Brentingby

Brentingby Church before conversion to a residential property
Brentingby Church before conversion to a residential property

According to the Woodford Cartulary, Brentingby was the first manor in Leicestershire to be acquired by the Woodforde family.

It lies in the Eye valley near Melton Mowbray on the road towards Grantham.  John Nichols (History and Antiquities of the County of Leicester, 1795) says the hamlet was two miles from Melton. 

Today, Melton Mowbray has grown.  Brentingby is still an independent settlement in the countryside but the urban sprawl is nearby.

The Earl of Leicester held the manor, according to the Leicester Survey c.1125, as part of the fee of Thorpe Arnold, and it remained a relatively insignificant holding until the arrival of John de Woodford; but Brentingby was never a large manor.   The Poll Tax of 1377 records an adult population of 52, about double as recorded in Domesday; but by 1524 only seven tax-payers were being assessed.  The population has continued to decrease to the present day.

The location of the Woodford manor house at Brentingby is not known, and there is no evidence today of a moated site in the area.  It seems likely it was in the area of the present Brentingby Hall Farm southwest of the chapel.

The purchase of Brentingby by John Woodford opened a period of prosperity and stability for the hamlet. A significant event in its history which occurred during the Woodford family's tenure of the manor was the extensive rebuilding of the chapel.   The old church was replaced by a larger building, probably indicative of an increasing population and prosperity.  The unusual saddleback tower dates from this time.

Brentingby Manor Farm (mid-17th century)
Brentingby Manor Farm (mid-17th century)

The earlier of the chapel's two bells was cast by John of York in the later years of the 14th century.   This bell was stored for many years at Thorpe Arnold and then in St Mary's Melton.  It is now mounted on display in the Bell Shopping Centre in Melton and is regarded as the oldest church bell in England for which a date can be given.   The chapel became disused in the 1950s and was converted into a private dwelling in the 1970s.

John of York cast many bells for Leicestershire's churches and it is likely that the Woodford family commissioned him on several occasions.

The following is from the Sproxton Jubilee Website, Sproxton being a manor owned by the Woodforde family through the marriage of William Woodforde, son of John of Brentingby, to Joan (or Jeanette) Brabazon:

'The inscription around the haunch of the second bell is of singular importance.  This is the only one of a number of similar bells occurring in Leicestershire which bear the founder's name; it has thus been possible to identify John of York as the founder of the whole group.  The other bells in the group have been identified as John of York's as they share the same initial cross and floral stops as those found upon the dedications of Sproxton's first and second bells.

These other bells are at St John the Baptist's church, Billesdon;  St James the Greater's, Birstall;  St Mary's, Brentingby (recently removed),  St Mary's, Cotesbach;  St John the Baptist's, Hungarton;  St Remigius', Long Clawson and St Peter's, Witherley.   The church of Our Lady and St Nicholas at Wanlip, has a bell with the same initial cross, but which differs from the others in having beautiful figures of seated angels in place of the floral stops.

Thomas North proposed that John of York may have briefly relocated his foundry to Leicester at some point in the late fourteenth century, thus explaining the occurrence of so many of his bells in Leicestershire.  North ascribes a late fourteenth century dating for all these bells on the basis of the style of the gothic lettering upon them.

The fact that one of John of York's bells was made to hang in Brentingby church is significant, as the manor of Brentingby was, like Sproxton, a Woodford possession at this time, Brentingby being the family's original seat.'

Brentingby church was made redundant in 1978, and was converted to residential use.  John of York's bell was given by Melton Parish (of which the Brentingby now forms a part of thr combined benefice) in 1986 to hang in Melton's new shopping mall, which is named, appropriately, the 'Bell Centre'.

NOTES

References to 'North' relate to 'The Church Bells of Leicestershire' by Thomas North, 1876. The handwritten original is in the library of the Leicestershire Archaeological and Historical Society (LAHS) in the Guildhall, Leicester. North (1830-1884) was born in Melton Mowbray and was an early general secretary of the LAHS.

John de Woodford who married Mabel Folville was the grandson of John Woodford of Brentingby.

Brentingby Chapel from Nichols' History and Antiquities of the County of Leicester (1795) and in 2019.

According to the cartulary, John was buried at Thorpe Arnold, and not at Brentingby.  This has led some historians to assume that the Woodford's manor house was situated at Thorpe Arnold.  Nichols noted a flat stone in Thorpe Arnold church `round the verge of which were fragments of an inscription for a Woodford, probably that of John.'

A lane running between Thorpe Arnold and Waltham-on-the-Wolds, in the close vicinity of Brentingby, is known locally as Woodfold Lane. This gated lane leaves the main Grantham Road approximately 1.5 miles east of Thorpe Arnold and leads to Nether Broughton.