Church History  by Alison Cooper

Medieval Beginnings

The name Quorn today is associated nationally with the Quorn Hunt and it is interesting that the church, dedicated to St Bartholomew, owes its foundation as a chapel in the twelfth century to the hunting mania of the Norman Lords of the Manor of Barrow-upon-Soar. Deer, wild boar and small game were the quarry then, not foxes, and hunting parties frequently cut off by floods were unable to return "without great jeopardy and in peril of their lives" to Barrow Manor for daily services in Barrow church. Accordingly the Earls of Chester, who held the Barrow lordship and hunted in the park between Buddon Wood and Woodthorpe, built a chapel and possibly a hunting lodge, around which grew the village of Quorn. A small bridge known as Priest's Bridge was built at this time, to enable the curate to cross the Soar and reach the chapel.

The Domesday Survey of 1086 does not mention Quorn as a separate settlement and the exact date of the chapel building "on high ground and above flood level in a central position" is unknown. The first documentary evidence comes in the Will of Ranulph, fourth Earl of Chester, who died in 1153. He gave the church at Barrow (founded in 1138) together with its chapel at Quorn to the Abbey of St Mary in Leicester. This gift was confirmed by Earl Hugh, Ranulph's successor and also by Henry II. Quorn chapel, consisting of a Norman style nave and chancel of Mountsorrel granite must have been built between 1138 and 1153.

The Abbot of St Mary's Leicester now had the right to collect certain tithes from Quorn in the form of cartloads of wood, a practice much resented by the villagers for whom wood for fuel, building and fencing was a precious commodity.

The mother church of Barrow was in the diocese of Lincoln and in 1225 the Bishop outlined in a document the obligations of the vicar towards the chapel in Quorn. Services were to be maintained on three days each week but the arrangements proved unsatisfactory. Quorn was frequently neglected so the villagers sought their own solution. In 1328 St Peter's chantry was founded by Sir John Hamelyn, who endowed it with lands at Wymodham. There may also have been a small priory in Quorn at this time. In 1392 John Farnham, John Smyth and John Herbert, all parishioners of Quorn, paid 100 shillings for a licence from King Richard II to employ a chaplain "to celebrate Divine Service in the chapel of Quorndon every day for ever". The income was to come from 50 acres of land and the rents from 2 cottages set aside for this purpose. It seems that the priest was also curate of the vicar of Barrow, who appointed him with the Abbot's approval. This marks the establishment of a congregation at Quorn now more independent of the mother church at Barrow.

The Middle Ages

These efforts to obtain daily services in Quorn may seem over-zealous to us today but daily prayer and worship formed a central part of life during the Middle Ages. The church was the focal point of the village - the strongest, most beautiful building, a place of worship, social gatherings and a sanctuary in times of danger. We do not know what the church looked like inside, but many medieval churches were decorated with gaudy wall paintings depicting, for the largely illiterate congregation, scenes and teaching from the Bible. There would be no seating except for the old and infirm, hence the expression "the weak go to the wall". Heating and lighting would be provided by candles but since only the Priest had a Bible and there were no service books, good illumination was not necessary.

Baptisms, weddings and funerals have always brought families to church, but then the church was the pivot of all social activity. In lives of drudgery, monotony and poverty of medieval subsistence farming, the only rest days were holy day. Seasons and dates were calculated by saints' days and the festivals of Christmas, Easter and Whitsun were times of great feasting and merriment. "Church Ales" were held to raise money for the upkeep of the church - perhaps the earliest fund-raising activity of its kind!

Religion and agriculture were bound up together. On Plough Monday the plough would be blessed in church and then festivities followed. Men with blackened faces danced round the village, belabouring folk with inflated pigs' bladders and called at the larger houses for drink or money. On Rogation Days the crops were blessed and Harvest was a time of thanks-giving and celebration - the culmination of the year's work. The patronal festival of St Bartholomew on 24th August would be a holiday for the villagers of Quorn when some at least would 'wake' or keep vigil in memory of the Saint; hence the origin of the "Wakes" which sometimes went on for a whole week of celebrations. Quorn Parishioners would probably also join in their mother church's patronal festival around Trinity Sunday.

The importance of a resident priest was not only restricted to religious affairs. It is likely that he would provide some elementary education for boys in the village and act as welfare officer, caring for the old, poor, needy and for travellers, using tithes collected from the villagers to supplement his stipend. Any priest neglecting the needs of his block soon felt the wrath of the villagers. The vicar of Barrow in 1339 was very unpopular and was beaten up and goods to the value of £20 taken from his house by two parishioners whose surnames were Cat and Daddy. The incident is recorded in Rolls of the Manor Court, where they were brought to account, but seem to have escaped punishment.

Items for communal village use, such as primitive fire-fighting equipment, were kept in the church. When open fires in thatch-roofed, timber-framed cottages were frequently out-of-hand, it was vital that the buckets and bill-hooks (to pull down burning thatch or wood) were kept in a central known, safe place.

No church records for Quorn survive from this early period, so we can only assume that the annual cycle of worship in the Roman Catholic tradition and agriculture continued relatively peacefully.

The Quorn congregation resisted demands for money to repair Barrow Church now that they had their own chapel to maintain. By 1398, only six years after the endowment of the Chantry, the chapel was in a poor state of repair. A letter from the Pope at St Peter's, Rome, dated 11th December 1398 promised relaxation of penances to those who worshipped at Quorn chapel on certain feast days and who gave alms to the chapel. This money was to be used solely to repair the fabric of the building. By the fifteenth century the chapel, which was built of Mountsorrel granite had in addition to the original central nave and chancel, North and South aisles, a South porch erected in 1270-90 over which was built a priest's room, possibly his home, plus a square 14th century tower and a 15th century clerestory to provide extra light.

The Reformation

The next documentary evidence comes in the early part of Henry VIII's reign before the Protestant Reformation made its impact on England. In 1515 Henry Darker, the first priest on record, made his Will in which he described himself as "chantry priest of Quarne". In 1519 William Waltar, a villager, bequeathed 20 shillings to repair the chapel and left money to pay the priest to sing and pray for his soul. This will is typical of many of the period which shows so clearly that Quorn folk were actively supporting the chapel and its chantry priest.

In 1539 Henry VIII dissolved Leicester Abbey, and its possessions, including Quorn chapel, passed to the control of the crown. A further blow came in 1548 when young Edward VI in his Protestant zeal to sweep away all "superstitious catholic traditions", abolished all chantries and seized the Town Lands Charity which paid part of the curate's salary and kept the church, school and bridges in good repair. The last chantry priest was Gregory Prescott. The enquiry of 1546 revealed the gross income of Quorn chantry as £4.17s 1d per annum of which 9s 2d was paid to the King as a tithe.

The religious motives for dissolution disguised the economic expedient and Edward VI, eager to raise money, leased and in 1553 sold, the chantry and all its lands and possessions to Thomas Farnham as a private family chapel. Quorn again had to rely on the vicar of Barrow to provide services, and the cryptic list of curates-in-charge shows some years during which Quorn had no priest in residence.

Since written comment could be dangerous, no evidence is available to show how Quorn people received the religious changes imposed upon them by successive Tudor monarchs. Congregations in general dislike and resist change, so we can guess what grumblings and alarm were aroused by the break with Rome, the introduction of the Bible in English in 1539, the Protestant Edwardian Prayerbook, the restoration of Catholicism by Mary and finally the Protestant settlement of Elizabeth. How confused and troubled people must have been! There are no records of any 'recusants' (i.e. Catholics and puritans who paid recusancy fines rather than attend the established church), so we must assume that during Elizabeth's long reign (45 years) most people came to accept the changes at least outwardly. No Catholic church has been re-established in Quorn since the reformation.

A new illustrated edition of the Church History was published in 2003 entitled "St. Bartholomew's, Quorn, Historical Guide". This is available by mail order at £3 per copy including p&p. To order your copy by email, please contact