The Lychgate is in memory of those who fell in the Great War and was dedicated at a ceremony in 1921. It is a quite unusual gate, not because of the fact that the names of the soldiers who died in both World Wars are inscribed on the gate posts, but because in the roof are the names of those from Sandridge Village who left to fight the Hun but SURVIVED ! I have never seen this before and have often wondered, when checking out a war memorial, whether my relative had fought with the men who died but had been luckier and been able to return to his loved ones.
Who was St Leonard ?
St Leonard of Limoges was a French saint and the patron saint of prisoners and pregnant women. There is a statue of him on the 19th century pulpit which shows him holding a broken chain, the symbol of a freed prisoner.
Some form of wooden church was probably put on this site in 796 AD when the Abbey of St Albans took possession of the Manor of Sandridge. It was originally attached to St Peter’s Parish in St Albans but around 1100 AD Sandridge became a separate parish.
Part of the Church is very old. The entrance arch is largely made out of Roman bricks and the church font is thought to date from Norman times (1190 AD). After the dissolution of St Albans Abbey in 1539 the Manor passed to a London banker. One of his descendants married John Churchill and, through this line, the Lord of the Manor has passed to the present Earl Spencer, brother of Princess Diana. However, Sandridge was a poor parish and the church deteriorated badly. In 1693 the tower fell down and in 1710 one of the main beams holding up the nave roof broke. A cowboy builder from Hatfield built a replacement tower in 1836 but rather surreally, during morning service in 1840, “there were horrible noises and the tower began leaning towards the West, opening up a gap between it and the nave”. It seems that the new tower had been built over graves causing subsidence !
When Dr John Griffith became vicar in 1872, he found the church almost derelict. Aided by Earl Spencer and a local wealthy family, the Martens of Marshals Wick, plus the parishioners, he set about a major restoration programme. A fund raising fete held in 1884 raised £220 (around £20,000 in today's terms). The restoration work which they did in 1886 / 87 has pretty much lasted until the present day. The architect of the restoration was William White, a pupil of George Gilbert Scott.
There were a number of graves either side of a tree lined path and a very peaceful place it was. However, there did appear to be a number of graves which had been sadly neglected which seemed sad given the relatively few number of burials involved.
There is a large stone tomb just inside the lychgate for the Thrale family who were apparently residents in Sandridge for almost 500 years. There is also an interesting and unusual shaped brown pillar in one of the corners of the churchyard commemorating a Sandridge man who died at sea in 1913 off the coast of Australia. There are also graves of the Marten family and two War Graves of WW1 soldiers who died of their wounds after returning to the village.
However, for me, the most poignant grave was for Hannah Munt, who died aged 49 in 1866, and her daughter Betsy. Their grave was almost completely hidden in the undergrowth and we had to clamber through the wild bushes in order to first of all see that it was a grave and then to remove the greenery from the writing to identify those who were now forgotten to all but the local wildlife.
The most interesting part for me were the small memorial plaques on the back of some of the choir stalls remembering choristers who had died during the Great War.
We finished our trip off by visiting the Rose and Crown public house where we had a very nice lunch and discussed where we might visit in the next few months.