A short guide and history of St Leonard's Church
(compiled by Steve Goodsell)

This page is currently under development, so please bear with us - any information or corrections
may be sent to the webmaster at webmaster@stleonardsdeal.co.uk

St Leonard's is still the Parish Church of Deal, despite now lying on the outskirts of the town and there being several other churches within the town. It gains its name from the Saint to whom it is dedicated -  St Leonard of Limoges an Abbot who lived in France during the 6th century and who is now the Patron Saint of Prisoners.

Today, St Leonard's  serves the local community as the mother church of a Benefice (group of churches) which includes three other local churches;
St Richards, Mill Hill; St Nicholas, Sholden; and St Martins, Great Mongham. Services are held several times a week in all four churches, with each church having its own unique look and feel.
View from the Garden of Rememberance, showing the earlier  parts of the church with the later tower in the background

Although some sources give credence to a place of worship having been on the site since Saxon times, no evidence of this building exists now, however parts of the current  Church of St Leonard's certainly date to approximately 1100 although over the centuries since, it has seen many alterations. This leaves the building now standing, as a confusion of architectural styles.  The Nave and chancel contain the earliest remaining arcitecture, with the original tower being added some 80 to 100 years later.

The chancel was remodeled in the 13th century, and during this period the narrow north and south aisles were enlarged and doors added to each (These doors are both now gone, although the southern can be detected in the outside wall and parts of the northern doorway were reused in the current north door, leading from the early 19th century extension to the church, into the north porch.)

The current tower is of 17th century construction (completed in 1686) having been built to replace the 12th century one which had collapsed due to the church falling in to ill repair prior to the reformation. Many other repairs and alterations have obviously occurred over the centuries and in this history, I will try and lead you through them and show how they have influenced what we have today.

Looking south from the georgian gallery, showing the congregation side-on to the AltarWhile this amalgam of architectural styles has led to what some would call an aesthetically unattractive building, certainly from the outside, as evidenced in the picture above,  it has along with various changes in fashion and the foibles of its congregations over the ages, led to an intriguing, if no less confusing, interior. This is very lopsided and results in the bulk of the congregation facing south, rather than the traditional east and therefore sitting side on to the Altar.

The picture alongside is a view from the gallery over the north door and shows how the orientation leaves the choir and high altar hidden in the chancel off to the left and the congregation facing the end of the new altar which has been installed forward of its more usual position.  One Bishop is said to have commented that it is "The most cockeyed church in Christendom". It does however mean that the church contains features of architectural importance and interest spanning nine centuries.

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The current tower is surmounted by a cupola which featured on charts as an important landmark for ships approaching the Goodwin Sands. This cupola has recently been completely refurbished, at a total cost in excess of 69,000.

The original 12th century tower that collapsed in the mid 17th century had possessed a steeple ( at least according to Philip Symond's Map of Kent which can normally be relied upon in these matters. I am not aware of any pictorial evidence either way)  

The tower now has a clock on the north and south faces and a peal of six bells. Originally there was a peal of five, first cast and hung in 1686. These were recast in 1887, with a sixth bell being added, as a jubilee gift (interestingly to the town rather than the church) from Captain George Coleman  who later became mayor of Deal. The current clock is dated 1866, the earliest record of the tower having a clock is for 1715, but the current one dates from 1866.


One normally enters St Leonard's via the west door in the tower, however the north door to the church is available to to give access for wheel chair users etc and also serves as the entrance for the bride at weddings as it allows her a longer procession, passing through the congregation.

Once through the main doors of the tower, the visitor passes down several steep steps into a lobby notable for a spiral staircase to the bell tower and two hatchments (those numbered 12 and 15 in the separate article) The table on which the Deal Charter was displayed after its signing by William III in 1699 also stands here. It is also worth noting the insides of the entrance doors and the large lock, which are probably original to the present tower

. If you are lucky and the inner doors into the body of the church are open and the sun shining in the right direction, you will be struck by the splendour of the view this allows of the altar, chancel and ascension window. Unfortunately, they are normally kept closed to help keep the heat in and drafts out.  View toward the High Altar on entering the church from the tower

As you enter the main body of the church, take time to look back the way you came; as well as the modern interior doors, you will have passed by an earlier door which is a fine example of Jacobean panelled work complete with a hand wrought latch and bolt. This door is now kept open, but it is worth closing it as far as possible, to better view its splendour from both sides.

Once inside the main body of the church, you begin to sense the "ordered chaos" that has resulted from the many extensions. To the south the aisle is still the width it became when the church was expanded in the 13th century, the northern aisle however was extended both in the 13th century to a similar width to that of the current south, and again in the 19th century, which created the current lopsided interior. Prior to the Reformation, St Leonard's, in common with most churches had many side altars and images of Saints, where candles were kept burning in both these aisles, these are all now gone..

It should be noted that the extensions of the 13th C were not symmetrical, the south aisle was always longer than the north, both to the east where the Lady Chapel altar now stands and to the west where it stretches almost as far as the west wall of the tower. Part of this was divided off to form the clergy vestry in 1709 and a further section in 1979.

The second extension to the northern aisle took place in 1819 when the whole north wall was taken down and the current dimensions reached. It was with the building of this extension that the pews in the northern aisle were turned to face south so giving the bulk of the seating in St Leonard's a most unusual orientation. For a long period of time after this it meant that any acts of worship carried out at the main altar in the chancel were hidden from the bulk of the congregation.

In 1979 this changed. Worship was becoming much more centred around Holy Communion and moving away from people attending church primarily to hear the clergy preaching, so leading to a bigger need for people to be able to see the altar. Rather than a wholesale redesign of the seating, screens at the front of the chancel were moved and placed on the walls of the vestry, the pulpit which stood by the side of the small 15th century door linking the chancel and northern aisle was removed and a new, forward altar and communion rails placed where they stand today, just outside the chancel (see picture right)  At the same time several pews were removed, leaving an open space from the altar to the west door. It was also at this time that a further section of the western end of the south aisle was partitioned off  to increase the size of the vestry and provide today's toilet and kitchen facilities, such as they are.

Standing in front of the altar and looking around the church, another  feature stands out apart from the unusual shape - the galleries. St Leonard's is rare, if not unique  as a parish church, in having galleries from three different periods still intact. Galleries were another way of meeting the needs of the expanding population of Deal over the centuries and these, as with the basic structure of the church have evolved several times over the years.

Northern-aisle-showing-Geor.jpg (28315 bytes)The Georgian gallery over the north aisle is contemporary with the extension (1819) and is rated as being of great significance by the Georgian Society among others as an excellent example of its type. Although at first glance the benches and kneelers in this gallery appear quite sad, they are for the most part original and I am told by the Georgian Society, well worth retaining. This picture shows the North aisle. The original extent of the aisle was as far as the two iron pillars which now support the ceiling. The georgian gallery runs round three sides of the new extension. The bulk of the panneling is unfortunatly concealed behind murals currently, but I hope to be able to take a picture with these temporarily removed in the near future,

  View to the west, showing the Bevington Organ in the Pilots Gallery, and the  Vestry Gallery  to the left of the pillar.

The gallery which now houses the Bevington Organ is known as the Pilots Gallery and while not the original, which suffered when the tower collapsed, still dates to 1705 and is clearly of   'Restoration period' style. On the front, either side of the picture of an 18th century Man O' War  can still be seen the inscription from its most recent rebuild and some interesting paintings of the globe and pilots in traditional uniform although these are now  much faded. The date shown on the picture of 1705 is the date of painting, rather than the Great Storm of 1703 which it commemorates, where some 1,200 men were lost on the Goodwin Sands.

Choir-gallery.jpg (22638 bytes)The final gallery is Victorian, erected in 1860 over the entrance to the vestry, and of interest for several reasons. The front bears the carved Arms of William III (after Mary's death) which had originally been on the front of a gallery built in 1696 by Thomas Bowles (who later became Mayor of Deal) which sat over the chancel until it was removed in 1860. The old Gallery is believed to have been made of panels from Northbourne church. Incidentally, it was at this time (1860) that the old 'horsebox' pews were replaced with those we now have. The picture to the left, shows not only the gallery, but also the screening that was removed from the front of the chancel  when that area was reordered in 1979. Was it a quirk of fate or a plan which brought the gallery and the screens which for many years had existed in close proximity back together after almost 120 years?


The church has four main stained glass windows, which I have depicted below, all I believe dating in the last half of the 19th C and the early 20th C.   There are three other stained glasss windows, as well as the main four - in the north and south walls of the Chancel (these are just patterned)  and another very small window depicting a lamb high up in the wall above the main Altar. I can give no idication of date for these, but again pictures are shown below.

As you can tell, I am afraid I do not know much at all about any of the stained glass, so if any kind reader has other information they would like to pass to me, I would be grateful.

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The Crucifixion window in the Lady Chapel, is a copy of a painting by Guido Reni and is in memory of the Reverend R Patterson who was Rector at St Leonard's between 1905 and 1919

The Ascension Window in the Chancel, based on Luke Ch 24 v50-53 is dedicated to Mrs Anne Oldman who during her life was probably the greatest benefactor of St Leonard's. She gave the Bevington Organ to the church as well as funding many improvements and repairs to the fabric of the building.

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The Good Samaritan window, based on Luke Ch10 v30-37 is in the middle of the south wall of the church

In the east wall of the north aisle is a window where the left hand pane is based on Matthew Ch 19 v 14 'Suffer little children to come unto me' and the right hand on John Ch 21 v 15-16, 'Lovest thou Me, feed my lambs (Spoken to Peter on the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after rising from the tomb)

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The three other windows within the Chancel.

<=== South wall

North wall==>

.... and the lamb which is above the Ascension window


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As you will have gathered, St Leonards is rich in the variety of its features, fixtures and fittings and some of them I have mentioned in passing. As time has moved on each generation has left something behind for the next to admire and  no generation has felt the need to expunge all trace of another. It is this diversity which makes the church such a valuable historical record of the last 800 years.

Here I will attempt to list - and over time illustrate and describe - as many of these features as possible. Their order will be as far as practicle, that in which you would see them if entering the chuch by the tower and proceeding in a clockwise fashion round the building.

Outer Tower doors Notable for the inner skin and original lock dating to the rebuilding in 1686
Deal Charter Table Stands in the base of the tower and is the table upon which the Charter was laid when signed in 1699
Inner Tower door A single leaf jacobean door of particularly fine construction,  with original hand wrought latch. While left in situ it is obscured by the modern double doors, which the church are considering replacing with glass doors - It is worth stopping to examine this door!
The Hatchments The first two are in the tower base, others hang on almost every wall of the church. 
The Stained Glass windows The ascension window is seen straight in front immediatly on entering the church, the other main windows can also be viewed once the body of the church is entered. - Described above.
The Galleries You enter the church from under the Pilots gallery. This and also the others are described above.
The North Door Contains some of the stone work from the original north door.
Queen Anne's Arms After the Restoration in 1660 the Royal Arms were ordered to be placed in all churches. In the wall above the extended arch to the nave, is a board showing the coat of arms of Queen Anne, this is best seen from the Georgian gallery. It is currently difficult to make much of the detail out, but it is hoped to restore this board in the near future.
The Chancel This area contains many features of interest, which I describe below ....
chancel-centre.jpg (13393 bytes)chancel north.jpg (12004 bytes)chancel-south.jpg (11274 bytes) 15th Century door Used by the Priest to gain easy access to the pulpit which used to stand nearby
Norman Piscina At least as old as the church, this octagonal shaft, carved with chevron mouldings and topped by an elaborate capital, this is among the finest of its type in southern England
13th Century Sedilla With shafts constructed of Purbeck Marble, these stone seats in the southern wall of the chancel would have accomodated the clergy during services. The crowned head of a King rests at the foot of the right arch. Legend has it that this stems from an overnight stay in the church by King Richard and his knights when returning via Sandwich from the Crusades. Certainly the style and look of it support this theory.
Two recesses in north east corner The wider of the two (on the north wall) is an ancient Aumbry - a recess where sacred vessels would have been kept. The taller, narrow one probably held a statue of St Leonard
Memorial tablets and tombstones There are many memorial tablets mounted on the walls throughout the church and also several tombstones set in the floor. Most here in the chancel commemorate previous rectors and their families.
Baker Brass To the North of the High Altar, set in the floor is a series of brasses marking the grave of Thomas Baker (or Barbor) who died in February 1508. They show his wife, their four sons and four daughters as well as Thomas himself. A rubbing hangs nearby.
Chrism Brass Under the High Altar is an unusual example of this type of brass (commemorating the lfe and death of a newly baptised child) This one is for Anne the daughter of Thomas Constant, Parson of deal and dates to 1606.

To be continued