(« back to home page)

English Church Architecture -



SOUTH ORMSBY, St. Leonard (TF 369 752)          (August 2009)(Bedrock: Upper Cretaceous, Lower Chalk)


This church, pleasantly situated on a small hill above the lane, is another in this area constructed chiefly of Spilsby sandstone which outcrops some three miles to the southwest, though externally its colour is greyer than that at Alford or Old Bolingbroke, for example, and it is only seen to its best effect inside, where it shades from olive green through to brown and black. 


The building (shown above, from the northwest) consists of a chancel with an independently-gabled S. chapel, a nave with a lean-to S. aisle and a N. porch, and a W. tower, and - which is not obvious on approach along the path from the northeast - its oldest work is Norman or Norman-Transitional.  That may possibly be the S. aisle W. doorway (illustrated left), which retains its original hood-mould with billet decoration even though it has subsequently been renewed in most other respects, albeit not in the carved heads and floral motifs decorating the sunk chamfer running down the jambs, which are old but not Norman.  A note in the church records a tradition that this doorway came from the ruined church at neighbouring Calceby, but if that is the case, it fits well with the three-bay nave arcade (seen below right, from the southwest), which is Norman-Transitional work of c. 1210, with two round arches and one with a slight point (the westernmost), all double-flat-chamfered, supported on circular piers and semicircular responds all differing from one another in dimensions and design, but including leaf volute decoration on the capital of the western pier and the eastern respond, recalling, perhaps, the transition from water leaf to stiff leaf.  Questions abound from the examination of this arcade.  Are the variations in design along its length the result of incompetence (surely not) or of a number of changes in plan (hard to envisage) or workmen (perhaps more feasible)?  Does the pointed and slightly narrower arch to the west imply this was constructed last (which is possible as mediaeval churches were often built from east to west) or that a Transitional tower once followed that required internal buttressing or posed problems in setting out?  The present tower is probably fourteenth century in date, and (pace Pevsner) more likely Decorated than Perpendicular.  Thus one looks for other evidence that might provide the key to these conundrums, perhaps in the chancel arch or the arches to the S. chapel.  The chancel arch appears to have been renewed above the springing but its present form, together with the semicircular responds below, might fit almost any date in the thirteenth or early fourteenth centuries.  The arch between the aisle and chapel, however (seen in the photograph of the S. chapel, below, taken from the northwest), formed of a very narrow outer chamfer and a wider inner chamfer, dying into the imposts, suggests the date of that may not be much later than c. 1210 either, raising the possibility that the nave and chancel of the original church might have stood where the present aisle and chapel are now, with an aisle to the north, running along the southern side of the present nave.  The two-bay arcade between the chancel and chapel is no help in assessing the feasibility of these speculations for it is late thirteenth or early fourteenth century work, formed of double-flat-chamfered arches supported on a central octagonal pier and dying into the jambs at either end.  However, one possible piece of corroborating evidence may be that little corbels that might once have supported the wall posts of a pitched roof, project above the apices of the nave arcade on the side towards the aisle only, being absent on the side towards the nave, where the wall posts of the nave roof rise only from Victorian corbels higher up in the spandrels.




The church windows today are mostly Victorian in the aisle, chapel and chancel, but Perpendicular in the N. wall of the nave, which is lit be a three-light window towards the east and a four-light window towards the west, both with supermullioned tracery of an idiosyncratic kind, especially in the western window.  (See the photograph, left.)  This has two tiers of sub-reticulation units separated by a castellated supertransom above lights 2b and 3a, which is not particularly unusual, and a “done together” design above lights 1 and 2a and lights 3b and 4, which is.  The square-headed windows in the S. aisle are by the restorer - apparently the omnipresent James Fowler of Louth - and the windows in the chancel and chapel, with reticulated tracery, may also be his, while paying a greater or lesser debt to whatever was there before.


The W. tower rises in three stages to battlements, crocketed pinnacles at the angles, and prominent gargoyles immediately beneath.  The arch to the nave bears two hollow chamfer that die into the imposts, and the bell-openings are two-light with reticulated tracery, suggesting an early fourteenth century (Decorated) date for the structure as a whole, though Pevsner considered it Perpendicular.  That is certainly the period of the inserted(?) three-light W. window, however, which has supermullioned tracery, strong mullions, a latticed supertransom between the two tiers of subreticulation units over the central light, and rather curious “half-supertransoms” above lights 1b and 3a.  To the left of this window, a small rectangular doorway is approached up a flight of steps.


Finally, a brief description of the church’s furnishings should begin with the font (right), which is Perpendicular and octagonal, with detailed carving on the faces of the bowl  depicting angels holding shields within rings seemingly coming from their ears, bearing the Instruments of the Passion and other motifs, including the Sacred Monogram and a crowned “M” for Mary.  The church contains a number of monuments, of which the most notable, on the chancel N. wall, is dedicated to the memory of Anthony Floyer (d. 1834) and signed by John Earle of Hull (1779 - 1863).  On the S. wall opposite, brasses to Sir William Skipwith (d. 1482) and his wife have been re-set in wood;  three supporters beneath appear to suggest they left two daughters and a son.  There are also some notable fragments of sixteenth and seventeenth century Flemish stained glass, re-arranged in the S. window of the chapel.