Isleham Church

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The Priory

Saint Andrew’s is by no means the oldest place of worship in the village. Back in 1090 a priory was built by Count Alan of Brittany and was home to a Prior and three monks. One can only imagine the feelings of those monks, sent over from Brittany, to what must then have been an isolated islet in the midst of a wild bog. ‘No, please, what have I done amiss to deserve such punishment”

The Bernards and the Peytons

The Bernard family acquired the Manor of Isleham during the reign of King John and it was the Bernard’s, who in 1331 paid to have built, on the site of an earlier Norman church, a new church with a nave and chancel of the same height “ not unlike the nearby Priory “ but with side aisles and a western tower.
The Bernard’s held the manor until the last of their line, a girl named Margaret, married Thomas Peyton around 1430.Thus began a link between Isleham and the Peyton clan which has lasted until today.

The Church Extended 1495

In 1495, in a new climate of optimism after the end the Wars of the Roses, churches and chapels were being extended, enlarged and beautified all across the land. Crystofer Peyton decided his Manor deserved a bigger and better church. He had the aisle pillars strengthened, raised the nave roof and built the lofty clerestory with its magnificent carved wooden roof beams and angels. The inscription, which Crystofer ordered to be carved all around the clerestory nave, dedicates this work to the souls of his parents and an older brother who had predeceased him.

It was and is a worthy memorial, for the “Angel Roof” once held some sixty carved angels, of which only a handful remains. The finest without doubt are the ten Great Angels bearing emblems and instruments of Our Lord’s passion.

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Robert Peyton’s Tomb

IC - Robert Peyton Tomb.jpgMuch of the internal decoration has long since been lost, but on return stalls in the chancel there are still misericords of priest & bishop, king & queen, dating from 1350. Most immediately apparent to the visitor are the two huge and brightly coloured tombs, one of which is illustrated below, in the Peyton Chapel.

The complicated coats of arms above these tombs, one of fifteen quarterings the other twenty-one, indicate the many alliances and marriages which had allowed the 16th Century Peytons to retain control over so many farms, manors and tenements in the area

Restoration Begins

But churches like all things decay and Isleham badly needed repair though some work had been done in 1956. It now needed the roof slates and lead work repairing, and the wooden beams and carvings conserving.

Pipistrellus Pipistrellus

IC - TN_Pipistrelle Bat.jpgAll this had to be crammed into ‘window’ between March and May. 2004. This timing was imposed by English Nature, in case any tiny female pipistrelle bat, who might choose the roof as maternity ward and nursery, were disturbed. To ensure this timing there was a non compliance fine of £5,000 written into the contract. We found no sign or evidence of any bat colony.

The sponsor of this web site, Ian Powys, counted himself privileged to have access onto and into the roof during those three months, keeping a day-by-day diary of events as well as taking many photographs of the progress of the workNo one else will see, up close, the work of those 15th Century masters of woodcarving skills in our lifetime. The author found three carved heads of which only one is a true Green Man with foliage sprouting from his mouth. His discovery was reported in the Church Times in January 2005



  1. I am so grateful for your research! I am a descendant of the Peytons who worshipped at that church. I have spent years researchng my Peyton ancestry and even taken DNA tests to confirm the accuracy of my investigations. I would be so elated to correspond with you! In deep gratitude for your work. Jim Peyton in Kentucky USA

  2. Please could you tell me what happened to the lovely Peyton pews which were removed and sold in the 1970s I believe by then then vicar?

    Many thanks


  3. Hello, I’m (Jean)Rosalind Minett and my grandfather was Charles – clerk at law stationers – and grandmother Eliza nee Preston,
    they were from South London. Charles’ father was Frederick 1841 also married to an Eliza.

    Would you care to contact me please re the above
    family – you have relatives looking for the same
    Eliza nee Preston…..

    Kind regards
    Maree S. Gordon, Matamata, New Zealand

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