Two uncommon features in one church – an octagonal tower and a polygonal apse.
Hornby was originally part of the parish of Melling, and did not become a significant settlement in it own right until the establishment of Hornby Castle in the C13. The first church was a chapel near the lowest castle gate, and was built to save the inhabitants the journey to the mother church at Melling. Its lowly status is underlined by the fact that it became a parish only in 1850. Only fragmentary evidence remains of the first medieval building.
The tower is the oldest part of the present church. It was built by Edward Stanley – created Lord Monteagle after the battle of Flodden – in 1514. Unusually, it is octagonal from base to parapet, with a twist part of the way up. It is not uncommon to see octagonal upper stages in towers, but few are of this plan throughout. Other North of England examples include Sancton in the East Riding and Coxwold in the North Riding. Bell louvres with low arches on each face give it a lantern-like look. The tower has pinnacles on each angle, string courses below the louvres and below the twist, a statuary niche, a west window and a west door. Faces punctuate the corners below the parapet and on the string course below the bell openings. The tower has a dedicatory panel protected at the top and both sides by a drip mould. This has a shield and inscription – “E. Stanley miles DNS Monteagle me fieri fecit” – Edward Stanley Lord Monteagle had me built.
The chancel was begun nine years after the tower. Its polygonal east end is unusual in England, and one wonders how it came about. The west window is of a simple Perpendicular pattern, flanked by lower narrower windows with crocketed ogee hood moulds – are these entirely original? The angles have pinnacles, and the upper walls are embattled, as are the nave and aisles. The pinnacles themselves are of a simplified pattern and may date from Paley & Austin’s restoration.
At Hornby, as elsewhere, the nave was the property of the parish, and funded by their tithes. It was untouched by Stanley’s work of the early 1500s, and had to wait until 1815-17 when it was entirely replaced by an early Gothic Revival structure. Its outer walls were higher than we see now. The old arcades were removed and the ensuing wide span soon started to fail. The new roof had to be supported on timber props, and in 1888 Paley & Austin were brought in to rebuild the nave, and to undertake general restoration work. They lowered the outer walls, re-introduced nave arcades, and built a clerestory above these. Elements of the windows of 1817 were retained. The roof and floor were renewed, and a new vestry constructed on the north side of the church. The result was that the church became structurally sound, and much more light was introduced into the nave.
The church has benefited from the successive owners of Hornby Castle, and its tombs reflect their patronage. The base of the tower holds two pieces of C9 Anglo-Saxon crosses. One illustrates the story of the loaves and the fishes, and has a tree and two figures. The other has arches and zig-zag carving. These apparently originate from Hornby Priory.