- The villages around Bourne, Lincolnshire, England -

Kirkby Underwood

Photographed in 1999

THIS VILLAGE STANDS serenely in the byways, five miles north of Bourne, and lives up to its name for there are woods all around. It is one of six Kirkbys in Lincolnshire and is spelt Cherchebi in the Domesday Book of 1086 but the name appears to have developed from the Old Norse kirkuibyr meaning a village with a church. Kirkby Underwood, as its name implies, also possessed considerable woodlands when William the Conqueror was on the throne. 

Some 220 acres were recorded in 1086, and today as you stand in the elevated churchyard of St Mary and All Saints you can see Row Wood and Dunsby Wood to the south east, Callans Lane Wood and Pasture Wood to the south west and Temple Wood and Grange Wood to the north west with the steel lattice masts of a futuristic telecommunication tower and its dish aerials towering over the fields on its southern edge. On the far side of Callans Lane Wood, now managed by the Forestry Commission, is the line of the Roman road that cuts across this higher ground from King Street in the south.  

The church of St Mary and All Saints can be found on the very edge of the village and is reached by a long path between tall hedgerows and is guarded by an ancient door with three foot hinges and a huge lock and key. It has an embattled western tower five centuries old, a 13th century arcade with foliated capitals and a Jacobean panelled pulpit. The church was restored in 1893 by the rector, the Rev Robert Hurman, at a cost of 800. The parish registers date from 1569 and there are some interesting records of the ministers and the ornaments of the church that were destroyed in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I whilst a large stone memorial in the churchyard remembers the Rev Frederick Septimus Emly who died on 4th March 1875 at the age of 72, after serving as rector for 38 years. 

Its isolated position in the middle of farmland is also a reminder that the old village of Kirkby Underwood was originally clustered around the church but after purchasing the land in 1712, Sir Gilbert Heathcote set about the task of developing the area as a shoot and to protect the woods, he moved the village itself over a quarter of a mile to the east where it stands today. By way of compensation, the villagers were allowed to collect firewood from a part of the Callans Lane Wood and this small area of forest can still be found today surrounded by a small ditch.

Kirkby Underwood contains a number of red brick buildings, the finest of which is the Manor House in the main street, an imposing and substantial property built by the Earl of Ancaster in the late 19th century with a range of contemporary stables and outbuildings. Nearby is the Ye Olde Three Tuns, once a public house but now a private dwelling although its past history is reflected in the name. It is reckoned to be the oldest secular building in the village and dates back to the 18th century, perhaps even earlier, but it closed as a hostelry in 1969. The roof was thatched until then but a fire around the middle brick chimney prompted the new owners to switch to the pantiles we see today and there have been other extensions and improvements at the rear.

Over the road on The Green stands the old school with room for 70 boys and girls, also built by the Earl of Ancaster in 1903 to replace the former National School, but closed for lessons in December 1971 and refurbished for use as the village hall with an attractive coat of arms designed and carved by a former rector, the Rev Kenneth Street, and bearing a Latin description of Kirkby Underwood: Semper in campis silvae floreat. Even the five almshouses or bedehouses, endowed by the Brownlow family who were once owners of the parish, were demolished in 1939. But the village is not dying, only changing. New houses are springing up between the older ones. There is abundant evidence that Kirkby Underwood is also a busy centre for the servicing of agricultural equipment as well as being an expanding community of commuters.

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