The Church of St. Leonard and St. Catherine, Drayton St. Leonard

Ambrosden church

The church, dedicated to St. Leonard and St. Catherine, is a small stone building, comprising a chancel, nave, and north chapel, with a wooden south porch and a wooden belfry standing at the west end of the nave. The now partly roughcast roof is covered with tiles and the upper walls of the belfry with wooden shingles.

The earliest part of the church is the nave with several 12th-century features, including the doorways in the north and south walls and the traces at the eastern end of the nave in both the north and south walls of windows that have been blocked. In the 13th century the west and north-west windows of the nave were made and the small side chapel added at the north-east end. The chapel has a fine, plain, round Early English pier and two unequal openings in the nave wall. A slightly pointed arch leads to the chancel which seems, judging from the position of the windows, originally to have been lower than the nave, a feature destroyed in the 19thcentury restoration. 

The tower is a fine timber structure probably earlier than the 16th century: the church certainly had three bells in 1552. The belfry is separated from the nave by 18th-century oak panelling.

In the 16th century the south-west window of the chancel and the south-east window of the nave were altered to admit more light. In 1629 the church and tower were reported to be out of repair and subsequently a certain Simon Broadwater was repeatedly presented for not having carried out repairs. Towards the end of that century the condition of the fabric seems to have been fairly good, but in 1721 the roof and windows were 'a little out of repair', and although there are no detailed descriptions of or reports on the condition of the church during the 18th century, it seems likely that the succession of non-resident curates paid insufficient attention to it. In 1817 the chancel was reported to be out of repair, in 1823 the roof, in 1828 two of the three bells were cracked and by 1859 the whole of the church was in very bad condition. The windows of the chancel had had their tracery removed to simplify glazing, the roof was in a bad state and the plaster ceiling was ready to fall. As a result of a report made in that year by Edward Bruton the restoration was undertaken in 1859 by G. E. Street and was completed at a cost of £600. The chancel was partially rebuilt. Its 'common brick floor' was raised. The plaster ceiling was removed and the present high-pitched roof made in place of the old roof, the line of which can still be seen over the chancel arch. The extra weight of this roof and the increased height of the east wall made the angle buttresses at the east end necessary. The tracery of the east window was inserted from new designs, only the mullions being original, and the south-west window was completely renewed. In the nave the ceiling and a western gallery were removed.

This restoration destroyed many features of interest. Apart from those already mentioned, the eastern gable of the nave apparently had a sanctus bell turret on which was a sundial, and the roof of the chancel had an overhanging barge at the east end. A high wooden pulpit was replaced by a stone one which was itself replaced in 1898 by the present brightly coloured wooden one, designed by the Wareham Guild. The seating was completely altered; the new seating was said to be modelled on an old seat still existing in the church. It was intended that the restoration should have been even more drastic, for it was proposed to replace the wooden bell tower with a stone structure thus providing more seating space. Fortunately nothing came of this proposal although it was revived later.

Alterations were, however, made to the tower in 1884 when Bruton reported that it was in need of repair. It was strengthened, its walls were covered with shingles, and a clock was inserted. 

In 1930 the chancel floor, raised in 1859 so that there were two steps from the nave into the chancel, was lowered by volunteer labour to its present position of one step at the chancel arch and a second at the altar. At the same time the altar which had been placed against the east wall in 1859 was moved forward into the chancel; the chancel rails were also moved and the choir stalls were rearranged; the sacristy was built in 1932 also by volunteer labour and in accordance with the plans of Mr. Geoffrey Webb. 

Electric light was installed in about 1934.

The only medieval glass is in the north chancel window, which is a restoration of a window believed to represent St. Leonard. It has been stated that this window was only discovered in the restoration, but the glass was certainly known in 1846. There is now no trace of the arms mentioned by Lee in 1574. Windows designed by Bucknall and Comper were placed in the east window and in the south-east window of the nave in 1894. 

There are memorial tablets to Abraham Deane (d. 1809), William Deane (d. 1846), J. H. R. Mate (d. 1928), H. S. Milford (d. 1952), and to Aston Swindale, M.D. (d. 1952). On the exterior of the south wall of the church there are four 19th-century memorials to members of the Deane and Jackson families.

Apart from the former sundial on the east gable of the nave there are five scratch dials on the south-east wall of the nave and one on the left of the south door which must antedate the porch.

There were three bells in 1552. They were recast in 1884 and another three added. The oldest bell is the former tenor of c. 1470 and inscribed Sancta Katerina ora pro nobis. The predecessors of the two other bells were dated 1603 and 1635. 

The Elizabethan chalice and paten cover are dated 1575. There is also a large silver paten (hall-marked 1694) and a pewter flagon. At the Reformation the church possessed two chalices with patens 'parcell gylte', two corporal cases, two candlesticks, and a number of vestments and altar clothes. 

The registers begin in 1568 and there is a Churchwardens' account book for 1641–81.

Historical information about The Church of St. Leonard and St. Catherine is provided by 'Parishes: Drayton St Leonard', in A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 7, Dorchester and Thame Hundreds, ed. Mary Lobel (London, 1962), pp. 71-81. British History Online [accessed 19 March 2023].

The Church of St. Leonard and St. Catherine is a Grade II listed building. For more information about the listing see CHURCH OF ST LEONARD, Drayton St. Leonard - 1194604 | Historic England.

For more information about The Church of St. Leonard and St. Catherine see Parishes: Drayton St Leonard | British History Online (