St Mary in Arden

The ruin of St Mary in Arden church stands in a green space among trees near to Market Harborough railway station. The present building is a shell and no regular services have been held for many years, yet the site is ancient, the church of St Dionysius in the centre of the town being originally a dependent chapel of St Mary’s.

Great Bowden Heritage and Archaeology have been interested in the site for years, undertaking a geophysical survey in 2004 and giving guided tours. The survey shows some evidence of building to the north and west of the present structure. It is difficult to be precise, because of the many graves that have been dug over the centuries, disturbing the ground.

More recently a small number of members who enjoy delving into dusty archives have been trying to find out more about its early history. We have been to the Records Offices in Lincoln, Northampton and Leicester, to the National Archives at Kew, and to Lambeth Palace Library.  We are learning how to read medieval and later manuscripts (not easy!) and hope eventually to publish our findings.

In 2012 we held an exhibition in Great Bowden church and our Open day at St Mary’s as part of the British Festival of Archaeology in 2013, was a huge success, including guided tours, a display illustrating our research to date, and the opportunity to take gravestone rubbings. Our Open Day was Highly Commended by Leicestershire and Rutland Heritage Forum in the "Best Events on a Shoestring" category . Our category was the most competitive so we were very happy to get a mention.  The St Mary's Open Day involved the entire group and we all worked very hard so its good to know our efforts were appreciated.

St Mary’s churchyard was the only burial ground for the people of Market Harborough until 1878, and many fine gravestones remain on the site, although for safety reasons they have been moved from their original positions. We have created CD of some 1500 names recorded on 1029 stones, from 1672 AD - 1907 AD. Available from Publications

One of our members has also surveyed the building from a stonemason’s point of view, and it is now in need of some attention if it is not to become a liability in the near future. We aim to bring this to the attention of a wider audience, so that future generations can continue to enjoy this historic
and lovely place.

Artists impression of how St Mary's might have looked in ancient times before the coming of the town, roads and railway station.