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The Rushden Echo, 1920s, transcribed by Gill and Jim Hollis

The History of Rushden Part 1
By Dr. C. R. Fisher.

Chapters (Part 1)
Chapters (Part 2)
Introduction IV Racial Characteristics VIIa Ecclesiological
XI The Hall XV Windmills
I Landscape V The Ancient Parish Church VIII The Baptist Church, & Churches
XII The Round House XVI Almshouses
II Pre-Historic VI Church - The Interior IX The Methodist Churches
XIII The Pound XVII The Hostel or Hotel
III Historic VII The Bells & Church Plate
X St. Peter’s Church
XIV Farms XVIII Highways & Byways

Chapters (Part 3)
XXIV HF Court Rolls XXX Music & Sculptures XXXVI John Lettice
XXV Customs & Events XXXI More Music XXXVII The Chapman
XXVI Other Happenings XXXII Rushden Bells XXXVIII Johnathan Whittemore
XXVII Words & Mannerisms XXXIII Thomas Whitby & John Lettice XXXIX Religious Trends, The Library
XXVIII Geologic XXXIV Anti-clerical & The Battle of Naseby XL Old-time Crafts
XXIX Witch-craft XXXV Penalties, Taxes etc XLI Some Facts of Ancient History

XLII Environs

The Rushden Echo, 4th June, 1920

Rushden Past and Present
Occasional Sketches
By Charles R. Fisher, Mcs. Doc.

We have arranged with Dr. Charles R. Fisher, director of Music, Acadia University, Nova Scotia, and son of the late Mr. Charles Mason Fisher, who was so well known to many in Rushden for a great number of years, to publish a series of sketches relative to Rushden and the vicinity, as viewed from a variety of standpoints. These sketches will appear in the “Rushden Echo” and we trust that they will revive pleasant memories of other days in many instances, whilst it is hoped that all readers will have their interest stimulated and broadened with regard to the past of the town from various points of view. Dr. Fisher, the author of the sketches, has known the town from his early boyhood, and has always been in touch with it since, though often called far afield professionally. He has, further, been consistently interested in the town, from both an antiquarian and a historical standpoint, as also from its ethnological and biographic phases. The result of these researches we now have pleasure in presenting to our readers, from time to time, as occasion offers. - Editor – “Rushden Echo”.



About two-and-a-half miles north-west of Rushden Parish Church is a view across the Nen Valley that will give a better impression of the landscape in which the Rushden community lives than one can, perchance, gain from any other vantage point.

This position is known as Stone Cross, but the wayside cross itself has long since disappeared, whilst its fellow cross, known as Spittle Cross, which legend claims stood in the neighbourhood, may be merely another name for Stone Cross. Spittle here is evidently a variant of Spital or Hospital Cross. A former inn, on the spot of the present one, may have been known as Hospitable, Hospital, or Hostel, situated at the meeting-place of the roads, which were in mediæval days much more important than they are today. The hostel would be an important house that dispensed entertainment – both refreshment and lodging – to man and beast.

Though the exact site of the Cross is unknown, yet it is certain that it stood near the juncture of the roads, and the name has been retained as a memory, and a reminder that such crosses long ago bore silent testimony to the simple faith of the people for nearly a thousand years.

Quietly picturesque is this pastoral scene as viewed across the Nen Valley. Facing east the broad river valley lies in the foreground with its characteristic meadow pasturage, and beyond cutting into the rising ground, is a small rising village through which passes Sidney Brook. Mainly along this shallow depression though which the brook flows straggled the village of old Rushden, now greatly altered, but still retaining touches of its old-time appearance, whilst modern buildings on either side, to the uplands, expands it to quite a medium-sized town.

It is from the physical features of its locality that Rushden derives it name, a fact which will be more fully dealt with in a subsequent sketch.

Rushden lordship, and it is an extensive one compared with many others, can be seen better from here, probably, than from any other view point. Here, then, will be the best place to gain an impression of its extent and boundaries.

The site of the Cross is in Irthlingborough parish, the village itself lying almost to the north of the Cross position. The fine octagonal tower, placed above a square tower, is the dominant feature of the Church, around which Irthlingborough lies, on the side of the highland, opposite to where Rushden is situated, across the Nen Valley. This place derives its name from the Saxon family of the Artlings, and the affix borough makes it to be the town of the Artlings. To the right, and across the valley now on the river’s right bank. Higham stands very plainly in view, with its massive church tower and spire. This high hamlet of Saxon days gained the additional Ferrers later, from the Ferrers family, about the 13th. century, to distinguish it from other places of the same name. Higham Ferrers enjoys the prestige of an ancient corporation, and it is rich in ecclesiastical buildings and crosses. Still bearing to the right and further afield lies Caldecott, where was built the Saxony cot, or hut of Calde. Still to the right and to the south-east, beyond Rushden, from the Stone Cross point of view, is Newton Bromswold (often now indiscriminately spelt wold or hold). The New Town had its second name added to distinguish it from many other Newtons. The wold referred to is the rough upland, to the north-east, known as Yelden Wold. To the right again is Knotting, which is simply a personal name given to the village in Saxon times. Doubtless the Knottings were the principal residents in the place. Thence onwards and Souldrop is retched, a name of uncertain origin and meaning. Wymington is the next place to the right as a Rushden boundary parish and was formally spelt Winnington—the town of the Winnings or Wynings of Saxon days. Knuston, next parish in order of route, more than one philologist derives from the Danish King Canute—Canute’s town and there is sufficient historic basis for the fact that he may have resided there, or at least to have been associated with it. Knuston is a hamlet attached to Irchester, the effective broach of which place is seen on the upland on the other side of the Nen Valley to the south.

The Roman word Castra, a camp, changed by the Angles to Chester, was applied after the Roman withdrawal to any place that had been occupied by them. The Roman town and emporium was close to the river whilst Irchester lies a long half mile beyond. With Irchester the parishes immediately surrounding Rushden are made complete, but the Roman river bank town should be further noticed, as it was the mart and general place of business with the surrounding villas, or to speak more exactly, with the line of settlements north and south, near to the river banks. The Romans had some very permanently built roads, but these were mainly for military purposes; the river ways, however, were the great highways for the carrying of merchandise, and so forth, to and fro.

South, beyond the fine stretch of Midland Railway Viaduct lies the side of the Roman emporium, a quadrangular walled market town on the right river bank situated on a canal that was looped from and to the river. This brought the river traffic to the rising ground on which the town was built to be out of the reach of periodical floods. This loop canal yet remains to tell of the importance of this Roman town that sent wool, corn, iron (for all around was iron, easily obtained by shallow surface quarrying of the ore, with abundance of wood to smelt it, preparatory to shipping it) to Imperial Rome, by way of the Nen, the Wash, North Sea, the Rhine, and over the Alps into Italy.

The foregoing sketch of the circuit of the parishes that bound the extensive Rushden lordship (3500 acres, as against 1931 acres, the area of its near neighbour, the ancient borough of Higham Ferrers) takes the reader in thought from the Cross circuiting northward to the Cross returning from the southward.

Other scenic spots, where delightful views of Rushden can be obtained, with its ever-dominating tower and spire, are along the Newton, Bedford, or the Wymington Roads, at about a mile or a little beyond in distance from the church itself.

The trees, mainly the gloriously artistic elms, either singly or in groups add much to the scenic beauty of Rushden, no matter from what point it may be seen. This introduction to the town through its environs will create an impression, one may hope, that will broaden into a desire for a more intimate acquaintance with the fact and fancy of Rushden village and town.

11th June, 1920


Roughly hewn stone implants (an ax head in particular) are said to have been found in a sandpit, that was situated on the right hand side of the road, leading from Rushden to Irchester. This pit was located at a distance of some two hundred and fifty yards from Knuston Spinney, which lies beyond from Rushden. Such finds as these are more usually made in river graves. Anyway, paleolithic man dwelt in the district of which Rushden now forms a part. That was in the long, long past of many thousands of years ago perhaps hundreds of thousands even.

After this period came the glacial epoch, or the great ice age, as it is often called. Geological evidence of this occur in the vicinity to the south-west of Rushden, in the form of moraine deposit of clay, intermingled with a heterogeneous sprinkling of boulders, stones and fossils, in great variety. This swept away the oldest type of man. Subsequently man reappeared in what is called the Neolithic, or new stone age, where the various implements were of a better type, polished, more artistic in finish. Again the locality under consideration furnishes direct evidence that it was inhabited during this age.

In 1906, Mr. T. J. George, curator of the of the Museum, at Northampton, superintended the opening of a tumulus, or barrow, in a Rushden meadow belonging to the family of the late Mr. Stewart Mason, situated in the flat bottom land of the Nene river valley.

This open barrow (one of two, possibly three, near together) yielded calcined portions of bone, probably those of a man, which showed that the body had been cremated. With these human remains were found stone scrapers, a flint arrow head, and flint flakes or chippings, etc., in fact, the usual finds expected from the opening of a Neolithic tumulus. Fragments of plain red pottery found there may indicate that the period was a transition one, leading from the Neolithic to the bronze age.

All these finds from the meadow barrow are now in Northampton Museum.

In the early 19th. Century a bronze celt (a kind of spear head, or thrusting implement, but shaped somewhat axe fashion) was found in Rushden parish, whilst a cache of some 60 similar celts was found just over the parish and County border (for Rushden is partly bounded by Bedfordshire) in Wymington lordship. Here is evident proof that bronze age folk, the immediate predecessors of Celtic or British people dwelt in this land, whilst many finds of iron implements in the district, of subsequent date to those of iron, show that the British (Celtic) people whom the all conquering Romans found here, were well versed in the use of iron. Thus in this Rushden district there is evidence to show that man lived from the very earliest ages of mankind, and used first, rough hewn stone, then more finely cut stone, then bronze, and last of all, iron implements.


Julius Cæsar came and saw Britain, just before the dawn of the Christian era, he made no permanent conquest, however. Within almost a decade of the time of the Crucifixion, though the Roman conquered Britain, he conquered to stay, to colonize, and to subjugate the Britain to a higher civilisation, and especially so in all that pertains to agriculture, that first essential step from primitive life to a more advanced mode of living. Villa, villain, village, all equally honourable names when given to Britain by the Romans, sums up their communal life.

The important camp, town and emporium, the site and foundations of which are now known as Chester, to the antiquary, are most readily located by taking “Chester House” as the starting point, and going South, into the field beyond, where one is on the spot. One side of the parallelogram (the shape of the walls) that on the North side, just over the hedge in the grass field can be readily traced. About two and a half miles from Rushden, it is situated close to the Wellingborough-road on the right, a little beyond the Irchester turn.

This important town, the centre of a thriving Romo-British Colony, is not now even a name. The names of all the Roman towns in Britain are known, but some cannot be assigned to any particular locality. It is one of two or three, but which one, is uncertain, so it must be known as Chester a generic name for a Roman Camp, when used by the Saxons.

Within the boundaries of what is now known as Rushden, as one might expect from its nearness to the important Roman town just spoken of, have been found evidence of Roman occupation. Coins have been found of the Roman period, to the left of the fire station, formerly known as Nippendale, now built over. These finds suggest that a Roman villa had been built there. The remains or evidence of such villas have been found in the nearby parishes of Higham Ferrers, and Irthlingborough, Stanwick, and Raunds, whilst at Yelden, just beyond Newton, extensive remains have been found, consisting of tesser, pottery and coins.

These villas were mainly occupied by British landlords, the colonia or colonists of Roman times. Roman annals tell little of British civilisation during the long period of nearly four hundred years of Imperial Rule, but antiquarian finds mutely speak of a cultured state of society, at least it must have been so along its higher social levels. Eight bronze vessels, some ornamented, found in the Roman burial place, a little to the north of Chester enclosure in 1874, are evidence of this.

The British were left defenceless, when their Roman guardians were withdrawn from the island, in the early part of the fifth century, as was soon found out by their near Continental neighbours, tribes of Angles and Saxons. These saw that the land was good to live in, and first settled along the East and South coasts of Britain, then pushed inland, along the river course and thus made important high-ways by water, as did the Romans beforetime.

Angles soon entered the mouth of the Nene, and traversed its entire length. They settled along its banks, and from there pushed further afield, east and west from the river’s banks after their own fancy, regardless, often of what might have been their former appellations. The Angles dominated British ideas to a great extent, and, as they gave Rushden its name, they most certainly formed a community on the spot ever since known by the name Risendene, Risdene, or a variant thereof. Saxon coins and articles of various kinds have been found throughout this district, especially where Saxon burial places have been discovered, and opened up.

Rushden itself has not yielded much Saxon antiquarian treasure, though, at Great Addington, a few miles down the river, such finds occur in a Saxon cemetery. Baker, the Northamptonshire historian gives as fact, however, that “Gitta, a powerful Thame, held, freely, or independently of any superior lord, an estate of considerable extent, in this County, comprising Higham, with its nine berewicks, Rushden, Chelveston, Caldecote, Knuston, Irchester, Raunds, Easton (Maudit), and Farndish and Puddington in Bedfordshire.” Baker evidently used the spelling of his day some two centuries ago, not as spelt in Saxon times. Most of these berewicks are contiguous, but that of Easton Maudit, Puddington and Farndish seem to belong to a different group. This Saxon thane Gita lived during the reign of Edward the Confessor (1050) and his possessions were transferred (here euphuism for confiscated) by William the Conqueror to William Peveral, a Norman.

18th June, 1920


Doomsday book, that great record compiled for William the Norman, 1086, is absolute evidence of his conquest of England. Its great value lies in chronicling each parish, or lordship (the Norman equivalent of the Saxon berewick); each place is here named distinctly, and that name, or its variant, is usually retained unto this day. A parish is new indeed that has no Name-place in Doomsday book.

Here is the record of Rushden, as given in this record. “In Risdene 6 hides. There is land for 12 ploughs. 19 Sochmen have these there, and a mill rendering 10 shillings. This William Peverel holds of the King.” So Gita the Saxon thane had been dispossessed by the time of the compilation of the Doomsday record.

A hide seems to have been a variable quantity, not an exact measurement, it was, in fact, the analogue of our word field.

Hecham (Higham) mill is quoted in the Doomsday survey as rendering 20 shillings. As both parishes touch the river, both may have had water mills, but, in the case of Rushden at least, it may have been a horse-power mill. They were not windmills, for they were not in use in western Europe at this time; Crusaders brought a knowledge of these from the east, about a hundred years later.

A chronicle of near this period states that “The Sochmen (serfs ?) of Risdene, Irencestre (Irchester) and Rande (Raunds) were Burred’s men, and therefore G(effery) the bishop of Contances (in Normandy) claims their homage.”

The following facts are gleaned from the Northamptonshire historian Bridges - “That St. John’s Hospital (a house for the aged and infirm poor), situated in Bridge Street, Northampton, was founded about 1160, and that part of the endowment was obtained from the rent of land in Rusheden.” This building is still in existence. But where is the land and the endowment derived there-from? History does not seem to tell exactly though, possibly, Henry VIII could.

In the year 1330 the inhabitants of Richenden (Rushden) together with those of Irthlingburgh and Irencester, were ordered by the Sheriff to repair “the bridge and causey of Ditchford,” because they “were presented as being in a ruinous condition, and dangerous to passengers” this order was issued, “it being found that the several townships of Irthlingburgh, Richenden and Irencester, with its members (lodges presumably) were used to repair it, the sheriff issued out his precept to them for that purpose.” This is given on the authority of Bridges.

The present bridge is, presumably, the result of this “precept” of the sheriff, as it has the characteristics of Gothic Architecture of the 1330 period.

This bridge is one of the finest mediaeval bridges that still span the Nen, and there are other fine examples. It is still sound and solid, and as useful as ever.

Its antiquarian interest is enhanced by the carvings on the South side central buttress. The carving on the S.W. face is a representation of St. Peter’s ensign of authority, the crossed keys; that to the S.E. is a wheel, the symbol of St. Catherine’s martyrdom. These are the patron Saints of Irthlingborough and Irchester respectively, and, it is at this bridge centre that these parishes join, whilst Rushden must have been represented by the wall facing down stream northward, though no symbolic carving appears on its face.

Ditchford is a name, a bridge, and a mill, to which a railway station has been added. It never appears to have been even a hamlet is size, but, formerly a much used road, leading across the Nen valley, and through a ford, possibly a shallow one, hence the name Ditch-ford. As the 1330 bridge must have been preceded by an earlier one, a bridge must have replaced the ford in very early times, possibly a wooden one was the first built, as far back as Saxon days.

A canal was cut through for barges, in comparatively modern times, to avoid the mill; and this seems to have resulted in some modification of the exact lines of Rushden boundary, as this quotation from Bridges, and referring to the period about 1720 “of this name (Ditchford) is a watermill, with a bridge over the Nyne, in the parish of Rushden.

Bridges relates that in 1362 John of Gaunt (Gand, or Ghent in Belgium) had the township of Rushden settled upon him. This refers to the celebrated Duke of Lancaster.

Bridges further states that “a court-leet is held here (Rushden) at Easter and Michaelmas.” This ancient court was instituted to punish offenders who broke the laws concerning short weight or measure, encroachment upon neighbouring land, the committing of a nuisance, and so forth.

The following is from the 17th century historian and naturalist Norden; “in his time, there was in Rushden an ancient house of the Duke of Lancaster, then inhabited by Mr. Pemberton intrusted therein by Queen (Elizabeth).” His fame today lies in his Monument, in the Parish Church.

25th June, 1920

Racial Characteristics

The Angles were a dominant influence in this Nen valley and the uplands rising there-from, ever since their appearance in the land, and history has taught, on far too slender a foundation, that these Angles either destroyed or else drove westward the whole of the British people whom the Romans left in the land. The only evidence upon which “this history” is based is a Saxon monkish Chronicle written hundreds of years after these events would have happened, and now regarded as mainly fiction.

Circumstantial evidence is all to the contrary, and shows that these Angles and Saxons did not displace, but simply dominated or took the initiative in all lines of political action. This evidence lies all around to-day.

The people of this Rushden district have long heads, dark or even raven black hair and an anti-Saxon type of countenance. This is a general characteristic, yet of course there are people in the community with round heads, fair hair and skins, and a more Saxon type of countenance. These, however, in no sense predominate.

To these races should be added the Danish peoples, first those who settled here as a result of incursions of Danes, from the period before Alfred the Great to the time of Edward the Confessor, then those who came over with William the Conqueror as Normans or Northmen, really Danes who had settled in North Western Gaul, now France. Those who show racial characteristics of the Dane type have heads of somewhat similar contour to those of the Saxon type, but their hair is a pronounced sandy, or even a brilliant red with a very florid complexion.

The German war prisoners, who were domiciled in Rushden from 1917 to 1919, were quite different in facial character, in form of head, and in hair colouring and texture from those of the inhabitants in general. They, the prisoners, were of true Teuton stock, as were the Angles and the Saxons. These noticeable differences between the people of the district and the German War prisoners was the subject of not infrequent remark, at the time they were located in the community.

The ancient British or Celtic type can be traced back thousands of years, many thousands geologically speaking, in fact the long head that suggests the dark hair and Celtic features of the Palaeolithic age is similar to that of the greater proportion of the inhabitants found in this district to-day.


Place names and personal names varied greatly in their spelling, and often in their pronunciation, until a comparatively few years ago.

Take as an instance, the name of the river which bounds Rushden on the north, which is probably British in origin. This name John Morton spells indiscriminately as Nyne, Nene or Nen, and Bridges, a little later, (1738), gives it as Nyne or Nine, whilst Whellan in his history, published in 1874, spells it Nene. Still later, even in 1906, Wakeling (Dry?) uses Nene or Nen indiscriminately in his “Northamptonshire.”

But this want of precision is of to-day also, for within a mile of Rushden lordship is hand painted on a sign-post “Yeldon” for Yelden, an unpardonable offence, from a philologic standpoint, for don means a hill-fort, whilst den, as will be seen later, is an affix meaning a valley. The adjacent parish of Newton Bromswold seems to be suffering from a similar metamorphosis, for it seems to be spelt either Bromswold or Bromshold, with the odds in favour of the latter spelling now; yet the wold or weald, lies just beyond in the upland known as Yelden Wold, though one must admit that local pronunciation is usually Hold. Hence, presumably, the confusion in spelling. The ‘hold’ might apply had there been a castle there formerly, but a moated farm house is the most strongly fortified place that could have been at Newton. Then possibly, ‘brow’ or ‘browe’, in all probability refers to a coarse grass, hence Bromswold, a wold of coarse grass.

It should be noticed that Rushden has been spelt Rushdon in the past, a similar mistake to that of Yelden, and all this shows that local orthography is a none to exact science even yet.

The incongruity of 20th century spelling seems here, most certainly to join hands with mediaeval effort in the same connection.

The Doomsday record of William the Conqueror gives the present Rushden as Risdene, a far more poetic work, with a broader meaning.

These syllables Rise (or Risan) Dene (or Den) are Saxon in origin, Ris, Rise or Risan, means to move or pass from a lower to a higher position or place, whilst dene, or den, signifies a valley, and probably covers the idea of a den or overgrown place where wild animals made their dwelling places.

To see Rushden from any suitable vantage point, is to at once gain a realization of the significance of the Saxon conception, when he gave this locality the appellation “Rise-dene.” It was simply an obvious matter of fact geographic statement, with regard to the locality as he saw it. And thus came the majority of English place-names, it was a plain statement of fact with regard to some feature, either natural, or perchance, artificial.

The St. John’s Hospital Charter (Northampton) is a very early instance of the change from Rise to Rush, here it is spelt Rusheden (about 1100).

In a land account of 1222 this occurs: “Three virgates (a rod measurement, but of uncertain amplitudes) of land in Rischeden.” At a somewhat later date, this is documented: “Henry Billing (or di Billing) was certified hold a sixth part of one Knights fee in Risden, of William Earl of Ferrars, of the Normans of Pevrel.

In John of Gaunt’s Charter in 1362, the name appears again, as it was spelt in the St. John’s Hospital Charter, namely Rusheden.

In the next century the spelling became strangely altered. This 15th century was the time when Northampton had amongst its Mayors, persons bearing the name of Rushden, evidently the place-name turned into a personal name, as is the case with so many names.

Here is the probable sequence. Some time before 1400, a certain William migrated from Rushden to Northampton: he had no surname, so to distinguish him from any other William, he was called William di (or de) Rushden (William of Rushden). Before the time anyone of the family had been elevated to the Mayoralty of the borough, the di had been dropped but Rushden became fixed as the definite surname of the family.

Here is the chronological record of the Rushdens, as Mayors of Northampton:-

Willi (William) Russheden 1430-1

Willi (William) Russhedin 1439-40

Willi Russdedin (Junior) 1445-6

Willi Russdedin (Junior) 1447-8

The Willi here is peculiarly like the pet or child’s diminutive Willy.

At the beginning of the 15th century there was a William Rusheden a member of Parliament for the county town of Northampton, and an ecclesiastic, by name John Rusheden, was a priest at Lodington (Northants) in the middle of the same century. It is interesting to note how nearly these two last names approach the present spelling of Rushden, whilst the others are noticeably so different, yet these last parallel the former as to date.

In the 16th century the name began to be spelt Rushden, as at present, yet it took a lengthy period for this orthography to become a fixed one. This is shown in the spelling “Rusden” on the Rushden halfpenny dated 1666. And now that pronunciation sticks, to be sure, for Rushden, or Risden, was the general way of pronouncing the name, up to nearing the 20th century, at least, and it had the saving grace of accuracy, when considered from the standpoint of primal philology. In this connection the writer has still a lively recollection of one’s “putting it on,” to use the local phrase, if one said Rushden, instead of Rusden. Risdene, its Saxon pronunciation, is far more poetic in mental effect.

In the 18th century days of the Doddridge Theological School, there was a student named Risdon Darcott, later known as “the star of the west,” whilst to-day, Rushton is a family name in Northampton. Bearing in mind the fact that the Russhedins were so important a people in the County town and shire in the 15th century, one may hazard the opinion that here both Risdon and Rushtons are variants of the old family name Russhedin. There is a village named Rushton within twenty miles of Rushden, a Saxon name that was originally Rise or Ris, as is the first syllable of Rushden, and with the same meaning, whilst ton is obviously the Saxon form of town. Then, again, almost adjoining Rushden, is Riseley, over the Bedfordshire border, here Rise (rising) remains unaltered, whilst ley, a meadow, gives again a simple geographical statement that the Saxon Community there was situated on rising meadow land, as it surely would be in those far away days, with its length of brook running through the village.

Meadow-land would be comparatively farther from the river, in those days, than at present. For instance the Nen valley would be then mainly filled with osiers, and kindred growth. This would continue until long after Saxon times. The Doomsday survey gives to Rushden only 30 acres of meadow-land; this must be convincing proof that land suitable for pasture was very small, when compared with that of the present day. Then, again, the 6 hides, or fields, under the plough, must have been a very meagre percentage of the whole of the parish land; the rest of the upland was, doubtless, wooded.

2nd July, 1920

The Ancient Parish Church

It was that all pervading and prevailing influence throughout Western Europe, the Catholic Church, that for a thousand years was the embodiment of faith, the guide, and the centre of the communal life of the ancestry of the reader. As such it must appeal to the ideality and the mysticism of his imagination, no matter whatever may be his tendency of belief, of his ideals, in this twentieth Century time, with its varied trend of individualistic thought .

This Parish Church, the Church dedicated by our ancestors to St. Mary the virgin, has its beginnings lost in the dimness of Saxon days, if not before.

Christianity may have been introduced into this district by soon after the time of Constantine, by the 5th Century. The present church at Brixworth, in this county, some sixteen miles to the south west, may be built on the site, if not part of the actual structure of a Roman Christian Church, which had been, earlier still, a heathen temple. There is historic evidence to show that this present Brixworth church was built by the Second part of the Seventh Century, the actual date given being 670, and it is partly built of Roman bricks. These historic and architectural facts, show that Christianity was established in this vicinity at a very early date indeed.

In times that long ante-dated the Christian era that extended far beyond the range of Old Testament idea, stone pillars were used as a symbol of Covenant. Such stone crosses in Christian times were still often really stone pillars.

The first Christian places of worship of the Saxon parishes were, usually, in the open air, and the gathering was around that Symbol of their faith, the Cross set up as a pillar in their midst. The first crosses used were possibly of wood, fixed in the ground. These were, later, replaced by a monolithic stone Cross or by some more elaborate stone structure, often a stepped base, bearing a shaft, topped by a carved stone, of a symbolic nature. It was still called a Cross, even when a Cross was no part of its structural formation. A good example of this type is found in the Market Square Cross at Higham Ferrers, only a long mile distant from Rushden Church.

Coles has this in his history of Rushden; In the wall of a cottage contiguous to the church-yard is of “The Crucifiction” which has, in all probability formed the head of the Cross.

This seems to make it certain that Rushden Church-yard had its Cross, apart from the evidence that all church-yards had, formerly, no such structures in them.

Rushden, then, may have had its primitive Cross around which its earliest Christian worshippers assembled for service in the open air, at first, though there must have been a church here long before any portion of the present structure was built, quite probably before the time of the Doomsday survey.

In this Doomsday record only four churches are mentioned in connection with Northamptonshire, it evidently being taken for granted that such places existed in each parish as a matter of course. There is very certain evidence to this effect, in the fact that more than that number of churches are still standing in the county, that were built before the time of the Doomsday book. Parker, the eminent Gothic Architectural authority, claims that the present church at Knotting, an adjacent parish, is of Saxon date.

One can safely infer from this foregoing, then, that no part of the present building was a part of the original structure of Rushden church.

The Exterior

An examination of the exterior of this well balanced and beautifully detailed church will show that one of its earliest parts now remaining is the finely designed north door-way, round headed and trefoiled. It is early English in character, built about 1250, and some two hundred years before the Perpendicular porch, that has groined stone upper-work bearing a parvise or priest’s chamber above it. The ironwork, and the general character of the woodwork, show that the door itself may be about the same date as the doorway.

If the circuit of the exterior of the Church be taken, the North Transept will next call for attention. Here the door in the South wall gives evidence of its having been used as a Chantry, a part of the Collegiate idea, when the Church had a college, or body of priests banded together, with one aim - that of carrying on in a more or less elaborate manner, the daily service of the Church, in its several chantries or chapels.

The windows of this North Transept are exceptionally designed, and at once arrest attention. These window designs suggest that this portion of the building may have been built somewhat later than the North door-way; this is suggested by the peculiar designs above the lancets, which is an early type of plate, or pierced stone tracery.

Proceeding to the N.E. corner angle of the Church, the windows are the special feature of this chapel, or Chancel aisle. All belong to the same period, for all are 15th or early 16th century work, but each has a different design, and a good one, and all conform to that general type, where lines are carried perpendicularly throughout the whole design, hence the name of the style of architecture – Perpendicular. This style was especially effective for picture windows, and, as will be noticed, most of the windows in the Church are Perpendicular, some of them inserted in the walls of a far earlier date. All these windows were built with the object of being filled with coloured glass, and were so filled. Considerable fragments of this beautiful art glass yet remain in the windows, a proof that they were so filled. The exquisite effect of this art conception is well shown in St. Neots Parish Church, in the neighbouring County of Huntingdon, where the whole of the windows, of the Perpendicular type, are filled with coloured glass. In the main they are a modern refill, and they show admirably how the panel idea of design suits such coloured glass filling.

The central east, or chancel window in Rushden Church, is of exceptionally fine design, and that to the South is good. A noticeable feature is that of the corbelling of the dripstone, or hoodmoulding that runs as a band of stone around the upper portion of the windows. These end, on either side with some artistically sculptured device – a rose or other flower, a head perchance some portrait, or a grotesque. The feminine head, with the peculiar hair arrangement of about the end of the 15th century, to the left of the window, and the liberty capped figure, some 300 years before its time, (for such were worn as a distinctive article of dress by the French 18th century revolutionists) on the other side, are certainly the work of a Freemason, who was free to exercise his art in his own way, as is the case with regard to other figures, gargoyles, and chimeras, that occupy positions around the Church’s exterior. Some of the small individualistic carvings, in special, such as those found around some of the windows at the east end, are especially fine, whilst around the South Chancel windows, quite different ideas in carving prevail. The Altar tomb between the Chancel and South aisle windows is unusual, for such monuments were placed inside the church as a rule at the time this was erected. The quatrefoil design appears here, as in several other places. The tomb is probably late 14th century work. When the writer was a small boy attending Mr. Ebenezer Knight’s School it was a favourite place for boys to play upon and around this monument. One weird saying (and belief) was that the one who ran round the tomb 12 times at midnight would see the devil, and no one ever ventured to try the experiment.

Then in rotation comes the South Transept, and here is found detail indeed for every artistically thinking mind to ponder over. Look along under the cornice, or corbel, look along all three sides, one of which is the gable end, just under the parapet, and particularly notice the heads, the flowers etc. all joined by a kind of running vine. This is indeed something to notice and study. Take a glass and examine the individuality of each figure, and then perception will lead to an admiration for the art work of six hundred years ago, known as the Decorated period, such as will leave a permanent impress upon the mind. Truly it is an honour to bear the name of Freemason, even though the present bearers of it may be quite innocent of any knowledge of the art and craft or of the real origin and significance of the appellation. The East window of this Transept is a later insertion, the others are of the period of the Transept and are interesting.

The next move in order is that to the South Porch, and the corbels at the East and West ends may first be noticed for they are almost rudely grotesque.

It may be that by this time of Church examination, the idea has been grasped that the outside of the Church belongs to this world that is given over to things mundane or perchance, there are even suggestions of its belonging to the nether world. When inside the Church, the carved figures will suggest and imply just the opposite, for they will lead the mind upwards, to things celestial, and mediaeval art was ever didactic in its nature.

The porch itself is deep and of somewhat cruder structure than is most of the Church; it is, probably, of a somewhat later date than is the South Transept.

The stone seats suggest possibilities as regards seating being found for quite a number of penitents, especially so as the other porches are also stone seated, and in those pre-reformation days, people out of ecclesiastical favour were not allowed inside the Church, only in the porches. Attention should be called to the fact that Rushden has a full complement of porches, the three main doors being porched, and stone seated.

An examination of the tower and spire will complete the round of the exterior of the Church, and this is the chief glory of a glorious example of an art that can never be replaced, if destroyed.

The spire or steeple, with its tiers of dormer windows, its open worked crockets, and its graceful lines, all lead to the conclusion that it must have been built about 1375, yet certain isolated features of the tower might suggest the possibilities of a slightly later date. The tower must have been built before the steeple, anyway, so it is reasonable to assume that the date given is near the time of the erection of both tower and spire.

The use of ironstone, with its characteristic wealth of mineral red, is most effective. It is here used to band and ‘prick out’ the different tower stagings by well defined lines of colour, and the artistic effect is splendid. Never has the idea been used in greater taste, or to greater advantage.

Now look from the base of the tower upwards. The central shallow porch is unusual, with its odd superstructure and flying buttresses, but the buttresses near the corners of each wall face of the tower give an impression of both strength and gracefulness that is wholly satisfying, whilst the superimposed carved heads seem to be a final necessary touch to a perfect feature of architectural art.

Upward again and the bell chamber stage is found to be excellent, with its fine windows and stone panel work under the corbel figures that support the corbel-table of the openwork parapet, all really part of one richly-designed idea. And this, in description, ends the circuit of the exterior of this handsome church.

23rd July, 1920

The Ancient Parish Church of Rushden
The Interior

The font is in the centre of the Nave, at its extreme West end. From this position it will be seen that the plan of the Church is almost that of a Greek Cross, not the usual Latin one, for the large deep transepts give great width to the Church, whilst the Chancel and its Chapels, or aisles, are nearly the length of the Nave. In fact, the Church is not quite ten feet longer than it is wide, a most unusual plan, yet it must be admitted that it creates a sense of symmetry that satisfies.

The first detail to catch the eye is an arch flung across the centre of the Nave, from aisle wall to aisle wall. It is known as a Strainer arch, and is an arch together with inversion, so to speak, two arches back to back. The pierced design gives it beauty, but it has utility, for it counteracts an inward thrust in the aisle walls, and thus prevents the possibility of their falling into the Nave.

There are three other known arches of this description - one at Finedon, a nearby parish, one at Easton Maudit, a place already mentioned as being historically associated with Rushden, the other across the Nave in Wells Cathedral.

The nave roof is of excellent perpendicular woodwork. The full length figures are large in size, and form a kind of Angel Orchestra. One figure in particular holds a long instrument somewhat after the clarinet order. This must be an old English Recorder. Another figure holds a Cecilia or portative organ. The figures are altogether interesting, either singly, or as regards their positions, as placed by the architect.

Architectural evidence shows that this was not the first roof, it replaced a more acute angled one. If the two clerestory windows nearest the chancel, on either side, be examined, it will be noticed that they are quite different from the other clerestory windows; the wide splay of the former in particular gives evidence of being of a far earlier date.

Rushden Church has an unusually large amount of woodwork as 15th century parclose screening. Here it encloses both the Chancel and its aisles, also the Transepts. The rood screen (that which in ancient days carried the great Cross) separating the Nave from the Chancel, centralizes all. This is surrounded by four other screens, which gave four chapels or chantries to the Church, in addition to the high altar of the Chancel, where the main services were held. These facts, together with the Mutilated Miserere Stall, or seat, in the Sanctuary are all that remains as evidence that the Church was formerly collegiate. The word college in this connection means that a number of men were here banded together, and lived apart in a special building, for the purpose of carrying on the daily services of the Church. All this carving is worth close examination, as is that of the pulpit, which is of about the same age.

A little of the original seating remains, here and there, in the backs of some of the seats principally, but most of it was torn out to make way for pews (possibly in the 18th century), just common wooden boxes with a door, to isolate each family from its neighbour. Parker, writing in 1849, speaks of one pew having a canopy surmounting it. This was in the North-East corner of the Nave, evidently “The Squire’s Pew.”

The font is of the Early English period, and a very good octagonal example, with its large stiff leaf foliage, so characteristic of that time. It surmounts an octagonal base, geometrically figured. This may be of a somewhat later date than the font.

Just to the right of the interior of the North door is the base of a pillar that supported a stoup, or holy water basin.

Fragments of ancient stained glass, remnants of former glory, can be seen in the windows, before reaching the North Transept. More will also be found in fragmentary condition in some other windows, and there is some old glass embodied in the designs of the two stained glass Chancel windows.

In the North Transept the early geometrical windows should be noticed, and there are two aumbry, or locker openings in the East wall, but the doors have disappeared. These aumbries were used to keep the sacred vessels in, and a peculiar niche is hollowed out in the left side of the right-hand one, possibly so made to contain some relic, or else a small figure. This aumbry must have had a door in the forties of the last century, for Parker pictures it with one, in his glossary of architecture

The North Chapel, or Chancel aisle, is given over to tomb monuments of late Tudor or early Jacobean styles, and are average examples of such erections during those periods.

Here is found evidence of a more Puritanic Creed and a less artistic people; one that countenanced the pulling down of a reredos, possibly that from behind the high altar, to wall in the sides of the East-end monument, so as to form a passage-way from the Sanctuary to the turret leading to the roof. This destroyed the North aisle as a Chapel, though, presumably, the whole of the altars had been dismantled with the advent of Elizabeth as Queen. The monument on the North side, with its recumbent figure, shows good detailed work in the armour, but it is anatomically out of proportion, especially as regards the hands.

The Pemberton Monument, at the East end, has a long, rhyming epitaph that contains these two lines:-

“Full forty yeares we husband were and wife,
All which of ayre time we lived without strife.”

The Pemberton family lived at the Hall in Tudor times. A later resident, F.U. Sartoris, Esq., whose grandson, Hugh Sartoris, Esq., lives there now, was once showing friends around the Church. He read them those two lines, and then, in his jocund manner, emphatically expressed himself to the effect that it was all a mere figment of imagination.

The Chancel arcades have pillars of late fifteenth or early sixteenth century type, whilst the Nave pillars indicate a somewhat earlier style.

In the Sanctuary, sometimes called the Presbytery, which is at the east end of the choir, is found on the right side an arched arcading, the ornamental work enclosing the sedilia, or priests’ seats, whilst the smallest one farthest East, is a piscine, really a sink for washing the sacred vessels in after use. The shafts of this arcade are detached, and the one with the beautiful capital of carved foliage, was considered by Parker as good enough to use as his illustration of a perfect specimen of Early English leaf carving and he gives the date of the workmanship as about 1250.

Parker calls attention also to the large canopied and pinnacled niche, on the left side of the Chancel window. There are quite a number of these niches, inside and outside of the Church, all now empty, though not so formerly.

The Chancel niche is a much larger one than any of the others, and has been put to strange use in past days, as this culling from Cole’s History will show: “of the size of this (niche) an idea may be formed from the circumstance of a person’s standing upon it clothed in a white sheet, during the act of penance, some few years ago.”

The piscine in the South Chancel aisle is evidence of the fact that this aisle was used as a Chapel, and the crocketed carving over it shows that this portion of the Church is later than the Chancel. It belongs to the Decorated period, and so may be nearly a hundred years later than the E.E. foliated capital of the sedilia. The decidedly common Early English double window between the Chancel and this South aisle was, naturally, an outside window when built. It seems never to have been glazed, or, if it were, then wooden frames must have been used.

Between the South Chancel and Nave aisles is a commemorative arch, a fine one of the late Perpendicular character. On the soffit is inscribed “His arch made Hue Bochar and Julian his wife of whos sowlus God have mercy upon. Amen.” Whilst on the West side angels hold scrolls, one bearing the legend “In God is all”, the other “In God help”. The time this arch was incorporated into the Church may be assigned to the early part of the sixteenth Century.

The South Transept was certainly used as a chapel, for the inserted East window, with the cill lowered for a reredos, and the peculiarly marked piscine (which Parker gives an illustration of in his A.B.C. of Gothic Architecture) all point to such a use.

The circuit of the interior of the Church is completed with an examination of the West tower arch. It is plain work and has modern masonry built across its lower part, ornamented above to be in keeping with the Strainer arch motive. This is unfortunate, though the builder claims it to be necessary for safety’s sake, as the opened arch (a part of the original architect’s plan) would be most effective, and especially so because of the shortness of the nave of the Church.

It may be of interest to know that the spire finial, designed by the architect of the recent restoration, stands inverted under the pulpit. The original finial had weathered away, and this was designed to take its place. A finial is the usual artistic termination of such a crocketed spire as the one at Rushden, but the unusual effect upon those in authority, who only knew their spire finial-less, caused it soon to be taken down, thus leaving its table stone the top structure of the spire.

Attention may also be called to holes in the under woodwork of the Chancel screen, on the left-hand nave side. Three are of Gothic character, and are probably contemporary with the screen itself. These apertures were possibly used for confessional purposes. Two small square holes lower down may be comparatively modern, and are unlikely to have served any ecclesiastical purpose. At Desborough Church, in this county, are similar holes in the screen, and the confessional idea is associated with them also. The present church chest may have been obtained as a result of this complaint, as given in Cole’s History. After stating that “the South Chapel” required various repairs, the commission under the direction of the Lord Bishop of Peterborough, in the year 1631, says: “There is noe sufficient chest with 3 lockes nor noe convenient pore-man’s box, for that which passeth by the name of a chest is a small old coffer or box not big enough to contain and keep half the Church ornaments in our beseeming to put any thing in, and that which passeth by the name of the pore-man’s box is a little tille in the foresaid box or coffer placed in the Chancell where the people have no occasion of coming ordinarille, but only at the communion time, so that it is out of the waie for any man’s charitie to be put thereunto who shall be moved by the spirit of God or persuasion of the preacher to perform such charitable duties.” This report is signed Ro Sybthorpe, Christo Coles.

The present chest, now in the South Chapel, at the back of the organ, used as a vestry, maybe the outcome of this plaint to the bishop. If this be so, then what of the “3 lockes” called for by the Commissioners? In such cases one key was held by the Rector, and each of the churchwardens held a key.

Then again what of the “persuasion of the preacher” as regards its being placed in juxta-position with “who shall be moved by the spirit of God.” These good men may have been wholly serious in 1631, but in this 20th Century the sense of humour cannot be wholly eliminated from this placing of the two ideas together yet making them alternative reasons.

30th July, 1920

The Ancient Parish Church of Rushden
The Bells and Church Plate

The present peal of six bells is comparatively modern. The first five bells were cast in 1794 by Taylor, of St. Neots, who also cast the large bell (the tenor) in 1818. These must have been at least partly re-cast from the older peal.

The first two bells bear the date 1794 only upon them, whilst the third bell has “God save the King 1794” upon it. The fourth and fifth bells have upon them:-

John Achurch and Thos. Smith:
Wardens. R.
Taylor, St. Neots, Fecit 1794

The sixth bell has this cut around it:-

J. Smith and Edward Wood, C.W.
Robert Taylor and Son, Founders
St. Neots, 1818

The smallest bell is 2-ft. 9-in. in diameter, whilst the largest is just 4-ft. across.

Markham, in his “History of the Church Plate of Northamptonshire,” has this to say of the Rushden Communion service. It is mediaeval in design, but of modern workmanship. It consists of a silver paten and cup, a pewter flagon, since considerably altered by being silver-plated without and gold-plated within, it has also had a spout added.

The Rev. Owen Daveys, as Archdeacon of Northampton, made an inventory of the Rushden Church plate in 1844, when he reports that there were these vessels :-

“An Elizabethan silver cover paten and cup, and a pewter basin.” These probably disappeared when the 1849 set were acquired.

The Parish register dates from 1599, whilst the list of Rectors is continuous from 1230, when Thomas de Northampton commenced his Rectorship. There must have been, however, incumbents long before this time, only no record was then kept of the “Parish Priests” in this diocese. Rushden was in early time a part of that great ecclesiastical unit, the See of Lincoln. In the 13th Century a register of all the parish priests was kept at Lincoln, as the Cathedral City. They continued on until the time of the Reformation, when it was transferred to Peterborough as the See of the New Diocese.

In scanning this list of Rectors, one cannot but notice that de or di connected the Christian name with the surname when the latter name was a place name, as was nearly always the case before the middle of the 14th Century. This shows that place names became the first fixed surnames, and that personal attribute, or professional, or trade names were definitely and permanently attached later. An easy score of such place names, used as surnames, can be counted in this Rectors’ Roll, amongst whom will be found John Bosham (a Sussex village used as a surname) where the de is dropped out as is usual by 1388, when Bosham’s Rectorship commenced. Then here again are very well known places used as surnames, the surnames of Rectors of Rushden : Robert Norwich, 1419, Wm. Bradfield, 1561, who coming after the Reformation was the first to be styled “Rector”; Thomas Whitby, 1630, whose son Daniel, of literary prominence, was born in the “Parsonage House” in 1637.

These Rectors are of the 19th century or after:-

Spencer James Lewin 1804

George Edward Downe, B.A. 1843

John Thomas Barker, M.A. 1868

Charles James Gordon, M.A. 1891

Wallace Ransom Morse, M.A. 1895

Arthur Kitchin, M.A. 1905

Percy Robson, M.A. 1914


The record of the Church is mainly the history of the parish, from the introduction of Christianity, until comparatively recent times, so that some few additional notes may interest the reader, and further complete the record of the part of the parish.

Manor and lord of the manor have now become principally associated with the presentation of “The Living” to the “new incumbent.” Manor is also used as a house name, for the Manor House is sometimes the principal house in the parish and is often of some architectural and antiquarian importance. It does not seem that Rushden ever had a house bearing that name. “The Hall” probably took its place as the chief house in the community.

This is a small part of the manorial idea, however, for a Manor or Barony, which were interchangeable terms, originally referred to land entrusted to a person by the king, for service rendered to him, usually of a military nature. The manor included certain rights in connection with the Church, and a moiety of manorial rights still remains in this 20th Century. This is “the presentation of the living” to the one who is to become the new Rector when a vacancy occurs. The person in whose hands this happens to be is still called “lord of the manor,” or if feminine, “lady of the manor.”

At the time of the Norman Conquest Rushden was a part of Hecham (Higham) Manor, held by Gita the Saxon thane (the Saxon equivalent of the Norman baron). He was superseded by the Norman family of Peveral.

Bridges’ history of Northamptonshire contains this: “The Church of Rissenden, with the tithes and appurtenances, one virgate of land, and one villane who held the said virgate, was given to Lenton Priory in Nottinghamshire, by William Peverel, the founder.” This was confirmed by Edward II, early in the 14th century. It is interesting to gather from this that the villane here mentioned must have been a kind of tenant farmer under the landlordship of the Prior of Lenton Priory, and that “Village” had become firmly established as the name of a rural community, where the villain or villein held a somewhat similar position to the tenant farmer of today.

Then again Bridges states that with the accession of Edward IV., 1461, the Manor of Rushden came under Crown authority, as part of the Duchy of Lancaster.

And this following is from Bridges: “In 1535 Richard Throgmorten farmed the Church lands at a rental of £13 6s 8d.” It is well to realise in this connection the relative values of money, for £10 in 1545 would approximate in value to about £35 in 1919. This is from Cole’s “History of Rushden”:

“It (the gift of the living) was afterwards settled in Charles II’s time (about 1670) on the queen dowager Catherine, but, reverting at her decease, now remains a part of the Duchy; the manor is at present held by Charles Higgins, Esq., of Turvey, Bedfordshire.”

“A Book of Award on Rushden Inclosures. Inrolled the 13th day of September, 19th Geo. III., 1779. By Charles Morgan, Clerk of the Peace of the County of Northampton.” So runs the statement attached to a tithes roll, the last compiled for Rushden in that connection, and which is now kept in the Urban Council Rooms.

These following quotations from the document may be of interest:-

“Inrolled in this office of the Clerk of the Council of the Duchy of Lancaster this 25th day of Jan., 1780. - F. Russell.”

This is what the record consists of:-

“A schedule of houses, homesteads, antient inclosures, subject to the payment of the several annual sums of money for the tithes to the Rector of Rushden and his successors for ever.”

The reading of this will lead one to suppose that the tithe is regularly paid by Rushden landholders to this day. Tithes became part of the Church system in the 4th Century, and were introduced into England when St. Augustine settled in Canterbury in 597. These tithes were of a voluntary nature at first but became a part of the rental system by the year 800, and so were enforced by the law.

This payment of tithes was continued into Protestant times, but they were modified, commuted and variously altered from the original idea of payment in kind (that is, a tithe of the produce of the land, the “first fruit” offering in a general idea) until they became known as “the Church rate.”

This rate Free Church principle combatted, until it was abolished by Parliament in 1868. Before that was brought about, however, many a local suit had advertised the obnoxiousness of the rate. In Rushden Mr. J. Wittemore fought it in a test case, and won his contention, with Mr. John Corby as defendant. Mr. Corby was grandfather to the present Mr. John Corby, who still evidences so energetically the faith of his ancestors.

“The Victoria Counties History” gives what it claims to be a complete list of the Collegiate Churches of Northamptonshire, and here Rushden is not mentioned. This same history does mention, however, that Rushden Church had a definitely endowed chantry. This endowment Henry VIII, confiscated, seized, and appropriated the wealth to his own use. It is further mentioned that he very possibly reduced the endowment of the Rectory at the same time.

There are certain small local Charities recorded in the Church annals, which are administered in the usual manner.

In connection with the manor of Rushden, the county historian, Whellan, states that Richard Faber held it in 1315 of the Earl of Lancaster, and this should be of great interest to the disciples of Isaac Walton: “In the reign of Henry VIII, the tenants and inhabitants of Rushden and Higham obtained of Sir Thomas Cheyne (the lord of the manor) the right of fishing in those lordships.”

According to Whellan the living was worth £400 in 1874, and the Rector, the Rev. John T. Barker, was a patron of the living.

Kelly, in 1898, states that “H.M. the Queen is Lady of the Manor.” This must refer to the nominal overlordship derived from the Duchy of Lancaster as the Royal Duchy, for the family of the late Canon Barker held the living in gift at that date.

At the present time the gift of the living is in the hands of the Church Pastoral Aid Society.

6th August, 1920

The Baptist Church, and Churches

In the case of the Parish Church the edifice is not merely the “place of worship” of a particular branch of Christian faith, because on that site, for nearly a thousand years, the fold of this Rushden community assembled for worship as a whole.

Wycliffe, as early as the 14th Century, sent abroad men who preached a more personal religion; probably the first seeds of English Nonconformity resulted from the labours of the friars whom he sent abroad to teach the people. The Lollards were amongst the first “Dissenters,” for they dissented from orthodox belief, and reaped the Dissenters reward, that of persecution. The reformation in England cannot be considered other than as a mainly political move by which the King (or Queen) could gain a far greater power, and through which he hoped to gain greatly added wealth. The first he certainly succeeded in obtaining, but at the expense of his doubtfully acquired wealth, a wealth that he had to squander, given as bribe, to retain the aid and goodwill of numerous necessary parasites.

The English Reformation, however, did open the way for that trend of thought which has led to the religious England of to-day. Puritanism led to a rejection of external aid to worship, especially so as it concerns artistic influence, even to the use of the plainest of rectangular buildings, “meeting houses,” where they met for simple worship; and the founding of the Anglican Protestant Church soon led to a further division along more pronounced tenets of dogma. It was a multiple dividing from the parent fold of Episcopacy.

All Christian denominations, except the Quakers, or friends, are really Baptists, and this has been so from the earliest time of Christianity. Further, there has been a division of opinion, from the very first, as to how the rite of baptism should be administered. Paedo – Baptists called for Infant baptism, which might be administered by sprinkling, pouring, or immersion, whilst Antipaedo – Baptists claimed that an intelligent profession of faith must precede baptism by total immersion. In the first case either infants or adults can be baptised, whilst, in the latter, adults only can receive the rite, for they alone can evidence an intelligent comprehension of the vows baptism calls for.

The English Baptist, as a distinct Sect, organised in London in 1608, but the belief had been asserted sporadically, in England, long before that time. During the time of Henry VIII and Elizabeth in special, they had suffered persecution and even unto death by fire.

It is uncertain as to when this distinctive article of baptismal belief, “that intelligent profession must precede immersion,” gave rise to a community of Baptists at Rushden, but the Rev. W. F. Harris states in his “Romance of a Northamptonshire Church,” that in 1672 “a preaching licence was granted to the house of Mr. Woolston.” This was the year when the great thinker, writer and preacher was released from Bedford Jail. John Bunyan was the first to avail himself of the laws that granted “a preaching licence,” and he traversed this district on horseback, to meet the several bodies of Baptist folk in various localities round about Bedford, of which those meeting in Mr. Woolston’s house must have been one.

It seems certain that Bunyan had traversed in and around Rushden, aforetime, when following his humbler calling of tinker; in fact, it has been claimed that he had the Rushden brook road of his day in mind when he pictured the “Slough of Despond.”

Circumstantial evidence is certainly all in favour of the Rushden Baptists having sufficient reason for considering John Bunyan as their Church’s founder, or, as an organised Christian community; assuredly a sponsor Mr. Harris says: “The Rushden Church was formed on the lines of Bunyan’s Church polity being open communion, and called ‘Independent Baptist’,” 1722 seems to be the year in which the Church settled down to regular Sunday services in their “Meeting House.” In 1768 a “tenement” provided better accommodation, and in 1796 a plain rectangular building was erected. This was of considerable size, by comparison with the Church’s former meeting houses.

Mr. Herbert Lack, in his “History of Park-road Baptist Sunday School,” well describes the situation of 1810, when the School was founded, by saying : “The religious life of the inhabitants centred principally in two places of worship which had been provided for their use, viz., the Parish Church and the Old Baptist Meeting House. The Rector, the Rev. Spencer James Lewin, was in his sixth year of his incumbency, while the Rev. John Peacock’s term of residence as Minister of the Non-conformist congregation was only a few months shorter.” In this year also the Baptist Church became independent of outside aid, by surrendering its claim for aid from the “Particular Baptist fund.”

The birth place of the Sunday School was in a “cottage occupied by Mr. John Knowles” near unto the meeting house. This was similar to the humble beginning of the Church itself, and both have happily grown from such small beginnings to be leading influences of Rushden Nonconformity.

From 1831 to 1851 the Rev. Johnathan Wittemore was the moving force, under whom the Church greatly increased its influence. Paternoster Row, the centre of book publishing, had been his business home in early life, and it had its lifelong influence upon him. He started printing and publishing in Rushden “up the Factory Yard” to the right going South, at the top of “Big Street,” now High Street, at the point where “Little Street” enters it, and here “The Standard Tune Book” and The Baptist Messenger” were first published. Mr. Whittemore’s slender resources could not stand the drain of publishing in the out-of-the-way village of Rushden of that day. The struggle led him to the old-time debtors’ prison at Northampton, but in no sense to dishonour. His association with Dr. Gauntlett in music, and his founding “The Christian World” and the “Sunday School Times,” after he left Rushden, prove that he would have still further honoured Rushden, could he but have had the necessary financial aid to have carried on a most beneficially influential work, that has proved of great power to the cause of Nonconformity.

During the ministry of the Rev. Robert Emms Bradfield, another minister who wielded considerable local influence, the 1796 Meeting House was enlarged and new-fronted, and this new fronting marks an era in the Church, for it is an outward visible sign of using architecture as a means of adornment, if not a spiritual grace. This movement towards the use of beauty as a means of religious expression found full play in 1901, when “Park-road Baptist Church,” the new home of “Top Meeting,” was built.

In this connection it is interesting to notice that William Bayes built the 1796 building; that Charles Bayes, the grandson, carried through the 1873 alterations and re-building; whilst C. F. Bayes, the great-grandson of the first builder, built the present fine church.

In this church building is shown a parting of the ways with regard to the use of ornament; indeed, when compared with the older buildings, it is palatial. The main front in particular has modern Gothic details and adaptations, after the 18th Century style, that satisfy critical architectural taste; particularly is this so in the case of the central recessed door-way, the turrets, and the bridge arcading. The use of combined brick and stone in the building also shows to distinct advantage. A well proportioned and galleried interior has its arrangements so adjusted that pulpit, large choir gallery and organ are so well placed as to lead all round good visual and acoustical results. The Baptistry, an important essential in church furnishing where immersion is practised, is also most advantageously placed, and is the very contrast of the earlier baptisteries.

The organ is interesting, for it is the only instrument in England built upon a principle that has found much favour in the United States of America, some of the finest and largest instruments, such as those at the Mormon Temple, Salt Lake City, at Portland Town Hall, and at the Great Panama Exhibition, being built along this distinctive line of construction. The greatest interest, though, centres upon the fact that Messrs. John and Bill Austin, the heads of the Austin Organ Company, Hartford, Conn., U.S.A. (Mr. John Austin being the inventor of the Universal Wind System, the distinctive feature of the organ) were born and received their education in this immediate locality, and they attended the Rushden National School.

One feature of “Old Top Meeting” was omitted when Park-road Baptist Church was built, for there is no stable accommodation, as before time. Until nearing the present century, some of the Church’s most faithful attendants came from the villages around; several came afoot, and some by horse conveyance. That feature passed away with the last century. “The Vestry,” with its fire place of the old-fashioned hob variety was more than once adjunct – it was essential to the comfort of these pilgrim worshippers from adjacent parishes. The big copper kettles singing on the hob were inviting, after morning service, and a long walk before that, in many cases. Especially was this so in dreary winter days. The order of routine, after morning service, called for these kettles of boiling water, for each individual brought his own dinner, or each family theirs, and teapots were there to provide a common brew. It may be that the records of 1804, as culled from the Church book, where it states that gin was purchased on two separate occasions, and three quarts of it each time, had something to do with this material liquid comfort of years gone by. Anyway, there the records stand, just bald matters of fact, as matters of course. As no other record seems to be in evidence the Old Top Meeting has cause for congratulation upon a temperance principle beyond the ordinary, long before the time of teetotal lecturers. But the first temperance lecture in Rushden, did impress members of the Baptist cause to such an extent that 14 “stalwarts” were led by the Rev. J. Wittemore (a pledged total of 15) to sign for a cause that mightily developed in this Rushden community, a force that did much towards building up the place, and to transforming it from a struggling village into a well-conditioned and well ordered town.

The temperance movement altered the Church’s attitude towards drink most assuredly. For centuries past, and up to the middle of last century, church books quite frequently record the purchase of alcoholic liquor, from beer to gin, in a quite matter-of-fact way, and the after service dinner may have had something to do with it. This was the all-important meal at Top Meeting, after which came the afternoon service (there were three services on Sundays in those days), and then the trudge, or the drive, home – to these good folk the end of a perfect day. The peculiarities of Calvinistic doctrine not being pronounced enough, at the beginning of the 19th Century, several of the original Baptist Church members separated themselves from the parent Church and founded Succoth Baptist Church when the name “Old Top Meeting” was given to the parent Church, an attribute that quite distinguished it from “Bottom Meeting,” the name the Succoth Church went by. It should be noted here that the present church must have existed for nearly a century-and-a-half without a “split.” This was not accomplished, however, without much careful sailing to avoid doctrinal wrecking rocks, or swamping shoals, yet the dogma of Calvin did break up the smooth sailing, in 1901. Nearly a century passed by from the time of the move down the valley and “down street” to “Bottom Meeting”, when the troubled waters of doctrine, or government, again caused some to cast off from their anchorage and cross the valley, this time to the other side. It can best be thought of, though, as a journey, or a wandering from Succoth to Zion. Zion Church is thus another remove from the parent church. To be exact “Zion Chapel,” the name it is known by, was founded in 1901, is situated in the Station-road.

An old-time friend, when speaking of “Elim Meeting,” quaintly said ; The wandering of these good people in the wilderness of uncertainty before they found Elim may very well fit the textual idea contained in Numbers ix 5 to 9 inclusive, though it cannot be said to exactly describe the actual facts as a whole.

Elim Meeting” was the result of a species of excommunication, for, Mr. H. Lack says, in his history, “In the interests of peace, the loyal majority suspended twelve of the brethren from membership.” This was from “Old Top Meeting” membership in 1848, and the cause is now simply a matter of history, both sides had right on their side, from their point of view, and the minority were cast adrift to worship first at “Dial Farm”, a house to the right, going South just above where “Big-street” becomes Bedford-road. Soon afterwards, a barn that stood alongside the High-street, just below the Church, on the site “Bank Buildings” now occupy, was converted into the building known as “Elim Meeting.” Mr. John Corby, who had successfully fought the Church rate under Mr. Wittemore’s guidance, was a deacon there, and a leading spirit of Elim. A certain duty , during the dark nights, that he always performed, was that of going round and snuffing the candles as the “middle hymn” was being sung.

Elim became a thing of the past in the early ‘seventies, some of its members joining or re-joining, either Top Meeting or Bottom Meeting.

Yet another offshoot of the first Baptist Church came into evidence (for all, to the number of four, must be considered directly or indirectly offshoots), and this time the broader lines of a more elastic church dogma were claimed as the cause. Union Church, later the Congregational Church, situated in Church-street, resulted from this disaffection of 1881.

This sketch shows that five churches arose in Rushden as the result of that dissent which called for a profession of faith before the rite of baptism could be administered; and four still flourish. Each professes some variation in dogma, yet all believe in baptism after a profession of belief though Congregationalism administers infant baptism as an alternative in making its tenets so broad as to be either Paedo Baptist or Anti-Paedo-Baptist.


“Bottom Meeting” and “Drawbridge’s” were interchangeable terms for many years. Mr. Charles Drawbridge was a minister, perhaps one should rather say preacher, who dominated Succoth Church from 1826 till 1867, and his name for years after that time even. He was an apostle of Calvanism who exercised great influence throughout the district, and was the life of its dogmatic teaching. His methods might perchance seem strange at this time but they carried great weight throughout the period of his ministry, and there are some who still cherish his memory as a great preacher and theologian.

13th August, 1920

The Methodist Churches

The Wesleyan Church was, for many years, the only Methodist Church in Rushden. Before 1850, when the great Reform Movement originated, the church was a part of the Higham Ferrers Circuit of the Wesleyan Methodist Church. At that time the Circuit was an extensive one, and its ministry, principally though the earnestness and untiring effort of its devoted local preachers, was an influence in the many surrounding villages, and laid the foundation of the Methodism of to-day in those localities.

In those early days Mr. Sykes, as a local preacher, was a personality indeed, he may be looked upon as the father of the lay preachers of the Higham Circuit. His home was at Raunds, his working days were long and laborious yet he went to and fro through-out the Circuit, Sunday by Sunday, for many years to spread a gospel that impressed not alone simple village folk, but all who heard him. He usually walked to and from his appointments, often many miles, to deliver sermons without notes, which yet were cohesive and sequential in idea, and refined in diction. Many averred that he obtained and memorized his sermons. If so, he must have obtained them from some one particular source. Mr. Sykes was truly a worthy, whose memory should be remembered and honoured wherever Methodism is a force in the Christianity of this district, and certainly so wherever the local preacher was the main factor in the revival of religious life in the villages in the earlier days of Methodism. The local preacher’s success was the result of an unbounding faith, for their reward was certainly not of this world. They may be considered in fact, the religious force of the 19th Century that was similar to that of the 14th, when Wycliffe sent out his preaching friars without money and without price, and both have left their permanent mark upon England.

But it may be remarked “What has this to do with Rushden?” In reply, it may be said that Mr. Sykes often tramped from Raunds to preach at Rushden Wesleyan Methodist Church, when it worshipped in a building located at the Green Side, and which afterwards became a “Dame School”, and this he did for some three years preceding the great defection of 1850. Further, Mr. Sykes’s influence must have been of import in the Methodist Church, an encouragement to the many earnest local preachers who lived in the village of that day, and who are still of the community now that it has grown to town importance.

About the time the Church became “Independent Wesleyan” it migrated to new quarters in “Back Way” and, later, in 1873, into High-street, to a spot a little below Bottom Meeting, whilst the opening of the present century saw another and more commodious church built on the same site.

A thriving Mission Church, a branch of the Independent Wesleyan Church, was opened some years ago, and is pleasantly situated on the Wellingborough-road. A feature of this Church is a Brass Band, which has been and still is, an efficient adjunct to its service music, and beyond that even, for it has been a distinctly uplifting influence to the music of the town, and especially so as the musical factor at open-air concerts, church parades, and services.

In 1850 the Wesleyan Methodist Church of Rushden changed its Church policy, and became known as the Independent Wesleyan Church. No effort was made to resuscitate the older Church until about 1888, when the Rev. A. J. Pickworth, the Higham Ferrers Circuit Minister, revived the cause, with an opening service in the Public Hall, when the Rev. Charles H. Kelly was preacher.

From that time on, services were regularly held, first in the Public Hall, then in the Old Temperance Hall, then back again in their first place of worship. In 1890 their sojournings were changed into a more permanent abode with the opening of the new School Chapel in Park-road.

This was a permanency of 14 years, after which the increased growth warranted the building of a new church alongside the School Chapel. This 1904 edifice is Late Gothic in style, and the group of buildings that comprise both school and church are a distinct addition to the architectural types of the town.

The evangelism of the Salvation Army early made itself felt in Rushden. Though quite an independent organisation, still in conception it must be considered as a direct outcome of the Methodism of Wesley, and especially so as regards its open-air campaigns of religious service. It first became fully established in Rushden in the ‘eighties of the last Century, when it used either the Public Hall or the Temperance Hall for its indoor meetings, and then built its own Salvation Army Barracks in Queen-street. The trend of public idea to-day has caused the Army to become more strongly a social force, rather than an open-air preaching one, in the old time sense of the phrase. It is a mighty force for good, though, and most faithfully presses forward in its great work, it greatest asset in carrying on its beneficent efforts being its ready adaptability to meet new needs and new conditions as they come into evidence

The Primitive Methodist Church is yet another religious body springing from the parent Church founded by Wesley. Its church building is in Fitzwilliam-street. This body of Christians is sometimes known as “The Ranters.” Their tenets of belief are similar to those of other Methodists, only their ministers adopt the preaching fervour which, they claim, the first preachers of Methodism used, and they admit lay members into the government of the Church.

20th August, 1920

St. Peter’s Church

The stone building to the South of the larger Church in Midland-road was built towards the end of the 19th Century, and was used as a Chapel of the original Parish Church.

It is a neatly proportioned building, in the Early English, or lancet window style, and is now used as a Sunday School, and for parish meetings.

The present Church was built in the first decade of the 20th Century, and the Church was dedicated, and the new parish of St. Peter’s was carved out of the original lordship. At that time the Mother Church was the only Episcopalian Church for a community of some 14,000 souls, a large country parish indeed.

The Church is a red brick building, lofty and very well proportioned. On the North the outline is broken by a porch, also a turret at the joining of the Nave and Choir aisles; this turret, however, does not reach to the height of the nave and chancel roof, whilst on the South its long stretch of unbroken red tiled roof is somewhat monotonous in artistic effect, for the Church has no transepts. The East end certainly has an ornamental stone cross as its gable finial, but the West end has not even the redeeming feature of a bell-gable to relieve the bareness. The view from the west end, inside the Church, is impressive. Its lofty roof and well-proportioned nave arcades opening into the aisles gives an effect of spaciousness and dignity. The screen and rood beam between nave and chancel, also the different treatment of the barrel roof vaulting beyond, is effective.

The entire architecture is a 20th Century adaptation of Late Perpendicular 16th Century Gothic.

Notice should be taken of the vertical stone shafts rising from the pillars, and ascending to the roof, this giving the appearance of added strength. Then the horizontal bar along the whole nave length, just under the clerestory windows, breaks up what might otherwise seem a somewhat too bare plain wall.

The wood panelling, as a wainscot round the pillars, may be a good utilitarian idea, but the effect is one of weakness, of great weakness from the Ruskin standpoint, for it gives the idea of stone pillars growing from a wood base.

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