On my way to somewhere else entirely, I thought I’d stop and pay a visit to this lonely little church/chapel, which sits in the middle of a field, a kilometre away from the nearest village (although funnily enough, only a few hundred metres from the nearest pub). It’s no longer used for regular worship, but nor is it abandoned – it sees regular upkeep and maintenance, which is funded by the Church’s Conservation Trust and, although for some the architecture might be a little plain, the more austere aesthetic definitely works for me – it’s certainly more of a cosy place of quiet contemplation, than an awe inspiring onslaught of size and intricate glass and stonework.
St Mary’s is an Anglican chapel (although it’s often referred to as a church) and was constructed sometime in the mid-12th century. If you’re wondering about the ‘Lead’ in the title, it seems to derive from the Anglo Saxon word ‘gehleodu” meaning ‘vault’, and was the name given to the settlement of ‘lede’ that was once here, which consisted of a manor house (for which the chapel was built as a private place of worship), and presumably several other residences for labourers and the like, which have long since disintegrated. The chapel itself has done well to survive as well as it has (even taking into account the various restorations over the centuries) considering, not just the hundreds of years of weathering, but the often turbulent periods of history it’s had to endure. During the War of the Roses, the infamously violent Battle of Towton was fought less than half a kilometre away and it’s very possible the chapel was used for shelter and prayer by it’s participants – most likely members of the Yorkist faction, whose battle line was the nearest to the building.
Despite it’s ‘redundant’ status, St Mary’s still plays host to a variety of small scale local events, and even an annual service which, as it turns out, through absolutely no act of planning on my part, coincided precisely with my visit – down to the hour. It’s one of those coincidences that felt a little too close for comfort – you hear about fanatics suddenly receiving their ‘divine calling’, and maybe this was mine. Perhaps God’s trying to tell me something… Anyways, rather than having the perhaps desired effect, it scared me off – I considered going to the service, telling myself it could make for a novel experience. I’ve not been to church (formally) since primary school and back then it was something to tolerate before returning to normality, the doctrine totally lost on me. Now I’m older, not necessarily wiser, but certainly more cynical, and I don’t think I could take an hour of being preached to, even in the UK’s more subdued style of sermon (well, compared to the US at least).
Rather than wait around for the service to finish, I elected to come back on the return journey when everyone had cleared off. The interior is just as basic as the outside, with little or no ornamentation adorning fittings such as the medieval era benches, the font, and the 18th century pulpits. 5 tombstones are embedded into the floor before the altar (itself a redundant tombstone), which commemorate the Tyas family who would have owned the nearby manor house (of which little evidence remains). The Tyas line ended eventually and the chapel was passed down through various families until the late 16th century, whereupon presumably the remaining estate holders either died out or moved on, leaving the chapel abandoned.
Despite, my lack of religious leaning, I can still appreciate the architecture and artistry that have been wrought in it’s name though, and so it seems, have ITV, as St Mary’s features in their 2016 miniseries ‘Dark Angel’ about the serial killer Mary Ann Cotton. It’s quite prominent in the trailer below (although some artistic license has been taken with the gravestones outside which you won’t see if you visit it for yourself):
I wonder if the Tyas family saw that coming…