A History of the County of Northampton: Volume 4. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1937.
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Asbi, Esseby, Northesseby, Esseby Mares, Assheby Mares (xi–xvii cent.); Ashby Meres, Mears Ashby (xvii–xx cent.).
The parish of Mears Ashby covers 1,670 acres, mainly grassland. The slope of the land is from north to south, the highest point being 388 ft. In the northeast several acres are covered by the Ashby Furze. There are stone and sand pits in the parish. The village is situated in the centre where the four main roads converge; that from Northampton enters on the south side and a road crossing the parish from east to west connects the village with Wilby and Sywell. Two gabled houses to the south of the church are medieval but much altered in the 17th century. Swans' Pool Brook, the only stream of any size in Mears Ashby, flows through the village. The soil is partly red land and partly clay; the subsoil is composed of ironstone, clay, and freestone. Cereals are cultivated and the population for the most part is engaged in agriculture. Roman remains have been discovered in this parish; kiln 'wasters' of light grey ware were found there in 1899. (fn. 1)
Mears Ashby Hall, the residence of Major Henry Minshull Stockdale, stands on the south side of the village and is a picturesque gabled house of three stories erected in 1637 byThomas Clendon, (fn. 2) faced with local ironstone and covered with Colleyweston slates. The main front, which faces north, has projecting end wings and a central porch taken up the full height of the building and terminating in a curved gable. The other gables are straight and all the windows have stone mullions. The round-headed doorway is flanked by coupled columns carrying an entablature, above which is a semicircular arch. The house was enlarged about 1720 on the west side, but the buildings then erected were pulled down in 1859 and rebuilt on a more extensive scale (fn. 3) in harmony with the old work. The original lay-out of the grounds, with terrace and fish-ponds, remains on the west side, and the stables are dated 1647. To the east, on high ground, is a rectangular dove-cote (fn. 4) probably contemporary with the house, but a two-story garden pavilion, with pyramidal tiled roof, formerly overlooking a bowling-green, is of 18th-century date. To this period also belongs the pedestal sun-dial (fn. 5) in front of the house.
In 1086 the Countess Judith held in Ashby 4 hides. In the Confessor's time it was held by Bardi and was then and in 1086 worth £4. (fn. 6) In the 12th century these 4 hides were of the fee of David of Scotland. (fn. 7) A moiety of this property called NORTH HALF or ASHBY MEARS MANOR was held by Richard de Humez (fn. 8) before 1181, in which year he granted his lands in Ashby to the king. (fn. 9) It is subsequently found held of the king in chief. In 1280 it was held by the service of a pair of gilt spurs, (fn. 10) but between 1315 and 1417 by serjeanty of raising the right hand towards the king on Christmas day, wherever he might be in England. (fn. 11) This serjeanty seems originally to have been holding the king's stirrup at Christmas and to have been instituted before the division of the manor. (fn. 12)
William son of Richard de Humez still held lands here in 1205, but apparently these estates were forfeited about 1228 and given to Earl William de Warenne. (fn. 13) Other lands formerly held by Adam de Keret were given in 1224 to William de Serland, or Shorland, who died in 1231, leaving a widow Juliana, (fn. 14) who survived until 1258. (fn. 15) William de Blancmuster (de Albo Monasterio) was holding, apparently, about 1240, but forfeited his land as a Norman, and two years later (fn. 16) the king gave his lands to Robert de Mares. (fn. 17) In 1246 Robert was holding two-thirds of the manor, and Juliana de Cotebrok (widow of William de Serland), of whom the king had the marriage, the other third. (fn. 18) Robert died before 1260, when his widow Sybil had custody of Mears Ashby Manor during the minority of her son John. (fn. 19) She afterwards married William Marmiun, who was with Simon de Montfort at Evesham. (fn. 20) During the minority of John, Henry de Hastings, overlord of the other moiety, tried to usurp rights in this manor. (fn. 21) In 1279 John de Mares paid 20s. for half a fee and died next year, leaving Mears Ashby Manor to his son John aged 6, (fn. 22) who died in 1315 and was succeeded by his son Giles, a minor, (fn. 23) born in his father's hall at Ashby on 5 December 1307. (fn. 24) His mother Isabel held the manor during his minority and in 1319 the king granted to Elias de Assheburn the yearly rent of 60s. which Isabel paid for the estate and the marriage of Giles de Mares. (fn. 25) In 1330 Giles alienated the manor of 'Northasshby Mars' to Thomas son of Elias de Assheburn, (fn. 26) except ⅓ which his mother held for life. This apparently brought the two moieties of the manor into the same hands, (fn. 27) and both portions passed to John Darcy, who at his death in May 1347 held part in chief by the service of offering his hand to the king's stirrup and was said to hold the rest of the King of Scotland by similar service. (fn. 28) His son John Darcy was licensed in 1349 to enfeoff Richard de Salteby and Elizabeth his wife. (fn. 29) Two years later Salteby alienated it to Henry Green, (fn. 30) to whom in 1360 a third of the same manor was conveyed by Peter VI de Mauley, whose wife Elizabeth, widow of the elder John Darcy, (fn. 31) held it in dower. (fn. 32) Sir Henry (fn. 33) died in 1369 (fn. 34) and the manor then descended as Great Doddington (q.v.) until the death of Thomas Vaux, who died about 1556. (fn. 35) He was succeeded by his son William, who died in 1595 leaving his estates to his grandson Edward Vaux, (fn. 36) who in 1612 refused to take the oath of allegiance to James I and forfeited his lands; (fn. 37) but they were restored in the same year. (fn. 38) He died in 1661 and was succeeded by his step-son Nicholas, Earl of Banbury, from whom the manor passed to his son Charles. (fn. 39)
Charles, Earl of Banbury, still held the manor in 1683, (fn. 40) but about this time the property again became subdivided, and at the time of the Inclosure Award the two estates thus formed were distinguished by the names of the Court Leet Manor and the Court Baron Manor. In Mears Ashby Manor is to be found the Court Leet Manor of 1779, and its descent appears to have been as follows: between 1683 and 1685 Mears Ashby passed from the Earl of Banbury to George, Earl of Northampton, who held it at the latter date. (fn. 41) In 1719 he held a court leet here to which the townsmen paid 6s. 8d. yearly. (fn. 42) His nephew Spencer, Earl of Northampton, held this manor in 1777 (fn. 43) and the property is owned at the present day by the Marquess of Northampton.
The other moiety of Mears Ashby Manor known as SOUTH HALF remained appurtenant to the honor of Huntingdon. (fn. 44) This overlordship is last mentioned in 1417. (fn. 45) The first known tenant is William Fitz Warin, who in 1285 held one third of Ashby of the honor of Huntingdon. (fn. 46) His daughter Juliana married Elias de Assheburn, (fn. 47) who as 'chief lord' paid a fine to have the lands of a felon killed while escaping from Mears Ashby church in 1330, (fn. 48) in which year his son Thomas, as mentioned above, acquired the North Half Manor. In 1369 this estate reappears as 'a moiety of Ashby Manor held of the Earl of Pembroke'. (fn. 49) After this date it followed the same descent as Mears Ashby though not immediately losing its identity. It is separately mentioned as South Half Manor in 1417, (fn. 50) but after that date appears to have become more or less absorbed in the larger manor until the late 17th century, when it appears as the Court Baron Manor, so called in the Inclosure Award. In 1683 it was still the property of the Earl of Banbury, but in 1704 two-thirds of the manor were in the hands of Thomas Davison in right of his wife Elizabeth. (fn. 51) Thomas Davison sold his moiety of this manor to Henry Stratford in 1719, (fn. 52) from whom by 1777 it had passed to Elizabeth Mercer. (fn. 53) Thomas Mercer held as late as 1877 and at the present day Mrs. Kitley holds this moiety of the manor.
Early in the 19th century this moiety appears to have been transferred to Lewis Loyd, and descended to Lady Wantage, on whose death in 1901 the property was sold.
A mill in Mears Ashby is mentioned in 1325 when William de Assheby died seised of one which he held of the heirs of John de Mares. (fn. 57)
The church of ALL SAINTS stands on high ground in the middle of the village and consists of chancel 27 ft. 6 in. by 14 ft. 3 in., with north vestry and organ-chamber, clerestoried nave 47 ft. 10 in. by 19 ft. 6 in., north and south aisles 9 ft. 6 in. wide, south porch, and west tower 11 ft. square, all these measurements being internal.
The chancel was rebuilt on the old foundations in 1858, (fn. 58) but the round-headed priest's doorway is apparently an ancient feature and would seem to point to the original chancel having been of late-12th-century date, to which period the south doorway and probably the font belong. A wheel-head cross, of late-10th- or early-11th-century date, however, preserved in the church, presumably belongs to the site and if so indicates that there was a cemetery here, and perhaps also a church in pre-Conquest times, (fn. 59) though the first stone building would no doubt be that erected in the 12th century, consisting only of chancel and nave. The tower is of c. 1220, and later in the same period the building seems to have been remodelled, aisles thrown out and the chancel altered. The nave arcades and three pointed windows in the south aisle are c. 1280–90, but the north aisle appears to have been rebuilt about fifty years later, the square-headed windows and the pointed door being well-developed 14th-century work. The porch and west window of the south aisle are also of this period, but the clerestory is a late-15th-century addition; it has four square-headed windows on each side, and embattled parapets, with a sanctus bell-cote set over the east gable. The chancel has a modern high-pitched roof covered with Colleyweston slates, (fn. 60) but the nave and aisles are leaded, the latter having straight parapets. The tower was repaired and buttresses added in 1861.
The chancel, which is without buttresses, is built of local ironstone faced internally with Bath stone. The arch of the priest's doorway is of a single order slightly chamfered and hood-mould over, and part of the westernmost window on the south side is old, but no other ancient features remain. The piscina, sedile, and a trefoil-headed recess in the north wall are all modern. The restored chancel arch is of two chamfered orders on responds with moulded capitals; on the wall above are the remains of a painted Doom, discovered in 1858. The arcades are of four bays, with pointed arches of two chamfered orders on octagonal pillars with moulded capitals and bases, and similar responds much restored. At the east end of the south aisle is a trefoil-headed piscina, and farther west a tall narrow pointed recess, or cupboard, probably used as a locker for banner staves, or for a processional cross. The 12th-century south doorway, moved to its present position when the aisle was added, has a round arch of two square orders on moulded imposts, the hoodmould terminating in heads.
The tower is of three stages with embattled parapet and angle pinnacles. The upper or bell-chamber story has an arcade of three pointed arches on each side, with separate hood-moulds carried round the tower, and shafts with moulded capitals and bases, but the outer compartments alone are pierced. The middle stage has a small pointed opening on the north and south sides now hidden by the clock faces; the west side is blank. In the lower stage is a narrow pointed doorway on the south and a lancet window on the west, both much restored. The tower arch is of two chamfered orders. There is no vice.
The font is of the unmounted type, octagonal in shape and lined with lead. On all sides but the west it is richly ornamented with circular medallions inclosing roses, stars, and other devices, flanked with bands of interlaced work. (fn. 61) Having been long covered with plaster the ornament is well preserved. The lower part is cut back, or chamfered, and is plain.
The pulpit and other fittings are modern, but there is a 17th-century oak communion table in the north aisle; a standing poor's box with three locks, cut from a single piece of oak, may be of 16th-century date.
There is a ring of six bells cast in 1913 by J. Taylor & Co. of Loughborough from four old and one modern bell. (fn. 62)
The silver plate consists of a cup, cover paten, and alms dish of 1685, the paten inscribed 'Mears Ashby, 1686', and a flagon of 1702 given by Mrs. Sarah Kinloch, widow, in 1710. There is also a brass alms dish. (fn. 63)
The registers before 1812 are as follows: (i) baptisms and marriages 1670–1744, burials 1672–77, and 1753–7, with all entries from Lady Day 1753 to Lady Day 1754; (ii) baptisms 1754–83, burials 1754–94; (fn. 64) (iii) marriages 1754–1812; (iv) baptisms and burials 1794–1812.
The advowson of the church of Mears Ashby was granted to the abbey of Aunay by Richard de Humez and Agnes his wife before 1159. (fn. 65) During the Hundred Years War it fell into the king's hands (fn. 66) and he presented between the years 1345 and 1383. (fn. 67) In 1392 Richard II granted to the Prior of St. Anne of Coventry licence to acquire this patronage from the Abbot of Aunay, paying to the king 25 marks annually while the war lasted. (fn. 68) The Prior of St. Anne's retained the advowson until 1535. In 1562 Elizabeth granted it to John Marshe. (fn. 69) In 1625 died Justinian Bracegirdle in whose will instructions were left to buy the advowson and impropriation of Mears Ashby. The profits were to be appropriated in portions of £10 per annum to scholars of the University of Oxford and were directed by three trustees who alternately presented to the living; (fn. 70) their successors are patrons at the present day.
Church Estate. On the inclosure of lands in this parish in 1744, 4 acres of land were allotted to the minister and churchwardens in lieu of other lands vested in feoffees in trust for the general expenses of the church. The land is let for £6 yearly.
Poor's Land. Five acres of land was allotted upon the inclosure to the minister and churchwardens for the poor. This land is let and produces about £7. The income is applied in the distribution of bread and meat on New Year's Day.
Town Estate. Five cottages and gardens and several pieces of land in the open fields were devised by the Rev. Justinian Bracegirdle in 1625 for the repair of bridges and causeways in Mears Ashby.
On the inclosure of the open fields an allotment of 14 acres was awarded in lieu of the lands. The land was sold in 1920 and the proceeds invested now produce about £28.
Mrs. Sarah Kinloch, by will dated 16 June 1710, gave £200 to be invested in lands, the proceeds to be used for educating poor children of the parish. These lands, in Arthingworth, now produce about £35 yearly.