A History of the County of Leicestershire: Volume 5, Gartree Hundred. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1964.
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Wistow lies seven miles south-east of Leicester in the valley of the River Sence. Since 1936 it has included most of the former civil parish of Newton Harcourt which is a chapelry of Wistow. (fn. 1) The area of Wistow alone was about 910 a. The history of Newton Harcourt is treated separately in this article.
The parish lies for the most part on the southern side of the Sence, and the river and its tributaries form the parish boundary on the north and east. The land rises from about 300 ft. in the valley to over 400 ft. in the south of the parish. Field boundaries and tracks mark the parish boundary on the south and west. The soil is mainly a loamy clay.
The two chief roads in Wistow are those running from Kibworth Harcourt (on the Leicester- Market Harborough road) in the east to Kilby in the west, and from Wigston Magna (on the Leicester- Northampton road) and Newton Harcourt in the north to Fleckney and Saddington in the south. These roads cross in Kilby parish. A track from Newton Harcourt forms part of the western boundary of Wistow, and a minor road from Great Glen connects with both the chief roads in Wistow. A track in the south-west of the parish called Coal Pit Lane had become overgrown with trees by the early 20th century. (fn. 2)
Wistow Hall, with its offices, cottages, and stables, stands in a park in the north-west part of the parish. Nearby is the church. The old village, which stood south-east of the hall, was depopulated in the 17th century and there are only two outlying farms- Wistow Lodge and Wistow Grange. The depopulation of the village and the making of the park caused changes in the alignment of roads: the present road from Kibworth Harcourt to Kilby along the north side of the park, for example, was probably created by Sir Charles Halford and replaced a more southerly road which passed through the village. The old road, said to be still visible in dry summers, (fn. 3) is shown on a map of 1632, (fn. 4) and indistinct traces of both roads and house sites were still visible in the park in 1960. The lake in the park opposite the church was made by Sir Henry Halford about 1815.
The recorded population in 1086 was 22. (fn. 5) Only 9 taxpayers were recorded in 1332 (fn. 6) but there were 130 poll tax payers in 1377. (fn. 7) The population apparently fell during the 15th century: only 16 householders paid the tax of 1524, (fn. 8) and there were also 16 households in 1563. (fn. 9) After the agrarian changes of the early 17th century, (fn. 10) there were only 7 households in 1670 (fn. 11) and 30 communicants in 1676. (fn. 12) There were 6 families in the early 18th century. (fn. 13) The population varied from 9 to 19 during the early 19th century, but thereafter showed a slight increase and was 50 in 1931. (fn. 14)
Wistow Hall, which may be built on or near the site of the earlier medieval house, retains the form of a large house of early-17th-century date. It is of two stories with attics, built of red brick with stone dressings and now completely stuccoed on all sides. The original plan appears to have been H-shaped consisting of a central hall between two cross-wings which extended westwards to enclose a rear court. Then, as now, the principal front faced east with a central entrance, while the south wing contained the parlour rooms and the north wing the kitchen and service rooms. The map of 1632 (fn. 15) shows the house with its H-plan having two three-storied tower-like features with pyramidal roofs standing at the front of each wing on their outer sides. Formal gardens are also shown to the south and east of the house. In 1670 the hall had twelve hearths. (fn. 16)
Above the present coved ceiling in the hall moulded brackets and side wall-posts remain from the 17th-century ceiling. (fn. 17) Both ceilings had a common level. During work on the house in 1960 certain early features were exposed; these included stone dressings in the rear wall of the hall marking the position of a large lateral chimney stack, and a blocked north window and quoins in the existing west wall of the house apparently surviving from a former south extension of the kitchen wing. The first-floor rooms in the north wing have reset panelling of the 17th century and more of a similar date is preserved piecemeal in the attic rooms. One stone doorway with a Tudor head remains in the side wall of the south wing.
The multi-gabled appearance of the house with finials, kneelers, and large lateral stacks remained more or less unaltered until after the end of the 18th century. (fn. 18) Before this, however, Sir Charles Halford in the period of his ownership (1768-80) carried out certain alterations to the property the details of which are not perfectly clear. It seems likely that he filled in part of the rear court by a new staircase hall and remodelled the central hall, giving it a fine plaster ceiling. The windows on the front and sides of the house were replaced by new ones in a more classical style and new rainwater heads were provided. (fn. 19) The stucco was probably applied at the same time. New offices, consisting of low single-story extensions adjoining the rear gable of each cross-wing, are also said to have been built by Sir Charles. (fn. 20)
Little work appears to have been done to the house between 1783 and 1814 when Lady Denbigh and her husband were supposed, under the terms of an agreement, to reside at Wistow for six weeks in each year. (fn. 21) In 1814, when Sir Henry Halford succeeded to the property, the building was in poor condition and subsequently underwent a drastic remodelling. (fn. 22) This involved removing the gables on the north, south, and east sides and substituting hipped slate roofs with dormer windows set behind a tall parapet. The low 18th-century extension to the south-west was replaced by a two-storied block with attics, and a long vestibule was added to fill in the space between the projecting front wings. Three first-floor windows were inserted in the entrance wall of the hall to serve as a clerestory, while small octagonal towers which still survive were built at the front angles of the house and along the south side; at this time, too, the large stacks of the north wing appear to have been reduced in height. The 18th-century rainwater heads were retained on the south wing and it seems likely that those at the front of the house, which are ornamented with swags, are also of late-18th-century origin. Sir Henry built a large glass hot-house at the south-west corner of the house for which he paid £1,279 to a Mr. Harefield in 1819. (fn. 23) This has since been demolished. Later in the 19th century the same side of the house received two semi-circular bay windows, the work of the second Sir Henry Halford (d. 1868), who was also responsible for laying out a small formal garden. The rococo decoration in the south wing is probably of this period. In 1912 and the following years the balustrade and parapet were removed and additional dormer windows were provided, and in 1960 parts of the house were converted into five self-contained flats. The interior has few features of distinction, but the fine wrought-iron staircase balustrade built in the inner hall by Sir Charles Halford is similar in design to the wrought-iron gates of the Halford chapel in the church.
Wistow Grange, in the south-east of the parish, is a two-storied brick farm-house with an altered front built c. 1825 by Sir Henry Halford as part of the general improvement of his estate. Wistow Lodge, a smaller building nearer the hall, is of the same period but has been much altered. Nearby estate workers' cottages date from c. 1920.
Before the Conquest, WISTOW was held by two Saxon freemen, Edwin and Alferd, who owned also the neighbouring manors of Fleckney and Kibworth Beauchamp. Their lands passed before 1086 to Robert dispensator. (fn. 24) In the early 12th century the tenancy-in-chief passed to Philip Marmion. (fn. 25) After the death of a later Philip Marmion in 1292 (fn. 26) the overlordship descended to his daughter Joan and her husband Alexander de Fryville, whose descendants still claimed it at the beginning of the 15th century. (fn. 27) After that date the chief lordship seems to have died out and the Hastings family held in chief for the rest of the 15th century.
The Marmions' under-tenants were various members of the Hastings family, who held the lands that had once been Robert dispensator's. (fn. 28) The earliest reference to their tenure of Wistow seems to be in 1235-6, when it was one of the places in which Henry Hastings, the grandson of William, who is probably to be regarded as the founder of the family, held 2¼ knights' fees. (fn. 29) The family appears as the owner of the advowson about 1220 and was probably already an established landowner in the parish by that date. (fn. 30) Henry Hastings was the ancestor of the Hastings, earls of Pembroke, who remained tenants of the family's Leicestershire estates, including Wistow, until the death of the last earl in 1389. (fn. 31) The heirs general to their property were the Greys of Ruthin, who appear in possession of the advowson in 1391 and had an interest in the manor in 1436. (fn. 32) At some date in the earlier 13th century lands in Leicestershire, including Wistow, passed from the elder branch of the Hastings family to a younger branch probably in the person of Thomas Hastings, a great-grandson of the first William Hastings by his second marriage. His son, Sir Nicholas, was in possession by 1247 and the manor of Wistow formed part of the dower which he settled upon his widowed mother Amice in the same year. (fn. 33) From his heirs the manor passed by direct descent in the family, until it became part of the estate settled upon Margaret Hastings and her second husband Sir John Blaket in 1423 by her brother Richard; (fn. 34) this formed part of the agreement by which the manor of Newton Harcourt was returned to Richard by John. (fn. 35) After the deaths of Margaret and her husband the manor reverted to Richard Hastings who died possessed of it in 1436, held for a money rent from Reynold Grey. (fn. 36)
After Richard's death the manor passed from his brother and heir Leonard to William, Lord Hastings (d. 1483), and the earls of Huntingdon. (fn. 37) In 1538 it formed part of the estate settled upon Francis, Lord Hastings, on his marriage to Katherine Montagu. (fn. 38) In 1560, when Earl of Huntingdon, he died possessed of the manor, (fn. 39) which was shortly afterwards sold to Francis Browne, who died in 1592. (fn. 40) In 1603 Browne's sons mortgaged it to Edmund and Robert Peshall (fn. 41) and the four parties to this transaction sold the manor to Andrew Halford, son of Richard Halford of Clipston (Northants.), in 1605. (fn. 42) He died in 1609 and the manor passed to his nephew Richard, who in 1608 had acquired more land in Wistow, together with the rectory and advowson. (fn. 43) He was created a baronet by Charles I in 1641. (fn. 44)
The Halford family remained owners of the manor until 1780, when, on the death of Sir Charles Halford, it passed for her lifetime to his widow Sarah, who married Basil, Earl of Denbigh (d. 1800), in 1783. After her death in 1814, by the provisions of her husband's will, the manor descended to the second (but eldest surviving) son of Dr. James Vaughan of Leicester. This was Henry Vaughan, M.D., who had taken the name and arms of the Halford family in 1809 when he was created a baronet, and who, during a long and successful medical career, became physician to many members of the royal family, including George III, George IV, and William IV. (fn. 45) He was succeeded by his son and grandson, the 2nd and 3rd baronets of the second creation. The third Sir Henry Halford died in 1897 and the Wistow estate was left by his will to T. F. Fremantle, later Baron Cottesloe. (fn. 46) He died in 1956 and was succeeded by his son, the 4th baron, whose daughter, Mrs. Timothy Brooks, owned the hall in 1960.
In 1086 Robert dispensator's holding in Wistow consisted of 11 carucates and 3 bovates. There had been 8 ploughs in use in Wistow before the Conquest but this number had been reduced to 6 by 1086. Robert then had 2 ploughs and a serf on the demesne, and 5 villeins, 5 bordars, and 9 socmen had 4 ploughs. Two Frenchmen completed the number of landholders. There was a mill and 10 a. of meadow. The holding was valued at 50s., an increase of 30s. from the preConquest figure. Robert also held one carucate and 2 bovates of waste valued at 2s. (fn. 47)
In 1279 Wistow was described as consisting of 7½ carucates and it seems probable that the Domesday assessment of 13 included at least part of one of the neighbouring parishes. Only half a carucate was held by free tenants, Nicholas Hastings having 3 carucates in demesne and 4 in villeinage. (fn. 48) By 1436 it seems clear that there were no longer any free tenants, for 7 virgates were held in demesne and 11 in villeinage. Wistow manor then extended into Fleckney, Great Glen, and Bruntingthorpe. There were 2 closes of pasture-Hall Close and 'le Thyrne'-and 14 a. of meadow. (fn. 49)
No extensive inclosure seems to have taken place before the manor was sold to Andrew Halford in 1605. There is no mention of depopulation at Wistow in 1607 and the inclosure of the parish probably took place after 1609, when Richard Halford inherited from his uncle. The open fields had apparently not been inclosed by 1625, when the glebe included land in Barleyhill, North, and Lanver Fields, (fn. 50) but by 1632 the whole parish had been inclosed. (fn. 51) Inclosure may already have been complete in 1628 when Richard Halford was the only person assessed for tax. (fn. 52) In 1609 there were still 10 inhabited houses and 6 cottages, (fn. 53) and the map of 1632 shows about 10 houses. The village then stood on rising ground in front of, and about 200 yds. southeast of, the hall. The process of inclosure had probably been facilitated by a falling population (fn. 54) and by the absence of freeholders. The 1632 map shows extensive meadows-such as Breach Meadow, 'The Dames', and Newton Meadow-and a small area of willow beds near the rivers.
By 1670 there were only 7 families in the parish, including the Halfords, (fn. 55) and at the end of the 18th century only 3 houses-one a shepherd's-besides the hall. (fn. 56) Sir Henry Halford succeeded to the estate in 1814 and he built or rebuilt several farms-certainly Kilby Lodge (in Kilby parish) and Wistow Lodge, and probably Wistow Grange. He estimated that by 1823 he had spent £30,000 on repairs and new building; (fn. 57) and in 1828, by which date he had built 5 farm-houses, he spoke of having bettered the estate by £40,000. (fn. 58) When he succeeded in 1814 the rent-roll of the estate in Wistow and elsewhere was £3,200; by 1823 it had been increased to £4,200. (fn. 59)
The care and improvement of the estate was continued by his son and grandson, but Wistow's chief interest at the end of the 19th century is in another connextion. The 3rd baronet, Sir Henry St. John Halford, who succeeded his father in 1868, was a distinguished rifleman and it was at Wistow, where he established a workshop and a rifle range, that he did important experimental work on the development of the breech-loading military rifle, in collaboration with William Metford and others. His big iron target, with a shooting hut on the 1,000 yds.' firingpoint, and his ballistic pendulum hut still stood in 1956. (fn. 60)
Since inclosure the parish has mainly been under pasture. The only arable land in 1801 was 6 a. of oats. (fn. 61) There was little arable in 1956 when the land was attached to 5 main farms; a large market garden was then run at Wistow Home Farm.
There was a mill at Wistow in 1086, rendering 2s. (fn. 62) When Richard Hastings died in 1436 he owned a windmill valued at 10s. (fn. 63) Two unspecified mills are mentioned in conveyances of the manor in 1603 and 1605; (fn. 64) one was probably the Wistow windmill and the other may have lain outside the parish. A windmill is shown in Mill Field on the map of 1632, on the high ground in the extreme south of the parish. (fn. 65) The mill existed until 1660 (fn. 66) and possibly until 1675 (fn. 67) but nothing further is known of it. The position of the watermill is suggested by a diversion of the Sence and by the name- 'The Dames'-of the ground lying between the diversion and the main stream, as shown on the 1632 map. (fn. 68)
No priest was mentioned in Wistow in 1086, but the priest who held land at Newton Harcourt may have been the Rector of Wistow. (fn. 71) The chapelries of Fleckney, Newton Harcourt, and Kilby formed part of the ancient parish from the beginning of the 13th century to the 19th. The circumstances in which Fleckney and Kilby became independent parishes are not clear. (fn. 72) Newton Harcourt remains a chapelry in the parish of Wistow. The living is a vicarage, which was ordained at the end of the 15th century, (fn. 73) and was in 1956 held in plurality with Kilby.
In about 1220 the patronage of Wistow was in the possession of William Hastings, probably the grandfather of the Henry Hastings who was lord of the manor in 1235-6. (fn. 74) From him it descended to the earls of Pembroke who retained the advowson in their own hands in spite of the fact that they had subinfeudated the manor. (fn. 75) The advowson seems to have passed to the lord of the manor after the death of the last earl in 1389. The Greys of Ruthin had an interest in it in 1391 (fn. 76) and Richard Hastings died possessed of it in 1436. (fn. 77) In 1481 William, Lord Hastings, was granted a licence to alienate the advowson of Wistow to the abbey of Sulby (Northants.), on condition that a vicarage was ordained. (fn. 78) Sulby Abbey presented until the Dissolution. (fn. 79) After this time the advowson seems to have passed through various owners. In 1562 and 1572 the patron was Edmund Wyghe of Wistow, and Zachary Clarke presented in 1581. (fn. 80) In 1583 these two men sold the rectory and advowson to Anthony Faunt of Foston. (fn. 81) He died possessed of it in 1588, and it passed into the hands of the Browne family. Francis Browne presented in 1588 and Thomas Browne in 1597 and 1601. (fn. 82) In 1608 it was sold, not by the Brownes, but by Henry and Barbara Faunt, to Richard Halford. (fn. 83) Since that date it has descended with the manor. The patron in 1956 was Lord Cottesloe.
In 1217 Wistow rectory was valued at 20 marks, at 50 in 1254, and at 70 in 1291. (fn. 84) In 1428 it was still valued at 70 marks, (fn. 85) but in 1436 at only £10. (fn. 86) In 1524 the Dean and Chapter of Lincoln acknowledged a payment of 3s. 4d. as the annual pension due from Sulby Abbey for the churches of Wistow and Lubenham. (fn. 87) Provision was made in the licence by which the church was given to Sulby Abbey for the provision of a sufficient vicarage, but in 1535 it was worth only £8 18s. 4d. The abbey drew £17 3s. 4d. from the revenues, and the total value of the living shows a very considerable fall from its old value of over £46. (fn. 88) In 1650 the vicarage was valued at £13 6s. 8d. a year. (fn. 89) The living was augmented by £200 from Queen Anne's Bounty in 1728 and 1760, on both occasions to meet similar sums presented by Sir William Halford, but in 1831 it was worth only £92; (fn. 90) from one of the wealthiest livings in the county it had become one of the poorest.
The church drew tithes from the lands in the chapelries of Kilby, Fleckney, (fn. 91) and Newton Harcourt, (fn. 92) but nothing is known of tithes from Wistow itself. There is no evidence of glebe land in Wistow, though in 1632 there was a small close in the southwest of the parish called 'the Parson's Close'. (fn. 93) The glebe at Newton Harcourt was in lay hands in the early 17th century. (fn. 94)
The church of ST. WISTAN (fn. 95) consists of nave and chancel under one roof, south porch, west tower, vestry, and north chapel. It is built of rubble, chiefly ironstone, with some limestone dressings, and has lead roofs. The present structure, which dates from the 12th century, was enlarged c. 1300, again altered in the 14th and 15th centuries, and remodelled in the 18th century.
The south wall of the nave retains masonry and a blocked round-arched doorway with chevron ornament of the late 12th century; a string course that formed a hoodmould above the arch can be traced to a point between the two windows to the east of the door and this probably represents the extent of the original nave. The string course is defaced, possibly as a result of plastering the exterior in the 18th century.
About 1300 a north transept, now the Halford chapel, was added to the nave; one original window with forking tracery, now blocked, remains in the north gable-end. The east wall was more or less rebuilt in the 18th century to accommodate two round-headed windows that probably occupy the sites of earlier openings. The chancel was enlarged in the late 14th century and whatever structural division that may have existed between it and the nave was removed. The walls are of grey limestone with a chamfered plinth and the eastern limit of this rebuilding is marked by single buttresses on each side. Blocked rectangular openings close to the plinth were probably 'low side' windows; these and a priest's door in the north wall, also blocked, are original features of the enlargement. The east end of the chancel was reconstructed, or extended, again in the 15th century and it was probably during this phase that the church was given a roof of lower pitch with side parapets. The west tower dates mainly from the later 15th century and is of three stages with a battlemented parapet; there is no division between the first and second stages and the lowest stage may be slightly earlier in date. The absence of any older roof lines on the east face of the tower may indicate that the common wall of the nave and tower is entirely work of the 15th century: the tower arch into the nave with its high corbel-type responds is typical of the period. The belfry stage openings have two trefoiled lights under four-centred heads on each face and the bell-frame, which is probably a 17th-century reconstruction, incorporates a moulded main beam.
In 1510 the church was said to be in bad condition, with a leaking roof which made the walls damp. (fn. 96) In 1619 it needed painting and general repairs to roof and walls. (fn. 97) Nothing had been done by 1626 when the same complaints were made, and when the communion table was said to be too old and the seating defective. The archdeacon was on that occasion unable to inspect the registers on account of the non-appearance of the vicar and this seems to be symptomatic of the general neglect. (fn. 98)
The large east window, and a considerable area of adjacent masonry above the high plinth, date from the mid-18th century when the church was extensively remodelled in a classical style. The main features of this remodelling consisted of the replacement of the medieval windows by lofty roundheaded windows filled with leaded glass, the insertion of a flat ceiling throughout the church, and the refitting and decoration of the interior. This work appears to have been started before the middle of the century, Sir William Halford (d. 1768) being credited with the restoration and beautification of the church in 1746. (fn. 99) The restoration was almost certainly complete by 1777 when the church was reported by the archdeacon to be in excellent condition, the only repairs recommended being to the tower. (fn. 100) The heavy patching on the north side of the tower may have resulted from the latter recommendation.
Many of the Georgian fittings, including box pews, the pulpit, and the reading desk, remain. The wrought-iron gates between the nave and the Halford chapel are later in date than the similarly fashioned communion rails which are of much finer workmanship of c. 1730; the chapel gates may be work of Sir Charles Halford (d. 1780). (fn. 101) The carved wooden reredos with flanking urn-topped pilasters and central pediment carries the Commandments, Lord's Prayer, and Creed. The vestry houses the 18th-century font, now disused. In 1798 the discarded medieval font was used in the churchyard to catch rainwater. (fn. 102) Above the vestry door is a Hanoverian royal arms.
Further renovation work was carried out early in the 19th century. The Halford vault, now sealed, and the vestry are probably of this period. There are rainwater heads dated 1815 with the initials of Sir Henry Halford which may indicate a renewal at this date of the parapets and roofing. A west gallery, which extended as far east as the south door, was removed in 1863 and the tower arch which had previously been blocked was opened. At this time the pulpit and reading desk, originally on the north side of the nave, were moved to their present position and the Halford chapel was thrown open for the use of the congregation. (fn. 103) The porch, which has a Gothic entrance arch, dates from the 19th century. It replaced a porch that was built as part of the general renovation of c. 1750. (fn. 104) The new organ was given by Lady Halford in 1865. (fn. 105)
The earliest memorial in the Halford chapel is a large black and white marble monument, bearing an alabaster effigy of Sir Richard Halford (d. 1658) in armour. Figures of his two sons are also included and two emblem-bearing putti flank the inscription behind. The heavy wooden rail round the monument probably dates from 1863. Two monuments against the west wall to Sir William Halford (d. 1768) and Sir Charles Halford (d. 1780) were erected by direction of Sir Charles's will. (fn. 106) Both are of coloured marbles and Grecian in style with attendant mourners. A smaller marble tablet on the south wall is to Sir William Halford (d. 1695). The hatchment of Sir Henry Halford (d. 1844) hangs on the south wall of the nave. Sir Henry's monument, which is paired with that of his wife Elizabeth (d. 1833), is by Richard Westmacott the younger. (fn. 107) This, together with a similar tablet to Sir John Vaughan (d. 1839), Sir Henry's brother, is placed on the north wall of the nave. Memorial tablets in the chancel are to other members of the Halford and Vaughan families.
There are three bells: (i) 1625; (ii) 1631; (iii) the oldest, but undated. (fn. 108) The communion plate is dated 1777 and was probably the gift of Sir Charles Halford (d. 1780); it consists of a silver-gilt cup, paten, and dish. (fn. 109) The registers date from 1588, with a gap from 1635 to 1653.
Newton Harcourt lies five miles south-east of Leicester in the valley of the River Sence. It is a chapelry of Wistow and was formerly a separate civil parish, but in 1936 most of it was transferred to Wistow and a small part to Oadby Urban District. (fn. 110) The area of the chapelry was 1,143 a.
Newton Harcourt lies almost entirely on the northern side of the Sence. The ground rises from below 300 ft. near the river to over 400 ft. in the extreme north. A small un-named stream rises in Newton Harcourt and flows to the south-west to join the Sence in neighbouring Wigston Magna parish; the ridge between it and the Sence is called Tythorn Hill. The soil is mainly a strong, loamy clay. Part of the southern boundary of the township is formed by the Sence and the road to Wistow; on the north-west the boundary follows a track called the Old Mere, and on the east it follows the road to Great Glen for a short distance; elsewhere field boundaries form the boundary.
The chief road in Newton Harcourt is that from Leicester which leaves the Leicester-Northampton road at Wigston Magna and leads southwards from Newton Harcourt to Fleckney and Saddington; it is believed to be on the line of a Saxon road. (fn. 111) It crosses both the Sence and the canal by bridges known as Wain Bridge; that over the Sence was in existence by at least the early 16th century (fn. 112) and was rebuilt in 1879. (fn. 113) A second road runs eastwards from the first towards Great Glen and forms the village street of Newton Harcourt. A minor road leads southwards from the village to the church and manor-house and continues as a track towards Wistow; it crosses the canal by Newton Bridge and the Sence by an un-named bridge. The canal is also crossed in the east of the parish by High Bridge, but this is on no road or track.
The Grand Union Canal crosses the township, a little north of the Sence. It rises from just under to just over 300 ft. within Newton Harcourt and has three locks. The railway from Leicester to Market Harborough runs to the north of the canal. Canal and railway divide the church and manor-house on the south from the rest of the village on the north; most of the village houses lie on the south side of the village street and around a 'square' between it and the railway. There are few isolated buildings but one large farm is situated in the north-west of the parish: this is Wigston Lodge, built in the 19th century. The village for the most part consists of redbrick houses, including three or four large farmhouses of the late 18th or early 19th century, each having extensive outbuildings including prominent Dutch barns. Some of the houses are roofed in pantiles, not often seen in this part of the county. There is no inn in the village, but a house on the south side of the 'square', now a shop, was formerly the Bull Inn. Although of brick construction throughout it retains a three-bayed plan with a crosspassage which may indicate a 17th-century origin. There are also a disused smithy and bakery and a long range of two-storied cottages built early in the 19th century. The larger farm-houses bear witness to the improvements carried out in Wistow and Newton Harcourt by Sir Henry Halford following his succession in 1814: Croft House Farm, The Elms, The Oaks, and The Old Farm all date in part from this period. One earlier building is The Poplars, a two-storied brick house with a central stack, which is dated 1712 and bears the initials B R A. At the east end of the village street is the reading room, and nearby two Wistow estate cottages built c. 1900. A large house called The Coppice was built in 1898, and two pairs of Council houses of Swedish timber were built in 1947-8.
The manor-house is a structure of two stories with attics, built in the earlier 17th century, probably by John Chamberlain (d. 1638). In 1666, when it was occupied by the widow of the lord of the manor, it was assessed for 10 hearths. (fn. 114) The ground-floor walls are of stone and the first-floor and attic gables are of stucco-covered timber-framing. The original plan was H-shaped but this has been made more or less rectangular by later additions. In 1827 the south front of the house had a projection, probably containing a staircase, in the angle between the central hall block and the east wing. (fn. 115) This feature was probably destroyed when the low vestibule was built between the wings on this side later in the same century; a similar infilling, including a central porch, was made between the wings on the north side. Bay windows and dormers have also been added to the house. Joseph Goddard, F.R.I.B.A. (d. 1900), well known for his church restorations in the county, lived here late in the 19th century and was probably responsible for the present external appearance of the building and for many of the internal alterations. The Goddard family still owned the house in 1960 and careful restorations have been carried out in recent years.
A number of original stone windows with ovolomoulded mullions remain, the kitchen in the west wing having a large mullioned and transomed window. The east wing, containing the parlour, has cellars with a central stud partition, several blocked lights, a side door, and arch-bracketed ceiling beams. The parlour has a carved overmantel and fire-place of c. 1600 with the emblem of a Tudor rose surmounted by a crown. This and the panelling appear to have been brought from elsewhere. A chimney to the kitchen wing has original brick shafts diagonally placed; the hall stack, which in 1827 was of limestone ashlar, has been replaced in recent years by a small octagonal shaft.
The rectangular forecourt on the north side of the house retains an early-17th-century arched stone entrance, the arch flanked by tapered, fluted pilasters carrying a frieze and a moulded cornice. The brick walls on two sides of the court, including the gableend of the stable range, have vitrified brick diaper patterns. John Chamberlain possessed 15,300 bricks, worth £10, at his death in 1638 (fn. 116) and the forecourt walls may represent part of a larger unfinished scheme. The stable range is of brick with stone dressings and is buttressed on its east side. There are indications that both the forecourt walls and the stonework of the house were covered with stucco in the late 18th century.
The recorded population of Newton Harcourt in 1086 was 32. (fn. 117) There were 16 taxpayers in 1332, (fn. 118) and 63 poll tax payers in 1377. (fn. 119) There were 14 taxpayers in 1524, (fn. 120) but in 1563 there were said to be only 12 households in Newton Harcourt, Kilby, and Fleckney combined. In 1670 there were 22 families, and 95 communicants were returned in 1676. (fn. 121) Early in the 18th century there were 30 families in the parish. (fn. 122) The population, 186 in 1801, rose sharply to 298 in 1831; thereafter it steadily declined to 142 in 1931. (fn. 123)
Under Edward the Confessor NEWTON HARCOURT was held by Ælric the son of Meriet. The whole of his possessions passed at the Conquest to Robert de Vescy, who held Newton Harcourt in 1086. (fn. 124) The ownership of the manor cannot subsequently be traced until the 13th century; it is said to have been held by Saer de Quency and by him given to his sister Arabella at the time of her marriage to Richard de Harcourt. (fn. 125) At his death in 1258 Richard held land in Newton Harcourt and Shangton valued at £20 from the Earl of Warwick as 1 knight's fee; his son, Sir William, was his heir. (fn. 126) Newton Harcourt, however, had been shortly before settled on Richard's younger son Saer. (fn. 127) Saer forfeited his lands to the Crown in 1265 after supporting Simon de Montfort (fn. 128) and the king subsequently handed over the manor to Saer's overlord, William Mauduit, Earl of Warwick. (fn. 129) In 1267, however, Saer was pardoned and his lands returned to him, before October 1268, by Mauduit's relict the Countess Alice. (fn. 130)
Saer was apparently still holding the manor in 1275 and at his death one-third of it appears to have become the dower of his relict Agnes. (fn. 131) Richard de Harcourt claimed in 1316 that he had been enfeoffed in the manor by Saer but had subsequently been disseised by Walter de Kent and others, and that Walter had then conveyed it to the queen; now Richard was claiming the manor against Amice, relict of John le Lou, and others. (fn. 132) This story seems to have been substantially correct. The manor was indeed granted for life to Walter de Kancia (Kent) in 1281 after Walter had conveyed it to the Crown, (fn. 133) and Agnes was claiming her dower from Walter in 1283. (fn. 134) Before February 1284 the queen had granted the manor for life to Gilbert Peche, and later in the same year she and the king granted land in the manor worth £30 to John le Leu (Lou, Loup) and his wife Amice for their lives. (fn. 135) Richard de Harcourt had demanded lands and rents from John and Amice in 1292; (fn. 136) he was unsuccessful in his claim to the manor in 1316.
John le Lou died before 1300 (fn. 137) and the manor was subsequently held by Amice and her second husband Philip de Hardreshull. In 1317 the reversion of the manor was granted to Oliver de Burdegale and his wife Maud. (fn. 138) Amice (now called le Wolf) died in 1332 (fn. 139) and when the reversion was granted in the same year to a citizen of London, John Poulteney, Oliver and Maud were in possession. (fn. 140) They subsequently surrendered their rights to him, and in 1334 he granted the manor to Ralph Hastings. (fn. 141) In spite of a claim by Poulteney's relict to one-third of the manor as dower, Hastings and his son Ralph held the manor without hindrance until 1395 when Thomas Astley, a descendant of the Harcourt family, sought possession. (fn. 142) In 1396 Astley surrendered his right to Ralph and others, (fn. 143) feoffees on whom Ralph had settled the manor in 1389-90. (fn. 144)
About 1400 one of the feoffees granted the manor to Ralph's daughter Margaret, and in 1402 she and her second husband Sir John Blaket secured a settlement of the manor on themselves and their heirs, with a reversion to the Hastings family. Despite the fact that an heir existed, Blaket arranged in 1423 for the return of the manor to Richard Hastings, this agreement apparently following the complaint of a second feoffee against the grant of the manor to Margaret. (fn. 145) Richard Hastings held it at his death in 1436, (fn. 146) and his brother Leonard at his death in 1455, (fn. 147) having withstood the claim of Margaret's heir in 1438 (fn. 148) and having received the surrender of Thomas Astley's interest in 1439. (fn. 149) Leonard's son William, Lord Hastings (d. 1483), still held the manor in 1475; (fn. 150) his son Edward, Lord Hastings (d. 1506), had livery of his lands in 1488. The estate subsequently passed to the earls of Huntingdon of whom Edward's son was the first. (fn. 151)
The descent of the manor during the 16th century is obscure, but it may have followed that of the manor of Wistow (fn. 152) for in 1601 it was mortgaged by Thomas and Francis Browne to John Gobert and Roger Smith, (fn. 153) and in 1603 it was sold to Francis Chamberlain, a member of a family which had been acquiring property in Newton Harcourt since at least 1508. (fn. 154) His son John held the manor at his death in 1638, but in 1646 another John levied a fine upon it with John Rowley and Timothy Cobe. (fn. 155) This was probably a mortgage as the Chamberlains still lived in the principal house in the village in 1666, (fn. 156) and still held the manor in 1684. (fn. 157) They are reputed to have sold the manor directly to the Halfords. (fn. 158) Before 1772 the manor had indeed passed to the Halfords of Wistow (fn. 159) and it subsequently descended with Wistow manor. (fn. 160)
Robert de Vescy's holding in 1086 consisted of 10 carucates and had doubled in value to 60s. since the Conquest. Of 8 ploughs, 3 were in demesne, and 5 were held by 11 villeins, 8 socmen, a priest, 5 bordars, and 6 serfs. Two of the 10 carucates were farmed by a knight with 1 plough. There were 12 a. of meadow. (fn. 161)
The organization of the medieval manor is revealed in surveys made in 1265, (fn. 162) 1279, (fn. 163) 1332, (fn. 164) and 1436. (fn. 165) The area of the demesne land decreased from 7½ virgates in 1265 to 7 in 1279 and 6 in 1436. The villeins held 9½ virgates in 1265 and 5 in 1279, and an indication of their obligations to the lord of the manor is given in 1332: they paid more than 66s. in rents and performed 24 works, each worth 2d., with an additional 46 in autumn, worth 6s. 8d. Neither villeins nor cottagers-who had paid rents of 4s. in 1265-were mentioned in 1436 and they had apparently assumed the status of tenants at will; 12 messuages were then valued at 3s. each and 12 virgates were held by such tenants. Seventeen tenants at will had paid the poll tax in 1381. (fn. 166)
Freeholdings at first formed an important part of the manor. Free tenants paid over £3 in rent in 1265 and nearly £5 in 1332, together with 1 lb. of pepper; there were 17 freeholdings, of from ¼ to 3¾ virgates, in 1279. Their rents produced only a little over 26s. and the pepper in 1436, however, and only 2 free tenants paid the poll tax in 1381. (fn. 167) Although most of the freeholdings were very small, that held by Isabel de Scheftinton in 1290 was more substantial: it comprised a messuage, 2 carucates of land, a windmill, and 40s. rent in Newton Harcourt, besides a messuage and one carucate in Tur Langton. (fn. 168)
The number of virgates held by villeins and tenants at will and the rents paid by free tenants both suggest an increase in the prosperity of the manor between 1265 and 1332. The manor as a whole had been valued at just over £20 in 1265 and at nearly £7 in 1332, but this reduction is probably to be accounted for by the absence of the manor-house, demesne land, and watermill from the second valuation. The reductions in both demesne and free rents were only two of the several signs of decay in the manor by the 15th century. The total value was only just over £10 in 1436 when both manor-house and dovecot were ruinous; the value of a virgate had fallen from 18s. in 1265 to 6s.; the watermill was again not mentioned and may indeed have no longer existed; and the profits of the manorial court had fallen from 4s. in 1332 to 2s. a year. It may be significant that in 1445 Newton Harcourt's tax assessment of 1334 was reduced by over 10 per cent. (fn. 169)
In the 16th century the Chamberlain family began their acquisition of land in Newton Harcourt which culminated in the purchase of the manor in 1603. In 1508 William Chamberlain the younger acquired property in Newton Harcourt and Kilby from John Chamberlain of Leicester. William paid the largest tax assessment in the village in 1524 (fn. 170) and when he died in the following year he left large sums of money to his family. (fn. 171) In 1545 and 1572 Henry Chamberlain was the leading taxpayer. In 1578 Richard Chamberlain acquired more land, and in 1593 he conveyed what may have been the whole Chamberlain property to Francis Chamberlain. Francis purchased the manor in 1603, and he was the leading taxpayer in 1628. (fn. 172) By 1638, when John Chamberlain died, the estate was valued at about £1,038. (fn. 173)
Little is known of agrarian practice in Newton Harcourt, but the open-field arable land lay in three fields which in the early Middle Ages at least were apparently the basis of a three-course rotation. In 1332 there were 160 a. of arable land of which 109½ a. could be sown yearly and were worth 4d. an acre; no valuation was possible for the fallow land. When inclosure took place in 1772 the three fields were called Mill, Cowmoor, and Barley Hill Fields. The Sence valley no doubt always provided meadow and pasture land. In 1332 the manor included 6 a. of meadow, worth 2s. an acre, and 2 a. of pasture worth 1s.; in 1346 there were 20 a. of meadow worth 1s. 8d. each; and the Chamberlains' meadow and pasture have already been noticed. In 1772 there were the Little Inn, Western, and Larger Slade Meadows.
The inclosure award mentioned some ancient closes, most of which were probably near the village. That called 'le Halleyerde' in 1436 probably adjoined the manor-house. But some inclosure of open-field land may have taken place in the late 16th century; in 1607 it was alleged that within the previous eight years Francis Chamberlain and Abraham Browne had each caused the decay of a farm-house. (fn. 174) Three closes-the 12-acre 'Great Close', sown with barley, Dawes Close, and the pasture 'Rames Close'-all belonged to John Chamberlain in 1638. Of his 230 sheep 60 were at Stoughton; but those in Johnson's and Turner's flocks may have been at Newton Harcourt. (fn. 175)
The inclosure commissioners made 9 allotments in 1772: of the 875 a. concerned, the lord of the manor, Sir Charles Halford, received 550 a., besides his allotment for great tithes. The other allotments varied from just over one acre to 84 a. (fn. 176) By 1801 only a little over one-quarter of the parish was arable; of the 238½ a. then cropped, 85 a. were under wheat, 72 a. beans and peas, 39 a. barley, and 37 a. oats. (fn. 177) The land has been farmed by 4 or 5 farmers and graziers in the 19th and 20th centuries. (fn. 178)
Newton Harcourt has always been essentially an agricultural village, though the names of 14th-century taxpayers suggest that there may have been several craft- and tradesmen in Newton: smith, mercer, tailor, draper. (fn. 179) But some aspiring tradesmen may have migrated to nearby Leicester; in 1435 Richard Hastings imprisoned a Leicester draper at Newton, alleging that he was a villein of the manor, but a jury decided that he was a freeman. (fn. 180) In the 18th and 19th centuries some frameworkknitting was carried on in Newton; Thomas Elkington, who died in 1770, was a knitter, and in 1844 there were 37 frames in the village. (fn. 181) There was an innkeeper, at the 'Recruiting Sergeant', in the 19th century, (fn. 182) and a village shop and a small printing firm in 1960.
There was a watermill at Newton Harcourt in 1086, valued at 2s. yearly. (fn. 183) In 1265 there were two mills, worth 33s. 4d.; the new mill was probably the windmill, which was mentioned specifically in 1283 when Agnes de Harcourt claimed the two as dower. (fn. 184) The watermill is not mentioned in the survey of 1332. (fn. 185) The windmill was then valued at 10s. net. In 1290 it was held by Isabel de Scheftinton. (fn. 186) The windmill still existed in the 17th century, (fn. 187) and probably gave its name to Mill Field. Close to the north side of the road to Great Glen is a mound on which the windmill may have stood.
In 1802-3 26 adults and 44 children were given out-relief. There was no workhouse. (fn. 188) In 1836 Newton Harcourt was placed in Billesdon Union. (fn. 189) A house standing on the Poor's Land (fn. 190) was occupied in 1837 by poor families paying no rent, and was called a 'house of industry', but it was never a workhouse in the proper sense. Some of the occupants were not technically paupers. (fn. 191)
A small contribution to parish administration in the early 19th century was made by the manorial courts: they were still held, at the 'Recruiting Sergeant', in the 1830's. In 1832, for example, those who had bought estates were ordered to appear and pay the usual fines, presentments were made for encroachments on the waste, and constables, headboroughs, and pinders were appointed. (fn. 192)
The priest who held land in Newton Harcourt in 1086 may have been the Rector of Wistow who held a virgate in Newton in 1279. (fn. 193) From at least 1220 the chapel at Newton Harcourt has been served from Wistow; in that year services were held at Newton three days a week. (fn. 194) In 1288 an acknowledgement was made by Walter Hubert of Newton Harcourt that he and his heirs were bound to pay 2s. annual rent to support the chantry of St. Leonard in the chapel of Newton. No more is heard of the chantry.
The glebe lands and tithes at Newport Harcourt were separated from the rectory of Wistow for a period in the 17th century. (fn. 195) In 1637 they were sold for £1,120 by Henry, Barbara, and Walter Faunt (fn. 196) to John Chamberlain, then lord of Newton Harcourt manor; the glebe then apparently consisted of a messuage, a garden, an orchard, 10 a. of arable land, 6 a. of meadow, 6 a. of pasture, and common pasture in Newton Harcourt. Glebe and tithes were worth 20s. at John's death in 1638, and they were still attached to the manor in 1646. In 1772, at the inclosure, allotments for tithes were made to the Vicar of Wistow (17 a.) and to Sir Charles Halford as impropriator (151 a.). (fn. 197)
The chapel of ST. LUKE consists of chancel and nave under one roof, vestry, organ chamber, and west tower. The only remaining part of the original chapel is the tower, the lower part, of rubble masonry, built in the late 13th century, and the upper, of ironstone, in the 15th century. The arch towards the nave has keeled responds and re-tooled semi-octagonal capitals with hollow-chamfered orders. Above the west door in the tower is a lancet window with deep splays; the door dates from the 15th century.
In 1510 the only complaint made about the chapel was that it had neither corporal nor pyx. (fn. 198) In 1619 the church needed general repairs and painting and much the same complaints were made in 1626, when the church door was broken down and the wooden box pews were rotten and decayed. (fn. 199) In 1777 the archdeacon ordered the introduction of new pulpit and reading desk, communion table and rails, font, and service books. The seats, pavements, and chalice cover needed repair. It was later found that the seats were beyond repair, and new ones were installed by 1784. (fn. 200) In 1797 it was ordered that weatherboards were to be put up at the belfry windows, the tower buttresses strengthened, and the roof repaired. (fn. 201) In 1832 Archdeacon Bonney stated that the body of the chapel was almost literally falling to pieces, and it was rebuilt with new furniture and fittings, and a large gallery, in 1834-5. (fn. 202) It is in the Gothic style of the 14th century, is faced with stucco, and has a slate roof. The north porch is brick. The small stone font and the rest of the fittings are of the same date. In 1858 the brick vestry was built, and in 1874 the gallery was removed and the north side enlarged. A burial ground was consecrated in 1876. (fn. 203) The organ was installed in 1899; (fn. 204) it came from Wistow Hall and may be of 18th-century date.
In 1818 45 children attended a Sunday school and 3 day schools in Newton Harcourt, all un-endowed. (fn. 209) A day school was opened in 1826, where in 1833 9 children of each sex were educated at the expense of their parents. There was also a Sunday school in 1833, attended by 44 children, and supported by subscription. (fn. 210) The National school was built by Sir Henry Halford in 1866. (fn. 211) In 1910 it had an average attendance of 31, in 1922 27, and in 1933 32. (fn. 212) In 1922 it was recommended that the school should not be closed but that children of 11 years and more should go elsewhere. (fn. 213) In 1931 it was made a junior school, senior pupils attending at Oadby, and it was closed in 1937. (fn. 214) In 1960 the building was used as a garage. It is of red brick with blue-brick dressings, designed in the Tudor style.
The Poor's Land was allotted at the inclosure in 1772, and in 1837 consisted of just over 10 a. of land, divided into small allotments. The rents from these, £12, were distributed among clothing and medical clubs in the village. (fn. 215) In 1877 there were 40 garden allotments, and the £18 rent was distributed in the form of clothing. (fn. 216) In 1953 the allotments yielded an annual rent of £13 13s. 3d., of which £11 was paid to a clothing club. (fn. 217)
In 1786 it was stated that Samuel Ward gave £5 by will for the poor, but this charity was lost by 1837. (fn. 218)