The Story of St. Mary and St. Hardulph Church
To The Present
Almost perhaps to them in answer to a prayer, another great local family stepped onto the scene in the form of Francis Shirley, Esq. of Staunton who purchased the Priory Church from King Henry VIII after the monastic suppression, as a burial place for himself and his successors. The parishioners saw an opportunity here and made a petition that the Priory Church should also serve as their Parish Church since their own 'being then almost ruinated'. This included the former central tower and the eastern aisled chancel now surviving as the present church. Also mentioned was the south porch with the room over it (the present vestry) to be used for a public school. All this was granted and the former Parish Church to the west of the tower that may have been in part the ancient Saxon Minster Church was pulled down. Carved Saxon stones set in its wails were reported by Nichols to have been removed from it and built into the south porch where they remained until 1937 when they were removed and lead encased inside the present church. An 18th. century engraving shows the surviving north wall of the ancient Parish Church still attached though ruinous to the tower.
In it are two round arched openings and a pillar cluster. The same engraving also appears to show three men gathering the stones to take elsewhere (perhaps many a local barn and house may have them). What carved stones or building rivalled perhaps the oldest in the Midlands, we lost at this time, we shall probably never know - at the time the parishioners probably had justification.
Francis Shirley took over the present north aisle for his family mortuary - hence the monuments behind the iron grille work (detailed in the following perambulation).
At the end of the 18th. century Breedon nearly lost the Priory Church that now survives. In a brief dated January, l2th. 1784 it is stated the Parish Church of Breton, a large ancient structure, was in a very ruinous state and condition; in particular the wails and the roof of the north and south aisles, and the tower of the church, in such a state as to cause their being speedily taken down, and other parts of the church in general much out of repair; and that although the inhabitants had, within the last end years, laid out and expended above £340 in repairing thereof, yet the same were in such great danger of falling that the inhabitants were afraid of assembling therein for the worship of Almighty God; and, in consequence thereof, divine service had not been performed therein for several months past ...
The estimated cost of £3,340 for rebuilding forwarded by the architect, Joseph Wyatt was not raised but the building was 'substantially repaired' leaving the essential surviving fabric of the tower and priory church as we see it today.
Further restorations to the fabric took place in the 19th. and in the 20th. century.