History of St Leonard's, Keevil

It is thought that there was an extremely early church within the parish, at around the end of the 11th century; a church, its tithes and lands were granted to Shaftesbury Abbey by the lord of the manor, Ernulf de Hesdin, when his daughter became a nun there. This church is thought to have originally stood where St Leonard's now is, but evidence is scarce.

In 1393 the advowson of Keevil was sold by the Abbey of Shaftesbury to the Priory at Edington. It is presumed that the monks went swiftly about the business of building a new church.The church built by them was known as St Leonard's by 1396. There were initially two chapels; one was known as the Lady Chapel.

St Leonard was the patron saint of prisoners and other churches within Wiltshire which share the name include Minety and Broad Blundson. He was born in Le Mans, in France, and died at Limoges in 559.


The church ha
s a nave, chancel, north and south transepts, south aisle, west tower and three porches, facing north, west and south. The nave is especially interesting as it is irregular; one side is at least one foot shorter than the other, creating a slightly wonky effect. The chancel has two single windows.

There was an extension and enlargement of the church in the years 1516-1517. Some restoration occurred at the start of the 19th century; in 1807 the rood loft was taken down because of dry rot and in 1814 the pews were found to be rotten and were replaced. The altar floor was raised and the altar piece extracted in 1815 at a cost of £42.

In 1909 the organ was installed in the church for £300.

The font in the church is the original one, but took a leave of absence in19th century when it was replaced by a new creation. In 1840, the Reverend Crawley of Steeple Ashton found the font in a stonemason's yard. He bought it and kept it in his garden for some time before giving it to the Reverend W.H. Pooke, who installed it back in its original position in St Leonard's.

The churchyard was enlarged in 1864 and Heating apparatus was installed in 1905 but the process took until 1909 to complete.

The east window is in memory of the Reverend G.T. Chamberlaine, who was a prominent member of the community. Two smaller windows in the church were the gift of the Wallington family; the first in 1901 and the second in 1905. The clock on the first floor of the tower has no hands. It is not clear exactly when it was built but was probably from around the turn of the 18th century. There are many mural tablets within the church, lots of them using coloured marble, and they commemorate local families such as the Blagden family of the 18th century.

In 1553 there were four bells and a Sanctus bell at St Leonard's. The Sanctus bell at the church is thought to be one of the oldest in the country, dating from the 12th century. It was moulded on a lathe which is notable as the majority of later bells were cast. In March 1902, the tenor bell fell down, but as it was kept from falling too far by the wooden frame, no-one was injured. In the spring of 2000, the bells were taken down from the tower and sent for cleaning. In the meantime there was refurbishment of the cast iron frames and wooden wheels and installation of safety netting. The bells were re-hung on 13 September 2000.

The vicarage of St Leonard's was built in 1842 by Rev. Pooke and was enlarged in 1869. It was also known as Field Head and is now a private house. The new vicarage was built in 1954.Keevil last had a resident vicar in 1970 and ever since then the vicars have lived in Steeple Ashton.

During a restoration in the later part of the 20th century, stone gargoyles clinging to the side of the church were considered to be in such a bad condition they would have to be removed. New gargoyles, at a cost of £20,000 were installed, but were purely decorative, unlike the originals which were a way of draining excess water from the church roof.

The church is a Grade II* listed building and there are several monuments in the graveyards which are Grade II listed. The parish registers from1559 (christenings and marriages) and 1562 (burials), other than those in current use are held at the Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre at Chippenham.

(courtsey of Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre)

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