Thursday, June 04, 2009

William Hanbury and Church Langton

Back to Church Langton, where J. W. Logan is remembered. St Peter's, as you can see, is an impressive church for a small village, but there could have been something even more remarkable there.

William Hanbury was born in Warwickshire in 1725. As a child he was fascinated with gardening, and later, while studying at Oxford he would wander for hours in the Botanic Gardens near his college, extending his knowledge. He became the Rector of Church Langton in 1750.

By 1755 he had created a thriving nursery and large plantations in the nearby villages of Tur Langton and Gumley, which were valued at over £10,000.

Hanbury next set up a charitable trust. He proposed that a new organ should be provided for the parish church with a resident organist. He also suggested that a school should be built in the village and that funds would be available to help the poor.

To publicise his benevolence, Hanbury planned a great music festival. Its centrepiece was a performance of Handel's Messiah. Accounts suggest that the village was ill equipped to host it, so much so that the Duke of Devonshire had to lodge with a tradesman (not that it will have done him any harm).

The Leicester Chronicler, whose account I have leant on rather heavily here, says:

He held further festivals, using them to publicise his horticulture and the sale of forest trees, American plants, flowering shrubs and seeds. They were not such a success, but Hanbury, still undaunted, decided on an even more adventurous project.

He planned the building of a vast Minster church with a college, library, picture gallery and printing press. In 1777, Willliam Hanbury paced out the boundaries of his glorious project in the fields near the parish church. Marker stones still exist, indicate the proposed boundaries of this vast building. It was to be his last dramatic gesture. He died a few months later at the age of 52.

Next time I visit Chuch Langton I shall look for those marker stones.

But the Hanbury story did not end with William's death. The living remained in the hands of his descendants until around 1900 (if I remember the list of rectors on the board in the church rightly).

The Hanbury Trust opened a school in the village, which is shown in the other photograph. I still recall my surprise, during one of my teenage bike rides around the villages, at coming across such a range of buildings here.

The nearest buildings are the original school, which was designed by the Leicester architect Joseph Goddard. It housed a secondary modern until 1964 and then, until a few years ago, a Leicestershire County Council field centre. That part of the range has since been converted into private homes. (A Kibworth Chronicle article, which gives the school's history, was published in 1998 when its future was uncertain.)

Further along you find the Hanbury Institute from 1925 (also now in private hands, I believe), some more modern buildings that house the current village primary school and finally a new community centre, opened a few years ago and funded by the sale of land to build houses behind these buildings.

The decline in the quality of the architecture as the buildings get newer satisfies my own antiquarian prejudice.


Anonymous said...

Good summary.
Hanbury Institute building is now part of the the Primary School not privately owned.
Hanbury Charity

Anonymous said...

I have come across a Rev. Thomas Hanbury of Church Langton in an Abstract of Title conveying Freehold Tenement and fields at Galley Common, Stockingford. It is understood he owned the farm circa 1800 but there is no plan and no suggestion of Hanbury acquired the property.

M. R. Hood, Galley Common