A History of the County of Rutland: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1935.
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Ashwell is on the Leicestershire border of the county and comprises 1,835 acres, about two-thirds of which are grass land. The soil is fertile and produces the ordinary cereals and roots. A coarse kind of stone is quarried which is used for roads and as rough building material. The village lies at the crossing of the main road from Oakham to Edmondthorpe by the by-road from Whissendine to Cottesmore. The church and rectory are at the south-east angle of the crossing, and on the north side is the Old Hall with its grounds. The chief part of the village is to the south-east of the church, where the cottages with thatched or stonetiled roofs are grouped round a rough square. The new Ashwell Hall stands in a small park about half a mile south of the village. It was built in 1879 in the Tudor style, and is the seat of Col. Frederick Gordon Blair, C.B., D.L., J.P.
Thomas Mason, rector of Ashwell, was an ardent Royalist. He was several times imprisoned, plundered and otherwise maltreated for reading the Common Prayer in private houses. During his sequestration from the living he commanded a company at Belvoir Castle, and on one occasion escorted his royal master from Newark to Banbury. He was restored to the living in 1660. (fn. 1) Richard Levett, the intruding minister, was father of Sir Richard Levett, haberdasher, Lord Mayor of London in 1700. (fn. 2)
In more recent times another rector of Ashwell achieved distinction in the field, the Rev. James Adams, who died in 1903, being the only clergyman before that time who was entitled to wear the Victoria Cross. (fn. 3)
Before the Conquest Earl Harold held ASHWELL. In 1086 Gozeline held it of Hugh Earl of Chester as his man, (fn. 7) and the manor was subsequently held of the honour of Chester as a third part of a knight's fee. (fn. 8) Gozeline also held land in or near Markeaton in Derbyshire of the Earl of Chester, and both Ashwell and Markeaton passed to the Tuchet family. The chief fief of the Tuchets was at Claxton (co. Leic.), where Henry Tuchet had succeeded the Domesday tenant, Robert Hostiarius, by 1124–9. (fn. 9) Among gifts confirmed to the abbot and convent of St. Mary de Pre in Leicester by King Henry II was a grant of land in Ashwell made by Henry Tuchet. (fn. 10)
It has usually been inferred that Gozeline or Josceline, the Domesday tenant, was a Tuchet, (fn. 11) and this is strengthened by a charter of between 1143 and 1149 whereby Ranulf, Earl of Chester, confirmed to Henry Tuchet all the lands which belonged to Henry Tuchet his father and Joscelin Tuchet his grandfather. (fn. 12) Henry was living between 1156 and 1166, but by 1178 he had been succeeded by Simon Tuchet, who in the following year allowed reasonable dower to Maud widow of Henry Tuchet in Ashwell. (fn. 13) Simon's wife was Petronella. (fn. 14) In 1235–6 8s. 11d. was paid for a third of a fee in Rutland held by Thomas Tuchet of the Earl of Chester, (fn. 15) but Thomas died in 1235, when the king took the homage of Henry his son for the vill of Leigh Cumbray (co. Salop). (fn. 16) Henry was succeeded in 1242 by his brother Robert, who then paid relief for his lands. (fn. 17) In 1244 Robert had respite from taking arms till the end of the year. (fn. 18) Robert Tuchet died in 1248, his heir being then a child of 5 years whose name was unknown to the jurors. (fn. 19) The heir was Thomas Tuchet, (fn. 20) who was summoned in 1285 to answer by what warrant he claimed view of frankpledge and waif in Ashwell. Thomas said that all his ancestors from time out of mind had enjoyed these rights, except when Ashwell was in the hands of Elizabeth, grandmother of Thomas, (fn. 21) Richard King of Almain having then forced the tenants of Ashwell to come to his turn, Thomas being then a minor. The succeeding Earl of Chester had restored his rights to Thomas. (fn. 22) Thomas pleaded prescription, but it is doubtful whether he maintained his claim, and there is no mention of view of frankpledge in the inquisition taken on his death. This occurred in 1315, his son Robert then being aged 40 or more. (fn. 23) Robert did homage in June 1315. (fn. 24) He was keeper of the Castle and Soke of Melburn (co. Derby) in 1323, (fn. 25) and in 1335 settled the manors of Ashwell and Markeaton (co. Derby) upon his son Thomas and Joan his wife in tail. (fn. 26) The date of Robert's death is not known, but Thomas (then Sir Thomas) died in 1349 (fn. 27) and was succeeded by his son John, who did homage in 1351. (fn. 28) This John, who married Jane sister of Nicholas Lord Audley, was slain at Rochelle in 1371, when his son John succeeded him. (fn. 29) John may have died about 1379–80, when Ashwell is returned as held by John Dabridgecourt, (fn. 30) possibly guardian of the son and heir John who was born in 1371. (fn. 31) He became co-heir of his great-uncle Nicholas Lord Audley in 1391 and was summoned to Parliament as a baron in 1405. He took part in the Welsh wars against Glendower, and died in 1408. His son James was then only 10 years old. John's mother, Maud, held a third of the manor in dower, and in case the heirs of John, 4th Lord Audley, failed, the manor was to remain to John Tuchet, brother of Thomas Tuchet, clerk, if he would take the name and arms of Sir John. In default, the manor was to be used to found a chantry to celebrate mass for the soul of Sir John Tuchet. (fn. 32) James proved his age and had livery of his lands in 1420. (fn. 33) He distinguished himself in the wars with France and in 1447 had exemption for life from attendance in Parliament. He was slain by the Yorkists at Blore Heath in 1459. (fn. 34) His son, John Lord Audley, in consideration of his father's services, had special livery of his lands in 1459–60 without proof of age. He was taken prisoner at Calais in the next year and joined the cause of Edward IV. He died in September 1490, having settled Ashwell on his wife Ann, who survived him. (fn. 35) His son and successor Sir James joined in the Cornish insurrection and was taken prisoner and beheaded in June 1497. (fn. 36) Ashwell with his other lands escheated to the king. Sir James's son John Tuchet was restored in blood and honours in 1512, and made conveyances of this manor in 1513 and 1515, (fn. 37) the purpose of which appears to have been to sell it to Guy Palmes, serjeant at law. Guy died in 1516, the manor being then held by trustees for him. (fn. 38) His eldest son Brian succeeded and Ashwell became the chief seat of the family, who came from Yorkshire. (fn. 39) Brian was succeeded in 1528 by his son Francis, then aged 7. (fn. 40) He was in turn succeeded in 1567 by a son Francis, a minor, (fn. 41) afterwards Sir Francis, on whose death in 1613 his son Sir Guy succeeded. (fn. 42) Sir Guy was sheriff of Rutland in 1607, 1617 and 1625. His son Brian married Mary daughter of Gervase Tevery, (fn. 43) and a settlement of Ashwell manor was made in 1628, probably on their marriage, as Gervase was a party. (fn. 44) Sir Guy and Brian were Royalists, and at the outbreak of the Civil War Brian raised a regiment for the king. (fn. 45) He was knighted in 1642. Both he and his father had to compound for their estates in 1646. The fine was set at £3,905 and then reduced to £3,317, but Sir Guy was accused of undervaluing Ashwell manor and other estates and an additional fine of £600 was imposed. Afterwards the original fine was ordered to stand. Sir Brian was fined at one-sixth, or £681. (fn. 46) He died about August 1654 and Francis Palmes, his son, who succeeded in the possession of Ashwell manor, (fn. 47) died without issue. His brother and successor William, who was sheriff of Rutland in 1661, (fn. 48) appears to have been encumbered by debts and was obliged to sell some of his lands. Ashwell and other estates in the counties of Nottingham and Derby had been settled by him on his wife Mary, kinswoman and co-heiress of William Lord Eure, and in 1667 he applied for permission to make an exchange of the settled lands, as some of his estates had to be sold for payment of his debts, and he did not wish to sell the Yorkshire lands which were his most ancient paternal inheritance. (fn. 49) Ashwell was sold by him and his son Guy in 1699 to Bartholomew Burton. (fn. 50) Bartholomew presented to the church in 1743 and William Burton in 1759. (fn. 51) Bell no. 2 in Ashwell church, dated 1760, was the gift of Bartholomew Burton.
Lora, the only child of William Burton of Luffenham and Ashwell, who was a Commissioner of Excise, married in 1763 John Dawnay, Viscount Downe. (fn. 52) He predeceased his wife, on whose death in May 1812 Ashwell passed to her son John Christopher Burton Dawnay, Viscount Downe. He was M.P. for Petersfield 1787–90 and for Wootton Bassett 1790–96, and was created Baron Dawnay of Cowick in 1796. He took his seat in the House of Lords in 1800. On his death without issue in 1832 the barony of Dawnay became extinct, and his brother William Henry succeeded to the Viscountcy. (fn. 53) He was in Holy Orders and was rector of Ashwell in 1803. On his death in 1846 his son William Henry, Conservative M.P. for Rutland 1841–6, succeeded. He died in 1857, and the west window in Ashwell church is a memorial to him. His son Hugh Richard, 8th Viscount Downe, sold Ashwell manor to Westley Richards, who on his death in 1897 left it to his daughter Lady Bromley for life. (fn. 54)
In 1370 there was a dovecote, a windmill and a fishpond in the manor of Ashwell. By custom called cornbote the lord of the manor had of each tenant holding a bovate of land a sheaf of wheat and a sheaf of barley, and this custom was levied in 1370 upon 46 bovates. (fn. 55)
The land which was granted by Henry Tuchet to the monastery of St. Mary de Pre (fn. 56) does not seem to have remained in the possession of that house. It may possibly be the same estate which was held at the Dissolution by the hospital of Burton Lazars. (fn. 57) This was granted in 1544 to Sir John Dudley, Viscount Lisle, Great Admiral of England, with the rest of the possessions of the hospital. (fn. 58)
It was stated in 1586 that the Church land in Ashwell was held by the churchwardens for the use of the church, and had been employed for the maintenance of lamps before the image of our Lady, and for the payment of 2s. 8d. yearly to a priest for reading a beadrolle, as appeared by a church book dated 1515. (fn. 59)
The church of ST. MARY consists of chancel 35 ft. 6 in. by 15 ft. 6 in., with north and south chapels, nave 46 ft. 6 in. by 15 ft. 9 in., with north and south aisles, south porch, and west tower 11 ft. 9 in. square, all these measurements being internal. The chapels are continuations eastward of the aisles and cover the chancel for about two-thirds of its length: that on the north side is used as a vestry and organ chamber. The aisles are 11 ft. 6 in. and 11 ft. wide respectively, the total width across nave and aisles being 43 ft.
The building is faced with ashlar and has highpitched, slated, eaved roofs to chancel, nave and porch. The aisles are under lean-to leaded roofs without parapets. There is no clearstory. There was an extensive restoration of the fabric in 1851 under the direction of William Butterfield, when the porch was rebuilt and the roofs renewed. Internally all the walls are plastered.
The church is mainly of 13th and 14th century date, but has developed from a 12th-century building to which a north aisle appears to have been added c. 1190. The wide semicircular westernmost arch of the existing north arcade of the nave belongs to this period and is of two chamfered orders, springing on the west from a half-round respond with moulded capital and base on a high square plinth, and on the east from a cylindrical pier the moulded base of which is apparently contemporary with the respond: the arch has a chamfered hood-mould on the nave side. Originally the arcade may have been of two bays with a portion of wall at each end, but when the south aisle was added in the next century the north arcade appears to have been remodelled at its east end and is now of three bays, the older western bay being considerably the wider. The alterations in the 13th century amounted almost to a rebuilding of the church, a new chancel with north and south chapels being then erected, and a south aisle and west tower added to the nave. The former porch also appears to have belonged to this period. (fn. 60) In the 14th century the whole of the fabric was remodelled and assumed the character it has since retained, the walls being refaced and in part rebuilt, and new windows and doorways made throughout. The external appearance of the church has since been that of a 14th-century building.
Of the 13th-century work the chancel arcades, the arch between chancel and nave, the south nave arcade, the tower arch, and the arches dividing the nave aisles from the chapels are all more or less contemporary, and may be c. 1220–30. The nave arcade is of four equally spaced bays, with pointed arches of two chamfered orders on octagonal piers and keel-shaped responds, all with moulded capitals enriched with nailhead. The bases of the responds are moulded, but those of the piers are chamfered and on square plinths, all much restored: the moulded hoods towards the nave have head-stops. The chancel and tower arches, the arches of the chancel arcades, and that between the north aisle and chapel are of the same character, with keel-shaped responds and nail-head enrichment in the capitals, but the arch dividing the south chapel and aisle rests on moulded corbels, that on the north side semicircular with nail-head, and the other a half-octagon without enrichment, supported by a head. The chancel arcades are of two bays, and differ from one another only in that there is a hood-mould on the south side alone. The two easternmost arches of the north arcade of the nave are pointed and of two chamfered orders, springing from cylindrical piers with moulded capitals and bases, and at the east end from a half-round moulded corbel, which, like the capitals of the piers, is enriched with nail-head. The western pier is apparently contemporary with the western arch with a later capital introduced when the pointed arches were erected; the eastern pier is taller and slenderer, and the size of the chamfers on the two later arches is increased, while the hoods are moulded and have head-stops.
The external 14th-century work varies in its architectural detail, but is of a rather elaborate character, ball-flower ornament being used in some profusion. It occurs in a string about 3 ft. below the eaves round the chancel and chapels, and also alternately with heads and four-leaved flowers along the south aisle of the nave: it is used also in the outer hollow chamfer of both windows of the north chapel, in one in the south aisle, and in the hood-mould of the chancel window. Of the windows generally the earliest in character is the east window of the south chapel, which is of two trefoiled lights and cinquefoiled circle with soffit cusping in the head, single chamfered jambs and hood-mould with notch stops. The corresponding window in the north chapel is also of two trefoiled lights, with a trefoiled opening in the head, but it has double hollow chamfered jambs and a hood with head-stops. Two other windows have double hollow chamfered jambs, but the rest are moulded. The north window of the north chapel and two on the south side of the church (fn. 61) are squareheaded, but elsewhere the windows are pointed. The buttresses are all of two stages with triangular heads and fleur-de-lys terminations, those at the east end and on the south side having trefoil cusping.
The chancel is faced with alternate wide and narrow courses of ironstone and grey freestone and has a much-restored east window of five trefoiled lights with reticulated tracery and internal shafted jambs with moulded capitals and bases; the lower part of the window was blocked in 1851 when the present reredos was erected. The east end of the chancel stands in front of the chapels about 12 ft., but there are no lateral windows. The beautiful double piscina is much restored and seems to have been moved to the extreme east end of the wall during the restoration, when the present triple sedilia were put in. (fn. 62) The piscina has a pointed traceried head and two cinquefoiled moulded openings, and hoodmould with notch stop; the bowls have six foils, or flutings. In the north wall opposite the sedilia is a 15th-century recess 7 ft. wide and 15½ in. deep, under a round arch with heavy edge-roll, on the soffit of which, between two shallow sinkings, is a series of incised T's, probably referring to some member of the Tuchet family. On the inner face of each jamb and in the centre of the back of the recess is a small niche with embattled sill and crocketed pointed head with finials, that on the east being supported by a shield-shaped corbel on which the T device is repeated. (fn. 63)
In the south chapel is a priest's doorway with slightly ogee head and label with finial and head-stops, the jambs with an inner wave moulding and outer chamfer, and there are two windows in the south wall, that east of the doorway of two trefoiled lights with quatrefoil in the head, the other square-headed, of three lights, with reticulated tracery and returned hood-mould with head-stops. The square-headed window of the north chapel is of the same design, and at the north end of the east wall is a trefoilheaded recess, the sill of which is level with that of the window; south of the window there is a 13thcentury image bracket enriched with nail-head. (fn. 64) The piscina of the chapel is a small bowl attached to the east respond of the chancel arcade, on its north side. In the north wall of the western part of the chapel, now almost hidden by the organ, are two sedilia forming a composition of great beauty, with cinquefoiled arches, moulded jambs and mullion and hood-moulds enriched with ball-flower, set in a crocketed gable with finial. (fn. 65) The presence of an altar at the east end of the south aisle of the nave is attested by a 14th-century piscina with trefoiled head and projecting sexfoil bowl. The south doorway is modern in the 14th-century style, but the original doorway remains on the north side, the jambs of which have an outer wave moulding. The threelight windows of the north aisle have good curvilinear tracery, but in the south aisle the tracery is reticulated.
The tower appears to have been rebuilt in the 14th century, but perhaps retaining the lower portion of the walls: it is of three stages, without buttresses or vice, but externally preserves few original architectural features below the bell-chamber. The west window is modern, or an old one completely restored, and in the middle stage is a small square-headed window on each side. The tall 14th-century bellchamber windows are of two trefoiled lights with quatrefoil in the head, and the tower terminates in a battlemented parapet and pyramidal slated roof with cock vane. The 13th-century arch to the nave has already been mentioned. The lower stage is faced with grey ashlar as in the aisles, and on the north this is continued the full height of the tower, but on the other sides the facing consists of alternate courses of ironstone and freestone, as in the chancel.
On the floor of the south chapel is a cross-legged wooden monumental effigy, probably representing a knight of the Tuchet family, in hauberk, mail hose, surcoat, girdle and coif of mail, the head resting on cushions and a lion at the feet, (fn. 66) and in the same part of the church a flat marble slab with incised effigies of John Vernam (d. 1480) and Rose his wife (d. 1479) with Latin inscription round the verge. (fn. 67)
In the north chapel (vestry) is the alabaster effigy of a priest in eucharistic vestments, upon an earlier tomb of freestone: the figure retains traces of gilding and colour. (fn. 68) There is a brass plate in memory of Margaret Palmer (d. 1603) on the east wall of the same chapel, and below it a plate commemorating the benefaction of Elizabeth Wilcox (1648), 'born in this town but living in Derbyshire.' There are wall memorials in the south aisle to Westley Richards (d. 1897) and his wife (d. 1847), and to eleven men of the parish who fell in the war of 1914–19.
There is a ring of six bells, the first by C. and G. Mears of London, 1850; the second by Thomas Hedderley (I) of Nottingham, 1760; the third, fourth and tenor dated 1708, and the fifth by Edward Arnold of Leicester, 1786. (fn. 69)
The plate consists of a silver gilt cup, paten and flagon by John Keith of London, 1849–50, modern mediæval pattern, given by Viscount Downe, and a plated almsdish. (fn. 70)
The registers before 1812 are as follows: (i) baptisms and burials 1595–1760, 1764–1806, marriages 1598–1754; (ii) baptisms and burials, 1806–12; (iii) marriages, 1754–1812. (fn. 71)
Elizabeth Wilcox, by her will dated 20 April 1646, gave a piece of land situate near St. Peter's Bridge End and directed that one half of the yearly profits should be distributed by the vicar and churchwardens amongst the poor on St. Thomas's day. The endowment now consists of a sum of £952 13s. 10d. 2½ per cent. Consols held by the Official Trustees, and the annual income, amounting to £23 16s. 4d., is distributed among about 34 poor people in coal.