Protestant nonconformity in Freeby

Freeby is a village in north-east Leicestershire, about four miles from the town of Melton Mowbray, to which it was linked.

Early nonconformity

The Independent chapel was said in 1908 records to have been founded in 1665.[1] Its 350th birthday is being celebrated in 2015. Dissenting meetings were illegal in 1665, and the congregation would have needed to be as unobtrusive as possible. A return of 1669 recorded that no conventicles (religious meetings) were held in the village,[2] and no dissenters were recorded in the religious census of 1676.[3]

Some Presbyterians were noted in Freeby in 1706, but their number was not quantified. They had a fortnightly meeting, with their ‘teacher’, Vincent Carter, being based in Oakham, Rutland.[4] It was said that the connection between the Oakham and Freeby congregations dated back to the time of Sir John Hartopp (who inherited Freeby manor in 1658), who had paid £10 annually to Robert Eikens, the ejected minister of Oakham, to preach at Freeby. Sir John’s descendents at Freeby are said to have continued to make the payment to Independent ministers at Oakham until about the 1840s.[5]

A meeting place was registered in the village in 1725, in John Wright’s house, but there is no indication of the denomination which met there.[6]


The small chapel in the village is built of coursed local stone and is impossible to date from its architecture. It is very small, and is not noticed by Pevsner. Although no nonconformist congregation was noted in the 1829 return of religious meeting places,[7] the religious census of 1851 notes that the Independent chapel was built ‘before 1800’, when it was said to be able to accommodate 70-80 worshippers. There was only one service on Sunday 31 March 1851, in the afternoon, when attendance was recorded at 40. There were 14 people who attended Sunday School that day. Services were held fortnightly, every other Sunday.[8]

Evidence from directories later in the 19th century confirm only the continued existence of Independents, without noting any marked expansion.[9] By 1881 the denomination was recorded as Congregationalist, but this is almost certainly the same group.[10] The chapel was still the same size in 1908,[11] and indeed is little changed in 2015.

Wesleyan Methodists

It was noted in 1863 that there were Wesleyan Methodists, who ‘occasionally’ used the Independent chapel.[12] They did not appear in the 1851 Religious Census.



[1] Kelly’s Dir. (1908) p. 82.

[2] R.H. Evans, ‘Nonconformists in Leicestershire in 1669’, Trans LAHS 25 (1949), p. 141

[3] A. Whiteman, The Compton Census of 1676: A Critical Edition (London, 1986), p. 340n

[4] J. Broad (ed.), Bishop Wake’s summary of visitation returns from the diocese of Lincoln, 1706-1715. Part 2, Outside Lincolnshire (Huntingdonshire, Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, Leicestershire, Buckinghamshire) (Oxford, 2012), p. 768

[5] Grantham Journal, 11 February 1888.

[6] Leicestershire and Rutland County Record Office (ROLLR), QS 44/1/1, rot. 3.

[7] PO Dir. Leics. (1855) p. 93.

[8] TNA, HO 129/418/104.

[9] White, Hist. Gaz. & Dir. Leics. (Sheffield, 1863) p. 365.

[10] Kelly’s Dir. (1881) p. 520.

[11] Kelly’s Dir. (1908) p. 82.

[12] Ibid.


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