top of page


Church Post Code SG5 3LH

Open to visitors on first visit but closed on a subsequent visit.

Visited May 2023

It was a fairly dull day in May 2023 and we were part way through a Chilterns churchcrawl, with churches visited in Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire. This was an area that I had never visited before and we arrived with no set plan and no real knowledge of the churches that we were going to visit. As we went from one exquisite Bedfordshire village church to another, we kept seeing an impressive church on high ground, which appeared to be visible from miles away in every direction. This was the church of All Saints, Shillington, called the ‘Cathedral of the Chilterns’ by John Betjeman. This became our tenth church visited of the day.

Shillington is a beautiful village which can be found in central Bedfordshire, at the north east of the Chilterns Hills, an outstanding area of natural beauty. Luton is 12 miles or so to the south; the Hertfordshire border is close by with Hitchin six miles to the south east. The A6, which connects Bedford to Luton runs to the west of the parish.


Shillington itself boasted a population of 1,627 at the time of the 2021 census. The church of All Saints stands proudly on a chalk hill to the west of the village, and is a real statement piece; both in terms of the structure itself and the land that it is built on!

There is a great deal of history to the village, with many Roman finds including the Shillington hoard, 127 gold Roman coins found by metal detectorists in the late 1990’s. The village was mentioned in the Domesday Survey of 1086; the village being on land belonging to Ramsey Abbey. There was no church or priest mentioned here at that time.

Approaching the village from the south we were surprised to see a black squirrel run across the road in front of the car. We didn’t know that black squirrels existed! We parked up close to the church and Gary Googled black squirrels whilst I was inside. Apparently there are around 25,000 in the UK, concentrated in Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire and a brief discussion on my facebook page later suggested that everyone knew about them apart from us.


The church that we see today dates mainly from the 14th century, and consists of west tower, nave with north and south aisles and north and south chapels, south porch and chancel; built with Ironstone rubble with ashlar dressings. This structure replaced a previous Saxon church, which was in the possession of Ramsey Abbey until 1536. The structure is pretty much the same as it was when built, with Victorian restoration.

Looking at the church from the south, have runs almost seamlessly in to chancel, with just a change of style in window in the south wall of the chancel. The clerestory is of six windows, all identical, which runs the full length of nave and chancel. In parts the walls are patched with red brick. The two storey south porch has an upper room where church records were kept, but it is windowless.

I took a walk eastwards, along Church Street, to take a look at the east end; the church rising up impressively above the houses at the end of the narrow street. The east window is of four lights, and there was originally a larger window here; the outline of which is still evident with the area around the present window also filled in with red brick. Either side of the east window are two battlemented, buttressed turrets which contain stairs which lead up to the roof.


The tower is of three stages, with the upper two stages built from red brick and completed in 1750, after the original tower collapsed in 1701. A plaque can be seen on the tower which reads "The Ancient Steeple of this Church fell down in 1701 was rebuilt 1750 by a Brief Rate and Subscription collected by the Rev Geo Story faithful Curate of this Parish 37 Years who died much respected May 13   1765 Aged 63".

There are five bells in the ring here which were looked at in some detail by Thomas North in his book The Church Bells Of Bedfordshire, which was published in 1883. All date from the 17th century, but North does note that existing bells here were recast in 1575.

He noted that the first of the ring was dated 1638 and was cast by Robert Oldfield of Hertford. The second was dated 1602 and was by Hugh Watts I of Leicester. Each of these two bells has the inscription ‘Praise the Lorde’. The third of the ring is dated 1603 and has the inscription ‘Be it Knowne to all that Newcombe of Leicester Made Mee’

The fourth and fifth of the ring are listed on the National Church Bell Database as being cast by William Haulsey of St Ives in 1624. However, North’s study suggests that they were cast by Tobias Norris I of the Stamford bellfoundry, with Norris opening up a temporary foundry at St Ives at that time.

The fourth is inscribed ‘Non Clamor Sed Amor cantat in Aure Dei’ which translates as ‘Not a shout but love sings in the ear of God’.

The fifth is inscribed Cum Cano Busta Mori Cum Pulpita Vivere Disce Disce Mori Nostro Vivere Disce Sono. I had a frustrating and ultimately unsuccessful time trying to translate this one with Google’s Latin translator; if anyone can help with a translation of this please drop me a line.


The church here was open to visitors. Moving inside, there are four bay arcades to north and south. Nave is separated from chancel by an oak screen, with the north and south chapels also separated from the north and south aisles by screens.

 A doorway to the north side of the chancel screen would have led to the rood loft, where a large wooden carving of the crucifixion would have stood. These were hated by the 16th century reformers, who viewed them as idolatrous, and were taken down and destroyed. We are left though with tantalising glimpses of what things would have been like in pre reformation days.

Standing at the chancel and looking to the west, the tower arch is also screened. The tower was rebuilt during the 18th century but the tower arch is original to the 14th century construction.


Moving in to the chancel the east window is of four lights and has stained glass of high quality, with vibrant colours. Shown are four scenes from the life (and after death) of Christ. We see Jesus teaching in the Temple as a 12 year old. We then have the crucifixion with Mary and John in their traditional positions alongside the cross. We then see the resurrection with the risen Christ ascending towards Heaven; flames coming down from above towards him, with one hand raised in blessing, with the other pointing upwards towards Heaven. His wounds are visible on hands, feet and side.

 The final panel showing Jesus surrounded by children; script below reading ‘Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God’ Up at the top of the tracery we see the Agnus Dei, the Lamb of God, with golden haired angels below playing musical instruments or carrying banners, on which it says ‘Alleluia’

There is some interesting graffiti to be seen here, with much carved on to the piers of the north and south arcades. Just to take a look at some of this; we see a pentagram, a five pointed star which today has connections with the occult. In the last though, when this was carved, it would have had a Christian meaning; symbolising the five wounds of Christ.

 Carvings of pentagrams can often be seen in churches and it is interesting to see how people view them. A lady gave me a very comprehensive tour of a church in Lincolnshire once, and mentioned the graffiti but didn’t mention a pentagram. When I asked her about this at the end of the tour she simply said ‘That shouldn’t be here!’


Alongside the pentagram is a figure of a bearded man. There are several cartoonlike figures caved here, including one which has its tongue stuck out and one that is wearing a crown, with what looks like the word Regina carved alongside. One human figure which appears to be of a woman, is wearing a tunic that is buttoned down the front and appears to have been carved without arms.

There are several animals depicted, including a dog, what could be a fish and some birds. My favourite piece of graffiti here though is a depiction of a large church bell. This is definitely not a hand bell as it is depicted with an attachment for hanging in the bell tower.

 It is always fascinating to think what was going through someone’s mind when these were carved. Were they leaving a record of what they had seen? There are five bells in the ring here, with bells first mentioned here as far back as 1575. Of the current ring, all were cast or recast between 1602 and 1638, from four different founders. Perhaps what we have here is a bell being delivered and waiting to be hung 400 odd years ago, with someone carving a visual of what they saw.


Also among the graffiti are several daisy wheels, or hexfoils; designs the same as we used to create as a child with pencil and compass. These were used as a form of protection against evil. There are also less common auseklis crosses here, including one that is immediately alongside a hexfoil, which also had a protective function. These are known as ritual protection marks or apotropaic marks, with the word apotropaic meaning having the power to prevent evil or bad luck. I find church graffiti of great interest; with these ritual protection marks particularly fascinating; bringing to mind the mindset of those carving these in those days of superstition and the fear that went with it.

With regards the daisy wheels, some suggest that it was believed that evil was attracted to this design, and once inside it they would be trapped. The auseklis cross is seen as a sky symbol, associated with the stars, with the stars bringing light to drive away the darkness.

The south chapel has modern stained glass in the three light east window, with the Virgin and child at the centre. This central panel is flanked by Bishop Aetheric to the left as we look at it, who was thought to be the founder of the previous Saxon church on this site. To the right is Matthew Asscheton, who was the rector here from 1349 to 1400. His will states his wish to be buried in the church, with £90 left to provide for two priests to say Mass for his soul for a period of ten years.

 This chapel provided me with something that is unique in my own churchcrawling though, which covers 1600 odd churches spread over 16 years at the time of typing this. Leaning against the south wall of the chapel were three life sized wise men figures, in plastic bags, which I daresay had been there since epiphany.

Other glass here includes a three light window devoted to three saints. Central is St George, who is shown with a very unhappy looking, vanquished dragon trod underfoot. To the left as we look at it is St Alban, the first recorded British martyr, who was beheaded in St Albans in the 3rd or 4th century. To the right is St Joan, whose depiction shows an interesting contrast, wearing armour but holding lilies; a symbol of purity.


Moving back outside I had a quick look around the church grounds; with the views out over the Bedfordshire countryside from the high ground being wonderful, even on a dull day. There is nothing of real historical interest in the church grounds, and there is nothing there which has its own Grade II Listing.

The village war memorial does have a Grade II Listing. This is not to be found in the church grounds but is in a memorial garden close to the village hall.

This is a beautiful church and well worth taking a look at. It was open to visitors in my May 2023 visit, but closed on a revisit early the in 2024, due to some vandalism inside so I was told. It was time to hit the road again, crossing the border in to Hertfordshire, where we were to spend the rest of the afternoon, and heading in the direction of Letchworth.

bottom of page