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)

Published in Medieval
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