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History of the church building

The Five Ages of Rothley Parish ChurchAs Rothley’s oldest surviving building, the Church of St Mary & St John stands tall on its early Norman foundations. Explore its history with links to the published record and in the stunning 360 HD Tour.

A 10th century Saxon cross shaft stands just next to the church, pointing to the Christian presence that was here before the Conquest, confirmed in Rothley’s entry in King William’s Domesday Book. Soon afterwards the Normans built in stone, to be extended several times into the Medieval period. Elizabeth 1st’s regime stamped the protestant ethos and furnishings on the church, until the energy of Victoria Vicar Richard Burton restored and refashioned the building into the Gothic tradition prevailing in 1877. The aftermath of wars saw the interior decked out with a magnificent organ and memorials to the sad casualties of conflict. In the modern era, the Gothic symbolism of the high altar at the east end has given way to communion celebrated round a simple carpenter’s table at the head of the Nave amongst the people. The 18 page story is available for download [PDF], and a glossy printed version can be purchased through the Church Office

The church building, inside and out, was beautifully photographed in 2015 by Adrian Witcombe. The images were assembled into seven interactive 360 HD Tours which allow the reader to enlarge each historic memorial or artefact, and to read a short description of their place and significance.

Cast Iron Grave Markers Remounted

Rescued from undergrowth in the churchyard, these two specially commissioned objects now have a home on the repointed west wall of the churchyard, and both have intriguing stories.

Russell twins

Cast iron grave marker of twins Guy and Eric RussellThe two months old Russell twins, Guy and Eric, were staying with their parents at the Rothley Grange Farm on Rothley Plain, home of farmer George Waugh. 

The twins took ill, and on 9th and 11th Aug 1896 were overcome with infantile diarrhoea and died. Rather than be taken back into Leicester where the Russells lived on the Hinckley Road, they were buried in the churchyard.

Father Samuel Russell was a Leicester Iron-founder, and would have personally commissioned this marker in his foundry to remember his tiny sons. Now fixed as a lasting memorial to their memory.

CJW 1863

Cast iron grave marker of Charles John WoodbridgeThe other marker in cast iron remembers the death od 12yr old Charles John Woodbridge, buried here on 26th Aug 1863. His 7yr old brother George followed him into the grave five days later on 31st August, both succumbing to the scourge of scarlatina.

Their Rothley-born mother Ann Palmer left the village in the 1840s for work in London as a Housemaid where she married a Footman, Giles Woodbridge, in 1847. Giles died of tuberculosis in 1857, and Ann came back to her village here with her two sons.

Before long, Ann struck up a relationship with widower William Boyer, who also had two teenage sons, and in 1860 they were married here in Rothley Church. Their union was blessed with a new son, Harry Boyer, who later became noted for founding Boyers Buses.

Harry, a skilled joiner, bought four bare lorry chassis and built passenger carrying bodies on to them. Rothley people became very appreciative of having Boyer’s Buses available to link them to Loughborough and Leicester.

Other Resources

The church and parish were studied in depth in 1921 by four antiquarians and the result published in the 1921 Transactions of the Leicestershire Archaeological & Historical Society. The four-topic report included studies of the Rothley Vicars and the Church building, which has some expert architectural drawings of its old and current features. The report is viewable online [PDF].

Many church-related articles feature on the Rothley Village Website in its Village History section, including details of the 248 headstones still extant in the Churchyard.

The 1911 Philimore transcript of marriages solemnized in the parish church between 1562 and 1837 has been further transcribed digitally and is available online [PDF].

A medieval scholar, Vanessa McLoughlin completed a doctorate on the The Manor and Soke of Rothley. Vanessa distilled a 28-page article her thesis on Medieval Rothley, A Peculiar Parish. The article shows how Rothley Church had responsibility for five chapels within the Soke of Rothley, an administrative grouping of originally 22 settlements east of the River Soar. It also shows how Rothley was an Ecclesiastical Peculiar, outside the jurisdiction of the Archdeacon and the Bishop, a status following from the Manor having been in the ownership of the King before and after the Conquest. The article is available for download [PDF].

Susan Joyce, Chair of the Rothley History Society, also distilled an article from her MA Thesis on the Civil War period entitled Saints & Malignants: Rothley and its Neighbours In the 17th Century’s Times of Turmoil. Its 16 pages can be downloaded [PDF].

Terry Sheppard