History

Last Updated: Sunday, 14 May 2017

 

During  the  1100s  the  first church building of St Leonard’s was constructed. On a hill a little way from the city walls, it occupied the same site our present church does today. At this time St Leonard’s was the smallest parish in Devon.

 

Who was St Leonard?


There is no record of why this church was named for St Leonard, but he was a popular saint throughout Europe when the church was first dedicated. Leonard was a nobleman living around the time of Clovis 1 (who unified the Frankish kingdom and converted to Catholic Christianity in 486). Leonard refused a bishopric and chose instead to become a monk, founding a community which particularly cared for prisoners. We have a small statue of St Leonard, identifiable as such because of the chains he is always depicted carrying, in the tower room to the rear of the main church. How appropriate that the patron saint of prisoners gives his name to a church proclaiming freedom in Christ!

 

1285  Lucas, the Rector of St Leonard’s Church, was suspected of complicity, along with 19 other plotters, in the murder of Walter Lechlade, the Cathedral Precentor.

 

The Bible in English 

Was first put in the church in 1540 (it was probably chained to a pillar for safety), but, at a time when only one in 4 men in England could read, it was not actually required to be read aloud in English until three years later! Services were still conducted in Latin until 1549.

 

The church was extensively repaired and enlarged or possibly rebuilt around 1566 using local Heavitree stone. It is recorded that at the time of the civil war, the church was damaged by ammunition fired from the city wall. The parish of St Leonard's still had only a tiny population, in 1744 there were only nineteen families in the parish and in 1801 it was still the smallest parish in Devon. It finally became part of the expanding city of Exeter in 1877 (under protest from the parishioners).

 

Another rebuilding. 

In 1833 the old church building was replaced by one described as “a handsome Georgian edifice” and as “the very ugliest of modern architectural abominations”! This building did not last very long, soon being found to be structurally unsound. It had an extremely weighty flat iron roof (one of the then Rector’s relatives was said to be in the iron trade) which meant the walls were showing signs of collapsing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our  present  church  building.


The foundation stone of the church building that stands today was laid in 1876, the chancel being built
first and the rest of the church 10 years later at a cost of £6,700. At this time the Rector of St Leonard’s, at the age of 25, was the youngest Rector in England. The 145ft spire was added later, followed by the vestry in 1902, which is now used as the church office.

 

Roberts Road Church Hall 

Was built in 1890 as a Sunday School and Mission Hall. It has been used for outreach to local people in many ways over the years and as a meeting place for children’s groups, teenagers, community groups and church Holiday Clubs. It is currently used by a local Christian organisation, Exeter House of Prayer, as a prayer space, café & community hub.

In 1970 the parish boundary was extended to include Holy Trinity and our official parish title is now St Leonard’s with Holy Trinity, Exeter.

 

Trial by fire

In 1965 a foyer building was added next to the church for use as a crèche. This was completely destroyed by arson in 1989. The church itself was still structurally sound but left badly smoke damaged. Following this the church was completely refurbished in 1991 and our church centre  next  to  the  main  building  was completed in 1994.

Acknowledgements:
Eight Hundred Years at St Leonard’s. Printed by James Townsend in 1967
Trial by Fire, John Skinner 2006
www.exetermemories.co.uk (David Cornforth)

Thanks to:   Pam Williams and Sheila Grove

Produced by:    Mel Mullen, Church Office, January 2014