Reverend Francis Merewether - Part 3

Rector of St Mary's Church between 1815 and 1864

The Building of Churches

Portrait of Rev Merewether as an older man In part 2 we learned how Rev Francis Merewether responded to the needs of the people and their families in the parishes of Coleorton & Whitwick. In part 3 we look at the building of churches. Read more about Rev Francis's early years >>

For centuries Swannington and Thringstone were townships within the Parish of Whitwick, but as mining increased, the first deep pit was sunk in Whitwick in the 1820s, more people moved into the area. With this development Rev Merewether grew aware of the distance many parishioners, old and new, had to walk to St John the Baptist in Whitwick and became the driving force behind building new churches. Churches in Swannington, Thringstone and Coalville owe their existence to the zealous missionary drive of Rev Merewether, for that was a secondary motive in Rev Merewether`s approach. E.G. Mitchell described Rev Merewether, as "a zealous upholder of all the privileges and rights of the established church against the secular and religious bodies who sought to infringe them"...and he saw Ambrose de Lisle's Roman Catholic Mission as such. He was angered by the founding of Mount St Bernard Abbey in his Parish along with the opening of a Roman Catholic day school in Thringstone in 1843.

St George's Church in Swannington was the first to be built in 1825. Sir George [7th Baronet] strongly supported this development, only wanting the established Church within his estate. He walked with William Wordsworth to choose a suitable site. Wordsworth records in his diary: "During the month of December 1820, I accompanied a much beloved honoured friend in a walk through different parts of his estate with a view to fix upon the site of a new church which he intended to erect."" (Some claim that Lady Beaumont also chose the site as the favourite spot where her husband liked to paint. Both could have contributed to the decision.)

In the 1830s coal mining resulted in further developments. In 1983 Denis Baker wrote: "150 years ago the railway arrived at Long Lane Halt in Leicestershire. The locomotive Samson was driven to the junction with Whitwick Colliery Railway on 22nd April 1833 ...and so Long Lane became Coalville and a town was born." As Coalville developed, Rev Merewether established Christchurch as a new parish church, supported by a parsonage between 1836 and 1838.

Later, between 1848 and 1850, the parish church, St Johns in Whitwick, was renovated...and between 1862 and 1863, Rev Merewether worked to establish St Andrews for Thringstone. In these last developments, his support came from the 8th and 9th Baronets as Sir George Howland Beaumont [7th Baronet] had died in 1827.

Rev Merewether worked tirelessly to the end of his life, when those in need still remained in his thoughts. Three days after delivering his last sermon "Heal the Sick" in aid of Leicester Infirmary, on July 17th 1864, Rev Francis Merewether died at the age of 80 at the Rectory.

His obituary began by acknowledging a man who had achieved so much: his activity in all that concerned religion, his prolific authorship of letters, pamphlets and publications, and his duty to his diocese and community. It went on to describe him as: "Firm in purpose, decided in opinion, resolute in acting up to his view of duty. He was of so genial and kindly a disposition, that to know him was to love and revere him. His genuine simplicity, his cheerful piety, his thorough unselfishness and his unaffected humility exhibited the Christian character in its most beautiful aspect."

Elaine Oldham

March 2022


  • The National Archives:
    1848 - 63: Letters (26) to Disraeli, held sat the Bodleian Library
    1812 – 63: Correspondence, held at Lambeth Palace Library
  • William White's History, Gazeteer & Directory of the County of Leicestershire 1846
  • Memories of Coleorton, researched & edited by Helen Towers, Elaine & Rob Oldham
  • Collected letters of Sir George & Lady Beaumont: Notes to Part 2
  • Wikipedia
  • Coleorton – Hyperleap
  • Gazetteer of stained glass in Leicestershire Churches, Paul Sharpling
  • Alumni Cantabrigienses
  • St Helen's Newsletter (Wendy Freer)