Kirby Muxloe Churches

Kirby Muxloe Free Church

There is a long tradition of non-conformism in Kirby, ever since George Fox, founder of the Quaker movement, came here in the 17th century. Some notes on the origins of the Free Church, which currently upholds that tradition, are given below.

Early Years in Faith Cottage

(see also our article here)

The earliest meetings took place in ‘Faith Cottage’ which was situated at the corner of Main Street and Ratby Lane. This was the home of Mr. Henser. No preaching took place and these were only ‘praise and testimony’ meetings.

In 1876 Mr. D.H. Downing, a hosiery manufacturer and a Congregationalist, from Leicester, came to live at ‘Vernon House’. He offered his billiard room as a place for worship. News spread, and at the first Sunday meeting over 50 young people from Kirby, Ratby and Glenfield attended.

His sister in law, Miss Rhoda Stonier, started the hymns with a tuning fork. Eventually a choir was formed.

Mr. Lord, a Leicester lay preacher, conducted the service.

After a few years Mr. Downing was forced, for business reason, to return to Leicester.

Mr. Henser then offered the front room of his house for religious meetings. His American organ was used to lead the singing.

Move to the Red Barn

In the summer of 1879, Mr. James Turner, a leather merchant from Leicester, took up residence in Kirby Muxloe. He was a Nonconformist and had been a member of Charles Street Baptist Church.

Although he attended the services in Faith Cottage, he hoped to find larger premises for worship.

He found that the ‘Red Barn’ (Forest Lodge) had a large room, which was empty at that time. Mr. Turner negotiated with the owner, and a rent of five shilling a week was agreed.

Eventually, Mr. Henser allowed the seats (originally from Vernon House) to be used by Mr. Turner.

For the services, Mr. Henser played the organ.

In these early days Mr. Turner’s influence cannot be over- estimated, as he increased the congregation and organised the choir.

Services in the room in ‘The Forest Lodge’ continued for nearly two years, but the tenure was insecure.

As a result, leaders of the community considered building a church.

Construction of Zion Chapel - a new church

In 1880, a site on Main Street was purchased for £40. Early in 1881 construction began. The architect was Mr. W. T. Topott of Leicester. Mr. George Mason, a local man, was the builder. The total cost was about £400.

Mr. Turner was both Secretary and Treasurer of the ‘New Church’, and the group of ‘enthusiasts’ who supported the project.

When a Sunday School was formed, Mr. Turner was the Superintendent.

A few years later, he organised outings for the ‘scholars’. A supporter provided farm wagons for the ‘outings’ to Bradgate Park, Cropston Reservoir, and Groby Pool. Many local children had not been outside the village.

Mr. Henser brought his American organ to the chapel. This was soon replaced by a small pipe organ. He trained Mr. Knight of Glenfield to be deputy organist. Some time later, Mr. Edward Geary became deputy organist. He had been trained by Mr. Thomas Mitchell, the organist at St. Barts, who was also headmaster of the local school.

Kirby Muxloe Nonconformist Church was then known as Zion Chapel. Its formal opening took place on Sunday 18th November 1883.

Mr. Turner brought great enthusiasm to the entire project, but unforetunatley in 1891, he died.

Zion Chapel continued to prosper and several influential and good Free Church people settled in the village. These included, amongst others, Mr. and Mrs Edward Wood, Mr. and Mrs. Wilshere and Mr. and Mrs. Kendall.

Another leader was Mr. Henry Swain Bennet, who was active in the Chapel, and contributed to its finance. In addition, he was noted for the financial projects he set up for the benefit of the village.

The move from Zion Chapel

Mr. Albert Pickard was a strong Nonconformist who came to live in the village. Under his able leadership, the splendid helpers enabled the debt on the Chapel to be paid off. As the Church prospered, so did the Sunday School. Zion Chapel was considered to be too small for the size of the congregation and the range of church activities. In May 1893, plans for a new Chapel began to be considered.

Land for the site of this new Chapel was bought from Mr. W. Townsend in 1894. The plans included accommodation for 200 worshipers and a schoolroom for 100 scholars. On 8th April 1896, Mr. J. Tait was appointed architect, and the builder was to be Mr. G. F. Mason. The ceremony of the laying of the foundation stone was on July 29th 1896. It was appropriate for Mr. T. H. Downing to be chosen for this task. When he lived in ‘Vernon House’, he had offered his billiard room for worship, about twenty years earlier. The day for opening was 20th May 1897.

The name of the church, chosen by the leaders, was to be ‘The Free Church’. Many friends from neighbouring villages attended the celebrations. Guest ministers conducted the afternoon and evening services. The total cost of the new buildings was £2,174-10s. All but £500 was raised by efforts of the congregation and generous donations.

The first Pastor

Rev. Jacob Coupland Forth, a man of great experience, was a given a unanimous invitation to become the first Pastor of the new Church. He was born in 1843, and in 1865, began his Ministry in Bingley,Yorkshire. In 1871, he moved to Wirksworth, Derbyshire. On 2nd October 1875, he was invited to become Pastor of Carley Street Church, Leicester, at a salary of £125 p. a. Eight years later, his annual salary was increased to £170.

On 12th October 1888, his daughter, Lydia Mildred went to China as a Missionary. Shortly after her return in October 1894, she died, on 8th December 1894, and is buried in Welford Road Cemetery. After 23 years at Carley Street Church he resigned on 8th February 1898.

He began his ministry at Kirby Muxloe Free Church on the first Sunday in April 1898. Not only did he have evangelical zeal, but practical Christianity was the basis of his life. He supported people who were ill or suffering sorrow. Apart from his Sunday sermons, he started an evening service on Wednesday nights and a Young People’s Meeting on Tuesday nights. Mrs. Forth ably supported the Christian values of her husband, and was held in high regard. She was always ready to help those in trouble and was devoted to the poorer residents of the village.

The Sunday School continued to prosper. The Library was set up by the efforts of Mr. and Mrs. H. S. Bennet, and given financial support from the Bennet charity.

The Choir made steady progress and Mr. W.W. Kendall was elected to be its President. He set up a series of rules about attendances at practices. In 1905, he organised and paid for an outing for the Choir. A year later, he presented the Church with a new pipe organ.

The Church contributed to various appeals from the Baptist Union. A collection was made for the Whitwick mining disaster of 1898 and for the Indian Famine Relief of 1900.

During his ministry, the membership increased from 37 to 80. On 28th March 1906, at the age of 63, he resigned his pastorate. He died on 15th April 1920 and was buried in St. Bartholomew’s Churchyard. Information from his probate record show that he was living at ‘Forest Lodge’ and that his estate amounted to £1,246-5s-3d.