History of Dunchurch

A BRIEF HISTORY OF DUNCHURCH

The parish of Dunchurch includes the hamlets of Toft and Causton (Cawston) and the township of Thurlaston.

In the Norman Survey AD 1038 -66 (The Domesday Book) Dunchurch is called Doncerce held by William of Osbern, the son of Richard, a Norman.
In 1608 Dunchurch became a market town following a grant to the then Lord of the Manor Sir Francis Leigh. Until approximately 1880 a cattle fair was held in Southam Road, whilst sheep fairs were held in the Square.
During the Great Plague of 1625 in London, some people fled to Dunchurch where they died and were buried in land known as Langfield.
Dunchurch became one of the most important stages on the coaching route from London to Birmingham and else where. At one time 20 coaches passed through daily stopping at one of the two principal Inns, the Dun Cow or the Bell to refresh their occupants as well as their horses. Spare horses were kept for gentleman’s carriages as well as for the post carriages, Dunchurch being Rugby’s post town on the Holyhead Road. In Tom Brown’s School Days, Tom changes carriages at Dunchurch on his way to school in Rugby.
The Inns in 1850 were known as The Crown, The Dun Cow, The Green Man, Old Mother Redcap and the Red Lion. This last Inn is closely connected to the Gun Powder Plot.

At the time of the early census, these were the occupations in Dunchurch – bakers, blacksmiths, boot makers, carpenters, bricklayers, butchers, plumbers, grocers, saddlers, tailors, surgeons, carrier, wheelwright and plough maker.

In the centre of the village an ancient cross stood on four steps. This was removed  at the joint expense of Harriet Duchess of Buccleugh and the residents in 1813 leaving just the four steps and a small pillar. It’s original purpose was as a sign post.

The Working Men’s Club began in 1860 as Lord John Scott’s Reading Room. It was later moved to the Square where it was bombed in 1940. Two men were killed. The Club was rebuilt in 1951.

On the Green, originally nearer to the Cross than at present are the stocks. They were also next to a public weighbridge. Due to the many of ale houses in the village, it must be assumed that they were in regular use. At one time there were 27 alehouses in the village.

Opposite the Dun Cow is a statue of Lord John Scott, second son of the Duke of Buccleugh and Lord of the manor of Dunchurch. He was born in 1809 and died in 1860. His statue is decorated every Christmas in topical dress. His wife continued to live in Cawston House and she wrote the words of “Annie Laurie”. The words of “Loch Lomond” are about her. She died in 1900 aged 90.

There is a suggestion that Longfellow wrote the words of his poem “Under the Spreading Chestnut Tree” when in Dunchurch using the local smithy for his inspiration.

Next to the smithy are the Almshouses built in 1690 due to the generosity of Thomas newcombe, the King’s printer. They were rebuilt in 1880.

Next to the almshouses is the Old School. It was an endowed free school founded by Francis Boughton in 1707

A Church has existed in Dunchurch since the Domesday Book. The Chancel of St Peter’s was builtin 14th Century, with the tower being added later. The church is reputed to be the first public building in England lit by gas.

Next to the entrance of the Churchyard is the old Red Lion Inn which was used by the plotters of the Gun Powder Plot being convenient to the main road to Ashby St Ledgers and Combe Abbey.

(Based on “Dunchurch, A look into the Past” by Joanne Smith)