A History of the County of Leicester: Volume 4, the City of Leicester. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1958.
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Knighton is now part of the city of Leicester and is largely a built-up area two miles south-east of the town centre. It was formerly a chapelry of the ancient parish of St. Margaret, but, unlike the rest of the parish, Knighton lay outside the borough and formed part of Guthlaxton hundred. It raised its own rate and was a separate civil parish until 1896, when part of it (567 acres), which had been transferred to Leicester borough in 1892, was absorbed in Leicester civil parish. (fn. 1) In 1892 the remainder of the parish had been left out of the borough after a petition against its inclusion alleged that it was largely agricultural. The eastern portion, which included Manor Road, was attached to Oadby parish, while the southern part, lying between Washpit Brook and Wigston Urban District, was attached to Lubbesthorpe but was united with Leicester in 1935. (fn. 2)
Knighton lies on Boulder Clay in the north, and in the south extends to the band of mixed clay and limestone which runs east from the Welford road to the east side of the village of Oadby. The British Railways (Midland) line from Leicester to Market Harborough runs through the west of the parish. To the north lies the area known as Stoneygate, and to the north-west, Clarendon Park. The main roads which run through the parish are those from Leicester to Wigston and to Market Harborough.
Little of the old village of Knighton remains, although there are some small timber-framed cottages and the 'Craddock Arms', part of which probably dates from the early 17th century. Knighton Hall, formerly the manor-house, also dates from the 17th century. The oldest parts of the house are built on a timber-frame structure, covered with roughcast, and rising to three gables. The front of the house was added at various dates in the 18th century and is of red brick with cement-covered moulded brick sills, window-frames and string courses. There is a projecting semi-circular porch with two Tuscan columns. The 18th-century extensions are probably to be attributed to John Johnson, the Leicester architect. (fn. 3) In 1846 the lord of the manor was using the house as a hunting box. (fn. 4) It is now the property of University College, Leicester, and is the official residence of the principal.
In 1086 the Bishop of Lincoln held KNIGHTON, then consisting of under a hide of land. (fn. 5) In 1143 Bishop Alexander granted out land worth £10 to Robert le Bossu, Earl of Leicester, who held it for the service of one knight's fee. After a complicated series of transactions involving Robert and his successors, the bishops of Lincoln, and Leicester Abbey, to which Robert had granted the property, it was eventually returned to the see of Lincoln in 1218. (fn. 6) Knighton remained the property of the bishops of Lincoln until in 1547 the bishop granted the manor to Edward VI. (fn. 7) In 1577 it was granted to Matthew Farnham of Quorndon and Sir George Turpin of Knaptoft by Elizabeth I. Farnham's brothers, Thomas (d. 1562) and Robert, had been successively stewards of a number of Crown manors including Knighton. In his will, Matthew Farnham valued his right and title in Knighton at £20 yearly and left it to his son Humphrey. (fn. 8) After this until the end of the 18th century the descent of the manor is completely obscured. (fn. 9) No lord of the manor is mentioned in the inclosure award of 1756, (fn. 10) although the chief landowners were the family of Craddock, from whom Sir Edmund Craddock Hartopp, lord of the manor in 1800, was descended. (fn. 11) He was the son of Joseph Bunney and Mary Craddock, and took the additional names of Craddock and Hartopp upon succeeding to various properties in Knighton under the will of his maternal uncle, Joseph Craddock, and upon his marriage to Anne Hurlock, granddaughter of Sir John Hartopp of Freeby. (fn. 12)
By the 18th century the Craddock family had long been settled in Leicester, and were notable citizens and merchants there. (fn. 13) The first member of the family to buy land in Knighton was Edmund Craddock of Leicester, woollen-draper, who did so in 1720. (fn. 14) It would seem as though the manorial rights had been forgotten or extinguished during the 18th century, which would explain the omission of any mention of a lord of the manor in 1756. In 1846 Sir Edmund Craddock Hartopp was described as lord of the manor, (fn. 15) and his descendant, also Sir Edmund, Principal of Brasenose College, Oxford, was lord in 1878. (fn. 16) The manor-house, Knighton Hall, was sold by their descendant Colonel Edmund Craddock in 1931. (fn. 17) Much of the Craddock property at Knighton was sold as building lots in 1854, though some had been disposed of earlier. (fn. 18)
Knighton's 2/3 hide was stated to be sufficient to support 6 ploughs at the time of the Domesday survey. There were 30 acres of meadow and the enumerated population amounted to 20 villeins and 4 socmen. (fn. 19) About 1230 there were 7 substantial free tenants and 16 others who, though free and performing no services, had very small holdings and small rents. There were in addition 24 villeins, whose services were on a considerably higher scale than those of the free tenants. (fn. 20) In 1327 23 persons were named in the tax list, the highest contribution being 3s. 9d., and 200 years later 24 persons were assessed for tax. (fn. 21)
Knighton was inclosed in 1756, when 17 proprietors from 14 families received allotments from the 1,520 acres which remained for distribution when the land for roads, houses, and gardens had been subtracted. Of these 17, the three members of the Craddock family received about 700 acres, or nearly half the total available land. Several ancient closes were put into the award and reallotted. There were four fields, called Stockwell, Safforn, Goldhill, and the Breach Field, (fn. 22) and about 100 acres of meadow and pasture called the Cow Pasture. Of the members of yeoman families of long standing, Edward Inge received 260 acres and two members of the Foster family received just over 132 acres. Of other names, that of Edmund Johnson, dyer, who received just over 127 acres, seems prophetic of Knighton's future in the coming century as a place of residence for business men from Leicester. (fn. 23) By 1832 only four of the families who had owned land in 1756 still held any. The Craddocks sold a great deal of their land before 1832, and part at least of it was purchased by the Kecks of Stoughton Grange. (fn. 24)
Framework-knitters are mentioned at Knighton during the 18th century, though they had disappeared by 1844. (fn. 25) The sole indication of any form of industrial activity to be found in the parish registers, however, is a solitary reference to a stocking-weaver in 1712. A carpenter and a cordwainer are mentioned in the inclosure award. For the most part the village of Knighton itself remained quietly agricultural until the last quarter of the 19th century, and was somewhat overshadowed by the development of its suburban neighbours, Stoneygate and Charendon Park. In 1846 and 1877 agricultural land still formed the greater part of the parish and in 1877 there were still three large farms. (fn. 26)
The growth of the area known as Stoneygate (fn. 27) to form the chief residential suburb of 19th-century Leicester seems to have begun in the last years of the 18th century. The first house in Stoneygate is said to have been built on the Harborough-Loughborough turnpike about 1760 by Samuel Oliver, Mayor of Leicester in 1762. (fn. 28) The evidence for this is not known and it is not clear to which house the statement refers, but it seems likely that it means Stoneygate House, in the present Toller Road, which was built before 1779, but cannot have been built long before. (fn. 29) It is a large stucco house with a steeply pitched slate roof and was enlarged in the early 19th century. In 1846 it was the home of a grocer, Thomas Nunneley, (fn. 30) but was later purchased by Richard Toller, who gave his name to the road which was built on part of his estate after his death in 1896. (fn. 31)
Stoneygate House was not, however, the first house to exist on the Harborough road. Parts of The Stoney Gate, 227 London Road, date probably from the late 17th century and seem to have formed part of a farmhouse. (fn. 32) The kitchens and the whole front of the house are probably 17th-century work as are some of the outbuildings. About 1780 the whole house and at least part of the farm buildings were recased in soft red brick, the gables were heightened artificially, and a wing was built at the rear. The new style of the house was Gothic of an early, delicate variety; the library, which preserves some of its Gothic mouldings, is certainly of this date, though the drawing-room may be a little later. Thus converted from a farm into a gentleman's residence, The Stoney Gate remained in 1955 much as it did in 1800, though considerable alterations to the interior took place in 1949–51. The house was for many years the home of Major W. J. Freer, Clerk of the Peace for Leicestershire. (fn. 33)
In a directory of 1846, 10 houses are listed in Stoneygate, all belonging to prosperous Leicester tradesmen and professional men. (fn. 34) Among them were C. B. Robinson, whose house, The Shrubbery, had ornamental gardens by Paxton (fn. 35) and who was the lessee of the Leicester gas works; John Biggs, whose house stood where Knighton Park Road now runs; (fn. 36) and Richard Toller. Springfield House (now 2 Springfield Road) and Brookfield are other named houses which still stood in 1955. In 1848 Samuel Stone built his new house, Elmfield. (fn. 37) Development was accelerated by the sale of part of the D'Oyly estate, adjoining Elmfield in 1858. (fn. 38) One of the houses built on this land was G. B. Franklin's school, built in 1859. (fn. 39) In 1863 there were 32 houses. (fn. 40) Up to this time the development of the area had been the work of independent persons building large houses in spacious grounds for their own use; these were for the most part on the London road. About 1865 the side roads appeared, and the area began to interest speculative builders and land societies. Knighton Park Road was laid out in 1867, across the grounds which had belonged to John Biggs's house, and before 1870 several houses had been built along it. (fn. 41) Avenue Road appeared at about the same time and was the scene of early activity on the part of the Freehold Land Society; it was long used as allotment ground (fn. 42) and the absence of houses along its north side is probably to be explained by this. Stoneygate Road was proposed in or just before 1867 and the area bounded by it, London Road, and Stoughton Road was sold in building lots in 1867. (fn. 43) Alexandra Road and Sandown Road (formerly Lansdowne Road) were completed between 1877 and 1881 (fn. 44) and Thornleigh, one of the houses facing London Road, was built in 1871. (fn. 45)
Between 1875 and 1885 the Clarendon Park estate was broken up (fn. 46) and before 1888 most of the streets had been laid out and the houses built, (fn. 47) mostly in terraces of red brick. Some of the area was owned and developed by Samuel Francis Stone, whose own house, The Woodlands, gave its name to Woodland Avenue, also laid out from land belonging to Stoneygate House. On the other side of London Road, Francis Smith developed an area of terrace houses in Francis Street. (fn. 48)
To the south, beyond Knighton Road, building along the London road took place from an early date, and the suburb known as New or South Knighton began to grow up about 1880. Large houses continued to be built along London Road, and the roads to the east of it were the result of building development towards the end of the century. A further part of the D'Oyly estate, facing Stoughton Road and London Road, was sold in 1868. (fn. 49)
The social position of those who developed Stoneygate had great effect upon its character. The houses were at first large and set in their own grounds, and the tree-lined London Road of today is the result of this. The early houses were Italianate in style, like the two which flank the eastern end of Knighton Park Road. About 1860 came the Gothic houses, like Stoneygate School, of a much heavier style than the graceful Gothic of The Stoney Gate. Finally, about 1875 the timbered house began to appear, and by far the greater part of the large houses built in the latter part of the century are in this style, which was perfected in Leicester by architects such as Isaac Barradale, many of whose houses are easily recognizable today. (fn. 50)
By 1880 Stoneygate was virtually a part of Leicester. The population of the parish of Knighton rose from 383 in 1831 to nearly three times that number 40 years later, and increased by nearly 1,000 between 1871 and 1881. (fn. 51) The tramway from Leicester to Stoneygate was opened in 1875. (fn. 52) Building continued to the south of the old village between the wars and practically the whole of the parish is now a built-up area.
Ecclesiastically, Knighton was separated from the parish of St. Margaret, Leicester in 1878, (fn. 53) to which it had apparently been attached since before 1086. (fn. 54) The parish of St. John the Baptist, Clarendon Park Road, was formed from Knighton in 1917, (fn. 55) the church having been built as a chapel of ease in 1885. The architects were Goddard and Paget of Leicester and the church was built largely from a gift of £6,000 from Miss Sarah Barlow. (fn. 56) The church of St. Michael and All Angels was built near Knighton Fields Road in 1898 and the parish was formed in 1930. (fn. 57) The architect was S. Perkins Pick. (fn. 58) A chapel of ease, St. Guthlac's, was attached to Knighton in 1912. The building is only partially completed and was one of the last works of the architect J. Stockdale Harrison. (fn. 59)
Knighton, as a chapelry of St. Margaret's, was served from that church until 1878. (fn. 60) The advowsons of the three parish churches in Knighton were in 1956 vested in the Bishop of Leicester. (fn. 61)
In 1646 the committee of sequestrators ordered that £25 from the revenues of St. Margaret's and a similar sum from the estates of Sir John Beaumont should be paid yearly for the upkeep of a minister at Knighton, whose curate then received only £5 yearly. Similar orders were made in 1649 and 1650 but in 1716 the chapelry was worth only £6. (fn. 62) In 1649 the Council of State ordered an inquiry into a 'very foul riot' and 'great insolency and violence' shown towards Dr. Harding who had been appointed to preach a probation sermon in the chapel, with a view to being appointed permanent chaplain. (fn. 63) Shortly after the creation of the parish of Knighton the living was worth £240 yearly. (fn. 64) The prebendary of St. Margaret's received the tithes from Knighton. The great tithes were commuted for a yearly payment of £120, and the small tithes for £6, by the inclosure award. There were 7½ acres of glebe in 1756.
The present church of ST. MARY MAGDALENE contains no fabric earlier than the 13th century when it probably consisted simply of chancel and nave. About the middle of the 14th century a new nave of four bays with chancel and west tower was built against the north side of the old church, the former nave thus becoming the south aisle. The tower was raised by an additional stage, making a total of four, and early in the 15th century it was crowned by a slender octagonal spire. The interior of the church was restored in about 1860. (fn. 65) The roof had probably been restored during the 18th century. An organ recess has been constructed in the south wall of the chancel, and on the same side of the church there is a small vestry. The north porch is also modern. The church is built of rubble with sandstone dressings, but the original fabric has become overlaid by extensive restorations. The east window has three trefoil lights. The tower is of sandstone ashlar and has traces of ball-flower decoration at the top of its third stage. The fourth stage has a battlemented parapet with crocketed pinnacles and grotesque gargoyles at each angle. The spire is lit by small windows set alternately in the faces.
In the chancel are sedilia with three seats and a decorated hood. The pulpit is modern, (fn. 66) but the font, although badly damaged, probably dates from the 13th century and is decorated with narrow beading at top and bottom. There are four bells: (1) 1796 by Edward Arnold of Leicester; (2) 1770 by Joseph Eayre of St. Neots; (3) 1769 by Joseph Eayre; (4) 1627. (fn. 67) The registers date from 1654, but no other parish records survive independently of St. Margaret's parish. The plate includes a silver cup of 1732, made by William Draker and engraved with the names of the then churchwardens, including that of Edmund Craddock. There is also a silver plate, perhaps dating from 1684, presented by Sir Edmund Craddock Hartopp in 1839. (fn. 68)
The mission of St. Thomas More was established in 1947 and the church, at the corner of Knighton Road and Southernhay Road, was built in 1951. (fn. 69) The St. Francis Hospital in London Road is run by a community of Franciscan Minoresses and was opened in 1941. (fn. 70) The convent and school of Our Lady of the Angels (the Poor Clares) was opened in Ratcliffe Road in 1955.
Three dissenting meeting-houses are mentioned as being in Knighton in 1669, but as they are the same as those given elsewhere as being in St. Margaret's parish, it is impossible to tell whether the houses were in Knighton or another part of the mother parish. (fn. 71) The latter is perhaps more likely. There were three Anabaptists in Knighton at the beginning of the 18th century (fn. 72) and occasional references to members of that sect occur throughout the century in the parish registers. In 1768 a meeting-house was built, but it is not clear to which sect it belonged. (fn. 73) In 1802 the house of Peter Manning was licensed as a meeting-house. (fn. 74) The Wesleyan chapel was built in 1816 and sixteen members of this church were reported in 1829. (fn. 75) This chapel was rebuilt on a larger scale in 1871. (fn. 76) The development of Stoneygate and Clarendon Park was marked by the erection of six chapels of various denominations. Stoneygate Baptist church (1914) (fn. 77) and Clarendon Park Congregational chapel (1886) (fn. 78) are both in London Road. The Wesleyan Methodist chapel (1901) (fn. 79) in Clarendon Park Road replaced a mission chapel farther west in the same road. (fn. 80) Clarendon Hall, the Baptist chapel in Clarendon Park Road, was built in 1894. (fn. 81) The former Primitive Methodist chapel in Queen's Road was built in 1887 and taken over by the Salvation Army in 1901. (fn. 82) The Congregational chapel in Queen's Road was built in 1905. (fn. 83) A Quaker meeting-house was built in 1955 in Queen's Road, opposite Victoria Park.
The National school was built by Sir Edmund Craddock Hartopp in 1840 and an infants' school was added in 1874. (fn. 84) Church schools were built for St. John's, Clarendon Park Road, in 1890. (fn. 85) After the southern part of Knighton parish had been brought into the borough of Leicester in 1892 the need of school accommodation was met by the Leicester School Board. (fn. 85)
James Willey by will dated 1803 left £50 in trust for bread to be distributed monthly to such of the poor of the parish as attended church regularly. (fn. 86)