MAZE UPDATE: WISTOW MAZE is now CLOSED, but will RE-OPEN on 22 July 2024

"Human hairs growing through the grass in Wistow Churchyard on 1st June".

This is the legend which resulted from the murder in 849 of Saint Wistan, Christian Prince of Mercia, by his cousin, Brifardus, who coveted the throne and cared nothing for Christian principles. Little now remains of the early church built on the site of that murder, but the name Wistow, shortened from Wistanstowe (holy place of Wistan) reminds us of that Christian Prince. 

Much of the fabric of the church is Norman with a thirteenth century tower. The blocked up Norman doorway to the right of the porch is clearly visible outside, and the recent re-pointing of the tower and main walls shows up the old stonework well.

The Royal Coat of Arms of George III is on the hatchment facing the doorway as you enter the church. On the right hand side of the nave are the arms of the Physician, which were granted to Sir Henry Halford by George IV in 1826 as a gesture of gratitude after his unremitting attention to the Duke of York during his last illness. You will notice on this the Greyhound crest of the Halfords, the medical staff entwined with the serpent and the emu supporters. George IV had given Sir Henry two emus; these are reputed to have done much damage in the garden at Wistow, and when they died one was stuffed and placed in a glass case there.

Sir Henry was responsible for completing the Georgian restoration of the church, as can be seen by his initials on the rainwater heads outside. It is thought that the box pews and reredos were added in the middle of the eighteenth century, together with the fine wrought iron altar rail and gate, which are probably the work of Robert Bakewell of Derby.

The beautiful Cross on the Altar was given in memory of the 3rd Lord Cottesloe and his wife by their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. They both died in 1956, she first and within two weeks of their diamond wedding anniversary. The Cross was made by Knight of Wellingborough. 

The church was re-roofed with aluminium in 1961 after a series of assaults by lead thieves, and the pretty Georgian font which was found broken in the vestry was placed in the transept, which makes a lovely place for baptisms. Electricity was connected to the church in 1980 so that the outworn bellows of the hand-pumped Victorian organ could be replaced by a fan.

The three Halford memorials in the transept, those to Sir Richard, Sir Charles and Sir William, were restored and repaired in the last part of the 20th Century by Harrison & Hill of Little Oakley near Corby. This work and the professional cleaning of the reredos behind the Altar and the two hatchments have been enabled by a large number of private donations from friends of Wistow, together with the proceeds from four flower festivals and various fund raising efforts. Grants were gratefully received from English Heritage, Leicestershire County Council, Harborough District Council, the Pilgrim Trust, the Radcliffe Trust and Leicestershire Historic Churches Preservation Trust among others. 

For many years, it was only possible to toll and not peal the three ancient bells in the tower due to the unsafe state of the old wooden bell frame. After considerable form filling and chasing, a grant from the Millennium Bell Fund was obtained and this, together with other helpful grants and fundraising efforts, have provided for a new bell frame (set below the old bell frame which has had to be retained) and a peal of six bells. The three new bells were cast by Taylors of Loughborough and installed in February 1999, the inscriptions being "2000 years of Christendom", "Ringing out a century Fremantle/Brooks" and "Allen, Bale and Gilbert families".

The bells were dedicated by Bishop Bill Down on 30th May 1999 and now a full peal can often be heard across the water meadows.

In the churchyard you will find many old tombstones, but none more recent than 1873 when burials ceased because of the danger of floods. Records show the church to have been flooded three times to a depth of three feet in 1588, 1609 and 1618, and no doubt at intervals to this day to a lesser extent. The associated run-off from new housing developments and road improvements at Great Glen and Kibworth have exacerbated the flooding problem and water levels rise much faster than in the past.

Many fear for the fabric of this wonderful, Listed church as well as the charm and serenity of this "Holy Place of Wistan". Those who come to support St Wistan's are most welcome, and any donation is much appreciated and will be used to help maintain this part of Leicestershire's past history and present beauty.

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