A History of the County of Northampton: Volume 4. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1937.
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The parish of Blisworth covers 1,980 acres; the soil varies from a strong clay to a light mixed soil and towards the wood a black loam. The parish abounds with limestone and ironstone; large quantities of the latter have been removed for the ore. The land yields excellent crops. The population is close on 800. A railway station on the main line of the L.M.S. lies about three-quarters of a mile from the village. For ten years (until the branch line was constructed under the act of 1843) Blisworth was the station for Northampton. The Grand Union Canal runs through Blisworth and passes to the neighbouring parish of Stoke Bruerne through a tunnel 1¾ miles in length. This tunnel was built in 1806 and the contractor—who was known as 'Barnes of Banbury'—was a man who could neither read nor write; he carried out all his calculations and estimates by strength of memory.
The village contains many 17th- and early-18thcentury houses, mostly of mingled freestone and ironstone, with thatched or slated roofs. A barn with steep-pitched roof at the east end of the village has a panel in the gable inscribed '1663 G.B.' A few of the houses retain their mullioned windows, but in most cases the windows have been altered.
At the time of the Domesday Survey William Peverel held 3½ hides in BLISWORTH. (fn. 1) On his death in 1114 the land passed to his son William Peverel, who held at the time of the Northamptonshire Survey. (fn. 2) He forfeited his lands for treason, and at Michaelmas 1157 the king granted to Robert de Peissi land in Blisworth and Newbottle of the annual value of £43. (fn. 3) In 1181 his son Robert held Blisworth, (fn. 4) but the next year he was succeeded by William son of Robert. (fn. 5) In 1189 Richard I granted the overlordship of Blisworth to his brother John Count of Mortain, who held the manor until 1194 when the king resumed possession of the honor of Peverel. At that time Matthew de Clere held Newbottle and Blisworth, of the yearly value of £43. (fn. 6) In 1199 the king granted to William de Ferrers, Earl of Derby, the grandson of Margaret, heiress of William Peverel the younger, the overlordship of the hundred of Higham, Blisworth, and Newbottle, in return for the payment of 2,000 marks. (fn. 7) Isabel, widow of Robert de Peissi, sued the Earl of Ferrers for these estates, but the case was dismissed as Isabel had no right in the land except by her husband, who had it by grant of Henry II when the honor of Peverel was in his hands. (fn. 8) William de Ferrers died in 1247 and was succeeded by his son William Earl of Derby, who died in 1254 leaving a son Robert, who was born in 1239. He received livery of his lands in 1260 but forfeited them six years later, when the honor of Peverel was granted to Edmund Earl of Lancaster, and became incorporated in the duchy of Lancaster.
William Earl of Derby granted the manor of Blisworth and the advowson of the church to William Briwerre, to be held as half a fee, the grant being confirmed by King John in 1199. (fn. 9) The next year Briwerre was given leave to assart 60 acres of woodland at Blisworth. (fn. 10) In 1212 he was granted timber from the forest of Leicestershire to build a cellar and chamber at Blisworth, (fn. 11) and the following year had a licence to cultivate 30 acres more woodland, quit of the regard. (fn. 12) In 1220 he was granted 24 trunks for posts and squared beams and 2 crooks from Salcey Forest for rebuilding his houses at Blisworth. (fn. 13) On his death in 1227 the manor descended to his son William, who died in 1232, Blisworth being allotted to his widow Joan in dower. (fn. 14) The next year the manor was assigned to William de Percy in the name of his daughters, the coheirs of a fifth of the property of William Briwerre. (fn. 15) Joan seems to have retained possession of the manor, however, which descended on her death in 1265 (fn. 16) to Sir Baldwin Wake, the grandson of Isabel de Briwerre, sister and coheir of William and wife of Baldwin Wake of Bourne. He took part with the barons against Henry III, for which offence the king granted his manor of Blisworth to Alan Plugenet, who held it in 1266. (fn. 17) Sir Baldwin probably redeemed it under the award of Kenilworth, and held view of frankpledge and other privileges there in 1276. (fn. 18)
Sir Baldwin is said to have died on 4 February 1282, (fn. 19) and on 20 July the king committed the manor, which was valued at £32 8s., to Philip Burnel. (fn. 20) Baldwin's son and heir John by his second wife, Hawise de Quincy, being a minor, the king granted the custody of his lands in Northamptonshire to Edmund Earl of Cornwall, on 27 October 1282. (fn. 21) The next year Hawise Wake brought an action against the earl claiming that she and her husband had been seised of the manor jointly, but the case was dismissed as the joint conveyance had not been properly carried out. (fn. 22) John came of age in January 1295, (fn. 23) and before his death in 1300 enfeoffed his uncle Sir Hugh Wake of Deeping in the half fee in Blisworth, reserving to himself the advowson of the church and an annual rent of £10 from the manor. (fn. 24) On his death in 1315 (fn. 25) Sir Hugh Wake was succeeded by his son Thomas, who was granted free warren in Blisworth on 22 February 1330. (fn. 26) In the same year he defended his right to view of frankpledge in the manor. (fn. 27) He married Elizabeth daughter and heir of Hugh Cransley, and was succeeded about 1346 (fn. 28) by his son Sir Thomas Wake, the husband of Alice sister and co-heir of William de Pateshull. (fn. 29) He was living in September 1379, (fn. 30) but probably died soon after, leaving Blisworth to his wife for her lifetime. On her death in 1398 she was succeeded by her grandson Thomas, the eldest surviving son of her son Thomas, (fn. 31) who had died in August 1383. (fn. 32) He was married to Margaret Philipot, the sister of Sir John Philipot, citizen and grocer of London, to whom Richard II had granted the lands and marriage of Sir Thomas Wake's heir in September 1383. (fn. 33) Thomas Wake died before 1425, and the manor passed to his son Thomas, who was then about 23 years old. (fn. 34) He married Agnes daughter and heir of Thomas Lovell of Clevedon, Somerset, and died on 10 September 1458, (fn. 35) being succeeded by his son Thomas, who was born about 1434. By his first wife, whose name is not known, he had two or three sons, the eldest of whom, Roger, succeeded him on his death in May 1476. (fn. 36) As a follower of Richard III he was attainted by Henry VII, his manor of Blisworth being granted to Sir James Blount. (fn. 37) His lands were subsequently restored by Act of Parliament in 1487. (fn. 38) He died 16 March 1504 leaving the manor of Blisworth to his wife Elizabeth daughter of Sir William Catesby of Ashby Ledgers, during her lifetime. (fn. 39) She then married Sir John Grey, fourth son of Thomas Marquess of Dorset, and was succeeded by her son Thomas Wake, who sold Blisworth manor to Sir Richard Knightley of Fawsley in 1522 or 1523. (fn. 40) Sir Richard died in December 1535 leaving Blisworth to his younger son Sir Edmund Knightley and Ursula his wife. (fn. 41) They granted the manor to Henry VIII in 1542, in exchange for other property, (fn. 42) and it was incorporated in the newly created honour of Grafton. (fn. 43) The stewardship of the manor was granted to Sir John Williams in 1545. (fn. 44)
In 1592 or 1593 the site of the manor was granted to Thomas Andrew of Charwelton, (fn. 45) whose grandson Thomas was living there in 1618. (fn. 46) In 1628 Blisworth, with ten other manors, was conveyed to Sir Francis Crane, the manager of the Mortlake tapestry works, as security for a loan of £7,500 advanced to the Crown. (fn. 47) Seven years later the site of the manor was leased to Sir Robert Cooke for a period of thirty-one years. (fn. 48) In a survey of Crown estates made in 1660 Blisworth is noted as containing 894½ acres of arable land, 405 acres of pasture, and no meadowland. (fn. 49) On the expiration of Cooke's lease in 1665 Charles II granted the manor with much other property to Denzil Lord Hollis, Philip Earl of Chesterfield, and five others. (fn. 50) In 1673, however, Blisworth was given by the king to Henry Earl of Arlington, with remainder to his son-inlaw Henry Fitzroy, (fn. 51) who succeeded on his death in 1685. He was created Duke of Grafton in 1675, and Blisworth remained in the hands of his descendants until 1919, when most of the Northamptonshire estates of the Dukes of Grafton were sold.
The church of ST. JOHN THE BAPTIST consists of chancel, 30 ft. 4 m. by 18 ft. 8 in.; clerestoried nave, 61 ft. 6 in. by 18 ft. 8 in.; north and south aisles, 11 ft. 6 in. wide; north porch, and west tower, 9 ft. 10 in. by 9 ft. 6 in., all these measurements being internal. The north aisle is the full length of the five bays of the nave, but the south aisle (fn. 52) is of three bays only. The width across nave and aisles is 47 ft. 2 in.
The building generally is of roughly coursed limestone, mingled in the tower with local ironstone. The roofs of the chancel and nave are slated, those of the aisles leaded, and the porch is covered with modern tiles. There are straight parapets to the chancel and aisles: the nave roof overhangs. Internally, except in the tower, all the walls are plastered.
The chancel and the three eastern bays of the nave belong to a late-13th-century aisled church, the nave and north aisle of which were extended westward, the aisle being rebuilt, and perhaps widened, about 1320– 30. The tower followed later in the 14th century. The south aisle appears to be its original width, having a chapel at its east end separated from the rest by a 13th-century transverse arch, and roofed at right angles to the nave with a gable to the south. The north and south (fn. 53) doorways are also of 13th-century date with edge rolls. With the exception of the porch, which seems to have been added or rebuilt in the 15th century, no further change in the plan was subsequently made. In the 15 th century, however, new windows were inserted in the chancel and the clerestory erected or reconstructed.
The chancel is of two bays and has two 13th-century windows on the south side, the south wall being substantially of that period, but in the 14th century the east and north walls were either wholly rebuilt or refaced. The pointed five-light east window has tracery of an unusual type, (fn. 54) which is probably of this date, and the angle buttresses are placed diagonally: a chamfered plinth and string occur only on the north and east. On the north side the two bays are equal, each containing a 15th-century pointed window of three cinquefoiled lights with vertical tracery, and a blocked doorway in the western bay, but on the south side the bays are unequal in size. Of the two earlier pointed windows in the south wall the easternmost is of two uncusped pointed lights with a trefoiled circle in the head, and has double-chamfered jambs and a hood-mould. In character it is earlier than the other, which is also of two lights but with a forked mullion and the jambs have an outer hollow chamfer; but the whole of the earlier work in the church is of a type that seems to have prevailed in Northamptonshire from about 1260 to 1300 and even later, which it is difficult to date accurately without documentary evidence. Further west, its sill considerably higher than the others, is an inserted 15th-century three-light window like those opposite, and at a lower level in the south-west angle of the chancel a plain rectangular low-side window, now blocked. (fn. 55) In the wall opposite, at the north-west angle, is a smaller blocked low-side opening of 15thcentury date, with trefoiled head and rectangular hoodmould, splaying widely to the east inside. (fn. 56) The late13th-century piscina has a plain double hollowchamfered recess and projecting fluted bowl supported by a shaft with moulded capital. There are no sedilia. At the south-west angle of the chancel is a squint, now blocked, from the aisle. (fn. 57) The low, widespread chancel arch is a 14th-century reconstruction contemporary with the western extension of the nave; it is of two chamfered orders, the inner on half-octagonal responds with moulded capitals and bases. There is a good 15thcentury oak chancel screen with traceried openings, plain bottom panels, and moulded top. The stalls have been much restored. The baluster altar rails are apparently of late-17th-century date. The chancel roof is modern. (fn. 58) The 15th-century rood-loft stair remains in a very perfect condition on the north side of the chancel arch at the east end of the nave arcade, the wall being thickened for the purpose. The lower doorway is four-centred, and the upper one square-headed with a battlemented moulding. (fn. 59)
The late-13th-century south arcade of the nave consists of three pointed arches of two chamfered orders, with hood-mould on each side, springing from octagonal pillars with moulded capitals and bases and from responds of similar character. The bases have a double roll, except that of the west respond which is not moulded, and the capitals differ slightly in detail, that of the westernmost pillar having a band of small trefoils and quatrefoils below the abacus. The three corresponding arches of the slightly earlier north arcade are of the same general character, but the bases are chamfered and on square plinths and the capitals are less in height. When the arcade was extended westward the old respond was re-used and two new pillars and arches erected. The new bays carried on the general design, but the mouldings of the capitals and bases indicate their later date.
The south aisle is without buttresses, and though rebuilt preserves much of its former character. The arch dividing the chapel at its east end from the rest of the aisle is of two chamfered orders, springing from the easternmost pier of the arcade and from a respond with moulded capital. The chapel is lighted at the south end by a large square-headed window of five lights with moulded jambs and mullions, (fn. 60) below which, inside, is a late wall recess with flat moulded ogee arch. (fn. 61) A former piscina has disappeared. The aisle is also lighted by a modern pointed two-light window, to the west of which is the doorway. In the south wall of the nave, between the aisle and the tower, is a pointed window originally of three lights the mullions of which have been removed.
The north aisle has a small diagonal buttress at the north-west angle, and is lighted by three windows in the north wall and one at each end. The east window is square-headed and of three trefoiled lights, apparently a 15th-century insertion, and that at the west end is also square-headed but of two lights, and it has been altered and the lower part blocked. The small pointed window in the north wall west of the porch is of two trefoiled lights with double-chamfered jambs and hoodmould, but the mullions of the two larger ones east of the porch have been renewed. The late-13th-century pointed doorway has a continuous moulding. The east end of the aisle is screened off for a vestry.
The porch has a high-pitched roof with a coped gable at each end, standing above the aisle roof, and a pointed outer arch with continuous mouldings; in the gable above is a stone inscribed 'a.d. 1607, w.d., c.m.'
The tower is of three stages divided by strings, with moulded plinth and pairs of four-stage buttresses at its western angles reaching to the top of the second stage, above which there are small diagonal buttresses. In the bottom stage is a restored pointed west window of two trefoiled lights, but the north and south sides are blank. The middle stage has a small trefoiled opening on each side, that on the north now covered by a clock dial, and the pointed bell-chamber windows are of two trefoiled lights with a quatrefoil in the head. The tower terminates in a battlemented parapet without pinnacles. There is no vice. The pointed arch to the nave is of two continuous chamfered orders with hood-mould on the east side and a single order on the west.
There are portions of medieval glass in the tracery of the north-west window of the chancel. (fn. 64)
The table tomb of Roger Wake (d. 1503–4) and his wife Elizabeth Catesby is below the south window of the chapel, in front of the arched wall recess, and is of freestone with a Purbeck marble slab on top. The sides are panelled with shields of arms. On the slab are the brasses of Roger and his wife, with groups of seven sons and three daughters below, a shield in each angle, and a brass inscription round the verge as follows: 'Here lyeth Roger Wake Esquyer Lorde of Blysworthe in the countie of Northampton and Elyzabeth his wyffe . . . which Roger decessyd the xvj day of March the yere of our Lord God Mo ccccciij, on whose soule Ihū have m'cy.' (fn. 65)
In the chancel are wall monuments to Margaret Blackey (fn. 66) (d. 1673) and Rebeckah Yates (d. 1679), wife of Jonathan Yates, rector. In the nave is a memorial to twenty-three men of the parish who fell in the war of 1914–18.
There is a ring of five bells, the second and third by Bartholomew Atton of Buckingham 1624, the fourth by Henry Bagley III 1713, and the first and fifth by Thomas Eayre of Kettering 1758. (fn. 67)
The plate consists of a cup of 1570, a 17th-century paten (c. 1636), a cup and paten of 1845, an alms dish of 1846, and a flagon of 1870. (fn. 68)
The registers before 1812 are as follows: (i) all entries 1545-January 1703–4; (ii) baptisms and burials Sept. 1705–71, marriages till 1753; (iii) marriages 1754–1812; (iv) baptisms and burials 1772–1812. The entries in the first volume are imperfect till about 1557.
On the north side of the church, by the path leading to the porch, are the steps and socket-stone of a churchyard cross. (fn. 69)
The right of presentation to the church was granted to William Briwerre by the Earl of Derby, and confirmed by King John in 1199. The advowson passed with the manor to Sir Baldwin Wake on the death of Joan Briwerre. When his son John conveyed the manor to his uncle Hugh Wake he retained the advowson and the rent of £10 from the manor. The advowson and rent passed to his sister and heir Margaret, wife of Edmund of Woodstock, Earl of Kent, whose son John Earl of Kent died seised of them in 1352. (fn. 70) His heir was his sister Joan, 'the Fair Maid of Kent', wife of Sir Thomas de Holand and secondly of Edward Prince of Wales. She died in 1385 seised of the rent and advowson, (fn. 71) which passed to her son Thomas de Holand, Earl of Kent. He died in 1397, (fn. 72) and his son Thomas was charged with high treason in 1399. The advowson had, however, been assigned to his mother Alice in dower in 1398 and she died in possession of it in 1416. (fn. 73) Her heirs were her five grand-daughters; one of these was Eleanor Countess of March, who predeceased her, leaving as heir a son Edmund Earl of March, who died seised of one fifth of the advowson in 1425 leaving three co-heirs; (fn. 74) but Joan, widow of Thomas Earl of Kent, died in possession of the advowson in 1442, held in dower by assignment of the heirs of Alice. Her heir was Humphrey Earl of Stafford, her brother's son. (fn. 75) The advowson probably reverted to the crown when his great grandson Edward Duke of Buckingham, Earl of Stafford, was attainted in 1523. The advowson was granted to Sir Christopher Hatton in May 1579, (fn. 76) and remained in the possession of his family until the 19th century. The living was in the gift of the Rev. W. Barry, the rector of Blisworth, and his descendants from 1839 to 1930, but was then acquired by the governors of Canford School, Dorset.
In 1504 Roger Wake left some land in Bedfordshire for the foundation of a chantry in the chapel of St. Mary the Virgin, the chaplain of which was also to keep a free grammar school in the village. The school was called Roger Wake's Chauntre and Free School, and at the confiscation of the chantry lands was continued by the warrant of the Chantry Commissioners, with a fixed stipend of £11 charged on the revenues of the Crown. All trace of a grammar school had disappeared by the beginning of the 19th century, and the stipend has ever since been attached to the salary of an elementary schoolmaster. (fn. 77)
Jane Leeson by her will proved in 1649 charged certain lands with payments for the poor of many places (including £1 10s. a year for Blisworth) to be distributed by the rector, churchwardens, and overseers of the several towns and villages. This sum is now distributed to the poor by the rector and four trustees appointed by the Parish Council of Blisworth.
Maria Anne Westley by her will proved 3 March 1931 bequeathed the net proceeds of her 3 messuages to the trustees of the Blisworth Baptist chapel, to apply the income towards the stipend of the minister of the said chapel. The endowment is now represented by £139 11s. 9d. 3½% War Stock.