A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 9, Chesterton, Northstowe, and Papworth Hundreds. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1989.
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Knapwell had a church by the 1180s, when Ramsey abbey temporarily granted it to St. Ives priory (Hunts.). (fn. 1) The advowson remained with the abbey until the Dissolution, (fn. 2) after which it passed with the manor to the Cooks (fn. 3) and the Pernes. (fn. 4) John Perne presented his nephew Henry Perne, rector 1709-28, and John's widow Catherine their younger son John, 1731- 44. (fn. 5) In 1744 Chester Perne gave the next presentation to the bishop of Salisbury, who collated John to Gillingham (Dors.). (fn. 6) Chester later devised the patronage for life to Leonard Chappelow (d. 1768), Professor of Arabic at Cambridge, who in 1759 presented Edward Musgrave, his nephew by marriage. (fn. 7) The advowson, attached to the manor in 1771, (fn. 8) belonged at Musgrave's death in 1773 to Thomas Parker, then of Puttenham Priory (Surr.), (fn. 9) who in 1786 sold it to Freshney Gunniss, (fn. 10) a mercer of Louth (Lincs.). Gunniss then presented his son, namesake, (fn. 11) and heir, who still owned the advowson in the 1820s. (fn. 12) By 1831 it had passed to Spencer Compton, 2nd marquess of Northampton, (fn. 13) after whose death in 1851 (fn. 14) it was acquired by David Craig, who presented himself in 1859. (fn. 15) When he died insane, intestate, and illegitimate in 1899, the advowson escheated to the Crown, (fn. 16) sole patron 1903-34 (fn. 17) during the union with Conington. From 1934 the Crown presented at every fifth turn to the united benefices of Elsworth and Knapwell. (fn. 18)
The living remained a rectory. In the late 12th century abbots of Ramsey gave a little land, including a site for the parsonage house. (fn. 19) In 1279 the rector had besides that house only a croft and 2 a. held for rent. (fn. 20) In the early 17th century the glebe comprised only the parsonage house and 11/4 a. of arable. (fn. 21) The living was worth only £4 in 1254, when the abbey took £2 worth of tithes, (fn. 22) and £10 in the late 13th century, (fn. 23) and was taxed on only £6 18s. in 1535. (fn. 24) About 1650, when the tithes were often taken by composition, the rectory yielded c. £60 a year. (fn. 25) It was no more valuable in 1728, (fn. 26) though supposedly worth £100 by 1745. (fn. 27) At inclosure in 1776 146 a. were allotted for the glebe and tithes, (fn. 28) raising the rector's income between the 1780s and 1830s to almost £150. (fn. 29) though it was reduced to c. £100 by 1851. (fn. 30) The glebe, rented for £220 c. 1860 and mortgaged for agricultural improvements in 1869, was left unoccupied in 1879 and the mortgagees forced its sale in 1882. (fn. 31) In compensation the Crown in 1900 ceded c. £1,825 out of Craig's escheated property to be held for the living. (fn. 32) The medie` rectory house probably stood north-east of the churchyard. (fn. 33) The house was partly rebuilt by John Perne in the 1730s. (fn. 34) Left vacant from the 1790s, it was ruinous by 1836 (fn. 35) and into the 1880s, (fn. 36) and had been demolished by 1886. (fn. 37)
Rectors were recorded from the mid 13th century. (fn. 38) In 1302 the archbishop of Canterbury deprived a rector who was still not ordained priest after a year. (fn. 39) Two perished in 1349. (fn. 40) In 1375, after the parishioners complained that the rector had not provided them with a parish chaplain, a chantry priest from Bourn was recruited to perform that office. (fn. 41) Another chaplain was assisting the same rector in 1379. (fn. 42) John Russell, who obtained Knapwell by exchange in 1382, (fn. 43) retained it until after 1410. (fn. 44) The next rector was a pluralist by 1415. (fn. 45) The mid 15th century saw a more rapid turnover of rectors, who mostly resigned Knapwell, including after the 1450s some graduates. (fn. 46) Thomas Bathcombe, rector 1489-95, left Knapwell church two service books. His library also included a Legend of the saints, the Gesta Romanorum, 'a book called Juvenall', and two Pyes. (fn. 47) A brotherhood of St. Mary was recorded in 1439. (fn. 48)
Michael Dunning, rector 1546-59, who employed a curate in 1547, (fn. 49) was a pluralist by 1550 and a vehement Catholic. (fn. 50) He left Knapwell church some vestments to add to that which it had in 1552. (fn. 51) His successor Francis Scargill, presented by the queen in 1559, (fn. 52) was at first non-resident (fn. 53) and was not reading daily prayers in 1564. (fn. 54) The next rector, William Stanton, also employed curates, (fn. 55) one of whom, John Stanton, succeeded him in 1627 at Knapwell. (fn. 56) A party of parishioners induced the parliamentarians in 1646 to sequester Stanton from Knapwell, his more valuable living, for non-residence. He was replaced by his Knapwell curate Francis Scargill, grandson of the former rector, who served there until he died c. 1655. (fn. 57) In 1650, though styled a company keeper, Scargill preached twice every Sunday. (fn. 58) Stanton, reinstated in 1660, (fn. 59) was succeeded in 1679 by his curate, (fn. 60) who died very poor in 1709. (fn. 61)
Henry Perne was resident in 1728, when he held two services every Sunday and the sacrament thrice a year. (fn. 62) Pulter Forester, 1744- 59, was a pluralist and probably non-resident from 1752. (fn. 63) An interim rector (fn. 64) in 1775 lived at Oxford and Freshney Gunniss, 1786-1830, in Lincolnshire. Until the 1830s, therefore, Knapwell was usually served by curates from outside who held a single Sunday service and occasionally catechized. (fn. 65) Martin Mayson, 1833- 56, though lodging 4 miles away, was serving in person in 1836, when he held two Sunday services and claimed 8 communicants. (fn. 66) In 1851 the single afternoon service was attended by 73 adults. (fn. 67)
David Craig went mad almost immediately after his induction in 1857. At first his family employed a tipsy gambler to act for him but from c. 1863 to 1899 Knapwell was mostly served by neighbouring clergy, (fn. 68) usually from the late 1870s the rectors of Hardwick. They held afternoon services at Knapwell every Sunday. The communions held fortnightly in 1873, when up to 22 people attended, were reduced to three a year by 1885 because two thirds of the former communicants had died or emigrated. They were held monthly for 20 people by 1897. In 1873 there were c. 110 churchgoers, filling the rebuilt church. (fn. 69) In 1902 Knapwell was united to Conington. About 1930 almost 30 people attended the two monthly services. (fn. 70) In 1934 Knapwell was united instead to Elsworth (fn. 71) and by 1982 the incumbent lived at Boxworth.
The church of ALL SAINTS, so named by 1750, (fn. 72) was probably rebuilt in the early 14th century. The medieval church (fn. 73) had a long low three-bay chancel and a three-bay aisled nave, all under one roof, with an unbuttressed threestorey west tower of field stones dressed with limestone, which alone survived in the 20th century. (fn. 74) The medieval windows were all of two trefoiled lights under quatrefoils; fragments of one are preserved. About 1630 one window still had armorial glass, possibly of Sir Baldwin de Manners (fl. 1265-1320). (fn. 75) An octagonal 14thcentury font survived in 1983. The church was in decay by the 1560s, when the site of the destroyed altar had not been tidied. (fn. 76) Repairs by 1577 (fn. 77) perhaps included inserting a new straightheaded east window, extant in 1745. A new communion rail, preserved in 1983, was acquired soon after 1600. The fabric was cracked in places by 1685. (fn. 78) When the chancel fell down in 1752, Pulter Forester built a shorter one in brick next year and removed the screen. (fn. 79) In 1784 Wright Squire was given leave to demolish the aisles and porch and to rebuild the nave walls in brick. (fn. 80) In 1862 the church could hold 60 people. (fn. 81)
In 1864 an energetic curate raised almost £600 to rebuild the whole church, save the tower, to a plain Gothic design by W. M. Fawcett. (fn. 82) The new work, of flint with ashlar bands and dressings, comprises a nave with gables over the central windows in its side walls, a north vestry, and a round-apsed chancel. An organ replaced a harmonium in 1911. (fn. 83) There were three bells in 1552 (fn. 84) and 1745, (fn. 85) only one, cast locally in the early 19th century, by the 1880s. (fn. 86) The single chalice of 1552 (fn. 87) was replaced with a cup and paten in 1569. A flagon was given in 1676. (fn. 88) A blackletter Bible of 1617 was acquired c. 1780. (fn. 89) The registers are complete from 1678. (fn. 90) In the 18th century half Robert Collin's charity, £1 a year, and the town land rents were used for church repairs. (fn. 91)