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St Laurence, The Saxon Church

Church Street, Bradford on Avon

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Saxon Church

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Bradford on Avon’s Saxon Church is a well-preserved example of church-building from the period before the Norman Conquest. It is unusual in being entirely constructed of cut ashlar stone which has been carved externally with pilaster strips and blind arcading. The stone is very likely to be local, despite a legend about it coming from Hazelbury, in Box.

It has a nave and chancel and a porticus (porch-wing) on the northern side; a probable southern porticus that seems to have had an underground room had been replaced at some time before the beginning of the 19th century.

Dating the building has been controversial, with some people wishing to make it St Aldhelm’s church of the early 8th century, but it is now agreed that stylistically it belongs to the late 10th or early 11th century. It was probably erected around the time of the first millennium in 1001, at the same time as King Æthelred II gave his Manor of Bradford to the Abbey of Shaftesbury in Dorset. Æthelred made the gift so that Bradford could be a refuge for the nuns and for the bones of St Edward from the raids by the Danes and the building might have been to house the saint’s remains. If there had been a church founded by Aldhelm, its foundations may be under the present Holy Trinity parish church.

The medieval historian William of Malmesbury noted that there was still in his day (in about 1125) a little church dedicated to the “Blessed Laurence” and he assumed it was part of a monastery that was reputed to have been founded in Bradford by St Aldhelm. It had long gone out of use and had been divided up and become embedded in later buildings when the antiquarian Vicar of Bradford, Canon William Henry Jones, noticed it in the 1850s and identified it with William’s little church. The building had, however, previously been sketched by another antiquarian, Rev William Collings Lukis, Curate of Bradford in 1847. It had become a cottage (the chancel) and the Grammar School, with the master’s house in place of the south porticus. A trust was set up which acquired the property in 1872 and the Bradford architect Charles Septimus Adye controversially ‘restored’ it, involving demolition of the schoolmaster’s house.

Read more about the church in the Bradford on Avon Museum booklet by Professor David Hinton.