Leeds Church History

The village of Leeds dates from before the Norman Conquest.

In the Domesday Survey of 1086 it appears under the name of Esledes, which may possibly be derived from the Old English word for 'slope'.
photograph of Leeds village, Kent
Another possible derivation is Hlydes meaning 'belonging to the noisy one'.

This is potentially a reference to the stream that used to descend noisily from the mill-race of Abbey Mill before cascading downhill to the lower meadows where it slowed to a more peaceable meander.

It's rapturous descent has long since been 'tamed' and muffled by passing it through a culvert beneath the road and under 'Trout Bec'.

Download the Deanery leaflet about Leeds Church. (PDF document opens in a new page.)

St. Nicholas Church in Leeds is also mentioned in the Domesday Book, which indicates that a building of Saxon origin was already in existence when the village was surveyed.

photograph of St Nicholas looking resplendent in winter sunshine - west / main door entrance

This Saxon architecture was all but swept away by the Normans but experts have suggested that two windows visible from the north aisle are part of the original Saxon building. Further traces of the Saxon church were found in 1879 during excavations to install underfloor heating.

photograph of Leeds Church

Evidence of the changes made by the Normans can still be seen in the character of the church building today, particularly in the church tower with its Norman Arch. Much architectural change has taken place over the centuries but the bulk of the building's architecture is reputedly 'Perpendicular', with the windows, pillars and arches typical of that style.

photograph of the Rood Screen in Leeds Church

Perhaps the most striking feature of the church is its medieval rood screen (above) extending the entire width of the building. This feature is all the more impressive as relatively few original rood screens survived the upheavals of the Reformation to be found in such good condition today. Another point of interest are the three seated sedilia on the south side of the chancel, which served as ornate (if uncomfortable) seats for the officiating clerics.

photograph of St Nicholas - east window above altar

There is a magnificent decorated east window (above) in St Nicholas behind and above the altar.

photograph of the stoups in Leeds Church

In the chancel special windows known as hagioscopes or 'squints' afforded worshipers a view of the altar, while the stoups that held Holy Water (pictured above) and allowed worshipers to cross themselves as they entered the church, can be found inside the south entrance and also outside the west door.

St. Nicholas' church bells are considered to be rather special. Its first bell, a 20cwt tenor, was cast in 1617 by Joseph Hatch of Broomfield. Three lighter bells were added in 1638 and, with further additions in 1751, the count was raised to a grand total of eleven.

One of these was subsequently removed, leaving the ten bells that can be found there today. Few churches in Kent can boast as many bells - a fact that Leeds villagers proudly commemorated in the name of a local pub - The Ten Bells.

photograph of the James Barham gravestone in Leeds Church Graveyard

Leeds Graveyard has a stone (pictured above) commemorating James Barham, a champion campanologist who participated in mammoth bell ringing event at St. Nicholas in 1761.

It is recorded that the full extent of the bell ringing cycle known as the 'Plain Bob Major', involving 40,320 changes and taking 27 hours to complete, was rung on the Leeds bells.

There is no record of the reaction of those living nearby!

James Barham died in 1819 at the age of 94, which campanologists might say is an advertisement for the beneficial effects of the pastime.

photograph of the war memorial  photograph of the magnificent brass lecturn  photograph of main body of church
Above, photographs of St Nicholas, L to R: the war memorial; magnificent brass lecturn; main body of church