St.Mary's Church

A parish church dedicated to St.Mary has stood on its present site in Hinckley for almost 900 years.

St.Marys Church c.2014
St.Marys Church c.2014

The first church was built on the site by William Fitzosbern. He came over with William the Conqueror. In income of the church was granted by its founder to the Abbey of Lyre in Normandy. The connection with this Norman Abbey continued until 1415 when the revenue was transferred to the Abbey of Mountgrace in Yorkshire.

When Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries in 1542 he gave the estates of Mountgrace Priory in Hinckley, together with the patronage of St.Mary's to the Dean and chapter of Westminster Abbey in return for St.James' Park London.

The Dean and Chapter kept the patronage until 1874 when it was transferred to the Bishop of Peterborough. When Leicester became a separate diocese in 1926 it was taken over by the Bishop of Leicester.

A Benedictine Priory was founded in Hinckley in the eleventh century. The old priory building, which was on the south side of the church survived until 1827 when it was demolished.

Nothing remains of the original building apart from the foundations. The church was rebuilt in the thirteenth century. The date 1246 is inscribed. The oldest parts of the church that can be seen today, date back to 1240 and 1340. They are the tower, nave and chancel.

During the three year period between 1875 and 1878 a large scale restoration was undertaken at the church. The architect was Ewan Christian and the contractor was William Bassett Smith of London who would go on to do further work on The Holy Trinity Church and St.Marys Vicarage. The old North and South aisles and transepts were demolished along with the great West singing gallery and galleries existing in the North and South aisles.

The poor used to be herded into the north gallery, which was filled with benches and expected to seat 360. New and larger aisles and transepts were built. After these were completed there was room for 1,200 people to be seated.

In 1880 the Chancel was restored and reroofed. The outstanding feature of the church is its 25.3m tower and spire reaching 30.5m. The walls of the tower are 1.7m thick and were built in the early fourteenth century. The large Western window was added in the fifteenth century. The stone surrounding the West door was restored in 1895.

The walls of the nave are thirteenth century, but the battlements with crocketted pinnacles at the corners are Victorian.

The oldest tomb stone dates back to 1500's behind the chest, on the wall near the North Door is a marble slab. 1.8m by 0.97m which at one time was in the floor of the nave, and later on the floor behind the present font. Originally it had three inlaid brasses. Only one remains today. The inscription which is almost worn away is recorded by Nichols. The translated from Latin, reads " here lies William .... and Margret and Margery, his wives on whose souls may God have mercy...." The date was MD, which confirms it is dating from the fifteenth century.

Bell Ringing at St.Mary's Church during 2014.

The church graveyard was closed to burials in 1858 when the cemetery in Ashby Road was commenced. Until that date for almost eight centuries, the churchyard had been the place for burial for the people of Hinckley. However it was only in the eighteenth century that gravestones began to be a common feature in churchyards. Before then graves were unmarked.

Whenever a new grave was dug, the bones of previous burials were dug up and reburied with the corpse. This was obviously a sensible way of conserving land.

Old gravestones have now become a valued part of our heritage. The churchyard possesses many fine examples of Swithland slate grave stones with beautiful lettering and ornamentation .The Grave of painter William Bass is located in the churchyard. It is one of the large Swithland slates and can be found at the east end of the church, along the path running due north to church. He was only 25 when he died in 1781.

1927 Louis Vierne wrote and composed 'The Bells of Hinckley' for the finale from the final fourth Suite of 'Pieces of Fantasy'. Vierne was inspired by a carillon of bells he heard from St.Marys Church.

St.Mary's is also home to the famous Bleeding Tombstone.

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