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HER Ref:MLE11335
Parish:Breedon on the Hill, North West Leicestershire, Leicestershire
Grid Reference:SK 440 323
Map:Coming soon

Monument Types

  • CHURCH (Early Medieval to Modern - 1101 AD to 2050 AD)


C12th priory church, reduced to a parish church in 1539. It incorporates very important carved masonry of the C8th, from the earlier monastic foundation on site (see MLE4403).

Additional Information

Listed building description:
Parish Church, formerly the church of an Augustian Priory founded early C12. Incorporates carved masonry of C9 date from monastic foundation formerly on site. Parts of west tower are early C12, raised C14-C15. C13 aisled chancel is now used as nave, and has C14 fenestration to north and south, and C15 clerestory. South porch incorporates some remains of C13 transept but has been much altered. Church much repaired 1784 by Joseph Wyatt, and again in 1900 when interior was stripped of plaster and east windows of chancel were renewed. Ashlar with lead roofs. West tower is of 3 stages with battlemented parapet, carved gargoyles and slender clasping buttresses. C14-C15 2-light traceried openings to bell-chamber, with transoms; small C15 2-light traceried windows with flat heads to north and south below bell-chamber; window to south west stairs. Lower stages have traces of roof-lines of former nave and transepts, and are much rebuilt in rubble stone. West side has blocked C12 arch to former nave, with moulded imposts, and fragmentary respond of non-aligned C15 nave arcade to centre. This has chamfered pier with attached semicircular chevron arch on shafts, and a C19 window with Y tracery. North side of tower has irregular arched single lights, and a small C12 doorway with semicircular chevron arch on shafts and later inner order with moulded roundels. To south of tower is gabled porch with narrow flanking gables and head of 3-light traceried window over C19-C20 door. Present nave has 4-bay C15 clerestory with battlemented parapet, and C13 lancet in west bay over blocked doorway with 2-centred arch and roll-moulding. Lancet has ogee wooden transome. 3 other bays have large C14 3-light windows with various traceries. Another arched 2-light window to left. Second bay has blocked C15-C16 doorway with moulded 4-centred arch and hood mould. C13 lancet windows in east ends of aisles. Main east window is a group of 3 lancets with a cusped roundel above, all renewed 1900. All lancets have deeply chamfered surrounds. INTERIOR: South porch has altered jambs of large archway to south, C19-C20 4-centre doorway to tower, and 2 blocked doorways in east wall one Transitional with nailhead and roll-mouldings to arch and clustered shafts. Arch between tower and nave is triple-chamfered. Nave arcades of 4 bays, are renewed late C18 and have double-chamfered arches on variously-shaped quatrefoil piers. Aisles have small chamfered doorways in angled west corners. North aisle retains C13 groin vaulting and west doorway with roll-moulding. South aisle and nave re-roofed late C18. In south aisle, east wall and spandrels of nave arcades are narrow stone friezes with SAXON CARVINGS of interlace ornament and grotesque beasts. 3 similar lengths of frieze in tower. East end of south aisle has central arched panel carved with figure of the Virgin, flanked by triple arcaded panels with smaller figures of saints. 2 more saints in archangel Gabriel in tower. All of very good quality. FITTINGS: 3 carved shafts of C9-C10 stone crosses in north aisle. Shirley family pew, dated 1627, part balustraded, with strapwork and heraldic crests, corner obelisks, carved foliage, frieze and modillion cornice with winged angel heads; late C18 box pews, pulpit and west gallery; late C17-C18 turned baluster altar rails and chair in south chapel; C17 carved panels in dado of south chapel; octagonal stone font with heraldic panels. East end of north aisle has iron railings and 3 fine marble MONUMENTS to members of the Shirley family: (1) tomb-chest to Francis Shirley and wife, 1571, with carved figures holding shields to sides of chest; (2) tomb chest to John Shirley, late C16; (3) large wall monument to George and Frances Shirley 1598 with carved kneeling figures and skeleton below.

For discussion of the very important Saxon carvings incorporated into the building see MLE4403, the Saxon Minster.

After 1539 the priory church was reduced to a parish church.

In 1992 a C16th helmet, sword and gauntlets were found in a cupboard at the church. These were from the tomb of Henry Baron of Berkley (it is described in Nichols). The sword and gauntlets lay beside him as he knelt in prayer, with the helmet hanging above his tomb.

Project Gargoyle survey work in 2010 recorded nationally-important Anglo-Saxon friezes from about AD 800 and other Anglo-Saxon carvings of around AD 1000, including free-standing cross fragments. From the later medieval there was a set of Gothic human heads in the springers of the nave arcade, the fifteenth century font and the splendid sepulchral effigies for the Shirley family (including cadaver). Eroded medieval gargoyles decorate the outside. Exterior photographs include what might be eroded Anglo-Saxon frieze but is more likely to be natural weathering.

Following the end of the priory, the church was purchased from Henry VIII by Francis Shirley, Esq. The parishioners petitioned that the priory church should serve as their parish church, since that was 'almost ruinated'. The former parish church, which may have been in part the ancient Saxon minster church, was pulled down. (Williams says the parish church was west of the central tower and the priory church was east of it.) Carved stones were removed and used in the priory church, and elsewhere. The north aisle was used by Francis Shirley as his family mortuary. In 1784 it was stated that the church was in a very ruinous state; the building was 'substantially repaired'. Further restorations took place in the C19th and C20th.
(Information from Benefice website, 'http://www.benefice.org.uk/breedon_church/the_breedon_story/part_05.php', accessed 04/07/2019.)

<1> Nichols J, The History and Antiquities of Leicestershire, Vol 3 pt 2 (1804) (Bibliographic reference). SLE7.

Nichols draws the church with a large building west of the church. He refers to William de Ferrars confirmation of a grant to Breedon Priory in 1173 which mentions a market and three messuages on the hill. He also draws some of the Anglo-Saxon carvings.

<2> 1913-20, Transactions of the Leicestershire Archaeological and Historical Society, Volume 11, Vol 11 (1914), p161-4 (Journal). SLE5988.

In 1915 LAS visited. They say the porch appeared to be a C14 construction upon the site of part of the south transept. "From recent discoveries, it seems likely that this transept had an apsidal chapel upon its eastern side."
NRHE information:
"...From the view in Nichol's History of Leicestershire' [Vol.3, pt.2 plate XCII] [See A0: 59:334:2] there appears from the arrangement of the doorways to have been provision for a cloister court on the north side of the nave. It is, however, doubtful whether any conventual buildings upon the usual plan were ever erected, while it is certain that in the middle of the fifteenth century the quire of the church was used by the canons as their chapter-house. It is probable that, after the appropriation of the church by St.Oswald's Priory, the rectory house ln the north side of the church was used by the canons as their dwellings. This no longer exists.
The ... tower.. originally stood above the crossing in the middle of the church, and a south porch with upper storey.. appears to be a fourteenth century construction upon the site of part of the south transept. From recent discovereries, it seems likely that this transept had an apsidal chapel upon its eastern side…"

<3> 1928, Transactions of the Leicestershire Archaeological and Historical Society, Volume 15, Vol 15 (1928), p310-332 (Journal). SLE5949.

In the 1920s Clapham reinterpreted the carved stones and showed them to be one of the most important Anglo-Saxon groups in the country.

<4> 1961-2, Transactions of the Leicestershire Archaeological and Historical Society, Volume 37, Vol 37 (1962), p66 (Journal). SLE5943.

In 1959 repair work a door and lancet window were revealed at the north-west end of the church, a cross shaft built in over the door and 3 more fragments.

<5> 1964, Transactions of the Leicestershire Archaeological and Historical Society, Volume 39, Vol 39 (1963-4), p20-23 (Journal). SLE5900.

1959 restoration - after the removal of a rubble buttress a carved stone was found. Its four sides were carved as follows: 1) above, unidentified biblical scene; below, the temptation of Adam and Eve 2) a winged devil 3) above, a horseman, below, a grotesque beast 4) a figure with a halo.

<6> 1988, Transactions of the Leicestershire Archaeological and Historical Society, Volume 62, Vol 62 (1988), p74 (Journal). SLE5957.

In 1987-8 LAU excavated in advance of a drainage scheme on the south and east sides of the church. An earlier (polygonal) feature was noted below the south porch, a flagged yard beneath the south aisle and a late medieval wall which may represent the remains of a boundary wall.

<7> Hartley R F, 1984, The Medieval Earthworks of North West Leicestershire, p12 (Bibliographic reference). SLE326.

"The church of Breedon was given in about 1144 to the priory of Nostell in Yorkshire and a cell of the Augustinian canons established. The buildings were said to be dilapidated in 1441 and when the house was dissolved in 1539 the choir was retained for use as the parish church. A Saxon minster was founded on the hill in the late seventh century and a wonderful series of carved stones has fortunately survived down to the present day and been incorporated in the church buildings."

<8> Pevsner N, 1984, The Buildings of England Leicestershire and Rutland, p109-112 (Bibliographic reference). SLE4.

"[The church] rises in three square steps - aisles, clerestoried nave, and W tower: at least this is the impression one receives… To understand the history of the building it must be remembered that it was not a parish church but a monastic church, founded from Medeshamstede (Peterborough)… what survives is of outstanding interest but must be discussed later…
"In the early C12 (before 1122) a new foundation took place, this time of an Augustinian priory. Of this something has survived in the tower at the W end, with its clasping buttresses and flat intermediate buttresses in the N and S walls. In the W wall a window with nook-shafts and zigzag decoration in the arch, and more windows visible only if one goes up the stair inside the tower. The arch to the parochial nave is visible in the W wall of the tower. Then, in the C13, a new, wide and long chancel was built to the E of the tower, and that is what constitutes the present church. It has a Perpendicular clerestory, and the piers were renewed in the late C18 and perhaps worked over a little in the C19 (the quatrefoil shapes with fillets inspire confidence), but the outer walls remain, the fine big lancet windows at the E ends of the aisles - the details of the arrangement of the windows at the E end of the chancel proper are of c.1900 - and the rib-vaulting of the N aisle, not a usual thing in English buildings of this moderate size. The S aisle vaulting has been removed, almost certainly in the 1790s. At the W end of the S aisle a doorway led into the contemporary S transept, now the porch. It has a nook-shaft in the SW corner. Doorway with shafts and a little nailhead decoration. Another surviving bit of decoration in the NE respond of the arcade: some stiff-leaf foliage. The early C14 replaced the aisle windows. Their tracery ranges from intersected to a pattern of intersected ogee arches (N near the W end). The big lump of masonry W of this window is post-medieval.
"The chief alteration of the Perpendicular style has disappeared: a new aisled nave, because of the existing cloister not placed axially. One of the two surviving E responds of the nave is placed right in the middle of the Norman tower arch. It is hard to visualise how the two parts of the church , for canons and laity, communicated at all. Perpendicular also the clerestory and no doubt the crenellation of the tower, chancel, and chancel aisle. - FONT. Octagonal, with shields, big flower panels, and tracery panels. - BOX PEWS, PULPIT, READER'S DESK, and WEST GALLERY c.1793. - SHIRLEY PEW, 1627. An elaborate machine with strapwork, foliage ornament, obelisks at the top corners, and achievements. In 1632 it was described as 'a large and strange seat built up like the skreen of a great man's… [hall?].
"MONUMENTS. Three Shirley tombs, of alabaster. First, Francis d.1571 and wife. Tomb-chest with their sons and daughters holding shields. No division of the figures by pilasters or any other such device. - John, d.1570 but his tomb-chest of 1585 is by the same makers, Richard & Gabriel Royley of Burton on Trent, who promise in the contract (which has been preserved) 'artificiallie, conninglie, decentlie, and substantiallie to devise, work [and] set up' the monument. - George (d.1622) and wife. Large standing wall-monument apparently erected in 1598 to commemorate Mrs Shirley, who died in 1595. At the foot behind columns a gisant or cadaver, on the next tier five large kneeling figures (the couple, a daughter and two sons) under two deep coffered arches. Also two infants in cradles. Achievement at the top between the two curly open sides of a pediment."

<9> Sidebottom, Philip Charles, 1994, Schools of Anglo-Saxon Stone Sculpture in the North Midlands, p231-237 (Unpublished document). SLE6769.

A study of Anglo-Saxon stonework lists 35 pieces of Anglo-Saxon stonework. See MLE4403.

<10> Finn, Neil, 2020, An archaeological watching brief at the Church of St Mary & St Hardulph, Breedon on the Hill, Leicestershire (Unpublished document). SLE6406.

A watching brief was carried out on drainage ditches west of the church in 2014. Under the topsoil there was a loose stone rubble deposit, presumably derived from the demolition of the structure formerly adjoining the west side of the church tower (demolished C19th). A single fragment of architectural stonework was found on the spoil heap (370mm wide x 250mm deep x 270mm high, two chamfered faces, perhaps part of a column shaft or engaged column). Other finds consisted of five sherds of later C9th/C10th to post-medieval pottery and medieval/post-medieval roof and floor tile.

<11> 2016, National Record of the Historic Environment (NRHE) accessioning (Website). SLE4981.

SUMMARY: "Mainly 13th century church incorporating remains of Mediaeval priory church of Breedon Priory. Many 8th and 10th century Saxon sculptured stones. Identified as a minster from documentary evidence, the minster being founded between 675-691. Circa 1109-22, the church was granted to Nostell Priory as an Augustinian Canonical Cell. The existing church formed the canon's quire in the Middle Ages, but there is no evidence to suggest that the Priors ever held the cure of souls of the parish, indicating that the church was retained for parochial use. The West tower formed the West end of a 12th century church, and the present church is coterminus with that building. Soon after 1150 a parochial nave was added to the West of the 12th century church, the Western part of the latter being adapted as the Canon's quire. The quire was rebuilt in the 13th century on a cruciform plan with an aisled quire of four bays, the 12th century aisleless nave surviving the enlargement. The parochial nave was rebuilt in the 15th century, although the North wall was retained so as not to disturb the claustral buildings to the North. Following the Dissoution, the North transept and parochial nave were demolished, and the South transept retained as a South porch. Plan of nave with aisle, and West tower. The Priory was extant from before 1122 until dissolved in 1539."
URL: 'https://nrhe-to-her.esdm.co.uk/NRHE/RecordDetail.aspx?pageid=45&he_uid=315449', accessioned 01/11/2023.

<12> Ordnance Survey 1:10,560 (6") historic mapping, 6" (1904) (Map). SLE7243.

[SK 4056 2335] Church [T.U.]

<13> The Archaeological Journal, Vol 112 (1955), p170-2 (CAR Radford) (Journal). SLE2994.

"Breedon on the Hill: Church of St. Mary and St. Hardulf.
A Saxon monastery, a daughter of Peterborough, was founded at Breedon on the Hill… An episcopal visitation of 1441 states that the priory buildings were dilapidated… In 1518 the nave and porch of the parish church were in need of repair.
No remains of the Saxon church survive in situ.
A rich series of carved stones, re-used in the Middle Ages, is now preserved in the church. Long strips in two different heights, decoratd with vegetal scrolls and animals, probably formed part of strings, de-limiting paintings or reliefs in stucco, like those still in position in the contemporary Tempietto at Cividale. At the east end of the south aisle are three fragments with a series of saints in niches; these formed part of the shrine of St.Hardulf. The carvings all belong to a school contemporary with the Mercian supremacy of the 8th century. They form one of the most notable collections of pre-Conquest sculpture in the country.
The existing church formed the canons' quire of the Middle Ages; the earliest parts are incorporated in the present Western tower. The ground stage of this tower formed the west end of an early 12th century church.
The angles have shallow clasping buttresses and one narrow pilaster buttress survives on each of the north and south walls. Parts of four widely splayed windows set high in the wall remain, one in each of the bays formed by the buttresses. Externally they show on the north side as narrow loops with chamfered angles. Interally, in the present first floor of the tower, the embrasures have nook shafts with reeded capitals and chevron ornament on the voussoirs. There is also a small window, later converted to a door, at the same level in the west end. The work dates from the second quarter of the 12th century. The ashlar of pink sandstone, visible above the arches of the later arcades, shows that the church of this date was co-teminous with the present tower and nave.
Soon after 1150 a parochial nave was added to the west of the earlier building, which was adapted as the canons' quire. A narrow opening (now blocked) in the west wall linked the two parts of the church. The canons' quire with lofty stalls was formed in the western part of the old church, under the later tower… the old windows in the north wall were enlarged…
The Canons' quire was re-built in the early years of the 13th century. The new building was cruciform with an aisled quire of four bays. The arcades are a modern re-build on the old lines, as are the three lancets above the altar. The lancets at the east end of the aisles are original; a third remains, now blocked, in the west bay of the north wall. The aisles were vaulted and substantial remains can still be seen on the north side. The south transept survives and now serves as a porch. The original door is that, now blocked, into the south quire aisle. A deep recess in the east wall of the projecting bay held an altar, the position of which can still be traced, though partly covered by a later blocking.
The old aisless nave survived the enlargement of the quire. In the 15th century this part of thechurch was in turn re-built. To avoid disturbing the cloister, which lay on the north side of the church, the new aisled nave was laid out excentrically to extend the full width of the canons' quire and south transept, the old north wall being retained. The start of the arcades of the south wall can be traced. The 14th and 15th centuries also saw alterations in the canons' quire, where a clerestorey was added and larger windows inserted in the aisles.
After the Suppression the canons' church was retained for parochial use, the south transept being added as a porch and the old quire becoming the nave."
[For plan see A0: 59:333:3]

<14> Archaeologia, 77 (1927), p219-40 (AW Clapham) (Journal). SLE5998.

"...The carving at Breedon... can only be assigned to the pre-Danish period, the weight of evidence favouring the latter part of the eighth century..." [Detailed description and photographs of carvings and full discussion.]

<15> The Archaeological Journal, Vol 71 (1914), p394-6 (PB Chatwin) (Journal). SLE2994.

[Historical and Architectural Summary]

<16> The Archaeological Journal, Vol 42 (1885), p504-7 (WH St John Hope) (Journal). SLE2994.

[Architectural and historical summary given during a field meeting of the Royal Arch. Institute.]

<17> Virtual catalogue entry to support NAR migration, "The Guardian" 19.9.59 p.5 (Unpublished document). SLE7248.

"An Anglo-Saxon window and carved stonework have been uncovered during restoration work at the parish church of Breedon-on-the-Hill... They were found when an outside buttress at the north-west corner of the church was removed."

<18> Loughborough Archaeological Society, 1958 - 1989, The Bulletin of the Loughborough & District Archaeological Society, Vol 3 (1960), 07-Nov (Journal). SLE410.

The church is in use for public worship. At its west end can be seen the marks of the former nave of the canons' church. On the north side of the formerly central tower are the marks of eaves courses and openings, possibly to the conventual buildings or to a north transept. No traces of the conventual buildings remain; a recent drainage trench across the churchyard revealed slates and fragments of stone with a few late Md. potsherds. The church is at present being repaired.
In demolishing a buttress at the north-west corner of the north aisle an Early English lancet window (not Saxon as stated by <17>) was found and a similar doorway. In the packing of the buttress two pre-Conquest sculptured stones were found and are now in the north aisle awaiting a decision as to their re-use. They are similar to the other stones of this type which were built into the inner walling of the south wall, in 1937, having been brought in from the outside of the church.(r) These stones fall into two periods, 8th c., with the introduction of the monastic settlement at Breedon and mid-10th c., originating in the conversion of the Dane(s).

<19> Field Investigators Comments, F1 WW 12-FEB-60 (Website). SLE3488.

Further references to the Anglo Saxon carved stones.

<20> List of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest, DOE(HHR) Castle Donington R.D, Leic, March 1960, 1-2 (Index). SLE7285.

A Church of St. Mary and St. Hardulph
Principally C13 and C14, the remains of an Augustinian Priory founded in 1144. Handsome church consisting of nave with aisles, chancel and west tower. Eighteenth century fittings to nave and south aisle including set of oak box pews, pulpit and west gallery; the north aisle belongs to the Earl Ferrers and is closed off by an old wrought iron screen. The Ferrers Aisle contains a fine canoped family pew dated 1627 and two fine tombs to the Shirley family dated 1570 and 1595.
Another tomb has a skeleton on top. Funeral armour, etc. etc. Carved stones in walls of Saxon date. Slate headstones in churchyard.


<1>Bibliographic reference: Nichols J. The History and Antiquities of Leicestershire. Vol 3 pt 2 (1804).
<2>Journal: 1913-20. Transactions of the Leicestershire Archaeological and Historical Society, Volume 11. Vol 11 (1914), p161-4.
<3>Journal: 1928. Transactions of the Leicestershire Archaeological and Historical Society, Volume 15. Vol 15 (1928), p310-332.
<4>Journal: 1961-2. Transactions of the Leicestershire Archaeological and Historical Society, Volume 37. Vol 37 (1962), p66.
<5>Journal: 1964. Transactions of the Leicestershire Archaeological and Historical Society, Volume 39. Vol 39 (1963-4), p20-23.
<6>Journal: 1988. Transactions of the Leicestershire Archaeological and Historical Society, Volume 62. Vol 62 (1988), p74.
<7>Bibliographic reference: Hartley R F. 1984. The Medieval Earthworks of North West Leicestershire. p12.
<8>Bibliographic reference: Pevsner N. 1984. The Buildings of England Leicestershire and Rutland. p109-112.
<9>Unpublished document: Sidebottom, Philip Charles. 1994. Schools of Anglo-Saxon Stone Sculpture in the North Midlands. p231-237.
<10>Unpublished document: Finn, Neil. 2020. An archaeological watching brief at the Church of St Mary & St Hardulph, Breedon on the Hill, Leicestershire.
<11>Website: 2016. National Record of the Historic Environment (NRHE) accessioning.
<12>Map: Ordnance Survey 1:10,560 (6") historic mapping. 6" (1904).
<13>Journal: The Archaeological Journal. Vol 112 (1955), p170-2 (CAR Radford).
<14>Journal: Archaeologia. 77 (1927), p219-40 (AW Clapham).
<15>Journal: The Archaeological Journal. Vol 71 (1914), p394-6 (PB Chatwin).
<16>Journal: The Archaeological Journal. Vol 42 (1885), p504-7 (WH St John Hope).
<17>Unpublished document: Virtual catalogue entry to support NAR migration. "The Guardian" 19.9.59 p.5.
<18>Journal: Loughborough Archaeological Society. 1958 - 1989. The Bulletin of the Loughborough & District Archaeological Society. Vol 3 (1960), 07-Nov.
<19>Website: Field Investigators Comments. F1 WW 12-FEB-60.
<20>Index: List of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest. DOE(HHR) Castle Donington R.D, Leic, March 1960, 1-2.

Associated Finds

  • SHERD (Late Anglo Saxon to Late Medieval - 850 AD to 1350 AD)
  • DRESSED STONE (Medieval - 1067 AD to 1539 AD)
  • RIDGE TILE (Early Medieval to Late Medieval - 1250 AD to 1450 AD)
  • FLOOR TILE (Early Medieval to Late Medieval - 1300 AD to 1539 AD)
  • ROOF TILE (Early Medieval to Late Post-medieval - 1300 AD to 1800 AD)
  • SHERD (Late Medieval to Late Post-medieval - 1450 AD to 1800 AD)
  • GAUNTLET (Late Medieval to Early Post-medieval - 1501 AD to 1600 AD)
  • HELMET (Late Medieval to Early Post-medieval - 1501 AD to 1600 AD)
  • SWORD (Late Medieval to Early Post-medieval - 1501 AD to 1600 AD)


  • Listed Building (I) 1361364: CHURCH OF ST. MARY & ST. HARDULPH
  • Conservation Area: Breedon on the Hill