Nicholas was born in Whitnash in 1632 and may have been related to the Astley branch of the family that had bought, and altered the Church and Castle there in the 1600’s.He attended Cambridge University and became incumbent at All Saints Church, Leek Wootton in 1662. He is believed to have married Elizabeth Greene of Wyken, near Coventry, and that she died young and is buried at Leek Wootton where Nicholas eventually joined her.
Nicholas became Rector of the village of Bedworth in 1664. He was from a wealthy family and at 32 years of age already a widower. He came to Bedworth at the invitation of his Patron Sir Clement Throckmorton who was a High Churchman and almost Catholic in his beliefs. Nicholas was a fervent Royalist and used a Liturgy in English.
In 1682 and 1686 he bought land that would eventually form part of his legacy and enable the Almshouses and Schools to be built. The land proved extremely profitable because it contained coal. Mine owners paid rent for that land with agents collecting it on a regular basis and storing it safely in the strong room at the Almshouse after the “new” building was erected in 1840.
When Nicholas was 17 King Charles I was executed and he would have seen the Monarchy restored in 1660 when Charles II became King.
In 1685 King Louis 14th repealed the Edict of Nantes that forced many Protestants to flee France. They became known as Huguenots and a good number settled in Bedworth with names like Spencer, Jacques and Prideaux, with Courtauld being one of the more famous. Nicholas Chamberlaine is said to have shown a harsh side to his nature in 1663 when a law was imposed on repairing the highways. He was thought to have been responsible for their neglect but as a Justice of the Peace often saw him as a judge rather than the one being judged.
He is also said to have brought prosecutions against those who failed to conform to the Church of England principles and ex-communicated three parishioners including a Churchwarden.
In 1685 the Five Mile Act was imposed. Non-Conformists could not worship within five miles of a corporate town i.e. Coventry and so they travelled to the Old Meeting Chapel in Bedworth which was just far enough away.
When Nicholas was in his seventies he had a cataract operation in London that was carried out by Sir William Read of The Strand. One can only guess at how he coped.
During his later years he arranged for a Hospital, or Almshouses to be built in Hall Yard. Twelve women would live in six rooms on the ground floor, with six men or six women on the upper floor. They were each given 1s 6d a week, 4s a year for coal, and a coat or gown worth 8s a year. However, if they missed a Church service on Sunday they would forfeit one week’s allowance. Every inmate also received a copy of the King James Version of the Bible.
Not a great deal more is known about the Rector or his views on his parishioners, although he served in the Parish for 51 years. There is also no known portrait of him. We do know that the land he owned brought in rents and profits that enabled the first Almshouses and Schools to be built.
The original Almshouses, school rooms and School house were built over cellars in the grounds of Bedworth Hall where Nicholas had lived until his death. It was a large property with two walled gardens, a paddock, spacious wine vaults, an orchard and “upwards of three acres of land.” The Almshouses had been built close by in Hall Yard but gradually fell into disrepair which is why the Trustees made the brave decision to build a new Almshouses “in brick.”.
Bedworth Hall had several owners until 1871 when the building was finally dismantled, and the bricks etc sold as well as plots of land for building. Nicholas’s generous legacy was reflected in the Will that he wrote on the 24th June 1715 just three weeks before he died at the age of 83.
The bequests that he made have been of great benefit to generations of Bedworth people and are still making a huge difference today. His Will was in two parts. The first dealt with bequests to Bedworth, and the second to his relatives. He directed his Trustees to build two Schools, one for boys and one for girls. A schoolmaster was to be “a fit, sober and discreet man” who would teach 40 Bedworth born boys “to write, read English and cast accounts”. He would be paid £10 a year and would have an assistant to be paid 40 shillings a year. A Schoolmistress “a fit, grave matron” was to teach the girls “to write, read English, sew, knit and spin” at a salary of £5 a year.
Both were to teach the Catechism “which contains the principles of the true Christian religion”. They would need to pray twice a day and attend Church on those days when public prayers were used in Church.
Five pounds was to be spent every year on repairs to the schools and on buying books for the poorest children. He also arranged for money to be spent on clothing for the children. He found apprenticeships with £5 to £8 being paid by the Trust to the children’s new masters.