St Leonard's Church History

St Peter's Church HistoryAncestry

A building was erected on the site of St Leonard’s Church about 1839 on land donated by John Augustus Sullivan, the owner of the Richings Park estate. Its main purpose may have been as a school for estate workers of Richings Park, but it was soon licensed for services although there was no regular worship there. The building later fell out of use but in 1874 Mrs Charlotte Meeking of Richings Park paid for restoration  work.

The porch was transferred to the west end of the building and a small chancel was added at the east end where the porch had been. The stone windows were inserted and the stained glass window at the east end was built featuring the Lamb and Flag (Agnus Dei). There was pew seating for 50 worshippers and the building was lit by oil lamps hanging from the ceiling. A bell turret and bell were added at the west end and a new boundary wall was built in place of the existing fence. The work was carried out by W Fassnidge Ltd of Uxbridge who presented the lectern to the chapel.

The first service in the restored building took place on 29th November 1874 (Advent Sunday) after which there was a service each Sunday at 3.30 p.m. Unfortunately, shortly after the death of Mrs Meeking in 1889 the chapel was closed as it was felt that the parish only needed one church.

On Easter Day 1910 the building was once more re-opened as Thorney Chapel and about 130 assembled to hear the vicar Mr Walter E Gilliat preaching on the text “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead” After this date services were held regularly on Sunday afternoons at 3.00 p.m.

St Leonard’s Church (Chapel) before 1927

St Leonard’s Church, 1930’s

By 1931 the Richings Park estate had been sold by the Meeking family and a large housing estate was being built on part the land. A second major structural change was carried out to the church to accommodate the larger congregation. The building was extended at the west end with a porch on the north side; the builder being L Cotton of Iver. A new pulpit was installed and chairs replaced the pews that were sold off to various people on the new housing estate. Electric lighting and heating were installed.

The foundation stone was laid on 15th June 1931 by Mrs Lewis Hall (nee Meeking) who also donated new communion vessels. The building was later referred to as Thorney Church.

On 26th October 1940 the blast from a bomb shattered most of the windows of the church, with the exception of the stained glass in the east window. A door and most of the ceiling were also destroyed but this was all the damaged sustained although the church was close to Richings Park Mansion used by the R.A.F. bomber command and the Hawkers aircraft factory in Langley.

The church was licensed but for some reason it had never been given a name. In 1942 the church annual meeting agreed that the church be given the dedication of St Leonard. This dedication was continuing the name of an ancient chapel at Richings Park mansion which was also dedicated to St Leonard. Dr Kirk, Bishop of Oxford, dedicated the Thorney church to St Leonard at a service on 11th October 1942.

As the Richings Park estate grew the church thrived. The church choir was formed towards the end of the war starting with a performance of Stainer’s “Crucifixion.” Miss Peggy Bowers sang a verse of a hymn on that occasion and went on to be the choir mistress until the choir was disbanded in 2005. The high standard of the music meant that the choir won many awards at local music festivals.

Music was provided initially by a harmonium provided by Mrs Meeking then by an organ acquired in 1912. A small pipe organ was installed in 1939, (initially hand pumped) then this was succeeded by a two manual reed organ in the mid 1950’s. The present instrument, a pipe organ was brought down from the Lake District in 1970. These last two instruments were found for the parish by the organist Mr F H C Mills.

The next major change was the building of a large new choir vestry in 1960 which also served as a meeting room. The metal rack for the choir robes had pegs in the shape of musical notes arranged to form the first few bars of the hymn “Angel voices ever singing” This improvement was made possible by the efforts of the St Leonard’s Ladies Working Party.

The bell provided in 1973 was an ancient one from Hatfield Peverel Priory in Essex. It replaced the bell given by Mr E. B. Read the churchwarden in the 1920 and 1930’s that was previously used at his brickworks in Thorney Lane.

The church underwent a considerable renovation in 2002/3. Gas fired central heating was installed, the church, vestry and meeting rooms were rewired and new lighting and an overhead projector and screen were installed. The church was redecorated and new chairs were purchased. The following year new kitchen units were fitted in the meeting room thanks to a donation from “The Moonraker Team” a group of church members who had taken part in an overnight trek around the Chiltern Hills.

In 2007 the porch was enclosed by moving the existing door to the outside of the porch. It is hoped that St Leonard’s Church will continue to provide a place for Christian worship for many years to come.