UK Genealogy Archives logo

Kenilworth (St. Nicholas)

KENILWORTH (St. Nicholas), a market-town and parish, in the union of Warwick, Kenilworth division of the hundred of Knightlow, S. division of the county of Warwick, 5 miles (N.) from Warwick, and 101 (N. W. by N.) from London; containing 3149 inhabitants. This place, anciently called Kenelworda, is supposed to have derived its name from Kenelm, or Kenulph, one of its Saxon possessors, who had on the bank of the Avon a strong hold or fortress, which was demolished in the war between Edmund Ironside and Canute. After the Conquest, Henry I. bestowed the manor upon Geoffrey de Clinton, his treasurer and chamberlain, who built the church, and founded a priory for Canons regular of the order of St. Augustine, which he dedicated to the Blessed Virgin, and the revenue of which, at the Dissolution, was £643. 14. 9¼. The same Geoffrey, soon after the establishment of his monastery, erected the earlier portion of that stately Castle for the remains of which the town is principally distinguished. This castle, which was sold by his grandson to Henry III., was greatly enlarged and strongly fortified by Simon de Montfort, to whom that monarch gave it as a marriage portion with his sister Eleanor. Simon de Montfort, afterwards joining the discontented barons who had taken up arms against the king, made Henry prisoner at the battle of Lewes, but was eventually defeated and slain by Prince Edward at the battle of Evesham. After the defeat of the baron, his younger son Simon shut himself up with a party of his adherents in the castle, which sustained a siege for six months against the royal forces, commanded by the king in person; but the garrison being reduced by famine, the castle was surrendered to the king, by whom it was bestowed upon his younger son Edmund, afterwards created Earl of Leicester. Upon this occasion was issued the Dictum de Kenilworth, enacting that all who took up arms against the king should pay him the value of their lands for five years. In the 7th of Edward I. the Earl of Leicester held a splendid tournament here, at which 100 knights and as many ladies assisted. Edward II., having been made prisoner by the Earl of Lancaster, was confined in the castle of Kenilworth.

In the reign of Edward III. the castle was considerably enlarged, and in that of Richard II. many additional buildings were erected by John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, whose son becoming king, the castle reverted to the crown. Queen Elizabeth gave it to her favourite, Dudley, Earl of Leicester, by whom the magnificent gatehouse was built, and who also erected the Gallery tower and Mortimer's tower, at each extremity of the tilt-yard. This nobleman, after having completed and embellished the castle at a prodigious expense, entertained Queen Elizabeth and her whole court for seventeen days, with the most splendid pageants: the expense of the entertainments, including every variety of luxurious gratification, was not less than £1000 each day. During the civil war in the reign of Charles I., Cromwell took possession of the castle, which he gave up to his soldiers, who, after plundering it of every thing valuable, destroyed it. The ruins occupy three sides of a spacious quadrangle forming the inner ward, and consist chiefly of Cæsar's tower, built by Geoffrey de Clinton, a lofty and massive square structure, having walls sixteen feet in thickness, beyond which are the keep, or strong tower, and part of the kitchens: the banquet-hall, 86 feet long, and 44 feet wide, with a range of windows of excellent symmetry, ornamented with rich tracery, and a recess of three very beautiful windows, almost entire; and the Water tower and Lion's tower, which are in good preservation. Opposite to Cæsar's tower, and once connected with it by a range of buildings forming the fourth side of the quadrangle, but of which only the vestiges of the arched entrance are discernible, is Mortimer's tower; extending from which was the tilt-yard, 240 feet in length, and terminated by the Gallery tower. The prevailing character of the architecture is Norman, intermixed with the decorated and later English styles; the walls included an area of more than seven acres, and the venerable ruins, in many parts overspread with ivy, form one of the most interesting memorials of baronial magnificence. Of the monastery, situated to the east of the castle, only some fragments of the walls and part of the gateway entrance are remaining.

The town consists principally of one street, extending for more than a mile along the turnpike-road, and divided into two parts by a small valley, in which are situated the church and the remains of the monastery; on the higher grounds are some handsome well-built houses, and crowning the summit is the castle. A stream tributary to the Avon, and abounding with excellent trout, after passing under an ancient stone bridge, divides into two branches, inclosing the castle and the town. Here is a station of the Leamington branch of the London and Birmingham railway. A book society is supported, and assemblies are held occasionally at the principal inn. The chief articles of manufacture are horn combs, Prussian blue, Glauber salts, and sal-ammoniac. The market is on Wednesday, and a fair for cattle is held on the last day in April. The town is within the jurisdiction of the county magistrates; and two constables and two headboroughs are appointed at the court leet of the lord of the manor. The parish comprises 5742 acres. The living is a discharged vicarage, valued in the king's books at £6. 13. 4., and in the patronage of the Crown; net income, £280; impropriator, the Earl of Clarendon. The church is a venerable structure, exhibiting portions in the Norman, and the early and decorated English styles, with a square embattled tower, strengthened with angular buttresses, and surmounted by a lofty spire: the western entrance is by a very fine Norman archway, and the north porch has two finely-pointed and richly-moulded doorways, above which is a small window with elegant tracery. The interior contains an ancient circular font supported on a single Norman column; and some interesting monuments. A handsome painted window was placed in the chancel by Dr. Samuel Butler, Bishop of Lichfield and Coventry; it consists of several armorial bearings emblazoned on elegant shields, among which are those of Alicia, Countess of Dudley. Here are places of worship for Baptists, Independents, and Presbyterians. The free school was founded in 1724, by Dr. Edwards, who endowed it with 20 acres of land, producing about £70 per annum: there are several other schools supported by charity, with some almshouses; and benefactions have been made for other purposes.

Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of England, by Samuel Lewis, seventh edition, published 1858.