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Church Post Code PE28 5AY

Open to visitors


Once upon a time, in long ago sepia tinted days; well late May 2013 to be exact, I visited the church of St Mary The Virgin at Leighton Bromswold. This was the first church visited on what was to be a five day cycling churchcrawl of the area.

Leighton is a very pleasant village which can be found ten miles to the west of Huntingdon. The population was 210 at the time of the 2011 census. The church of St Mary the Virgin stands on a quiet lane at the south east of the village. The beautifully named Sheep Street passes to the north east of the church. The village public house is in a timber framed 17th century cottage.

 It was quiet and peaceful here with Leighton classed on a Cambridgeshire Live report recently as being among the most isolated in Cambridgeshire.

It was getting on for 9am as I arrived at Leighton, the pinnacled tower coming in to view behind yellow fields of oilseed rape, with the sun starting to burn off a little early morning mist. It was going to be a hot day and I had scheduled a route which had turned the 20 miles journey to Chelveston, where I was to stop, in to one closer to 50.

The church here was closed to visitors that day; possibly due to my early arrival, and this was one that I always wanted to see inside. It was a mere nine and a half years wait before this finally got sorted out, with an early October revisit in 2022.


Personally the years had taken their toll; with recent attacks of covid and shingles not helping the energy levels; and this time I was dropped off at the church by a friend, and peddling a circuitous route back home on what was a gloriously sunny Saturday.

Before I mention the church here; a few words on the Justice Stone which can be seen just outside the north gate to the church grounds. This stone was repositioned to its current spot and originally would have stood to the south east of the church. It marked the site of the Moot Court of the Hundred of Leightonstone, where taxes were collected and where judgement was made on local legal issues.

There was no mention of a church here at the time of the Domesday Survey in 1086. The first church here dates from around 1250; consisting of an aisled nave with chancel. The chancel was rebuilt around 1310 and forty years or so later north and south transepts were added. Clerestories were added and the aisles were partially rebuilt towards the end of the 15th century.

By the end of the 16th century, the church here was in a ruinous condition. The chancel remained intact but most of the rest of the church had collapsed. Rebuilding was started in 1606. This work was stopped though due to lack of funds with work stopping for many years.


Rebuilding proper started up again in 1632, with the restoration being the work of Rev George Herbert. Herbert had local connections, being friends with Nicholas Ferrer who along with his brother set up a religious community at nearby Little Gidding.

The rebuilding was completed by 1634 but the tower is a slightly later addition, with this being built between 1640 and 1642, courtesy of James the Duke of Lennox. Herbert was to pass away in 1633, before the rebuilding had been completed.

The church here was re-ordered in 1870, after a report from two years previously detailed area of concern that needed addressing. There was further work here in the early 1900, at which time the bells were restored and rehung.

The decision was made in the 17th century to rebuild the church without aisles, with the rebuilt structure being cruciform in shape, and consisting of west tower, nave with north and south transepts, south porch and chancel. The rebuilt church is also without clerestories.

There are five bells in the ring here, with the first dates 1720; being cast by Thomas Eayre I of Kettering in 1720, This bell is inscribed ‘HIS Nazarenus Rex Fili Dei Miserere Mei’. This translates as Jesus of Nazareth King of the Jews Son of God have mercy on me’.

The other four of the ring were cast by Thomas Norris of the Stamford Bellfoundry in 1641. The fifth of the ring has inscribed on it ‘Esme, Catherine’ who were the names of the parents of James, Duke of Lennox, who paid for the tower to be built.

Walking through the Edwardian lychgate and approaching the church from the north west, the tower is of three stages, perpendicular, heavily buttressed, battlemented and pinnacled. The church clock faces out from the west. A close look at the exterior as a whole shows a few areas where the original stonework joins up to the stonework from the 17th century rebuilding.

This is a very pleasing church; and it is interesting to think what it must have been like in its dereliction prior to rebuilding.


Moving inside, I met and spent a little time with the man who unlocked. It was good to see him and to be told a few things about the history of the church, which I appreciated very much.

This church is famed for its 17th century wooden furnishings. There is a wide central space running up the nave, with the pews to the north and south being very short in length; almost as if they have been cut down in the past, which they appear not to have been. These date from 1630 – 1640. There are a few more modern benches of the same style, which have been made to fit in with the originals.

There are also benches in the north transept and stalls in the chancel which all date from that same period. Also dating from this period are the screens which separate chancel from nave.

There are two pulpits here; each again dating from the 1630’s rebuilding. The idea behind this was to show that there is equal importance given to preaching and prayers. The normal arrangement in the 17th century was to have a pulpit taller than the desk from which prayers were read. Here, prayers were read from the south pulpit and preaching was from the north pulpit, with each being identical in size.


The fine east window is of four lights and is of clear glass; with the only stained glass in the entire church being a small fragment in the south transept.

There is a double piscina on the south wall of the chancel, but no accompanying sedilia alongside and on the north wall opposite is an aumbry. The hand of the Victorian restorer can be seen in the floor tiles in the sanctuary.

As mentioned earlier, the original church here had north and south aisles and the remains of the most easterly pillars forming those arcades can still be seen behind the two pulpits.

There are two tombs in the north transept. The larger monument is to Sir Roger Tyrwitt who died in 1572 and his third wife Elizabeth. This monument is badly damaged with Sir Roger’s effigy missing one arm and both legs. His wife is more intact and has hands raised in prayer.

On the side panel that we can see, there is a depiction of a child along with two swaddled infants; the latter indicating that the two died very young, before their swaddling cloths were removed.

As well as the damage already mentioned, there is also some weathering on parts of this monument, such as facial features; and what we can possibly see here is the damage caused by the collapse of parts of the church and the time that the monument was exposed to the elements.

The other monument is the recumbent effigy of a woman. This monument is to Catherine D’Arcy, the fourth daughter of Sir Robert and Elizabeth; this monument dates from 1567 and is also damaged and weathered.

The north wall of the north transept, where these tombs can be seen is covered with poppies, which I imagine was left in place after a Remembrance Day service.


The church grounds are large and well maintained. A bench sits at the foot of the south wall of the tower; a very pleasant place to sit for a while. To be fair there in nothing of great importance or interest to be seen in the grounds here, and it looks as if there has been a substantial gravestone clearance here at some point.

It may have been October, but there was a little pleasant warmth in the sun as the morning wore on. My thoughts turned to my next church, arranged so that I took in a coffee morning at nearby Winwick. The prospects of a slab of chocolate cake were in the forefront of my mind as I left what may be an isolated; but also a very pleasant village. Well worth taking a look if you are around. The church is normally open from 10am.

All of the photographs on this page are from my October 2022 visit, with the exception of the two long distance shots at the foot of the page which came from that earlier visit.

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