This is the most completely rural of our three churches. Built between the two hamlets of Broughton and Elslack, originally in Saxon times but now with an elegant little building mainly from the 12th and 15th centuries, it has remained, as then, in the middle of the fields – the old rectory, its barn, stables, church hall, and school were all owned and run by the rector, who even had an assistant curate to help him.
All Saints’ comes into its own in the summer. On a sunny evening, with the curlews calling and the huge beech trees rustling in the breeze, it is a breathtakingly beautiful sacred place.
There are two fine but damaged statues of Mary and Child, rediscovered and replaced in the 19th century; a set of three fine bells in the tower; the family pew of the Roman Catholic Tempest family who still live in the big house.
The Rogation service with procession and the candlelit Carol Service are two highlights the year in this rural parish that had more inhabitants two centuries ago than it does now.
With its financial foundations destroyed in the early 20th century, it now shares many of the same difficulties as the farming industry of which it is part: we know that it will survive into the next century, but just exactly how is not clear.
The small regular congregation is made up of those from Broughton and Elslack, or who used to live here, so it retains its strong local feel; and is then augmented by visitors to its special services.
THE CHURCH BUILDING
There existed some kind of church presence in Saxon times. Of what form or exactly where is uncertain. There might have been a manorial church near the Roman fort at Elslack; more likely there was a small building on this spot in the 10th century.
The present building is a Norman foundation of the 12th century, extensively rebuilt in the 15th. Like many country churches, its history is poorly recorded and many of the facts collected contradictory.
As you enter, through the late Norman doorway, to your left under the tower there stands an unadorned (but heavily restored) round Norman font, with a Jacobean cover.
There are three bells in the tower. The first was consecrated during reign of James I. The second commemorates the Restoration of the Monarchy under Charles II, in 1660, inscribed ‘It is a good thing to give thanks to the Lord’. The third is dated 1713 and commemorates the Treaty of Utrecht (and the acquisition of Gibraltar).
The tower, as can be seen from outside, is built of red sandstone blocks, which came from the Roman Burwen Fort at Elslack. Black marks on the north wall are popularly reckoned to be relics of the Scots’ attack after the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314.
In the niche by the pulpit stands one of the church’s two alabaster statues of Our Lady and Child, this one Our Lady of Pew (also found in Westminster Abbey). Both statues were discovered in the 19th century, buried in the ground at the rear of the church, and placed in their present positions in the 1970s.
Their removal may have occurred in the 1530s when Henry VIII ordered the suppression of Marian shrines, or perhaps as late as the 1640s when the Puritans were beheaded what statues they could find. The (almost careful) severing of a single head, rather than comprehensive destruction, suggests the latter date, but the survival of such statues for a century after the Reformation is improbable.
Two black metal plates, which remain in the floor from an old heating system, bearing the monogram of Our Lady (MR) are even more unexpected in a rural parish church.
THE LADY CHAPEL
The Tempest family of Broughton Hall became patrons of the church on their arrival in the early 15th century. The chapel was set up by Roger Tempest and parishioners in 1442 as a charity worth 40 shillings after he and his nephew, Sir John Tempest, signed a charter for the appropriation of the church.
The 14th century Tempest box pew is unusual in that it provides access to both nave and chapel. Note also the splendid 15th century parclose screen surrounding the chapel.
On the chapel wall is a flat stone: most probably from a crusader’s tombstone, it used to be in the churchyard. The wife of a Victorian rector started the romantic idea that it was a tomb for victims of the Pilgrimage of Grace, which would make it the only one in the country and, as members of the Tempest family fought on both sides of the conflict, highly unlikely.
The 18th century memorials on the walls are evidence that the Tempest family continued to be buried here in their parish church for over two centuries after the Reformation, even though they had themselves remained Roman Catholic.
The second and smaller statue of Our Lady and the Infant Christ is situated below the east window of the chapel. It is an unusual and remarkable carving of Mary breast-feeding her Child.
The cresset stone which houses the lamp is dated 1613; it was found at Johnsons Gate Farm, Elslack, which may suggest a non-church origin. The bowl behind the communion table is an old holy water font, inexplicably fixed here on what is probably an old window mullion.
The chancel has suffered most heavily from the Victorian alterations. The heavy woodwork, most especially the pulpit, shows little sympathy for the proportions of the rest of the church, or the remnants of earlier and more subtle woodwork.
We have the excessive zeal of the Revd Mr Guy to thank for this; though to his credit he did also build the school (now destroyed). The stained glass, here and elsewhere, is either late Victorian or, in the south windows, more recent still.
The Victorians not only re-ordered the church, they re-arranged the churchyard as well, moving out such earlier memorials as were still standing, some of which now make up the path near the porch, and include the lid of a medieval coffin.