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The village of Wanlip lies just to the west of the River Soar and King Lear’s Lake at Watermead Park. It was once an isolated settlement, and its old English name ‘anliepe’ means isolated. The Parish Church of Our Lady & St Nicholas lies in the centre of the small village and is a fine late 14th century church.
The church was built in 1393, and it contains a famous relic, the Wanlip brass, which commemorates the building of the church by Sir Thomas and Lady Katherine Walsh. Following the marriage of Roger Walsh to Maud, daughter of Henry of Wanlip, circa 1230, until the death of Thomas Walsh in 1893, eight generations of the Walsh family lived at Wanlip. The brass contains the inscription,
“Here lyes Thomas Walsch knyght lorde of Anlep and dame Kat’ine his wife whiche in yer (their) tyme made the kirke of Anlep and halud the kirkyerd first in wirchip of god and of oure lady and seynt Nicholas that god have yer soules and mercy… 1393.”
Located amongst the gravestones in the church yard is an impressive headstone in the ‘Egyptian style’ and erected in memory of Rasselas Morjan. He was a former African slave, born in Abyssinia and employed by the local Palmer family (successors to the Walshes, as patrons of the Church) of Wanlip Hall. It is not known how he came to be in service at the Hall, but it is known that the Palmers were friends with the Babbingtons of Rothley, who were much involved in the anti-slavery campaign in the 19th century. It is not recorded when Rasselas Morjan was rescued from slavery or whether it was one of the Babbingtons who had helped secure his freedom, but it is thought that this may have occurred around 1835/6, when Morjan was in his early teens. The Babbingtons may have asked their friends, the Palmers, to provide a home for Morjan. This is what happened, and some years later he was baptized in the church. But sadly his life was short lived, and he died following an illness in 1839, aged only 19. The famous gravestone contains the inscription,
“Sacred to the memory of Rasselas Morjan, who was born at Macadi on the confines of Abyssinia and died at Wanlip Hall August 25th 1839 in the 19th year of his age. Rescued from a state of slavery in this life and enabled by God’s grace to become a member of his Church He rests here in the hope of a greater deliverance hereafter. This stone is raised in remembrance of his blameless life by one whom he loved.”
Wanlip Church was refurbished in 1904 and 1993, but still retains a unique architectural and spiritual heritage