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St John the Baptist, Letton, Herefordshire

(52°6′46″N, 2°58′21″W)
SO 335 465
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Herefordshire
now Herefordshire
medieval Hereford
now Hereford
  • George Zarnecki
  • Neil Stratford
  • Ron Baxter
01 July 1990, 05 May 2005

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Feature Sets

Letton is a village on the River Wye in the W of the county, 11 miles W of Hereford and 7 miles E of the Welsh border at Hay-on-Wye. The village is on the A438, formerly a Roman road, and the church stands at the end of a lane running S from this, surrounded by agricultural buildings. It consists of a nave and chancel with a tower on the N side of the nave and a transept on the S. Construction is of sandstone rubble with tufa dressings. The tower has a timber-framed fourth stage and a pyramid roof. The church is substantially of the 12thc, with additions of the 13thc and 14thc, and a restoration of 1883. Romanesque sculpture is found on the S nave doorway and the W nave dooway.


Soon after the Conquest Letton (Letune) became the property of Walter I de Lacy and after his death in 1085, it passed to his son Roger. In 1086 it was held from him by Tesselin (DS 10.47). The Lacys were one of the most important baronial families in England in the period following the Norman Conquest (Wightman, 1). There were two branches of the family, the Yorkshire branch was based on Pontefract, that in the Midlands on Weobly. Their possessions in Herefordshire were enormous (Wightman, 117ff). In 1096 Roger was banished and the Lacy estates passed to his younger brother Hugh I. The Lacys were great church builders and Walter I for instance, built two new churches in Hereford and, incidentally, died after falling from the scaffolding, whilst supervising the building of one of them. Hugh was the founder of Llanthony Prima (Monmouthshire) and it was he who, in all likelihood, built Letton church and a little later enriched it with sculpture.


Exterior Features


Exterior Decoration

String courses

As already noted by Keyser(31), the geometric decoration of the Letton lintel is similar to the works at Bredwardine (q.v.) and Willersley (q.v.) and he was undoubtedly right when he wrote "it is more than probable that all three were executed by the same man".


E. Gethyn-Jones, "The Letton Lintel Figures" Transactions of the Woolhope Naturalists’ Field Club, 1966, 136-39.

E. Gethyn-Jones. The Dymock School of Sculpture, London and Chichester 1979, 10-12

C. Keyser, A list of Norman Tympana and Lintels. London 1904 (2nd ed. 1927), 31.

G. Marshall, “Remarks on a Norman Tympanum at Fownhope and others in Herefordshire”, Transactions of the Woolhope Naturalists’ Field Club, 1918, 58.

N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Herefordshire. Harmondsworth 1963, 232-33.

RCHME, An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in Herefordshire, 3: North-west, 1934, 134

P. Reutersward, The Forgotten Symbols of God, Stockholm Studies in History of Art, Uppsala 1986.

W. E. Wightman, The Lacy Family in England and Normandy 1066-1194. Oxford 1966, I, 117ff.

Herefordshire Sites and Monuments Record 1705