A History of the County of Warwick: Volume 4, Hemlingford Hundred. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1947.
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Austrey lies 4 miles north-east from Polesworth station. It lies on new red sandstone; the soil is various, principally a rich loam, and much of the parish is under grass. The parish was inclosed in 1796. (fn. 1)
There is a Baptist chapel, built in 1808; and in 1672 the Presbyterians were licensed to meet in the house of John Kendall (fn. 2)—perhaps an ancestor of the George Edward Kendall of Austrey, one of whose daughters married in 1845 John Sobieski Stuart, (fn. 3) the pretended descendant of the Young Pretender.
The parish is a small one and the village lies mostly north of the church. In the roadway south-east of the church are the stone base and four steps of the ancient village cross, all of octagonal plan. The cross itself is modern, erected to commemorate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1897. There are a few old buildings, some with altered fronts, but at least three of them show old timber-framing. One immediately east of the churchyard is a small rectangular cottage with square framing of the 17th century and a central chimney-stack. Another on the west side of the village street about ¼ mile north of the church is a larger building of L-shaped plan with 17th-century square framing.
Bishop's Farm about ¼ mile north-west of the church is of early- to mid-16th-century date. It is of two stories and of rectangular plan facing north-west with walls of close-set studding. There are two ground floor rooms with a central chimney-stack between them which has a wide fire-place towards the south-west room. This room also has an open-timbered ceiling. The other room has a smaller fire-place that has an overmantel of two bays with three carved terminal figures and a carved frieze; it bears the date 1621. The room is lined with early-17th-century panelling. At the back is a middle small stair-hall with an ancient plain staircase.
King Eadred, probably in 948, gave to his thegn Wulfric 5 hides (mansas) at Austrey (æt Alduluestreop). (fn. 4) Wulfric Spot, the founder of Burton Abbey, by his will (fn. 5) left Austrey to the wife of a certain Morcar, in 1004. Part of the vill was subsequently given or confirmed by Earl Leofric to the abbey, who held it in 1086 as 2½ hides. (fn. 6) At the time of the Domesday Survey, Niel d'Aubigny also held Austrey, partly (5½ hides, 1 virgate) in chief and partly (2½ hides) of Henry de Ferrars. (fn. 7) The manor appears to have been held of the Aubignys in the reign of Henry I by Hugh son of Richard of Hatton. (fn. 8) His grandson Richard son of William in 1214 granted to Hawise de Tracy, widow of his elder brother Hugh, the vill of Austrey, as dower. (fn. 9) Richard died without issue and his widow Maud held the manor in dower. After her death the manor was divided between Richard's heirs, his sister Maud, who had married for her first husband Stephen de Nerbone, and her great-nephew Thomas de Clinton, grandson of her sister Margery, who had married Osbert de Clinton. After Maud's death her two daughters Margery de Nerbone and Margery, daughter of Walter de Roleya, Maud's third husband, divided their mother's moiety between them; and after the death of Margery de Roleya, who married Geoffrey de Cauz and died without issue, the half of the manor was reunited in the hands of Margery de Nerbone, who had married Robert de Stivichale. She granted her share to the abbey of Burton; (fn. 10) which grant was confirmed by William d'Aubigny of Caynhoe, overlord of the whole manor. The land remained in the possession of the abbey of Burton until its dissolution in 1538, when for a short time it belonged to the Collegiate Church founded in the place of the abbey; (fn. 11) but this did not long survive and the land, having come into the king's hands, was granted by him to Sir William Paget (fn. 12) in 1546. In January 1555 Sir William conveyed the manor of Austrey to Lady Eleanor Brereton, widow of Sir William Brereton, and her son Richard Brereton. (fn. 13) Richard died 20 August 1559 (fn. 14) and was succeeded by his son George, who died seised of the manor in 1587, leaving a son William, (fn. 15) but its further descent cannot be traced.
The Ferrers land in Austrey became annexed to the Honour of Tutbury. Earl Ferrers was the overlord of a half-fee in Austrey in the first half of the 13th century, and the sub-tenant in 1242 appears to have been a certain Walter Ottel'. (fn. 16) Although Osbert son of Thomas de Clinton granted a messuage in Austrey with the advowson of the church to the Abbot of Burton, (fn. 17) the Clinton family seem to have retained some land at Austrey throughout the 14th century. (fn. 18) It also seems that at that time the Ferrers lands, now a parcel of the Duchy of Lancaster, had come into the hands of the Clintons as under-tenants. The manor was held jointly by Sir John Clinton and his wife Elizabeth, and after his death she and her second husband Sir John Russel continued to hold it, (fn. 19) but it evidently reverted to the heir, William Clinton, and from that time it followed the descent of the chief manor of the Clintons of Maxstoke until 1540, when Sir Edward Clinton, Lord Clinton and Say, conveyed the manor of Austrey to Jane Fynes, Lady Clinton, for life with reversion to James Leveson of Wolverhampton, (fn. 20) who gave it with his daughter Elizabeth to Walter, son and heir of Sir Edward Aston; (fn. 21) from Sir Walter Aston, who died 2 April 1589, it descended to his son Edward, (fn. 22) who died on 1 February 1597, leaving a son Walter aged 13. (fn. 23) Dugdale states that Sir Walter Aston, K.B., sold the manor of Austrey to the tenants, (fn. 24) 'about the reign of Charles'. (fn. 25)
Margery de Nerbone, daughter of Maud, daughter of William son of Hugh, in 1252 granted to Richard, Prior of St. Sepulchre, Warwick, 50s. of rent from land and a windmill in Austrey. (fn. 26) At the time of the Dissolution St. Sepulchre, Warwick, held land and a mill in Austrey in the occupation of William Warwick. (fn. 27) The land later came into the hands of the Robinson family, (fn. 28) where it remained until 1635, (fn. 29) at least. In the 17th century, and perhaps in the 16th, land was held there by the Crispe family. (fn. 30) Henry Crispe, who died 15 December 1632, (fn. 31) held a messuage in Austrey; his son William Crispe was aged 22 at the time of his death and may perhaps be the defendant in a Chancery suit concerning lands in Austrey at some date later than 1649, brought by Grace Crispe, widow, mother of William Crispe, heir to lands in Austrey. (fn. 32)
The Abbess and Convent of Polesworth held land in Austrey by grant of Hugh son of Richard (12th century), (fn. 33) but there seems no further reference to it until 1545, when Richard, Roger, and Robert Taverner had a grant of property late of Polesworth Abbey, including a tenement in Austrey in the occupation of John Symond. (fn. 34)
The tower dates from the 13th century. The remainder was rebuilt and enlarged c. 1330 and is a good example of the best architecture of this period, graceful and well proportioned and with typical mouldings but few carvings. In 1844 the chancel was refaced externally with new stonework and the windows restored. The south porch is of that date, but there was an earlier porch.
The chancel (about 35½ ft. by 19½ ft.) has modern windows, presumably restorations or copies of the original 14th-century windows. The east window is of four cinque-foiled lights and tracery in a two-centred head. Each side-wall has two windows each of two trefoiled lights and a quatrefoiled circle in a pointed head; the splays are cemented. The priests' south doorway between the windows may be ancient; it has jambs and a pointed head moulded with a round between hollows, and a chamfered segmental-pointed rear-arch. The walling inside is faced with grey and pink sandstone rough ashlar, but at the tops of the side-walls are several courses of modern bricks. The modern external facing of walls and buttresses is smooth cream-tinted ashlar. The plinth is moulded and the lowest two or three courses above it are badly perished in all three walls as compared with the upper masonry although of the same material. The roof is modern, in three bays with arched trusses and panelled soffits up to the ridge.
In the south wall are the remains of an original piscina and three sedilia. The piscina has a plain chamfered ogee-head and round basin. The sedilia now have a single segmental arch and are in one recess with remains of half wall-shafts at the back. The heads originally had projecting ornately carved facing stones. Three of these were found buried in the walling during a restoration, and are now lying loose in the nave. They show that the sedilia had cinquefoiled ogee heads under a square main head, all projecting about 10 in. from the main wall-face; the faces and projecting sides are treated with tracery panels. A fourth piece is probably half the head of the piscina and is similarly treated.
The nave (about 56½ ft. by 19½ ft.) has lofty north and south arcades of four 14 ft. bays. They and the chancel-arch are all of one date (c. 1330) and design. The piers are clusters of four half-round filleted shafts with smaller rolls between them, and the responds of the arcades and chancel arch are similar. They have moulded bases and bell-capitals. The two-centred arches are of two sunk-chamfered orders with hood-moulds towards the nave; all of a white stone. (fn. 35)
The clearstory has a window over each bay, of two pointed trefoiled lights and a quatrefoiled spandrel in a two-centred head with a concentric rear-arch. The walls are of ashlar; the gable-ends have old copings, and the kneelers at their bases are carved with human-head corbels.
The roof is of four bays with arched trusses, all modern and covered with slates. On the east face of the tower are the marks of the gabled roof of the former 13th-century nave rising from the level of the base of the clearstory. It also appears in the north aisle, and presumably the original nave was wider than the present one.
The north aisle (10¼ ft. wide) has an east window of three trefoiled ogee-headed lights and modern foiled intersecting tracery in a two-centred head with an external hood-mould having return stops. The jambs are wave-moulded and the splays of ashlar. In the north wall are three windows, each of three trefoiled pointed lights under a two-centred head with an external hood-mould. Some of the jamb-stones outside are scratched with masons' marks, crosses, arrows, &c.
The north doorway in the third bay has moulded jambs and pointed head; it is now blocked. The west window, probably of two lights, has lost its mullion, &c., and is walled up inside with 18th-century masonry. The walls inside and out are faced with cream-tinted ashlar and have plinths like that of the chancel. At the angles are square buttresses and the north buttresses divide the wall into four bays; all have gabled heads.
The south aisle is a replica of the other, except that the doorway is a little more elaborately moulded. On the masonry are many masons' marks and at least four scratched medievalsun-dials. The west window is walled up inside with modern masonry. In the south wall is a piscina with moulded jambs and trefoiled ogee-head.
The west tower (10½ ft. square) of about mid-13th-century date is built of small square grey stones in courses; it has a plinth with a projecting top course above two splays. At the top is a corbel-table of heads and masks with trefoiled arches between them. At the angles are massive square buttresses of four stages reaching nearly to the corbel-table and having gabled heads. On the north side are two additional modern lower buttresses.
The lanceolate archway towards the nave is of three chamfered orders; the two outer of grey-white tooled stones are original and die on the square jambs, the innermost, of darker and smooth stones, was inserted in the 14th century and is carried on corbel caps, the northern carved as a man's head, the southern now cut square. The archway is now closed by a thin modern wall and the lowest story is used as a vestry, another wall closing off the lobby and stair inside the west doorway. The doorway, of the 14th century, has wave-moulded jambs and pointed head of two orders with an external hood-mould. Above it are traces of a former window. The lancet window in the south wall appears to be a modern insertion.
The second story sets back a little in each face. It has a small restored lancet in the west wall and a south window of two trefoiled lights and a quatrefoiled circle in a two-centred head. In the south half of the east wall below the markings of the 13th-century naveroof is a blocked round-headed doorway or hatch. It is too high for a gallery and was perhaps put in to give a view of the high altar from the ringing chamber.
The bell-chamber has a similar two-light window in each wall. There is a crack up the middle of the west wall. The broach-spire is of ashlar; at the apices of the broaches are carved bosses. The spire has two ranges of four gabled windows, each of two trefoiled lights and a quatrefoiled spandrel in a two-centred head.
There is a little 14th-century glass in the south-east window of the south side. (fn. 36) The head of the middle light has richly coloured tabernacle work, yellow with green in the middle tracery, blue in the side tracery, and red background to the pinnacles above. At the bottom of this setting are the Lombardic capitals S: WILELM: EBOR but no figure. In the top foil is a red shield charged with emblems of the Passion in green, white, blue, and yellow. The whole has a border of heraldic leopards' heads alternating with plain red and blue squares. The trefoiled heads of the side lights have borders of running vine with yellow stems, green leaves, and red background. They are filled in with quarries having a scroll tendril pattern and small yellow flowers. In the small spandrel piercings are yellow foliage patterns in plain borders.
The font has an octagonal bowl, plain stem and base. It may be of the 15th century, but looks modern. There is a 5-ft. framed oak chest of the late 16th century with fleur-de-lis straps. In it are copies of Foxe's Book of Martyrs, with a ring for chaining, and Jewel's Apology; also churchwardens' accounts from 1708, and overseers' accounts from 1755. (fn. 37) In the nave stands a 13th-century stone coffin 7 ft. long.
In about 1155 Hugh son of Richard of Hatton, with the approval of Margaret his wife and of his sons William and Richard, gave the church of Austrey to the Priory of St. Mary of Monmouth (a cell of St. Florent, Saumur), of which his stepson Robert was prior. (fn. 38) It must, however, have reverted to his descendants, as Margery (daughter of Maud, the daughter of William son of Hugh, by her third husband Walter de Raleya) with her husband Geoffrey de Cauz and her half-sister Margery de Stivichale granted the advowson of the church of Austrey to Thomas de Clinton in exchange for the church of Melcombe in Dorset (fn. 39) in 1252. Before 1270 Thomas gave it to his son Osbert, (fn. 40) and in 1271 Osbert gave it to the abbey of Burton. (fn. 41) In 1322 the church was appropriated to the abbey, (fn. 42) with which it remained until the Dissolution. The possession was not, however, entirely undisturbed as in 1284 Thomas de Clinton claimed the advowson, but the Abbot of Burton made good his claim, (fn. 43) as he did on subsequent occasions. (fn. 44) In 1328 the Bishop of Ely, who appears to have held some land in Austrey, (fn. 45) claimed the advowson, (fn. 46) but he withdrew his claim and it was suspected that the suit was collusive. After the Dissolution Henry VIII in 1540 leased the rectory of Austrey to George Clifford. (fn. 47) The advowson seems to have been included in the grant of the manor to Sir William Paget in 1546, as in 1554 William, Lord Paget, had licence to grant his rectory of Austrey with the advowson of the vicarage to Joan widow of George Robinson, mercer of London, and William Robinson their son. (fn. 48) The advowson subsequently came into the hands of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, who in 1579 granted it to Queen Elizabeth in part exchange for lands in Denbigh. (fn. 49) From that time the living has remained in the gift of the Crown.
The rectory of Austrey during the first two centuries after it came to the Crown was frequently leased for a term of years. Among the more famous lessees were Lady Lettice, Countess of Leicester (Leicester's widow), to whom it was leased by James I, (fn. 50) Robert, Earl of Essex, (fn. 51) and Frances, Countess Dowager of Somerset. (fn. 52) In 1665 it formed a part of Queen Catherine's jointure. (fn. 53)
John Lakin by will dated 8 April 1630 gave £40 to purchase lands, the profits to be employed equally towards the maintenance of the church and the relief of the poor of Austrey. Anne Lakin gave £10, Florence Brown £3, and John Prior £7, to be employed for the use of the poor of Austrey. This £60 was used to purchase a close at Little Appleby, which was afterwards sold for £100.
Elizabeth Smith by will dated 7 Oct. 1696 gave to the poor of Austrey £100, and Thomas Monk gave £26 on condition that 26s. worth of bread should be given to the poor annually. These sums with £9 accumulations, amounting to £135, were invested in land at Barwell. The endowment now consists of a farm at Austrey containing 13 acres and let at a yearly rent of £25 which is distributed to the poor of the parish.
Hill's Charity. A sum of £10 was left by a Mr. Hill, the interest to be given in bread to the poor of Austrey. The endowment now produces 13s. annually, which is distributed to the poor of the parish.
John Fletcher by will proved 10 June 1926 devised to the churchwardens of Austrey his cottage at Orton on the Hill and directed the rent thereof to be distributed in coal to the poor widows and widowers of the parish. The cottage is let for about £12 p.a., which is applied as directed.
Thomas Monke by will dated 22 Aug. 1713 devised all his tenements in Austrey, Blaby, and Countesthorpe to trustees, upon trust to keep in repair the monument erected by the testator in Austrey Church to the memory of his son and to pay yearly £10 in putting out as an apprentice a poor boy of Whitwicke and similarly £10 in respect of a poor boy of Austrey and £5 in providing entertainment for the trustees; the residue of the rents and profits to be applied for such charitable uses within the parishes of Measham, Shenton, Austrey, and Whitwicke as the trustees should select. The whole of the property, with the exception of 2½ acres of land at Countesthorpe, has been sold and the proceeds invested in stock. A Scheme of the Charity Commissioners of 15 Aug. 1922 appoints a body of five trustees to administer the charity, and after providing for the repair of the monument and the entertainment of the trustees referred to above directs the residue of the income to be applied as follows:—In apprenticing poor boys or in making payments for the benefit of the poor of Austrey, Measham, Whitwicke, and Shenton under one or more of the various heads set out in the scheme. The income amounts to about £460 per annum.