Stapleford, Leicestershire – St Mary Magdalene

The Churches Conservation Trust website describes Stapleford church as “A tasteful church with fabulous family tombs”. It is at SK811182 and stands in Stapleford Park – website – advertised as a Hotel and Sporting Estate. Lots of places you can get married, including the church, but is it any wonder our churches are struggling to attract weddings when there is so much money being poured in to secular venues? I wonder how much people spend attending the “Health and Well-being Centre” – while the last church I visited has no money for a new roof, and here the church stands un-used. In my depressed moments, I wonder what future we have. Sorry, end of moan.

The manor of Stapleford was given to the Ferrers family after the Norman Conquest. In 1366 John of Gaunt settled it on his first wife Blanche as part of her dowry. In 1402 it went to the Sherard family, and they held it for almost 500 years. It was sold in 1885, and passed to the Gretton family in 1894 – they were a Bass brewing family. The family sold it in 1987, and the church passed to the CCT in 1996.

There was a medieval church on this site, but this one was designed by George Richardson and built by Staveley of Melton Mowbray in 1783. Richardson was a draughtsman in the London architectural office of Robert and James Adam, and accompanied James on his Grand Tour of 1760-63. I feel I should chuck it all in and go on a Grand Tour – I didn’t even manage to go inter-railing in my youth. He is responsible for the ceiling of the Marble Hall at Kedleston Hall.

The exterior is of smooth local limestone ashlar, and has what the guidebook describes as “a series of fancifully shaped heraldic shields”. They depict the arms of families allied by marriage to the Sherards. Apparently it looks rather lovely in Spring – it has not been a sunny January, we are missing it.

The church is lovely. Nice ceiling, lovely spacious feel, and very light. They had had a recent wedding, which gave it a nice feel too. The woodwork is of high quality – this may be a parish church, but really it was the family chapel. You can climb into the Balcony, where the family used to sit – nice fire.

There is a brass in the middle of the floor. It commemorates Geoffrey Sherard, who died in 1490, and his wife Joan, and their fourteen children.

On the north side of the altar is the tomb of the 1st Earl Harborough. He died in 1732, and this tomb was moved from the old church. It was sculpted by Michael Rysbrack (c 1693-1770), a Flemish sculptor. The Earl is in Roman civil dress, reclining in a Roman pose. She is clothed as a Roman matron, and holds their son who died in infancy.

On the south side is the magnificent tomb of Sir William Sherard, ennobled by Charles I as Lord Sherard and Baron Leitrim. He died in 1540, and his tomb was erected by his wife Abigail. He rests his feet on a ram, the supporter of the Sherard arms, while Abigail’s are on a greyhound, the supporter of her Cave family arms. Lovely figures of the children too. The guide does not say who made it.

A lovely simple altar. The marble reredos, with Blue John inserts for the centre, is by Richard Brown of Derby, and was added to the church in 1795. Worth a visit.

19 February – I have just discovered the website of the Stapleford Miniature Railway – here. Two open weekends a year – 10/11 June 2017 and August Bank Holiday. I already have Darley Abbey Day and a wedding on 10 June, now to find someone to do Evensong on Sunday 11th.

We drove out of the estate, curved round the south of it, and headed along a minor road to Wymondham. We came to the level crossing at  SK830174 where the crossing keeper has a good collection of bird feeeders, and lots of birds. Chatting to the keeper and his supervisor while we waited for a gap in the trains, the keeper said he joined the railway 19 years ago and was told he’d have a couple of years before the gates were replaced. The gates are about to be replaced – with more wooden ones, so he reckons he has another decade of opening and closing them.


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