A History of the County of Northampton: Volume 4. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1937.
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The area of the civil parish of Whiston is 833 acres of land and water. The soil is red and heavy, the subsoil clay, ironstone, and limestone, the chief crops cereals and roots. (fn. 1) The population was about 14 families in 1720, (fn. 2) which would about equal the 66 persons of 1921; it has since declined to 49. (fn. 3)
The small village, not far from the Nene, the northern boundary of the parish, is pleasantly situated at the foot of Combe Hill, on which stands the 16thcentury church. Place House, a detached farm-house on the west side of the village, with remains of a moat, incorporates some portions of a medieval building, two buttresses of which are attached to one of the angles of the present house, which is a plain rectangular building of two stories with mullioned windows (fn. 4) and thatched roof. There is a local 'tradition' that the original house was a seat of King John. (fn. 5)
Brihtnoth, who became earldorman of the East Saxons about 953 and died in 991, (fn. 6) gave WHISTON and all appurtenances to Ramsey Abbey, in perpetual alms. Edgar the Peaceful, Edward the Confessor, and other kings confirmed, as did Pope Alexander III in 1178. (fn. 7)
In 1086 the abbey held 3 hides in Whiston and Denton and also a house and 5 acres of land in Brafield pertaining to Whiston. (fn. 8) Of half an acre of this last estate Countess Judith had the soke, as well as 1 virgate attached to Yardley Hastings. (fn. 9) In the 12th century the abbey fee was 1½ hides, the Huntingdon fee of Countess Judith's successor, King David, 1 'great' virgate. (fn. 10) The vill was held of Ramsey Abbey in 1284; (fn. 11) and the manor was said to be held in chief in 1347 and 1392 (by the service of a rose at midsummer), (fn. 12) but after the Dissolution it was returned in 1554 as held of Henry Williams alias Cromwell as of the manor of Ramsey by the service of 1/9 knight's fee. (fn. 13)
The under-tenant in the 13th century owed forinsec service to the abbey, a knight for the king's army, two suits yearly at the court of Broughton, Huntingdonshire, and, if the king's writ ran, suit at the three weeks' court. (fn. 14)
William de Whiston, living 1120, (fn. 15) was undertenant of the abbey's 1½ virgates here. (fn. 16) His son Henry had succeeded, by special grant of the abbot, by 1130; (fn. 17) and other sons, Thomas and Ralph, are mentioned. (fn. 18) Sir Henry de Whiston, knight of the abbey, was succeeded in about 1191 (fn. 19) by William, steward of the abbey in 1219, (fn. 20) who held 1/9 fee of the abbey in Whiston and Denton in 1242 (fn. 21) and was elected knight of the abbey for Wales in 1245. (fn. 22) Sir William de Whiston was summoned to do homage at Broughton in 1253; (fn. 23) orders were passed for distraint in default until 1260. (fn. 24) Not long after this the manor was alienated to a Jew, Moses, and he enfeoffed Gilbert de Clare, 'the Red', Earl of Gloucester, (fn. 25) who in 1284 held the vill of Ramsey Abbey as a ¼ knight's fee. (fn. 26) His son and heir Gilbert, the last Earl of Gloucester of the house of Clare, in 1313 granted the manor to Gilbert de St. Owen and his wife Joan, (fn. 27) possibly in trust. (fn. 28) In 1316 the vill with 'the other half' of Denton was returned as in the possession of Margery de Meuse and John de Cave; (fn. 29) but Margaret, one of the sisters and heirs of Earl Gilbert, inherited Whiston manor from him. (fn. 30) She married Hugh de Audley, created Earl of Gloucester in 1336. (fn. 31) His manors, including Whiston, descended to the Staffords, and Thomas, Earl of Stafford, in 1392 granted the manor to his esquire Nicholas Bradeshawe for life. (fn. 32) Nicholas died in 1415, (fn. 33) and the king as guardian of Humphrey, son of Earl Edmund, granted the custody of the manor to Sir William Bourghchier. (fn. 34) Humphrey in 1437–8 exchanged this manor and Woodford with Sir John Clinton for the castle and manor of Maxstoke, Warwick. (fn. 35) Between 1454 and 1457 John, Lord Clinton, made conveyances of this manor, (fn. 36) evidently for settlement on Joan his wife, who afterwards married Sir Robert Wingfield. (fn. 37) In 1495–6 Elizabeth daughter and heir of Robert Wingfield and wife of Sir Robert Brandon, quitclaimed her rights in the manor to Robert Wingfield, esq. (fn. 38) This was probably merely for security of the title of the Catesbys, to whom the manor had already passed.
Sir John Catesby, Justice of the Common Pleas, disposed in his will of his manor of Whiston. He died in 1486 leaving an eldest son Humphrey (fn. 39) whose son and heir Anthony, called 'of Whiston' and the builder (1534) of the present church, (fn. 40) succeeded in 1503, (fn. 41) and died seised of the manor in 1554, leaving a son Thomas. (fn. 42) He was father of another Thomas (fn. 43) and of many daughters. Thomas in 1591 settled the manor on the marriage of his son George with Bridget Bedell, and died in 1592. (fn. 44) Bridget made a conveyance in 1602 of the site of the manor; (fn. 45) and in 1627 she and George granted about 200 acres in Whiston and Denton to Clifton Catesby, son and heir of George. (fn. 46) Clifton's son George in 1656 demised the manor for 50 years to John Palmer of Ecton, clerk, and John Ekins of Rushton; but they surrendered it in 1665 to Thomas, brother and successor of George, for other property. (fn. 47) Thomas, the last of the line, died in 1699, leaving his wife Margaret, grand-daughter of Sir Richard Samwell of Upton, in possession; in 1720 she held the manor and owned the whole parish. (fn. 48) All their children died young except Mary, who married the Hon. Henry Paget, afterwards Earl of Uxbridge, and Elizabeth, who married Ralph Freeman of Aspeden, Hertfordshire. (fn. 49) The two daughters and Henry Paget, Mary's husband, made a settlement in 1699 of manor and advowson, (fn. 50) evidently on Mary and Henry, whose daughter married Sir Edward Irby, bart., of Boston, Lincolnshire. Sir Edward was succeeded in 1718 by his son William, created Baron Boston in 1761. He was a 'King's Friend' and ancestor of a line of Tory politicians. His wife was buried at Whiston in 1769, he in 1775; but he had purchased the estate of Hedsor, Bucks., and there his son Frederick built the present family seat. He was succeeded in 1825 by his son George and he in 1856 by his son George Ives, the fourth baron. He died in 1869, and his son Florance George Henry in 1877, when the latter's son, George Florance, the present Lord Boston, succeeded. (fn. 51)
The church of ST. MARY THE VIRGIN stands on Combe Hill, above the village on its east side, and consists of chancel, 16 ft. by 15 ft. 6 in.; nave, 61 ft. 6 in. by 15 ft. 6 in.; north and south aisles, each 10 ft. 9 in. wide; small south porch, and west tower, 11 ft. square, all these measurements being internal. There is no structural division between the nave and chancel, the length of which together is 77 ft. 6 in., and the total internal length of the church 92 ft. 6 in. The width across the nave and aisles is 41 ft. There is no clerestory.
The church was built in 1534 by Anthony Catesby and his wife, and their son John, and has remained unaltered. It is a very interesting unspoilt example of late medieval design, and has been described as 'a small but perfect specimen of the Tudor style', (fn. 52) but its details preserve all the character of the best work of the 15th century, and there is little structural evidence of its late date. In Bridges' time, however, there still existed in one of the windows the remains of an inscription which read 'Orate pro . . . Antonii Catesby Armigeri et Isabelle uxoris ejus Domini . . . Johannis Junioris generosi ejusdem Antonii . . . qui quidem Antonius, Isabella et Johannes hanc Ecclesiam condiderunt . . . quingentesimo tricesimo quarto. . . .', (fn. 53) which if rightly recorded places the year of building beyond doubt.
Except in the tower, where limestone and local ironstone are used in decorative contrast, the walls are wholly faced with dressed limestone, with chamfered plinths, moulded bases, strings at sill level, and battlemented parapets. The roofs are of low pitch and leaded: the aisles are under separate ridged roofs, but with raking parapets at the ends. The building is planned symmetrically, and though in the main the detail is rich it is distributed judiciously and is not overcharged. Internally, except in the tower, all the walls are plastered and the floors flagged.
The chancel has large clasping angle buttresses and a four-centred east window of five lights, with moulded jambs and mullions, Perpendicular tracery, and hood-mould. The battlemented parapet is continued along the east gable, with a cross at the apex: the north and south walls of the chancel are blank.
The nave arcades (fn. 54) are of four bays, with four-centred moulded arches on pillars composed of four attached columns disposed around a cylindrical core, with moulded bases and capitals, and from responds of similar character. The spandrels are richly ornamented with blind tracery below a moulded string, and over the pillars are scroll-bearing angel corbels supporting slender roof shafts with moulded capitals and bases.
The aisles overlap the chancel about 5 ft., the easternmost bay of each being therefore longer than the others. The external setting out of the bays follows that of the arcades, with two-stage buttresses opposite the pillars, the end buttresses being placed a foot from the angles. The aisle windows are all four-centred, with moulded jambs and mullions, those in the north and south walls being of four lights and the east and west windows of three. The hood-moulds have plain stops and the trefoiled lights have feather cusping: the sills are about 8 ft. from the ground. The south doorway is below the window of the second bay from the west; it has a continuous-moulded four-centred arch and is covered by the porch, which measures internally only 6 ft. by 2 ft. The porch has a battlemented parapet and panelled stone roof: its outer moulded arch rests on slender jambshafts with moulded capitals and is within a square frame, the spandrels of which contain blank shields. At the east end of the south aisle, in the position usually occupied by the piscina, is a plain pointed chamfered recess, but without indication of a basin. There is no piscina in either the chancel or north aisle, but there is a doorway in the north wall of the aisle near its east end.
The oak roofs of the nave and aisles are excellent examples of the work of the period, with moulded and carved principals, and moulded ridges, purlins, and rafters. The roof of nave and chancel is continuous, of five subdivided bays, the main principals placed, as already described, over the pillars of the arcades, and the intermediate ones supported by shields carved with various devices.
The tower is the most highly ornamented part of the fabric, full use having been made of the contrast in colour between the deep yellow of the ironstone and the silver grey of the oolite. It is of four main stages, with clasping buttresses terminating at the top of the second stage in elaborate traceried and crocketed gables, over which they are continued in different form, first square and then diagonal, ending above the parapet in lofty pinnacles. The bottom stage is in alternate courses of yellow and grey stone, with a string at mid-height going round the buttresses, at the angles of which are small carved figures. There is a band of quatrefoils above the moulded base and on the west side a four-centred elaborately moulded doorway, the original square frame or hood-mould of which has been cut away. Over the doorway is a four-centred window of three lights, but on the north and south sides the bottom stage is blank. The second stage is wholly faced with ironstone except for a single course near the bottom, and has a cusped lozenge-shaped opening on all three sides, that facing west having in the middle a shield with the arms of Catesby quarterly.
The bell-chamber windows in the upper limestone stage are wide four-centred openings of four trefoiled lights under a square hood-mould with unpierced spandrels, and the merlons of the elaborate battlemented parapet are panelled, the string below having four carved bosses and a gargoyle on each side. Beneath is a band of quatrefoils and trefoils set diagonally. There is a vice in the south-west angle. The tower arch to the nave is rather sharply pointed and is of three chamfered orders without a hood, the two outer orders continuous and the inner one on half-round responds with moulded capitals and bases. The tower floor is one step below that of the nave.
The font is contemporary with the church, and consists of an octagonal panelled bowl and pedestal on two square steps. It has an interesting Jacobean oak cover with twisted balusters supporting a small canopy.
There are good oak Jacobean baluster altar rails, and the altar table is of approximately the same period, with curved legs. In the nave are a number of plain open fixed seats with good mouldings and ornamented at the ends with small buttresses: though in part much restored they appear to be contemporary with the building. The pulpit dates from 1855.
There is a scratch dial under the window west of the porch. (fn. 55)
On the north wall of the chancel is a marble monument to Thomas Catesby (d. 1699) with busts of himself and wife, and in memory of Sir John Catesby (d. 1485) and his succeeding heirs, (fn. 56) and there are inscribed floor-slabs to the same Thomas Catesby and to George Catesby (d. 1658), and Margaret widow of Clifton Catesby (d. 1662). There are also memorials in the chancel to George Irby, 1st Baron Boston (d. 1775 and here buried), and his wife (fn. 57) (d. 1769), and to the Hon. Edward Methuen Irby, killed at Talavera 1809; and in the aisles to members of the Irby family and others ranging from 1792 (fn. 58) to 1883, including Frederick, 2nd Baron Boston (d. 1825), Paul Anthony Irby, rector (d. 1865), Florance George Henry, 5th Baron Boston (d. 1877), and Charlotte Isabella, Countess of Orkney, and daughter of the 3rd Lord Boston (d. 1883). (fn. 59)
On the south wall of the chancel outside is a stone panel in memory of Edward Martyn (d. 1620) and his wife Winifrid Say, who 'lived together 54 years as patterns of religious and vertuous life', and had issue six sons and four daughters. (fn. 60)
There is a ring of five bells, the first by Thomas Russell, of Wootton, Bedfordshire, 1729, the second an alphabet bell by Hugh Watts of Leicester 1611, the third inscribed 'S. Anna' and bearing the mark of Thomas Newcombe of Leicester (c. 1567–8), and the fourth and fifth by Hugh Watts II of Leicester dated respectively 1635 and 1638. (fn. 61)
The plate consists of a cup of 1570 and a 17thcentury paten inscribed 'Whishton'. There is also a pewter plate. (fn. 62)
Pope Alexander III in 1178 confirmed the church to Ramsey Abbey, (fn. 63) which had probably already granted it to William de Whiston with the manor. His successor Sir William de Whiston was patron in 1231, when he presented William de Whiston, sub-deacon, to the church. (fn. 64) He presented Roger de Whiston, subdeacon, ten years later and was patron in 1248; (fn. 65) but the advowson would not have been alienated with the manor to Moses and so to the Earl of Gloucester. Agnes de Byfield apparently owned it in 1277, when she was sued by the earl; she did not appear, (fn. 66) and he presented, therefore, in 1278; (fn. 67) but Alice daughter of Michael de Muncore of Whiston in 1301 (fn. 68) presented and afterwards, 1304–5, granted the advowson with half a virgate of land to Robert de Byfield and Alice his wife and his heirs. (fn. 69) Hugh, Earl of Gloucester, revived the claim to the advowson against Robert's son John de Byfield, but John recovered seisin, (fn. 70) and presented in 1346. (fn. 71) Nicholas Hobbeson [sic] of Moulsoe and Joan his wife presented in 1421, William Castell of Glatton and Isabel his wife in 1430; (fn. 72) perhaps the wives were co-heiresses. In 1459 Richard Hobbes of Moulsoe conveyed half the 'manor' of Whiston with the advowson to trustees; (fn. 73) but his son and heir Master Thomas Hobbes, S.T.P., presented in 1506. (fn. 74) This manor and advowson were granted by Thomas Rowthall in conveyances 1529–32 to Anthony Catesby (fn. 75) the builder of the present church. The advowson has since descended with the main manor (fn. 76) and is now in the gift of Lord Boston. The living is a rectory.