After spending seven years as vicar of St Mary`s Church in Haverhill, Suffolk, Rev Francis Merewether was invited by his friend Sir George Howland Beaumont, 7th Bart [1753-1827] to take up the living at St Mary the Virgin in Coleorton in 1815 ... and later in 1818 he was also given the living as Vicar of Whitwick by the Crown. Read more about Rev Francis’s early years in Part 1 >>
On the 22nd October, 1816, soon after Rev Merewether`s arrival in Coleorton, Sir George sold an extensive parcel of land adjoining the existing rectorial land to Rev Merewether for the sum of ten shillings for his and his successors` use. Rev Merewether then commissioned a Coleorton builder, John Gadsby, to build a new rectory on this land on what is now Ashby Road. The previous Rectory had been within the Hall`s estate near Sir Walter Scott`s seat.
When all was arranged, Rev Merewether brought his wife Frances Elizabeth [daughter of Rev Charles John Way of Boreham in Essex] and his family to live in the newly built rectory, set high on a hill looking down into a valley and up towards the church. An ample staff to care for him and his family’s needs included a butler, a cook, a footman, a housemaid and more than one gardener.
However, home comforts did not encourage inertia in Rev Merewether, he was a man driven to fulfil the needs of the new parish which he came to serve ... and with the support of Sir George (7th Bart) and Lady Beaumont, he began immediately with the restoration of St Mary the Virgin Church. Soon his concern for families and children was shown when, together with Lady Beaumont, he started a Penny Clothing Club to help people of the Parish and beyond to save for clothing needed for their families ... and in her will dated 6th July, 1828, Lady Beaumont showed the high regard and confidence she and others had in Rev Merewether, when she bequested to him money in trust “for the purpose of apprenticing out in the Parishes of Coleorton, Worthington, Thringstone and Whitwick, poor children belonging to the most deserving parents, either boys or girls, to some trade best suited to their disposition and capacities.” Moreover she directed the Rector of Coleorton to be the sole judge.
Further consideration led him to establish schools. Only a few years before his arrival in Coleorton he had established the first National School in Haverhill in Suffolk, and it was not long before he set himself the task of repeating that work in his new incumbency. The Parish of Whitwick was one in which the discovery of coal and working of mines was bringing a large increase in population to the area. With the help of Sir George [7th Bart] and Lady Beaumont, he worked to provide schools. He was responsible for the most part for National Schools in Whitwick, Thringstone and Coalville through the Church`s National Schools Scheme. The school in Thringstone, built in 1844, as well as educating children, was used for religious services until a new church could be built.
By the 1850s, St Mary’s graveyard was reaching its limit, so future arrangements for burials were being considered. As chairman of an organising committee, Rev Merewether worked towards the establishment of St John`s Chapel and a new burial ground on a field adjoining the rectorial land. His chronicle of the laying of the cornerstone event read: “The cornerstone of the Chapel was laid with attendant ceremonies by Sir George Beaumont [9th Bart], owner of the Parish and patron of the church, on Tuesday October 21st, 1856 in the twentieth year of our gracious Queen Victoria. The inscription “Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord” was deposited with two silver florins dated 1856 in a glass bottle under the corner stone.” In the following year, on 27th August, in a service at the Chapel, the cemetery was consecrated by the Lord Bishop of the Diocese.
Rev Merewether was to spend almost 50 years in Coleorton, always conscious of his duty to the people of the area and the established church.