Leighton-Linslade Past Times: including Billington, Eggington, Heath & Reach and Stanbridge
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All Saints Preservation Trust

THE PARISH: Introduction
  The Prebend
  The Peculiar Parish
  The Vicarage
ALL SAINTS: The Church
  Photo Gallery
ST. ANDREWS: History

Click here, or the above logo
to visit the All Saints
Preservation Trust web site



The ecclesiastical parish of Leighton Buzzard, historically, encompassed a much larger area than just the town itself, and included the hamlets of Billington, Eggington, Heath & Reach and Stanbridge. It was only at the beginning of the 19th century that the hamlets were all made into ecclesiastical parishes. The hamlets each have their own church or chapel.


In 1075 the Episcopal See was transferred from Dorchester to Lincoln. In 1189, the Bishop of Lincoln, St. Hugh, converted Leighton into a Prebendal Stall. As a result a Prebendary was appointed for Leighton Buzzard, he was an officer of the cathedral church of Lincoln and he received income from a manor in the town ( see the history of Prebendal Manor).

In 1837 the Prebendal Stall was transferred to the Diocese of Ely, and then subsequently transferred in 1914 to St. Albans. The position having by this time become purely an honorary title.

Click here to see a list of Prebendaries up to 1926.


In 1160, Robert de Chesney, Bishop of Lincoln, established 'Peculiar Parishes'. Peculiar parishes were areas within an archdeaconry, but which were outside the jurisdiction of the archdeacon, and, generally, the bishop as well.

Under Robert's seal all Prebends in the Church were perpetually released from episcopal rights and exactions. Consequently, Leighton Buzzard, became a Peculiar

In the 19th century the Prebendary held his own visitations, duplicates of registers were sent to the Prebendary, and the Peculiar Court proved all wills and registered all places of worship. No marriage licences except those granted by the Peculiar were deemed legal.

The Act of Parliament 1835/6, which constituted the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, empowered them to abolish Peculiars, and the last visitation of the Prebendary was in 1852.


Due to the work of Richard Gravesend, Bishop of Lincoln, 1258 - 1280, Vicarages were established in the Pebendal Churches attached to the stalls of Lincoln Cathedral. As a result, in 1277, the prebendary of Leighton Buzzard, Nicholas de Heigham, endowed the Vicarage of Leighton with a portion of the income of the Church.

The meaning of the "Ordination" deed is effectively for the appointment of a certain income for a person serving (vice) in the place of the Prebendary i.e. his Vicarius. Three priests had to be provided, namely a deacon for Leighton, one for Stanbridge, however, the duties of the third is unclear, as Egginton and Billington had Chaplains.

Click here to see a list of Vicars of Leighton Buzzard.




All Saints Church, Leighton BuzzardThe church is located at the end of Church Square in the heart of Leighton Buzzard, and because of its high steeple, can be seen from many miles outside the town, and is the most prominant building on the towns skyline.

The first recorded reference appears in the Domesday book where it records that in the time of Edward the Confessor (1042 - 1066) it was in the hands of Bishop Wulfig, Bishop of Dorchester.

The building at that time was not the current building, this was constructed toward the end of the 13th century, but instead it was probably a much smaller Saxon building

External Description

The church is large, and of cruciform shape, with a central tower and spire, and with a long chancel which is only slightly shorter than the nave. The majority of the walls, tower, spire and nave arcading date from the 13th century, and the ground plan of the church is basically the same as it was at that time, except for some later additions, such as porches and coffee shop etc.

The tower is approximately 9 metres (30 feet) square and 21 metres (69 feet) high. It is mainly constructed from local sandstone with quoins of Tottenhoe stone, and the walls of rough masonry. On the sides of the tower can be seen the traces of the older 13th century high pitched roofs. In an 1818 drawing, the tower was shown without pinnacles, the current ones were added in 1842.

The spire is approximately 58 metres (191 feet) high, and is constructed with a slight bulge (entasis) designed to make the tower appear straight from a distance. It is constructed of oolitic limestone, probably from Oxfordshire. In the year 1852 the spire was struck by lightning and this necessitated the top 6 metres (20 feet) being rebuilt.

The majority of the walls have perpendicular battlements, the principal exceptions being those of the south transept and the gable ends of the chancel and of the parish office.

GargoyleThere are 25 gargoyles around the outside of the church, dating from the 15th century. There are also five sundials fixed to the outside of the church including one on the north transept wall which only catches the sun soon after sunrise or just before sunset.

On the south side of the building are two seventeenth century stone coffins. The lids of these coffins can actually be seen on the inside of the church, on the south transept wall.

West DoorThe west door is notable for its vast hinges, made by Thomas of Leighton, a famous ironsmith of the 13th century, and responsible for the Queen Eleanor Grille in Westminster Abbey.

Church Interior

The oldest part of the church is the Chancel. The sedilia and piscinæ are Early English and indicate a construction date of before 1288. There are two piscinæ and the most important of the three sedilia seats is at the west end and is a step below the other two.

The chancel was unfortunately damaged in a major fire on 13 April 1985. Previous to this fire the window over the altar was a traditional stained glass window, however, due to fire damage, this was replaced with plain glass. The roof, which dates from the 15th century, also suffered from damage, and has subsequently been restored. The stone corbels supporting the roof brackets have small bunches of foliage carved on them, and are Victorian replacements. On top of the corbels are statues of various saints.

The chancel is seperated from the crossing by the rood screen. This is a good example of 15th century work. The lower part is relatively perfect but the upper part has evidently been cut away and the beam lowered. The screen has some interesting carvings, including dolphin-like figures in the centre arch.

MisericordsEither side of the chancel are 14th century stalls containing 27 misericords (tip up seats with ledges for resting aginst when standing). These have excellent carvings, including: fourteen with heads, six of foliage, two heraldic birds, one with two men (or monkeys) fighting. The carvings of the remaining four have been destroyed. It is believed that the misericords probably originated from monastic stalls at St Albans Abbey. Fortunately, they survived the 1985 fire undamaged.

The wooden altar and altar rails are 17th century and are of good workmanship, but the rails do show some signs of damage from the 1985 fire.

The reredos is a carved oak triptych designed by G. F. Bodley around the turn of the 20th century. The central section consists of three alabaster panels, the work of R. Bridgeman of Lichfield, and depict the Crucifixion, St. Mary and St. John. The side sections are of leather and have four angels embossed, richly coloured and lacquered and are the work of Minnie King and Arthur Smallbones (members of the Leighton Buzzard Handicraft Class for Cripples). All the panels have finely carved oak canopies and bordered with a deep cut, vine pattern. Most of the carving is the work of H. Wibberley, also a member of the Leighton Buzzard Handicraft Class for Cripples.

Eagle LecturnThe eagle lecturn, of oak, is believed to be the oldest piece of carved woodwork in the church, and the oldest of its type in the country. The base would appear to date from the 13th century and the eagle from the 14th.

The nave arcades have four bays. The arches have a chamfered moulding and are supported by octagonal pillars which have moulded capitals and bases. Many of the bases were renewed in 1886.

The nave roof, known as the 'angel roof', for its magnificent carvings of angels, poised on the ends of alternate beams, is one of the church's finest features. The roof was added in the 15th century, and paid for by Alice de la Pole, Duchess of Suffolk. She was also responsible for the roofs in the chancel and transepts. Although damaged during the fire of 1985, it has now been superbly restored. On each corbel are carved figures representing various saints, and the carvings on the corbels themselves represent various objects associated with the Passion.

All the windows in the nave are stained and are the work of C. E. Kempe, a Victorian craftsman. They represent various saints, and the most impressive, the great west window, depicts the Saints George, Etheldreda, Michael, Hugh and Alban.

Constructed of red cedar, the pulpit is Jacobean and was presented in 1638 to the church by Edward Wilkes (who was also the founder of the Almshouses in North Street). The carved backboard was defaced at some point and, subsequently, a rather poorer quality carving added in its place.

The tower crossing suffered the most damage in the 1985 fire, and most of that which can be seen in this part is new. The altar is of limestone, weighing 3.4 tonnes. The frontal, is of the twelve aposltles, and is in gold thread, the work of Watts and Company of London. The organ was built in 1989 by Harrison & Harrison of Durham.

Directly above the crossing roof is the ringing chamber, and above that the bell chamber. All ten bells had to be replaced after the fire, and, in fact, the church now has a ring of 12 bells, by Taylors of Loughborough, cast in the key of C sharp. The peal is ranked 21st out of 92 peals, of twelve bells, in the world. One old, mediaeval, bell was rescued from the fire, this was the bell called "Ting Tang", due to the sound that it makes. It is the oldest bell in the diocese, and is now housed in the ringing room.

The north transept is screened from the crossing by folding carved wooden doors. It is also now horizontally divided. The lower floor is used as a meeting room, and an overflow for extra large congregations. The upper floor is known as the Good Samaritan Room, and is also used as a meeting room. A number of the memorials, previously situated in other parts of the church, have been moved, and can now be found in this room. The spiral staircase in the pillar, at the east end of the transept, leads to the ringing room.

The lower level, of the north transept, contains a 14th century piscina in the east wall, and combined with other architectural features in both the north and south transepts, point to the fact that they were both originally designed to contain altars. A will of John Esgoer of 1519, refers to two altars in each transept.

FontThe south transept is now a Lady Chapel and Baptistry. It also has a Piscina and fine trefoiled niche containing a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Child. It is thought that this niche would originally been used to display relics, and this may have included St Hugh of Lincoln's tunic, which the clergy of Leighton Buzzard once possessed.

Against the south wall is a single altar, which replaced the two against the east wall from before the fire.

The font, which is now located in the south transept, is Early English in design (circa 1240), and, as such, pre-dates the current church. It was probably from the old church. It consists of a massive bowl supported on a large central column, with four smaller ones. The metal plug is of much later date (1630).


Simnel ScratchingThroughout the church can be found medieval graffiti, or, scratchings, on the pillars and walls. The scratchings include crosses, pictures of birds, a kings head, a basilisk, coat of arms, inscriptions etc. Perhaps the most famous of these is the Simnel scratching on the south-west pier of the tower. It is approximately 1400, in date, and its true meaning is unknown. However, local legend has it that it depicts the old mid-lent story of Simon and Nellie and their cake. The story goes, that it was Mothering Sunday, and Simon and Nellie wanted to bake a special cake for their children, but being very poor they could only use a piece of dough and the remains of the Christmas pudding. They then wrapped the pudding in the dough, but an argument ensued as to whether it should be "baked" or "boiled". Consequently, as shown in the scratching, Nellie raised a wooden spoon to make her point, and Simon was poised to throw the dough at Nellie. In the end they decided to boil the cake first, and then to bake it afterwards. Thus was evolved the Sim-Nell cake!

• Photo Gallery of All Saints Church



St. Andrew's ChurchThe church of St. Andrew's was a Chapel of Ease to the Parish Church of All Saints. It was constructed in order to provide an Anglican Church in the north end of the town. The site for the building was on land provide by the Ecclesiastical Commisioners, and formed part of the Prebendal Estate. It was located in what was known as North End Lane (now called St. Andrew's Street). The building cost £3,805, and was consecrated 11th July 1867. It consisted of a chancel, nave, aisles, vestry and organ chamber, and had a tower and spire approximately 33 metres (110 feet) high. In 1904 a church room was built by public subscription.





St. Andrew's ChurchThe church was constructed of a local sandstone from a quarry in Church Street. Unfortunately, this turned out to be of poor quality, being very soft. As a result, by 1964 the fabric of the church had deterirated to such a degree that the church had to be closed on safety grounds. In places birds had actually managed to peck holes clean through the walls.




Lych GatesThe church was subsequently demolished, and a housing estate has been built on the site. All that now remains standing are the lych gates to the former churchyard, which now serve as a pedestrian entrance from Church Street onto the housing estate.