Thurcaston in Leicestershire was, in the 18th century, one of the richest livings in the gift of Emmanuel College, Cambridge.
This is an engraving in John Nichols’s History and antiquities of the county of Leicester, 1795. In 1756 the living became vacant and was offered to the most senior Fellow, Henry Hubbard, Richard Hurd’s former tutor and now a close friend. Hubbard declined, so it was offered to.Hurd, who was next in seniority. The two men rode over to see the place in October. Hurd wrote to his friend and mentor.William Warburton, who had been encouraging him to develop his career since 1749, on the 20th: “The situation is pleasant enough for the country, which you know is no paradise.The house good enough for a bishop and in good repair and the gardens, which to a bookish man you know is a matter of consequence quite excellent”. (This comment was prophetic, for Hurd was of course destined to become a bishop, first at Lichfield and then at Worcester - and one of his predecessors at Worcester, Hugh Latimer, had been born at Thurcaston.)
In November he commented:”The gardens are as pleasant as I have ever seen belonging to a Parsonage”. So he decided to accept, though with some misgivings. In 1757 he wrote to his old friend William Mason: “I doubt whether I shall be fond of it in the winter”. He finally moved in on 9 May 1758 and it was not long before he found his prejudices were rubbish. He had intended to spend the winters, which he dreaded so much, in Cambridge, but in August he was writing to Mason: “I even like it so well that I am almost determin’d to return to Cambridge no more”. Mason, who was rather better at gardening than he was at writing poetry, laid out the grounds for him, which were “gradually brightening by the strokes of your pencil” Hurd wrote in 1759. Mason recorded his friend’s increasing contentment in an ode that year:
By 1760 Hurd had no more fears of the winter, declaring that “the prospect of dark days and long lonely nights gives me no disquiet”.
As well as Thurcaston Hurd had to look after the chapel at nearby Ansty.
He had a resident curate to help him, the first being George Jolland, who lived in the rectory with his family (not getting too much in the rather unsociable Hurd’s way, one must hope) but he only stayed a year and Hurd was on his own until 1763, when he appointed the recently ordained David Ball of St John’s College, Cambridge. Ball was there for the remainder of Hurd’s time at Thurcaston.
Hurd’s parishioners were not too pleased with his repairs on the church chancel in 1763, when he had the stained glass replaced with plain, and in 1758 there was some dispute over the felling of some trees; but that he was a good pastor is shown in a letter written in January 1763, saying he could not leave the village as the recent severe weather had made a perfect hospital of his parish. All was forgiven much later, when his head, duly adorned with a bishop’s mitre, was carved high up on the outside of the church:
And they still treasure a tiny watercolour portrait of him done in his old age:
The provenance of this was a puzzle, though the corner of what was evidently a church window gave a clue but, as so often, Hurd’s nephew, young Richard, came to the rescue. In 1811 he had a letter from a Mr Parsons of Stourport, and he made a note of it:
So now we know it was painted in 1807 in Hartlebury Church, 11 months before Hurd’s death at the age of 88. Possibly young Richard gave it to the Rector of Thurcaston as a memento of his kindly predecessor who had, after all, found the village was indeed a paradise. As its present inhabitants, to whom I talked about Hurd last week, no doubt agree. The last words should be Hurd’s (to Mason in 1765): “I neither wish to live or die in a pleasanter scene. I pity you at York while I have these painted fields & green trees about me , & golden suns rolling thro’ cloudless skies over my head”
Christine Penney, Hurd Librarian