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Heath and Reach Church Repairs and Additions

Heath and Reach church looking east January 2009
Heath and Reach church looking east January 2009

Some of the following information is taken from former County Archivist Chris Pickford's Bedfordshire Historical Record Society volume Bedfordshire Churches in the 19th Century: Parishes H-R. The main body of Saint Leonard's was rebuilt and enlarged between 1828 and 1829 by Robert Feake Nixon of Woburn. The cost of £620 was raised partly by the church rate, by mortgage of £300 [P84/2/1] and a grant of £150 from the Incorporated Church Building Society. The new church was opened on 21st November 1829.

Plaque to Elizabeth Knight January 2009
Plaque of Elizabeth Knight January 2009

The burial ground of 2 roods 16 perches was provided in 1850 by Elizabeth Knight of Mursley, who has a plaque in the church and extended in 1911 by 1 acre 24 perches [PCHeath&Reach12/5] between the old graveyard and the church. In 1963 a number of the oldest headstones were removed and placed around the wall in the vicinity of the Church hall [P84/2/6/1].

The font January 2009
The font January 2009

The church became a Vicarage, rather than a Curacy, in 1866 and the church was suitably extended. The architect was Joseph Neale of Bristol who designed Saint Andrew's in Leighton Buzzard which was built at the same time. He added a short apse to serve as the chancel in brick and re-seated the body of the church. A new font was made and installed in memory of Martin Benson and soon afterwards the apse windows were filled with stained glass. A new organ by Heath & Reach organ builder Thomas Atterton, was added in 1876 and the south porch in 1878 [P91/0/9]. It was repaired between 1967 and 1971 [P84/2/5/9]

The apse January 2009
The apse January 2009

The church was re-ordered in 1949 by Ampthill architect Professor Sir Albert Richardson, including a new altar table, communion benches, communion rail and new front for the children's pew [P84/2/5/2-4. The pews were rearranged in 1959 by creating the current choir stalls [P84/2/5/5], new stalls being installed in 1968 [P84/2/5/12]. The roof and floor were repaired and new heating installed between 1962 and 1964 [P84/2/5/6]. The apse was re-roofed in 1967 and new electric lighting was installed in 1968 along with new doors installed in the west end of the nave by H.A.Rolls & Partners of Leighton Buzzard [P84/2/5/7].

Heath and Reach church looking west January 2009
Heath and Reach church looking west January 2009

Between 1971 and 1972 the tower roof was repaired and the inner doors to the porch replaced by H.A.Rolls & Partners in 1975 [P84/2/5/10]. The old pulpit was sold to Saint Barnabas' Church, Tuffley [Gloucestershire] and a new old installed in 1968 to match the choir stalls [P84/2/5/12]. A new vestry was added on the north side of the tower in 1990.

The copy of Transfiguration by Raphael
The copy of the Transfiguration by Raphael

Perhaps the most interesting feature inside the church is a copy of Raphael's Transfiguration, less for any artistic merit than for the controversy which attended it installation in 1936. Former churchwarden Geoff White wrote in the parish magazine in May 1990 [P84/30/32]: "Mrs.Letitia Bassett had given the picture in memory of her husband Tobias Theodore Bromhead Bassett, who was born in 1874 and died in 1934 and his son Robert, who had died in 1926, aged 15".

"After some difficulty with the wording of the plaque, Mrs.Bassett hoped the memorial would be in position by October 10th 1935. However it was suddenly noted that a faculty was required and one of the Revd. Lightbody's first tasks [as vicar] was to apply for one at a cost of £2-2s-0d".

Head of Saint Luke in apse south window January 2009
Head of Saint Luke in apse south window January 2009

"By this time, Mrs.Bassett had left her house and was staying for short periods by the sea, at Falmouth [Cornwall] and Littlehampton [Sussex] for example. This involved the Vicar in correspondence and time passed until the end of February 1936 when all seemed nearly settled. Then two gentlemen Philip Spencer Smith of Rushmere Manor and James Stuart of Carlton Lodge dropped a bombshell by writing to the Consistory Court at St.Albans requesting that the faculty be refused; there grounds were that Tobias Bromhead Bassett was not a communicant member of the Church of England and never worshipped in St.Leonard's or in any way supported its activities. Also, Mr.Bassett did not at any time reside in the Parish of Heath or take any part in the social life of the parish. They also alleged that there was considerable opposition in the parish to the hanging of this or any picture in the Church and the picture was not a fitting ornament for the said Church. Mrs.Bassett received the news in Littlehampton and quickly wrote to the Vicar for advice. She was deeply upset and stated that the picture was an entirely fitting subject, her husband was born in the parish and they had lived all their married lives at The Hatch and it was a boundary change that moved it into Leighton Buzzard Parish. He attended Saint Leonard's with his parents, brothers and sisters for a great number of years, but latterly could not attend because of ill health. Her son Robert was a very regular young attendant at Saint Leonard's and her husband was always willing to help along anything to do with the church and never said "no" to any deserving cause in the parish. She consulted her solicitor and the Vicar, and eventually won her case".

"On June  25th 1936 she wrote from Hendon [Middlesex], "It is a joy to think that all this fuss and worry is over. I am very gad for more reasons than one as it will teach the gentlemen! a lesson, perhaps". Not a very Christian thought!"

"Avelines made a wooden plaque and in response to her wishes, hung the picture between the two windows on the north wall so she could feel it there, "Just above our pew".

"She visited the church in August 1936 and thanked Rev. Lightbody for all his trouble".

"For over 50 years, the picture has hung in Saint Leonard's. the plaque is now made of metal and includes Alice Letitia Bassett 1887-1972, so she enjoyed her gift for 36 years". Local folklore adds that Messrs Smith and Stuart were, in some part, objecting to the content of the painting as it was thought that the boy throwing up his arm of the right of the painting was having an ecstatic episode similar to speaking in tongues, which did not sit with the protestors' brand of churchmanship.

Head of Saint John in apse south window December 2009
Head of Saint John in the apse south window December 2009