History of the Church

Welcome to the Parish church of SS Peter and Paul, Leybourne
Thank you for taking the time to visit us. There has been a church on this spot since Saxon times. Thousands of people have entered on their way to worship, be baptised, married, or buried. Their prayers and music have filled the air. The church has survived conflict, changes, Second World War bombs and a great fire in 1966. 

Leybourne, Leyburn and Libourne
The ancient parish of Leybourne takes its name from the little stream (Lillieburn) which still runs through it. Excavations, when the bypass was built in 2005, uncovered weapons and tools showing that there have been people here since prehistoric times. The Domesday Book (1086) says that Leybourne at that time had "a church, 10 slaves, 1 mill, 12 acres of meadow, woodland for 50 pigs".

The Leybourne family is believed to have come over with William the Conqueror and been given lands in Yorkshire. Either the town of Leyburn near Richmond was named after them, or they took their name from it. Today there are Leyburn family members in many parts of the world. Sir Philip de Leyburn moved south and settled here, building the original Leybourne Castle in 1166.

Philip’s great grandson, Sir Roger de Leybourne, was one of the most prominent men in Henry III’s England, and a fearsome warrior. He was sent to defend the King’s lands in Gascony, France. He became governor of the fortified town on the river Dordogne near Bordeaux, which took his name. Today, Libourne is a thriving historic town and the wine making capital of northern Gironde.

The church
The church is a Grade 2 listed building. The oldest part of the present church is the Nave, which is Norman. On the left of the entrance doorway is an ancient basin for holy water, and higher up above the door is the filled in trace of a semi-circular Norman window. A similar window further along was opened and restored in 1961 and shows the original 13th century pretty tracing on the splays. The nave and chancel walls are made of plaster and rubble.

The Chancel was built in the late 12th century. During restoration work in 1937 the steps, which had been added in 1874, were removed, and the tombstones of three former rectors were revealed. In the southeast corner is an early 14th century piscina, a basin which would have been used for water in services.

The oak choir stalls were erected in memory of the Reverend Charles Horan, who was Rector of Leybourne from 1928 to 1932. They incorporate some older carved stall ends.

The Arcade to the North Aisle was added in the 14th century and is typical of the period, with octagonal piers and double chamfered arches. During roof repairs the ceiling of the North Aisle was removed to expose the oak rafters. It is thought that the North aisle was originally much wider. The Northeast chapel where the Heart Shrine is located was a private Leybourne family chapel.

The porch was added in the late 14th or early 15th centuries. In 2019 the original door was moved to the front of the porch and a new glass door erected, to allow light to enter the church.

The current tower is Victorian and was built to encase the previous Norman/Early English tower, which had partially collapsed, as part of the major restoration of the church in 1874 by Sir Arthur Blomfield, a famous architect of the time who among many other things worked on Southwark Cathedral and the Royal School of Music. The original brickwork is still inside. There were originally 3 bells, but only 2 were rehung on a wooden frame, a small ‘priest’s bell’ of 1826 and a heavier bell dating back to Queen Elizabeth I’s reign, inscribed ‘Thomas Goddin, gentleman, Robard Olver, yeoman 1585

On 10 Junev1966 a lightning strike started a terrible fire, which destroyed all the timbers in the belltower. The two bells were then recast into one, which retains the 1585 inscription. This is the bell which still summons worshippers on a Sunday morning and rings out at weddings and funerals.

The Living
On the death of Canon John LLOYD in 1971, the living was placed under sequestration, The Vicar of West Malling, Canon Geoffrey YOUNG was appointed Priest-in-Charge, he was succeeded in 1976 by the Vicar of Larkfield, the Revd. Richard LEA. No Rector was appointed until The Reverend Chris DENCH on 11 May 1998 (having served as Priest in Charge since 11 September 1994). His farewell Eucharist took place on 4 September 2005.

He was succeeded by the Reverend Matthew BUCHAN as Priest in Charge on 16 October 2006. Matthew served as Priest in Charge until 11 October 2020. He continues his ministry with the Royal Air Force.

The Reverend Canon Dr Helen BURN will become the Team Rector for the Kent Downs and Malling Benefice on 5 June 2023