St Leonard's Parish Church - a short history

St Leonard's doorway

St Leonard's, Ribbesford is situated in a 3-acre churchyard close to the manor-house of Ribbesford, about a mile south of Bewdley on the 'switchback road' to Stourport and Worcester, which here skirts the west bank of the Severn. Vehicular access is by an impressive half-mile avenue of horse chestnut trees.

The original church was a small, early-Norman structure occupying the site of the present north aisle. From the style of its remaining portions - the north doorway and part of the north wall - we can deduce that this was built about 1100.

12th century: Onto the south side of this small church was added at the east end a chancel of two bays, perhaps assigned to the lords of the manor and their retainers.

15th century: That short chancel was lengthened westward to form a new, larger nave. The chancel's eastern extension was built, what we now call the 'sanctuary', and the eastern half of the north wall rebuilt.

16th century: Some windows were renovated and the west wall of the north aisle rebuilt.

17th century: The north porch was added.

19th century: A storm in June 1877 demolished the chancel and the eastern part of the north aisle, including the two eastern arches of the arcade, which were of Norman work. The destroyed portions were rebuilt, and the church thoroughly restored. The aisle walls were raised and all the roofs rebuilt, a ruinous south porch was removed and doorway blocked. The repairs amounted to £4,000 - a small fortune. Such was the damage that it was touch and go whether to go ahead with the restoration. Ruskin thought the best option was to leave it as an inspirational ruin. After 125 years of active service, St Leonard's has proved Ruskin wrong!

History of the Living

St Leonard's window

The incumbents of Ribbesford Church have always been Rectors appointed by the lord or lessee of the manor. The de Ribbesfords who enjoyed the longest tenure of the lordship, are linked with the present by the doorway in the wall between the churchyard and the garden of Ribbesford House. This may be said to symbolise a private right-of-way successfully claimed in 1365 by Constance, widow of Walter de Ribbesford.

From the Ribbesfords the manor passed to the Beauchamps and thence by purchase to the Actons. By the time of Charles I it had become Crown property, and that monarch presented it in 1627 to the first Lord Herbert of Chirbury and his two brothers, George Herbert - the poet of religion, and Sir Henry, who became the King's Master of the Revels and later sat as MP for Bewdley.

Lord Herbert, an Anglo-Welsh counterpart of the Admirable Crichton - warrior, diplomat, gallant, duellist, philosopher and poet - was often in money difficulties, and he and the unworldly George were persuaded by Sir Henry to sell him their shares for £3,000. In 1787 a collateral descendant of Sir Henry sold the property to Francis Ingram, whose sister married a Winnington.

St Leonard's view

One of her grandsons assumed the surname Winnington-Ingram and inherited a portion of the property that included the living. The right of presentation is still vested in a member of this family. Both the Winningtons and the Ingrams trace their descent through the Salwey family from one John Washbourne, who founded a chantry in the chapel-of-ease at Bewdley.