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The United Benefice of Breedon and Worthington
Home : Breedon Church : The Breedon Story Help

The Story of St. Mary and St. Hardulph Church

A Guide Around The Church

View Breedon Church Plan
Click above for a plan of Breedon Church


The church we see today is essentially the eastern priory end of a much more extensive group of buildings. It comprises of a west tower and former priory chancel now serving as the nave and chancel flanked by a north and south aisle. The former south transept leading off the tower now reduced from its former medieval height serves as the main entrance with a vestry room over it. (This room was originally designated as a school room after the reformation by the parishioners). The earliest outward portions of the surviving church are the middle and lower stages of the tower with its thin clasping Norman buttress work. The western face reveals the early blocked semi circular arch once giving access to the tower from the now demolished parochial nave. The pillar on the unfilled arch is re-used stone to serve only as a buttress to the blocked opening. The original base for it projects further south toward the porch suggesting the now lost western end of the church included a 13th. century aisle. Above this arch is a chevron decorated Norman window and roof pitch markings cut in the sandstone blocks of the early and late medieval period.

Norman door
The small Norman door in the tower, N. wall

The north face of the tower also reveals roof pitch marks, probably in association with the former priory cloister and domestic buildings ranged on this side. There is also a very narrow door with a Norman outer Chevron moulding enclosing an inner frame of sandstone blocks simply decorated with lozenges over the head. The outer frame suggests an early Norman date though the inner construction and proportion is almost suggestive of earlier Saxon. The north aisle commences after the tower with another blocked 13th. century door with one decorative rosette roundel on the right surviving. This was hidden until a few years ago under a later heavy buttress and proved to be weakening rather than adding strength to the wall. Its removal also revealed a fragment of Saxon Cross built into the wall (the Adam and Eve piece described inside) while two further fragments were removed from the buttress rubble. Immediately over this door is a tall single 13th. century lancet window, the bottom half of which, divided by a wooden Lintel was in fact a door that gave access to the night stairs leading from the now gone first floor monks dormitory into the church. To the left in the wall is a squint through which the monks could peep into the church possibly to avoid interrupting prayers at the wrong moment. The north aisle three light windows between the buttresses like those on the south aisle date to the early 14th. century. The east end of the church has 13th. century single lancet windows, though the central three over the altar are a more modem restoration. The battlemented clerestory and windows are the 15th. century addition.

Returning round to the south side a curious 15th. century door now blocked once gave access to the south aisle, a semi private entrance perhaps to the chapel in the south aisle.

Returning to the porch notice the fine 18th. century Swithland slate sundial before stepping down inside. Remember this was once the south transept leading off the tower. The steps to the left lead to the vestry while access to the south aisle was once through the fine nail head decorated arch on the right before entering the tower and church proper. Turning right inside we pass from the tower under the 18th. century organ loft filling the tower arch into the body of the church. Graceful quatrefoil pillars decorated with fillet strips separate the nave from the aisles. Stiff leaf carving graces the odd capital.

The north aisle retains its original stone vaulting. The south aisle was once stone vaulted too, its traces mark the walls and now replaced by a much later roof of re-used timbers. The main seating in the church is mainly of 18th. century box pew type and the wooden pulpit is of similar date.

Under the tower now serving as a baptistry is a very fine octagonal 15th. century font. Its faces and pillar support are decorated with elaborate tracery window designs, spoked floral wheels and several shields in delicate sandstone relief. Some of the medieval families represented by these shields are shown on the illuminated panel behind the font.

The font
The Font - A superb pattern book of medieval tracery and heraldry


These, apart from minor plaques, can only be a reference to the collection filling the north aisle purchased after the reformation by Francis Shirley to serve as the family mausoleum, set behind its formidable heavy iron gnlle. The ornately carved great wooden box with baluster shaft openings and door surmounted by a frieze of cherubs and a technically superb achievement of arms is the Shirley Family Pew dating to 1627. This monstrous item of privacy-seeking furniture once squatted in the body of the church completely dominating the seats of lesser mortals. lf nothing else it reminds us now of the social distinctions of its age. To the east of the pew are three Shirley tombs carved from the nearby Chellaston alabaster made famous throughout Europe by the Nottingham school from the time of the middle ages.

The earliest to Francis Shirley and his wife date 1571 is a tomb chest bearing their effigies with pairs of mourners holding shields around the base. The second to John Shirley and his wife dateable to 1585, lie on a tomb chest decorated with pillars and shields. This together with the third and most imposing monument were made by Richard and Gabriel Royley of Burton on Trent. The final item is to George Shirley and his wife erected 1598. This colossal monument runs almost the full height of the north wall. Starting with the achievement of arms at the top over two coffered arch recesses housing the main figures of Sir George Shirley his wife with two babies in cradles and two sons and a daughter behind. The whole ensemble stands on carved columns enclosing an alabaster carved skeleton or cadaver at the base, symbolizing in a rather grandiose morbid way, the end that awaits even the most illustrious mortals. The translated latin inscription makes interesting reading, telling us also that the poor wife died in childbirth at the age of .29. The monument has been recently restored and is a splendid example of its period, comparable only elsewhere in the country perhaps with those in Bottesford church.

A former 18th. century restorer who inscribed his name on the back of the front plinth supported on the base pillars was the sculptor Thomas Allt, who was also responsible for many of the fine slate headstones standing in the churchyard.


One fragment of early 14th. century glass survives. It is in the easternmost window of the north wall of the Shirley aisle in the very head of the window. It depicts the crucified Christ flanked by two figures, the left figure now missing.

Above the altar the restored east windows of the church depict scenes from the Old and New Testament and a view of Breedon Church. In the cusped round window over - our Lord sits on a rainbow in Heaven. This glass was donated in 1900 by Sarah Ann Earp of Staunton Harold in memory of members of the family.

Tower Bells

In the tower there is a ring of six bells of which the largest is 9 cwt. (almost ½ ton). Originally there were only 4 bells but in 1952 two new trebles were added to make a very nice ring of six. All the bells were made at John Taylor's in Loughborough except for No. 4, this is a very old lady cast in Nottingham in 1604 and sounds just as good today.

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