We don’t know exactly when the first church was built at Leake. An old Saxon cross has been built into the tower. This was probably a “churchyard cross” and there may have been a wooden church at that time. The stone church was built from around 1100. Our main door and some of the walls that are still standing date from that time. The majority of the current building was completed by the 16th century and is remarkably intact. The first priest supposedly lived in the first floor of the tower, in a room accessed by a trapdoor. Our Vicar has since moved to more salubrious accommodation in Knayton!
The church has four “mass dials” that were used to record the time of services. Also look out for the quality of carving (mostly 13th century), for example of the carved heads and decorations at the tops of the pillars.
The Lost Village.
The Saxon village of Leake grew up around the church. One authority claims that at its height it may have had as many as 1500 residents on up to 290 acres on both sides of the modern A19. It was destroyed by the “Harrying of the North” by William the Conqueror and was recorded as being “waste” in the Doomsday Book (above). However, the quality of the Norman church shows that Leake remained an important settlement. Exactly why the village then vanished in the Medieval period isn’t known. Raids by the Scots in the 14th century or the plague are possible reasons. Victorian drainage works uncovered a pit in the churchyard containing a large quantity of bones, which may be a clue. The nearby villages of Knayton and Borrowby grew, and the now solitary church of St Mary’s became their parish church.
The Reformation and Beyond.
A number of important items found their way to Leake at the Reformation, probably rescued by a crafty 16th century churchwarden! One of our three bells has the legend O Pater Aelred Grendale Miserere – O Father Aelred pray for the sinners of Grendale. This bell may have been rescued from Rievaulx Abbey where Aelred was abbot in the 12th century, or from Grendale, where there was a small convent. No other written Medieval request for the prayers of Aelred is known to have survived.
Another important rescue was of “pew ends” from Bridlington Priory. These were carved by the famous Ripon School of Carvers in 1519. They are a very important survival, though they are not entirely intact. The story goes that in the 1920s a member of the choir was so annoyed with his robes catching on the ears of one of the creatures that he chiselled them off! Many of the pews incorporate carved panels that are also thought to have been brought from Bridlington.
The route of the modern A19 has long been important and this may be a reason for the church surviving after the village disappeared. Oddly the church was under the authority of the Bishop of Durham until the 19th century. Local tithes were raised “for the upkeep of the bishop’s table”. The Bishop owned a house opposite the church (under the modern farm buildings) and while the Vicar lived there, it primarily provided accommodation for the Bishop, half way between York and Durham.
The east window is by Herbert Bryans and was installed in 1924. The window shows the annunciation, flanked by Isaiah and St Luke. Do click to see this photo at full size.
The chancel side windows are by Edward Liddell Armitage in 1934. They show a range of different saints.
The Lady Chapel window is by Ann Sotheran, a pupil of Harry Harvey, in 1988. It shows the Blessed Virgin Mary flanked by St Nicholas and St Cuthbert.
In the vestry (opened by prior arrangement or at services) there is a window by Rev’d Toddy Hoare and Ann Sotheran depicting the crests of previous churchwardens.
A history booklet containing full colour photographs is available for purchase in church. A wonderful souvenir of your visit!