A History of the County of Northampton: Volume 3. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1930.
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This parish, to which the hamlets of Biggin and Churchfield, formerly in Oundle, were transferred in 1894, contains 5,664 acres of clay land on a subsoil of Oxford clay in the north and cornbrash in the south. Nearly the whole of this area is permanent grass, less than a fifth is arable land, growing barley and wheat, and some 356 acres are woodland and plantations. The land rises about 100 ft. from east to west, where it reaches 300 ft. above the ordnance datum. The principal road is the highway from Kettering to Oundle, which enters Benefield from Great Weldon on the west and leads eastwards into Upper Benefield, formerly called Uppthorpe, Overthorpe or Upperthorpe. Here there is a good deal of woodland, called in 1800 the Spring, Cockendale, and Blackthorns Woods; here also are the reservoir, some farms and Benefield and Springwood Lodges.
The village lies some distance southwards, in Lower Benefield, or Netherthorp, as it was called in the 17th century and later. The church of St. Mary stands on rising ground and adjoining it on the west is the moated site of the castle of the Lisurs. The date of the erection of the castle is unknown, but it may well have been one of the numerous forts thrown up during the anarchy of Stephen's reign (1138–44). It was in existence in 1208, when John seized it for the debts of Hugh de Lisurs. (fn. 1) On 15 May 1264, the day following the Battle of Lewes, Henry III, while a prisoner with Simon de Montfort, issued a mandate to the knights and others in Benefield Castle, stating that peace having been made between the king and his barons, they were not to go out of the castle nor do any ill in those parts. (fn. 2) It was probably in the following year that, the castle being held for Edward the king's son, the men of the castle plundered the manor of Biggin and crossed the river to Oundle, where and at Ashton they took a number of cattle. The men of Oundle, however, made a counter-attack and recovered many of their beasts. (fn. 3) Not long after this date the castle was probably dismantled. In 1298 it is described as an old castle, (fn. 4) and in 1315 the site of the castle only is referred to. (fn. 5) It continued a ruin and is so described in 1378. (fn. 6) Leland about 1535 mentions the site as 'the diche and mines of an old castelle.' (fn. 7) Part of the wall was still standing in Bridges' time (1724), when the inclosure was said to be square, covering about an acre of land. On the north of it was the manor house, (fn. 8) which apparently superseded the castle and is mentioned in 1445.
A furlong to the west of the village are nine Swallow Holes where the land floods occasionally flow and disappear. Banhaw Wood (the Banho or Danho in the 14th century) was said to be within the metes of Rockingham Forest, and Humphrey de Bassingbourne obtained licence to inclose 100 acres of its waste. (fn. 9) In 1820 the wood covered nearly 312 acres on the south of the parish. Eastward of this wood are the hamlets of Churchfield and Biggin Hall with a large part of its grounds, the rest of which are still in Oundle.
An Act of 1820 for the inclosure of certain waste and commonable lands in this parish preserves many place names, such as Northaws, Cobs Hurn, David's Leys, Rimington, Cockmore and Nuthalls Closes. (fn. 10) Other place names which occur are Ouldwalles and Pottereswaye, a lane near Banhaw Wood, and Fezauntes landes. In 1921 the inhabitants of Benefield numbered 410. The modern parish of Beanfield Lawns in the Hundred of Corby, which was for some purposes considered part of Benefield, though extra parochial in 1831, (fn. 11) lies about three miles distant from it. It was perhaps part of the King's fee in the 11th and 12th centuries. (fn. 12) Henry II granted the Abbey of Pipewell its pasturage and herbage, which the Abbot exchanged in 1356 for the advowson of the church of Geddington. (fn. 13) Many references to leases or grants of the custody of the launds of Benefield and to the capital messuage here are found in public records. (fn. 14)
Domesday Book accounts only for three virgates of land in BENEFIELD, which were of the King's fee (fn. 15) and were held in chief by knight's service until the latter part of the 16th century. The service varied from that of one to a quarter of a knight's fee. (fn. 16)
Wulfhere, King of the Mercians, according to a spurious charter, gave Benefield to the Abbey of Peterborough in 664, (fn. 17) but Domesday Book contains no mention of any such fee. A single hide in the Hundred of Stokes that the Survey of the 12th century ascribes to Benefield, now a farm south of Rockingham, (fn. 18) was amongst the Peterborough lands at that date. (fn. 19) The overlordship of the manor remained with Peterborough until the Dissolution, (fn. 20) when the manor was held direct of the Crown. (fn. 21)
Richard de Engaine was tenant of Benefield at the time of the Domesday Survey (1086) (fn. 22) and in the 12th century it had passed to the Lisurs. (fn. 23) According to a charter of 1166 R[ichard] de Lisurs describes Richard de Engaine as his grandfather. (fn. 24) It would appear that Richard de Engaine married more than once and the last of his wives was the widow of Richard Fitz Urse. (fn. 25) His son, Viel or Vitalis, apparently married the daughter and heir of William de Lisurs (fn. 26) and had two sons, Richard and Fulk, the former of whom occasionally and the latter regularly used their mother's surname. (fn. 27) Fulk de Lisurs, who succeeded to Benefield, was the King's forester in fee and attended the King with his horn hanging from his neck. (fn. 28) He married Alice or Adelis, sister of William de Auberville, (fn. 29) and died before 1185. (fn. 30) His son, William de Lisurs, married Isabel, daughter of Simon Fitz Simon, (fn. 31) and died without issue in 1194. He left two brothers, Hugh and Fulk, (fn. 32) and was succeeded by Hugh, (fn. 33) who died about 1207, leaving two daughters, Alice, who married Nicholas de Bassingbourne, and Eleanor, the wife of William de Ayshe. (fn. 34) The manor and castle of Benefield were seized by the Crown for debts owing by Hugh de Lisurs, (fn. 35) but were recovered by John de Bassing- bourne in 1213. (fn. 36) In 1216 King John granted the manor to Baldwin de Gisnes (fn. 37) possibly on account of Nicholas's debts, in which we find him involved in 1222. (fn. 38) Nicholas was paying scutage for his fee in Benefield in 1236 and 1243. (fn. 39) In or before 1252, he was succeeded by his son, Humphrey, (fn. 40) who, in 1273, leased the castle and manor of Benefield to Queen Eleanor, the King's mother, for £100 a year, the rent of the first twenty-five years being paid in advance to acquit Humphrey of his debts to the Jews. (fn. 41) Humphrey died about 1280, (fn. 42) and in 1298 Benefield passed from his son and heir of the same name to his grandson, another Humphrey de Bassingbourne, (fn. 43) lord of the manor in 1316. (fn. 44) This Humphrey obtained a grant of free warren in 1321, (fn. 45) a liberty which his son, another Humphrey, maintained at law some eight years later. (fn. 46) In 1330 Humphrey de Bassingbourne had three sons living, (fn. 47) but by 1343 Giles, the eldest, had died, leaving a daughter and heir, Margaret, (fn. 48) and Benefield was settled on her marriage with Walter, son of Robert de Colvile. (fn. 49) Walter and Margaret succeeded Humphrey in 1349, (fn. 50) Margaret being then fourteen, Walter not quite eight years old. (fn. 51) Walter was dead before the close of 1367, and his infant son, Robert, survived him less than two years. (fn. 52) In accordance with the settlement of 1343 the castle and manor of Benefield descended to the heirs of Robert de Colvile, Walter's father. (fn. 53) These were Ralph Basset of Sapcote and John Gernoun, the former being grandson of Elizabeth, one sister, the latter son of Alice, the other sister of Robert's father, Edmund de Colvile. (fn. 54) In 1377 the manor of Benefield was settled on Ralph Basset, (fn. 55) who died seised of the manor and castle in the following year. (fn. 56) His widow, Alice, held the manor and a third of the castle as dower. She died in 1412, when her heirs were their daughter, Elizabeth, wife of Richard Lord de Grey, and Robert Moton, grandson of Alice, Ralph's elder daughter, (fn. 57) whose father, William Moton, had died seised of the site of the castle and lands in Benefield nearly twenty years before. (fn. 58) Richard Lord de Grey died in 1418 seised of the manor and a moiety of the castle in right of his wife, Elizabeth. (fn. 59) In 1445 Elizabeth, who survived her husband about thirty-three years, settled the manor on John Zouche and his wife, her daughter Elizabeth, (fn. 60) and a few months before her death she granted them her moiety of the castle. (fn. 61) John Zouche, who had settled a third of the manor on his second wife, Eleanor, widow of John Melton, died in 1501. At her death in 1519 (fn. 62) she was succeeded by her son, John Zouche. In 1529 his younger brother David claimed for himself and his late brother Lionel, a share in the family estates under his father's will. (fn. 63) John Zouche was succeeded about 1531 (fn. 64) by his son and heir George, who died in 1557. His son and heir was another Sir John Zouche, (fn. 65) who with his wife Elizabeth settled the castle and manor. (fn. 66) He died in 1586 (fn. 67) and his son John Zouche with his wife Mary settled the manor in 1590 (fn. 68) and in the following year sold it to Sir Christopher Hatton, the Lord Chancellor. (fn. 69) Sir Christopher died without issue in 1591, heavily in debt to the Crown. (fn. 70) His heir was his nephew William, son of his sister Dorothy, wife of John Newport, who took the surname of Hatton on his uncle's death. (fn. 71) In 1594 Sir William Hatton settled the castle and manor of Benefield on himself and his heirs male with remainder to his daughter Frances. William and Francis Tate, (fn. 72) two of the trustees, obtained a lease of the property from the Crown the next year. (fn. 73) Sir William died without male issue within two years. (fn. 74) According to the settlement of the late Lord Chancellor, (fn. 75) Benefield should have passed to Sir Christopher Hatton of Kirby, his first cousin, (fn. 76) but Sir Robert Rich and his wife Frances, Sir William Hatton's daughter, obtained the interests of the Crown and of the Zouche and Hatton families. (fn. 77) In 1641 Robert, then Earl of Warwick, with Robert and Charles Rich, his sons by Frances, made a settlement of the castle and manor of Benefield among other estates on the marriage of Charles with Mary, daughter of the Earl of Cork. (fn. 78) Charles, who succeeded his elder brother in the earldom in 1659, (fn. 79) with his wife Mary, sold Benefield in 1666 to Thomas Bromfield of London and others, (fn. 80) possibly acting on behalf of Sir Thomas Middleton, who held the manor from 1676 to 1689. (fn. 81)
Shortly after this date the manor was held by William Marquis of Powis, who already held the adjoining manor of Oundle. In 1724 he sold Benefield to James Joye, (fn. 82) and from this date it followed the descent of Oundle (q.v.).
In 1280 there was a windmill (fn. 83) in the Peterborough fee, and in 1367 a windmill and a watermill (fn. 84) probably stood on the same sites as the two mills of the manor of 1566. A dovecote also is mentioned (fn. 85) at this date. Sir Thomas Brudenel received a grant of free warren within the manor of Benefield in 1616. (fn. 86) The Knights Templars held view of frankpledge over their tenants in Benefield, as did their successors of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem in England. (fn. 87)
The church of ST. MARY stands on the south-west side of the village and consists of chancel with vestry, clearstoried nave of four bays, north and south aisles, north porch, and west tower surmounted by a broach spire. At the east end of the north aisle is a transeptal extension formerly used as a choir vestry, but since 1925 as a memorial chapel. (fn. 88)
With the exception of the chancel, which is of 14th-century date, the whole of the church was rebuilt in 1847 at the charges of James Watts Russell, the patron, (fn. 89) in a style roughly approximating to that of the older parts (14th century) of the building then pulled down, but differing in many respects from that structure. The aisles and vestry are under separate gabled roofs, and all the roofs are eaved and covered with grey slates. Bridges describes the old church as consisting of 'body, north and south aisles and chancel, all leaded,' (fn. 90) with an embattled tower and spire at the west end; the chancel also was embattled, and the north aisle was prolonged at its east end as a chapel, covering the chancel for about a third of its length. A drawing of the building made before its demolition shows the nave and north aisle (fn. 91) to have been completely modernised, probably in the 18th century, the windows of the clearstory being elliptical and those of the aisle plain undivided pointed openings. (fn. 92) There was a north doorway to the chancel. The upper part of the present tower differs completely from the original design, which had single pointed bell-chamber windows of two lights. The chancel was restored and modernised internally in 1847, and a screen erected, but the elaborate mural decorations then carried out perished in course of time, necessitating a further restoration in 1897, when a new altar and reredos were erected and other work carried out. (fn. 93) In 1901 the south-west corner of the tower was underpinned and rebuilt, and the spire repaired. (fn. 94)
The chancel has an original east window of five lights with reticulated tracery, restored in parts. On the south side are three restored windows of two lights, and a similar single window at the east end of the north wall. The chancel has double angle buttresses of two stages, and a moulded plinth and string. The piscina and sedilia were 'renewed' in 1847. Three carved misericord seats, said to have come originally from Fotheringhay church, were purchased at Tansor in 1899 and placed in the chancel, one on the north and two on the south side. In 1904 a loft was added to the screen, (fn. 95) and above it a rood with attendant figures, a staircase being added in 1906. All the other fittings, together with the font and pulpit, are modern.
In the chancel is a brass plate to Elizabeth Grant (d. 1608) inscribed 'my child-bed was my death-bed: thanks I gave to God that gave a child, and so I died.' Under the tower is a marble slab to Mark Lewis, s.t.p., rector (d. 1620).
Until 1911 there were five bells, but in that year a treble, by Taylor of Loughborough, was added, making a ring of six. The second (old treble) is by Henry Penn of Peterborough, 1713, the third by Thomas Eayre of Kettering, 1755, the fourth by C. and G. Mears of London, 1847, the fifth dated 1733, and the tenor by R. Taylor of St. Neots, 1815. (fn. 96)
The silver plate consists of a cup and cover paten of 1570, a paten of 1637 inscribed with the names of the churchwardens of 1658, and a silver-gilt cup, two patens, and a flagon of 1843. There is also a modern plated cup, paten and flagon. (fn. 97)
The registers before 1812 are as follows: (i) baptisms 1570–1705, marriages 1570–1695, burials 1570–1684; (ii) baptisms 1705–1742, marriages 1696– 1742, burials 1685–1742; (iii) baptisms 1743–1812, marriages 1743–1778, burials 1743–1812; (iv) marriages 1778–1812.
The church (fn. 98) was in the gift of the lord of Benefield in 1225, (fn. 99) and has followed the descent of the manor (q.v.) since that date. In 1329 William of Benetfeld obtained licence to alienate land in this parish to a chaplain to celebrate divine service daily in the church of Benefield for the King and the souls of himself, his ancestors and benefactors, (fn. 100) and in 1515 William Newman bequeathed 40s. to the same church 'to by a coope.' (fn. 101) Its rectory was the occasion for several suits in the 16th century in which the lord of the manor was involved. Between 1525 and 1529 the parson, Richard Robinson, appealed to the Star Chamber against George Zouche the patron 'and also a man of great strength and powre' for keeping him out of his benefice by force and threats. (fn. 102) More than thirty years later George's son and heir, Sir John Zouche, was sued in Chancery by Thomas Washington, clerk, for withholding the deed of presentation by which he had granted him the living and instituting another rector. (fn. 103) The plaintiffs of 1591 were laymen—Francis Flower who sued the last Zouche lord of Benefield and his uncle, William Zouche, for non-fulfilment of an undertaking to sell him a lease of the rectory of Benefield, and William Tate, who complained of the detention by the same defendants of the indentures and bonds by which they had sold him the same rectory. (fn. 104)
Church Estate. In 1683 the Commissioners of Charitable Uses decreed that the rent of certain tenements and lands, which had been given by the family of Bennington, should be applied to and for the repair of the Parish Church. Under the Inclosure Act passed in I George IV, an allotment of 13 a. o r. 4 p. was set out and awarded to the Churchwardens in lieu of the original property. The land produces £20 yearly and the Charity is also possessed of £100 5 per cent. War Stock standing in private names and representing accumulations of income.
Poor's Land. The same Commissioners in 1683 found that certain sums of money given by persons named Bennington and Wright for the poor had been laid out in the purchase of a close of land containing 4 acres. The property consists of a field at King's Cliffe containing 5 a. and let for £4 5s. yearly.
The Poor's Money. The Commissioners previously mentioned found that other persons gave altogether £80 for the poor. This money was originally secured on a mortgage, but has since been invested in £87 19s. 8d. Canada 3½ per cent. Stock with the Official Trustees of Charitable Funds and producing £3 1s. 8d. yearly in dividends. The income of the Poor's Land and the Poor's Money is distributed in doles on St. Thomas's Day to about 18 poor.
By his will dated 1783 the Rev. Francis Broade gave £100 to the Rector and Churchwardens the income to be distributed to the Poor on Good Friday. The money is now represented by £103 15s. 3d. Canada 3½ per cent. Stock with the Official Trustees of Charitable Funds and producing £3 12s. 8d. yearly in dividends which is distributed among about 18 poor.