THIS LITTLE SKETCH OF CHURCH HISTORY is offered without any claim on my part that it is either complete or infallible in all facts and detail.
My aim is not to satisfy the student of antiquities but to provide something which, I hope, will be of interest to the Blaby people, I have had no time as yet to carry out a thorough-going research. There is therefore much that is certain to be missing, But let me acknowledge three main sources which I have freely used.
First is the expert knowledge of Mr Kenneth C.Clarke of Blaby from whom I obtained much material and the full list of rectors of Blaby I wish to express my warm appreciation and thanks to him, Next, I made careful notes from two venerable works, well known to antiquarians in Leicestershire “The History and Antiquities of the County of Leicester, Volume I V0 Part 1 containing the Guthlaxton Hundred” by john Nichols, 1807, and “Leicestershire Views, a series of Excursions in the year 1790” by John Throsby. My thanks are due to Mr Edward Soars of Countesthorpe for the loan of those books. Lastly, I was able to glean information from the Blaby Church Registers which date back to 1568.
So far I have failed to come across any realistic drawings, engravings or prints of Blaby Church as it once appeared apart from one, in Nichol r s History, of the exterior from the south east. The ink sketch on the cover of these notes is based on this; but in ray drawing I have attempted, rather impertinently some may think, to portray the church building more correctly in scale and perspective, Throsby has a tiny print of the spire peeping above numerous roofs which doubtless indicate buildings then existing to the north of the church, in the region of the Baker’s Arms; but the drawing is so small and so obviously composed that it has no value to us in trying to picture Blaby as it was.
Our object will be achieved if these notes help us to be thankful to God for our local heritage and to maintain the Church and its mission as it is needed for our own and future generations.
John R. H, Prophet,
Blaby Rectory, 1965.
BLABY AND VILLAGE
The first record of a church in Blaby is in 1140 when William de Lodbroke gave the right of presentation of the Church of Blaby to the newly founded Abbey of Leicester. Countesthorpe was part of the parish and remained so until 1878. None of the present church building could have existed then except, perhaps, the base of the tower.
In 1218 DE HYLLE was presented to the living by the Abbot of Leicester and instituted by HUGH Bishop of Lincoln. But the priest who held the cure of souls for about 50 years and paid a pension of 2/- to the rectors who were most likely absentees, was one JOHN DE GYNGES. Among those who held land in Blaby during the 13th century were John de Blaby of the Lodbroke family, Simon de Montfort and the Abbot of Leicester. The pope had his share in Blaby also, for we read that in 1290, Blaby Church with its chapel of Countesthorpe was rated at £20 in Pope Nicholas’ valuation.
The major part of the church, in Early English style, was built c1327 when DE LODBROKE was rector. There are remains of this building still to be seen, particularly in the south wall, the south east corner and the piscina and sedilia in the sanctuary which were revealed during restoration work in 1902.
Three Chaplains of the Chantry of St. Mary and St. John Evangelist in Blaby Church are named, The situation of the chantry cannot be ascertained, but it was probably at the eastern end of the south aisle Where, high in the east wall, there is some decorative arcading over deep—set panels which may once have contained statues or windors The piscina in the wall is a clear indication that an altar once stood in this part of the church.
The population of Blaby in 1377 was 100 persons, and the main roads through the village were established by then, The Abbot of Leicester was receiving a pension from the parish of 40 shillings.
The fifteenth century saw the manor of Blaby passing from the Lodbrokes to the Saviles when the last heiress of the Lodbrokes was married to Thomas Savile. It also saw the building of the ‘Baker ‘s Arms’ inn, though at first it was the house of a wealthy yeoman.
The Bishop of Lincoln visited the church in 1484 when THOMAS DICHFIELD rector. The clerestory windows in the nave were probably put in near to that time.
The Abbey and Convent of Leicester suffered dissolution, along with all other major Religious Houses in 1538 and the patronage of the living was vested henceforth, until the middle of the 19th century, in the Crown. JOHN TYFFYN was the last rector to be appointed by the Abbot, He continued in office until 1545 when King Henry VIII appointed JOHN LEGH, who survived the reigns of Edward VI and Mary Tudor and all the religious struggle of those times.
Registers of baptisms, marriages and burials were kept at Blaby from 1564 when there were 30 families in Blaby and 18 in Countesthorpe. The names of curates of Blaby appear so frequently in the registers that one can guess that they were in virtual charge of the parish generally. The first record of the burial of a Blaby rector is of WILLIAM CODDELL in 1590.
In 1626 a scourge swept through Blaby carrying off a very large number of the inhabitants. No less than 82 burials took place between the end of April and August. The average number of burials at that time was not above ten in any one year. The whole of the large family of GEORGE ROGERS, rector, seems to have escaped harm. Did they go away? We do not know, but the rector was on the spot.
An interesting feature in the south aisle of the church is the roof which was put up in 1630 and was the work of a local carpenter, Rob Biggs whose two sons, Thomas and Robert, were baptized in Blaby Church.
George Rogers was deprived on the admission of THOMAS BOSSE by Oliver Cromwell in 1546. There is a reference to the incumbent as a “pluralist and non-resident” and his curate “insufficient”. This presumably alludes to George Rogers and his curate John Jones who was possibly his son-in-law, and is the judgement of the minister during the Commonwealth period. Mr. Bosse was doubtless a puritan, but he must have had little sympathy with the Baptist position, because, in 1650 he was engaged with a Mr. Swayne and a Mr. Stephens of Fenny Drayton in a dispute about infant baptism, against MT, Robert Everard and other Baptists.
Evidence that the people of Blaby and were not excessively parochial in outlook 1600s is given in an extract stating that was collected in Blaby and Countesthorpe, for the relief of the ‘poor Protestants in Piedmont’ the sum of £1.16.5d.
Thomas Bosse was deprived at the Restoration of Charles II and the re-authorization of the Book of Common Prayer, but he and his family continued to live in Blaby and to attend the church. The king appointed REYNOLDS whose brother REYNOLDS was the Bishop Norwich and under whom John became Archdeacon of Norwich.
The next rector, JOHN MOORE, appointed in 1676, later became Edward Reynolds’ successor as Bishop of Norwich. At the time of his coming to Blaby the population of the village was said to be 285 persons, of which number “the majority were said to be faithful to their fathers Church, though there were 40 or so who would attend an anabaptistical meeting”.
RICHARD DUKE Prebendary of Gloucester, a poet, wit and one of Queen Anne’s Chaplains, was the next rector of Blaby. It was said that in his sermons, besides liveliness of wit, purity and correctness of style, and justness of argument, were many fine allusions to the Antients, several beautiful passages handsomely incorporated in the chain of his own thoughts, and, to say all, in a word, classical learning and a christian spirit’. The queen ordered the publication of some of the sermons which Richard Duke had preached before her. Other sermons of his were published posthumously. One wonders how the sermons went down in Blaby!
Curates Sam Heyrick, John Wightman and Knightley Wilson are mentioned between 1690 and 1708, by which time Richard Duke seems to have left Blaby. In 1710 he was preferred to the rich living of Witney in Oxfordshire where, soon after, he died. Dr. Swift said, “Dr.Duke got his living suddenly, and he go his dying so too”
For a short while EDWARD LOVELL was rector. Then in 1711 began the long association of the Stokes family with Blaby. EDWARD STOKES the elder became rector in 1711 and gave up much of his time, until his death in 1724, to the provision of a school for “the poor children of the parish, with a master to teach them to read, write and cast accounts, and a mistress to spin, for £17 a year, raised by subscription” It is worthy of note that children of dissenting parents were not excluded” Edward Stokes’ churchwardens were William Clark and Jn. Foxone
JOSEPH NORTON was rector from 1724 to 1748. During his time the manor passed from the Saviles to Euseby Ashby who when he died left all his estates to his nephew Shuokbrugh Ashby. Euseby Ashby and Edward Stokes the elder were buried in the chancel of the church.
A tragedy occurred on the 25th. April 1739. Thomas Staines, a local mason, was killed when he fell from the steeple, while carrying out repairs.
EDWARD STOKES the younger, blinded in a shooting accident when he was a child at Sharnford, came from Wymondham, his first living to be rector of Blaby in 1748, He remained in Blaby for half a century, performing the services of the church for most of the time unaided except for a person to read the lessons. What is generally known about him is that ho was a keen huntsman, but what ought to be better known is that he expended the greater part of a considerable private fortune on charitable and educational work in and beyond the parish, He bought a piece of ground at Countesthorpe and erected a school building there, and in Blaby he continued the school work which his father had begun.
The books which Edærd Stokes kept reveal his great concern for the schooling of the young and his pastoral care for people of all ages. The following extracts come from an account book started in 1760:
“Three spelling books and two testaments to Peatling School 2s.5d. “Paid to glazier 4½d.” for mending the school house windows. Sixteen Lewis Catechisms to the children of Blaby”, “A companion for the aged, by Peers, 2s.7d.” “A list of books given to the Infirmary 1772—1776 and some to the Free School at Leicester”. “Psalters and Testament to Blaby School, circa 1776, 10½d; Catechisms and children’s books for Blaby School 2s.0d.” “The bucket at Blaby pump 1/-.”For straw and white washing and other work at ye School 9s.9d.” “Blaby night bell in the winter 1792, 16s.0d.” “Countesthorpe bell £1.12.0d”
It seems that Edward Stokes once regretted his fervour for having the church bell rung, for the following entry appears in his books “For ringing the Bell at five o’clock in the morning from March the 10th. to Sept. 10th. Which I should not have rung again at that time – paid for 10s.6d.” Or perhaps it was because others in the village did not appreciate so early an alarum that he decided to give it up!
There was at one time a stone near the clerk’s desk to the memory of John Smith who was “Clerk of this Parish” for 58 years and died 24th.June 1758 aged 70, According to ‘Throsby’ John Smith was once reproved by the Reverend Mr. Stokes for getting drunk.. Smith replied, nodding his head, that he should live to trample on the rector’s grave. “But” , says Throsby in 1790, “he (John Smith) has done drinking, and his master lives”. Indeed Edward Stokes lived on until 1798 when he was ninety-two, and only in his last few years did his memory begin to fail.
On the north side of the east wall is the Stokes memorial, Edward Stokes had it prepared in memory of his father, mother, brother and sister, but decided to insert his own name also “ to save trouble, and preserve the uniformity of the stone”. The only dating he put in was “In the eighteenth century” . But he nearly lived long enough to render this wording inaccurate as regards himself. The monument on the south side of the east wall was put up at the same time as the Stokes’ memorial. It is to Thomas Major who had been lord of the manor after Shuckbrugh Ashby. The intimation for the two monuments was read in church on June 24th. 1770.
The gallery of the church with its fascia panelling was erected in about the middle of the century to the design, it is said, of Thomas Exon. The church at that time had open seats with a pulpit painted blue. There were arms to eight families including those of the earls of Warwick, Hereford and Gloucester, All these have long since disappeared.
Towards the end of the century John Throsby described the church as having “two aisles ( e.g. the nave and south aisle, as now) and a spacious chancel” and there were three bells in the tower. But the writer says that the church was badly powe (pewed?). Among the monuments mentioned by Throsby, and still existing, was the “Black Monument” on the north wall, outside the chancel arch and to the memory of Euseby Ashby.
A number of curates served Blaby in Edward Stoke’s time. One came from tho Major family, William Major, and another from the Freers, a prominent family in the village. William Freer, son of William and Eleanor Freer, was born and baptized in 1764, When he was ordained in 1787 he returned to Blaby as curate, but only lived another nine years. There is a monumental plaque to his memory on the south wall of the chancel.
In 1776 the Bishop of Lincoln and Edward Stokes were in communication with each other about the right of an unbaptized to be married in church. The rector sought the advice of the bishop on behalf of a parishioner, Mary Gumley, unbaptized. In his first reply the bishop thought that the right could not be claimed from the Act of Toleration, though it might apply as far as a favour. There could be nothing illegal or unscriptural in the rector doing it or declining it as he thought proper. But when it appeared that Edward Stokes had resolved not to grant the marriage as a right, the bishop was alarmed and wrote again; “Marriage I think, is a matter in which the State is so much concerned, that there is always a reason for it, when there is no just reason against it…. It is carrying your authority too far in such an age as this. The Dissenters are alarmed and talk of applying to the Legislature for redress, You had better marry them and end this business”.
Sixteen shillings per annum rent from a little land was given by Edward Stokes for the ringing of a church bell during the winter season, to direct benighted travellers the way to this village was rung at 8 p.m. every evening in the winter until the second World War 1939-45, since when the practice has not been resumed.
Of Blaby in the 18th. century we note a reduction of freeholders from 31 in 1722 to 20 in 1775. One note says that towards the end of the century the village of Blaby contained about 100 dwellings Like so many other Leicestershire villages it was a place of framework knitters. In 1790 John Throsby stated that thero vcre 369 frames in Blaby, that poverty was rife and the poor were not forgotten. In 1776, year ending Easter, more than £135 was raised for the relief
of the poor, and this was no exception, for the average over a period of three years, 1783—85, vas £161.15.9. Some of it, be it noted, was expended on “setting the poor to work”.
It can be assumed that the condition of the roads in and through the village was very bad in the 18th. century, and it is noteworthy that among all the accounts that were drawn up there is no reference to any expenditure on the highways.
GEORGE WADDINGTON Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge and Chaplain to the Duke of Clarence was
instituted as rector in 1798. Little is known about his administration the responsibility for which seems to have been carried, in the main, by his assistant curate, John Wootton who, in 1809 began signing himself as “Resident Minister”
The summer of the year 1808, when Captain Edmund Major of the Northampton Militia was lord of the manor, was apparently exceptionally hot. Readings were taken and recorded in the register showing that it was hotter in Blaby than the mean temperatures of Jamaica and Sierra Leone.
In 1810 returns were made to the Bishop of the Diocese of baptisms, marriages and burials during the preceding ten years. At Blaby there had been 304 baptisms, 195 burials and 74 marriages. The corresponding figures for Countesthorpe are 16B, 101 and 400. From 1812, through an Act of Parliament, official registers were opened for baptisms, for marriages and for burials, The entries henceforward were much more detailed and are so much more informative. For instance, we have Workhouse mentioned in 1817, Blaby Toll Bar with John Bell as keeper, in 1820, and a child of a Methodist Preacher named Charles Sherwin baptized in 1621. Apart from his preaching Sherwin was a framework knitter, as so many other people were in Blaby until much later in the century.
A Sunday School was established in 1809 and masters vere paid 3/- per Sunday. Among articles purchased for the school wore 100 catechisms which cost 3/-, 8 Bibles £1.6.0. and one ton of cool and other expenses £1.0.0; also a cane, 6d.! The churchwardens granted £1.0.0. towards the cost of providing a dinner to 26 children.
Evidently a small orchestra accompanied the singing in church in those days. A note in 1811 tells of the purchase of “a new hautboy” for use of the choir of singers. There is no evidence of the existence of an organ as early in the century as this.
RICHARD became rector in 1824, and he had curates R.W.T Taylor, W.T. Clarke and John Rogers, the last named, continued his ministry in Blaby until 1864. On 21st. June 182B the spire of Blaby Church was struck by lightning and heavily damaged.
The name of Thomas Carter Schoolmaster, occurs in connection with the baptism of five of his children on the 20th, June 1830. Their ages ranged from 6 to 13. a sixth child was baptized in 1833. Adult baptism in the Church of England was no uncommon thing during the first half of the 19th. century, There is evidence of it frequently in the Blaby registers. On one day in the summer of 1832 six young persons were baptized, their ages ranging from 14 to 21. Whole families were baptized. The only explanation seems to be that in baptized. Blaby, as elsewhere, long years of indifference to religion and church duties were giving place to a new awakening, and some men and their families were beginning again to take their faith and responsibilities as church people seriously. The evangelical revivals in its later stages was having effect on village church life.
From 1837 Leicestershire was included in the Diocese of Peterborough and the patronage of Blaby was transferred from the Crown to the Bishop of Peterborough Who appointed HENRY JAMES HOSKYNS as rector of Blaby in 1846.
The new rector immediately set to work on a large scale programme of church restoration which, in the end bore heavily upon his own personal income. In 1846 he undertook to lend £40 for a new roof over the nave of the church. The Vestry meeting accepted the loan with many years with a promise to repay in a short time. A brief note from the rector indicates that £9 was still owing. But in the meantime the nave and aisle were reseated after repairs costing £584 and the church was re-opened on 3rd. Dec.1846, Towards this sum nearly £346 was received from subscriptions, including £50 from the rector, who also paid the balance of more than £244. In addition, the rector provided communion plate, an altar cloth, carpet and cushions.
The second phase of restoration took place between 1857 and the following year. A church rate was agreed by the Vestry meeting for the purpose of re-pointing and repairing the church tower which had been left in a semi-ruinous condition since 1828 when the spire was struck by lightning. The spire was repaired at a cost of £69, of which sum tho rector himself paid £31, and Mr. Painter, £12. A lightning conductor was added and a vane was placed on top on 18th. August 1857 by Mr.C.Hoskyns, the rector’s son who was later ordained ana officiated occasionally at Blaby.
Last of all the chancel was restored and the windows replaced by seven new ones for the sum of £220. A new stone porch was also built to replace “an unworthy brick porch” at the south entrance. Thus the church took on its present appearance except for the windows at ground level in the nave and the vestry extension which was part of a plan for the enlargement of the church on the north side, at the turn of the century.
in 1857 the old Blaby Hall was demolished. The owner built the present Hall and landscaped the grounds. It can be assumed that the part of the Rectory, remaining after the dismantling of the 18th century wing in 1959, was also built at about the same time. Blaby Hall is first mentioned in 1843 when Jane Thornton died there. The occupants of the Blaby Manor House, since demolished, were John and Elizabeth Clarke.
Among first mentions in the registers, under the heading ‘occupation’ we have a “hat cleaner” (1851), “clock cleaner” (1852), “Police Constable” (Thomas Willett,1859), “barber” (William Hunt, called ‘a hairdresser’ in 1844) The “Lunatic Asylum” is mentioned in 1847, and the death of a Railway labourer, Thomas Davis, aged 14 by accident is referred to in the Burial Register.
The Baptists were no new-comers to Blaby. It is noted that the Baptist Chapel, in Chapel Street, was erected in 1807, and that a meeting house existed well before this date. There was a small Baptist Burial Ground in Chapel Street. Evidence of this still exists in the tombstones which stand against the buildings of the Baptist School. A Census of churchgoing in 1851 revealed that more people attended the Baptist chapel than the Parish Church. The number of children was about the same, but the number of adults was double. The Baptists held three services per Sunday against two held in the Parish Church, where no evening service was held. A Wesleyan Branch Chapel was opened in 1851 with William Wardle as superintendent. Here a bigger attendance than that of the Baptist Chapel was claimed. The rector, however, was not disposed to credit the figures. He comments: “Even suppose this statement to be correct…. It was their opening day and many came from Leicester”. There is evidence that a Wesleyan chapel or room existed in Blaby as far back as 1820, The name of the steward is given, a MT. Hunt, who claimed the attendance of 18 people in the afternoon and 30 in the evening.
Population figures given in 1851 were as follows: Males 501, Females 502, total 1003. These were fairly evenly distributed between east and west of the brook. It was a drop of 81 since 1841, 20 less than in 1861 and 64 less than in 1871.
Steps were taken in 1854 to make a culvert of the water course running through the village. In 1855 a Highway Rate was added to the poor rate and a “IocaI authority” against nuisances was set up, under the “Nuisances Removal Act”
A school in Blaby had existed from, at least, the time of the first Edward Stokes. In 1849 it had between 60 and 70 children on the books. Mr. J. Bachelor was the Scholarsmaster and he was assisted by his sisters. Scholars usually paid 2d. per week, and this, plus £20, constituted the master’s salary. The Baptists also had a day school from 1805, with about 30 boys and only 2 girls on the register. Here the children paid from 3d. to 6d. per week Two preparatory schools existed in the village, but no details are known about them.
Reference has already been made to the singing in church and its accompaniment. At Christmas 1856 a harmonium was placed in the church. It cost £12. The rector paid half and the parishioners the rest. 1862 this instrument was replaced by another more powerful, though second-hand harmonium, which cost £15.
The Churchyard walls were repaired in 1860 and a new coping provided; but as a place of burial it was becoming too small. It was therefore decided in 1862 to seek a new burial ground, near at hand, and to close tho Church yard- an “Application was made to the Secretary of State for his permission to provide two separate Burial Grounds for this Parish, one to be consecrated for use of the members of the Church of England: the other to be appropriated to the Dissenters” The latter would be an addition to the “present Burial ground belonging to the Baptist Chapel”.
The Secretary of State apparently suggested that one piece of ground should be obtained for the use of both church people and dissenters. This did not please the Vestry who respectfully requested the minister to reconsider his opinion
and to accede to the wish of the great majority of the rate-payers that he should give his approval to the providing two separate Burial Grounds for the Parish”. The reasons for this resolution were “that there will be considerable difficulty in obtaining one piece of ground applicable for the use of church people and dissenters, that two separate Burial Grounds would cost the rate-payers less than one large ground and that such an arrangement would tend greatly to continue the good feeling which has hitherto subsisted between the Church people and Dissenters of the Parish of Blaby”
Financing the project proved an obstacle to the Burial Board set up by the Vestry. The Lords Commissioners of Her Majesty’s Treasury approved a loan of £400 for the purpose but were not willing themselves to advance the sum. An advertisement was put out in the local press inviting tenders of a loan on the security of the rates but no replies were forthcoming. Eventually the Burial Board was asked by the Vestry to consider the expediency of requesting the Rev.H.J. Hoskyns, the Rector of the Parish, to lend the sum required, on the security of the Parish Rates, such loan to be repaid by equal annual instalments in 20 years, with interest at 5%. This the Burial Board did and it seems that the rector complied. He also increased the land available by selling half an acre of glebe land for the purpose of the cemetery. The sale realized £100 which was invested, the Rector receiving the interest.
The Churchyard was no longer used for burials after 1st August 1863. The new Burial ground in Mill Lane was duly consecrated by the Bishop of Peterborough on the 12th. day of the same month.
The question of rating the “New Railway” was dealt with by the overseers for the Vestry in 1864. Street lighting by gas had its beginnings in Blaby in 1867.
The Easter Vestry meetings,at this time and for some time to come, were held on Easter Monday in the morning in church. Much of interest is to be gleaned from the minutes of those meetings. A plan to build a north aisle was mooted in 1870 but abandoned. The fabric of the church, the seats and the organ were insured against fire for the first time in 1872. At this time the church cleaner was paid 1/- per week. John Brett who was buried on 21st September 1875. had been Parish Clerk for 26 years and, according to the rector’s tribute it was “much respected by all” The rector himself survived his clerk by only eight months. He died at the age of 66 and was buried on 29th, May 1876.
In the same year ARTHUR WHITE came to be rector. It was in his time that the Chapel of Countesthorpe became the Church of a separate Parish. Thus came to an end a partnership which had existed, though not, apparently, without some rivalry and resentment, between Blaby and Countesthorpe since the very foundation of the parochial system in England.
Complaints were made in the village, in 1878, about the state of the roads. Improvements were made in Sycamore St. and at the corner of Northfield Rd, and Chapel St. in 1879.
PETER NETTLETON LEAKEY M.A. became rector of Blaby in 1881. There seems to have been a long interregnum, during which time curates Edward Atkins and W.C. Box ministered in the parish. Frederick Atkins was the schoolmaster in 1882 and William Fogg followed in 1886. The Minister of the Baptist Chapel, since 1870 in Northfield Road, was the Rev. George Barker. He was elected to the Burial Board.
The village developed considerably during the decade 1880-90, Gas mains were laid along Lutterworth Road as far as Auburn Road and Park Road which were new then. Northfield Road was completed and recognized as a public highway (1883). Gradually more of the “dark” streets were provided with lighting.
At a meeting of the Vestry in 1883 the rector referred to the “untidy state” of the churchyard, and the year after he mentioned it again. Then Thornton Blunt of Blaby Hill proposed to remedy the defect by bringing in some sheep to keep the grass down. All was not well with the Ringers either. From 1876 the 20/- per annum for their services was raised to 30/-. In 1885 they were promised some extra remuneration at Christmas to induce them to attend more regularly for the service. Things came to such a pass 1885 that we find Mr James Greenway, one of the churchwardens, proposing that the Ringers “must regularly attend the ringing for Divine Service or they must not be allowed the use of the bells for weddings. Would anyone believe that there were problems concerning attendance to church duties in the 1880s?
In 1891, because of a deficit in the churchwardens accounts, it was suggested that a system of voluntary offerings should be tried. Objection was raised and the matter dropped pending it being ventilated “thro the magazine, or some other way”. When next year the churchwardens’ accounts still showed a deficit, Mr. Blunt expressed his sorrow at the situation and thought that there could hardly be any inducement for any gentleman to accept the office of churchwarden in the circumstances. However he proposed Mr.Clough Taylor who agreed to his appointment. In the light of our Christian Stewardship with its stress on systematic offerings in the 1960s, it is interesting to note what happened to the first efforts to sow the seeds of the system seventy years ago; and it makes us thankful that, if it did not at first succeed, it became inevitable in the end and opposition was overcome. It is also interesting to read of the existence of a (parish) magazine in those days. Could anyone produce today just one of them for us to look at?
A parishioner in 1886 defrayed the cost of installing gas lighting in the belfry. It can therefore be concluded that the church itself had gas lighting by that time. In 1891 it was decided to provide two lamps, one in the churchyard path (possibly what is now Church Walk) and one on tho Welford Road near Mr. Vann’s property.
The Parish Pinfold (pound for stray cattle) had not been used for many years. Mr. T.H. Halford in 1892 had proposed that it should be abolished as it was only a source of danger to persons driving in dark nights from Welford Roadinto Sycamore Street. Presumably Mr Halford’s proposal was accepted and the work carried
A meeting was held in November 1892 to consider the levelling of the churchyard and the replacement of the tombstones. The Archdeacon of Leicester attended and the matter was dealt with conservatively, Tho meeting objected to the wholesale removal to the side-walls of the tomb-stones, but thought there was no objection to the
Rector and Churchwardens levelling the mounds and moving tombstones where friends of the interred do not object.
Between 1396 and the turn of the century GEORGE CLINCH BELLOVES was rector of Blaby. Other clergy officiating at this time were Charles W. Goodman, A.G.Begbio and James Gosset Jannor. Church accounts were constantly showing a deficit and Mr. Clough Taylor, churchwarden, was warning the Vestry Meeting that, as many things were required to be done at once in the shape of church repairs, things which want of funds had prevented in previous years, there was no call for relaxation of effort. Some minor restoration work was accomplished and the church redecorated, but, alas, the deficit grew bigger inspite of resolutions to greater effort and promises to make up the deficiency.
In 1898 the Archdeacon visited the church and reported that he found things in excellent order with the following exceptions, the birds were nesting in the spouting, the belfry chamber was in a dirty condition and there was insufficient supply of kneeling pads. Perhaps people were hardened enough in those days to kneel on the bare floor or, perhaps, they didn’t kneel!
FREDERICK HEDLEY JOSCELYNE M.A. an honorary canon of Peterborough, came to Blaby as Rector in 1900 and stayed until 1936.
Within two years of the rector’s admission to the parish a full scale programme of restoration was set in motion. It lasted until 1914 and covered very extensive repairs, alterations and improvements. The setting apart of the space at the west end of the south aisle and the provision of a lamp at the entrance to the churchyard were together only a sign of bigger things to come. In the first phase, before 1910 the following work was carried to completion: the spire was rebuilt from its foundation, the walls of the church were repaired and re-pointed, a new red deal wood block floor was laid in the nave and aisle, new oak block and tile floors were laid in the chancel, new oak pews replaced the old “box” seating, a new oak pulpit, lectern and choir stalls were supplied, york stone steps were fitted in the chancel and a new heating apparatus was installed.
The matter of a weekly Offertory was raised again in 1907 and this time it was agreed that a collection should be taken every Sunday. The rector had pointed out the need of raising the salaries of the organist, the clerk and the cleaner. The matter of cleaning the organ was held over because the Board of Education was pressing for the enlargement of the school. However in 1910 the second phase of the work began. In the main it consisted of the provision of the vestry and organ chamber off the north wall of the chancel. The organ was then brought down from the west gallery and placed in the recess behind the choir stalls. The scheme for the whole work envisaged also the building of a north aisle, but the plan for this dropped for lack of funds.
At this time the churchwardens were Messrs. Horace Clough Taylor and Tom Harry Halford. The former was succeeded in 1912 by Mr Frederick Atkins. It is proper to note that most of the work of Frederick improvements and enlargements to Blaby Church during the decade was carried out by local craftsmen and churchmen. To name just five, were Mssrs, Charles, Walter and Tom H.Halford, Mr Richard Rainbow and Mr Richard Dale.
The improvements to the School, required by the Board of Education, were carried out in 1913. It included improvements in ventilation and cloakroom space. Consideration was given to the provision of a school playground and gardens. 357 square yards of Kingtont s Close was sold to the school trustees Gradually the whole of the area of the present school buildings and playground the easternmost is the earliest, part of it having been opened in 1849. The building further down Church Street was opened in 1873 and enlarged later.
The vestry book dated 1912 refers to the “misuse of hymn books” and introduction of “Hymns Ancient & Modern”, bad behaviour in the gallery, the trimming of shrubs in the churchyard and the need of better lighting in the chancel o especially. Was the gallery more regularly in use then than now? Up to 1906 the annual Vestry meeting was held on Easter Monday or Easter Tuesday at 10 a.m. Then it was switched to Easter Thursday in the evening in the hope of “better attendance by members of the congregation”
First mention of the parish “quota” for Diocesan and central church work occurs in 1914 when Blaby parish was assessed at £10, It was not accepted without much discussion; nor was the introduction of a free-will offering scheme in 1916 easily accepted, but it was imperative because of the growing deficit in the church accounts, inspite of a record “offertory”.
In the midst of the years of the Great War a Litany desk was presented to the church by a parishioner. Then in 1919 over £301 was collected for the war memorial East Window which was designed by Messrs. Heaton, Butler. A tablet containing the names of the men of the parish who fell was set into the wall at the north of the sanctuary. Other memorial tablets were given at this time; the first in 1919 was to Edward Thornton Blunt and his wife, the second, in 1921, to Nurse Harriett Stiles, given by her mother.
Heaton, Butler and Bayne were also the designers of the ‘Robboni’ Window which was inserted in the south wall of the sanctuary in 1921. It was given by Mr. John C.A. Richards of Blaby Hall in memory of his mother, Mary Isabella.
From the year 1926 the Parish of Blaby was included in the newly restored diocese of Leicester. Leicester had been a diocese for nearly 200 years in Saxon times, but was swept away by the Danish invasions. After the Norman Conquest it became part of the Diocese of Lincoln.
Rectory land had been sold to the Railway in 1849. At that time, “certain extensive repairs, reparations and additions had been lately contracted for and were then in course of erection at the Rectory House of Blaby”. This presumably refers to the building of that part of the Rectory which largely remains and also to an older part which received further attention and partial demolition in 1926 and was completely demolished in 1958. To make up for the loss of ground to the Railway the Rectory in 1849 acquired a piece of land, 2130 square yards, described as Greenways Farm Yard, with old buildings which were then demolished.Then in 1926 Canon Joecelyne effected the sale of part of the Rectory Gardon, the eastern end, bordered by Church Street and Wigston Road at the point where these roads converge.
Canon Joscelyne retired in 1936 after a long incumbency of 36 years. He was succeeded by Canon BERTELL HUBERT SITH M.A., the living now coming under the patronage of the Bishop of Leicester.
Before the second World War the old gas lighting in the church was replaced by electricity. The work was carried out by Messrs. Perkins and Spencer of Leicester. At the same time a new low pressure heating system was installed in the place of the old steam heating. A.C. Freer of Blaby was the contractor. Colonel Harold Ernest Noel and Frederick W. Atkins were the churchwardens. Further work completed before the outbreak of war was the restoration of the west Window of the south aisle. The organ was overhauled and a tremulo stop inserted. All this work cost less than £400.
Not all work on the church came to a stop during the war because in 1942 the nave roof was re-slated and the guttering was restored. A new electric organ blower was installed in 1945.
Between 1945 and 1950 the following work was undertaken: the repair of the turret and re-gilding of the dial, the preparation of a memorial tablet to the men of Blabyvillage who died in World War 2, and another memorial plaque in Hopton Wood Marble to the memory of Walter Halford who had been a member of the choir for 50 years. These memorials were set in the north wall of the chancel. Two gifts were given in 1948, the altar book and the churchwardens’ staves.
The appearance of the church was transformed in 1951 by new stained glass and tracery in the windows of the nave. All six in the nave were designed by Veronica Whall with the assistance in one case of her brother. They are all memorial windows except the small one in the north wall which, as the transcription reads, “was provided by the work of three girls for the adornment of this house of god and to the glory of his name.
The centre window in the north wall is the “Halford Window” and illustrates the parable of the vineyard Mrs. I. Noel gave the window nearest to the pulpit. It illustrates Psalm 104 in which David praises god for his wonderful works in nature.
The three windows in the south wall provide a sequence the descent of the virgin Mary from Boaz and Ruth through King David. Thus the first depicts Boaz and Ruth, the second David and Jonathan and the third St. Anne and St. Joachim. These windows were given by the wife and daughter of Sidney Clarke, the Women’s Section of the Blaby British Legion and Miss A.M.Walker respectively.
Another window, in memory of Charles Halford was inserted in the south wall of the chancel. Appropriately it depicts a carpenter’s shop and was designed by B.J.Warren of Birmingham.
Canon Smith retired just as the last of the stained glass was put in. The work had taken a long time and necessitated much restoration of the walls of the church, particularly the north wall. But the result was worth the effort and he left a church greatly improved in appearance and beautified.
JAMES EDWIN WRIGHT became rector in 1952 and stayed until 1958 when his health broke down and he was obliged to seek a lighter charge. In his time a processional cross was presented in memory of Arthur Edward Buckingha, a former churchwarden, by his sons. A new lightning conductor was fitted and the spire, west door and west window were restored. The window is architecturally a gem and with the door below it is probably as ancient as any part of the existing building. It is a pity that the window is so obscured inside by the belfry works.
As the Rev. J.E.Wright left and the new incumbent Rev.Ernest.J.Cheverton came in, the Rectory House was being reduced in size by demolition of the old western wing. Improvements were made to the house, a new kitchen was built on and central heating of the ground floor was installed.
Before Mr.Cheverton resigned to take up the office of Director of Religious Education to the Diocese of Leicester, a a new altar and riddel posts were provided for the church from the Lily Clarke bequest. What is probably part of the original altar stone was brought from its resting place against the wall near the south entrance and inserted in the top of the new oak altar table. In the same year 1961 a garden of Rest was dedicated by the Archdeacon of Loughborough for the burial of cremated remains. This garden consists of the area of church yard outside the north wall of the church.
Another work carried out at this time was the re-hanging of the church’s five bells on cast iron headstocks and roller bearings by Mears and Stainbank Ltd. London. The ringing chamber was at the same time, raised from ground to gallery level. The bells are as follows: No, 1 Treble Bell: inscribed “This Bell was given by Jas. Greenway, Churchwarden over 30 years in Queen Victoria’s Jubilee year 1887”. No .2 Bell: inscribed “Newcombe of Leicester made me 1611”- Robert Tilley and Thomas Varnham Churchwardens. No. 3 Bell: ” dated 1634. No. 4 Bell: inscribed “Thomas Mears and Son 1807”. This was the Stokes’ Curfew Bell. No.5 Tenor Bell: inscribed: “Cast by Thomas Warner and Son, London. This bell was given and 3 old bells rehung by Public Subscription, Queen Victoria’s Jubilee 1887″
In 1963 the walls of the chancel received attention outside and in, and preparations began to be made for the redecoration of the interior. At the same time the old organ was dismantled and in its place, after some restoration, was re-erected in Desford Church. in Blaby Church a new organ by J.W.Wa1ker & Sons of Ruislip was erected, having been presented by Miss A.M.Walker as memorial to a friend. Other gifts, received since, are a new pianoforte presented by Mrs. Agnes Easingwood in memory of her Iate husband Ernest, and a new altar book, presented by Mr.& Mrs.J.B.Backhouse. Joseph Backhouse was formerly a churchwarden of Blaby Church and Headmaster of the School. The old school buildings in Church Street are still in use as part of the Stokes School whose main building is situated at the top of Queen’s Road, Blaby.