Written by the Reverend Christopher Beake, Vicar of Hanslope with Castlethorpe


The account of the controversy was written on page 2 of the Baptisms Book 1890 - 2004
Page 2 from Baptism Book 1890 - 2004
What was church life like 100 years ago? In the Castlethorpe baptism register there is recorded a fascinating account of how a burning issue of the day affected the Church – should the seating in churches be free to all who enter for worship. The arrangement up until the last century in many parish churches was that families secured the right to their own pew by the payment of a sum of money. This provided income for the church but had one great drawback – the poor were affectively excluded. The account is written by William Hawksley Westall, the Priest-in-charge:

‘At Christmas 1890 the Lord of the Manor, Edward Hanslope Watts, who however does not own any property in Castlethorpe, nor has ever attended the Church, and whose residence is Hanslope Park, Hanslope, wrote to Mr Charles Whiting,

Churchwarden, and told him that he had heard that a seat belonging to him as Lord of the Manor, and recently occupied by his mother, Mrs. Walpole, of Hanslope, had been removed, specifying the seat as the front one in the nave. On finding that it could be proved that Mrs. Walpole’s occupation of the seat was very recent, and that no rights could possibly attach to it, he altered his claim to a pew at the east end of the south aisle. Mr. Whiting consulted the Parish Priest, Rev’d Hawsley Westall, and pointed out that the Church having been reseated in 1887 out of Public Funds, it had been declared a Free and Open Church. He added that no one in the Parish had ever heard of a Lord of the Manor’s pew. Mr Watts, however, on Easter Eve 1891, had a writ from the High Court of Justice served on the Vicar and two Churchwardens. Enquiry proved that for fifty years at least on Lord of the Manor had ever occupied the seat in question. The Clerk, Joseph Compton, who had held the office for forty-eight years, had never heard of such a thing, not even the oldest persons in the Parish. The seat had also been repaired by the Churchwardens. At the Easter vestry a resolution was passed that the Parish would fight out the matter to the end. Mr. Rooke of the firm Rooke & Sons, who is Chairman of the Council of the Free and Open Church Assoc’n., on the Saturday of Easter week, entered an appearance on behalf of the Vicar and Churchwardens. Mr. Watts twice applied for extension of time to make his statement of claim, but finally had to withdraw his action and had to pay costs, which was intimated to us on the 13th June 1891. The Parish Church of Castlethorpe has thus been proved to be a free and Open Church.’

See also: Church - Cannon Window - Centre Light

In 1800 he settled it in favour of his elder son Edward, who died unmarried in the same year. The Manor passed in 1830 to the second son William, who died in 1847. His son William, who died in 1853, left a son, Edward Hanslope Watts,
who was shot by his gamekeeper in July 1912.

This picture was taken less than a year before Edward Watts was shot.

Garden Fete at Hanslope Park Aug 12th 1911
Garden Fete at Hanslope Park opened by Lady French Aug 12th 1911.