Every year since 1994, September has seen Heritage Open Days in England and where possible, I have tried to use the opportunities to visit places which are not usually open to the public or to visit free of charge places which usually charge an entry fee. I knew that it would have to be different this year because of Covid-19 and when I looked online to find out what was happening in Shropshire I found an online lecture and a few churches. Now, you probably know that I like visiting an interesting church and as I haven't visited one since 23rd February, I got quite excited at the thought. I read through the list and chose St Leonard's Church at Linley, a redundant church which is now in the care of The Churches Conservation Trust and is described as a "secluded medieval delight". So, on Sunday 20th September the Best Beloved, his camera and I set off under a blue sky. It was the perfect day to be driving through the Shropshire countryside as the sun made the hedges glow like emeralds and the trees filtered the light to dappled shadows. We bowled along the B4373 and once we were in the vicinity I started looking out for an unmetalled track on the left - I needn't have worried, a very clear sign said, "St Leonard's Church, Linley" so we took the turning with confidence and drove along the track until it widened on both sides into an informal parking place. I got out of the car with my trusty 1968 Shropshire guidebook and walked up the slope to the church. I noticed that there was no graveyard and that the land in front of the church has become very overgrown, although some clearance work has been started. I hope it gets finished, it will make a great difference to the approach to the church. I also noticed a large yew tree which is probably hundreds of years old and I found some comfort in that: the world may have changed a lot since February but wherever there's an old church, there's usually an old yew tree. Plus ca change, as my mother says.
It is almost nine hundred years since this simple church was built. The tower was added a few decades later, at the end of the twelfth century, and as I looked up, I wondered who was in the stonemason's mind as he carved those grotesques. That made me smile. The pyramid roof which tops the tower was added in the first half of the nineteenth century and the east wall of the church was rebuilt in the second half of that century but the rest of the stones of this building sit where they were laid in the twelfth century. The arched doorway with its carved tympanum is typically Norman and I told the Best Beloved to mind his head as he entered the church as those typical Normans were shorter than we twenty-first century Elizabethans and that doorway is less than six feet high.
This is what we found inside. -
As usual, there was a Victorian "restoration". Those bloomin' Victorians! They enlarged the windows in the nave, rebuilt the east wall (I can forgive them that) and gave it a triple window, added a piscina in the sanctuary (in a Norman style - cheeky!), took out the old pews and refashioned them into panelling for the chancel, installed new pews, fitted new iron candleholders to the walls and tiled the floor. The stained glass in the new east windows was designed by William Warrington, who also designed windows for the cathedrals in Norwich and Ely, and the triptych behind the altar was installed in about 1870. The pulpit was brought to the church in 1948 from another church. This "restoration" work was begun in 1858 and I was intrigued to discover that the architect was London-based Arthur Blomfield, for whom Thomas Hardy later worked, and that Blomfield paid for the work himself. I wonder how that came about? I'm still working on it and I'll let you know if I find out. I do like the fact that Blomfield tiled the sanctuary floor with encaustic tiles made a few miles away in Ironbridge Gorge by Maw & Co. I can't help but feel that they would look even lovelier if somebody occasionally ran a mop over them!
Outside, we walked round to the north side of the church and found the other feature which makes this church a destination. Here is another Norman doorway, this one blocked up centuries ago, and over it is a tympanum which is clearly carved with a rather naughty figure which I have seen described as a grotesque animal with a human face, a demon, a Green Man and a sheela-na-gig. I shall leave it to you to decide for yourselves. Whatever it is, it's almost nine hundred years old and very well-preserved in this sheltered spot.
I am quite fascinated by these carvings, that such intricate work could be done with tools and technology which we would consider to be "basic". I wonder about the men who made them and how and why they designed them. I placed my index finger onto the side of the font and traced the groove of the carving, following the track made so long ago by a mason's chisel and imagining that I could feel the vibrations of the stone just as he did. St Leonard's is indeed a secluded medieval delight and a lovely place, perhaps because those ancient carvings have kept the nasty spirits away?
See you soon.
Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x