St Leonard’s Church in Old Langho was built in 1557, a rare church in that it was one of the few constructed in the time of Queen Mary Tudor. Mary, a Catholic, tried to do much to reverse the Protestant policies of her young deceased brother Edward VI and their father, the destroyer of the monasteries, Henry VIII.
What is remarkable is that the building is wholly constructed from re-used stone from the ruins of Whalley Abbey. It is not only the stone blocks that came from the dissolved abbey, but also the five square topped windows whose style dates from the 1400s. Dotted around the exterior are also shields, faces and elaborate carvings that have all been salvaged from the monastery.
The interior also holds much from the abbey. The roof beams are from the monastery, as are fragments of stained glass in the north and south windows of the chancel. It is hard to make out any particular scene, but angel wings, leaves and a hand holding a wind instrument can be discerned. Two high status pieces of stone carving have also been reused here. These are the piscina and the credence shelf. The piscina has a quatrefoil (four lobed) basin with a trefoil (three lobed) head. This was used to wash the vessels used during communion. The elaborately carved credence shelf was where the communion vessels were placed after use. This was originally a holy water stoup at the abbey.
The bench end of the pews are very elaborately carved, featuring the initials of the families that owned the seats and the dates of ownership. These date from 1688 through to 1719. The communion rails are also from the 1600s, as is one of the sanctuary chairs.
In Victorian times, a bellcote was added holding a single bell, which dates from 1756 and has inscribed upon it ‘T. Elleray, curate’. By the late 1800s, the church was becoming dilapidated. William Thomas Carr, a barrister, gave money for its refurbishment which was carried out in 1879 by the famous Lancashire firm of Austin and Paley. Carr’s mother was a member of the wealthy Chew family from Billington and, along with her parents and many of her ancestors, she is buried in the churchyard. A brass plaque found behind the Victorian font commemorates Carr’s gift and below it a separate plaque states that money was also given in the form of shares from the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway.
The churchyard was planted in Victorian times, using trees that were popular at the time – sycamore, copper beech, lime and chestnut. It also contained burials from the nearby Brockholes Hall Hospital, but many of these graves were unmarked. However, just beyond it in a separate burial area is a memorial to the residents of the hospital.
In 1990, the church was taken over by The Churches Conservation Trust. While it is still sanctified, the charity preserve and maintain it for all. It offers champing facilities (camping in a church). For more on this see here and here.
For more on Whalley Abbey, visit our page here. The page gives the history and dissolution of the monastery, and where else you can see parts of it relocated in Lancashire.
Site visited by A. Bowden 2019. Thanks to Nigel and Ian, our Gothic correspondents, for accompanying us on this visit.
The key to open the church is held by the Black Bull pub next door. Park at the pub car park (there is parking in front and behind the pub).
Nearby, just a short drive away
Church of St Leonard Old Langho, The Churches Conservation Trust (2012). Leaflet available within the church
Bathe in Northern Lights, The Churches Conservation Trust (2013). Leaflet available within the church