In Northamptonshire, there is a delightful church in the tiny parish of Fawsley. The building dates from 1209 and, although it has been partially restored and embellished over the centuries, it still has an ancient feel to it.
The church’s magnificent wooden ceiling was built in the 15th century. It was faithfully and meticulously restored during the 1960’s due to damage by death watch beetle infestation.
The interior of Fawsley Church
Fawsley has some superb medieval stained glass windows, the oldest of which date from the 13th century.
American visitors to the church might be interested to see a stained glass window depicting the coat of arms of the Washington family, which includes a stars and stripes motif and no doubt influenced the design of the US flag.
Fawsley Hall’s exquisite stained glass windows
Most of the monuments, memorials and inscriptions in the church relate to members of the powerful Knightley family who acquired the Fawsley estate in 1316. It remained in their family until 1932.
Sir Edmund Knightley commissioned the construction of the nearby Fawsley Hall in the 1530s. It has been expanded over the past 150 years and is now a luxury hotel and spa and a popular venue for weddings, conferences and other events.
Knightley family memorial
As for the village which the church was built to serve, it has more or less disappeared without a trace.
The Domesday Book of 1086 recorded 17 families working the land and by 1377 there were 90 men over the age of 14 engaged in arable farming in the community.
By 1524 however there were only seven people listed. Perhaps the Knightley family found that keeping sheep was more profitable and less troublesome than collecting rent from impoverished peasants.
The land was enclosed for sheep farming and the farm labourers presumably drifted away. The village was depopulated and its remains disappeared.
The village remnants are possibly under the ornamental lakes which were designed by “England’s Greatest Gardener” Lancelot “Capability” Brown, who was hired to enhance the beauty of the estate.
Ghostly apparition at Dower House
Among the oak trees of Fawsley Park lie the ruins of a stately Tudor house called Dower House, reputed to be the oldest brick building in Northamptonshire.
Tourists looking for a creepy experience should venture here at midnight on Christmas Eve when the ghost of a headless horseman is said to emerge from its walls!
More details on Fawsley Church can be found in “A Brief History of Fawsley Church and Park” by Ron Wilson. A copy of this pamphlet can be obtained inside the church.
This article first appeared in Thrifty Traveller.