Church from the east about 1900 [X758/1/12/102]
The lowest stage of the tower of Saint Leonard's church is 12th century but it was rebuilt in the 15th century and the upper three stages of the tower are all of that date. Work was also carried out in the next century as there are 16th century square-headed three light windows to the south-east and west in the south aisle. One of the bells was cast late in the 16th century.
Church from the east March 2008
Most of the structural history of the church can be found in detail in Bedfordshire Historical Record Society Volume number 79 of 2000 Bedfordshire Churches in the Nineteenth Century: Part III: Parishes S to Y, put together by former County Archivist Chris Pickford from numerous sources some held by Bedfordshire & Luton Archives & Records Service and some held elsewhere or published. In 1617 the chancel was said to be out of repair [ABC5 page 214] and three bells were cast for the church between 1623 and 1653.
Sir Samuel Ongleys monument July 2007
The most prominent feature of the 18th century in the church is the monument to Sir Samuel Ongley [died 1726] by P.Scheemakers and L.Delvaux, for which a faculty was granted in 1728 for erection in place of a pew at the west end of the church [ABF3/211]. In 1787 a faculty was granted for the construction of the Ongley vault and mausoleum in the churchyard [ABF3/212-213].
Survival from the former Abbey on a column in the south arcade march 2008
In 1822 a terrier recorded that the ancient plate had been stolen in March 1821 [ABE5]. In 1827 the church had a small organ and the notebook of Archdeacon notes that the chancel was repaired in 1836.
Interior of church looking east drawn by John Sunman Austin 1854 [Z50/129/37]
It was in 1841 that the largest change to the church since the Middle Ages occurred. Nikolaus Pevsner in his Buildings of England volume for Bedfordshire notes, in rather horrified fashion: "There is nothing in this exterior to prepare for the shock in store upon entering. One can only just register the high unmoulded Norman tower arch…before going under in a mass of woodwork indiscriminately got together by Robert Henley, Lord Ongley, in 1841…It oppresses you from all sides; it is utterly disjointed…" The 3rd Baron Ongley crammed in woodwork from England and Flanders varying in date from the 16th to the 18th century; there is a Jacobean gallery in the south aisle and a hotchpotch of 16th and 17th century Belgian panels making up the box pews. To some it is oppressive, to others wonderfully eclectic and charmingly cluttered. Whatever one's view it is not quickly forgotten. A gallery of some of the pieces is at the bottom of this page.
Interior of church looking west drawn by John Sunman Austin 1854 [Z50/129/38]
As well as shoe-horning in all this woodwork the roof of the nave was also rebuilt in 1841 and a new barrel organ installed in the gallery in 1842, which was replaced by a harmonium bought by subscription in 1876 [P105/8/1]. In 1872 the Shuttleworths succeeded the Ongleys as the principal landowners in the parish and, almost in a spirit of needing to do something to keep up with his predecessor, Frank Shuttleworth installed an 18th century pulpit from Edinburgh into the creaking mass of 16th to 18th century woodwork in the 1880s [ABE3]. He also gave a new organ in 1887 and a chamber on the north side of the chancel to put it in [P105/8/1].
Chancel east window March 2008
Between 1888 and 1889 the chancel was restored by Samuel Whitbread [P105/8/1], the east end was completely rebuilt and Caroline Shuttleworth paid for a new stained glass east window as a memorial to Joseph Shuttleworth who had died in 1883. This began a trend and over the next fifteen years most of the windows were filled with stained glass as memorials to various Shuttleworths, Caroline herself died in 1899 and is commemorated by a window on the south side of the chancel. In that year the bells were restored and increased to six in number [P105/2/2/2]. Two years later a vestry was built onto the north side of the church to designs of Charles Hodgson Fowler of Durham [X428/4].
Nave north wall east window - March 2008
In the 20th century the tower and south aisle were repaired in 1935 [P105/2/2/5] and in the same year 14th century restored glass from Warden Abbey was installed in the north-east nave window [P105/2/2/5]. In 1952 a south porch was erected in memory of Richard Ormonde Shuttleworth, a pilot officer in the RAF Volunteer Reserve who died on 2nd August 1940, aged 31, and is buried in the churchyard [P105/2/2/11-17]. The church underwent extensive repairs by Ampthill architects Richardson and Houfe between 1955 and 1956.
Church interior looking east April 2007
In March 1997 much of the carved woodwork inside the church was stolen. Whether this was for money or by someone who felt it oppressed them is not clear. In the gallery below the images are as follows: Abraham and Isaac carving April 2007; pulpit panel April 2007; pulpit panel March 2008; angel carving April 2007; pew end April 2007; snake head from pews April 2007.