|Summary researched and compiled by John Meads|
The earliest recorded date of St. Mary the Virgin Parish Church is 1147 and inside there are characteristic round-headed arches of what would have been the original cross-shaped Norman church. Many of the building’s architectural features are described elsewhere, but mention must be made here of the rare medieval and Elizabethan wall paintings that can be seen on the north wall and over the nave arches. A 13th century font, rescued from the old rectory garden is in the church porch and the church also contains an Elizabethan poor box and the original parish chest.
The parish chest contained churchwardens and constables accounts dating from the 16th century and gave us a glimpse of what life must have been like in those days. The church vestry was the forerunner of today’s local authority dealing with civil as well as ecclesiastical work. For example, in 1641, the vestry appointed two churchwardens, two sidesmen, three overseers of the poor, three stone reeves (appointed to oversee the collection or quarrying of stone for road repair etc.), a neatherd (cowherd) and a hoggard (swineherd). The parish records have been deposited at the Northamptonshire County Record Office
There have been forty-eight priests, parsons and rectors. The first recorded priest was Simon de Moel in 1236, followed by a succession of priests, nearly all of whom had names indicating a Norman influence until 1394 when Richard de Rochele resigned.
The 18th century saw the emergence of the non-conformists in Burton Latimer and in 1744, led by John Yeomans, a carpenter and grazier, a Baptist Chapel was built. John, who was its first pastor, died in 1776 and is buried in the parish churchyard. In his will, he left his farmhouse to be used as a manse to house future ministers, and land for the benefit of the church. The congregation fluctuated during the church’s early years but by the late 1800s the non-conformist influence in Burton Latimer especially that of the Baptists was very strong. This led to disagreement over the right of the Church of England to have the monopoly in providing education for all the children in Burton Latimer regardless of what place of worship they and their parents attended. This ‘Education Question’ as it was referred to in the local and national press , was settled in 1898 when the nonconformists had a new school built in the High Street helped by hundreds of supporters who paid small amounts and business people and tradesmen who gave generous donations towards its cost. To this day, their initials can be seen on bricks set into the walls of the building.
The Wesleyans also suffered a rise and fall in their fortunes during the 19th century. They built a chapel in the High Street in 1835 but had to sell it and it was converted into two houses in 1873 and into one at a later date. For twenty-five years after its closure the small congregation met in a member’s cottage or in a room over one of Barlow’s shops at The Cross until, in 1890, as Wesleyan Methodists, they built a new Methodist Chapel in