South Luffenham Church: St Mary the Virgin

South Luffenham Church: St Mary the Virgin

South Luffenham Church is dedicated to St Mary the Virgin and is quietly tucked into the heart of the village. It is open every day for quiet contemplation and for special events.

SERVICES are held either at 9.30am or 11am – usually a service each Sunday – thanks to the support of the Lay Worship team as well as the Priest-in-Charge. We are currently using a ‘transitional’ pandemic Morning Worship, or (more usually) the Benefice Holy Communion booklet.

Whatever your church background, all are welcome!

CHURCHWARDENS are Mrs Sally Smith (01780 729 515) and Mr John Saunders (01780 720 688), who are your first port of call for information.

This is a lively community which reaches out to the very young and old alike. Typically, there’s a service each Sunday, either Holy Communion or, with the support of our (officially retired) Lay Reader who is based in the village.


The church of ST. MARY consists of chancel 29 ft. 6 in. by 17 ft. 6 in. with south chapel 21 ft. 3 in. by 13 ft. 6 in., nave 37 ft. 8 in. by 18 ft., north and south aisles respectively 8 ft. 3 in. and 12 ft. wide, south porch, and west tower 9 ft. square, all these measurements being internal. The tower is surmounted by a spire. The width across nave and aisles is 43 ft. There are clearstories both to chancel and nave.

The tower is faced with ashlar, but elsewhere the building is of rubble. The chancel has a modern gabled stone-slated roof, but the low-pitched roofs of the nave and aisles are leaded. The porch is covered with stone slates. All the roofs are eaved. The chancel was restored about 1850, and in 1861 there was an extensive restoration of the whole of the fabric, under the direction of G. E. Street, when the plaster was stripped from the walls, the tower arch opened out, the chancel floor raised, and the fittings renewed. A narrow arch (fn. 23) was at this time cut through the wall at the east end of the south arcade, in which previously there had been a rood-loft staircase.

The original church was probably an aisleless building with small chancel, and was enlarged c. 1190–1200 by the addition of a north aisle of two bays, the arcade of which remains. The semicircular arches are of two orders with edge-rolls and flat soffits, and the hoods, which occur only on the side towards the nave, are enriched with billet moulding. The arches spring from half-round responds and a cylindrical dividing pillar, all with moulded bases on square plinths and carved capitals with divided square abaci. In the responds, the abaci are quirked and are without ornament, but that of the pillar is enriched with two lines of nail-head and the capital itself has a human head in each angle and facing east and west, (fn. 24) with large angle volutes terminating in incurved cones. The capital of the east respond has incurved volutes, but those of the west respond curve outwards: there is a head on one angle of the west capital only. The volutes in every case are enriched with nail-head, the use of which in the arcade marks its transitional character.

In the first half of the 13th century a south aisle was added, the existing arcade of two pointed arches being of that period. The arcade is set out approximately to correspond with that opposite, leaving about 8 ft. length of wall at the east end, which may mark an extension eastward of the nave at this time, when in all probability the chancel was rebuilt, though subsequently altered and enlarged. (fn. 25) The arches of the arcade are of two chamfered orders, with hood-mould on the nave side only, and spring from half-round responds and a cylindrical dividing pillar, all with circular water-holding bases and moulded capitals enriched with nail-head.

Plan of South Luffenham Church

In the 14th century the whole of the fabric was remodelled, and assumed in a great degree the character it has since retained. Both aisles were rebuilt, the south aisle widened and extended eastward to form a chapel covering the chancel, (fn. 26) the porch and tower were added, and the nave clearstory erected. The existing chancel arch of this period probably indicates a remodelling and lengthening of the chancel at the same time, but in the 15th century new windows were inserted and the walls heightened to provide a clearstory.

The north aisle, as rebuilt in the 14th century, appears to have extended eastward the full length of the nave, but at some subsequent time was shortened; (fn. 27) its east wall has been thickened on the inside and now stands in front of the arcade respond. (fn. 28)

The chancel has a modern east window of five lights with geometrical tracery, and in the north wall are two four-centred three-light windows, the mullions of which run up to the head. The east wall has been much restored and the diagonal buttresses rebuilt. The muchrestored triple sedilia are at one level, and have cinquefoiled ogee arches and hollow chamfered jambs and divisions; the piscina has not survived. On the south side the chancel is open in its western half to the chapel by a 14th-century arcade of two double chamfered pointed arches, respectively 9 ft. and 5 ft. in width, springing from an octagonal dividing pillar with moulded capital and base, and at the east end from a small half-round respond shaft with octagonal moulded capital and circular bases. On the west side the smaller arch springs from a moulded corbel supported by a grotesque head. The arches have hood-moulds on each side. The lofty chancel arch is of two orders, the outer with a continuous hollow chamfer, the inner with a large filleted round moulding dying into square jambs. Below the arch is the lower portion of a 15th-century screen, with moulded rail and four trefoiled panels on each side of the opening. The chancel clearstory has three four-centred windows on each side, without hood-moulds; a tall four-stage buttress in the north side is contemporary with the clearstory. Internally the south wall bears evidence of considerable structural alterations in the chancel. (fn. 29)

The aisles have chamfered plinths and keel-shaped strings at side level; the west window of the north aisle is pointed and of two trefoiled lights with a plain lozenge in the head, but the window in the north wall and all those in the south aisle and chapel are squareheaded and of one type: the easternmost window in the south wall, which lights the chapel, is of three trefoiled lights, the others of two, all having hoodmoulds with head-stops. The south doorway is of two continuous moulded orders with hood-mould; the north doorway has an outer wave-moulding and an inner hollow chamfered order, and above it is a small trefoil-headed niche with hood and finial. On the north side the hollow eaves table is enriched with small grotesque heads widely spaced. All this work is of the 14th century. There is no structural division between the chapel and the south aisle. In the usual position in the chapel is a plain squareheaded chamfered piscina, the fluted bowl of which has been cut away in front.

The porch has a pointed doorway of two continuous chamfered orders with hood-mould, and small trefoiled niche on either side of the arch: its south wall and gable are plastered, and a window in the east wall is blocked. The nave clearstory has three squareheaded windows of two trefoiled lights on each side, of similar character to those in the aisles. The roof is of a very plain description and of four bays, but the rounded corbels of the older roof, five on each side, remain at the level of the sills of the clearstory windows. The roofs of the aisles are much restored.

The tower is of three stages, with moulded plinth, pairs of buttresses at the angles and battlemented parapet. There is a vice in the north-west angle. The pointed west window is of two cinquefoiled lights with curvilinear tracery and hood-mould with good head-stops. In the middle stage on three sides is a tall pointed single-light transomed window, (fn. 30) above which, on the north and south, is a shield charged with a cross, and on the west a small cinquefoiled niche. In the upper stages the face of the tower is slightly recessed, with banded shafts in the angles, but the many-staged buttresses are taken up the full height. The pointed bell-chamber windows are transomed and of two trefoiled lights with quatrefoil in the head. Above the windows is a band of blind tracery and the parapet is carried on head corbels. The spire has crocketed angles and three tiers of gabled openings, the lower and topmost in the cardinal faces, the other alternating. The bottom openings are of two trefoiled lights, the others single, and the spire terminates in a large crocketed finial and cock vanes. Internally the tower opens into the nave by an arch of two chamfered orders, the inner on half-octagonal responds with moulded capitals and bases, and hood-mould with head-stops. The fourcentred doorway to the vice has a continuous wave moulding.

The 14th-century font has an octagonal bowl with quatrefoil panels on seven sides, on an octagonal stem and chamfered base. The stone pulpit dates from 1861.

On the north side of the chancel (fn. 31) is a 14th-century table tomb with panelled sides and effigy of a man in civil costume, the head resting on cushions below a canopy. The western panel contains a shield of the arms of Culpepper with a label of three points.

At the west end of the chapel is a floor slab to Rose Boswell, daughter of Edward Boswell, ‘king of the gypsies,’ who died in February 1794 near Fosters Bridge. (fn. 32) In the south aisle (fn. 33) are a number of mural tablets of the 18th and 19th century, and a memorial to five men of the parish who fell in the war of 1914–19. In the north aisle is an iron-bound dug-out chest with three locks.

There is a scratch dial on the south-east angle of the porch, above the buttress.

There are four bells in the tower, the first by Hugh Watts of Leicester, 1593, the second and third by Taylor of Loughborough, 1886, and the tenor a medieval bell with recurrent letter s (twice) alternately with a cross. (fn. 34)

The plate consists of a paten of 1637–8 with the maker’s mark R.M., a cup and cover paten with the maker’s mark only, R.L. twice, but apparently 17th century, and a flagon of 1683–4 inscribed ‘The gift of Samuel Barker, Esqre of South Luffenham 1682′ with maker’s mark P.S. (fn. 35)

The registers before 1812 are as follows:

(i) burials 1678–1734;

(ii) baptisms and marriages (fn. 36) 1682–1734;

(iii) baptisms 1735–71, marriages 1735–54, burials 1735–75;

(iv) baptisms 1772–1812, burials 1776–1812;

(v) marriages 1754–1812.