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Church Post Code AL3 8DH

Open to visitors

Visited May 2023

It was a dull and cloudy Saturday morning in May 2023, and we had travelled south around 65 miles to see the church of Leonard at Flamstead. This was a very rare excursion in to Hertfordshire with my last church photographed there being way back in 2007, with that church being the church of St Leonards at Flamstead!

That previous trip was on a Sunday morning, in the car with friends who were looking at buying a car nearby. We took a look at the church on the way back; with a service just ending; this being a few months before I came to faith myself. We were showed around the interior by a friendly and knowledgeable local and I left with some fond memories.

I was armed that day with a very basic digital camera. The camera to be fair was not fit for purpose; and neither was the photographer; who took a few snaps without a shred of knowledge about what I was doing! It was always the intention to pop back one day if possible, and it was a mere 16 years before that return visit was made. The church of St Leonard was the first church of the day, eight churches photographed with the cay’s crawl ending at Berkhamstead, a few miles away to the south west, where I was to get a little over excited by a cheese and bacon slice from a street vendor!


Flamstead can be found in North West Hertfordshire, with the village recording a population of 1398 at the time of the 2021 census. Luton is seven miles or so off to the north with Watford around 14 miles to the south. It was a straightforward but very boring journey there; motorways nearly all the way, with the M1 running a short distance off to the east of the village.

Flamstead was adjacent to Watling Street, one of the major Roman roads, which ran from Dover to Wroxeter, one of the largest cities in Roman Britain. The village was mentioned in the Domesday Survey of 1086, but no mention was made of a church of priest at that time.

The village itself is bordered by the River Ver, which runs to the north. The church of St Leonards sits in a pleasant central location. It was quiet and peaceful, early on this Saturday morning with hardly a soul to be seen on the streets.


The church that we see today consists of west tower, nave with north and south aisles and clerestories, north and south porches, north vestry and chancel. The west tower dates to the early 12 century, with the north and south aisles and the western part of the chancel dating to the early 13th century; the chancel being extended eastwards during the 14th century.

 There was much work on this structure during the 15th century, at which point the clerestory was added, the nave roof rebuilt, rood stair added to the north east corner of the nave and the height of the tower was raised, with red brick parapet and small spire, known as a Hertfordshire Spike being added. A close look at the tower shows some bricked in windows with semi circular arches. These date to the 12th century and would have been at the top of the tower before it was heightened. The church is buttressed throughout with possibly some red Roman tile in evidence.

The chancel here was restored in 1860, with further restoration between 1902 and 1905. More recently, the church was in very poor condition structurally and in 2017 its future was uncertain.  The church managed to secure substantial lottery funding; with building work halted during covid lockdowns but completed soon after, securing the future of this lovely church.


Moving inside, there are six bay arcades to north and south, these dating to the early 13th century with octagonal piers and stiff leafed capitals. Nave is separated from chancel by a 15th century rood screen , with the rood itself, a carving of the crucifixion, being more modern; the ancient roods being hated by the reformers and destroyed accordingly as being idolatrous. High up to the north of the chancel arch is the old doorway which led out on to the rood loft, with the staircase doorway at ground level to be found alongside the north altar.

Looking to the west, the tower arch is built in to the bricked up 12th century tower arch, with the beautiful semi circular outline of that previous tower arch clearly visible.

Moving in to the chancel the east window here is of four lights, with stained glass depictions of the nativity, Jesus blessing a child, Jesus as the Good Shepherd and the risen Christ, wounds visible on hands and feet. Interestingly, Jesus’ nimbus (halo) changes colour from blue to blood red in the first and last panels, symbolic of the blood that he was to shed and the blood that he had shed! Angels, standing on clouds, at prayer and with golden wings, watch over things from the tracery.

Against the south wall, in their traditional places, we have a triple sedilia, the seating for the priests during the mass with a piscina, used for the washing of the holy vessels used during the mass. The sedilia is interesting as it has two seats at the same height under an ogee arch with the eastern most seat being raised up; the seating for those of a greater spiritual rank, so to speak, with the higher seat being closer to the holiest (most easterly) part of the church. These date from the 14th century; from the time that the chancel was extended to the east.

Against the north wall of the chancel is a memorial to Edward Seabright, dated 1782. In this, two reclining figures symbolic of hope and faith flank an urn. Hope holds an anchor with Faith holding the Holy Bible.


A modern stained glass depiction of the annunciation is unusual in that it has the infant Jesus between the Angel Gabriel and Mary, holding a globe with the other hand raised in blessing; tongues of fire radiating out from him

At the east end of the south aisle, behind railing, is a fine memorial to five deceased children of Thomas and Helen Saunders. This was carved in 1690 by William Stanton, whose work can be seen in Westminster Abbey and Norwich Cathedral. We see lined up, five of their six children, Robert, Helena, John, Helen and Thomas. No dates of death are given but it is known that none of the five lived through their childhood. Kneeling at the front and looking back over her shoulder is Anne, the only one of their six children who lived to adulthood. She became Dame Anne Seabright-Lyttleton and died on Christmas Day 1719 aged 49 years. This memorial was made at a cost of £1500, a fantastic sum for that time.

A fine monument but also an interesting historic look back at terribly hard times for those living then! Worth remembering that the family here were the best off financially, and they still struggled! How much worse things would have been for those living in poverty!


To be found in a bay in the north arcade is a memorial dating to around 1420; with a male and female figure recumbent, side by side, with heads under an elaborately carved ogee canopy. Both of the couples faces have been erased with an attempt made by the looks of it to re carved the facial features of the male. At the feet of the couple are two dogs, symbolising loyalty.

According to an early 19th century report there was once three such memorials inside the church here with two sadly having been removed at some point.

A crocheted church mouse wearing a pink dress and a golden tiara was on this tomb. This was not the first church mouse that I saw on this trip in to Hertfordshire; seeing more of these in one day than in all my previous churchcrawls over the years put together.

A few minutes later I found a toy cat on the font cover. The mouse was duly relocated alongside the cat for photographic purposes and I hope that someone noticed and smiled at this at the following days’ service.


An altar is set up at the east end of the north aisle, with modern reredos which depicts the risen Christ, surrounded by golden flaming aureole, attended by censer wielding angels.

The church here is known for its medieval wall paintings. Dating from the 14th century, the official listing for this church describes them as the most important in the county, with the exception of St Albans Cathedral.

Against the north wall are several scenes from the passion of Christ, the most intact being a depiction of the crucifixion. Above this is a very faded showing of the Last Supper. Close by we see Jesus’ betrayal by Judas in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Over the chancel arch is the faded remains of a Doom painting. This shows the Day of Judgement when all will be judged, with the righteous being taken off to Heaven with those judged condemned being thrown in to hell, which is often depicted as a serpent’s mouth. This one is very faded but we see Christ throned in glory on a rainbow; flanked by two angels one of whom appears to be carrying a trumpet. The fine details have been lost on this doom, such as the dead rising from their graves, some still in shrouds as they go to be judged and the condemned being thrown naked by demons in to the mouth of hell, but in its day it was there to force home, in fairly graphic terms, to those looking on what would happen to them if they didn’t live a good Christian life!


There is some interesting graffiti to be seen here, including some ritual protection marks. In amongst the various initials, scratches and squiggles are a pair of ‘W’s or interlocking letter ‘V’s, which look to be Marian marks; an outward sign of a prayer of protection to the Virgin Mary, the Virgin of Virgins. There are a few hexfoil designs, or daisy wheels, like the petal designs that we created as children with a compass and pencil. These were another commonly used symbol for protection.

On two piers are two separate pieces of remarkable very late 16th century graffiti, each being a memorial epitaph. The first reads ‘In this midle space at this seats end there lieth buried our neighbore friend Olde John Grigge of Cheveriils End Ano 1598 Aprill 15’.

The second, in what appears to be the same hand, is engraved ‘Within this pier where bricks are laid there lieth buried a virgin mayde  Ffrauncys Cordell was her name she lived and died in good fame ano 1597 June vij’. My spell checker did not care for either of these inscriptions.


On that earlier visit I was particularly taken with a series of gravestones to the east of the church, which look to date from the late 17th to early 18th centuries, and all of which feature a carving of as human skull; the deaths head. The skull was one of the images of mortality, designed to remind the onlooker that Man is mortal and will die, the message being passed over in the form of a symbol as many would be unable to read or write at that time. The message was clear: be prepared! Live a good Christian life, trust on God and do not be caught short when your own time came. In days of low life expectancy it could be later than you think!

As to the gravestones themselves; all are very weathered with script all but illegible with the exception of a date of death of 1695 on one of the stones. The skulls are still recognisable with deep set eye sockets and a triangular nose on one of the skulls. More than one of the skull are accompanied by crossed human bones; another symbol of mortality.

Taking a look back at the photographs I took from 2006, these stones appear to have weathered a fair bit in that time. Admittedly the light was better on that original visit but the script is now unreadable for the most part.

None of these stones have their own Grade II Listing but there is a tomb chest dated 1811 which does have its own listing. This is dated 1811 and is to Thomas Pickford, who was connected to the celebrated removals firm.


It was good to be back here again, armed with a better camera and with a little more knowledge of what I was actually doing. This is a fine church and it is good that it has been secured, hopefully for future generations to worship in and visit. The church is usually open to visitors and I found this church very helpful in helping to set up this visit. A must visit if you are in the area, and if visiting on a Saturday you are less than ten miles from Berkhamstead; with the fine church there also open to visitors. 

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