For this church:
Gilbert of Ghent was a Norman with extensive lands in Nottinghamshire.
Although no church is mentioned in Domesday, in light of the subsequent history, this may well not mean that no church existed here. In 2000/1, during the refurbishment of the nave, opportunity was taken to look below the floor for any ancient foundations.
After the Victorian floor was removed in the chancel there was seen to be the remains of a transverse wall and the curved wall of an apse which may be Norman or even pre-Conquest. No artefacts were found to enable the remains to be dated and this remains just a possibility.
Thoroton states that at some point in the 11th century the manor of Kneesall became the property of the Barons of Halton. The date cannot be ascertained but Gilbert’s daughter, Agnes de Ghant (sic) whose mother was Alice de Montfort, had married William FitzNigel and the manor probably came to the barony when Gilbert died in 1095. It is almost certain a church at Kneesall existed in that year.
The Barony of Halton, Cheshire was created by Hugh Lupus, Earl of Chester about 1077, who also bestowed the duties of Constable of Chester on the Baron. In 1095 the Baron was the aforementioned William FitzNigel (William son of Nigel of Contentin). Certainly the church was well established by 1115 as the church at Kneesall is listed in the grant made by William FitzNigel establishing the Augustinian Priory church at Runcorn. Kneesall is one of four remote churches which feature in the grant the others being Ratcliffe-on-Soar, Nottinghamshire, Castle Donnington, Leicestershire and Burton upon Stather, Lincolnshire. In addition to the church, the Baron granted Runcorn the income from a mill at Southwell. It is not known if the church and mill were tied and nothing further is known of this other than it was almost certainly a water mill.
The Priory church at Runcorn was unhealthy, being subject to flooding, and in 1134 William FitzWilliam (son of the founder) moved the priory to Norton in Cheshire and in so doing re-issued the grant again mentioning Kneesall by name. The church was again mentioned in 1211 when a descendant of the Baron now called Roger de Lacy renewed the grant to Norton.
The history of the priory at Norton is clear in that the four churches and four more in Cheshire were so valuable as to represent half the income of the abbot who was later able to raise the priory to monastic status on the strength. This is borne out by the taxation records of 1291 which record the clear annual valuation of Kneesall at £33 6s 8d, with an additional pension paid to Norton Priory (pensio Prioris de Norton in eadem ecclesia) of £2 13s 4d. Fifty years later, the taxation of 1341 shows the same overall annual value (£36 including Norton Priory’s pension at the same amount), and states:
In the latter part of the 11th century the church would be manorial, that is the advowson of the priest would be in the hands of the lord of the manor. However, from 1115 to 1459 Norton Priory appointed the priest. Unlike some of the other churches this does not seem to have caused any discontent and Kneesall appears to have remained in harmony throughout this period. The church was assessed for value in 1428, at the Henry VI subsidy, and its annual value had not changed since 1291, being taxed at 66s 8d, and noting that the value was ‘preter pensionem’, i.e. before calculation of the Norton Priory pension.
In 1441 there was discord in Norton. The Abbott John Sutton died in suspicious circumstances and his successor Thomas Westbury was accused of poisoning him but was acquitted. The effect of this was to plunge the priory into financial difficulties, eventually alleviated by the sale of Kneesall (and Grappenhall in Cheshire) in 1459/60: ‘The abbot and convent of Norton quit-claim to John Southwell parson of Kneesall, a yearly rent of four marks which they claim as rectors of the church and all claim and interest in the church’. To whom this was sold is not clear but a contemporary observer stated ‘As the least productive churches, Kneesall and Grappenhall were clearly the two that could be disposed of without major loss of income to Norton.’
Ratcliffe-on-Soar had been sold to Burscough Priory, Lancashire, between 1357 and 1382 and it is possible the disposal of both Kneesall and Grappenhall was to the same place being an Augustinian offshoot of Norton. However, neither Kneesall nor Grappenhall appear in the Burscough records.
Burscough was suppressed by Henry VIII in 1536 and Norton followed a year or two later. Kneesall reverted to being a parish church within the archdiocese of York.
Norton was always active in developing its churches. As a result Kneesall seems to have been rebuilt in the 14th century and again in the 15th century with the tower believed to date from 1425. After 1459 no further rebuilding was undertaken until the 19th century.
The chapelry at Boughton was withdrawn from Kneesall in 1535.
Kneesall seems to have had a peaceful existence through the centuries with occasional problems with tithes in 1590 mainly due to the sloppiness of William and Juliana Cardinal the tithe collectors who failed to collect the peas, beans and barley set out by the farmers for collection. The York consistory court found for the farmers and the tithe collectors were dismissed.
In 1603 there were no recusants in the parish, and 360 communicants or non-communicants.
In 1626 the churchwardens reported that the chancel was in decay. By September 1628 they reported to the bishop that it was now so ruinous that ‘they feared it would fall about their heads’. This seemed to have the desired effect as in the 1630 presentment the chancel was stated as in ‘repair’.
In 1676 it was reported of Kneesall that there were 231 of age to communicate, but 45 refused. Thomas Salter was the curate.
On the 12th May 1684 the nave and chancel was shown to be in need of ‘drawing with lime and hair’ and needs whiting obviously referring to damage to lime plaster. An added note says the matter was resolved on the 9th July.
The churchwardens made bi-annual presentments to the archbishop concerning the usual problems with rural villages from 1590 to 1700. One particular dispute between Sence and William Berkett and William Walhead on the 10th January 1604 rumbled on for three months requiring the intervention of Sir John Hollis to resolve. Walhead is recorded as a churchwarden with problems as he had previously been accused in 1601 of drunkenness and forging entries in the register. The churchwardens were again in the news when a plea was made in 1625 to dismiss William Sanderson as churchwarden due to him falsifying church records especially in respect of his election. It was claimed that Sanderson who was also the village constable, had only received 2 votes and that those for his opponent John Lawson had been interfered with and removed. In 1635 church repairs cost £11 3s 4d.
In 1743 the chapel of Boughton was administered by Kneesall, both Kersall and Ompton being hamlets dependant on the mother church. In the same year it was reported that in Kneesall, Upton, and Ompton there were 80 families, of which 3 were Presbyterians and two Quakers. There was one meeting house for the Presbyterians, who numbed twenty and met monthly, and also one in one of the hamlets for Quakers. There was no public school, but a private one (‘where children are taught a little English’), no almshouses or charitable endowment. The clergyman, Thomas Cooper, lived in the parsonage, and took the services himself, including administrating the sacrament three times a year when ‘the communicants are seldom under thirty and seldom above fifty’.
In 1764 the vicar, William Law, told Archdeacon Drummond that he had 65 families in the village, one of which was Quaker and one Roman Catholic. The Quakers had a licensed meeting house. There was no school, almshouses, hospital or other charitable endowment. Around forty people had received Holy Communion the previous Easter.
Tax was redeemed on the glebe lands in the accounts for 19th July 1803 and the glebe lands were still recorded as part of the parish in Kersall and Kneesall in 1865 but leased to Earl Manvers.
The chancel is shown as restored in the accounts for Thoresby Hall dated 1836.
In 1851 on Census Sunday, the general congregation was 84, with 28 Sunday scholars, at the morning service, from a population of 201. There was a Wesleyan Methodist chapel in Kneesall, and Primitive Methodist chapels in Kersall and Ompton.
Faculties exist for the restoration work undertaken in 1873 dated 3rd May 1872. On this occasion the porch and south aisle roof were restored, and in 1893 the tower.
The heating system was added in 1912, and subsequently upgraded during nave alterations.
Also in 1912 the parish had a population of 353, the church would seat 211, there were 78 children on the roll of the Church School, and 37 on the roll of the Sunday School. Seven baptisms had taken place over the previous twelve months.
See Boughton for details of its amalgamation with Kneesall.
The church has now been converted into a multi-function building. The Bill Hemsley Community Hall in the church was opened in 2002. The chancel remains consecrated as a church, and it is separated from the hall (which occupies the nave) by a movable glass screen.