St Leonard's Church

In about 1160, a stone church was built here, of which the greater part of the chancel with the chancel arch remains, and the south doorway which has been reset in the wall of the south aisle. In the 13th century, the chancel was lengthened, the nave rebuilt with a south arcade and a south aisle. In about 1500, the north arcade and aisle were added. Towards the end of the 16th century, the tower was added. The church was restored in 1859.  

© Copyright Eirian Evans and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence


The Revd. Annette Reed
The Vicarage, 24 St James Road, Little Paxton, St Neots, PE19 6HA

Tel:- (01480) 211048

Links for History of Church:

British listed buildings

British history

 A longer history of the Church was written in 1989 as follows:-


During the Middle Ages St Leonard was greatly revered in France, England and Germany, but nothing certain is known about him.  He may have been a hermit who founded a monastery at Noblac (now St Leonard) near Limoges in the XI Century.  Doubtless his popularity was due to the very large number of miracles and aids attributed to his intercession, and to the enthusiasm of returning crusaders, who looked on him as the patron saint of prisoners.


The original church was built in the XII Century, but since then there have been extensions and alterations.  In the XIII Century the nave was restored and the chancel lengthened. The parishioners built the chapel of St Mary about 1332 in the south aisle. The oldest part of the church is the chancel arch which has been there since the church was built. The arch is Norman and has thin jamb shafts with decorated cushion caps. In the North West part of the chancel there is an early XVI Century squint.  At one time there was a rood loft but this has now gone. Outside the chancel on the south side there is a rectangular panel which was probably used for a sundial.  In the South aisle there is a piscina, which a drained basin. 

 The most interesting part is the main door in the South aisle, which is one of the oldest Norman doorways in England. On the ground floor of the tower wall there is a matrix (mould) of a brass slab showing indents for a man and wife and apparently seven sons and daughters plus an inscription (probably for Edward Hatley and his wife Jane – 1560). The inscription on the stone can’t be seen but there is a pattern covering where the inscription should be.


The main entrance to the church is through the porch on the South side; in this porch there are stone seats against the wall. In olden days the church was a place of refuge as well as a house of prayer. Above the door is a chequered pattern, carved into the stone, and also under the decorated arches. This is not the only door leading into the church – there are also doors on the North and West sides.  The door on the North side is called “the Devil’s Door” because it was left open during baptism services so the devil spirit, thought to be in the child, could escape.


The tower is to the West side of the church and underneath is the ringing chamber, but at present the bells are rung electrically. The windows at the top of the tower have no glass. Sparrows and other birds used to get in, but now they have been covered in wire mesh.  The bells are cast in bell-metal, which is an alloy of copper and tin – they are very big and heavy.  On the four bells there are inscriptions around the rims:                

“Peace and good neighbourhood”

“Long Live King George IV”

“William Dobson, founder, Downham, Norfolk 1827”                

“The Revd. Robert Pointer Rector in 1709”.


The font is near the Norman door, as you enter.  It is of stone and has no carvings round it.  The top cover is made of wood and rests on the edges of the font.  Fonts are usually covered so that people could not steal the holy water.


In 1603 it was ordered that pulpits should be in all churches.  The first pulpit was made of stone, but later the top was changed to wood.  It has five sides and stands against the sall.  Around it reads “Glory to god in the highest and on earth peace, goodwill towards men”.


These were introduced in the XV Century.


From 1804-5 there was a problem with animals in and around the church.  The churchwarden paid the local boys to catch the pests, for which they were paid:                

“6 sparrows...................1d.                



“Dozen sparrow eggs ....1d.”

This problem persisted in 1843, when it was mentioned again in the Parish records.


The current organ was donated by the family of the late R.H.J. and Mrs. L.J. Quarrington of Bembridge Isle of Wight in December 2007 and was dedicated at a special service by the Revd Judi Clarke in March 2008. It is a Cathedral specification three manual digital organ with over 8,000 different stop specifications. An  identical item is currently installed in two cathedrals, one in the UK and the other in Holland.


In the South aisle there is a marble plaque which is a roll of honour to those who fought and fell in the First World War.  On papers from the Diocese of Ely the cost was estimated at £50 for the plaque and was paid for by public subscription.  There is also a small brass plaque just inside the door.  This is in memory of Lawrence Aurthur Barker who served with the 4th Bedfordshire Regiment.  The cost was estimated at £10 and was paid for privately.


Some of the older residents in the village remember a trap door under the altar, which goes down under the church to the vaults.  They also say the key is missing and no one knows where it is.  In the church under the altar is a large metal plate in the tiled floor, though no key hole.  No other signs of a trap door - perhaps it has been covered by tiles.

History by Miss Tracey Marnes, for Southoe Flower Festival September 1989

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