Scarcliffe, Derbyshire – St Leonard

The second church open for HODs was St Leonard’s, Scarcliffe – SK496687 – it is in the same benefice as Ault Hucknall. One 24 page guidebook and a 31 page book on The Legendary Lady Constantia of Scarcliffe. I will not write as much.


In 1150 AD Ralph de Aincourt and his wife Matilda ordered the original building (plus a daughter chapel just down the road at Palterton), gave the advowson to Darley Abbey, and had their sons Robert and Peter installed as priests. There are no church records before the Restoration, perhaps because Cromwell’s men destroyed them in 1643 while attacking nearby Bolsover Castle – they also destroyed the stained glass and damaged Lady Constantia. The tower dates to 1842, it replaced the old tower which had become unsafe. It now contains a ring of eight bells. The sundial dates from 1746 – it cost them 10s 6d.


The Priest’s doorway is Norman, though the carving was covered in plaster until mid-Victorian times.


The South Porch was probably added to protect the original Norman entrance and tympanum. Is two tympanum (tympani?) in a day a record? The variety of geometrical designs without any obvious pattern is unusual – it has been suggested it was an apprentice stone on which the apprentice learned his art and practised his designs.


Why is this the only photo I took of the interior of the church? The original Norman arch was replaced with this Gothic one, but the pillars are Norman.


The parish chest dates to the early C15, and the date 1671 has been carved on the lid. It is ten feet long, made of four massive planks of oak, and has various keys holes – did the Vicar lose the key? I liked the plaque which commemorates a re-leading of the roof.


I liked this memorial tablet, with its wonderful poem to the memory of John Briggs, Gent., died 1769, and Mary his wife.

A loving Husband and a steadfast friend,

By sudden Death was brought unto his end.

His civil Carriage to all Men may claim

A righteous, well beloved Name.

His Actions were so just that you may tell

He livd uprightly and he dyd as well.


The main treasure of the church is this tombstone of  Lady Constantia. It is mae of alabaster and is one of the best preserved memorials of the Early English period (circa 1200). She is assumed to be a member of the Baronial family of de Frecheville who held the manor in the C13. A full length effigy of a lady holding a child on her left arm. In the child’s left hand is a long scroll engraved with the following stanza in Latin:

Here stretched out under the ground a woman lies buried. Constant and kind, rightly called Constance. Laid with the mother the child rests buried, although sins be heaped upon her head, purified of her offences, happy with her child John, may she live, as foretold, in the dwelling place of saints.

I love her costume, so beautifully carved. This mason was obviously highly skilled. She used to lie against the south wall of the church, but damp was attacking her. About a decade ago she was moved to the north aisle. Local tradition has it that she and her child were lost in the nearby woods and were in danger of dying, but she heard the curfew bell and was guided by it to safety. Others suggest that the reference to “sins” suggests her and her illegitimate child had been thrown out – if this had been the case, I doubt she would have got such an incredible tomb. When she died she left a bequest of land that the curfew bell might continue to be rung, in 1682 it is recorded that these four acres of land are used to pay for bell ropes.

The day after writing this I found a twitter exchange which led to the Church Monument Society website, and suggests a much later date.


This church was also a pleasure, and it was lovely to see a good number of visitors. I hope the two churches feel that HODs are worth it.


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