St Denys' Church, Sleaford

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St Denys Church, Sleaford
The church's west facade, facing the market place
Country United Kingdom
Denomination Church of England
Previous denomination Roman Catholic
Dedication St Denys
Parish New Sleaford
Deanery Lafford
Diocese Lincoln
Province Canterbury
Vicar(s) The Revd. Philip A. Johnson
Asst Curate(s) (vacant)
Reader(s) Mr Bernard Pope (PTO),
Mr David Hitchcock
Organist/Director of music Mr David Prescott
Churchwarden(s) Mrs Anne Smillie-Pearson,
Mr Richard Clash

St Denys' Church, Sleaford is a medieval parish church in the town of Sleaford, in Lincolnshire, England. The exact date of construction is unknown, but its tower and spire, the oldest parts of the church, date to the late 12th and early 13th centuries and the latter is one of the earliest examples of a stone broach spire in England. The Decorated Gothic nave and North Transept were built in the 14th century. The church was altered in the 19th century, first a North aisle was added by local builders Kirk and Parry in 1853; second, the tower and spire were largely rebuilt in 1884 after being struck by lightening in electrical storm. St Denys' is still used for worship by the Church of England.

It is a Grade I listed building, a national designation given to "buildings of exceptional interest".[1] The architectural historian Sir Nikolaus Pevsner states is "remembered for the flowing tracery of its windows".[2] It is built from Ancaster stone with a lead roof. Furnished with a medieval rood screen and a communion rail, possibly by Sir Christopher Wren, it has a peal of eight bells, dating to 1796. The church also houses a number of memorials from, including two alter tombs commemorating members of the Carre family, Sleaford's Lords of the Manor in the 17th century.

Location and description[edit]

Dedicated to Saint Denis, the church is located on the eastern side of the market place in Sleaford and stands in a small graveyard with a vicarage to the north side. The building has a large atrium upon which sits the bell tower. The nave, with clerestory and aisles to both sides, leads to a chancel. The church has a north transept which houses a small chapel.


The Sleaford area has been inhabited continuously since the middle Iron Age; people settled around the point where a prehistoric track running northwards from Bourne crossed the River Slea.[3] The remains of a major mint belonging to the Corieltauvi tribe have been uncovered in this area and dated to the between 50 BC and 50 AD.[3] It was occupied by the Romans,[4] and then by the Anglo-Saxons.[5] The place-name Slioford first appears in 852, meaning "crossing over a muddy stream", in reference to the Slea.[6] The settlement around the crossing came to be known as "Old" Sleaford in 13th century sources to distinguish it from developments further west, around the present-day market place, which probably date to the late Saxon period and came to be known as "New" Sleaford.[7] By the mid-11th century, it is thought that a market and court were being held at New Sleaford, which would have given it economic and jurisdictional importance as an estate centre.[8]

The manor of Eslaforde was recorded in the Domesday Book (1086) and included a church and priest;[9] although the entry does not explicitly distinguish between New and Old Sleaford, scholars believe that this church was part of the former.[10] By that time, Remigius, Bishop of Lincoln, owned the manor.[10] Over the course of the 12th century, a castle was built in the town and the market was formally granted by Henry II.[10][11] Facing onto the market place, the tower is the oldest part of the present church building and dates to the late 12th century, likely around 1180.[12] Its broach spire has been dated to the early 13th, possibly around 1220.[12] A chantry chapel, dedicated to the Virgin Mary, was founded in 1271 by Thomas Blount and John de Bucham, merchants, who endowed it with lands around Old and New Sleaford, and several surrounding villages. Located on the north aisle, the chaplain was instructed to pray there for the founders at his daily mass.[13] The nave, aisles extending westwards and north transept were built in the 14th century in the Decorated Gothic style.[14] A clerestory was added in around 1430.[14]

The clerestory of the church, illuminated by the stained glass windows

During the English Civil War St Denys' was used as a barracks for parliamentary troops who destroyed the interior furnishings (including the organ and eagle lectern), broke the stained glass windows and looted valuables.[15] It was not until 1772 that Edward Evans, a ship's surgeon on HMS Egmont, donated £300 to replace the destroyed organ with one built by Samuel Green.

A north aisle was added by local builders Kirk and Parry in 1853 to accommodate an expanded congregation. At the same time the church's interior was renovated, at a cost of £3,500. In his 1872 book Sleaford, and the wapentakes of Flaxwell and Aswardhurn a local vicar, Edward Trollope, called St Denys' "the most beautiful and attractive building in the town".[15] During the early part of the 19th century part of the building was used as a schoolroom; a practice Trollope described as "desecration".[15][16]

The church was damaged by an electrical storm in 1884 and parts, including the spire, were rebuilt by Kirk and Parry. A 15th-century window removed from the front facade was reconstructed and stands in the grounds at the rear of the church.[14]


Altar tomb of Sir Edward Carre

The oldest tombstone in the church dates from the 13th century, however it was faded and illegible, according to Trollope, even in the 1870s.[15]

Members of the Carre family (a notable local family, originally from Northumberland) are buried in the church. George Carre, the first Carre to inhabit the town, was entombed in the nave of the church in 1521, but was later moved and laid in the floor of the chancel. His tomb slab carries the inscription Hic Jacet Georgius Carre et Anne uxor ejus, qui quidem Georgius obiit—Ano. Dni. 1521.[15] On the northern side of the chancel opening is an altar tomb containing dedications to George's eldest son Robert Carre (who founded the local grammar school), his first wife Elizabeth and some of their children. Opposite, on the southern side, is a similar tomb dedicated to Robert's fourth son (and eventual heir) Sir Edward Carre which carries the effigies of Edward and his second wife, Anne Dyer.[15]

The English novelist Frances Brooke (died 23 January 1789) is buried in the church with her son.[17]

Architecture and fittings[edit]

View into the north transept and the chantry chapel

The tower and spire have a combined height of 144 feet (44 m). It is one of the oldest stone broach spires in England.[14][15]

During the 1790s the church was gifted an altar rail, designed by Sir Christopher Wren, that had been left spare during the renovation of Lincoln Cathedral.[16] In 1891 the Green organ was sold and replaced with one by Forster & Andrews of Hull.

The Scottish-born architect Sir Ninian Comper restored the church's rood screen in 1919, dedicating it in memory of the Peake family, killed during World War I. The building was Grade I listed in on 16 July 1949, the listing notes "particularly good mid Cl4 tracery and ornament".[14]

In 2008 solar panels were installed on the roof of the south aisle at a cost of £57,000, half of which was provided by grants through the British government's Low Carbon Buildings Programme.[18]


The churchyard around St Denys' was expanded several times: first in 1391, when the Bishop of Lincoln John Bokingham purchased a 150 by 8 feet (45.7 m × 2.4 m) piece of land to one side of the church. It was further enlarged to the north in 1796. Until 1837 the grounds were surrounded by a dwarf wall, when it was replaced by a more substantial stone wall. The churchyard fell out of use as a burial ground some time before the 1870s.[15]


Originally St Denys' had 6 bells, some dating from 1600, one from 1707 and two undated. In 1796 a new peal of 8 bells were cast by Thomas Osborn of Downham, Norfolk.[15] The bells carry inscriptions from Osborn:[15]

  1. The Lord to praise, my voice I'll raise
  2. Give no offence to the Church
  3. Peace and Good Neighbourhood
  4. Edward Waterson, vicar
  5. Long live king George the third
  6. William Kirton and George Robinson, Churchwardens
  7. These 8 bells were cast in the year 1796
  8. I to the church the living call
And to the grave do summon all

— Thomas Osborn, Founder[15]



  1. ^ "Listed Buildings", English Heritage. Retrieved 18 February 2015.
  2. ^ Pevsner, Buildings of England, 27 (2nd ed., 1989), p. 650
  3. ^ a b Mahany and Roffe, Sleaford (1979), p. 6
  4. ^ Mahany and Roffe, Sleaford (1979), pp. 8−10
  5. ^ Mahany and Roffe, Sleaford (1979), p. 10
  6. ^ Ekwall, Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Place-names (4th ed., 1960), p. 462
  7. ^ "Settlement of Old Sleaford (Reference Name MLI91636)" Lincs to the Past (Lincolnshire Archives). Retrieved 29 November 2014.
  8. ^ Mahany and Roffe, Sleaford (1979), pp. 14–16
  9. ^ Trollope, Sleaford and the Waptentakes of Flaxwell and Ashwardhurn (1872), p. 141
  10. ^ a b c "General settlement record for New Sleaford (HER number: 65282)", Heritage Gateway. Retrieved 18 February 2015.
  11. ^ Pawley, Book of Sleaford (1996), p. 24
  12. ^ a b "Parish Church of St Denys (list entry no. 1062157)", The National Heritage List for England (English Heritage). Retrieved 18 February 2015.
  13. ^ Trollope, Sleaford and the Wapentakes of Flaxwell and Ashwardhurn (1872), p. 152
  14. ^ a b c d e "Parish Church of St Denys (Listing NGR: TF0687645892)". Listed Buildings Online. English Heritage. Retrieved 8 July 2010. 
  15. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Trollope, Sleaford and the Waptentakes of Flaxwell and Ashwardhurn (1872)
  16. ^ a b "Sleaford St Denys C.E Parish Church". Lincolnshire County Council. Retrieved 10 June 2009. 
  17. ^ Brooke, F. and Backscheider, P.R. and Cotton, H.D. (1777). The excursion. University Press of Kentucky. ISBN 978-0-8131-0881-0. 
  18. ^ "The Story of our project to install solar photovoltaic panels on the South Aisle roof of St Denys’ Church, Sleaford." (PDF). 2009. 


  • Eilert Ekwall (1960) [reprinted 1977] The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Place-names, 4th edition (Oxford University Press) ISBN 0198691033
  • Christine Mahany and David Roffe (eds.) (1979). Sleaford (South Lincolnshire Archaeological Unit: Stamford) ISBN 0906295025
  • Simon Pawley (1996). The Book of Sleaford (Baron Birch for Quotes Ltd.) ISBN 0860235599
  • Sir Nikolaus Pevsner and John Harris (Nicholas Antram, rev.) (1989). The Buildings of England, vol. 27 ["Lincolnshire"], 2nd edition (Yale University Press: Yale) ISBN 0140710272
  • Edward Trollope (1872). Sleaford, and the wapentakes of Flaxwell and Aswardhurn (W. Kent & Co.: London)

Further reading[edit]

  • Simon Jenkins: England's Thousand Best Churches. London: Penguin Books 1999/2009, p. 450f

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 52°59′59″N 0°24′32″W / 52.9997°N 0.4089°W / 52.9997; -0.4089