All Saints' Church - a History
As one of England's largest parish churches, All Saints rivals many cathedrals in size. With its stunning gothic-style architecture, the eminent art historian Sir Nikolaus Pevsner described it as "a church as out of the ordinary for scale as for style".
The Domesday Book of 1086 reports that there was a priest present in "Lamintone", (an old name for Leamington) although there is no specific mention of a church. The earliest record of one was from the 12th century when Leamington was still a tiny hamlet in the parish of Leek Wootton. A west tower was added in the 14th century whilst a south porch was added in the 18th century. The first spring (of many that made Leamington famous) was located just outside the main entrance of the church of land owned by the Earl of Aylesford.
It was in 1842 that the church began to take its current form and shape, overseen by the Rev John Craig. By this time the church was no longer in open fields just to the north of a hamlet, but was in the centre of a bustling spa town (two of Leamington's town founders, Benjamin Satchwell and William Abbotts are buried in the churchyard). The last major works to take place to the church were from 1898–1902, when two western bays to the nave and a south western bell tower were added by the eminent Victorian architect Sir Arthur Blomfield. The seating capacity was increased to around 2000. In 1986, the Urquhart Room was added, which now houses the parish office and cafe. From September 2007 to February 2008 the church precincts were redeveloped and a new sculpture, entitled 'Spring', was installed on the site of the original Leamington spa spring.
The church remains in active use, first and foremost as a place of worship for a thriving community of families, young professionals and students. The congregation is frequently supplemented by visitors from the UK and abroad.
Despite the fragmentation of its parish during the 19th century, All Saints is still known and used as Leamington's Parish Church, especially for very large occasions. There is a particular emphasis in the worship on high quality choral and organ music, with a repertoire spanning the 8th to the 21st centuries.
The church also hosts and promotes organ recitals and concerts, with the capacity to accommodate a full choir and symphony orchestra along with an audience of up to 500.
The church hosts Nightlight, a project giving free hot drinks and the space to talk to anyone within the area on Friday night from around 10.00pm until the early hours of Saturday morning. The project is staffed by members of Christian churches of several denominations in and beyond the town.
Our former Verger, Alan Griffin, has produced a history of the church for the Leamington History Group which can be read here.
We already know that some of the people memorialised in our church 'owned' slaves. Other people were probably associated with (what we would now call) human rights abuses during the colonial era. We're carrying out further research with the help of Leamington's Local History Society, so that we can own up as fully as possible to dark aspects of our past, and proclaim clearly that Christian faith has no place for oppression, inequality, racism, or any other kind of abuse.
Recent research* suggests that some of the money used to rebuild the church from 1842 may have derived from profits from a slave plantation in Jamaica. We are ashamed of this aspect of our history and commit ourselves to work in whatever ways we can for peace, justice, and freedom.
* by Dr B Richardson, for Leamington History Society
The Church of England's guidance on Contested Heritage can be accessed here.