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The United Benefice of Breedon and Worthington
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The Story of St. Mary and St. Hardulph Church

In the Beginning

The hill of Breedon situated two miles south of the River Trent in North West Leicestershire is a 122m upthrust of Carboniferous Limestone. It is really a mixture of dolomite and limestone rich in places with fossils. The dolomite is a yellow-pink stone mixed with the grey limestone and stained a deeper tone by the red surface clay giving the striking colour to the bared quarry face one sees approaching from the north and east.

Geologists still argue the reasons why and how this hill was thrust up at some unknown time, having previously been formed some 300 million years ago as the bed of an ancient sea together with seven small outcrops nearby - full of sea fossils (Figure 1).

Bellerophon shell
Figure 1 - Fossil
Bellerophon shell sample of the numerous types in Breedon Hill

How early in time man took any real interest in the hill is not known but a polished stone axe head (Figure 2) of the new stone age or early bronze period, some 3,000 years old, was found in the building of the St. Hardulph School and Community Centre. It is now in Leicester Museum.

Figure 2
The polished stone axe head and how it might have been used

The Iron Age pottery finds on the hill give evidence of occupation which by the 1st. century B.C. culminated in an impressive defence ditch and bank with an inturned entrance on the west side enclosing some 23 acres of the hilltop. The earthwork seems first to have been strengthened by a timber revetment and palisade - replaced later by a stone wall. Excavations have revealed hut circles up to 14.3m in diameter, saddle querns, hammer stones, pottery and other items suggesting occupation into the 1st. century A.D. Half these earthworks and faces have now, like the hill itself, disappeared in quarrying. Some ditch and bankwork of the defence system may still be seen west of the churchyard and beyond the boundary wall. Traditionally Breedon's earthworks have been known locally as 'the bulwarks'.

Roman occupation and settlement probably saw the depopulation of the hill - at least as a fortified settlement with the development of villa and estate systems. Evidence of a Roman/native settlement probably belonging to a villa estate has come to light less than a mile south of the hill. Scattered pottery of the period may suggest others nearby. Occasional fragments have been found on Breedon Hill. This leads to the possibility, not yet proven, that such a striking hill as this may have had a small Roman British Temple of shrine erected within its banks as has frequently occurred elsewhere. The Celtic Mind often associated prominent natural features with spiritual and supernatural forces and Breedon would have every evidence of man's past hand on it.

The passing of Roman power opened in the 5th. century the 'dark age' struggle for control between the British or Celtic peoples and the incoming Angles and Saxons.

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