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St Leonard, Blithfield, Staffordshire

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Feature Sets (2)

Description

Blithfield takes its name from the river Blythe, a tributary of the Trent, and is some 8 miles E of the centre of Stafford and 4 miles N of Rugeley. There is no village any longer; all that remains are the hall, the church and the old rectory (damaged by fire in 1962 and rebuilt into apartments in the 1980s). The old village disappeared, probably in the 16thc. or 17thc., to allow the extension of parkland for the hall. The Blythe itself was dammed in 1953 to form Blithfield Reservoir, over two miles long and half a mile wide, and now a centre for wildlife and leisure activities as well as a source of water for S Staffordshire.

St Leonard's is of pinkish grey sandstone and consists of a nave with aisles and a tall clerestory, a chancel with a polygonal N vestry and a W tower. The four-bay nave arcades are mid-13thc. work, with cylindrical piers, moulded capitals and pointed arch with chamfered orders. The aisle windows are 14thc. square-headed double lights and there is a S doorway with a porch by Street (1860). The nave was heightened and the tall clerestory added around 1500. The chancel is ofc.1300 or slightly later, with Y-tracery windows and ogee tracery in the piscina. In the S wall outside is a niche tomb that has been identified as that of Richard de Blithfield, rector fromc.1185-1234. On the N side of the chancel, the polygonal vestry dates from 1829-30. It was built as a mortuary chapel for the Bagot family, and is liberally supplied with Bagot memorials. Other Bagot tombs stand in the chancel itself. The W tower is of two storeys, 14thc. below and 15thc. above with diagonal buttresses and a battlemented parapet. The chancel was restored to Pugin's designs in 1851, and the work included replacing the timber roof and the E window. An attractive, simplified S view ofc.1770 in the William Salt Library (SV II 53) shows the church without its porch and apparently lacking a chancel roof. In Buckler's 1824 SE view (SV II 46) the porch is also lacking and the chancel is heavily overgrown with creeper. His NE view of the same year (SV II 48) shows the N side before the polygonal mortuary chapel was added. Other antiquarian views are noted in the bibliography. The church contains a 12thc. pillar piscina that has been ingeniously converted for use as an offertory box, and is thus prominently sited opposite the S nave doorway.

History

Blithfield was held by Edmund, a free man, before the Conquest, and in 1086 by Earl Roger and Roger from him. It consisted of one hide of ploughland, six acres of meadow and woodland three furlongs by one. A priest was recorded at that date, suggesting the presence of a church. By the 14thc. the lordship was in the hands of a family taking its name from the manor, and it passed to the Bagots in 1357, when Sir Ralph Bagot of Abbots Bromley married Elizabeth, daughter and heir of John Blithfield. The Bagots still hold much of Blithfield.

Benefice of Abbots Bromley with Blithfield.

Features

Furnishings

Piscinae/Pillar Piscinae

Pillar piscina

In the S nave aisle, alongside pier 3 of the S arcade, stands a pillar piscina converted for use as an offertory box. It is monolithic with a cylindrical shaft carved into an irregular design of fine nested-vee rolls. This stands on a base having a fat lower roll and two thin rolls above, and this in turn on a squared off plinth. The capital is of multi-scallop form carved in low relief with conical wedges between the cones, and has a roll necking. It is generally worn, and the abacus has been cut back and encircled by a steel band in the process of conversion to its present use.

Dimensions
circum. of shaft 0.72 m
h. of base 0.22 m
h. of capital 0.18 m
h. of shaft 0.43 m
overall h. 0.84 m
w. of capital (E-W) 0.27 m
w. of capital (N-S) 0.27 m

Comments/Opinions

This appears to be the only pillar piscina surviving in the county. It probably dates from the first half of the 12thc.

Bibliography

  • Staffordshire County Council, Staffordshire Views Collection, SV II 46, 47, 48, 49, 53, 57. Available online at http://www.staffordshire.gov.uk/portal/page?_pageid=47,71124and_dad=portaland_schema=PORTAL
  • D. S. Murray, Notes on the Early History of the Parish of Blithfield. Undated church guide. The author was Rector 1879-1919.
  • N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Staffordshire. Harmondsworth 1974, 72.
  • G. Wrottesley, A History of the Family of Bagot, of Bagots Bromley and Blithfield. London 1908.
Exterior from W.
Exterior from SE.
Interior to E.
Chancel to E.
Interior to W.

Location

Site Location
Blithfield
National Grid Reference
SK 044 240 
Boundaries
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales): Staffordshire
now: Staffordshire
Diocese
medieval: Lichfield (to 1075); Chester (to c.1086); Coventry and Lichfield (to 1541)
now: Lichfield
Dedication
now: St Leonard
medieval: not confirmed
Type of building/monument
Parish church  
Report authors
Ron Baxter