LEICESTERSHIRE MARCH 2022

Hallaton  St Michael & All Angels - Open
Horninghold  St Peter  -  Open
Medbourne  St Giles   -   Open.

It was a bright, sunny day in March 2022 and a rare day out in Leicestershire. We had crossed the Rutland border and started the day ay Hallaton; the busy A47 which works its way towards Leicester was to our north and Rutland was off to the east.

    The Northamptonshire border was not a million miles away either, with Corby a few miles distant to the south west. It was to be a day of small attractive villages, set in glorious countryside, with a few early spring lambs thrown in as well. The churches visited, were for the most part, open.

I would like to say that there is always a great deal of planning going in to these trips, but not on this day. Basically, we saw a sign with Hallaton on it and went for it, needing to waste a little time before Medbourne church was due to open for the day.

Hallaton was one of the bigger villages, visited that day, with a population if just under 600 at the time of the 2011 census. It is big enough to support two public houses and its own village museum. Uppingham is seven miles or so off to the north east.

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Hallaton : church of St Michael & All Angels

The church of St Michael & All Angels stands on slightly raised ground in the centre of the village; surrounded by some glorious old buildings, with the top of the churchyard wall coming up to ground level, giving an uninterrupted view across the church grounds.

I approached the church from the east, with imposing east end and even more imposing east end of north aisle. It is evident that there was some serious wealth here over the centuries.

The welcome committee was good as well, a lovely calico cat wandering over to say hi. It’s about the churches, that is obvious; but it’s also about the cats …and the food, it is definitely also about the food, as was evidenced by the trip to Medbourne village shop later that morning!

The church here dates back to the 13th century, with much of the present structure dating from that time. The aisles date from a century later with a contrast between the plain south aisle and a much more decorated north aisle. The structure consists of west tower, which is offset to the north, with octagonal spire, nave with north and south aisles and clerestories, north and south porches and chancel. The nave and aisles are battlemented and buttressed throughout

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Moving inside, it was bright and welcoming inside, which was a little surprising given the amount of stained glass here. The walls are whitewashed and there are four bay arcades to north and south which lead down to the chancel arch, which has two angels, wings unfurled, over the top.

There is some interesting stained glass here. The east window depicts the nativity and is by Kempe, this featuring his traditional wheatsheaf ‘signature’. A fine depiction of the four evangelists includes John holding a chalice from which evil emerges in the form of a dragon.

One interesting three light window has representation of three angels, Raphael, Michael, after who this church is dedicated and Gabriel. Raphael is shown holding a fish. A little research shows that this is a reference to the book of Tobit, (which I had never heard of) in which Raphael appears to Tobit who had been attacked by a fish; telling him to take out some of the internal organs and apply them to aid healing.

St Michael is shown defeating evil in the form of a dragon and Gabriel, who appeared to the Virgin Mary at the annunciation, holds a sign which reads ‘Ava Maria Gracia Plena’ ‘Hail Mary full of grace’.

The chancel is long and imposing, with triple sedilia and piscina to the south wall. Throughout the church are a large number of wall mounted plaques. An impressive church! It was a good start to the day!

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We headed off the short distance to Horninghold, and the church of St Peter. This is another lovely structure of Ironstone and Limestone, which dates back to the 12th century.

The church that we see today consists of west tower with spire, nave with north and south aisles and clerestories, north porch and chancel.

The crowning glory of the exterior is a beautiful 12th century Norman south doorway. This has been reset from its original position; having originally been positioned on the wall of the nave before the aisles were added during the 13th century, at which point the tower and spire were also built.

Doing a little background research on this church before this was typed out, I found mention of the incumbent priest here Humphrey Michel who was the priest here from 1676 until 1723.He was an interesting character who used to fight regularly with the congregation and the Church of England. He kept a diary, parts of which have been published. This diary was noted as being full of ‘quaint grumblings’! He also kept a record of the witch trials held in the village which are fascinating.

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The church of St Peter: Horninghold.

There are connections here with the Knights Templar’s, in as much as a Knights Templar gravestone was excavated here in 1951. The Knights Templar’s were a monastic military order, which was formed at the end of the first crusade; whose aim was to protect pilgrims who were making their way to the Holy Land.

This is now wall mounted. There doesn’t appear to be any other Knights Templar connections to the church here, and it is intriguing as to how it found its way here.

Moving inside and there is a real sense of age here! Sadly, there were signs of a few structural issues as well with an area deemed as being unsafe taped off around the chancel arch. Over the years there were concerns raised as to the overall condition of the structure.  As a result, there has been much restoration here during the 19th and 20th centuries.

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There is no stained glass here, this helping to create a bright and welcoming interior.  The east window of the chancel is small, of two lights. The altar is bare, with the exception of a single cross.  There are no wall plaques or monuments in the chancel; the reredos consists of four small red curtains.

A look to the east end of the south aisle shows a piscina on the south wall, indicating that in the day, there would have been an altar here with communion given.

Out in the church grounds, a very faded gravestone, which looks to date from the early part of the 18th century, appears to be for more than one child; with an epitaph to the parents asking them not to weep; as they are not dead just sleeping.

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It was time to move on to the third church of the day, this being at nearby Medbourne, the church of St Giles.

I had visited the church here back in 2015, on a dull dreary Saturday. The church was open as they prepared for a wedding later that day. We were welcomed in and took some photos, but the light quality on the day was really poor. This is a glorious church and I wanted to see it in better lighting conditions; it took a mere six and a half years to sort out the return visit! Arrangements had been made beforehand to check that the church would be open.

Medbourne takes on Hallaton each year, on Easter Monday, in a bottle kicking event. The aim is to take the bottle, on a best of three basis, from Hare Pie Bank and across the respective village boundary streams, the team that crosses their own boundary stream with the bottle wins There are no rules, no referee, and no limit on players. Well, there are rules in as much as no weapons are allowed! These eccentric traditions occur the length and breadth of Great Britain; much to the amusement and bemusement of the rest of the world.

There wasn’t a cloud in the sky as I assumed the position leading against the churchyard wall, shooting the church from the south. I was joined by another photographer, also shooting the church; he being a landscape photographer. We enjoyed what we saw before us.

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The church of St Giles : Medbourne

The church that we each saw before us is cruciform in structure; consisting of west tower, nave with south aisle, north and south transept, south porch and chancel. It dates back as far as the 13th century. The thought is that this was intended to be a cruciform church with central tower, these plans abandoned in favour of a west tower.

The square ironstone tower is buttressed and battlemented with clock facing out from the south face. The lower parts of the tower date from the 13th century with the upper stage dating from the 15th century.

The south side of the church is dominated by an enormous south transept, which dates from the late 13th century. This has a fine five light window, with intricate tracery. The south porch is small in comparison, dating from the 17th century.

What a lovely scene. There is a path surrounding the church, which leads to a bridge, which crosses Medbourne Brook.

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Moving in through the small 17th century south porch, we enter in to a large interior, the size of the south transept alone speaking of the wealth that was here over the centuries.

The south arcade is of three bays, which leads to the south transept which has three bays running from north to south. It is rarely that I have been in to a church which has bays within the transept!

There is stained glass at the east end of the chancel and transept. There is a depiction of the ascension in the three light east window of the chancel whilst at the east end of the transept we have Jesus central, flanked by St Giles, after who this church is dedicated and Doctor Watts. The latter ids William Watts, who was the curate in charge here for many years and who founded the Leicester Royal Infirmary.

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 A number of stone heads look out from various vantage points, some human and some beast like. Hidden away a little against the south wall of the south transept, in a tomb recess, is a very battered effigy of a recumbent figure at prayer, the bottom third or so broken away.
I enjoyed looking around this church very much; it being one of the more unusual interior designs that I had seen for a little while. Both in size and quality there is a real sense of the wealth that would have been present here over the years. It had taken a few years to make the return trip but I am pleased that I did!

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The church grounds are large and well maintained; with one item of particular interest to be found to the north east of the church. This is a grave slab with a grill over it, which is in the rough shape of a human body. This is a mortsafe; with the grill screwed down in to the grave slab itself, so as to deter grave robbers; in those days when recently interred corpses were dug up and sold for medical research.

There is also the stump of a medieval churchyard cross to the south of the south porch, this having a Grade II listing in its own right.

There are many slate gravestones here, and some finely crafted gravestones, some of which date back to the eighteenth century. Many are of interest, without there being anything of great rarity.

It was time to hit the road again. Thanks to those involved in helping to ensure that I found the church open when I visited. Having depleted the stocks of the village shop deli counter, we aimed east, towards Great Easton, with the second part of this Leicestershire crawl coming in a subsequent page.