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The correspondence of Rev. John Adamthwaite, a prolific and energetic letter-writer, vicar of Shackerstone from 1779 to 1811, provides an interesting glimpse of the parish during the tumultuous era of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. At the time of John Nichols’ survey of Shackerstone (“antiently called Sacrestone or Shakston”) Captain Hall, the local squire, owned the greater part of the lordship. Nichols records a fine church, a water mill and an absentee parson, Dr Adamthwaite, “the present learned vicar”. The Halls had been the prominent family in the village since Elizabethan times. In the mid 1640s at the height of the Civil War, we learn that
Captain Layfield’s soldiers from the Parliamentary garrison at Tamworth took a mare worth ten pounds from Mr. Hall, and on another occasion Captain Ottway’s troops from the Coventry garrison relieved him of two geldings and a filly worth ₤24.6.8. ( SP 28/161). Nor was Dr Adamthwaite the first absentee parson to serve the parish. One of his predecessors, Rev. John Hodges, was ejected from the living in 1646 and brought before the parliamentary sequestration committee for deserting his parish to join the royalist garrison at Ashby for four months. The commissioners charged him with frequenting the village alehouse on Sundays, and of being “a companion with fidlers and singers and doth at their meetings tell them that if they will sing bawdy and ribaldrous songs…he will conjure, and thereupon hee did pull out of his pocket a paper, but what was in it or what it contained none can tell for hee kept it in his hand”. (Mathews, Walker Revised, p. 237)
Hodges was restored to the living in 1660. A century later, at the time of Archdeacon [James] Bickman’s visitation in 1777, although the parsonage house was said to be “in pretty good repair” the benefice was impoverished. A combination of factors in the 1770s conspired to minimize the impact of the church. Here the house-less benefice, a vicarage worth at best no more than £80 a year in 1779, had been under sequestration for debt since 1767. To aggravate matters, the non-resident vicar (the Rev. Thomas Hall) and two of the leading resident freeholders were in dispute over a number of issues including, notably, Hall’s alleged neglect of church duty.
Dr Adamthwaite’s letters to Queen Anne’s Bounty preserved in the Church of England Records Centre at Lambeth (F4137) appears to confirm the near ruinous situation within the parish. The new vicar finding that his benefice offered a very meager living for the incumbent, made desperate efforts to augment his income from the tithes by donations and applications for support. On March 5th, 1788 in a letter to the bishop of Lincoln, (reprinted in Nichols, pp 912-913), he provides detailed answers to a series of questions, describing the parlous state of his new benefice. Altogether, he records 87 families in Shackerstone, including two Presbyterians attending church services, there being no Presbyterian meetinghouse nearby. He also notes that the parish contained neither papists nor chapels, although two Methodists attend a licensed meeting house in the detached hamlet of Barton in the Beans. The parson himself did not live there, “my residence dispensed with by your Lordship’s predecessor”, residing instead in Hampton in Arden, in Warwickshire some 24 miles away, where he had a curacy.
Simon Harratt, a local scholar who has done a considerable amount of work on Leicestershire parsonages in this period, has transcribed the rector’s submissions to Queen Anne’s Bounty, seeking support. Among them is a most interesting and revealing letter from 1798, in which Adamthwaite refers to a donation of ₤100 from Sir John Astley’s estate, noting that the Executor:
“…..has a considerable estate in Shackerstone where he usually resides some part of the year. He presents an Application in his offer to bestow what the Instrument expresses, and I suppose that the Purpose of the Donation may be obtained, if but another equal to it can be procured to meet it; as the benefice is let at ₤40 and has not had the Bounty.
It was miserably beggared by my Predecessor; who died insolvent in a gaol and has left me or my Executors to rebuild the vicarage, then so entirely let down as that no sign remains of there ever having been one”. The writer concludes by asking his lordship to forward an enclosed letter to Mrs Pynecombe’s Trustees if it is deemed a proper one, seeking thereby to match Mr Astley’s benefit with a like sum from Mrs. Pynecombe.
By 1st April 1805 the population seems to have slightly increased, a local census counting 51 families in Shackerstone, 53 families in Odstone and six in Barton, providing a total population of around 375. A few days later, on the 12th, Adamthwaite was again writing to the Bishop, somewhat “ashamed of having given ……this trouble; but now have the Honour of transmitting the further answer”. The parson proceeds to give an account of the income from the tithes and stipends, a catalogue of complaints particularly critical of the recent enclosures, and he claims to have “papers that prove the living to have been considerably under ₤50 so late than less than that number of years ago……having found it upon coming to it after the Inclosure hardly ₤80, as it has remained till within these five
Whatever his situation things were beginning to improve by the time of Nichols’ survey, for by 1810, we learn that Dr Adamthwaite himself had purchased the living, augmenting the income with ₤400 a year, “₤200 from private benefactors [Mr Astley and Mrs Pynecombe] and has lately built a good barn”. We might conclude that with these signs of improvement, better times lay ahead, although by 1832, according to the archdeacon’s visitation, there was still no glebe house.
Notes and References
John Nichols, Antiquities of Leicestershire, Vol. IV, Pt II, pp. 909-913.
P.R.O. (National Archives): Commonwealth Exchequer Papers, SP 28/161.
A.G. Matthews, Walker Revised. Being a Revision of John Walker’s Sufferings of the Clergy During the Grand Rebellion, 1642-60, Oxford, 1948.
Archdeacon Bickman’s visitations. Leicester Record Office: 1D/41/18/21 p. 80;
Archdeacon Bonney’s visitations, L.R.O. 245/50/2, p. 178.
Church of England Records Centre: Queen Anne’s Bounty, F4137
Particular thanks to Dr Harratt for a transcript of Adamthwaite’s correspondence with the bishop, augmenting the evidence provided by John Nichols. S. R. C. Harratt, ‘A Tory Anglican Hegemony Misrepresented: Clergy Politics and the People in the Diocese of Lincoln, c. 1770-1830’, University of Lancaster PhD (1997), pp. 118-119.
‘In 1805 the executors of William Buckle Esq., and Mrs Pynecombe’s Trustees, gave £200 and the Governors of Queen Anne’s Bounty £200 for its augmentation. The parish was enclosed in 1769.’ Rev. J. Curtis, A Topographical History of the County of Leicester… (Ashby-de-la Zouch, 1831), p. 153.
© Alan Roberts and Simon Harratt, 2006