Nicolas Chamberlaine Charities
Nicholas and Bedworth
Nicholas Chamberlaine came to Bedworth as the new Rector on 4th February 1664. It was the start of a period in Bedworth’s history that is continued to the present day and into the foreseeable future.
Nicholas was born in 1632 at Whitnash on the south side of Leamington Spa and came from a wealthy family, the Chamberlaines of Astley.
He lived through a very troubled period of history – the time of the ill-fated Stuarts. He was only sixteen when King Charles I was executed, and would have known of the Royalist and Cromwellian armies that fought at Edgehill in 1642, during the struggle between Parliament and the King.
He was appointed as Vicar of Leek Wootton near Warwick in 1662 and married Elizabeth Green of Wyken shortly afterwards. Nicholas was at Leek Wooton for only one year or possibly less. Unfortunately Elizabeth died during this short time and when Nicholas arrived in Bedworth in 1664, it was as a childless widower.
Bedworth, as with the rest of the country, was in a state of political and religious unrest after the end of the Civil War and the death of Oliver Cromwell in 1659.
Bedworth was without a Rector, as Dudley Ryder, who had been Rector from 1654 to 1661, did not agree with the Oath of Allegiance that Charles II was planning to introduce in 1662. Because of this he left the parish suddenly in 1661. His successor John Simcock died in March 1662 after being rector for only two months.
When Nicholas arrived in Bedworth there would appear to have been somewhere between eight and nine hundred people, living in about two hundred houses, mainly engaged in agricultural pursuits, with some coal mining and wool combing, with individual craftsmen such as blacksmiths, tailors, shoemakers, weavers and similar trades.
The houses were situated chiefly in Leicester Street, Hob Lane, the north side of the Market Place, Mill Street, Roadway, and George Street.
There were few shops, poor roads, footpaths laid with large cobble stones, and a large area of woodland and common land. In the centre of the town where the almshouses now stand was a farm and pond.
During his time in Bedworth, Nicholas bought land in and around the town and eventually became the local squire
He lived at Bedworth Hall next to the Parish Church (where the Health Centre is now), and his parklands extended to the southern boundary of the parish at Black Bank.
The only other house of any importance in the town was Saunders Hall, where Francis Saunders, the owner of the Saunders portion of the manor, lived.
Nicholas brought a much needed stability to Bedworth and gradually conditions started to improve for the inhabitants.
During his many years as Rector and Squire, two things strongly impressed themselves upon his mind. The first was the great need for education, few of his parishioners could read or write, and the obvious way to correct this was to get the youngsters to school, and the second was to provide a haven of refuge to the sick and aged, especially the widows of the town.
His experience as the collector and administrator of the local Poor Rate, which, under the existing Poor Law, with its harsh and cruel regulations, probably prompted him to found his schools and almshouses with these objects in view.
Nicholas Chamberlaine's Will
On the 24th June, 1715, Nicholas Chamberlaine signed his will bequeathing the benefactions, which have been of great benefit to generations of Bedworth people, and three weeks later, on the 14th July, he died, at the age of eighty-three, having been Rector for fifty-one years, and squire of the parish for twenty-nine years.
His will was in two parts: the first part dealt with his benefactions to the Bedworth people, and the second with legacies to his relatives.
In the first part of his will he directed his trustees to build two schools; one with a schoolmaster for boys and one with a schoolmistress to teach the girls. The schoolmaster, 'a fit, sober, and discreet man', was to teach about forty boys born in Bedworth 'to write and read English and cast accounts'. His pay was to be £10 a year, and he could have a assistant who was to be paid 40/- a year.
The schoolmistress, 'a fit grave matron', was to teach her scholars, 'to write and read English, sew, knit, and spin’ at a salary of £5 a year. Both teachers were to teach the Catechism ‘which contains the principles of the true Christian religion,’ use prayer twice a day, and attend Church on those days when public prayers are used in the Church. The sum of five pounds was to be spent yearly on repairs and buying books for the poorest children.
The schools and the schoolhouse were to be under one roof, and one school to be above the other.
In addition to the two schools, Nicholas instructed the establishment of a hospital (or almshouses) to provide accommodation for the poor and needy of the town (although it was only to be for practising Anglicans born and living in the town and not for people of other faiths).
The almshouses, which he had already placed out on contract to build before he died, were to be built, together with the schools, in the Hall yard, close to where the Health Centre stands to-day. They were situated on the south side of the schools.
Each tenement in the hospital consisted of a sitting-room, with a fireplace, and two bedrooms, also two pantries. The tenement at the south end, being larger than the others, and in 1834 was later used for the accommodation of a nurse to take care of the residents.
There were to be six lower tenements to accommodate twelve poor women, two in each, and in the upper tenements one each of six poor men, or women. Each was to receive 1/6d per week, 4/- a year for coal, and once every two years a gown or coat not exceeding 8/- cost.
Not attending the Sunday Service, both morning and evening, unless sick, meant the loss of one week’s allowance.
He also arranged for money to be spent on clothing and placing out as apprentices poor children born in the parish. A great many boys and girls became apprentices with premiums of from £5 to £8 each being paid to their new masters.
He desired all his Trustees to meet twice a year, at Christmas and Whitsuntide, to inspect the schoolhouses, the children, and the people in the hospital (almshouses.) He instructed that all the Trustees would meet once a year on the Wednesday of Whit week at Bedworth Hall, and that one of them, a minister, should preach a sermon in Church and should receive 10/-. Afterwards they were to have a dinner at a cost not exceeding 40/-.
In addition to all this he also left £1,000, the interest of which was to be used for charitable purposes at the discretion of his Trustees: and if anything should remain after discharging all the legacies, annuities, and payments mentioned in his testament, it was to be delivered to the Trustees for charitable uses only. There was also a residue of £453 7s. 8 1/4d. which was added to the £1,000.The value of the lands left by will for the above charity was nearly £200 per annum.
Coal and Charity
By the time of the Industrial Revolution, Nicholas Chamberlaine's Charity was becoming increasingly wealthier, Coal was in demand. Bedworth is on the eastern edge of the Warwickshire coalfield and the charity owned much of the land under which coal was to be found.This provided quite an income to the charity, both from rent from the use of the land and royalties from the sale of the coal.
In 1830, the Chamberlaine trustees purchased land in Collycroft known as Mill Close, which lay between land already belonging to the Charity, from Mr. Peter Ungea Williams for £605.
The following year in 1831, the Mill Bank Charity Colliery, was sunk by Peter Williams. The Chamberlaine trustees invested £3,000 in the new colliery, becoming shareholders as well as royalty owners of the extracted coal. This greatly increased income and helped to provide the funds by which the trustees were able to build new almshouses and schools. By 1841, ownership of the Mill Bank Pit had passed to a Caroline Wilson who got into litigation over mineral rights with William Wilson who owned the nearby Collycroft Colliery. In the same year, 1841, Mill Bank ceased production and the Nicholas Chamberlaine Charity sold some of the land on which it had stood as it now had little value.
Another colliery was later built nearby on more of the charity owned land, and became the Bedworth Coal and Iron Co. Ltd.and was always known locally as The Charity Colliery. The colliery ceased working in 1924, having passed into the ownership of Stanley Brothers from Nuneaton in 1877.
For a more detailed acount of these and other pits in the Bedworth and Nuneaton area 'The Warwickshire Coalfield' written by Laurence Fretwell is available at Bedworth and Nuneaton Libraries.
Almshouses and Schools
1840 saw the building of the present almshouses, the wonderful mock Elizabethan buildings costing £8,500 to build.
The schools were replaced around 1845, being built on the site of the old Bedworth Hall, where the Health Centre is today. The Boy's and Girl's Central Schools surviving until the early 1960s.
From the opening of the first almshouses in 1715, uniforms were worn by the inmates (not residents) of the almshouses. There appears to have been little change in the fashion of the mens clothing. The heavy serge material,colour and buttons, etc., did not change, although breeches probably preceded trousers. For the women, the original straw poke bonnets were superseded by bonnets with less poke, and the reddish-brown dresses gave way to black ones, with red and black plaid shawls, with red cloaks for winter and white shawls for summer. After the first world war there was a further change in the women’s outfit, felt hats replaced the bonnets and a long cope, dark grey in colour was worn. Owing to clothes rationing and high prices after the second world war, other changes were made and some of the inmates had wear their own clothes. The wearing of uniforms was dicontinued around 1951, but many in Bedworth can still remember vividly the old folks wearing the familiar clothes.
The almshouses nearly came to their demise in the 1970s. The fabric of the buildings was deteriating due to difficulties in releasing funds from the charity reserves and not too many old people in residence. There were suggestions that the almshouses should be demolished and the land found a new use. A fresh look at the financial position by the Trustees saved the day and a long period of restoring the almshouses commenced, the last resident's flat being finally restored in 2003.
Their magnificent efforts can be seen from All Saints Square in the centre of the town, the white painted clock tower standing proud for all to see. The Almshouses now provide high quality sheltered housing to the elderly, no longer for the needy, but much appreciated by those fortunate enough to be in residence.
The boundary wall at the front of the almshouses was rebuilt and repositioned during the pedestrianisation of All Saints Square. The line of the foreboding original wall is marked by black metal studs in the paving of the square.
Around 1845, Bedworth Hall, the old schools and almshouses were demolished to make way for the building of the new Central Schools. These were followed by new schools at Collycroft, Woodlands, Hob Lane and Bulkington Lane, providing education for most, if not all the children of the town.
In the early days of the charity the boys were supplied with a jacket and waistcoat of dark grey cloth with blue collar and cuffs (of the same design and colour as the men’s coats) with brass buttons, which were round, about the size of a ten pence coin and bearing the words Nicholas Chamberlaine’s Charity around the outside and Bedworth across the centre, a Tam o’ Shanter cap of the same material, with a blue top-knot. The girls wore a blue print dress with tippet, a white apron and bib and a white straw poke bonnet with blue ribbon. The boys had a suit for Sundays and a suit for weekdays, and every Monday morning they had to take their Sunday suit and leave it at school, fetching it again on Friday for Sunday wear. The supply of clothing for the children came to an end in 1864 with the retirement as Rector of the Rev. Canon Bellairs.
At Whitsun all the residents of the almshouses and the school children were provided with a dinner by the charity to commemorate Founder’s Day. The children’s meal was stopped during Victorian times, when the numbers had considerably increased, and a bun was given to each instead. This tradition of Bun Day continues to the present day, when the pupils from all the charity schools meet at the almshouses for a short service on the grass in front of the buildings and take away a current bun. The old residents enjoyed their Founder's Day dinner until the Second World War war, when severe rationing, caused it to be discontinued. The tradition was revived in 2000 and once again the residents can celebrate the vision of Nicholas Chamberlaine.