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PRESTON CAPES, NORTHAMPTONSHIRE
A SHORT HISTORY OF THE VILLAGE AND CHURCH
Preston Capes Church stands 550 feet above sea level and the village High Street rises to over 600 feet. The village is set on the Northamptonshire Heights which are an extension of the Cotswolds and Edge Hill and whose geological base is Upper Lias clay capped with Northamptonshire sands. The Church and village houses are built of the local honey-coloured ironstone and until earlier this century most of the cottages were still thatched. Within five miles of the village rise the River Cherwell (which joins the Thames at Oxford), the River Learn (which joins the Avon at Warwick), the River Nene (which flows through Peterborough) and a branch of the River Tove (which joins the Bedfordshire Great Ouse at Stony Stratford).
The date of the earliest settlement at Preston Capes is not known but the Roman road (later called the Portway) from Bennaventa (near Daventry) to Brinavis (Chipping Warden) passed along the hill to the south west of the Church, and remains of a Roman villa are said to have been found on a hill to the north of the village on the west side of the Fawsley road.
The village is recorded in William the Conqueror's Domesday Book and,soon after the Conquest, Hugh de Leycest (called "The Viscount") built a wooden castle on the Castle Mound due east of the Church across the Fawsley road.
In 1090 Hugh de Leycester founded a priory at Preston Capes on the site of the Old Rectory (part of which present house dates from the sixteenth century).
The priory was of the Cluniac order, (based on the Benedictine order), and was a dependency of the Abbey of Cluny in France. The Cluniac order was noted for "the regular, tireless, all but ceaseless liturgical service carried out by the great numbers of a highly disciplined army using every means of chant, of ceremony and of ornament available to render that service more solemn and more splendid." The tutelar saint of the monastery was St Augustine of Canterbury. The number of monks at Preston Capes never exceeded four. Unfortunately the monks found the situation inconvenient through want of water (despite the many local springs) and through the noise from the castle and accordingly the priory moved to Daventry in 1107-8. The priory at Daventry was dissolved in 1526 by permission of Pope Clement V11 and King Henry VIII and was granted to Cardinal Wolsey who used its endowment to help found his college at Christ Church, Oxford.
Of the five main assistants of Cardinal Wolsey in the dissolution of the monastery at Daventry "two fell at discord between themselves, and the one slew the other, for the which the survivor was hanged; the third drowned himself in a well; the fourth being well known, and valued worth £ 200, became in three years so poor, that he begged till his dying day; and the fifth called Dr Allane, being chief executor of these doings, was cruelly maimed in Ireland, even at such time as he was a bishop; the Cardinal falling after into the king's grievous displeasure, was deposed and died miserably; the colleges which he meant to have made so glorious a building, came never to good effect, the one at Ipswich clean pulled down, and the other in Oxford unfinished; and Pope Clement himself, by whose authority these houses were thrown down to the ground, was after inclosed in a dangerous siege within the castle of St Angel in Rome by the Emperials, the city of Rome was pitifully sacked, and himself escaped with his life."
The village takes its name Preston or Priest's Town from the monks. Capes derives from Hugh de Capes who purchased the manor in the reign of Henry III (which ran from 1216-1272) and who obtained a licence from the Prior of Daventry to build a chapel within the manor The manor was later owned by the Earls of Warwick (including the King Maker) and subsequently by the Collegiate Church of Our Lady at Warwick. In c. 1570-1580 the manor was acquired by Edward Knightley of Fawsley, who was brother of Sir Richard Knightley infamous for his printing at Fawsley of the puritanical Martin Marprelate Tracts against Archbishop Whitgift in 1588. The Knightley family remained lords of the manor and patrons of the living until the last male Knightley, The Reverend Sir Henry, died at Fawsley in 1938. The lordship of the manor and the patronage of the living then descended through the female line to Viscount Gage who gave the patronage of the living to the Bishop of Peterborough in 1948 (when the Rectory ceased to be occupied by the Rector and the parish was linked with Charwelton and Fawsley). The Knightleys in about 1800 built the brick cottages across the field to the south west of the Church which were designed in the form of a simple battlemented castle and archway as an eye catcher from Fawsley Park.
Samuel Shepheard the founder of Shepheard's Hotel in Cairo was born in the parish and baptised in the Church in January 1826 and several family tombs remain in the Churchyard. His great grandfather Benjamin Shepheard was passing the Swan Inn in the village one day when an elm tree fell before him, but miraculously missed him. Thinking that providence had hurled the tree before him for a purpose he had it made into a coffin for himself which he occuoied in due course.
Several of the Knightley family were Rectors of the parish, the most notable being The Reverend Sir Valentine
who was Rector for virtually all Queen Victoria's reign, being Rector for 62 years from 1836 to 1898 when he died at the age of 85. He inherited the baronetcy from his cousin the first and only Lord Knightley whose wife used to bring the Elephant Man in an enclosed carriage to remote farms on the Fawsley Estate for summer holidays. Bishop Magee of Peterborough (who died seven weeks after his enthronement as Archbishop of York) when appointed Bishop of Peterborough in 1668 was shocked to find the Rector of Preston Capes (Sir Valentine) and the Rector of Fawsley (William Story who was also Curate of Preston Capes) were both living with their cousin in the comfort of Fawsley Hall rather than in their respective Rectories to which Bishop Magee promptly ordered them to return. Apart from four Holy Communion Services a year, William Story only held one Service each Sunday at Fawsley, alternately Matins at 12 and Evensong at 12.15.
THE CHURCH OF SAINT PETER AND SAINT PAUL
About ten yards to the south east of the Church porch stands what is believed to be the Anglo-Saxon stone base of the preaching cross which preceded the first Church building. What may be the head of that cross (with a round head carved with an eight starred cross) is built into the external east wall of the south aisle below the window. Also of interest on that wall is a Georgian grave stone affixed for an unknown reason high up on a ledge.
The Church (which, including the tower almost up to the battlements, was covered with ivy in the nineteenth century), is dedicated, like Peterborough Cathedral, to St Peter and St Paul. The earliest part, including the round Norman pillars in the south aisle, dates from the early 1200's. This would probably coincide with the grant of a licence by the Prior of Daventry to Hugh de Leycester to build a chapel at Preston Capes. The north aisle and several decorated aisle windows date from 1300- 1350. The corbel heads on the nave arches are al
kings' heads, but the chancel corbels are rather more grotesque. The perpendicular tower was built later as shown by the fact that both aisles each have only a half arch nearest the tower. The ground falls away sharply to the west of the tower and it was therefore necessary to build the tower into the existing Church rather than extend it to the west. The wooden rooves of the two aisles are medieval but the wooden roof of the nave was renewed in the early part of the present century. The chancel probably also dates from 1300-1350 although its roof was raised from a flat roof in 1853 when the Church was restored.
The pews in the chancel (which have traceried panels and poppyhead benchends) are medieval. Fortunatsly in the restoration in 1853 the pews in the nave were copied from the chancel pews, while the pulpit, priest's desk, clerk's desk and lectern were all designed in the same style. The poppyhead pew end at the south west and of the north nave pews has the Knightley coat of arms of Sir Valentine,_the Rector at the time of the 1853 restoration. Either side of the chancel east window are Georgian wooden tablets (with simulated marble surrounds and gilded urns) with the Lord's Prayer, the Creed and the Ten Commandments inscribed thereon. In a vestry are an old charity board and an old royal coat of arms which it is hoped will be restored and rehung in the Church. The fifteenth century stone font is built into a pillar in the south aisle and has traceried panels. In the porch is a medieval stone holy water stoup. The Church door is believed to be over 450 years old. Of the five bells, four date from 1671 and the treble from 1829. The organ, built by Nicholsons of Worcester, was given in memory of Sir Valentine Knightley and was electrified and moved from the chancel to its present position in 1974. The Church electric lighting was installed by his parents in memory of John Henry Wilcox RAFVR who was killed in the War in 1942.
The tracery at the top of the chancel east window is all that remains of a Victorian stained glass window installed in 1853 but replaced sometime later by a plain opaque window. This in turn was replaced in 1974 by a window engraved by Annabel Rathbone in memory of George St John Ravenshear who died in 1972 at the age of ten and whose face appears as that of St George. The window was given by his relations and friends, including the Right Honourable Norman St John-Stevas MP sometime Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. Included in the design are St Peter and St Paul, the Greek Chirho (g), which was an early symbol of Christ, and a peacock, which was used over Christian tombs in the catacombs as a symbol of everlasting life and the Eucharist, as its flesh was considered incorruptible. There are also included three biblical trees which are found in the vicinity of the Church, a cedar of Lebanon, a Cypress tree and an olive tree. In their branches may be observed owls, doves, peacocks and other birds while beneath can be seen deer (symbols of meditation), sheep, lambs, rabbits, a hedgehog and a beetle. On the left is the heavenly city of Jerusalem. In the centre at the bottom is St George (the patron saint of England) and the Dragon. In the window are angels and at the top hover seraphim. At the foot ts- a primrose, the favourite flower of Mr Disraeli, later Earl of Beaconsfield.
Several of the other windows are unusual early Victorian harlequin windows with various coloured glass patterns. The tracery in the north aisle east window and the loose panel in the south aisle east window (removed as dangerous by an architect in the 1960's) date from 1853.
The Church lacks any monuments of distinction other than that of a former Rector, The Reverend Knightley Adams, who married the only child of Richard Newton, Principal and Founder of Hertford College, Oxford. The floor of
the nave is composed of tombstones, primarily of the Butler family of the late 1600's and early 1700's and of The Reverend Knightley Adams' mother and sisters. Several are made of the local Byfield Jurassic black marble which is very similar to Purbeck marble. In the Churchyard to the north and east of the Church are several interesting eighteenth century gravestones some carved with cherubs' heads.
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