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St Denys' Church, Sleaford

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St Denys' Church, Sleaford
The church's west facade, facing the market place
Country England
Denomination Church of England
Previous denomination Roman Catholic
Dedication St Denys
Parish New Sleaford
Deanery Lafford
Diocese Lincoln
Province Canterbury
Vicar(s) Rev. Philip A. Johnson
Asst Curate(s) (vacant)

St Denys' Church, Sleaford is a medieval parish church in the town of Sleaford, in Lincolnshire, England. A church and priest has existed in the town since at least 1086, but the exact date of the present building's construction is unknown. The oldest parts are the tower and spire, which date back to the late 12th and early 13th centuries; the stone broach spire is one of the earliest examples of its kind in England. The Decorated Gothic nave, aisles and north transept were built in the 14th century. The church was altered in the 19th century: first the north aisle was rebuilt by the local builders Kirk and Parry in 1853; second, the tower and spire were largely rebuilt in 1884 after being struck by lightening in an electrical storm. St Denys' remains in use 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 it is "remembered for the flowing tracery of its windows".[2] Built out of Ancaster stone with a lead roof, St Denys' is furnished with a medieval rood screen and a communion rail, possibly by Sir Christopher Wren, and has a peal of eight bells, dating to 1796. The church also houses a number of memorials, including two alter tombs commemorating members of the Carre family, Sleaford's Lords of the Manor in the 17th century.


St Denys' Church is the parish church of the benefice of Sleaford (formerly called New Sleaford), which encompasses most of the market town of Sleaford in the English non-metropolitan county of Lincolnshire. The benefice is a vicarage and falls within the deanery of Lafford and the archdeaconry and diocese of Lincoln;[3] the present vicar, Rev. Philip Anthony Johnson, was appointed in 2013.[4] The church is located next to (and faces onto) the market place at the town centre.[3] It is dedicated to St Denys; the Victorian clergyman and local historian Edward Trollope states that this is a medieval form of St Dionysius,[5] but does not elaborate on which of the several saints called Dionysius this refers to; according to a pamphlet published by the parochial church council, St Denys is a medieval composite of St Dionysius (or St Denis), who was martyred in Paris in c. 250, St Dionysis the Areopagite and an unknown Syrian saint called the pseudo-Areopagite.[6]

Regular church services are held on Sundays and Wednesdays. Holy Communion is conducted from 8:00am on Sundays, followed by Sunday School and an all-age family worship at 10:00am. A parent and toddler group is held on Wednesdays at 9:30am, and Holy Communion is conducted from 10:00am.[3]


View of the church from Eastgate, looking north-west. The chancel is visible in the foreground, extending from the nave and aisles. The clerestory and spire are also visible.

Background and origins[edit]

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.[7] A large horde of coin moulds belonging to the Corieltauvi tribe have been uncovered in this area and dated to the Late Iron Age.[7] It was occupied by the Romans,[8] and then by the Anglo-Saxons.[9] The place-name Slioford first appears in 852, meaning "crossing over a muddy stream", in reference to the Slea.[10] 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 came to be known as "New" Sleaford.[11] The origins of New Sleaford are not clear, leading to a theory that it was planted by the Bishop of Lincoln in the 12th century as a means of increasing his income, hence the epithet "New". The town's compass-point layout, the 12th century date of St Denys' stonework and other topographical features offer evidence for this theory, but a reassessment of Domesday Book (1086) material suggests that its origins may be earlier.[12][13]

Two manors called Eslaforde were recorded in the Domesday Book, one held by Remigius, Bishop of Lincoln, the other by Ramsey Abbey. The Bishop succeeded a Saxon thegn, Bardi, and held 11 carucates with 29 villeins, 11 borders, 6 sokeman, a church and priest, as well as 8 mills, 1 acre of woodland, 320 acres of meadow and 330 acres of marsh. Ramsey Abbey had been granted land in Sleaford and surrounding villages before the Norman Conquest of England and by Domesday, its fee consisted of 1 carucate, 1 sokeman, 2 villeins and 27 acres of meadow; it was sokeland of the abbot of Ramsey's manor of Quarrington, where he is recorded holding two churches.[14] There is no evidence for a second church at Quarrington, which suggests that the record is alluding to one in another of the abbot's manors for which Quarrington was an estate centre. The local historians David Roffe and Christine Mahany ruled out the possibility that this referred to Cranwell, another of the abbey's fees, and concluded that it is probably a reference to the church at Old Sleaford, which was granted by a knight of Ramsey to Haverholme Priory in c. 1165. Hence, the church possessed by the bishop had to be St Denys' in what would become New Sleaford.[15]


Despite its earlier origins, Sleaford and its church were altered considerably in the 12th century, especially under Bishop Alexander of Lincoln; a castle was constructed to the west of the town during his episcopate and work on the earliest surviving parts of the church may date to this period.[16] Facing onto the market place, the tower is the oldest part of the present church building and dates to the late 12th century, likely c. 1180.[17] Its broach spire has been dated to the early 13th century, possibly c. 1220.[17] A prebendary of Sleaford is recorded in the late 13th century and was probably founded by the post-Conquest Bishops, who were its patron. The vicarage of Sleaford was founded and endowed in 1274; the record has survived and shows Henry de Sinderby being presented to the vicarage by the Treasurer of Lincoln and Prebendary of Sleaford, Richard de Belleau; the Bishop instituted him that March. The vicar could profit from tithes and oblations, and was given a house formerly occupied by Roger the chaplain, but he had to pay £15 to the prebendary at the feasts of the Nativity and St John the Baptist. The prebendary otherwise retained his jurisdiction over the parish.[18]

A period of rebuilding and remodelling occurred in the late Middle Ages. A chantry chapel, dedicated to the Virgin Mary, was founded in 1271 by the merchants Thomas Blount and John de Bucham, 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.[19] The cantarist's house is recorded in the 1440s as one of the oldest buildings in Sleaford; located in the churchyard, it became the Vicarage.[20] The tower was likely accompanied by a nave of a similar date, which was rebuilt in the Decorated gothic style in the mid to late 14th century; the transept followed twenty or thirty years later, according to the local historian Edward Trollope.[17][21] A clerestory was added in around 1430 and the chancel was remodelled at this time.[17]

Early modern and later[edit]

There is a strong local tradition that St Denys' was used as a barracks for parliamentary troops during the English Civil War (1642–51) who destroyed the interior furnishings.[22] The local historian and clergyman Edward Trollope states that the soldiers looted the brass eagle lectern (last recorded in 1622),[23] broke the stained glass windows and the organ, and stole valuables.[24] Whether this damage occurred or not, repairs to the windows and roof were carried out in 1657, paid for by public subscription. Galleries were also added to the church in the 18th century: the south in 1758, west in 1772, and north in 1783–84.[25] In 1772, Edward Evans (d. 1780), a ship's surgeon on HMS Egmont, donated £300 to replace the organ with one built by Samuel Green of London.[19]

For most of the 19th century, the Anglican community dominated Sleaford's civic bodies, including the Board of Guardians, who oversaw the workhouse, and the Board of Health. Dr Richard Yerburgh and his son, Richard, were vicars from 1809–51 and 1851–82 respectively and had family connections with the local builders Kirk and Parry; Yerburgh and Thomas Parry (one half of the firm) were on the Board of Guardians and were branded members of a "family party" by opponents during its 1870 elections (they were nonetheless re-elected).[26][27] They and other local clergymen were key players in the establishment of National Schools on Westgate and in Quarrington, which Kirk and Parry built.[26] But the Anglican congregation, at an estimated 700 to 800 people in 1851 (St Denys' had a sitting of 743 people), was less than half of the size of the non-conformist community, which was probably larger than 2,000 persons and tended to flourish in poorer parts of the town.[28][29]

The 19th century also witnessed two major "restorations" to St Denys'. As the congregation expanded, the need for greater space was met with the addition of a new north aisle in 1853. This coincided with a wider restoration project carried out at the cost of £3,500 by the local builders Kirk and Parry, which included the demolition of the galleries, the addition of a straining arch and the relocation of the organ.[25][30] The church was damaged by an electrical storm in 1884 and parts, including the spire, were rebuilt by Kirk and Parry in 1885–86.[25] The old organ was sold in 1891 and St Hugh's Chapel and the choir vestry were dedicated to the memory of the local solicitor Henry Snow in 1906.[25][31] Electric lighting was introduced in 1951–53 and an extensive restoration work was carried out in 1966, when the organ was rebuilt, and in 1988.[25] Fifty-four solar panels were added in 2008, at the cost of £70,000, and by 2011 were able to cover the church's electricity bill.[32]

Architecture, fittings and grounds[edit]

The nave of St Denys', looking eastwards towards the chancel
The chancel and choir, looking eastwards

St Denys' is constructed in Ancaster stone across three periods: the earliest sections in a transitional style between Early English Gothic and Decorated Gothic; the late medieval nave, aisles and chancel in Decorated Gothic with a Perpendicular clerestory; and the Victorian neo-Gothic restorations. The earliest parts consist of the late 12th or early 13th century tower and spire on the west side of the church, which have a combined height of 144 feet (44 m). They exhibit features of both the Early English and Decorated Gothic styles, possessing shafts, but also zigzag mouldings. The stone broach spire is one of the oldest in England, although it was rebuilt due to damage sustained in an electric storm in 1884. During the restoration, a 15th-century window was moved to churchyard and replaced by arcading and three circlets, deemed "somewhat absurd" by the architectural historian Sir Nikolaus Pevsner.[17][33]

With the exception of the tower and spire, much of the church was rebuilt in the Decorated Gothic style during the late 14th century. The nave and aisles extend eastwards from the tower. The aisles are highly decorated; the north doorway includes shafts, mouldings and finials, while the simpler south doorway has niches and monster carvings. The northern doorway includes a gable which encroaches up into a five-light window.[34] Pevsner remarks that St Denys' is particularly notable for its tracery,[33] and the building's listing notes "particularly good mid [14th century] tracery and ornament".[17] The window above the north doorway is a good example, which contains elements shared by others of the Decorated style around the church, including reticulated ogee arches of varying complexity.[34] A Perpendicular clerestory adorns the aisles with three-light windows; it dates to the early 15th century, possibly c. 1430. The north aisle was extended in 1853, but the architects, Kirk and Parry, reused the windows.[17][35] The north transept includes a six-light window—"one of the great flowing designs of the country", according to Pevsner.[35]

The interior of the church is fairly uniform. The tower ceiling has a tierceron vault and is connected to the nave and aisles by arches. The nave's arcading spans four bays, the last of which on the north side acts as an entrance to the transept. The north aisle was extended in 1853 by Kirk and Parry, who added a strainer arch to support the tower and join it with the north aisle.[36] The reredos and altar were built in 1922 by L. T. Moore;[n 1] the rood screen was restored by Sir Ninian Comper in 1918 and the Communion rail was taken from Lincoln Cathedral during a restoration;[36] it has been attributed to Sir Christopher Wren, but Pevsner makes no mention of this.[36][37] The screen, altar rails in St Hugh's Chapel are the work of C. H. Fowler and, while E. Stanley Watkins completed the reredos in 1906.[36] In the 1640s, the stained glass included the armorial bearings of Sir William Hussey (d. 1495) impaling his wife's Barkley arms, and the arms of Markham and John Russell, Bishop of Lincoln. These have not survived,[39] but the current stained glass includes a "very Gothic" window by Hardman dating to c. 1853, three by Holland of Warwick from the late 1880s, one of Ward and Hughes (1885) and one by Morris & Co. from 1900;[36] in 2006 Glenn Carter completed a stained glass window dedicated to Yvonne Double which had been commissioned by her widower, Eddy Double.[40][41][n 2]

The earliest peal recorded at St Denys' had 6 bells, three 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; the tenor is in the E key and weighs 19 cwt, 3 quarters and 6 lbs.[43] The church also houses a collection of fifteen antique, chained books in an oak reading desk; the oldest items date to the early 17th century and include tracts on divinity. Other items of furniture include two old chests and a dole cupboard, while a 16th-century tapestry is in the church's possession.[36][44] The octagonal font is in a Decorated Gothic style, but has been altered considerably.[36]

The churchyard around St Denys' has expanded several times: first in 1391, when the Bishop of Lincoln, John Bokingham, was granted a piece of land a 150 by 8 feet (45.7 m × 2.4 m) to one side of the church. Land to the north was also added in 1796. The grounds were enclosed by a dwarf wall, which was replaced by a more substantial stone wall and iron fence in 1837; the railings were removed during the First World War.[6][45] In a report on the town's health in 1850, William Ranger criticised the overcrowding of the churchyard; in 1855, burials in the grounds ceased and the vestry elected a burial board to produce a solution.[n 3] They purchased 2 acres, 3 roods and 31 poles of land to the north of Eastgate at a cost of £1,500; this was converted into a cemetery and a further 2 roods and 17 poles were bought for an access road. These grounds were extended in 1862 by an acquisition of 3 acres and 39 poles of land to the west of the cemetery; they are now managed by Sleaford Town Council.[46][47]


Altar tomb of Sir Edward Carre

According to Edward Trollope, the oldest tombstone in the church is from the 13th century, however it was faded and illegible. A 14th century slab, originally for a now-lost effigy is in the church, and brass plate from the same period was discovered during the 1853 restoration. Richard Dokke, his wife Joanna and son John are commemorated in a plaque dating to the 1430s, and a plaque to William Harebeter and his wife Elizabeth also dates to the 15th century.[48]

Although Gervase Holles recorded many 16th century monuments when he visited Sleaford, most have disappeared.[49] Amongst those which remain are the tombs and plaques commemorating the first members of the Carre family to settle in Sleaford. The Carres hailed from Northumberland, but George Carre (d. 1521), a wool merchant, established himself in the town and is commemorated in St Denys' by a brass. On the northern side of the chancel is an alabaster monument dedicated to George's eldest surviving son Robert Carre (d. 1590), his three wives and some of their children; he became lord of the manors of Old and New Sleaford. Opposite, on the southern side, is an alabaster alter tomb by Maximilian Colt dedicated to Robert's fourth son and eventual heir, Sir Edward Carre, 1st Baronet (d. 1618), which carries the effigies of Edward and one of his two wives, probably his second, Anne Dyer.[50][51] Further plaques commemorate Sir Edward Carre's grandson, Sir Robert Carre, 3rd Baronet (d. 1682), and his son, Sir Edward (d. 1683), who is also commemorated by a bust in the church.[52]

There are numerous other memorials to prominent Sleafordians. Early examples are plaques to John Walpoole (d. 1591, monument dated 1631), the draper Richard Warsope (d. 1609, erected by Robert Camock), and Rev. Theophilius Brittaine (d. 1696).[53] Later monuments include those of Richard Moore (d. 1771) and Elizabeth Cooper (d. 1792), as well as the "heavy" slab for Eleanor (d. 1725), wife of John Peart.[51][54] The English novelist Frances Brooke (d. 1789) is buried in the church.[55] Clergymen include William Seller, Joseph Francis (d. 1749) and Anthony Skepper (d. 1773). A window is dedicated to local solicitor Henry Snow (d. 1905), and memorials on the north wall include George Jeudwine (d. 1952), another solicitor, and the local historian William Hosford (d. 1987).[56] The monument to Ann Bankes (d. 1834) incorporates a statue of a woman sinking into the ground, which Pevsner called "remarkably tender", while the tablet to Ann Moore (d. 1830) in the transept is noted as "good Grecian".[51]



  1. ^ An earlier reredos, designed in "fine Gothic" style by Charles Kirk, was erected in memory of M. P. Moore (d. 1866).[37][38]
  2. ^ Other windows have been dedicated to prominent parishioners, including: Dr Richard Yerburgh, Charles Kirk, Francis and Benjamin Handley, Caroline E. Moore, Robert George Bankes, John Bissill, John Caparn, Mrs. Lucy Ashington, Henrietta Bankes, John Pearson, and William Hoster. Thomas Parry, C. Drake Newton and Mrs. Warwick.[42]
  3. ^ The first members were M. P. Moore, John Warwick, Edward Newbatt, William Foster, Thomas Simpson, Edward Allen, J. T. Marston, Charles Kirk and Thomas Parry. Newbatt and Kirk declined the offer and so W. H. Holdich and Rev. Richard Yerburgh were elected in their place.[46]


  1. ^ "Listed buildings". Historic England. Retrieved 7 July 2015. 
  2. ^ Pevsner, Harris & Antram 2002, p. 650
  3. ^ a b c "Sleaford Parish Church - St Denys', Sleaford". A Church Near You. Church of England. Retrieved 6 July 2015. 
  4. ^ "New vicar at St Denys' Church". Sleaford Standard. 23 October 2013. Retrieved 6 July 2015. 
  5. ^ Trollope 1872, p. 147
  6. ^ a b Hoare 1988, p. 12
  7. ^ a b Mahany & Roffe 1979, p. 6
  8. ^ Mahany & Roffe 1979, pp. 8–10
  9. ^ Mahany & Roffe 1979, p. 10
  10. ^ Ekwall 1977, p. 462
  11. ^ "Settlement of Old Sleaford (Reference Name MLI91636)". Lincs to the Past. Lincolnshire Archives. Retrieved 29 November 2014. 
  12. ^ Mahany & Roffe 1979, pp. 11–16
  13. ^ Pawley 1996, pp. 15–16
  14. ^ Mahany & Roffe 1979, p. 11
  15. ^ Mahany & Roffe 1979, pp. 13–14
  16. ^ Pawley 1996, p. 25
  17. ^ a b c d e f g Historic England. "Parish Church of St Denys (1062157)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 18 February 2015. 
  18. ^ Trollope 1872, pp. 140–141
  19. ^ a b Trollope 1872, p. 152
  20. ^ Pawley 1996, p. 33
  21. ^ Trollope 1872, pp. 147–148
  22. ^ Pawley 1996, p. 42
  23. ^ Trollope 1872, p. 164
  24. ^ Trollope 1872, p. 151
  25. ^ a b c d e Hoare 1988, p. 1
  26. ^ a b Pawley 1996, p. 88
  27. ^ Ellis 1981, p. 101
  28. ^ Pawley 1996, pp. 88–89
  29. ^ Ellis 1981, p. 98
  30. ^ Trollope 1872, p. 149
  31. ^ "Dedication of a Chapel". Grantham Journal. 14 April 1906. p. 6. Retrieved 6 July 2015 – via British Newspaper Archive. (subscription required (help)). 
  32. ^ "Profit for St Denys' solar panel project in Sleaford". BBC News. 26 October 2011. Retrieved 6 July 2015. 
  33. ^ a b Pevsner, Harris & Antram 2002, p. 650
  34. ^ a b Pevsner, Harris & Antram 2002, pp. 650–651
  35. ^ a b Pevsner, Harris & Antram 2002, p. 651
  36. ^ a b c d e f g Pevsner, Harris & Antram 2002, p. 652
  37. ^ a b Trollope 1872, p. 154
  38. ^ "Chronicle for the Year 1866". Lincolnshire Chronicle. 5 January 1867. p. 8. Retrieved 26 March 2015 – via British Newspaper Archive. (subscription required (help)). 
  39. ^ Trollope 1872, p. 163
  40. ^ "BEM honour for services to the community". Sleaford Standard. 13 June 2014. Retrieved 7 July 2015. 
  41. ^ "Commissions". Glenn Carter Glass. Retrieved 7 July 2015. 
  42. ^ Trollope 1872, pp. 163–164
  43. ^ Trollope 1872, pp. 150–151
  44. ^ Trollope 1872, pp. 165–166
  45. ^ Trollope 1872, pp. 166–167
  46. ^ a b Ellis 1981, p. 77
  47. ^ "Sleaford Cemetery". Sleaford Town Council. 3 July 2015. Retrieved 6 July 2015. 
  48. ^ Trollope 1872, p. 155
  49. ^ Trollope 1872, pp. 155–156
  50. ^ Trollope 1872, pp. 135, 156–158
  51. ^ a b c Pevsner, Harris & Antram 2002, p. 653
  52. ^ Trollope 1872, pp. 159–160
  53. ^ Trollope 1872, pp. 161–162
  54. ^ Trollope 1872, p. 162
  55. ^ Edwards, Mary Jane (2008). "Brooke [née Moore], Frances (bap. 1724, d. 1789)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. (subscription required (help)). 
  56. ^ Hoare 1988, p. 8


Further reading[edit]

  • Jenkins, Simon (2012). England's Thousand Best Churches. Allen Lane. p. 450f. ISBN 978-1-84614-664-0. 

External links[edit]

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