The Story of Heyford: The Crawley dynasty, High church and Protestantism V2C2

The Crawley dynasty and the struggle between the high church and protestantism.

Much of the information in this article came from the PhD thesis written by Alan Horsley in 1985 entitled ‘The Crawleys’. Alan Horsley had been Rector of Heyford and Stowe-Nine-Churches from 1971-1978. Other information was provided by local people.

For the entire nineteenth century the parish churches of Heyford and Stowe were run by the Crawley family. The Crawley dynasty began when Charles Crawley became Rector of Stowe in 1789. He was descended from Sir Francis Crawley of Luton, born in 1584, who had been a loyal supporter of Charles l in the struggle between monarchical high churchmanship and puritan parliamentarianism. Charles was one of the early members of the Oxford Movement, a clerical movement which developed the principles of High Church and which had a significant influence on religious thinking during the Victorian era.

The family settles in Heyford and Stowe

The family connection with Stowe began in the year 1717 when Charles Crawley’s great grandfather John Lloyd bought the advowson of Stowe lX Churches for £1,055. john Lloyd’s grandson, Rev John Lloyd became rector of Stowe IX Churches and Heyford until his death in 1788. In 1789 Charles Crawley (Rev John Lloyd’s nephew) became rector of Stowe IX churches and Henry Jephcott became rector of Heyford.

Charles Crawley remained rector of Stowe until his death in 1849 at the age of 95. He set high standards for his church with two services on Sundays, both with sermons. This was at a time when most churches had only one service, or even only once a fortnight, or not at all in bad weather.

In 1800 Henry Jephcott died and Charles’ nephew John Lloyd Crawley became rector of Heyford at the age of 25. He remained at Heyford until his death in 1850. Therefore both Stowe and Heyford were now being run by the Crawley family with their strong High Church principles.

Lord of the Manor

However this was at a time when Protestantism was gathering popularity in the area. Until 1759 the two manors of Upper and Lower Heyford were largely in Catholic hands. With Thomas Morgan the manor house at Upper Heyford was a Catholic centre from 1558 to 1604. Although the manor house at Upper Heyford fell into decay during the Commonwealth period the property remained in Catholic hands until 1758 when the estates were sold in lots by public auction.

The manor house at Lower Heyford was bought by Henry Jephcott and passed to John Lloyd Crawley on his death in 1800. So John Lloyd Crawley was both rector and Lord of the Manor. However his influence was limited because the manor house came with only 30 acres. Because the catholic estates had been broken up into small lots, there were several landlords in the area, each with power to exert religious and political views of their own.

Tensions between High Church and Non-Conformism

Throughout the 1700s and 1800s there was a growth of Protestantism. The Quaker movement had been established in 1649 and meeting houses were opened in Flore in 1678 and Bugbrooke in 1692. In the absence of any strong High Church landlords, non conformism was able to flourish. Towards the end of the 1700s Baptism and Methodism were developing. The Baptist chapel opened in Heyford in 1826 and the Methodist one in 1835. Therefore the Crawley family had come into an area saturated with Protestantism.

The Rectory


The Rectory was built in 1851 by the Crawley family. It was used as the Rectory until 1969 when it was sold, and the new Rectory built within its former garden.

In 1849 Charles Crawley died at the age of 95. He was succeeded by one of john Lloyd’s sons Henry who remained rector of Stowe until 1895. In 1850 john Lloyd died and was succeeded at Heyford by one of his other sons Thomas. So for a second generation, both churches continued to be run by the Crawleys.

The Rectory at Heyford was built in 1851 and Thomas lived there rather than at the manor house. Thomas, who was born in 1815, remained rector at Heyford until his death in 1897. He continued all the principles of high church that had for so long been a part of his own family values. However there remained tensions between the church and the growing number of non-conformists in the village. These tensions are well illustrated by the following story.

Under pressure from the non-conformists, an act of parliament in 1847 made provision for the establishment of cemeteries. However, in practice it was often many years before they were opened. Meanwhile only the parish churchyards were available. All Englishmen had the right to be buried there but only a Church of England clergyman could officiate. The prayer book of 1662 dictated that if the deceased person died upbaptised ‘the order for the burial of the dead’ should not be used. Therefore the Baptist tradition involving baptism in adulthood rather than at birth meant that those who died young, before baptism could take place, could not be considered Christians.

Frederick William Marsh was born in 1876, the third son of Alfred and Emma Marsh. They were a Baptist family. He died, aged 11 in 1887. The saying ‘the sun shines on the righteous’ ‘comes from the fact that the sun travels from east to west across the churchyard with the south side receiving most of the sun. ‘Good Christians’ were buried on the sunny side. Those considered less so were often buried on the North side where less sun reached. A grave was selected for Alfred Marsh on the very north-east edge of the graveyard, often thought of as the devil’s corner. The burial laws amendment act of 1880 allowed Baptist ministers to preside at such burials. However for reasons we don’t know, the service on this occasion was conducted by Thomas Crawley. ‘It is commonly asserted in the village that he conducted the service over the walls of the rectory garden next door’.

This same story was recounted to me by Bob Browning in 1996, only a year or so before he died. Bob was born in 1892 and was a grandson of Alfred Marsh. Frederick William was the uncle that he never knew. Quite why Frederick William was not buried in the newly established cemetery, we don’t know. The Lychgate was built in 1885, but perhaps the ground inside hadn’t been fully prepared. Bob told me that Alfred Marsh was so incensed by the treatment of his grandson that he took a leading role in getting the cemetery established.

The end of an era

Thomas Crawley died on 12th May 1897 and was buried in the Crawley vault in the graveyard. Bob Browning told me that there were seven coffins in the vault, three either side and one across the top. Access to it was down a few steps, and when the last coffin was placed inside it was bricked up. The vault is on the east side of the graveyard but is unmarked by a gravestone.

Thomas was succeeded at Heyford by Rev Henry Isham Longden. His brother Henry, who had been Rector of Stowe had died two years previously in 1895. The Bishop of Leicester, in a letter to Henry Isham Longden on his appointment at Heyford, wrote:

“Dear Mr Longden,

I am happy to hear you are coming again to the Northamptonshire Archdeaconry. I wish I could be present at Heyford at your institution, but I fear that will not be possible for me on Oct. 26th.

The Crawley brothers were very peculiar men – men of good connection and of high minded-principles and cf the old Churchmanship well known to them before the Oxford movement ever began! The Rector of Stowe 9 Churches upon a stout cob carried ‘the Tracts for the Times’ about the Country as they came out: with his own comments upon them to the less instructed clergy. Your predecessors son is now his uncle’s successor at Stowe, and will know much about Heyford of course. I have often been there, and I much admired both brothers, though their views were far behind the times for practical application.

With renewed good wishes,

Believe me, Very truly yours, F. H. Leicester”

So for the entire nineteenth century Heyford and Stowe churches had been run by the Crawley family. Although none of the succeeding rectors at Heyford have been Crawleys, the Crawley patronage of the church continues. In 1977 a festival and pilgrimage around the two parishes was organised in recognition of the family’s enormous contribution to the life of the Church of England, both at local and national level.

Stephen Ferneyhough, with very many thanks to Alan Horsley’s thesis


Extract from “The Story of Heyford” – Local book series published in the late 1990’s

Volume 2 of 4 | Chapter 2 of 11 | Pages 3 to 5


Heyford’s Historical Heritage  |  How the books were created

Index  |  Covers

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