Many local people still remember Canon Edward Fletcher (1902-1933). The antics of his dozen-ish children will also be remembered as they ‘terrorised’ the village for a generation (including air-gun attacks on people as they walked past the church!); several of them achieved distinction in their own right including Anthony, who himself was ordained, spent time in North Africa with the Army during the second world war and finally emigrated to become a fruit farmer in Canada. He recently returned to Kibworth for a visit in 1995 at the age of 85, and he had not been in Kibworth since a brief visit after his father’s funeral in 1937 – 58 years earlier. One daughter became an actress and wrote a book with the memorable title: “Merrily we go to hell”! During Edward Fletcher’s incumbency the highlights were the purchase of Beauchamp Hall (St Wilfrid’s Hall) in 1922 for £250 (borrowed from five PCC members), the planting of the lime tree avenues in the churchyard the same year. In 1922 the PCC numbered 12 made up of 6 male and 6 female. A motion was carried unanimously at the Annual Parish Meeting as follows: “That the number of male members of the Council be increased from six to twelve at the next election”! This was rescinded in 1928 when the restriction by sex was lifted.
In those days, the church was lit using gas (1924), and heated with a single coke powered stove or furnace apparatus which was fitted for £174 8s 6d (1925) by the British Pipeless Central Heating Co. Ltd of Birmingham but not paid in full until 1927 because it proved difficult to make work efficiently. The church raised £100 towards setting up of the Diocese of Leicester during 1925 and 1926. On several occasions between 1924 and 1933, the question of electric lighting was raised by Church Council members but always there was a majority against. Canon Fletcher died in 1933 after a brief illness.
Photo of Revd Edmund Fletcher standing in front of west door, St Wilfrid's Church (1910) [courtesy Glyn Hatfield 2009]
Henry Eacott (1934-1943) presided over more heating and lighting problems. There was some restorative work on the organ in 1935. The construction of the Belfry chamber (above current choir vestry) with glass screen was during 1935/6 at a total cost of £112 3s. In 1936 the Collection on Good Friday was split between Jews in Jerusalem and Fund for Jews in East End of London. Electric lighting and blower for organ were installed and gas fittings removed in 1937. The War Memorial was built at a cost of £17 12s the same year – it was unveiled by General Jack. Severe woodworm problems were found during 1938. Laid on mains water to National School (now Bell & partners, doctors surgery) in 1939 – grant of £25. Altar rails bought in memory of Mrs Briggs (1939). The Parochial Church Council wrote to all those serving in the armed forces who lived locally every month with a copy of the Parish Magazine (from 1940). He sold all old metal and the parish lawn mower for the war effort (1941). Canon Eacott died in 1943 after illness.
Wyndham Ottaway (1943-1949) was well-loved by parishioners. During his incumbency a new ornate wooden lectern was purchased in memory of Canon Eacott; the old lectern was given to the church in Stretton Parva (Little Stretton). A severe gale in February 1947 caused minor damage to battlements and pinnacles on the church tower and one of the pinnacles fell and destroyed the roof of the west end of the north aisle which had to be replaced. The repairs took several months and part of the pinnacle had to be re-constructed from the same type of stone. He died very suddenly in 1949. The PCC tried unsuccessfully to have his son Rev. Michael Ottaway appointed.
Revd. William Ottaway
Paul Rebbeck (1949-1952) was Rector for only three years. The Silver Processional Cross used still in all communion services was donated in 1951. An electrical heating system for the church by means of tubes placed under each pew at a cost of £900 in 1951 was rejected by the Church Council. Four gas radiators were installed in the chancel at a cost of £80 the same year. He resigned unexpectedly in May 1952.
Denis Ireland (1953-1978) presided over several major developments. In 1956 the income from a charity set up by James Norman was converted into coal and amalgamated with the coal already being bought by the Trust set up by Revd. Jeremiah Goodman (Headmaster) for better distribution to the poor of the community. The church organ was renovated at cost of nearly £600. Canon Ireland suffered a long illness in 1958. The church was re-roofed in 1960/61 at a cost of over £5,000. The Wells Organisation was commissioned to run a successful Planned Giving campaign (1960). The church electoral roll exceeded 340 names. The restoration of the choir vestry/bellringers chamber was completed in 1956. The building of a new Rectory was finished in 1965 and the old "James Norman" rectory, grounds and glebe land was sold to Cox Builders Ltd for the Rectory Lane development. St. Wilfrid’s Hall was renovated at a cost of over £1,200 in 1964. New lighting was installed for the chancel at a cost of £263 in 1964. A new storage radiator heating system (Multitherm Ltd) with fans was installed in 1967 for approx. £700 and £150 per year running costs; the old coal furnace was removed by Toc H. Canon Ireland died suddenly in 1978 leaving his widow, Lucy, who remained in the village and was one of the first occupants of Stuart Court (purpose-designed Supported Housing Scheme of the Church of England Pensions Board) in Kibworth Beauchamp until her death in May 2000 after a brief illness.
Revd. Denis Ireland
Frederick W. Dawson (1979-1994) will mainly be remembered for the sale of St Wilfrid’s Hall (former a Nonconformist Chapel) on the High Street in Kibworth Beauchamp (the subject of a refused planning application by the Co-op store in July 2000 who wished to demolish it to expand their present establishment) and the building of the delightful Church Hall in St Wilfrid's churchyard in 1985 using ironstone donated by local farmer, Brian Briggs. Fred and his wife Billie had four talented children: Jonathan, Clare, Jeremy and Mary, and the parish was treated to various musical pieces performed by them over the years. Fred Dawson resigned to take over as Rector of St Michael's Church in Tilehurst, Reading in the Diocese of Oxford in April 1994.
Steven M. Lee (1995-2006) oversaw some major developments during the eleven years he and his wife Sally and three children, Christopher, Nicola and Matthew were in the benefice.
In the Spring of 1997, Richard White of Smeeton Westerby offered to complete the third (west face) clock face with local support. The costs were met by the Friends of St Wilfrid's, and Richard completed the new face by October 1997.
In 1999 the back of the church was re-ordered by the removal of the old pews and wooden chairs and replacing them with some modern upholstered chairs. This also allowed room for a new table and cupboards for the new permanent bookstall, CD and tape library as well as plenty of display opportunities on the screens behind which spare chairs, staging and flower arrangers equipment are now stored. The organ, church lighting and electrical wiring were overhauled and dimmer switches installed for the chancel lighting (later removed as unable to cope with low energy bulbs).
Several items of equipment were bought including a full sound system with mixer board for use during services, video projectors, large projector screens, a laptop computer and video mixer which are used both within services and for other church activities. Links with the Church of England Primary School were strengthened considerably, as were those with the High School.
The biggest development costing some £250,000 raised mainly by the parish, was the extension of the church hall, completed in 2006; this involved adding three more rooms, extending the kitchen and changing the toilet arrangements. The hall extension provides much needed space for the Sunday Clubs, and for holding several concurrent midweek activities. Average Sunday congregations increased considerably during Steven's incumbency, and some popular services were to capacity.
Before Steven Lee departed in August to take up the position of School Chaplain at St Lawrence College in Ramsgate (later moved onto become Rector of St Giles' Church in Newcastle-under-Lyme), a faculty was filed for installing underfloor heating in the chancel and replacing the remaining chancel pews with the same model of upholstered chairs as already used for the back of church. Both the new heating system and replacement of pews with chairs were completed in 2007 during the interregnum.
Revd Steven Lee with Bishop Tim Stevens after Confirmation Service (2006)
Ludger Fremmer (2007-present) took up the incumbency in September 2007. He arrived from Norfolk with his wife, Ruth, and their two sons, Jacob and Reuben. His initial thoughts were:
"My initial aim is to strengthen and encourage that which is in place so that we can then move on together into what the Lord has in store for us. I am passionate about discerning and knowing God’s will for myself and the Church, because to be in God’s will is always the best place. Realistically I know that I will not be able to fulfil everybody’s expectations, however we are all seeking to serve the same Lord and to please Him and He is faithful to do more than we can ask or imagine.
I believe that we are called to do the work of God’s kingdom, to call people to true discipleship of our Lord Jesus Christ. I long to see the church grow in the knowledge of God and His word, and to be released in the gifts of the Holy Spirit. I believe that the Lord wants us to be holy and united as his representatives, the body of Christ. I am hopeful and excited at the prospect of us making this journey together over the coming years."
In September 2008, the upper section of one of the church tower pinnacles (north-west corner) was observed to have moved slightly. As a precaution, the west end of the churchyard was cordoned off while tenders were sought, a faculty applied for and the work commenced in November 2008 to repair the pinnacle and check the remaining three. All was completed in time for the Christmas services. However, the internal ladders to the tower were considered unsafe and so safety work was carried out during 2009.
There are two more articles about the history of St Wilfrid's Church incumbents - part 1 (1220-1660) and part 2 (1660-1902)
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.
After the Meeting House burnt down, the present Congregational Chapel (or ‘Top Chapel’) on Leicester Road was built in 1759 and licensed in 1761. 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". 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 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)
The History and Antiquities of the County of Leicester by John Nicholls, Volume II, part II, and published in 1798 gives some fascinating stories about the Gartree Hundred area of South Leicestershire and several detailed accounts of the Kibworths. Copies can be found in local libraries.
The church on Church Hill in Kibworth Beauchamp is dedicated to Wilfrid. Who was he, and why is our church dedicated to a Romish saint?
Wilfrid was born a Northumbrian noble in 634. He lived for 75 years after entering the religious life as a 14 year old, studying at Lindisfarne and Canterbury before travelling to Rome in 654. On his return in 660 he became the abbot of a new monastery at Ripon and later oversaw the building of the original Abbey. His major contribution to the Christian life of England was at the Synod of Whitby in 664, when he championed the cause of Rome over the Celtic tradition of Christianity, and convinced everyone to adopt the continental method for calculating the date of Easter. Twelve years later he quarrelled with Ecgfrith, the King of Northumbria, who expelled him and he travelled to Rome again to plead his case to the Pope. He won his case but the King refused to honour the decree, so Wilfrid spent some time in Sussex , until Aldfrith, the new King, allowed him to return.
In 691, after a disagreement with King Aldfrith, he was again expelled from Northumbria and appointed Bishop of Mercia, which included Leicester , so he would have visited this area. He appealed to Pope Sergius I, during a third visit to Rome , and was successful again, and after Eadwulf, a new King came to the throne, he was appointed Bishop of Hexham and Ripon in 706. He died during a visit to Oundle on 24th April, 709. Historians see him mainly as a champion of Roman customs against the customs of the Celtic British and Irish churches.
As the site of St. Wilfrid’s is on a hill, it is a likely location for a religious temple or early church. Signs of it being important during the Romano-British period were found when excavating the foundations for one of the previous Rectories in the 18th century. The door frames of the priest’s door and Sacristy in the chancel are the earliest of the church, showing signs of 13th century stone work.
Many of the Rectors of Kibworth during the first 300 years from the start of our church’s records in 1220, were absentees or pluralists - that is they often resided elsewhere and looked after several parishes. The people of Kibworth were given pastoral oversight by curates or vicars appointed by the absentee-Rectors who were themselves appointed, or presented, by various patrons. In 1220 it is recorded that Hugo de Mortuomari, the Rector of Kibworth Beauchamp until 1239, was assisted by a vicar instituted by Hugh, Bishop of Lincoln. The patron of St Wilfrid’s in 1220 was Walter de Beauchamp and the patronage remained in the de Beauchamp (or Earls of Warwick) possession until at least 1435, which included the time of the Black Death in the 1350s, but there are few records over this period until the early 16th century.
There was a free chapel in Kibworth Harcourt from the mid 13th century until the early 16th century after which it was never used again and the site has now completely vanished, with its position possibly somewhere around the orchard of the Old House or Beech Tree Close. St Wilfrid’s Church has a list of chaplains for this chapel from 1262 to 1509.
Although the list of Rectors for the Kibworth benefice are recorded from 1220 starting with H. de Mortuomari, very little is known about the early incumbents as, like many other parishes, the Rectors were absentees and lived elsewhere, leaving the day to day running of the parish to others e.g. curates, while they benefitted from the living raised from the parish.
We begin to know a bit more about the Rectors from Walter Lucas (1510-1534) who was Rector at some stage of the suppression of churches during Henry VIII's reign, and it is recorded that the church was in ruins in 1526 possibly as the result of fire. The Crown, i.e. Henry VIII, took over the patronage in 1542 after Richard Pates (1534-1541) forfeited his benefice and was attainted (or "outlawed"). It is recorded this was because he failed to "accommodate himself to the varying beliefs of those in authority". In 1554, the second year of Mary I’s reign, the Rector, William Watkyn (1545-1554), was imprisoned and deprived of the benefice because of his failure to comply with Mary’s Catholicism. Edward Gregory (1554-1565) was Rector until well into Elizabeth I’s reign. Four members of the Berridge family took turns at being Rector and Patron between 1565 and 1641. There is a monumental brass to John Berridge in the sanctuary dated 1632.
William Hunt (1641-1645) was presented as Rector of Kibworth by King Charles I, but as a Royalist supporter, he was sequestered (i.e. separated or ejected from the parish) during the Civil War around 1645. In 1647 the Committee for Plundered Ministers established John Yaxley (1647-1660), a scholar of St John’s College, Cambridge and described as a sincere, plain-hearted, humble, pious and "very communicative" man.
In those days the timber-framed parsonage with two fishponds stood near the site of the old railway station (Isabel Lane). It is rumoured (strongly!) that King Charles I stayed overnight on the eve of the Battle of Naseby in 1645 and is believed to have expressed his gratitude by giving William Hunt an ornate silver snuff box. This was later sold to an aristocratic family by James Beresford (Rector, 1812-1841) to help raise money for the repair of the fallen spire in the 19th century. This same gift can now be seen on display in Osborne House on the Isle of Wight.
In the 16th and 17th centuries the Kibworth parish was a very valuable living for both incumbent and patrons alike. Three Berridges had been Rectors between 1565 and 1641 (William from 1565 to 1601, his son John between 1602 and 1632 purchased the patronage himself, and finally John’s son, William, 1632 to 1641) and they were absentee incumbents leaving the parish duties to their curates. In 1641 the son of the second William Berridge, also confusingly called William, as an ardent Royalist, gave the patronage to King Charles I who then presented William Hunt as Rector. In 1647, the Rev. John Yaxley, a graduate of St John’s College, Cambridge, and a Captain in Cromwell’s Model Army, forcibly took possession of the Rectory and the living, after ejecting Hunt, but was not officially granted possession until 1654. During his ministry the 14th century font, with trefoiled arcading, was removed as being too superstitious and ornate, and used as a horse-trough by a friend before being buried in a field until 1863 (see later). It was replaced with a plain font.
After the Civil War and the restoration of the monarchy with Charles II, William Berridge reported Yaxley’s treasonable preaching. Accordingly on August 17 1660, Berridge and his friends took the law into their own hands and forcibly ejected Yaxley and his family and had him arraigned for preaching that "Hell is broke loose; the Devil and his instruments are coming in, to prosecute the Saints and godly party" (meaning the King and his supporters would prosecute Cromwellian supporters).
John Yaxley took his case to Parliament and a full transcript of his defence and the reply from the local Justice, Sir John Prettyman, are both given in the History and Antiquities of the County of Leicester Vol. II, part 2, published in 1798 by John Nicholls.
According to Yaxley: William Berridge, with his two colleagues, Richard Clark and John Brian, broke into the parsonage and with drawn pistols and swords roused John Yaxley, his wife and maids from their beds. While Yaxley was watched by Clark, Berridge verbally abused Mrs Yaxley and thrust her tumbling down the stairs at sword point dressed only in her petticoat. After ejecting John Yaxley, the three men bolted the doors and took possession of the parsonage. Mrs Yaxley borrowed a waistcoat from her sister’s maid and returned to the Rectory. She saw Berridge, Clark and Brian in the parlour through the hall window and asked if she could be let back in to retrieve her clothes. She was refused admittance, but then noticing one of her grand-children still in a cradle and surrounded by soldiers, she shouted "You villains, will you kill my child?". Clark then fired at her through the window and the shattered glass went into her face and blinded both eyes. Yaxley commented later that she looked "more like a monster than a woman" and that she later died at a neighbour’s house never having regained her sight.
In his reply, Sir John Prettyman played down the actions of Berridge and his colleagues and stated that Mrs Yaxley had returned to the Rectory with several soldiers and after throwing stones and verbally abusing Clark and his soldiers, calling them "cavalier dogs and rogues", she told them that "if they would not depart they would fire the house on them". At this point Clark discharged his pistol, containing only powder, and caused some minor injury. The rest of Sir John’s reply emphasised that Yaxley had never been properly entitled to the incumbency and that during and after the Civil War he along with 36 other Leicestershire ministers had constantly petitioned that Charles I be tried for treason and had given thanks when he had been executed.
Yaxley was unable to prove his title and never regained possession of Kibworth Parish nor the living. He lived out the rest of his life near West Smithfield in London preaching into his late 70s.
There are two more articles about the history of St Wilfrid's Church incumbents - parts 2 (1660-1902) 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.
“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!!
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