After the Puritan period of John Yaxley (Rector, 1654-1660), Kibworth became a centre of Protestant dissent. In 1669, a 200 member conventicle (or clandestine religious meeting) of Presbyterians and Independents was held in Kibworth Harcourt. The leaders of the meeting were Matthew Clark (who might well have been related to the Richard Clark who helped eject Yaxley) and another ejected minister called Southam. A building, the Meeting House, off the Leicester Road (behind the White House on Leicester Road), was licensed for Presbyterian worship. John Jennings from West Langton moved to Kibworth in 1690 and set up as pastor of the local dissenters. He died on 20th September 1701 and was buried under the nave of St Wilfrid's Church with his wife, Maria, who died on 6th February 1721; a memorial slate tablet is there to this day. His son, also called John, succeeded him and set up the Kibworth Dissenters’ Academy in 1715 in the present White House. This was an important centre for non-conformity in the early 18th century and among the students, and later a minister, was Philip Doddridge, the noted hymn composer. A blue plaque was erected in his memory on the side of the White House (51/53 Leicester Road) by the Kibworth Improvement Team in 2013.
After the Meeting House burnt down, the present Congregational Chapel (or ‘Top Chapel’) on Leicester Road was built in 1759 and licensed in 1761; it is now a private residence. The dissenters of Kibworth Beauchamp also decided to license their own Meeting place in 1787, and by 1824 a building on School Road had been converted into the first Wesleyan Methodist Chapel. The present Methodist Chapel in School Road dates from 1846. A Baptist Chapel was built on the north side of High Street in 1890 and this was acquired by the parish church of St. Wilfrid in 1924, and used as the church hall until the present church hall was built adjacent to the church in 1988.
Little is known about the personal details of St. Wilfrid’s incumbents over the 120 years between 1660 and 1779, save that William Vincent (1704-1741) was also incumbent of Laughton, and in Kibworth there were 2 services every Sunday but only 10 celebrations of Communion a year! In 1788, James Norman (1780-1812), late fellow of Merton College in Oxford built what many older people in Kibworth think of as the ‘Old Rectory’ (see picture below). It stood between what are now Church Close and Oak Tree Close, off Rectory Lane, and was demolished, after the present one was built in 1962, during the incumbency of Denis Ireland (1953-1978).
During the demolition of James Norman’s Rectory, a brass plaque was discovered which read:
Anno Domini MDCCLXXXVIII J Norman BD huius Ecclesius Rector has Aedes a Fundamenytalis erectas, hos hortos muris conclusos nimio forte sumptu posuit. Opera (faxit Deus) seris Successoribus haud ingrata.
Which can be translated as follows:
In 1788 J. Norman BD Rector of this parish built this house from its foundations and enclosed these gardens with walls at perhaps too much a cost. The tasks were performed (by the grace of God) for which his future successors will not be ungrateful.
James Beresford (1812-1841) another fellow of Merton College had published a popular and peculiar book of amusing anecdotes called the Miseries of Human Life in 1806. The book has coloured illustrations and it's flavour can be appreciated from the following examples:
A Misery in the Country: In attempting to spring carelessly, with the help of one hand, over a five barred gate, by way of showing your activity to a party of ladies who are behind you (but whom you effect not to have noticed), blundering on your nose on the other side.
Misery in London: Accosting a person in the street with the utmost familiarity, shaking them long and cordially by the hand, and at length discovering by his cold (or, if he is a fool, angry) stare, that he is not the man you took him for.
His caricature was published in 1807-8 by Robert Dighton and entitled "A view from Merton College, Oxford" and is shown here. Described as a misogynist who vanished into the shrubberies at the sight of a petticoat, he had the high-backed, box-pews replaced by uniform low box-pews in 1813. Originally there would have been very little seating as people stood or knelt to worship. Gradually from the 15th century more elaborate seating was added as sermons became more prominent (and lengthy!).
In July 1825 the church steeple collapsed while being shored up by workmen (see separate web page). The present tower was eventually built between 1832 and 1836 after several years of ecclesiastical wrangling and insufficient funds to re-build the steeple.
During the sorting and archiving of St Wilfrid’s Parish records in 1999, a number of interesting documents came to light. One such document was delivered by James Beresford (1812-1841) to every household in August 1834 throughout Kibworth Beauchamp, Kibworth Harcourt and Smeeton Westerby (the ‘three townships’) and consisted of a tract on "Drunkenness" (see separate web page). Clearly the community must have been suffering from considerable drunkenness for this step to be taken! Imagine what effect such a step would have today!?
William Ricketts (1841-1844) died from an unknown illness only three years into his incumbency, but his name has been immortalised on the dedication plaque over the door of the Old School (now Two Shires Medical Practice on Station Street).
Stuart Eyre Bathurst (1844-1851) had to resign the benefice as he converted to Catholicism after joining the Oxford Movement, which gained ground in the Church of England in the 1840s and 50s. During his incumbency in 1846, plain deal pews were installed (for details see separate article about Pews) to replace the box pews installed during James Beresford’s time in 1813. Correspondence (Oct. 2010) from Jeremiah (Jerry) Twomey (Head of History) at the Stuart Bathurst Catholic High School in Wednesbury, West Midlands stated that Stuart Bathurst was received into the Catholic Church by John Henry Newman, who was beatified on 19 September 2010 at Cofton Park, Birmingham, by Pope Benedict XVI during his Papal visit to the UK.
Montagu Francis Finch Osborn (1851-1884) was the son of Sir John & Frederica (nee Davers) Osborn; he was born in 1824 in London. He oversaw major re-ordering of St Wilfrid's Church. William Slater, a London Architect (1819-1872) and originally from Northamptonshire, undertook this last major restoration of the church between 1860 and 1864. In 1863 Montagu Osborn went with William Slater to find the old 14th century font discarded by Yaxley and had it dug up from where it had been buried in a field. It was then cleaned up and re-instated into its present position in 1864. The 17th century plain font was given to a Christian Missionary Society Church in Zanzibar, Africa, in 1880. The carved oak rood screen was largely renewed in 1868; it appears to be of late 14th or early 15th century origin. The Midland Railway Company purchased a portion of the Glebe land belonging to the original (pre 1791) Kibworth Rectory (positioned somewhere near the present railway station) for £1,530 in order to construct the Leicester to London railway line.
Edmund Knox (Rector, 1884-1891) went on after Kibworth to Aston and then became the Bishop of Manchester. Before he came to Kibworth, as the sub-Warden of Merton College, Oxford he was renowned to be very strict and known as "Hard Knox". Towards the end of his life, he wrote Reminiscences of an Octogenarian (see articles elsewhere on this website) and he devotes a whole chapter to his time in Kibworth with some fascinating insights into country life in the late 19th century. He refers to the friendly rivalry ("half-playful antagonism") between the two Kibworth parishes:
"... 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."
He had four sons who all achieved some distinction: one, Eddie (“Evoe”), became editor of Punch, one, Wilfred, a distinguished Cambridge theologian, one, Dillwyn (“Dilly”), helped break the German military codes in World War I and the last one, Ronald, converted to Roman Catholicism and as Monsignor Ronnie Knox became a household name similar to the ‘Roger Royle’ of the 1930s and 1940s.
Charles Cruttwell (1891-1901) was a Fellow of Merton College and a traveller. Before he took up his ten year incumbency of Kibworth Rectory, Charles Cruttwell went on a trip to America. He kept a detailed diary of his journeys to Canada, United States and Central America and illustrated it himself with simple drawings. There is a story that at one Harvest Supper the Rev. Cruttwell was saying the grace when a servant entered carrying a large pie. Cruttwell stopped mid-grace, to enquire whether the pie was hot or cold. “Cold” said the servant, “… make us truly thankful, Amen.” said Cruttwell!
St. Wilfrid’s churchyard was closed in 1892 and a new cemetery opened on a field on the main Harborough Road. In 1895 Parish Councils were first formed so removing control of the local community from the church vestry. Separate Parish Councils were formed for Kibworth Beauchamp and Kibworth Harcourt and are still separate today. (and long may this continue!).
There are two more articles about the history of St Wilfrid's Church incumbents - part 1 (1220-1660) and part 3 (1902-present)
Most English parish churches had no formal seating arrangements until the late 15th century. Prior to this, the congregation either stood, sat or knelt on the hard mud, sand or stone floors or leant against the outside walls or pillars. Services included stories from the bible, the reading of psalms, and prayers but little formal "music". Sermons or talks were very short.
After Charles I was executed, the Puritans’ concept of lengthy teaching sermons soon helped speed up the introduction of seating! Families began to bring their own benches or chairs and group them together. This became more formalised with the introduction of enclosures known as "sittings". In order to better keep the family together, the designs were as a box - hence the term "box" pew. These private pews were normally rented or bought by families and so only those with sufficient substance in the community were able to afford them. The larger and wealthier families had the larger, more ornate, box pews, and these were always in the best positions in church. In these early schemes there were no standard designs so a church would be filled with different shapes, different heights and frequently different materials. As many private pews were lockable, churches appointed official "pew openers"! There were few church organs or formal music and rarely choirs and so the chancel area was also usually rented out and filled with box pews; the families having to face the pulpit with their backs to the altar!!
Poorer families, who were unable to buy or rent box pews, stood in the aisles or against the back or side walls of the church, or in a gallery. Not all box pews had seats and some churches installed special enclosures for the poor with sloping rails along the rear against which to rest, but not sit. Examples of various types of box pew can be seen in St Mary’s Church at Whitby in Yorkshire, or you can visit St Wistan’s Church in nearby Wistow.
Private box pews allowed families to sit together in one place and frequently younger children would sit on a rug on the floor and read or play quiet games during the service without causing too much distraction to other members of the congregation. As box pews were rarely uniform in style or size, the interior of the church would have looked extremely untidy with different sizes, styles, paint colours and shapes of pew.
From the 1830s until the 1860s, churches all over the country began to realise the problems of not providing space for everybody. Frequently the aisles were crammed with people, while whole areas of locked private pews remained untenanted. Eventually the courts ruled that parishioners controlled all seats in the nave of the church, that no-one could own property in seats, and that seats were "private" only through ancient rite or faculty.
John Mason Neale from Crawley published 24 reasons in the 1820s for removing box pews. Here are a selection: box pews were invented by people who thought themselves too good to pray by the side of their neighbours, they made it impossible to pay proper attention, they endangered safety, they harboured dust and mildew, they caused quarrels in the parish, they spoilt the look of a church and they allowed parishioners to go to sleep without fear! John Neale eventually took an axe to his church’s box pews and hacked them to pieces!
It was believed that seating was introduced into St. Wilfrid’s sometime in the 15th century; but there are limited records and no hard evidence has been found to support this theory. It is more probable therefore that, as in the rest of the local area, box pews were actually introduced in the late 17th century by the Puritans (probably the parliamentarian Rector, John Yaxley). We do know that more uniform box pews, in terms of height, size and wood, were introduced by Rev. James Beresford (Rector, 1812-1841) soon after he arrived in 1813, but lasted only a further 33 years before Rev. Stuart Eyre Bathurst (Rector, 1844-1851) started a major re-ordering of the church seating arrangements. Initially, in 1844, he was able to install simple choir pews in the chancel to provide 28 spaces (these were replaced with the present more ornate choir stalls in 1902 to match the carving on the Rood Screen which had been restored in 1868).
A year later, in 1845, Rev. Bathurst tried to obtain the parishioners’ approval and financial support for replacing all of the box pews in the nave and he applied for a Faculty (or permission by the church to alter the fabric) to increase the accommodation. Opposition came from those who liked the position and importance of their family box pews in church, from those who felt the Rector had enmity towards pews, from those who felt the poorer elements of the parish should go elsewhere (poorer Kibworth residents frequented the Congregational Chapel), and from those who disliked these ‘new-fangled’ Puseyite (group of Oxford reformers) trends! After considerable correspondence with the Diocese (then in Lincoln) and great support from his father, Sir James Bathurst, who corresponded with the Bishop of Lincoln on his son’s behalf, the Faculty was granted provided the Rector funded the new pews entirely from his own income, with no increase in local rates.
Finally, plain deal pews were installed in 1846 at a cost of £385 and when removed were just over 150 years old. The main reasons given for the uniformity of pews was to enable a larger accommodation of parishioners to attend each service (upwards of 400 could be seated when full), and to provide a more uniform and convenient layout. In addition, final permission was given to complete the new church for Smeeton Westerby as this would also provide more space in St. Wilfrid’s for Kibworth worshippers.
In 1999, when Revd Steven Lee was Rector, the back of St Wilfrid’s Church was re-ordered and the pews, many of which were unused, replaced with smart upholstered chairs. This allowed room for a new table and cupboards, a permanent bookstall, CD and tape library as well as plenty of display opportunities on some screens behind which spare chairs, staging and flower arrangers' equipment could be stored.
In 2007 during the interregnum following Revd Steven Lee’s departure, the remaining pews were removed because underfloor heating was installed. The pews were never re-installed, but instead they were replaced with upholstered chairs to match those already at the back of church. The manufacturers had retained sufficient cloth to ensure the colour match was the same despite there being 8 years between the two sets of chairs being ordered.
The new chairs permit about 300 members of the congregation to be seated when full; this only ever occurs on Remembrance Sunday and sometimes for Christingle, when a few people end up standing at the rear of church. For the rest of the time, they are flexible in that different arrangements can be used to suit the occasion, can be reduced to create specific ambience or some drama or a musical event, but above all are comfortable and are relatively easy to move about and stack.