Smeeton Trail

“A Country Parish” from "Reminiscences of an Octogenarian, 1847 to 1934" by Edmund Knox; researched by Dr Kevin Feltham (2000)

Edmund Arbuthnott Knox was born in 1847 and became a Sub-Warden of Merton College in Oxford before being offered the parish of Kibworth in 1885. He moved on, in 1891, to become Rector of Aston in Birmingham and eventually was appointed Bishop of Manchester. In later life he published “Reminiscences of an Octogenarian, 1847 to 1934” and this includes a chapter on his time in the Kibworths. This is a fascinating insight into the parish more than a century ago. See how little has changed!!

Arrival

There are few people, certainly very few clergy, who doubt their competence to run a country parish. A nice little Church, not trying to the voice - a modest organ, which, at a pinch, the wife could play if necessary, a choir of boys from the Sunday school; backed by the gardener and a labourer or two - no week-night meetings worth mentioning, two of the old sermons cut down and simplified for village use each Sunday, no societies with tedious and tiresome accounts, no parish council likely to give difficulty, a good house, a delightful little garden with fresh-cut flowers and fresh vegetables - maybe a squire who will have to be placated, abundance of time for reading or learning the rudiments of horticulture.

So it seems to the outsider. But the vicar who comes into the country with these impressions is not long in altering his mind, and usually arrives at the conclusion that “his parish is a very exceptional parish.

I entered upon my work at Kibworth with very few of these illusions. Four years in an Oxford slum had taught me something about the difficulties of plain preaching and something too of the difficulties of wise almsgiving. Visits to my father’s parish in Rutland had shown me that Joseph Arch’s Agricultural Labourers’ Union had created since 1874 a strong prejudice against the Church, and acted very unfavourably on the labourers’ churchgoing. I had witnessed my father’s perplexities arising out of the terrible agricultural depression of the later ‘70’s.

I knew also that my predecessor, a very devout and sincere Tractarian [Ed. Montagu Osborn, Rector, 1851-1884], had been Rector of Kibworth for over thirty years, and that a rumour had gone about that I was intending to wreck all his work, and to hand the parish over to the Dissenters. So I was not unprepared for difficulties, and specially feared having to act as a landlord for some five hundred acres of glebe - a business with which I was wholly unacquainted - yet my living depended on it.

That which I feared most proved to be the least of all my difficulties. The brother of my fellow-curate at Holy Trinity, Oxford, had just given up a large farm in the county and retired to a house on the outskirts of Leicester. To his great kindness in consenting to act as my agent, and to the fairness of his dealings with my tenants, I owed a complete immunity from landlord’s work, and such a skilful management of the estate, that, in those very difficult years, it hardly depreciated in value. He knew the agricultural question from both sides, the owner’s and the cultivator’s, and had a sound and well-balanced judgment.

Other difficulties had to be faced as they came in my way. But it would be tedious as well as unfair to dwell on the “trials of a country parson,” after the fashion of one of my predecessors at Kibworth, James Beresford [Ed. Rector, 1812-1841], who wrote a book on the Minor Miseries of Human Life. Being a misogynist who vanished into the shrubbery at sight of a petticoat, whose maidservants turned their faces to the wall if they met him on the stairs, he had full experience of these miseries. It was the smoothness of the Kibworth waters rather than their roughness that perplexed me. I found there an education which Oxford could never have supplied; for lack whereof my subsequent experiences would have been considerably marred.

Rivalry between the communities of Kibworth Harcourt and Kibworth Beauchamp

Kibworth consisted of two parishes once independent of each other, but long ago merged.  At the same time the sentiment of independence was too precious to be lightly abandoned, and Kibworth Beauchamp, the home of “stockeners”, predominantly Radical, despised, and was despised by, Kibworth Harcourt, the home of the sporting squirearchy and retired businessmen of Leicester. In Kibworth Beauchamp were many small freeholds, bought by stockeners who turned out hosiery on frames in their cottages, or in very small factories. Part of this Kibworth was actually known by the name of “Radical”. In Kibworth Harcourt were several large houses, rented usually for longer or shorter terms by followers of the hounds.

Between the two was kept up a half-playful antagonism of which I had amusing experience in a vestry [meeting] very shortly after my arrival. A proposal to divert a footpath by a few yards, for the benefit of a “Harcourt” house-owner, needed the sanction of the vestry of the whole parish. As the object was to round off the garden of a parvenu solicitor it was represented as pernicious, land-grabbing, and the stockeners mustered in force to defend the precious short cut, which had been invaluable to them, so they said, from their school days. Fiery eloquence was poured forth with a passion such as I had never heard in Oxford. It was obvious, however, that it was a mere storm in a teacup, and my suggestion that the-solicitor should put up two much-needed lamps at one of the Church entrances, as an acknowledgment of benefit received, was accepted with a readiness that surprised me. I learnt afterwards that the solicitor was not very fond of giving quid pro quo, and that his acceptance of my proposal, though solemnly received was really regarded as a good practical joke.

On another occasion the vestry debated warmly the plan of a sewer which was to run down a road that divided the two villages. It was even suggested, with a fine disregard of costs, that two parallel sewers should be constructed, that the sewage of one village should not be “contaminated” by the waste of the other. It took me some time to learn how much of the passionate- talk on these occasions was serious, and how much mere display of village oratory. The Leicestershire man was a very grim jester!

Kibworth Grammar School

Kibworth presented two interesting survivals of old local history, the Grammar School and the Independent Chapel. The origin of the Grammar School was a chantry bequest for masses. The chantry priest very possibly filled up his abundant leisure by giving such an education as would save his scholars from the hangman’s noose by “benefit of clergy.” At the Reformation the endowment was used for a free Grammar School at which the villagers, without distinction of rank, received an education at the charge of a halfpenny a week. The son of the doctor sat on the same bench with the son of the labourer, and learnt the same lessons. The headmaster, a clergyman, could carry on the education of those who were making for Public Schools or even the Universities. On Sunday he could, and often did, discharge the duties of the absentee Rector.

The Charity Commission turned this school into a secondary school for sons of farmers paying substantial fees. The children of stockeners and labourers were told off to receive their education at the National school for a fee of two pence a week. It was, even in my time, one of the Radical grievances that the village had been robbed of its almost free education. What really mattered more, though they knew it not, was that a type of instruction had been established for the poor which effectively limited the goal of their education. The National school had no link with the Grammar School. This was an unintended, but a very real, injury, which more recent education laws are slowly reforming.

The Independent Chapel [Ed. The Congregational Chapel on Leicester Road, now a private residence]

The Independent Chapel was the outcome of the Act of Uniformity of 1662, which banished from the ministry of our Church all ministers who had not received Episcopal ordination. In my time the minister of that Chapel, very fittingly, was the local agent of the Liberation Society, and an ardent propagandist of Disestablishment. Leicester, in the time of the Great Rebellion, had fought hard on the Parliamentary side. The Kibworth Register of the period contained an entry on the following lines:

“During these years there was so much running to and fro that there was no time to make entries in this book.”

The Hazleriggs (a name of celebrity in the Great Rebellion [Ed. i.e. English Civil War]) were my near neighbours [Ed. Noseley Hall], and among my flock no doubt were descendants of those who had joined the Parliamentary standard under the great Arthur Hazlerigg of that date. It was therefore very natural that the minister of the Independent Chapel should be an ardent Liberationist, for it was in 1885 that the Disestablishment question became most acute. Wales was pledged almost solidly to the cause. Joseph Chamberlain and “ the Caucus “ were also its advocates, so were the followers of Joseph Arch. It was a very bitter spirit that was at work.

More than one of my parishioners said to me that he should not be satisfied till the Church - by which he meant the actual building - was pulled down and not one stone left upon another. From the local minister I received copies of literature circulated by his Society that led me to give two lectures in the parish school on the question of Disestablishment. Yet it came to pass that by showing sympathy with the minister when his daughter died, and by conducting her funeral in the burying-ground of the chapel, I so softened the good man’s heart that he resigned the secretaryship of the Society, and in this way I did more for the Establishment than my lectures had done.

It will be convenient at this point to mention that the Wesleyans had two Chapels in Kibworth Beauchamp, so that altogether the fifteen hundred parishioners had four pastors to attend to their spiritual needs; and the Nonconformist ministers, supported mainly by voluntary contributions, were able at all events to keep body and soul together. The parish Church which had some five hundred sittings, was well filled morning and night by two almost distinct congregations. We all four had flourishing Sunday schools and a sufficiency of teachers.

Kibworth taught me what could be done by a pastorate which attached importance to the care of’ individual souls. It also taught .me the value to the parish of a minister who has no occasion to regard the size of his flock as a measure of his income, and can be independent of monetary considerations. I saw how painful especially were the struggles of the two Wesleyans in Kibworth Beauchamp. For the first years of my Incumbency I had the aid of a curate, John Charles Wright - afterwards Archbishop of Sydney. Wright bad been one of my pupils at Merton, and came to me with a loyalty of devotion of which it was hard to feel myself worthy. He proved himself invaluable, both in the pulpit and as a visitor from house to house. Kibworth might almost be said to have been “spoilt” in those days.

Knowing that I was succeeding to almost forty years of Tractarian regime under the auspices of my predecessor, I was prepared to find some difficulties in following him. The rule that I formed in anticipation was that I would do nothing illegal, and use no illegal ornaments; with what was lawful I would not interfere. I found, in fact, that I had practically no changes to make.


Part 2 continues these reminiscences of Revd Knox during his time as Rector of Kibworth Parish - including Kibworth Rectory and Church Services

Published in Modern
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