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Berwick St. Leonard

Church of St. Leonard, Berwick St. Leonard

Church of St. Leonard, Berwick St. Leonard Date Photo Taken 2014
Uploaded 16/06/2015 15:12:58
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Map Latitude 51.09743652780396 : Longitude -2.1094849705696106
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Original Media Location: Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre


The church is now approached through farmland.

The parish church of St. Leonard has been in existence since at least the 12th century. Very little documentary evidence has survived from before 1700, but the building still retains some 12th and 14th century features. The church was rebuilt in 1860, but a conscious decision was taken not to alter the external fabric in any way; consequently, a painting of the church in 1804 looks very similar to now.

The church was visited in the late 1820s by Sir Richard Colt Hoare of Stourhead. He described the building as very small; the nave measuring 33 feet 6 inches long by 16 feet 4 inches wide. The chancel was 18 feet 9 inches long by 13 feet 3 inches wide. The church consists of a nave and chancel with an entrance below the south tower. It has no aisles. The building material is flint and limestone with a fishscale tiled roof. The nave was built in the 12th century while the chancel was possibly rebuilt in the early 14th century when the porch and tower were added and new windows set in the nave. The exterior wall on the north side of the nave shows a blocked 12th century round-arched doorway with tympanum and a lintel with rosettes. Both the east and west windows are 14th century. A photograph taken in 1940 shows, on the east side of the tower, a small lean-to type structure, built in keeping with the church and with a conical roof. This may have been the boiler house that was removed in the late 1970s. Just inside the entrance is an inner doorway with a 19th century hoodmould, over which is a beaded circular tablet with a relief-carved Agnus Dei, said to be 12th century. The church has also retained its 12th century cylindrical stone font.

With the exception of the font, all the fittings are 19th century. A faculty was drawn up in March 1859 describing the church as being in a state of general decay and saying that the fabric should be generally restored and the interior be entirely refitted. The cost was met by Alfred Morrison, owner of the Fonthill Estate, who was also lord of the manor at Berwick. The pulpit, reading desk and pews, along with the other internal fittings were all replaced. The population in 1851 was 33 and after restoration the church was able to seat approximately 50 people.

On the north wall of the nave is a fine baroque marble wall monument to George Howe (died 1647) and his wife Dorothy. The manor passed to his son George Grobham Howe; on the south wall is a memorial to his five children who all died between 1660 and 1662.

The church had two bells in 1553. They were replaced by a bell cast by William Cockey of Frome in 1725 and another by Robert Wells of Aldbourne in 1766. Both were rehung in the 19th century.

The churchyard has a Tisbury stone cross that was erected in 1921 as a First World War memorial.
A priest held the church of Berwick St. Leonard as a tenant of Shaftesbury Abbey c.1130. At this time there was no burial ground at Berwick and all funerals took place in Tisbury. The inhabitants of Sedgehill, who had been buried at Shaftesbury, became parishioners of Berwick in 1395 when a graveyard at Sedgehill was consecrated and the church there was annexed to the church of Berwick as a chapel. The two churches shared the same patron. Between 1545 and 1622 the administration of the two churches lay at different points in time with the Crown, with a private owner to whom the Crown had sold the property and with the parish of Berwick. From 1661 Sedgehill church was again a chapelry of Berwick and remained so until 1914.

The glebe terrier for Berwick dated 1677 shows that the rector had a house with a barn, stable, yard, outhouse, garden and an adjoining piece of land. By 1783 the curate was living at Chicklade and serving the parishes of Fonthill Gifford and Fonthill Bishop as well as Berwick. He was able to take a service in all three parishes every Sunday as they are less than a mile apart. Communion was celebrated at Berwick four times a year with no more than five or six parishioners.

By 1864 the curate was living at East Knoyle. He held either a morning or an afternoon service on Sundays with an average congregation of 22. He held services on Christmas Day, Ash Wednesday and Good Friday at which the average congregation was increased to 40 by non-parishioners. He administered the sacrament four times a year to approximately ten communicants of whom half came from other parishes.

The rectories of Berwick St. Leonard and Fonthill Bishop were united in 1916; Fonthill Gifford was added in 1939. This situation remained until 1987 when the Tisbury Team was created; the other parishes in the Team included Hindon and Chicklade with Pertwood, Chilmark, Tisbury, Ansty and Swallowcliffe. In 2001 the Nadder Valley Team was created with the addition of Fovant, Sutton Mandeville, Teffont Evias with Teffont Magna and Compton Chamberlayne. There are currently three clergy taking care of this large team.

All of the parish registers from 1723, except those currently in use, are available at the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre in Chippenham.


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