Parish Church Restoration Service June 1878



The interesting old parish church of St. John the Baptist, Rothley, was on Wednesday formally re-opened for Divine worship by the Bishop of Peterborough, after being closed a year for restoration. the church, which was the mother church of six others, namely, Mountsorrel South, Gaddesby, Keyham, Grimston, Wartnaby and Chadwell-cum-Wykeham, having from the lapse of time fallen into a deplorable state of dilapidations, the energetic vicar and patron, the Rev. Richard Burton, determined to restore the structure, and make it more fit for its sacred uses. It consisted of a western embattled tower, built A.D. 1400, with a nave of four bays, north and south aisles, possessing some details of A.D. 1320, and a chancel originally built A.D. 1250, but much mutilated.

This churchyard had during six centuries become so much raised by accumulations of earth that the soil was not only some feet higher than the church floor, but was in some parts level with the window sills, the result being that the interior of the building was damp with an unsavoury odour, grown with moss, and altogether very repulsive.

The seats were high pews with doors and locks, no provision being made for kneeling or for welcoming the poor to the Church's services. The windows were neither wind-tight nor water-tight, the roofs were of timber so rotten as to be unsafe to bear the weight of the workmen, and leaky in many places. The chancel walls were so much out of the upright, and shattered by settlement, that they were taken entirely down.

A ricketty deal box, approached by a high flight of steps, with two boxes under, formed that antiquated piece of furniture known as a "three-decker", a gallery for the choir at the west end, erected by a churchwarden, as a memorial to his grandfather, blocked up the beautiful tower arch, and formed a canopy to the front.

The architect entrusted with the restoration is Mr. R. Reynolds Rowe, F.S.A., of Cambridge, the Ely Diocesan Surveyor. The work he has executed is as follows:-

The tower masonry has been thoroughly repaired, and the battlements renewed in Ketton stone; the bells have been entirely re-hung, new floors and a new roof provided. Two of the piers, and the bases of all the piers of the arcade between the nave and the north aisle were crushed, the clerestory wall was shored up, and the defective masonry renewed in hard stone, upon huge masses of concrete.

The roofs of the nave and the north aisle were entirely renewed and re-covered with lead. A new stone porch has been added on the north side to keep out the winter's cold. The chancel has been entirely rebuilt on the old foundations, the ancient windows and buttresses have been incorporated with the new work.

On the south side a piscine, sedilia and credence shelf have been constructed under a continuance arcade of early English work, also an arched recess for an alabaster tomb bearing the date 1544. On the north side of the chancel a vestry and organ chamber have been built. The east wall of the chancel is lined with a reredos of rich tile work, having a super-altar and cross of alabaster, which, together with the altar candlesticks, are the gift of Mr. J. E. Edmunds, of the Mountsorrel Quarry. The chancel is paved with Minton tiles, and furnished with stalls in oak for the clergy and choir. The old rood screen has been leaned, partly repaired, and the missing cross and replaced in its old socket on the rood beam.

Two handsome gospel lights, holding nine candles each, and made of gilded and pained wrought iron, have been placed in the sanctuary. At the east end of each aisle of the nave the broken down tombs have been substantially repaired. The nave and aisles have been entirely re-floored, with wood under the seats, and Minton's tiles in the procession paths; new open benches of pitch pine of a uniform pattern have been placed in the nave and aisles so that for future time all sittings may be un-appropriated, and the poor in the parish may feel that they are perfectly welcome whenever they may be able to attend their parish church.

Two of Porritt's underground stoves have been fixed, one in each aisle. The old Norman soht bowl has been placed upon a new base of suitable character with polished marble shafts. The whole of the interior masonry has been restored, the walls re-plastered, and the windows newly glazed, those on the south side with obscured glass, and new oak doors provided and hung. The pulpit s hexagonal, of carved oak, with wrought iron scrolled panels, resting upon a base of polished alabaster and red Mansfield stone.

As the church is centrally situated in the village, there will be evening services. To obtain light for them nine coronae have been suspended from the roof of the nave and aisles and four from the chancel roof. Outside the church downpipes have been fixed to all the roofs, and drains laid from them to carry away all rainwater.

The churchyard has been lowered, and every gravestone and tomb re-fixed in their original position; and the turf re-laid to such gradients that all rain falling upon the churchyard runs away from it instead of into the churchyard as formerly.

The whole of the builders' work has been executed by Messrs. Osborne, of Leicester, and the ornamental ironwork by Messrs. Brown and Downing of Birmingham, from the designs of the architect, Mr. R. R. Rowe, under the personal supervision of Mr. Charles W. Hunt, the clerk of works. The restoration has been most thorough, and those who knew the old church as it existed 18 months ago would scarcely recognise it now. We ought to add that the way in which the architect and contractors have fulfilled their part has given entire satisfaction, and the church will now rank as one of the prettiest in the county, and worth of a parish so rich in historical associations.

There was a large congregation at the morning service on Wednesday, including some of the leading gentry of the neighbourhood. The clergy in attendance met at the vicarage, which is situated near the church, and proceeded to the sacred edifice. Among those present were Ven. Archdeacon Fearon, Revs. Canon Cartmell, Asfordby; Dr. Dickson, Glooston; S. Flood, Leicester; B. E. W. Bennett, Corby; K. B. Sidebottom, Swithland; F. W. Brindley, Leicester; W. Langley, Leicester; F. H. Richardson and S. Danby, Belgrave; Bellairs, Goadby; A. Shears, Sileby; Drake, Mountsorrel; H. Fuller, Thurcaston; J. Bird, Walton-on-the-Wolds; J. N. Bennie, Glenfield; J. M. W. Piercy and W. M. Croome, Syston; H. V. Vale, Kidderminster; Canon Rose, Weybridge; and R. Burton, Rothley. The last named gentleman read the prayers, Canon Cartmell the first lesson and the Archdeacon the second; the Rev. F. H. Richardson reading the Litany.

The Bishop preached an excellent sermon from Mark 13, 1st and 2nd verses: "And as He went out of the temple, one of His disciples saith unto him, Master, see what manner of stones and what buildings are here! And Jesus, answering, said unto him, seest thou these great buildings? There shall not be left one stone upon another that shall not be thrown down." In the course of his discourse his lordship said those words had a harsh and stern sound, and they seemed strange words wherewith to greet a church restoration, and they must have sounded hard in the ears of the disciples when they called upon Christ to admire the glories of the temple, which was a very natural thing to do.

But when they came to thoroughly understand the text, they would see that it was full of encouragement for all Christians. Christ certainly said that not one stone of the Temple should be left upon another, and His words had proved true, but he did not say that the worship of God should pass away. The abolition of the Temple marked the passing away of the Jewish polity, and that was the time of the beginning of the Christian polity. Indeed the passing away of the one was necessary for the development of the other. Until after the day of Pentecost the Church of God was distinctly and exclusively a national Church, the only people having God's word being the Jews, and while that remained so, the catholicity and the spirituality of the Church were impossible.

That exclusiveness had to be broken down in order that the Gentiles might be admitted to the privileges enjoyed by the Jews. The breaking down of that exclusiveness, though a punishment to the Jews, was a blessing to the world at large, and also to the Church, which thus became Catholic, and therefore they found consolation from the text. Christ's Church must be a great Catholic Church, and it must not be tied to any existing institution or linked to any existing order of things which should make it incapable of becoming Catholic. The breaking down of the barrier was needed not only to bring about the Catholicity of the Church, but also to promote its spirituality. The Jews had come to regard the Temple with superstitious reverence. They had come to believe that the forms and ceremonies of the Jewish law had far greater weight than that which was meant to attach to them, and it was necessary that that should be ended, for the forms and ceremonies of the Temple were but symbols, and what was really to be done was to purify the souls of men. Well those forms passed away, and they might take a lesson from that circumstance even in the present day.

He did not condemn all form or ceremony, even though introduced into the church by men. There were those who were utterly indifferent to all form and ceremony, and said they did not hold with such things. There was a self-willed defiance of authority, that men put in the place of spirituality, but which was not spirituality. The Church, however, should remember that there were weightier matters than form or ceremony, and if the ritual were abused it was the duty of the Church-and the Church had the power- to change that ritual unless it be a provision of God. It was well that they should remember those things, especially in these days, when men were given to unduly magnifying every line and letter if what they believed to be the ancient traditions of the Church, and who said that if they departed from some church direction or polity-too often of their own setting up and imagination-they were departing from the constitution of the Church. The Church had a right to use such ceremonies as she thought fitting for the age; but when those ceremonies came to be misunderstood, and became objects of superstition, they could be changed, and the Church had an inherent right to change them. It was humiliating that members of the Church could be found who said that they endangered the continuity of the Church with the primitive Church unless the garments of her priests were of a certain shape and colour. Did they hold on to Christ and the Apostles by a few feet of muslin, or a few inches of silk or velvet? There were men who would say, if placed in the position of the disciple in the text, "See what garments, what muslin; see what silk and what velvet is here."

If the forms of the Church came to be superstitiously applied they would have to be abolished, that the superstition might be destroyed, and the true catholicity and spirituality of the Church maintained; for if the Church of Christ was not catholic and spiritual it was nothing. men might dread change, but they should remember that sometimes change was necessary for the welfare of the Church, and, after human contrivances for the support of the Church, which many of them held dear, had fallen with a crash, would come out all the stronger.

Though every custom which was prized might fall, there would still remain for them a living and a present Christ, and the heaven that Christ bought for them with His blood.

At the close of the service, a collection was made, which realised about £60


At two o'clock, about 160 ladies and gentlemen sat down to lunch at the National School. An excellent repast was served up under the superintendence of Mrs. Bray, of the Star Inn, Belgrave-gate, Leicester, and greatly enjoyed.

The Vicar presided, and the tables having been cleared, he gave, in appropriate terms, the toast of the Queen, which was duly honoured.

The Chairman next gave the health of the Bishop of the Diocese, and said he was extremely grateful to his Lordship for coming amongst them that day.

Dr. Magee returned thanks, and, in doing so, remarked that it was extremely hard for a bishop to refuse to go to a parish, and encourage a clergyman whom he saw was working hard, as their vicar had done. When he was amongst them at the opening of their new schools, he expressed a wish that the fine old parish church should be restored, and he now congratulated them on the admirable way in which it had been done. He was quite sure that all who laboured, or lived in that parish were very strongly attached to the old parish church, for the place had a part in the history of England. That church was a standing record of the changes that occurred in the history of churches and nations, of which he had spoken in his sermon. It called to their minds one of the great institutions of England, those armed knights, half religious, and half military, that maintained the fame of England in arms, and that in those days maintained the church, showing that an armed nation might still do a work for God in the world. Whatever cause the armed knighthood of England was connected with, it expressed this great truth, that the nation must ever strike for the right, and never for the wrong. It must ever be the champion of the oppressed, and the defender of the weak, and those principles, which, in the present day, and with reference to the occurrences passing before their eyes, and in which they were deeply interested whatever view they might take-still brought down to them the old traditions, that this nation, in its armed and Christian might, should ever stand up against oppression, and be the champion of the weak wherever they might be. Time passed on, and that parish became again distinguished, not in the annals of conflict or warfare, but in the annals of successful literature. That parish had the honour of producing the great and popular historian, Macaulay, of whose memory they were proud. But there was something more enduring than that, and that was the old parochial system of England. There were pastors and parishioners in England before there were Knights Templars, and great historians, and without disparaging the services they had rendered, he thought after all that that which had served most to secure the greatness and happiness of England, was that in the country parishes scattered over the length and breadth of the land there had been pastors who had been doing a great and noble work unknown and unnoticed, and though they had found no chronicler like Macaulay, their names were written and their noble deeds were recorded in the great book, on the pages of which a light would one day shine. (Hear, hear.) He congratulated them on the excellent work they had that day completed, and said that he concurred in all that had been done. (Applause.) Had the people not been loyal to the Vicar, and supported him, the work could not have been done in a year. One of the great advantages of those church restorations was that they brought together pastor and people, and showed them on how many points they could agree, while differing on others. They had heard a good deal lately about silent interment. That subject formed part of a large and angry discussion, upon which he did not feel inclined to enlarge, but the restoration of a parish church was a grand occasion for the silent interment of old differences and prejudices, which seldom turned up again. Sometimes in the progress of the work other differences had arisen, but he was glad that had not been the case there. The pew owners, the owners of those old square fortresses, had surrendered them kindly, and had become reconciled to the new and better system which had been introduced.

His Lordship concluded by proposing a toast in eulogistic terms the health of the Vicar.

The toast was heartily received, and acknowledged by Mr Burton, who spoke of the great assistance he had received in carrying out the restoration of the church from the parishioners generally, and from Messrs. Fowkes and Tebbutt, the Churchwardens, in particular.

The health of the Churchwardens having been drunk, Mr. Tebbutt responded.

Archdeacon Fearon proposed 'the architect', to which Mr. Rowe returned thanks, and the proceedings terminated.

In the evening, service was held in the church, the preacher being the Rev. Cannon Rose, of Weybridge.

A very similar write-up in the Leicester Journal of the 28th June 1878 added just a little more detail of the clergy present:

Revs. Canon Cartmell (Asfordby), R. Burton (the vicar), B. E. W. Bennett (Corby), J. N. Bennie (Glenfield), Dr. Dickson (Glooston), F. H. Richardson (vicar of Belgrave), S. Danby (curate), S. Flood (St. Lukes, Leicester), K. B. Sidebottom (Swithland), F. Brindley (chaplain of the Leicester Royal Infirmary), W. M. Croome (Syston), S. G. Bellairs (Goadby Marwood), A. Shears (Sileby), W. Langley (St. Matthew's), T. Drake (Mountsorrel), H. Fuller (Thurcaston), J. Bird (Walton-on-the-Wolds), J. M. W. Piercy (Slawston), G. Salt (Woodhouse Eaves) and Canon E. J. Rose (Winchester).

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