West Leake
St Helena

History

There has been a church on this site since Saxon times. It was recorded in the Domesday Survey of 1086 that Leche possessed a priest and a church. However, it is not clear whether the church mentioned was that of West Leake or East Leake.

From the earliest times until 1882, the two parishes, which derive their name from the Leche brook (so called from the Anglo Saxon verb “leccian”, to water or moisten), were united into one benefice the title of which was Leake. It is impossible to determine which of the two churches was built first for both contain Norman work. However, it seems likely that, since East Leake has always been the larger village, the “Leche” of “Domesday Book” referred to East Leake and that its church is therefore the older.

There has been much controversy as to which of the two churches was the “Mother Church” but, in any case, each church has always been independent in its own parish.

The most ancient part of St Helena’s is the north wall of the nave with a tiny deeply recessed Norman window and a blocked up Norman door which can be seen from the outside. The stone effigy in the south aisle, the piscina in the south aisle and the main doorway are the next oldest parts, while both the effigy on the north side of the sanctuary and the beautiful figure in the north transept also belong to the Early English period. The chancel is of the Decorated period and is in its original condition. Its most noteworthy features are the reticulated tracery of the east window and the piscina. The nave is of unusual length and contains, on the south side, an arcade of five arches supported by octagonal columns of the early Perpendicular period.

Much rebuilding took place in the fourteenth century when the chancel was enlarged, and the south aisle, with its five arches, was added to provide a chapel. In the fifteenth century the clerestory was built to obtain extra light.

The ministry of Edward Bigland (1620-1649), a Fellow of Queens College Cambridge, coincided with the Civil War in which the Rector supported the King. Gilbert Millington of Sutton Bonington, who was later a member of the High Court of Justice which sentenced King Charles I to death, was at the bottom of Rev Bigland’s troubles. The septuagenarian Rector was taken as prisoner to Nottingham and the journey was not accomplished in a day. As a result of exposure, the Rev Bigland received a severe chill and eventually became palsied. Due to this harsh treatment, he died a few months later. He was also ejected from his living and Cromwell’s commissioners appropriated his personal estate. These troubles prior to his death probably contributed to the death of his widow eighteen months later.

Bigland’s successor, John Moore (1662-1666), was appointed minister by Parliament and actually entered into the incumbency before the death of Rev Bigland. After the Restoration, he was duly instituted on conformity.

A churchwarden’s report of 1662 noted that not all was well, “glass windows greatly decayed, no pulpit, the bier is broken, no covering for the communion table. Registers not properly kept.”

Michael Stanhope (1717-1737) was nominated Rector of East and West Leake by his mother Frances Stanhope. Before his appointment he preached a sermon at Whitehall on the occasion of the Thanksgiving for the defeat of the Pretender and his French allies in 1708. Whilst Rector of the Leakes he preached at the House of Commons. At the 1722 Visitation of the Archdeacon of Nottingham (Rev Robert Marsden of Rempstone), Rev Stanhope was the preacher. At the end of the sermon, the Archdeacon protested strongly against the doctrines which had been set forth.

The Rectors lived in West Leake for generations, many of whom are buried here and are commemorated in the church. Granville Wheler, instituted Rector in 1737, writes as follows in the East Leake Returns in connection with Archbishop Herrings Visitation of the Diocese of York (1743), “I reside personally at the Parsonage House of West Leake, the house here being very small and distant from the other, only one mile. The Church of West Leake is the Mother Church and both parishes are united.”

Theophilus Henry Hastings (1795-1804) was appointed to the living by his relative Francis Rawdon Hastings Earl of Moira. It was during his incumbency that the Wesleyans built their first chapel in East Leake. The Rector plainly resented this and in unmeasurable terms spoke his mind from the pulpits of the two churches at East and West Leake. He was not content to only speak, but published what he had preached: Eight Sermons Upon the 16th Chapter of the Revelation of St John.

Rev Hastings married in his old age and published his own banns in the following unusual manner: “I publish the bans of marriage between Theophilus Hastings, meaning myself, and Betty, meaning my housekeeper”

In the 1851 religious census the Rector, Rev John Bateman, returned attendances of 70 in the morning (including 40 Sunday Scholars) and 105 in the afternoon (including 40 Sunday Scholars). There was no evening service.

In 1868 the Church was recorded as being in a poor state of repair.

By Order in Council of 4 April 1876, two benefices were created out of the former one of Leake. Following the separation of the joint advowsons of West and East Leake, Lord Belper purchased the rights of West Leake Church and its lands.

Belper set about restoring the church. The Faculty noted that the church was in need of immediate restoration. As a result, it was proposed to take down and repair the south aisle and porch, to take down the clerestory to the level of the nave arches and the north wall to the springing of the window heads. The north transept and vestry were to be rebuilt, with the existing vestry entirely removed. The nave was to be re-roofed. The windows throughout the church were to be re-glazed. All defective masonry, iron and woodwork was to be restored and a new floor laid. The vaults were to be filled in. A new altar, pulpit and reading desk were to be introduced, together with new seating throughout the church. The cost was estimated at £1,850, which was to be met by Lord Belper and others. The architect was Henry Hall. A small brass tablet commemorates this work bearing the following inscription: “Hanc aedem vetustate collapsam refecit et ornavit Eduardus Baronius de Belper, Rectore Johanne Bateman subveniente, Anno Domini MDCCCLXXVIII.”

The style of the rebuilt portions is Perpendicular and the work was a reproduction, as far as possible, of the ancient aisle and clerestory, but the exceptionally low nave roof gave place to a lofty high pitched one. The west wall was made higher and a new bell-cote was erected. This lofty roof is in sharp contrast to the flat rather low roof of the chancel. Over the chancel arch, as also over the large west window, is a circular light. The carved oak pulpit, rector’s stall, and choir stalls were also given at this time.

Under the terms of the 1876 Order in Council the churches and parishes were officially disconnected in 1882 when, on the death of Rev John Bateman, two Rectors were appointed, one for West Leake and one for East Leake. Consequently from 1882 to 1968 West Leake Church had its own Rectors.

Various changes have occurred in the twentieth century. The United Benefice of West Leake with Kingston and Ratcliffe on Soar was created by an Order in Council published in the London Gazette on 10 February 1933. Rev Charles Herbert Vincent Brown was the first Rector of the two constituent benefices of Ratcliffe with Kingston on Soar (united in 1916) and West Leake. For several years the Rector of Gotham was the priest in charge of West Leake Church and the neighbouring churches at Kingston on Soar and Ratcliffe on Soar. Since 1990 West Leake Church has been part of the East Leake Benefice which consists of the parishes of East Leake, West Leake, Rempstone, Costock and Stanford on Soar.