A History of the County of Northampton: Volume 4. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1937.
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In this section
Belinge (xi cent.); Billingge (xii cent.).
The parish of Little Billing covers an area of 870 acres. It is long and narrow in shape and is crossed by the main road from Northampton to Wellingborough, which passes through the centre of the parish from west to east, descending from a height of 304 ft. to 207 ft. at the eastern boundary. Billing Lane, running at right angles to the Wellingborough road, connects the main road to Kettering with the Billing road and descends from a height of 255 ft. to 191 ft. at its junction with the Billing road in the south of the parish where the village lies. This consists of one or two farm-houses and a few cottages only, in addition to the church and rectory house; in Bridges's time 11 families composed the population, which in 1931 was 83. Since 1935 Little Billing has been absorbed into the civil parish of Billing.
The manor-house, mentioned by Leland, stood immediately north of the church, and some remains of it are incorporated in a modern house on a portion of the site. In Bridges's time part of the house was still standing, 'the first story supported with broad arches and at the south end a turret with a staircase leading up to the leads'. (fn. 1) Pennant, about 1780, speaks of the 'poor remains' of the mansion of the Longuevilles at Little Billing, (fn. 2) and in 1789 the ruins were described as 'much reduced' in the course of sixty years. (fn. 3) The turret and practically the whole of the east end of the building had then gone, but some portion of the western end was still standing, of two stories, with embattled parapet and large ground-floor bay window on the north side. (fn. 4) These features have in their turn disappeared and such ancient work as still remains is very slight or of a fragmentary character. The older part, which includes a small pointed window on the south side near ground level, may be of 14th-century date, and at the east end in a modern wall is inserted a quatrefoil circle containing a shield inscribed 'pro aīa', (fn. 5) apparently of the same period. A four-centred doorway and a mullioned window with rounded lights are probably of the 16th century, but in its present form the house, known locally as the Castle, dates only from 1880. (fn. 6)
Behind the village the ground slopes down to the River Nene which forms the southern boundary; this portion of the parish lies low, falling to 171 ft., and is watered by numerous small streams, all branches of the River Nene, which overflow their banks in rainy seasons and flood the surrounding land.
At the time of the Domesday Survey 1086, Gunfrid de Cioches held the manor of LITTLE BILLING of the king in chief, (fn. 7) and the manor continued to be held of the honor of Chokes.
In the reign of King Edward the manor had been held freely by Swain, and no under-tenant is mentioned at the time of the Survey, but Walter fitz Winemar, whose father Winemar held a great deal of land in Northamptonshire in 1086, is later found holding the manor with his wife Osanna. (fn. 8) As in Preston Deanery (q.v.),where he was under-tenant to the Countess Judith, he was succeeded by the Preston family. (fn. 9) Gilbert de Preston in 1236 confirmed a lease of the manor for 6 years to Simon de Esteyland and Guy de Merloue. (fn. 10) This Gilbert held Billing until 1273, (fn. 11) when on his death it passed to his widow Alice, as her dower, by agreement with Laurence, Gilbert's nephew and heir. (fn. 12) Alice was still holding the manor in 1284, (fn. 13) but by 1301 it had come into the possession of Laurence, who then alienated Billing to John de Longueville and Joan his wife. (fn. 14) This John de Longueville was a benefactor to the religious houses in Northampton, for in 1299 he bestowed rent and land in Little Billing upon St. John's Hospital, (fn. 15) and in 1323 he is supposed to have founded the Northampton house of the Austin Friars, in the church of which several of his descendants, who were also benefactors to the friars, were afterwards buried. (fn. 16) The Longuevilles retained Little Billing Manor for nearly 400 years; one of the family, Sir George, being murdered there in 1357, (fn. 17) but they ceased to reside there after the marriage of John Longueville, a great-grandson of the former John, with Joan Hunt, daughter and heir of Margery Wolverton of Wolverton (Bucks.), (fn. 18) which manor then became their chief seat, Billing being settled on George, their eldest son, (fn. 19) who was Sheriff of Northamptonshire in 1430 (fn. 20) and succeeded his father c. 1439 in the lordship of Wolverton. (fn. 21) George died in 1458 (fn. 22) and his grandson and heir, Richard, surviving him a few weeks only, the latter's son John, then only 33 weeks old, inherited the estate. (fn. 23) On the marriage of John in 1493 with his first wife Elizabeth, the daughter of Sir Ralph Hastings, a settlement of the manor was made to their use and their lawful issue. They had one child Anne who married Drew Cheyne and by him had a son John, (fn. 24) to whom the manor ought to have passed in 1541 on his grandfather's death, (fn. 25) but the latter in 1527 (fn. 26) had made over Billing to his illegitimate sons Thomas, Arthur, Richard, and John in tail male. Thomas dying before his father in 1540, (fn. 27) the manor was resettled on Arthur (fn. 28) who entered into it on his father's death in 1541 and bought out John Cheyne's claim by giving up to him manors and lands to the yearly value of £20, John in 1542 renouncing all right in the manor of Little Billing. (fn. 29) Arthur died in 1557 leaving a son Henry, then aged 10, (fn. 30) against whom, when he came of age, Henry the son of John Cheyne brought an action, alleging that the terms of the contract had not been kept. (fn. 31) Henry Longueville lived till 1618, (fn. 32) his son Henry surviving him only three years, when the manor passed to the latter's son Edward (fn. 33) who was created a baronet in 1638 and died in 1661. His son and heir Thomas was killed by a fall from his horse in 1685 (fn. 34) and his son Edward in 1688 sold Little Billing. (fn. 35) The manor was acquired by William Thursby, from whom it passed, with Abington (q.v.), to John Harvey Thursby, and was bought of the Thursby family in 1837 by Mr. Loyd, whose grand-daughter was Lady Wantage.
There was a mill attached to the manor worth 2s. in 1086, (fn. 36) described as a water-mill in 1273 (fn. 37) and last mentioned in 1361, there being no trace of a mill at the present day. In 1361 the manor comprised 73 acres of arable land, 60 acres of meadow, and £4 14s. annual rent. The serfs owed £7 rent of assize and the cottars 6s., while six free tenants owed works in harvest every three days. There were two dove-houses, two ponds, and buildings within the gates, the moiety of a grange, pleas and perquisites of court. (fn. 38)
Other land in Billing was held by the Count of Mortain in 1086, of which 2½ virgates were socland of the manor of Weston. (fn. 39) This holding, which escheated to the Crown either in the reign of William Rufus or in 1106, was granted to the Avrenches family (fn. 40) and was held of them by Walter fitz Winemar, lord of the manor, who bestowed 1 virgate of this fee, together with Little Billing Church and 1 virgate of the fee of Chokes, upon St. Andrew's Priory in Northampton. (fn. 41) Sibyl de Preston daughter of Gilbert gave up her right in 5 virgates of land in Billing to the priory on the condition that her daughter Eustachia and the latter's husband Robert son of Ralph Raye should continue to hold 2 virgates of the priory. (fn. 42) These gifts were confirmed in the reign of Henry II by Michael de Preston and by the latter's son Walter and grandson Gilbert in the reign of Henry III. (fn. 43) In the reign of Edward II the priory sued Philip son of John of Boughton for unjustly disseising them of 1 messuage and 3 virgates of land in Little Billing, (fn. 44) and in the reign of Richard II, George Longueville, lord of the manor, contended that of the 40d. due from the whole 'vill' of Billing for ward of the Castle of Northampton or that of Rockingham, 6d. ought to be paid by the prior. As a defence the prior successfully pleaded that the land had been given him in free alms, the jury also finding that by a charter of Henry II, confirmed by Edward I, the priory was acquitted from shire and hundred courts. (fn. 45) In 1291 the priory's possessions in Little Billing were valued at £6 15s., the meadows being worth £3 and their lands and dovehouses £3 15s. (fn. 46) By 1535 the value of the estate had fallen to 16s. (fn. 47) and, having been taken into the king's hand at the dissolution of the priory in 1538, it was granted out by Edward VI in 1553 to Thomas Sidney and Nicholas Haleswell, (fn. 48) but after this date no records of this holding can be found.
The church of ALL SAINTS consists of chancel, 31 ft. by 12 ft. 8 in., with north aisle or chapel its full length, 14 ft. 6 in. wide, nave, 43 ft. 6 in. by 26 ft. 6 in., and south porch, 8 ft. square, all these measurements being internal. There is also a small modern bell-tower on the north side, near the junction of the nave and chapel.
The oldest parts of the church are of 14th-century date but the building has been so much altered in later times that it now retains very little architectural interest. The north chapel was rebuilt in 1849, and the nave and chancel extensively restored in 1854. Before this time, however, a north aisle had been merged into the nave by the removal of the arcade, the outer walls rebuilt in a 'meagre Perpendicular' style, and a wide roof erected supported by posts in the middle. (fn. 49) In the 1854 restoration the single span roof was reconstructed without its supporting posts and a wooden turret at the west end was done away with. The width of the original nave would be about 16 ft. The chancel and its aisle are under separate tiled roofs with twin east gables, and the tower has a pyramidal roof. The walls are plastered internally and with one exception all the windows are modern.
The exception is a low-side window in the southwest corner of the chancel, which is a tall pointed opening with trefoiled head and hood-mould, of early 14th-century date. Though now at some height above the ground it is more than 2 ft. lower than the two other windows in the same wall, which presumably occupy the position of, if they do not actually reproduce, the original two-light openings. (fn. 50) There is a priest's doorway between the windows.
The chancel arch is a lofty one of two chamfered orders and probably belongs to a 15th-century reconstruction: the chancel screen is modern. The floor of the chancel is level with that of the nave, but no ancient ritual arrangements survive. There is, however, a small ogee-headed aumbry in the east wall of the chapel at its south end, and at the north end a carved corbel. The chapel is open on the south side by two pointed arches, the westernmost of 14th-century date, the other later, which may indicate that originally the aisle covered the chancel for only about half its length. The arch between the chapel and the former north aisle of the nave is also of 14th-century date. In the nave, north of the chancel arch, facing west, is a recess with foliated head, probably the remains of the reredos of a nave altar.
The exceedingly interesting cylindrical font has already been described. (fn. 51) On account of the palaeological peculiarity of its inscription, as well as from its resemblance to a Saxon baluster shaft, the font is generally attributed to the pre-Conquest period, but is probably not earlier than the 11th century. (fn. 52)
In the north chapel is an 18th-century wooden communion table. The pulpit and other fittings are modern.
There are three modern bells, cast about 1850. (fn. 53)
The plate consists of a silver cup of 1682 with the maker's mark IN within a heart, inscribed 'The Parish of litle Biling in Northamptonshire', a paten without date letter but of about the same period with the maker's mark E B repeated. There are also two pewter alms dishes and a pewter flagon of 1714. (fn. 54)
The registers before 1812 are as follows: (i) baptisms and burials 1632–1740, marriages 1632–1720, 1735– 41; (ii) baptisms and burials 1741–1812, marriages 1744–54; (iii) marriages 1754–1812. There is a book of churchwardens' accounts 1722–1886.
The rectory house, which stands close to the church, has a good 18th-century panelled entrance hall and oak staircase.
There is no mention of Little Billing Church in the Domesday Survey, but soon after the foundation of St. Andrew's Priory, Northampton, between 1093 and 1100, Walter fitz Winemar and Osanna his wife presented it to the prior and convent. (fn. 55) This gift was confirmed by Hugh of Wells, Bishop of Lincoln, 20s. being assigned to the priory as an annual pension. (fn. 56) This pension continued to be paid to the priory until the Dissolution. (fn. 57) The priory was a cell to the French priory of St. Mary de la Charité and therefore during the French wars of Edward III the presentation to the church of Little Billing was often exercised by the Crown. (fn. 58) In 1535 the value of the benefice was £11 13s. 4d. (fn. 59) and the church was annexed by the Crown on the dissolution of St. Andrew's in 1538. It was apparently granted to Richard Wudcocke, who sold it in 1548 to Sir Thomas Brudenell, who died seised of it in 1549, (fn. 60) when it was said to be held of Arthur Longuevill, but instead of passing to his heir with his other possessions it escheated to the king, by whom it was granted in the next year to Sir Ralph Sadler and Laurence Wennington. (fn. 61) The advowson is found in 1630 in the hands of Richard Stockwell, (fn. 62) but there is no record of its history during the interval. Anne Bracegirdle in 1648 presented by reason of the minority of her son Justinian, (fn. 63) who, with his wife Martha, sold the advowson to Richard Woodford in 1669. (fn. 64) It remained in the Woodford family until 1741 (fn. 65) when John and Mary Woodford conveyed it to Ambrose Isted of Ecton, (fn. 66) by whom it was probably afterwards sold to Sir Thomas Drury, bart., passing on the latter's death in 1759 to his two daughters and co-heirs, in undivided moieties. (fn. 67) The younger daughter, Jocosa Catherine, purchased her late sister's moiety in 1770 and married Sir Brownlow Cust, bart., afterwards Lord Brownlow, in whose descendant, the present Earl Brownlow, the advowson is now vested. (fn. 68)