Little is known about the early history of Heston Church. During the seventh century, Theodore, Archbishop of Canterbury after conducting a survey of the English Church sent two priests, probably Benedictine monks, to the Manor of Gistelesworthe (Isleworth), one of whom came to Heston. Heston was not mentioned in the Domesday Book but in 1086, the manor was given to Nobleman Sir Walter de St. Valery by William the Conqueror after he had accompanied him at the Conquest. Sir Walter came from the port from which William sailed for the invasion of 1066. Later Sir Walter gave Heston Church, including the building and its revenues to the Abbey of St. Valery, and thus the monks became the owners of Heston Benefice.
The Abbey of St. Valery appointed a secular priest (i.e. not Monastic) as Vicar. It has been said that one of these Heston Vicars was at Runnymede at the signing of Magna Carta.
About 1270 Richard, Earl of Cornwall (the Lord of the Manor) made Heston a separate parish. Richard was the second son of King John and had joined the Barons’ Crusade of 1239, where he achieved success as a negotiator for the release of prisoners – an interesting connection to St. Leonard, the patron saint of Heston Church (patron saint of prisoners and captives).
The date Heston Church became St. Leonard’s is unknown, so it is possible that Richard dedicated the Church to St. Leonard after his success at the Crusades. Also, the fact that Heston Church bears the name of St. Leonard indicates a connection between this church and the Priory of Hounslow, situated in the parish and belonging to the Trinitarians, a Monastic Order formed for the redemption of Captives. It is thought probable that Richard was also responsible for building the Tower of Heston Church. It consists of three storeys with an unusually large West window, and the newel turret increasing its distinction. On a clear day, seven counties are visible from its roof.
From the reign of Edward III records have been kept, and thus we are able to trace back the clergy to this time. There are no records of a church having been built in Heston, so it is impossible to date the original building, however, very controversially the church was rebuilt in 1867, which caused a considerable public outcry.
Over the years the Patronage of Heston church had alternated between Winchester College and the Crown, but the final transfer of Heston came in the reign of Elizabeth I when it was passed to the Diocese of London and it is now the Bishop of London who is the patron.
Line Drawing of St. Leonard’s
Artist: Hazel Lewis
A miniature of St. Leonard’s Old Church, engraved on the Jubilee Window
Photographed by Lynda Hardy
A photograph of the Interior of St Leonard’s (circa. The early 1920s)
Watercolour (circa. 1820)
Photographed by Lynda Hardy