A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 10, Cheveley, Flendish, Staine and Staploe Hundreds (North-Eastern Cambridgeshire). Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 2002.
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In 1256 Kennett had a church, whose advowson remained in the hands of the lords of the manor throughout the Middle Ages. (fn. 1) In 1557 John Willoughby, held the right of presentation, which was exercised by successive lords of the Petre family in the late 16th century. (fn. 2) In 1643 John Chenery presented Oliver Bryant, suggesting that the Petre family had sold that turn, but in 1696 the lord of the manor, Sir Samuel Barnardiston, presented. (fn. 3) The advowson remained attached to the lordship during the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries, but in 1751 the bishop presented by lapse. (fn. 4) In 1958 the advowson was not sold with the lordship to Mr. G. Lofts, although he believed that he had the right to choose the rector. (fn. 5) In the late 20th century the patronage was held by the heirs of Mrs. Sickles, who lived in Philadelphia (U.S.A.). (fn. 6) Proposals to unite the benefice with the neighbouring living at Chippenham in 1929 came to nothing, owing to the opposition of Kennett's squire. (fn. 7) The living was nevertheless thereafter held in plurality with neighbouring livings in Suffolk and Cambridgeshire, and since 1974 was held with neighbouring Fordham, whose vicar was in charge at Kennett in 1997. (fn. 8)
The living remained an unappropriated rectory during the Middle Ages. In 1279 the rector had 30 a. of glebe. (fn. 9) During the 17th and early 18th centuries the 35 a. of glebe was divided between the three fields in 24 blocks of 1/2-2 a. (fn. 10) Under the inclosure award of 1823 the rector was allotted 31¾ a. (fn. 11) His main portion, 29 a. of arable, lay south of the church. (fn. 12) The new rectory house was built on that land in the early 1830s, reducing the arable to 28 a. (fn. 13) In 1912 a plan to sell the glebe to the lord was rejected, but 3/4 a. was sold in 1925 at the insistence of the rector. (fn. 14) In 1947 the remaining glebe was sold, except for 3/4 a. reserved as the site for a new rectory house, but finally sold in 1967. (fn. 15)
In 1254 the rectory was valued at £8, and the rector received another 5s. from land in neighbouring Elveden (Suff.). (fn. 16) In 1291 it was taxed at £12, and in 1535 valued at £11 10s. 8d. (fn. 17) In the late 13th century the lord of the manor paid part of his tithe in kind with corn, and calves. (fn. 18) About 1650, when the tithes were often taken by composition, the rectory yielded c. £60 a year, (fn. 19) and was worth no more in the early 18th century. (fn. 20) In the 1830s the gross income of the living was £135 a year, its net income £116. (fn. 21) In 1837 the rector was awarded a rentcharge of £200 in lieu of his tithes: in 1851 his gross income was £223, comprising £200 from commuted tithes, and £23 from the glebe rent. (fn. 22) By 1887 the worth of the living had declined to £180 gross, and in 1928 the glebe rent had fallen to only £5. (fn. 23) In 1929 the rector's request for an augmentation was rejected, but in 1931 he was given an additional £13 a year. (fn. 24)
There was a parsonage house in 1279. (fn. 25) In 1674 it had 4 hearths, and in 1712 a barn and stable yard were attached to it. (fn. 26) The rectory house, which may have stood north-east of the parish church beside the old village street, was dilapidated and probably demolished in the late 1840s. (fn. 27) William Godfrey, however, reported ample accommodation in 1851. (fn. 28) In 1897 a new rectory was built opposite the church at the southern end of the village street. Between 1901 and 1929 it was occupied by successive rectors. (fn. 29) In 1937 the drainage was improved, and a modern bathroom installed. (fn. 30) That house, however, was too large to maintain, and in 1947 it was sold off, remaining in private ownership thereafter.
In the 14th century Kennett was held successively by six rectors, one serving for 33 years. (fn. 31) There was a rapid succession of six rectors between 1439 and 1465, but John King served from 1465 until 1509. In the 16th century the parish was served by eight rectors: James Slater was deprived in 1555 for simony. His successor remained in office until 1580. In the early 17th century successive rectors held the living in plurality with neighbouring parishes in Suffolk. (fn. 32) In the late 17th and early 18th centuries John Fairclough (d. 1696) and his son Richard (d. 1751) served in succession, effectively acting as squires. (fn. 33) The living was held by John Bullen, 1756-75, and by his son Thomas, 1810-13, in plurality with livings in Suffolk, while Anthony Richardson was rector during the intervening years. (fn. 34) In 1806 he preached at Kennett on every Sunday. (fn. 35) George Mingay, who took over as vicar in 1813, also conducted services c. 1813-20 in Chippenham and Wicken for their absentee incumbents. (fn. 36) After 1827, following his appointment as chaplain to the duke of Rutland and rector of Wistow (Hunts.), he was probably rarely at Kennett, resigning in 1833.
His successor, William Godfrey (d. 1900), was a popular incumbent, respected and admired by the parishioners. (fn. 37) He paid for the restoration of the parish church in 1859, and brought numerous benefits to the village. (fn. 38) Problems, however, arose after his death as a result of confusion between glebe and manorial land. (fn. 39) His successor resigned in 1912 to take over the neighbouring living at Chippenham. (fn. 40) Ernest Wooton served Kennett until he resigned in 1929 because of old age, under pressure from the patron and his ecclesiastical superiors. (fn. 41) Wooton also served Kentford, assisted by a curate, and sought to improve the value of Kennett. (fn. 42)
Between 1603 and 1676 the number of communicants increased from 50 to 63. (fn. 43) The number receiving communion was c. 20-25 in the early 19th century, but in 1873 had risen to 46, before falling back to c. 23-25 c. 1885-97. (fn. 44) Communion was celebrated four times a year in 1806 and 1820, in 1813 only three times a year, and in 1873 there was only one celebration a year. There was one service every Sunday during the early 19th century, and by 1851 two morning services and an evening one. Both in 1851 and in 1897, although there were no dissenters, about a third of the adult parishioners did not regularly attend church.
The parish church, named for ST. NICHOLAS by 1279, stood next to the main village street until c. 1865-73. (fn. 45) After the diversion of the road eastwards it was approached by a hedge-lined avenue. Its design has been described as 'a miniature Ely cathedral', with its 15th-century west tower dominating the church and the surrounding landscape. (fn. 46) The church, built of flint and rubble, also includes a chancel and an aisled nave with north porch. (fn. 47) The nave and north porch date from the late 12th and early 13th centuries, and the chancel from the 13th century. The lancet windows at the east end date from the late 12th century or early 13th. In the nave there are 14th-century arcades of four bays, with octagonal piers and double chamfered arches, and a 14th-century rood screen and font. The double piscina dates from the 13th century, and has flowered drains and grape clusters carved at the ends of the moulded arches. In 1859 the church was thoroughly restored at the rector's expense, and in 1866 his sister paid for new stained glass. (fn. 48) The church plate and oak altar are mid 19th-century. There are memorials to Sarah Chenery (d. 1607), and to Oliver Godfrey (d. 1817) and his son William (d. 1843) and grandson William (d. 1900), set on the south wall of the chancel and in the west wall of the nave. There are three bells, one of which dates from the 13th century. (fn. 49) An organ, built by the students of Soham village college in the 1960s, is placed on the north wall of the chancel. The rector J. C. F. Hood left £250 for the maintenance of the church in 1957. A new burial ground of 8,100 sq. ft. was laid out beyond the churchyard walls in 1985. In 1996 masonry bees ate into the church walls and damaged the flints. (fn. 50)