English Church Architecture -
BILLINGFORD, St. Leonard (TM 168 791) (April 2009)
(Bedrock: Upper Cretaceous, Upper Chalk)
This little church stands isolated in fields on top of a rise but can be reached by car up a track leading north from the A143, a few yards east of the windmill. The building consists of a nave and chancel with the addition of a S. porch and the stump of a broad W. tower, which may be all of the last that was ever constructed (shown left and at the foot of the page) and it is this feature in particular that gives the building its memorable appearance – or, more especially, its tiled pyramidal roof, which is almost contiguous with the roofs of the nave and chancel.
Chancel windows to north and south, and nave windows to the north, are two-light and reticulated, suggesting the main body of the church is early fourteenth century in date, but a slight difference in style between these parts appears to show that either they are not fully contemporary or that different masons were responsible for them. The nave windows to the south are Perpendicular insertions, with supermullioned tracery and castellated transoms, while the present E. wall to the chancel seems likely to be Victorian. The porch outer doorway is badly worn, and its side windows are rectangular replacements with wooden frames of possibly eighteenth century origin; inside the church, a stair immediately west of the inner doorway, once led to an upper storey. The tower, such as it is, has been heavily patched and has a projecting stair turret at the east end of the S. wall rising to a height barely above the eaves of the nave roof. Its date is probably indicated by the restored three-light Perpendicular W. window with strong mullions beneath a segmental-pointed arch.
The chancel arch is composed of two orders, of which the inner carries a wave moulding above and below the capitals, and the outer bears a hollow chamfer that is continuous all the way round. The tower arch is formed of two flat-chamfered orders, with the inner supported on semicircular responds and the outer dying into the jambs. The easternmost S. window in the chancel has a lowered sill to act as a sedilia, and there is a piscina immediately beyond to the east. The chancel roof is modern but the nave roof, framed in seven cants, is partly mediaeval and scissor-braced above collars. However, the church interior is interesting chiefly for its furnishings, of which the most striking are several fourteenth or fifteenth century bench ends, re-used in the nineteenth century pews, a few of which have poppyheads in the form of carved heads. (See the photographs above left and centre.) The rood screen, formed of two, one-light divisions each side of the opening, retains a little paintwork on the dado and has alternate traceried lights and brattishing above the cornice. The rood stair rising within the splay of the easternmost nave N. window, starts about three feet up and was presumably once reached from wooden steps below. The plain-panelled pulpit has an octagonal tester with acorn pendants and is possibly early eighteenth century in date. The octagonal font (shown above right) is one of many in this area featuring a bowl carved with the symbols of the Evangelists alternating with angels holding shields, carried on a stem with four lion supporters between buttresses, but it is also one of a number curiously aligned to face east-northeast, east south-east, south-southeast, etc., instead of the cardinal and ordinal directions. Finally, the nave S. wall carries a conspicuous but completely unidentifiable wall painting, in the state of preservation one comes to expect of such work after it has been exposed for several centuries to the damp English climate.