St Mary Broughton

Based on an article by Jenny Ashby, Withowinde #187 (Autumn 2018)

St Mary Broughton
St Mary, Broughton (c) PWicks 2018

St Mary’s Broughton probably dates from between 970 and 1050 AD and was most likely a thegn’s private church rather than a parish church. It was originally turriform, that is, the tower was the nave, with the chancel to the east. Internally, the tower measures 18ft (5.49 m) east-west and 13ft (3.96 m) north-south, with the walls being 2 ft 10 ins (0.86 m) thick (Taylor and Taylor, 1965). This would have accommodated a congregation of about 70 people (3 people per square metre). However, the altar could have been sited within the nave, which would have made the area for a congregation even smaller. The current tower arch would originally have been the arch to the chancel and its best side faced the Anglo-Saxon nave so the worshippers would have seen the chancel framed by an exquisite arch (which is unfortunately now hidden by a hideous curtain). The tower arch is 10 ft 6 ins (3.2 m) tall and 4 ft 5 ins (1.35 m) wide, although the actual passageway through it is only 3 ft 3 ins (0.99 m) wide due to the projection of the inner jambs (Taylor and Taylor, 1965). These inner jambs currently support thin air, but it is believed they once supported a tympanum. The jamb on the left (looking east) is much worn away by scratchings, making it look like an egg-timer. Legend has it that it was used for sharpening blades, but it’s more likely to be a case of para-religious use; people were taking scrapings from a holy place to put in food or water as a cure. The marks were probably made with iron nails. This was a common practice in the medieval period. The arch itself has no keystone, which is typical of Anglo-Saxon construction. There is a doorway high up in the west wall of the current nave, ostensibly an entrance to a gallery for thegnly worshippers, but it is probably too high up for this.

The foundations of the Anglo-Saxon chancel extend 120 ins (304 cm) into the current nave (Points, 2016) and they are marked out in tape. However, there is no scar of it on the west wall of the nave. Externally, the Anglo-Saxon part of the tower extends to 40 ft (12.19 m); it was originally higher but both it and the stair turret (of which more later) were truncated when the belfry was replaced in the 14th century. The tower consists of 4 bands of roughly equal height of quite distinct masonry. The first is roughly-coursed rubble to about 7 courses above the south door, then 12 courses of herringbone work (this mode of construction is an efficient way of building a strong wall out of rubbish material), then roughly-dressed rectangular stones, then a mixture of these with patches of irregularly laid rubble (Taylor and Taylor, 1965). This sequence can be seen internally too. The quoins, which strengthen the corners, are laid side-alternate. There are two small round-headed windows in the south face of the tower, one on each of the middle two bands of masonry, and one similar window in the herringbone band in the north face of the tower. The Anglo-Saxons used cast concrete to make the heads of such windows, which were faced, externally, with openings cut from single pieces of stone. The south doorway is obviously Anglo-Saxon, with its round head, hood moulding, large imposts (one glaringly restored) and decorated capitals.

The external stair turret, one of only four in the country, is what originally attracted me to Broughton Church. Round stair turrets may have represented the Holy Sepulchre, the stairs ascending to Heaven. Although still Anglo-Saxon in date, Broughton’s stair turret is a later addition; there is a straight joint between it and the tower. Also, the floor levels between the tower and turret are not properly aligned. It is not built of local stones but of sandstones and gritstones from the Pennines. These are reused Roman material, most likely from York or Templeborough, some of which contain Lewis holes. This was not only a convenient building material, it also gave a link to “Romanitas” and therefore the “true” church. The building style of the turret is different to that of the tower, comprising of large, square (average size: 18 ins or 0.46 m), roughly-dressed stones. The 3 turret windows are different too; they are narrow, rectangular, vertical slits, framed with narrow strips of stone (Taylor and Taylor, 1965).

Internally, the stair turret is effectively a rubble and concrete helical (going upwards) tunnel. The treads of the roughly-dressed steps are attached individually to a central pillar, or newel, and simply bedded on the floor of the tunnel. The newel is a stack of reused Roman columns! The stairway leads to a first-floor chamber, from which you can peer down into the church, but then carries on upwards, implying that it once led to a second-floor chamber. The ground-floor door to the stairway is round-headed, with the usual lack of keystone.

There are 2 “Lindseytype” grave slabs in the church, which show there was religious activity on the site in the late 10th or early 11th centuries. One is incorporated into the floor around a pier on the south side of the nave and is almost impossible to photograph, but the other is much easier to see. It is in the Anderson Chapel at the east end of the north aisle and has some rather nice cable pattern moulding with figure-of-eight interlace.

After the Anglo-Saxon period, the church was extended, altered and moved outwards. The present nave and chancel are Norman; the aisles and arcades were added in the 1300s.

The settlement of Broughton sits on a route-way through the Lincolnshire Wolds that follows the River Ancholme. Broughton was sited on the Roman Ermine Street and must have been a Roman settlement. Ermine Street led from Lincoln to the Humber (then northwards) but there are no settlements along this stretch of it (they are all to the west on the spring line just below the Lincoln Edge) Broughton’s Moor Beck would have been the first source of flowing water after Lincoln and there might have been a nymphaeum here. Anglo-Saxon pottery and a Grubenhaus have been found in the village. The “tun” element in Broughton’s name is probably no earlier than the 8th century,  though the “brough” element may mean “borough” or it could refer to the mounds on the sandy hills within the village.

In the Domesday Book, Broughton has 2 recorded landowners and 29 sokemen (these were a class of free peasants who had more rights than villeins and are more numerous in Lincolnshire than elsewhere possibly descended from Viking settlers), along with 34 villeins and 8 bordars. A church and a priest are referred to; this church may have been St Mary’s, but as the tower nave appears to have been private, there may have been another church too. St Mary’s may have been built by Merleswein or Grinchel the latter was King Harold’s man in the area, the shire reeve of Lincolnshire.


Points, G. A Gazetteer of Anglo-Saxon and Anglo-Scandinavian Sites: Lincolnshire. 2016. Rihtspell Publishing.

Taylor, H. M. and Taylor, J. Anglo-Saxon Architecture. Vol l. 1965. Cambridge University Press. Cambridge.

Lecture by Dr Kevin Leahy to the English Companions at Broughton Church on 2nd June, 2018