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The tiny church of St Leonard, Kirkstead, lies a few hundred yards down a bumpy farm track in the middle of pastures, hedges and trees, a mile or so south of Woodhall Spa in Lincolnshire. As you bounce along the pot-holed lane on the way to the church you pass a very tall, irregular pile of stones in a rather undulating field. Closer inspection of this reveals a slender, twelfth century angle shaft, the remains of windows and other architectural details. This is the only standing remains of Kirkstead Abbey, a Cistercian foundation of the late 1100s.
St Leonard's church was probably the chapel ante portas of the abbey, perhaps a chantry in memory of Robert de Tattershall (d.1212), who was the grandson of Hugh de Breton, the founder of the abbey. As such it would have been used by travellers and by the local community who rarely had access to the religious offering of a monastic house. The small, limestone building is a single, rectangular room measuring about 42 feet by 20 feet. The west end (shown) is decorated in the Early English manner with a central doorway with stiff-leaf capitals and dogtooth ornament. Above is a string course and three similarly decorated lancets, the outer two blank and the central one with a vesica window. The north and south walls are divided into three sections by buttresses, with pairs of tall lancet windows in each part. At the east end is a common arrangement in buildings of this date: three lancets, the central one being taller than the outer pair. Restoration work was undertaken in 1967 and the present roof, bell-cote, weather-boarding and octagonal window date from that time: it is a good, simple job that doesn't take the spotlight away from the details of the original building The interior is something of a surprise: it is stone vaulted - quadripartite, except in the chancel area where it is sexpartite. Dogtooth and stiff-leaf abounds. The font is a re-used abbey mortar. It is likely that the wooden screen, a simple affair with trefoil arches, dates from the time of the building, making it one of the earliest wooden screens in the country. A marble knight, whose armour suggests he dates from about 1250, must be one of the earliest military effigies in England.
I visited Kirkstead on a fine, cold day with blue skies and soft cloud. The light was making deep, sharp shadows, modelling the building, the churchyard cross and gravestones, and casting dark pools of shade across the ground from the holly and yew trees. I took this shot imagining that it would be suitable for converting to black and white, and so it proved.
photograph & text (c) T. Boughen
Camera: Olympus E510
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 13mm (26mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f6.3
Shutter Speed: 1/500
Exposure Compensation: -0.7 EV
Image Stabilisation: On