HISTORY OF THE CHURCH AND PARISH

from the privaterly published The Story of Braunstone Parish Church

A church at Braunstone (or Branteston) is first mentioned in a document of 1168, and the Domesday Book of 1086 describes the village as having a population of two sokemen and four villeins.

The original church must have been on, or very close to the site of the present one, because the earliest known Manor House at Braunstone was situated on the field between the church and what is now Braunstone Lane. A church which was, in effect, a private chapel for the Lord of the Manor would not have been very far away.

The Domesday Book states: ‘The son of Robert Burdell holds of Hugh de Grentmaisnell six carucates of land in Brantestone’ and later sources describe the Manor passing from Margaret de Herle to her son Ralph de Hastings in 1346.

Plan of church buildingsThe main part of the existing church, consisting of the chancel, nave and tower, was probably built in the twelfth or thirteenth century.

A later Manor House was built on the site of the recently demolished ‘Old Hall Farm’ in Braunstone Lane, near to the ‘Shakespeare’ Public House, which, it is interesting to note, was opened as a public house as recently as 1954. Parts of the red brick wall which surrounded this Manor House can still be seen.

In 1637, a church visitation describes the ‘chappell’ as being in a very neglected and dilapidated condition. Several old prints of the church depict a red brick buttress supporting the wall at the east end. There is no trace of this now.

Hastings sale to Winstanley 1650In 1650, the Manor was sold by the executors of the late Sir Henry Hastings who, having fought on the Royalist side in the Civil War, had been heavily fined and adjudged ‘delinquent’ by Parliament. It was purchased for £6,000 by James Winstanley, a lawyer of Gray’s Inn.

At this time, the villages of Braunstone and Kirby Muxloe were both part of the ecclesiastical Parish of Glenfield, the Rector being appointed by the Lord of the Manor. The curate or minister (if any) was appointed by the Rector, but as there was no parsonage in Braunstone, he did not live in the village. In 1838, Archdeacon T. K. Bonney, in his Visitation refers to the minister as living at Kenilworth, which seems rather a long way to travel for the proper cure of the souls in the Parish!

The present Braunstone Hall, once used as a school, was built for the Lord of the Manor, Clement Winstanley, in 1775 at a cost of £4,000 approximately.

The parsonage, now known as the Vicarage, was built in 1864 by Captain R. G. Pochin, the husband of Anna Jane Winstanley, who inherited the estate from her brother, James Beaumont Winstanley. He was drowned in mysterious circumstances at the age of thirty in 1862. Captain Pochin, a member of the Pochin family of Barkby, also erected the Old School in Braunstone Lane in 1868.

In 1867, the church was completely re-roofed, and in 1885, the level of the floor was raised, probably to reduce the effect of the dampness which seems to have plagued the church for many years.

The last Lord of the Manor inherited the estate from his mother, Mrs. Anna Pochin (mentioned above) in 1910, having adopted his mother’s family surname of Winstanley. Hence a memorial tablet in the church refers to Richard Norman Winstanley, the son of Ralph George Pochin. He sold the greater part of the estate to Leicester Corporation in 1925 for £115,000, and died aged ninety in Hampshire in 1954.

A large housing programme has been carried out by Leicester Corporation and this, together with private development, both before and after the War, has helped to increase the population of the ancient Parish of Braunstone (Braunston, Branston, or Branteston) from 238 in 1921 to approximately 40,000 now.

In 1892, and again in 1935, some of the civil parish of Braunstone became part of the City of Leicester under boundary extension schemes, and in 1937, because of the rapidly increasing population, an ambitious scheme to increase the capacity of the church was commenced. It was, unfortunately, not completed. In the same year, Braunstone was separated from Glenfield and became a parish in its own right, with its own vicar, a status which was attained by Kirby Muxloe in 1932.

In 1963, the roof of the old nave, ravaged by death watch beetle, was disinfested and repaired, and in 2009 the church roof was re-tiled.

Two temporary daughter churches, St. Boniface in Winforde Crescent and St. Crispin in Edward Avenue, were erected and dedicated in 1948, and the Parish Hall in Woodshawe Rise was opened in 1951. St Boniface was closed after a fire and converted to a recreation centre. The Parish Hall also suffered a fire, and was demolished for housing.

It was obvious by the turn of the millennium that the extra space created by the 1937 extension was not needed, and so the church reverted to its medieval layout, with the new extension becoming the Millennium Hall, designed to serve both the needs of the church and the community.

In 2002 the parish was divided into the country part, which St Crispin’s serves, and the city part which St Peter’s now serves. For some years it was a Conventional District, but became a parish once again in 2008.

THE NAME OF THE CHURCH

There is a certain amount of confusion about the name of the Patron Saint of Braunstone Parish church. Although it is nowadays almost universally known as St. Peter, several nineteenth century directories and other sources refer to the church under the name of St. John the Baptist.

The traditional date of the Patronal Festival at the end of June gives very little help in this respect as the feast days of St. John and St. Peter are on the twenty-fourth and twenty-ninth of June respectively. It has been thought by some that the original name was that of St. John the Baptist but it became known as St. Peter because of the fact that it was a chapel in the parish of St. Peters, Glenfield.

THE HAY LEGEND

Hay Sunday 1946On the Sunday of the Patronal festival each year an ancient custom was still practised until the 1970s, and that is the strewing of hay in the church by the Parish Clerk or Verger. Traditionally the hay was taken from the ‘Holme Meadow’ near St.Mary’s Mills at Aylestone. The portion of the meadow from which the hay was taken was marked out by stakes and called the ‘Clerk’s Acre’. At one time it was the custom to take the hay from the ‘Clerk’s Acre’ to Braunstone church, ‘the way the crow flies’, and this journey across the river Soar, through the cornfields, hedges and ditches, was annually made the occasion for a rough and boisterous holiday.

After strewing the hay in the church, the hay belonged to the Clerk or Verger, but was usually claimed by the farmer of the ‘Holme Meadow’ on payment to the Clerk of thirty shillings. The ‘Holme Meadow’ is now underneath Aylestone Road Gasworks, and a payment of thirty shillings per annum was still paid by the East Midlands Gas Board to the Parochial Church Council until comparatively recently.

It is not known when the custom of strewing of hay began or why, but judging from the custom of carrying the hay across country and making it a boisterous holiday, it seems that the origin may have been in some ancient pagan festival. There is a legend telling of the daughter of the Lord of the Manor who became lost at Aylestone and was found by the Clerk of Braunstone church and restored safely to her family. In gratitude her father gave the hay from a portion of one of his fields to the Clerk for laying in the church each year for all time. It is not known whether this legendary act was the origin of the hay tradition at Braunstone or whether the Lord of the Manor financed an already existing custom.

It is interesting to note that the custom of laying hay in the church at the time of the Patronal festival has also been known to exist in other Leicestershire churches including Glenfield, Ashby Folville, Medbourne and Wymondham.

CLERGY AT BRAUNSTONE CHURCH

The following is an (incomplete) list of the Curates who served the church under the direction of the Rector of Glenfield from 1582. The date given is the first date in which they appear in the registers.

1582 John Jobarin (or Jobarne) 1826 Andrew Bloxam
1606 William Bocking 1834 Lomas Miles
1615 Edmund Mortymere 1835 W. Fry
1621 Anthony Picke 1847 A. J. Wilmshurst
1622 Nicholas Parker 1852 J. N. Scott
1632 Tho. Kilby 1855 Stevenson G. Bellairs
1634 Tho. Starborrow 1858 Thomas Richards
1636 Richard Walter 1865 G. Bishop
1637 John Dixon 1866 W. S. Bagshaw
1639 Henricus Clarke 1873 R. Banks
1648 William Coultman 1874 J. G. Woodhouse
1675 John Palmer 1877 L. H. Patchett
1699 John Elliott 1880 T. Disney Barlow
1700 Tho. Robinson 1898 A. G. Begbie
1704 Jo. Browne 1903 J. H. Housefield
1707 Thomas Martin 1905 J. Luck +
1725 William Thomas 1921 J. D. Rainforth
1732 C. Mead 1922 H. B. Fairclough
1741 William Unett 1923 A. Richardson if
1769 Chas. Allen 1925 J. H. Bern ++
1780 Robert Throsby 1931 E. H. Dight
1825 Thomas Stackhouse Carlyon *

* Later Rector of Glenfield.
+  Chairman of Blaby R.D.C. 1912-1913.
++Also Vicar of Holy Apostles, Leicester.

The following have been vicars of Braunstone since the establishment of a separate Parish in 1937:

1937 Reginald Searle Sleigh     1970 Alan T. Green
1941 J. W. Hollinshead 1975 K. Newbon
1946 William H. Gibb 1985 M. S. Woods
1954 Basil George Alexander 1992 R. K. Daniel
1959 Donald N. MacLeod 2002 J. C. Burch
1964 Lewis William Matthews

This entry is dated Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011 at 5.33pm and is filed under History.

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