The Seventeenth CenturyStretton’s parish registers begin in 1631, and from then on much more is known of the life and inhabitants of Stretton. The Manor had recently been acquired by Robert Horsman, originally from Yorkshire and educated at Kings College Cambridge and Gray’s Inn. In 1616 Horsman sold his 200 acre estate in Kensington to Sir Baptist Hicks, later Viscount Camden, for £2679. The new life of his family in the Stretton’s Manor House, built or substantially rebuilt around this time, is witnessed by the wills of Horsman’s unmarried sister and sister-in-law, now in Northamptonshire Record Office. Mary Pickering bequeathed fields known as Temple Field and North Temple Barns to her sister Elizabeth Horsman and her husband; Ann Horsman remembered her brother’s servants: John Christian, Thomas Farthing and James Gubbin, while leaving a bed and its coverings to her own maid, Elizabeth Gray. Both women left legacies to Stretton’s minister, Jeremiah Whitaker, as well as to the poor of Stretton. (For the life of Jeremiah Whitaker see Rutland Record 12, 1992, 66-69.)
The years leading up to the Civil War brought political, religious and economic pressures for parishioners of Stretton, as elsewhere. The drive for farming efficiency began to erode the Open Field system of farming, bringing to an end many of the smaller landholdings. In 1636 a complaint was made that landowners had. destroyed twelve ancient farms, with land that had been arable time out of mind, and depopulated them, thrusting out all the ancient tenantry and farmers, their wives, children and servants, enclosed the common ground and turned the farm lands from tillage to pasture. (quoted from Cotton MS in Victoria County History of Rutland)
Although a jury upheld the complaint,there was little that villagers could do to halt the process. It is likely that the more prosperous farmers consolidated their holdings by buying or exchanging strips in the common fields, but others would have found the loss of their grazing rights made their small holdings insufficient to support a family, becoming landless labourers or considering emigration.
The wave of Puritan migration to the New World in the 1630’s included several of Stretton’s more enterprising villagers. John Fletcher and his wife Mary Warde left Stretton for Milford, Connecticut, while William Bacon and his three children were living in Plymouth County in 1655. Most of those who remained in Stretton must have been influenced by or sympathetic to their Puritan minister, Jeremiah Whitaker, the foremost Rutland opponent of the King’s moves to bring the Church of England closer to the Church of Rome. In March 1642, 41 male parishioners of Stretton signed the ‘Protestation’, swearing to: defend the power and privilege of Parliaments, the lawful rights and liberties of the subjects ... and to preserve the true reformed Protestant religion expressed in the doctrine of the Church of England, against all Popery and popish innovation.
On the outbreak of Civil War, Robert Horsman and his eldest son, also named Robert, were recognised as leading supporters of Parliament in Rutland, and named on the County Committee, charged with raising ‘money, men, horse and arms’. While his father remained in Stretton, Robert Horsman junior pursued a more active military career, becoming Captain of the Trained Bands and later Governor of Rockingham Castle with its Parliamentary garrison and troops. A vendetta against Robert Horsman by the infamous regicide, Thomas Waite, reached the ears of the House of Commons who recorded on 23rd December, 1643: ‘This House being well informed of the fidelity of the said Mr Horsman.’ However, the name of Robert Horsman junior disappears from the historical record in late 1645, probably following his sickness and early death.
His younger brother, Edward, also followed a military career, as Captain of the seventh troop of Cromwell’s ‘Ironsides’ regiment. In March 1649 he was promoted to Major in Colonel Thomas Brooke’s regiment and served Rutland in Parliament in 1653 and 1654. The Restoration brought an end to his public career, and Edward Horsman died in Stretton, aged 77, in 1693. His name is remembered in the Horsman Charity, to which he left the sum of twenty pounds:
One pound per annum to be distributed amongst certain persons whom the trustees shall judge to be in greatest need in Easter Week, and one pound per annum for the teaching of seven poor children on the 1st day of May or otherwise as the aforesaid trustees shall think fit to dispose thereof.
Unfortunately the bequest was not left in land - in 1908 it was recorded as worth ‘£13.14s.11d in 2 ½ % Consols held by the Official Trustees, producing in dividends 8s.8d. per annum’. For at least two years the ‘seven poor children were taught in a ‘Dame School’ by Mary Willes who signed a receipt for one pound per annum in May 1694 and 1695. Thereafter the school seems to have fallen into abeyance, although payments to benefit the poor continue: ‘January 1700 given of Mr Horsman’s Charity to Thomas Redish upon the loss of his cow, one pound.’
Edward Horsman’s benevolent intention to encourage the education of poor children in Stretton had little effect. The introduction of printed marriage registers with the requirement for participants’ signatures provides evidence that most Stretton parishioners in the second half of the 18th century were still illiterate; even in 1830 a significant number of those married could still only sign with their mark.