Two weeks ago I visited relatives in Melton Mowbray. My interest in European history is no secret to them. A surprise treat was lunch at Rothley Court Hotel and a pre-courtesy guided tour of the historic Mansion.
The most impressive element is the continuous recorded history beginning with a mention in the Doomsday Book of 1086, although originally a Roman villa existed on the site. I dwell on the Templar Chapel.
The Holy Order of the Knights Templar, founded in 1118 by Hugh de Payens, with the aim of protecting pilgrims visiting the Christian shrines of Jerusalem, began acquiring property in England.
The Order possessed a house in the City of Leicester and in 1203 was granted land at Rothley by John de Harecourt and the Manor House by Henry III in 1228. The Order built their chapel here, which today still stands as an annexe to the current Manor House.
Plan of the chapel and recorded notes on features of architectural and historical interest were amplified. A fine doorway, in the Early English style, now facing a new open space, is the entrance to the adjacent tower. The ground floor ceiling of the tower is vaulted with ribs supported on 4 corbels. The tower is thought to have been 3 stories in height indicating that the tower was built after the chapel.
The doorway into the chapel is in Early English style flanked by Templar paintings of an unknown artist. The building is lit by 7 windows on the west; north and south walls, all of similar design consisting of long narrow lancets with trefoil heads and splayed jambs surrounded by roll moulding and are the original work of the Templars.
The large east window is of a different design due to alterations in 15th century. The window contains beautiful heraldic stained glass relating to the Babington family.
In the S.E. corner of the chapel is an exceptional example of a rare feature – a double piscine, where the altar vessels were washed after the celebration of the Eucharist. Illegible, black, Gothic scripts exist on a section of wall plaster. No translation is available.
Year 1312 brought the suppression of Knights Templar and the property passed to Knights Hospitaller, the Knights of St. John in 1313. The dissolution of the monasteries in England in 1540 included Rothley Temple.
After periods of leasing the manor was purchased by the celebrated Babington family and the preceptory was converted into a country residence, keeping the chapel intact. Babingtons remained Lords of the Manor for almost 300 years. The motto (translated ‘Faith is All’) was reputedly said to Henry V on the eve of the Battle of Agincourt in 1415 by Thomas Babington, a squire on the King’s personal staff. The Babington families were buried in the chapel.
In the 18th century, William Wilberforce drafted his ‘Treaty for the Abolition of Slavery’ whilst staying at the Court.
In 1893, Frederick Merttens purchased the Manor, the House and the Chapel and he restored the dilapidated house and chapel. He added the South and Kitchen wings and created a splendid Billiards Room together with the Lodge, Entrance Gate and Stables.
Subsequently ownership passed to Clive Wormleighton, a member of the modern Order who became Preceptor of Leicester in 1974. He converted the Manor House into a Hotel and Restaurant in 1960. The Hotel houses a beautiful tapestry in the reception area and two original stained glass windows, depicting knights can be seen at the main staircase. The Early English Style furnishings present a stately realm.
Once you cross the Hotel’s coat of arms of the celebrated Babington family, and sit at dining table, the feeling is that of an honorary guest in a regal dream.
By Carmelina Grech
THE ROTHLEY TAPESTRY
The story of Rothley sewn into a tapestry in 1999 and displayed in the Parish Church.
The tapestry was completed in 1999 by members of the Bradgate Sewing Circle, with historical information by the late Rodney Offley.
Capital letters are used in this text to denote characters and features to be seen in the tapestry.
The green ground and the blue stream of the Tapestry reflects the Domesday name of Rothley RODOLEI, ‘a clearing in the woods by a stream.’
High status ROMANS settled in the area and the SAXON CROSS in the churchyard is evidence of continuing Christian British settlement after the Romans. The Domesday Book of 1086 records there being a priest in the village, part of a manor under the control of a Norman King. The NORMAN LADY worshipped in the original early NORMAN CHURCH , which retains the classic tub-shaped NORMAN FONT.
In 1231 the Manor of Rothley was given to the Templars, the military monastic order formed to safeguard the pilgrimage routes to Jerusalem.
The TEMPLAR KNIGHTS wore the red cross and had the emblem of the TWO KNIGHTS ON ONE HORSE to show their poverty.
The order built a Preceptory and Chapel as ROTHLEY TEMPLE, now known as the Rothley Court Hotel.
When the Pope supressed the Templars in the 14th century the Manor was given to the charge of the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem, the Hospitallers, whose EMBLEM features their beginning in the period of the Crusades.
The Hospitallers continued the development of the Manor and Soke of Rothley as an agricultural community which provided a rich source of income to support the work of the Order.
In 1405, the Vicar of Rothley, RICHARD KILHAM, was elected Prior of LEICESTER ABBEY and in 1520 notable Rothley citizen ROBERT VINCENT was the Ranger in charge of the DEER kept in the park at Bradgate.
In 1534 Rothley landowner WILLIAM KINGSTON was given the SEAL OF OFFICE as Constable of the TOWER OF LONDON during which period Henry VIII’s wife ANNE BOLEYN was beheaded. While at Leicester Abbey CARDINAL WOLSEY fell mortally ill and died in William Kingston’s arms. After the Manor of Rothley was confiscated by the King at the Reformation it was eventually purchased by THOMAS BABINGTON in 1565, son of Humphrey, last of the local Hospitaller Knights.
The Lords of the Manor exercised control of the use and transfer of land within the Manor and Soke and drew some income from the produce of the MILLSTONES in both the Wind and Water Mills. The first Village School was created out of TWO COTTAGES in Town Green Street by the philanthropy of BARTHOLEMEW HICKLING for FOURTEEN BOYS in 1683. He endowed the annual prize of a HOLY BIBLE for the child who best performed a reading from the Gospels.
Between each arch are featured the emblems of organisations associated with the Village. From left to right the Cross of the Hospitallers, the Mothers’ Union, Rothley School, Rolls Royce, who had a turbine blade factory where Whatton Oaks is now, the Scouts, the Women’s Institute, The Royal British Legion, Rothley Lions, the new Great Central Railway Company and the Bradgate Sewing Circle.
The Babington family held the Manor for almost 300 years until the death of Thomas Babington in 1837. Thomas went to St. John’s College, Cambridge, at the same time as WILLIAM WILBERFORCE who together later were to work very closely as members of Parliament in the campaign to halt the SLAVE TRADE and for the eventual emancipation of the slaves.
Indeed, the MP Thomas Babington operated as the unofficial parliamentary private secretary to Wilberforce for several years. In 1800 his nephew THOMAS BABINGTON MACAULAY was born at Rothley Temple, later to become Lord Macaulay, the man of letters and the author of the definitive ‘Whig’ History of England.
In the early Victorian period many Rothley people earned their living at home making hosiery as FRAMEWORK KNITTERS. Honoured on the WAR MEMORIAL on Cross Green are the Rothley men who lost their lives in the two world wars, the number of poppies commemorating each name engraved on the stone. Rothley’s development proceeded apace after ROTHLEY STATION was opened in 1901.
The view of OUR WORLD seen from manned space vehicles returning from the moon, the world we must look after for future generations, as shown by the CHILD AT THE COMPUTER, looking forward to the future with the new technology they will grow up with.
[More on the Templar Church tomorrow]