the most impressive, the great west window, depicts the
Saints George, Etheldreda, Michael, Hugh and Alban.
Constructed of red cedar, the pulpit is Jacobean and was
presented in 1638 to the church by Edward Wilkes (who was also the
the Almshouses in North Street).
backboard was defaced at some point and, subsequently, a rather poorer
added in its place.
The tower crossing suffered the most damage in the 1985
fire, and most of that which can be seen in this part is new. The altar
is of limestone, weighing 3.4 tonnes. The frontal, is of the twelve
aposltles, and is in gold thread, the work of Watts and Company
of London. The organ
was built in 1989 by Harrison & Harrison of Durham.
Directly above the crossing roof is the ringing chamber,
and above that the bell chamber. All ten bells had to be replaced after
the fire, and, in fact, the church now has a ring of 12 bells, by Taylors
of Loughborough, cast in the key of C sharp. The peal is ranked 21st
out of 92 peals, of twelve bells, in the world. One old, mediaeval,
bell was rescued from the fire, this was the bell called "Ting
to the sound that it makes. It is the oldest bell in the diocese, and
is now housed in the ringing room.
The north transept is screened from the crossing by folding
carved wooden doors. It is also now horizontally divided. The
lower floor is used as a meeting room, and an overflow for
extra large congregations. The upper floor is known as the Good Samaritan
Room, and is also used as a meeting room. A number of the memorials,
previously situated in other parts of the church, have been moved,
and can now be found in this room. The spiral staircase in the pillar,
at the east end of the transept, leads to the ringing room.
The lower level, of the north transept, contains a 14th
century piscina in the east wall, and combined with other architectural
both the north and south transepts, point to the fact that they were
both originally designed
to contain altars. A will of John
Esgoer of 1519,
to two altars in each transept.
south transept is now a Lady Chapel and Baptistry. It also has a Piscina
and fine trefoiled niche containing a statue of the
Blessed Virgin Mary and Child. It is thought that this niche would
originally been used to display relics, and this may have included
St Hugh of
Lincoln's tunic, which the clergy of Leighton Buzzard
Against the south wall is a single altar, which replaced
the two against the east wall from before the fire.
The font, which is now located in the south transept, is
Early English in design (circa 1240), and, as such, pre-dates the current
church. It was probably from the old church. It consists of a massive
bowl supported on a large central column, with four smaller ones. The
metal plug is of much later date (1630).
the church can be found medieval graffiti, or, scratchings, on the
pillars and walls. The scratchings include crosses,
pictures of birds, a kings head, a basilisk, coat of arms, inscriptions
etc. Perhaps the most famous of these is the Simnel scratching on the
south-west pier of the tower. It is approximately 1400, in date, and
its true meaning is unknown. However, local legend has it that it depicts
the old mid-lent story of Simon and Nellie and their cake. The story
goes, that it was Mothering Sunday, and Simon and Nellie wanted to
bake a special cake for their children, but being very poor they could
use a piece of dough and the remains of the Christmas pudding. They
then wrapped the pudding in the dough, but an argument ensued
as to whether
it should be "baked" or "boiled". Consequently, as shown in the scratching,
Nellie raised a wooden spoon to make her point, and Simon was poised
to throw the dough at Nellie. In the end they decided to boil the cake
first, and then to bake it afterwards. Thus was evolved the Sim-Nell
• Photo Gallery
of All Saints Church
ST. ANDREW'S CHURCH
church of St. Andrew's was a Chapel of Ease to the Parish Church of
All Saints. It was constructed in order to provide an Anglican
Church in the north end of the town. The site for the building was
on land provide by the Ecclesiastical Commisioners, and formed part
of the Prebendal Estate. It was located in what was known as North
End Lane (now called St. Andrew's Street). The building cost £3,805,
and was consecrated 11th July 1867. It consisted of a chancel, nave,
aisles, vestry and organ chamber, and had a tower and spire approximately
metres (110 feet) high. In 1904 a church room was built by public subscription.
church was constructed of a local sandstone from a quarry in Church Street.
Unfortunately, this turned out to be of poor quality,
being very soft. As a result, by 1964 the fabric of the church had
deterirated to such a degree that the church had to be closed on safety
grounds. In places birds had actually managed to peck holes clean through
The church was subsequently demolished, and a housing estate
has been built on the site. All that now remains standing are the
lych gates to the former churchyard, which now serve as a pedestrian entrance
from Church Street onto the housing estate.