Horringer has been in existence for over 1,000 years. For most of that time, until very recently, it was under the control of various local, aristocratic families. St Leonard’s was almost certainly first named in the 11th century, following the Norman invasion. Since then it has been the parish church for either Greater Horringer or both Greater and Little Horringer, now consolidated and known simply as Horringer.
The earliest recorded name, Horninggeshaeth, occurs c.946 in the will of Theodred, the Anglo Saxon Bishop of London, when he gave the parish to St Edmund. Local people used the name Horningsheath alongside Horringer well into the 20th century. The first element ‘horning’ derives from the bend in the river Linnet, which forms the northern boundary of the parish. The second element refers to ploughed land: thus we have ‘ploughed land in the bend of the river’.
The Domesday Book of 1086 records at Horninsworda (one of a number of alternative names) a community of 43 families, indicating a population of some 215 people. Only about a third of the parish was under cultivation with c.650 acres of arable land, three acres of meadow and c.50 acres of woodland. There was a church, which must have been on the site of St Leonard’s, with six acres of glebe land. The livestock comprised five horses, 14 cattle, 30 swine and 45 sheep.
Leonard of Noblac (or Limoges) was a sixth century abbot whose cult spread rapidly in France in the 11th century. It seems likely therefore that the 1086 church was dedicated to St Leonard.
The Medieval Church
The footprint of the nave is that of the Norman church and matches the size of local surviving Norman naves, such as Risby, Wordwell and Little Saxham. The chancel at this time would have been half its present length.
In the 14th century the chancel was lengthened. The elaborate east window has reticulated tracery at the top, circular side columns and a hood mould supported by corbel heads. The two-light south windows, although given a Victorian make over in 1866, are in the 14th century style. The 14th century north-west window was moved into the north chapel in 1866 when the two arches replaced the chancel wall. In the south wall of the sanctuary are the 14th century piscina, for washing the communion vessels, with round side columns like the east window, and the low sedilia seat for the deacon and sub-deacon assisting at Mass.
In the 14th century the nave was re-windowed. The small Norman lancet windows in the north and south walls were replaced with larger two-light windows. All except one of these windows were removed between the 15th century, when the south chapel was added, and 1845, when the North aisle was built. The chancel arch and south doorway are part of the 14th century work. There was also a south porch of the same period. The only surviving part of the Norman walling is between the porch and the tower. This section also contains the only 14th century window in the nave. Inside the south door, on the right, is a holy water stoup.
In the 15th century the tower was built or, more probably, rebuilt. The tall tower arch has capitals decorated with battlements and small flowers. Until 1912 there was a doorway below the west window. The south chapel, or aisle, with its single archway was added to the nave. There is no documentary evidence to indicate if this was a chantry chapel, a side chapel or aisle before the Reformation. However, if this was a chantry chapel for the Lucas family of Horsecroft, it would be natural that after the Reformation it would continue to be used as the private pew of the owners of Horsecroft. David Davy in 1834 described it as ‘the pew of Mr Wigston (of Horsecroft) under it a vault for the family, above which the seating is raised’. The windows date from 1876 and are copied from those in the chancel. However illustrations by Isaac Johnson in 1818 and James Buckler in 1838 both show a 15th century window.
The earlier porch determined the length of the new chapel or aisle. Once it was completed the porch was rebuilt. Money was given in 1464 ‘for the porch to be newly made 6s 8d’. More gifts of £1 and 6s 8d followed in 1470 and 1474. The chapel has a western entrance from the porch, a feature which can also be seen at Kenton church.
The Pre-Reformation Church
Wills of Horringer parishioners give details of the interior before the Reformation in the 1540s.
At the east end of the chancel there was a statue of our Patron St Leonard in the left corner of the sanctuary. In 1470 one shilling was left ‘for painting the image of St Leonard’. In the right corner was a statue of St Mary, to which in 1529 a cow was given to the churchwardens to rent out. The annual income was to be used to provide candles ‘before Our Lady’. In the north wall of the sanctuary was the Easter Sepulchre, a ‘mock up’ of the tomb in which Jesus was laid. A parishioner gave 3s 4d in 1464 to provide candles to burn from Good Friday until Easter Sunday. Another cow was bequeathed in 1534 to purchase oil for the sanctuary lamp ‘burning before the crucifix in the chancel’.
A new rood loft was constructed over the screen under the chancel arch to which the massive sum of £10 was given in 1485. On the loft stood the rood figures, Jesus crucified flanked by St John and St Mary. There are still scars and lumps above the capitals of the chancel arch where the wooden loft was fitted into the masonry. The hook, which supported the top of the cross, remains in the apex of the arch. Hanging in front of the rood figures was a circular cartwheel chandelier, called a Rowell, to which a cow was given in 1534 - the income to provide 12 candles forever.
There were also two gilds dedicated to the Holy Trinity and St John the Baptist. The social aspect of the gilds took place in the Gildhall, where members feasted, drank, danced and had fellowship. The religious aspect took place in St Leonard’s on the feast days of Trinity and Baptist, when all the members met together at their special altars to pray for the souls of deceased members. The two altars were probably in front of the rood screen, either side of the chancel arch.
The belfry stage of the tower was rebuilt in the classical style in 1703. Extensive repairs took place in the Regency period: The whole of the exterior was rendered over with stucco, masking all the medieval stone and flintwork, which gave the church the appearance of being ‘new’ and only just completed. The Bury & Norwich Post was prompted to describe the church as " thoroughly repaired and beautified". In 1912-13, the then Rector, The Rev'd Lord Manners Hervey, undertook the co-ordination of the restoration of the tower and nave, entailing the blocking-up of the tower's West Door.
The East Window
Our beautiful east window is worthy of note, depicting St Etheldreda of Ely (our cathedral prior to 1914 was Ely), St Leonard, the Blessed Virgin Mary and the infant Jesus, and St Edmund.
Our link to the Hervey Family
Included as part of the manorial rights acquired by the Hervey family in 1806 was the Advowson of St Leonard’s. This was the right to appoint, or ‘present’, the Rector of Horringer as the position fell vacant. Successive Marquesses of Bristol appointed the Rector from 1814 until 1989 when Frederick, the 7th Marquess, gave the Advowson to the Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich.
Several members of the Hervey family were ordained, two of whom became Rectors of Horringer. The Rev'd Lord Arthur Hervey (portrait here), who later became Bishop of Bath and Wells, was Rector 1852 – 69; and The Rev'd Lord Manners Hervey (portrait here) was Rector 1900 – 44.
The church today
Since the Millennium we have been united in a benefice with the parishes of Brockley, Westley and Whepstead. We share in mission, ministry and fellowship together.