obvious sign is the famous south door into the west tower, about which more later. The Anglo-Saxon part is, in effect, a church within a church. Much of its nave survives as today's nave but its original chancel has been replaced by a much longer thirteenth century one and the entire length of nave and chancel is paralleled on the north side by a fifteenth century north aisle and a fourteenth century lady chapel. In essence, if one were to bisect the floor plan (less the west tower) vertically and horizontally to form four smaller rectangles, the remaining Anglo-Saxon part occupies roughly the bottom left hand rectangle plus the lower part of the west tower.
The original church comprised the nave that we see now, with a shallow chancel. A little later a two-floored gabled porch was added at the west end and this is the base of what is now the west tower. At about the same time a south porticus was added and possibly another on the north side, of which no sign remains. A porticus is a side chapel, generally much shallower than a later transept and designed for access from within through a doorway. The Church Guide states that the south porticus was of two storeys and its “artist’s impression” of the original church shows windows at the upper level to the east and south. Above the present south door on the inside is the filled-in top of either a doorway or a window. H.M.Taylor, the all-time expert on Anglo-Saxon churches speculated the that this is in fact the top of a single doorway that would have reached a height of fourteen feet from the ground with a width of only two feet. A doorway of such bizarre proportions would, in his view, have simply have been an extreme example of the Anglo-Saxon love of height in a church and that it might have been designed to allow the carrying of a tall processional cross. He also pointed to a lack of evidence that any upper storey windows ever existed. I don’t find that very conclusive, and Pevsner found the single storey theory unlikely, but I would add that I cannot see any evidence on the inside of the south wall that a floor to an upper room existed either. One might also wonder how such an upper chamber would have been accessed? That’s an unanswerable mystery for us but I prefer Taylor’s version, if only because it is more interesting!
That was about it until the Norman Conquest. The Normans turned the west porch into a tower, adding a bell stage. There must originally have been a doorway from the porch to the nave such as we can still at Monkwearmouth Church where entry is still from the base of the tower. At Ledsham the Normans turned the doorway into the more familiar tower arch. It is unusually plain for a Norman arch but you can tell it is a later insertion because the impost blocks do not bond into the surrounding masonry. Above this arch is a small Anglo-Saxon window. It is tempting to think this is a sliced-off doorway but it is splayed towards the inside of the tower indicating it was certainly built as a window. The porticus was turned into a south porch.
The chancel arch is original Anglo-Saxon. This is easily ascertained by the characteristically crude stonework to either side. The impost blocks have some ornamentation but these were a subsequent (and dubious) addition. The voussoirs to the arch above are to my eyes unusually regular and hint at possible restoration at some point in history.
We don't know what the Normans did with the chancel because in about 1240 a new one was built. The east window was a typical Early English triple lancet arrangement but it was replaced by the present gothic style window in the restoration work in the nineteenth century. In the fourteenth century a lady chapel was built adjacent to the chancel with a two arch arcade between the two. This would have given the church a rather incongruous ground plan but a north aisle was added in the fifteenth century in the Perpendicular style of the day. Taken altogether, there is a spacious and open feel to the church that belies its ancient origins.
So to the south west door that is the iconic feature of this church. It was the original entrance to the church and yet is stands only 5'7" which gives you some idea of the physical stature of people of the day. Its jamb stones are massive as are its voussoirs (arch stones) and it is worth comparing the latter with the chancel arch which is its contemporary but which has much smaller and neater voussoirs. There are impost blocks that are - unusually - chamfered and which have crude interlaced decoration. Around the whole piece a course of decorated stonework.
This decorated strip and the imposts are bones of contention. There is general agreement that the decorative strip is from the Victorian restoration of 1871 but what is less clear is whether such a strip existed before ans what it looked like. An account of the church in 1862 says that there was and that it was crudely decorated, but sadly the there was no sketch of this. The decoration on the imposts is extraordinarily crude - ugly in fact. We can only surmise that it was a bodged copy by a mason with skills grossly inadequate for the work. Is this really all the work of a Victorian restorer? Did he just repair what was already there. I struggle to believe that although the chamfering is unusual. The decorative strip is hardly a masterpiece but is far better-executed than the imposts. It is odd, perhaps, that this doorway is seen as so iconic, given the amount of restoration it has seen but it is undoubtedly exciting for the student of Anglo-Saxon architecture. Either way, to visit Ledsham Church is to visit one of the oldest ecclesiastical buildings in England.