Empingham Village web site


A Short History of Empingham

Empingham was named by the Anglo-Saxons, but the history of our community begins longer ago than that.

Roman times

The Romans, it is said, used an Iron Age Field System they found in place and the farmers were absorbed into the general mix of people. Whether or not there had been an Iron Age village here, in Roman times there were villas and farms where a road to the north-west crossed the River Gwash. They were no doubt linked to the main Roman activities nearby centred on Ermine Street. In 2000 four Roman burials were found on the west side of present Church Street. Two of the graves contained:
♦ a female aged 45-55, who had suffered from a mild anaemia, probably in childhood; she had broken two molars causing abscesses
♦ a male with a healed fracture in one arm and a wound to his right lower leg; a sharp bladed object had cut a sliver of bone from the fibula, not long before his death.
The archaeologists proposed that the burials were part of a cemetery; if so, that suggests a local population, probably quite small. Somewhere nearby there could have been the beginning of the present-day village, perhaps 200 or more years before the Anglo-Saxons arrived and named the place 'Empingham'.


Skeletons 'Empingham' would be better understood as the 'place' or 'territory', rather than the 'village', inhabited by Empa's people. Anglo-Saxon cemeteries have been excavated at Sykes Lane, a kilometre west of the present village. These dated from the late 500s to early 600s. The population at that time was pagan and prosperous. Three quarters of the graves contained weapons, necklaces, toiletry instruments, and brooches. However, few people lived beyond 30 years of age. Of 150 human remains found at one site, over a third were children. About half had died between 17 and 25.  Analysis of cattle teeth suggested that, in Empingham circa 600, grazing and feeding were controlled and restricted, and this might also suggest that the village location itself was by then well-defined. However, other Anglo-Saxon finds have been made in the areas north and south of the Gwash. The Anglo-Saxons eventually adopted Christianity and it has been suggested that a burial found within the site of a Roman villa is evidence that this was considered a sacred site. It might also suggest there was not yet a church or consecrated ground. The present church (St Peter's) stands on C12th foundations and there is no evidence, as there is at nearby Tickencote, of Anglo-Saxon fabric.

Mediaeval Empingham

By the time of the Norman Conquest the Anglo-Saxon manor system had been firmly established nationally. It is also possible that by then the manors in Empingham were largely contained within the boundaries that form the present parish of Empingham. Extract from
            Domesday Book
The lands owned by Gilbert de Gand in Empingham & 'Roteland' (an extract from the Domesday Book).

The Saxon thegns (nobility) in Rutland were wholly displaced by Normans. Empingham was granted to Gilbert de Gand (of Ghent), who probably never came to Empingham but merely pocketed its revenues. He gave several acres of Empingham land to the Cathedral church in Lincoln, forming a Prebendal Manor (manor = estate, as distinct from a manor house, in which the Lord of the Manor lived). The village has been 're-modelled' at least twice in recent history and consequently there are few known mediaeval remains; none have been investigated archaeologically:
♦ The present Prebendal House almost certainly stands on the site of early mediaeval structures
♦ The moated manor house in Hall Close may date from the first half of the C13th
♦ St Botulph's Chapel on the high ground to the east of the village may also be C13th
♦ The disturbed ground to the east of Mill Lane is said to be the site of part of the mediaeval village. Elsewhere in the village mediaeval footings have been found.

By the C14th two of the three manors in the parish had passed into the control of the de Normanville family, and then to the Basynges. There was a lesser manor house at Hardwick but the manor house in Empingham was probably the centre of local power until the early C17th. By then the proprietorships of Empingham and Normanton had been amalgamated and the old Normanton manor house was being rebuilt.

Hall Close Manor House

Of the many moated sites in the East Midlands, the site of the manor house in Empingham could be significant, since it may have been a very early example of its type, perhaps built circa 1221, with a house of 'cruck' construction. The site is large and complex, with three possible phases of development; the moat itself may have been built later than the house and may not have been fed from the river. The site is a Scheduled Ancient Monument and, while permission for archaeological excavation is unlikely to be approved, a geophysical survey is currently (2018) being considered.

Prebendal House

Recent research suggests that the present Prebendal House sits on older, perhaps C16th foundations. It was probably preceded by a mediaeval structure of some size; C12th/13th fabric has been found in outbuildings. The Civil Wars seem to have bypassed Empingham, although they came perilously close in North Luffenham and Burley. In common with many church properties, Prebendal House was confiscated and sold in 1650, but restored at the Restoration of 1660. Although the Church retained use of some parts of it, the house, with its lands, seems to have been leased to secular persons from very early in its history. Near the end of the C18th Gilbert Heathcote obtained ownership of the house and lands as part of the Enclosure negotiations of 1794. In exchange, he gave the Church a nearby house which became the Rectory (later known as Lovick's Place). It is believed that Thomas Forsyth, Heathcote's Land Agent, occupied the house until the early 1800s, but subsequently Prebendal House continued to be leased out (in 1911 it was occupied by a relative of the novelist Anthony Trollope) until it was disposed of in the great sale of 1924.

St Botolph's Chapel and the mediaeval village

Many manorial chapels and Chapels of Ease were licensed by the Church but any record of them has been lost; St Botolph's seems to be one of those. Only archaeological investigation could tell us when it was built and when it went out of use. Burials were permitted at such chapel sites and so there could be much to learn about our mediaeval population from an archaeological dig at Chapel Hill. Likewise with the proposed mediaeval village on Mill Lane, at the foot of Chapel Hill. In 1318 a weekly Thursday market, and an annual fair on the three days around St Botolph's Feast Day, were licensed by the King. While the market and fair probably took place on the main street through the village, it is possible that St Botolph's Chapel could also have been part of the festivities.

Mediaeval Mayhem

The mediaeval period was a very violent one, with a rate of homicide 20 times the modern one. Property and position were vital to the egos of the landed and, in a time when men were routinely heavily armed and sensitive to insult, killing was often resorted to. A broad line was drawn between killing in the name of title, reputation or inheritance and common-or-garden murder. The common folk also often turned to fatal violence. Knives and axes were commonly used, since they were the necessary everyday implements always at hand. Rutland, and Empingham, were not exempt from this Wild-West lifestyle:
1229 - William Le Cornur died in Empingham under suspicious circumstances
1252 - A body was found in the Gwash at Empingham and an investigation was thought necessary
1258 - Nicholas de Fraunton of Horn complained of assault by several others, including the vicar of Greetham
1274 - Hugh Cok of Empingham and John Pakede were in Oakham gaol for the killing of William, son of Robert
1275 - Nicholas de Fraunkton - perhaps he who complained in 1258 - was in Oakham gaol for the killing of Remigius of Arundel
1303 - Philip of Empingham broke out of Oakham gaol and fled the kingdom after killing Bartholomew Hert, Elena le Calews, and Geoffrey de Arderne
1318 - Edmund de Paseleye complained that his houses at Empingham, Horn, and Herdwyk were broken into and 20 horses, 80 oxen, 80 cows, and 100 sheep were stolen; something more than mere rustling involved
1344 - Five men were killed in Empingham - the culprits almost certainly known - most probably in a blood or property feud
The violence continued into Early Modern times. In 1446 John Basynges, the illegitimate son of Sir John Basynges, was killed in Empingham Manor House. In the small hours of the morning the Mackworths and their servants broke in and, it was said, hacked him to pieces in his bed. The Mackworth family had taken issue with what they believed to be their rightful inheritance going to a bastard. Their opinion was shared by the 'establishment' and they eventually gained their objective without penalty, the manor then passing down through several generations of the family. The Mackworths were succeeded by the Heathcotes, of Normanton Hall.

The village, circa 1800

1814 Map of Empingham
Empingham 1814 (William Boyce at the British Library)

In 1794 4,000 acres of Empingham (the largest village in Rutland outside Oakham and Uppingham) were enclosed by Sir Gilbert Heathcote. We can learn about village life in this period from surveys by Sir Frederick Eden (1795), Arthur Young (1799) and Parkinson (1809), and from the 1801 census.

In 1795, Empingham's population of 705 comprised:
♦ 208 males and 217 females above 14 years of age
♦ 147 males and 133 females under 14 years
Circa 1800, most of the village must have been under the age of say 25, with only a minority of hardy older people - a very different picture from today.

In 1795 there were 18 tenant farmers, each cultivating between 100 and 500 acres. Also, land was let in smaller lots to 23 cottagers in Empingham. Cottagers were the class of labourer whose main income was from working for the farmers, but who supplemented it by renting and farming plots of land, providing an improved standard of living for their family. The average family size, for cottagers and day-labourers, was 5 people - although among cottager families Thomas Bryan's numbered 8, John Scott's 9, and six others 7. There were a few 'mechanics' in the village, namely smiths, shoemakers, tailors, stonemasons, and carpenters. There were three small grocer's shops and two 'well-regulated' ale-houses. But the large majority of the villagers were day-labourers, mostly hired on an ad hoc and piece-rate basis. In 1795 Sir Frederick Eden said that:
"There is no established manufactory; but two linen-weavers work for hire. Most of the wives and children of labourers at Empingham are employed in knitting stockings and spinning jersey . . ."
 The 1801 census found that 192 people were engaged in agriculture, 55 in trades, and 531 in neither category - apparently unemployed, a misleading figure. Most adult women would have been working at home, weaving or spinning, and supervising children as young as 5 or 6 in similar work. The women also worked in the fields during harvest, often with their children. There very few in Empingham parish who were twiddling their thumbs; not even in the workhouse. The House of Correction (the Workhouse, today known as 'The Wilderness') was built by Gilbert Heathcote in 1793, when 11 paupers were received. In the next two years a further three were received. In the Workhouse the infirm and sickly were not required to work. The healthy males were hired out for manual labour and the females
"to do the work of the house, and spin, and knit. The profits [were] paid to the master."
Eden observed in 1795 that, in Empingham, "The expenses of a labourer's family are, in general, equal to the earnings. Bread . . . is the principal food." The annual income for a family of four, including that earned by the wife and children, was about £22-12s-4d. Total expenses were about £25-13s-11d, so debt was inevitable. Groceries took 75% of income (compare this with 30% in 2015). Food quality was poor and the supply unreliable; a poor harvest was a direct threat to the family. The rented house was basic, probably a stone exterior and inner partitions, if any, of wattle and daub. From the single living area on the ground floor a ladder would lead to the sleeping quarters. Family members would sleep together, often several to a bed. The latrine would be outside and basic. There was no running water - it was drawn from a well. The heating and cooking relied on expensive coal and, occasionally, wood fires.

Victorian Empingham

In the course of the C19th the Heathcotes, by way of judicious marriages, transformed themselves into the Heathcote-Drummond-Willoughbys. From the mere Sir of the first Baronetcy in 1732, they had accumulated titles of Earl of Ancaster, Lord Willoughby de Eresby, Lord Aveland of Aveland - and 7th Baronet; and Grimsthorpe Castle became the family home. Empingham village didn't do so well and it was described in 1876 as being in a dilapidated state, with many of the houses in ruins. The village population rose to a maximum of 938 in 1851, then began to fall, and by 1901 was 654. The decline may have been a consequence of migration in search of work. The parish employed a number of men on the roads and attempted to shift some of the burden of the poor onto landowners, but the Act of Union in 1834 centralised workhouses and local control was much diminished, although the Poor Rate in the village increased. 'Friendly' Societies in the village took up some of the slack but members were required to pay contributions. The last society was dissolved in 1902.

Beyond Victoria

Ancaster CrestThe re-modelling of Empingham by the Earl of Ancaster began as the 19th century drew to its end, perhaps because of the poor state of housing in the village. New cottages and houses were built along Main Street and elsewhere in the Normanton estate. Empingham was sold off in 1924, the village being divided into some 90 lots. That year is the point where local history becomes social history and where the village, through the effects of two world wars, of demographic and sociological change, and a host of other factors, was irrevocably separated from its past character.

Further reading

♦ Canon Swaby's History of Empingham [1988] is a detailed and readable history of the village up to 1900, and can be found in the Rutland County Museum.
♦ The Victoria County History of Rutland (2 volumes) can be accessed on-line.
♦ Wright's History of 1684 and Blore's of 1811 were both sources for Canon Swaby and the VCH, and both can be accessed on-line.
♦ The Heritage of Rutland Water ed. Ovens & Sleath, the RLH&RS, 2008, is also recommended as a source of a wider history of the area around Empingham.