St Leonard's church, Stowell
St Leonard's church, Stowell

A lovely 12th-century church boasting an excellent series of early wall paintings, St Leonard's stands beside the mansion of Stowell Park.


Stowell church was built in the middle of the 12th century as a chapel to nearby Northleach. As late as the 14th-century villagers from Stowell were buried at Northleach, but by 1340 Stowell had its own rector and was recorded as a parish church in its own right, with the lords of Stowell manor exercising the patronage. One of the rectors of Stowell was John Sodbury (1467), the Abbot of Cirencester.

After 1656 the church was part of a joint benefice with Hampnett, and Stowell church became little more than a private chapel for the lords of the manor. Several prominent residents of Stowell park were buried in the chapel, including the statesman John Grubham Howe (d. 1722).

The nave paintings are arranged in tiers, separated by blind arcading. On the top tier are saints arranged on either side of the Virgin Mary. The second tier is more fragmentary, and depicts the weighing of souls. There is a very intriguing area showing what appears to be two knights in combat.

There was originally a tier above the Virgin Mary layer, showing Christ in Majesty, but this now so badly worn as to be almost invisible.

The paintings were made between 1150-1200, making it one of the earliest wall paintings to survive in England. The scenes were painted directly onto plaster, and have not been restored or 'improved' since it was made over 800 years ago.

The nave 'Doom'
The nave 'Doom'
Saints, top tier painting
Saints, top tier
The Virgin Mary and more saints
The Virgin Mary and more saints
The weighing of souls
The weighing of souls
The Weighing of Souls, west section
The Weighing of Souls, west section

There are two more large sections of wall paintings in the south transept, one on either side of the south window. These are slightly later than the nave paintings; probably dating to the late 12th or early 13th century.

One scene shows the martyrdom of St Laurence, who was killed on a gridiron, while the other depicts St Margaret. There is a 13th-century piscina set into the transept wall, and a credence shelf of the same date over another piscina in the chancel.

The south transept
The south transept
St Margaret, west side
St Margaret, west side
Martyrdom of St Laurence, south transept
Martyrdom of St Laurence

At the west end of the nave is a very simple 13th-century font, almost undecorated. There are only 2 memorials of note, facing each other across the chancel. On the north wall is the mural monument to Annabella Howe (d. 1704), the mother of John Grubham Howe, while on the south wall is the memorial of Anne Morgan (d. 1712), his step-daughter. These are not grandiose, but elegant examples of early 18th century memorials.

Annabella Howe memorial (1704)
Annabella Howe memorial (1704)
Anne Morgan (d. 1712)
Anne Morgan (d. 1712)

One thing to look for outside are no less than 5 scratch dials carved into the wall near the re-ordered south door.

Getting There

In this case, getting there may not be half the fun, like the old saying goes, but it certainly is quite a challenge. The church stands immediately behind Stowell Park mansion. The easiest way to reach the church is by the rear drive to the manor, off the road to Yanworth.

Unfortunately, the drive is not signposted at all; when we visited there was no sign to the church or the house, just a straight driveway through modest gates.

The drive starts at OS grid reference SP085133. There is no signposted parking area, but there is a wide yard just opposite the church gates, which looks like it would accommodate several vehicles.

Another option for visiting is to do what we did; park in Yanworth and simply walk along the road downhill. You can see Stowell park ahead of you on the opposite hill, and this must be one of the most beautiful vistas in rural England. Simply follow the road is it curves up the hill and turn right onto the straight drive that leads to the rear of the house. The church is just past the first bend in the drive.

More Photos

About Stowell
Address: Stowell Park, Yanworth, Gloucestershire, England, GL54 3LE
Attraction Type: Historic Church
Location: Beside Stowell Park house, near Yanworth, off the A427. Open daylight hours.
Location map
OS: SP087131
Photo Credit: David Ross and Britain Express


Heritage Rated from 1- 5 (low to exceptional) on historic interest

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