A History of the County of Leicestershire: Volume 5, Gartree Hundred. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1964.
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King's Norton lies seven miles east-south-east of Leicester on a spur of the uplands of eastern Leicestershire. The civil parish of Little Stretton is a chapelry of King's Norton. The area of the ancient parish of King's Norton is about 1,010 a. The spur on which the village stands projects southwestwards from the upland area and lies between the River Sence and one of its tributaries. The ground rises from about 400 ft. near the rivers to over 500 ft. The soil is clayey, with a clay and gravel sub-soil. On the east and west the parish boundary for the most part follows field boundaries; on the north it is marked by the Sence; and on the south it follows the Gartree road.
King's Norton lies between two main roads leading from Leicester-those to Uppingham and Market Harborough-but minor roads lead from the village to both main roads, as well as to the Gartree road which skirts the southern edge of the parish. The village lies around the junction of three minor roads, leading to Galby, Little Stretton, and Illston on the Hill. The small cluster of houses includes the manor-house, Vicarage, and church. There are only two isolated farm-houses: Norton Gorse Farm, near the large Norton Gorse plantation, in the north-west of the parish, and a second in the west. There is a large disused gravel pit to the south-west of the village.
King's Norton has never been a large village. Its tax assessment in 1334 was only 10s. (fn. 1) and only 36 people paid the poll tax in 1381. (fn. 2) In 1563 there were 12 households. The figure of 154 communicants in 1603 probably refers to Little Stretton as well as King's Norton. In 1670 there were 17 households, and in 1676 38 communicants. (fn. 3) There were 14 families early in the 18th century. (fn. 4) In 1801 the population was 60; after a very small increase during the 19th century, it had fallen to 43 by 1951. (fn. 5)
The manor-house, now known as Manor House Farm, stands close to the east end of the church and is a large L-shaped brick building of two stories and attics. Most of the remaining structure was probably built by William Whalley (d. 1635) or his son Ralph. The principal arm of the L is a wing running north and south; a lower wing extends from its east side. The internal arrangements of the main block indicate that it was built as a parlour wing of some pretensions with large southern rooms, a central staircase, and smaller northern rooms; its division into three bays is common to all floors including the attics. It is built of thin red brick with limestone dressings above a high ironstone plinth; the gables have stone copings and the present slate roof is modern. Two stone-mullioned and transomed windows remain in the west wall. Similar windows have been altered or blocked elsewhere in the wing and the south gable-end was re-fenestrated with pairs of sash windows to each floor in the time of Bernard Whalley (d. 1752). The smaller wing has several blocked stone windows and has probably been truncated at its east end where a large chimney stack with ribbed brick shafts is clearly part of an earlier structure. A single-story brew-house, added to the north side of the house c. 1800, is now the kitchen. The old kitchen was probably the ground floor room in the smaller wing which has a wide fire-place and exposed ceiling joists. In the attic rooms above this wing is an arch-braced collar-beam truss which may antedate the rest of the house. The lower flights of the mid-17th-century staircase in the parlour wing were altered to one straight flight late in the last century. The upper flights have plain chamfered handrails, heavy turned balusters, and newels with pierced finials.
Near to the east end of the house is a square brick dovecote with a hipped roof and a louver similarly roofed. The walls have a small diaper pattern in vitrified brick headers. It probably dates from the later 17th century. Another outbuilding carries a tablet dated 1726 with the initials of Bernard and Anne Whalley.
William Fortrey is said to have demolished 'the old hall-house of Norton' with the intention of building a new one but to have only completed the offices before his death. (fn. 6) These last may be identified with the two brick houses forming a row on the south side of the churchyard and now known as The Limes. At their south end are limestone balustrades and steps, apparently re-used. The entrance gates in the west wall of the churchyard are said to have come from the old house and to have been set in their present position by Fortrey. (fn. 7) The classical stone gate-piers have pineapple finials and the wrought-iron gates are work of c. 1720. (fn. 8) The site of the old hall-house is not known and it is possible that it was not completely demolished and that the present Manor House Farm represents part of the structure. On the other hand the fact that in 1666 William Whalley and Stanhope Whalley were assessed for 12 and 10 hearths respectively (fn. 9) suggests that two important houses were standing in the parish at that time.
Wyggeston Farm is a two-storied brick house built c. 1700 on the site of an older house of which a lower ironstone cross-wing survives at the west end. This in turn seems to encase the remains of an earlier structure. The house may perhaps be identified with Beamond's Farm, let to Ralph Whalley in 1637. (fn. 10) To the north-east of the house is the only surviving timber-framed cottage in the parish, dating from the 17th century. Lime Cottage in the same cul-de-sac is of 18th-century brick, and opposite is the former blacksmith's cottage and, behind it, the small ruined smithy.
The Grange, formerly a private house known as The Laurels, was built in 1870 by G. C. Heap. Several cottages, including three with mud walls, have been demolished within living memory. The village hall, a wooden hut, was given in 1921 by the Co-operative Wholesale Society, Ltd. There are two pairs of Council houses in the village, built after 1945.
In 1086 the royal soke of Bowden, which before the Conquest had been held by Edward the Confessor, included 3 carucates of land and 5 a. of meadow in KING'S NORTON. (fn. 11) By 1130 the 3 carucates were held by the Earl of Leicester. (fn. 12) King's Norton was among the Earl's estates which in 1204 passed to Saer de Quency as husband of a co-heir of Robert FitzParnell; Saer was created Earl of Winchester in 1207. (fn. 13) Roger de Quency, Earl of Winchester, held King's Norton at his death in 1264, (fn. 14) and it was assigned to his relict in dower. (fn. 15) His lands were in 1277 divided among co-heirs and King's Norton went to his daughter Ellen and her husband Alan la Zouche. (fn. 16) At a later Alan's death, in 1314, it passed through his daughter Maud to her husband Robert de Holand. (fn. 17) He was succeeded by his son Robert in 1328. (fn. 18) King's Norton passed to the Lovels in c. 1373 by the marriage of Robert de Holand's granddaughter to John, Lord Lovel. (fn. 19) William Lovel held it at his death in 1455, (fn. 20) but the manor appears to have been subsequently acquired by the Hastings family (fn. 21) for in 1532 George, Earl of Huntingdon, settled King's Norton on his son Francis, Lord Hastings, when he married the daughter of Henry, Lord Montagu. (fn. 22) No further descent of the overlordship has been traced.
In 1130 King's Norton was held by Pipard from the Earl of Leicester. (fn. 23) The Earl of Winchester's under-tenant in 1264 was William Burdet, (fn. 24) and in 1277 King's Norton was said to be held from the Earl's heirs by Thomas de Hendeshovere; (fn. 25) Burdet was probably, however, intermediate between the heirs and Hendeshovere in 1277 as he was between them and Thomas de Endis (probably to be identified with Hendeshovere) in 1279. (fn. 26) By 1313 the manor was held from Alan la Zouche by William de Bereford, (fn. 27) and a Bereford held it in 1328 and 1454. (fn. 28)
The Burdet and Bereford families were probably never the demesne tenants. In 1277 and 1279 Robert de Norton held the manor from Thomas de Hendeshovere (or Endis) (fn. 29) and in 1284 Robert claimed that his ancestors had held land in King's Norton since the late 12th century. (fn. 30) The Nortons held the manor in 1316 and probably later, (fn. 31) but by 1346 it had passed to Henry Mallorie. (fn. 32) William Levere was lord in 1368. (fn. 33) In 1514 the manor was acquired by Robert and John Borowe and Henry Peyll from George and Mary Kyngeston, (fn. 34) and Robert Borowe's descendants transferred it to Thomas Whalley in 1582. (fn. 35)
The Whalley family held the manor until Bernard Whalley's death in 1752 when William Fortrey, husband of Anne Whalley, acquired it. (fn. 36) In 1783 Fortrey was succeeded by his nephew Henry Green, (fn. 37) who was still in possession in 1847 when he owned 765 a. of land. (fn. 38) The estate apparently passed to the Heap family and later to the Powys-Kecks; as part of the Powys-Keck estate, it was bought by the Cooperative Wholesale Society, Ltd. in 1919. (fn. 39) The manorial rights may, however, have been separated from the estate in the mid-19th century and acquired by the Earl of Stamford and Warrington. (fn. 40) After 1919 the C.W.S. disposed of part of its estate in King's Norton: 255 a. was sold to W. H. Heard in 1927 and other land to Wyggeston's Hospital in 1928. (fn. 41)
In 1086 there were 3 carucates of land and 5 a. of meadow in King's Norton. (fn. 42)
One of the largest medieval landowners in King's Norton was Owston Abbey which by 1360 had built up an estate of 191 a. around the nucleus of the glebe lands; the abbey had other land in Little Stretton. In King's Norton approximately 70 a. lay in West Field, 51 a. in South Field, and 69 a. in North Field, and most was in very small scattered parcels; some consolidation had, however, taken place in North Field where one parcel was of 28 a. and another of about 14 a. In 1357-8, with the labour of 9 famuli as well as hired workers, the abbey grew wheat (30 per cent.), barley (55 per cent.), and peas and beans (15 per cent.) at King's Norton, and kept 129 sheep there; corn, malt, and wool were sold. Demesne cultivation by the abbey had probably been abandoned by 1363, and 92 a. of the estate were leased to John of Norton. (fn. 43) This leasing-out was perhaps a consequence of the Black Death, but the village itself apparently suffered no marked decline. In 1381 the poll tax was paid by 36 people, among them 5 free tenants, 4 tenants at will, a merchant, 13 servants, and 2 labourers; (fn. 44) and King's Norton's tax assessment of 10s. was reduced by only 1s. in 1445. (fn. 45) Prominent among the land-holding free tenants in the late 14th and early 15th centuries was John atte Hall of Little Stretton, whose mowers assisted the Owston famuli in 1357-8. (fn. 46)
In the early 16th century a large estate in King's Norton was acquired by Wyggeston Hospital, Leicester: in 1527 3 messuages and 4½ virgates (120 a. arable, 20 a. meadow, and 12 a. pasture) were conveyed to it. (fn. 47) From the late 16th century until the mid-18th the most important landowning family was the Whalleys. Ralph Whalley was already one of the leading taxpayers in 1572, and during the next two decades he acquired the manor, other houses and land, and the rectory and advowson; he died in 1601 and was succeeded by his son William (d. 1635) and his grandson Ralph. (fn. 48) The younger Ralph was probably responsible for the inclosure of the open fields, which took place between 1635 (fn. 49) and 1637 when Whalley's land was stated to have been lately inclosed and converted to pasture; (fn. 50) in 1637 Whalley held 16½ yardlands (fn. 51) and was also the lessee of 4½ yardlands from Wyggeston Hospital. (fn. 52) In 1656 the hospital had 3 farms, comprising 4½ yardlands and 3½ a., in King's Norton, all leased out; it was said that at the inclosure the hospital's land had been allotted in the worst part of the lordship. (fn. 53) The hospital still had 169 a. in 1847 (fn. 54) and bought more land in 1928. (fn. 55)
Several 17th-century terriers and inventories provide details of pre-inclosure agrarian practice. The open fields were no longer called West, South, and North Fields, as they had been in 1360: two terriers of Wyggeston Hospital property in 1635 give the names as Brig, Scockerhill, and Middle Fields, (fn. 56) and a terrier of the glebe lands of Galby in 1638 called them Marr, Carlton Gate, and Middle Fields. (fn. 57) Each yardland is said to have had 6 cow gates and common for 40 sheep. (fn. 58) Two inventories made in 1608 show that peas, barley, and wheat were being grown. (fn. 59)
Although Ralph Whalley's land was said in 1637 to have been converted to pasture, the parish was not subsequently completely under grass. In 1847 there were 150 a. of arable out of 993 a. subject to tithe, (fn. 60) and in 1855, 200 a. of arable. (fn. 61) Pasture farming has, however, remained predominant to the present day. In the 19th and 20th centuries the land has been farmed by about 4 farmers and graziers. (fn. 62)
A windmill at King's Norton is first mentioned in 1514. The latest reference is in 1582 when, with the manor, it came into the possession of Ralph Whalley. It is not included in the description of his property at his death in 1601. (fn. 63)
There was apparently no workhouse at King's Norton, and in 1802-3 2 adults and 2 children received out-relief. (fn. 64) The parish joined the Billesdon Union in 1836. (fn. 65) Churchwardens' accounts survive for 1784-1834. (fn. 66)
King's Norton church was described about 1220 as the mother church from which the chapel of Little Stretton was served, (fn. 67) and Little Stretton has remained a dependent chapelry. In the 1660's the township of Little Stretton was liable to contribute to the maintenance of the fabric of King's Norton church, though not to that of its ornaments. (fn. 68) The incumbent of King's Norton was resident in the parish in the 1860's (fn. 69) but by at least 1928 the living was held with Galby and the incumbent lived there. (fn. 70) The benefices of King's Norton and Galby were united in 1929. (fn. 71)
The advowson of the church of King's Norton was confirmed to Owston Abbey by Robert de Chesney, Bishop of Lincoln, before 1167. (fn. 72) During Hugh of Avalon's episcopate of Lincoln (1186-1200) it was ordered that the church should pay the abbey an annual pension of 2 marks, and half a stone of wax. (fn. 73) In 1306 the abbey appropriated King's Norton church, (fn. 74) though royal licence for this was not obtained until 1340, (fn. 75) and a vicarage was subsequently ordained.
The advowson apparently descended with the rectory after the Dissolution (see below) and subsequently with the manor. (fn. 76) It was held by J. C. L. Keck in 1922. (fn. 77) In 1929 it was obtained from the trustees of the late G. C. Heap by the National Church League Trust. (fn. 78) The Church Society presented in 1951 and 1956. (fn. 79)
In 1291 the annual value of the rectory was £15 13s. 4d., including a pension of £1 6s. 8d. paid to Owston Abbey and £2 6s. 8d. as the Rector of Galby's portion. (fn. 80) In 1535 the value was £3 6s. 8d., with temporalities of £2 17s. at Little Stretton. (fn. 81) The rectory, tithes, and glebe were in 1528-9 leased by the abbey to Thomas Brygge, clerk, for £3 6s. 8d. (fn. 82) After the Dissolution, the rectory was granted in April 1544 to Edward Elrington and Humphrey Metcalf. (fn. 83) They soon alienated it to John Beaumont and Henry Alycock, although a licence for this was not obtained until 1545. (fn. 84) In May 1544 the rectory was transferred to John Prior (fn. 85) and in 1556 John's son Simon (fn. 86) alienated it to George Turpyn. (fn. 87) In 1559 Ralph Whalley acquired it from Turpyn (fn. 88) and the rectory subsequently descended with the manor. By the date of the tithe apportionment in 1847, the great tithes on 765 a. of land held by Henry Green had been merged; four other improprietors received apportionments totalling £7 16s., the largest being £5 to Wyggeston's Hospital which held 169 a. (fn. 89) The rectorial estate in Little Stretton, consisting of tithes and half a yardland, was in 1552 granted to Thomas Cecyll and Philip Bolde of London; it had previously been held by Thomas Bewpas and his son. (fn. 90) When Little Stretton was inclosed in 1771 the improprietor, Lebbeus Humfrey, was allotted 113 a. in lieu of great tithes. (fn. 91)
In 1535 the annual value of King's Norton vicarage was £7 5s. 6d.; (fn. 92) in 1607 it was £7. (fn. 93) The living was augmented by gifts of £200 from Mrs. Jane Hussey in 1718 and £200 from William Whalley, and in 1798 it was worth £70. (fn. 94) In the 19th century it was valued at £105. (fn. 95) The small tithes in King's Norton, arising from 993 a. of land, were commuted for £95 in 1847. (fn. 96) In Little Stretton the vicar received 20 a. for small tithes and 23 a. in lieu of his yardland of glebe at the inclosure in 1771. (fn. 97) There were 44 a. of glebe there in 1932. (fn. 98)
By will proved in 1930 W. J. R. Pochin left £1,200 to be used at the death of a trustee for the benefit of the incumbent and of the chapel at Little Stretton. Half of the sum was to be used to augment the living, and half invested for the maintenance of the chapel and the conduct of services there. The annual income from the investment in 1951-3 was £18 and in 1954 £22. (fn. 99)
The old church, which stood on or near the site of the later building, seems to have been badly maintained. In 1633 it was reported that the chancel was full of rubbish and stones, that part of the walls needed pointing, that the paving was defective, and that the furnishings were in an unsatisfactory state. (fn. 100) By January 1634 the chancel had been repaired by William Whalley, (fn. 101) and there were fewer complaints in 1639, though the walls needed whitening and the paving was in parts defective. (fn. 102)
The church of ST. JOHN THE BAPTIST was built between 1757, when a faculty for rebuilding it was obtained by the patron William Fortrey, and 1775. The architect was the younger Wing (d. 1794), of Leicester, whose father had been engaged by Fortrey in 1741 for the partial rebuilding of the church in the adjoining parish of Galby. (fn. 103)
The church, which is built of limestone ashlar brought from Rutland, (fn. 104) consists of an aisleless nave and chancel forming a simple rectangular plan with a tower at its west end. There is only one entrance- that in the west side of the tower approached by a flight of steps flanked by stone balustrades. The building has long been acknowledged as a particularly fine example of 18th-century Gothic architecture, both on account of its archaeologically correct details, especially those of the tower, and the preservation of its original fittings. A tall crocketted spire which originally surmounted the tower was struck by lightning in 1843 and 1850. (fn. 105) After the last occurrence, when considerable damage was caused to the body of the church by its fall, the spire was completely dismantled. The north and south walls of the church each have seven tall two-light windows of late-14th-century character, separated by buttresses which are continued upwards to form crocketted pinnacles. The east end has three windows containing late Geometrical tracery, the central window having five lights with a large circle at its apex. All the windows have ogival hoodmoulds with finials. The low-pitched roof is concealed by a continuous parapet pierced by open quatrefoils.
The tower is divided into four stages by three friezes, each of a different design. The belfry stage has tall coupled two-light openings with reticulated tracery, and the top of the tower is completed by a parapet with tall crocketted angle pinnacles; below this the angle buttresses are stopped against a corbel table surmounted by a prominent cornice.
The interior of the church is a remarkably wellpreserved example of the period and has been called 'a perfect expression of 18th-century Anglicanism'. (fn. 106) It is entered from a vestibule in the base of the tower and consists of a single lofty room with a gallery across its west end. Immediately inside the door on the north side stands the font, enclosed by original christening pews. The large three-decker pulpit, the most striking feature of the interior, is centrally placed at the east end of the nave. Demarcation between nave and chancel is provided by low gates flanking the pulpit, while the chancel seats are set against the side walls, facing inwards. The shallow sanctuary, containing a small central altar, is raised on a single step and is divided from the rest of the chancel by communion rails which stretch across is church from north to south. The whole interior is flooded with light from the many large windows which retain their clear glass set in leadwork of unusual design. The finely-executed fittings are of Norwegian oak (fn. 107) and are mostly purely classical in detail. The gallery is supported on Roman Doric columns and these are repeated on the highest stage of the pulpit. The reredos, forming the central feature of continuous wainscotting round three sides of the chancel, is surmounted by a classical pediment. The Gothic character of the exterior, however, is reflected in the design of the communion rails and the small gates beside the pulpit. The elaborate Gothic font dates from after 1850 when the earlier one was crushed by the fall of the spire. (fn. 108) The original organ, also destroyed, was probably mounted in the west gallery; the low-pitched tie-beam roof, extensively damaged, has evidently been carefully restored. All the original box pews survive except on the south side of the nave where they have been removed to accommodate the present organ. In 1776 the reading pew and the clerk's desk, forming the two lower stages of the pulpit, were ordered to be removed (fn. 109) but this was apparently ignored.
There are no mural tablets in the church but below the gallery hangs a photograph of an 18thcentury painting of the Fortrey family. The largest and most impressive monument in the churchyard is a tall obelisk built against the east wall of the church by William Fortrey in memory of his parents, William (d. 1722) and Anne (d. 1733). This is enclosed by contemporary wrought-iron railings. On the north side of the church a smaller monument with a pedimented panel between two urns commemorates John Smalley (d. 1763) and his wife Elizabeth (d. 1772), daughter of Sir Richard Halford of Wistow. Slabs to various members of the Whalley family, including that of Stanhope Whalley (d. 1698), have been reset against the same side of the church.
There are eight bells: (i) and (ii) undated; (iii) 1760, by Thomas Eayre of Kettering; (iv) 1627, bearing the initials of William and Ralph Whalley; (v) 1760; (vi) 1761, by Thomas Eayre; (vii) and (viii) 1764, by Joseph Eayre of St. Neots. (fn. 110) The bells, together with two others subsequently removed to reduce the strain on the steeple, were hung by William Fortrey. He was an ardent campanologist and was patron and director of Thomas Eayre. (fn. 111) The clock is dated 1765 and inscribed to Joseph Eayre.
The parish registers date from 1749. (fn. 112) The communion plate was given by Ralph Whalley; it consists of a silver chalice with a cover paten, dated 1728, another silver paten of the same date, and a silver dish, dated 1729.
The site of the church is well raised above that of the adjacent manor-house to the east and of the ground to the south and west. The churchyard wall on the south-west side was built by Fortrey who is said to have reset and incorporated into it the gateway from the old hall-house of Norton; (fn. 113) the wall has a built-in water trough.
Thomas Beaumont, by will dated 1791, bequeathed in trust to the Vicar of King's Norton £50, the interest to be used to purchase bread and beef for the industrious poor of the parish. (fn. 114) In 1953 the sum of 2s. 6d. each was paid to 4 people. (fn. 115)
By will dated 1718 William Whalley devised to 5 trustees a rent-charge of £5, to provide for the clothing of 4 poor children in King's Norton, Little Stretton, Galby, and Houghton, and for the purchase of prayer books to be given to poor persons living in the same places. A fee of 6s. 8d. was to be paid to the Vicar of King's Norton for entering the trustees' accounts in the parish books at Easter. The sum of £5 was paid regularly by William Whalley's representatives, but the gift was not secured on land until 1791, when 2 closes at King's Norton were purchased. (fn. 116) In 1953 the charity consisted of £200 in investments which yielded £3 a year. This was spent in giving a bible, a prayer book, and £1 pocket money to each of 2 children. (fn. 117)
The township of Little Stretton, 704 a. in area, lies immediately to the west of King's Norton, of which it has always been a dependent chapelry. Little Stretton lies on both sides of the River Sence which flows south-westwards through the township, and the ground rises from about 350 ft. near the river to about 450 ft. on the eastern side of the valley. The soil is clayey over a clay and gravel sub-soil. For the greater part of its length the township boundary follows field boundaries; for short distances it is formed by the Sence and by roads.
Two roughly parallel roads cross the township from north-west to south-east: the Gartree road, and, further north, the Stoughton to Illston on the Hill road. A minor road links these two on the east side of the Sence and forms the village street. The Gartree road crosses the Sence by a bridge on the township boundary, the bridge itself lying in Great Stretton. A road runs southwards from near the bridge towards Great Glen on the road from Leicester to Market Harborough. The village is a small cluster of houses and farms on and near the village street; there is one isolated farm, Dob Hall, in the north of the township. A small disused gravel pit is situated immediately to the south-east of the village.
As far as the available statistics enable a comparison to be made, Little Stretton has always been larger than King's Norton. Its tax assessment in 1334 was nearly four times as large as that of the mother parish, (fn. 118) and there were 53 payers of the poll tax in 1381. (fn. 119) There were 19 families in 1563, and 32 households in 1670. (fn. 120) In 1676 96 communicants were returned, (fn. 121) and in the early 18th century there were at least 15 families. (fn. 122) The population in 1801 was 97; it reached its maximum of 128 in 1821 and subsequently varied between about 70 and 110; in 1951 it was 105. (fn. 123)
The Manor House, in the south-west corner of the village, is a red-brick building of two and three stories, square in plan. The earliest external work is on the eastern side of the house where there is a projecting stack and a tall round-headed stair window, all built c. 1720; the west wall of this portion now forms the central spine wall of the southern half of the house, but cellar lights at its base indicate that it was formerly external. The northern half of the building contains a central chimney stack which may well have survived from a former 17th-century house, possibly that occupied by Thomas Andrews and assessed for 7 hearths in 1664. (fn. 124) The range, which is of three stories, was presumably rebuilt in 1774, a date which, together with the initials D.M., is cut in brick at the north-west angle. It has pedimented gables to east and west and the eaves cornice, carried across the base of the west pediment, is interrupted by a round-headed garret window. The central door on the north side may have served at one time as the main entrance.
The present principal front faces west. This part of the house appears to have been built soon after the north range and the classical entrance door has a decorative fan-light. Many of the internal fittings date from the late 18th century and the Regency period when numerous minor alterations took place. An Adam-style marble fire-place in the present drawing-room is a modern addition. The stone staircase is an early-19th-century improvement which involved an alteration at the first floor landing. All three portions of the house have different floor levels. A room in the north range has exposed ceiling joists and a wide open hearth with a side oven, forming part of the central stack.
North of the house and on the west side of the quadrangular lay-out of the farm buildings is a long brick barn with a hipped slate roof. The side walls have large blank recessed ovals and two segmentalheaded doorways between them; these are blocked and converted to windows. The range was probably built c. 1800. A stable block on the south side of the yard is of the same date.
The majority of the houses and farms in the village date from the 18th century; they are twostoried and built of red brick with slate roofs. The Elms, a farm-house on the east side of the village, is a good example of early-18th-century building, L-shaped in plan with a symmetrical frontage and central entrance facing north. The front portion has brick key-blocks to the windows; the rear wing, formerly the kitchen, is slightly later in date and has a moulded brick eaves cornice and stone window key-blocks. This wing is presumably on the site of an earlier house which remained until the present front block was built. A projection in the angle of the L contains the original staircase with turned balusters and moulded handrail. Several panelled rooms, little altered from the 18th century, remain. An altered brick barn in the yard to the east is of the same date. A cottage known as Easoms Buildings, opposite the smithy, may date originally from before 1800, and Top Farm Cottage is a modernized house of the 18th century.
The Elms Cottage is a 19th-century farm-house of polychrome brickwork with a low hipped slate roof, brick angle pilasters, and windows with prominent stone key-blocks. The house was probably built c. 1830-40 by Sir George Robinson. Church Row, a gabled range of four tenements with a communal yard, was built by H. L. Powys-Keck in 1866, presumably for his tenants. (fn. 125) Dob Hall is a brick building, apparently of the 19th century. The former smithy, with open shoeing bay, is of comparatively recent date, possibly rebuilt c. 1920 by the Cooperative Wholesale Society, Ltd. Two pairs of Council houses on the west side of the village street near the church were erected after the Second World War on the site of two old cottages.
In the Domesday Survey Stretton is listed as belonging to the royal soke of Great Bowden, but no distinction is made between Great and Little Stretton. (fn. 126) It is difficult to distinguish, in later references, between land in the two Strettons and it seems likely that Little Stretton was not always regarded as a separate manor. Some land in Little Stretton also belonged to King's Norton manor. It is probable, however, that the 16 librates of land granted to Richard de Camville before Michaelmas 1156 (fn. 127) constituted LITTLE STRETTON. Before Michaelmas 1191 this land had been acquired by Robert de Harcourt in right of his wife, (fn. 128) who is said to have been de Camville's daughter. (fn. 129)
The first reference to the Harcourts' lands as a manor is in 1228, though it was simply styled 'the manor of Stretton', with its soke. (fn. 130) Part of the soke of Great Bowden had become known as the soke of Stretton and was coupled with the manor on several occasions. The Harcourt family remained as landowners until the early 15th century, Thomas Harcourt dying possessed of the manor of Stretton in 1420-1. (fn. 131) Parts of the Harcourts' holding were held by under-tenants. (fn. 132) It seems likely that in the 14th and early 15th centuries the Harcourts held Little Stretton jointly with land in Great Stretton and that it was not a distinct manor; in 1391, for example, Thomas Harcourt's court at Stretton was held 'according to the customs of the court of Great and Little Stretton', (fn. 133) and in 1330 and 1417 the land was said to be held from the Ferrers family of Groby, (fn. 134) who were the overlords of Great Stretton. (fn. 135)
The Harcourts were apparently succeeded as tenants-in-chief by the Astley family, perhaps as a result of the marriage of Thomas Astley about 1350 to Elizabeth, daughter and heir of Richard de Harcourt. (fn. 136) In the early 16th century Richard Astley was holding the courts of Stretton soke at Little Stretton; estates in Foxton, Smeeton Westerby, Cranoe, Carlton Curlieu, Galby, King's Norton, Great Stretton, and Little Stretton all owed suit to the court. (fn. 137) In 1500 land in Little Stretton was held from William Astley by Thomas Kebell of Humberstone, (fn. 138) who at the same time held land in Great Stretton. (fn. 139) In 1571, at the death of Henry Kebell, his two daughters took the Stretton property into other families, and much, if not all, of it was sold. (fn. 140) In 1613 the so-called manor of Little Stretton was sold by Kebell's grandson John Bowes to Edward Andrews. (fn. 141) This was perhaps not the whole of the Little Stretton property for in 1654 Richard and Andrew Halford sold half of Little Stretton manor to George Faunt; (fn. 142) it had perhaps been part of the lands in Great and Little Stretton and Great Glen bought by Richard Halford in 1621. (fn. 143)
Little Stretton, like Great Stretton, may have been acquired later in the 17th century by the Hewetts and from them have passed to Sir George Robinson in 1766. (fn. 144) Certainly Robinson was one of the larger landowners in Little Stretton at its inclosure in 1771, though the award does not mention a lord of the manor. (fn. 145) In 1831, however, a later Sir George Robinson was styled lord of the manor. (fn. 146) By 1870 the manor had been acquired by G. Heap (fn. 147) and before 1880 by H. L. Powys-Keck; (fn. 148) the later family apparently still possessed the manorial rights in 1928. (fn. 149) The land had been acquired by the Cooperative Wholesale Society, Ltd., in 1919 by its purchase of the Powys-Keck estate. (fn. 150)
The Domesday entry does not distinguish between Great and Little Stretton, (fn. 151) but by the late 12th century Little Stretton had certainly become a separate township. Though separated for ecclesiastical purposes, the two Strettons may, however, have continued to share the same open fields. (fn. 152)
In 1279 Richard de Harcourt had in the township 18¾ virgates which were held in villeinage, (fn. 153) but the early existence of free tenants too is indicated by John Doseville's possession in 1335 of 10 marks rent at Little Stretton, held of William de Harcourt in free socage. (fn. 154) In 1381 the poll tax was paid by 17 free tenants, a land-holder, 2 cottagers, and 15 servants. (fn. 155) As tenants on ancient demesne of the Crown, inhabitants of Little Stretton had special privileges; an instance of the way in which they exercised them is seen in the action brought by the little writ of right in Thomas de Harcourt's court in 1392. (fn. 156)
The village fields remained uninclosed until the 18th century, though part of the lands of Owston Abbey in 1360 was held in severalty and perhaps inclosed. (fn. 157) Several 16th-century testamentary inventories suggest that a three-course system of cultivation was then employed: Robert Freer, for example, who died in 1591, had 9 a. under peas, and 9 a. of wheat, rye, and barley, with presumably other parcels lying fallow. (fn. 158) Glebe terriers of King's Norton, describing land in the fields of Little Stretton in the 17th century, mention Nether, Bandaile, and Mingled Fields. (fn. 159)
The open fields were inclosed in 1771. (fn. 160) There were then about 626 a., (fn. 161) owned by 16 proprietors. (fn. 162) The largest landowner, Sir Robert Kite, received an allotment of 115 a. Only 2 people were allotted fewer than 10 a., while 4 received between 10 a. and 20 a. Much of the open-field land had been held by several substantial freeholders, each with about 2 or 3 yardlands before the inclosure, who were allotted 30 a. to 60 a. each. Twenty acres were allotted to the Vicar of King's Norton in commutation of the small tithes, and about 113 a. were awarded to the impropriator for the great tithes.
The land has been worked by a small number of farmers and graziers in the 19th and 20th centuries: 4 in 1846 and 1861, 6 in 1863, and only one-in addition to the farm manager of the C.W.S.-in 1932. (fn. 163) There have been few inhabitants in nonagricultural employment, but some frameworkknitting was carried on in the 18th century. (fn. 164) There was an inn-the 'Red Lion'-in the 19th century. (fn. 165)
A windmill in Little Stretton is first mentioned in 1314 when Margery, relict of Walter de Bereford, claimed a third part of it as dower. (fn. 166) Its connexion with this family suggests that the mill was attached to King's Norton manor. (fn. 167) The mill still existed in 1446. (fn. 168)
In the late 18th century there were separate overseers of the poor for Little Stretton, and there was a workhouse. (fn. 169) In 1802-3 18 adults and 8 children received out-relief, but there was no mention of the workhouse. (fn. 170)
Since about 1220, when Little Stretton chapel was said to be served 3 days a week from the mother church of King's Norton, (fn. 171) and probably from the beginning of the chapel's existence, the advowson of the chapel has been in the hands of the patron of King's Norton. A service was held in the chapel each Sunday in 1607, (fn. 172) but by the end of the 18th century the chapel was served only 4 times a year. (fn. 173)
In 1344 John atte Hall of Little Stretton was licensed to alienate 40s. rent there and in Cossington to Owston Abbey for the maintenance of a chantry in the chapel. (fn. 174)
The chapel of ST. JOHN THE BAPTIST is situated on the west side of the village. It is built of ironstone with limestone dressings and consists of an aisleless nave and chancel under one roof with a west tower and south porch. It dates from the late 12th century to which period belong the west and side walls of the nave, including the north and south doorways. These both have round arches, simple abaci, and plain jambs, all of limestone. The south door has an outer order decorated with round-billet ornament; the north door is blocked, the result of an order made in 1832 and fulfilled by 1835. (fn. 175) There are no Norman windows surviving and the whole of the north wall of the church is now without windows of any period. In the south wall there are five windows, the earliest of which, though restored, has forking tracery of c. 1300, at which time the church was enlarged by rebuilding the chancel so that its side walls were aligned with those of the nave. The remaining windows on this side are of two lights, two with reticulated tracery under pointed arches and two with cusped lights under square heads, all work of the later 14th century. The east window, of three lights with restored trefoil heads, was inserted late in the 15th century; the coping at this end retains stones in situ from an earlier more steeply-pitched roof.
The west tower is small, unbuttressed, and rises in three stages defined by limestone strings to a lowpitched pyramidal roof. It was added late in the 13th century but work of this period is confined to the lowest stage which was encased about a hundred years later when the upper stages were rebuilt. The tower arch and altered lancets in the east and west walls are the remains of the earlier tower; the tower arch has a two-centred rear arch which is rebated as if to carry a door. The former lancet opening in the west wall now contains a cross-shaped loophole. Above this in the central stage is a quatrefoil opening. The belfry stage has tall Perpendicular two-light transomed openings except on the north side where there is a single-light opening with a mutilated cinquefoiled head. These window openings are a curious mixture of ironstone and limestone and the tracery appears to be badly fitted. On the east face of the tower is preserved the weathering of an earlier nave roof.
The south porch has a brick front and segmental entrance arch of the early 18th century; the white wooden gate may date from 1795 when a gate was ordered to be placed in the porch to keep out children and cattle. (fn. 176) A tablet in the nave records the reopening of the church in 1899 after its restoration through the generosity of Miss Louisa King, Mr. and Mrs. Powys-Keck, and others. The architect for the restoration was Henry L. Goddard of Leicester. This work included the roof which had last undergone a major alteration in 1796 when it was covered in Swithland slates in place of lead and a ceiling was inserted. (fn. 177) The east window and many of the south side windows appear to have been partly renewed at this time by Goddard. The large brick buttresses against the north wall were probably built shortly after the blocking of the north doorway in 1832-5. Extensive traces of slate hanging on the external walls of the eastern half of the church may represent an economical means of protecting the masonry early in the 19th century.
Internally there are a few early fittings preserved of which the oldest is the octagonal stone font of c. 1300 which has side panels decorated with two plain blank pointed arches; the intermediate panels are slightly more elaborate with cusped arches. A side bench nearby has a bench-end with a poppy head. Other plainer bench-ends, also re-used, of late medieval appearance are preserved at the west end of the nave. A small locker in the north wall of the chancel has a frame and door of 17th-century date. The communion rail has heavy turned balusters and finials and dates from the early 17th century; a similar rail with balusters now serves as the front of the choir stalls on the south side of the chancel. It may have originated from the screen that separated the chancel from the nave in 1776, when it was reported, together with other fittings, to be dilapidated. The hexagonal pulpit with fielded panels, cornice, and decorative book-rest dates from 1776-7. (fn. 178)
There are no memorials earlier than the 18th century. Mural tablets include those to John Perkins (d. 1760) and his wife Susanna (d. 1749), together with their son Bartholomew (d. 1762) and his wife Mary (d. 1763). Near to the south door are tablets to Charles Seamark (d. 1755) and his wife Dorothy (d. 1776), and Jane (d. 1798), wife of the Revd. Dr. John Walker.
There is one bell, made by Edward Arnold of St. Neots in 1781. (fn. 179) The church plate consists of a silver cup, bearing the date 1782 but purchased by subscription about 1875, and two pewter plates. No early registers survive. (fn. 180)
The former Congregational chapel bears an inscription stating that it was built at the expense of George Hudson in 1811. The Leicestershire and Rutland Congregational Union was in 1929 authorized to sell the property and apply the proceeds to support the chapel at Burton Overy. Little Stretton chapel had then been disused for some time. (fn. 183) It is a small red-brick building, slate-roofed and with square-framed windows, in use in 1960 as a Young Farmers' Club.
In 1818 there were 2 dames' schools and a Sunday school in Stretton, all un-endowed, the latter supported by the dowager Countess of Rosse. (fn. 184) An infants' school was started in 1824 and in 1833 6 children were instructed there at their parents' expense. (fn. 185) Described as an 'adventure' school, it had an average attendance of 18 in 1871. (fn. 186) Nothing else is known of it.
By the inclosure award of 1771 18 a. were allotted to the overseers of the poor at Little Stretton in lieu of ¾ yardland which they had held in the open fields. (fn. 187) In 1786 the Poor's Land was let for £18 and a workhouse was built on part of it. The workhouse was used as a dwelling house by 1862 and the rent of land and house was then £42; in 1881 the rent was £35. (fn. 188) In 1837 it was arranged that part of the income should be used for educational purposes and part for poor relief and apprenticing. (fn. 189) This was apparently never carried out and the income was added to the poor rates. In 1932 the rent was said to have been paid to the Billesdon Rural District Council for the relief of rates for many years. In 1939 the rent was £30. (fn. 190)