A tribe known as the Corieltauvi constructed this ancient road, running along the southern edge of the Great Leicester Forest, a vast tract impenetrable of woodland which entirely covered west Leicestershire and stretched up into Nottingham and Derbyshire. The Salt Road would prove to be a major artery of trade and passage for many centuries to come. Indeed Richard III used this route to move his army to Bosworth Field in 1485. (Foss) The Corieltauvi tribe had moved to Britain from continental Europe some time after 100 BC.
They were a confederation of Belgae warriors who came over from the continent and carved out a kingdom, which stretched from the Humber to south of Leicestershire. These ancient Britons were not really a unified tribe, but a collection of like-minded peoples sharing the same outlook and way of life. The tribe generally did not rely on hill forts for their protection. It appears that the Corieltauvi were better farmers than warriors, for they lived in lowland settlements, usually beside streams, frequently surrounded, or even hidden, by areas of thick forest.
The Roman army arrived in Britain in 43 AD, and quickly set about its conquest. Roman Legions spread north and west and by AD 47 were pushing on into Leicestershire. At this time, Corieltauvi tribal chiefs were being severely harassed by their aggressive neighbours, the warlike Brigantes, and so welcomed the Romans as a source of protection and stability. Ostorius Scapula, the Roman Governor in Britain, therefore established the frontier zone delineated by the Fosse Way through the middle of friendly Corieltauvi territory.
Earl Shiltons’ first industry arrived during this period, as a pottery was established on Shilton Heath, (behind the modern day Heathfield High School). There was an excellent vein of clay found in the vicinity of Earl Shiltons’ Roman kiln. Early in the second century it started banging out low grade, grey ware pots, used for everyday cookery and storage (John Lawrence). Locally there was another pottery at Desford, and Stoney Stanton lived up to its name by boasting a Roman quarry.
The first recorded attacks on Saxon England by Viking raiders came at the end of the eighth century. Being well inland, early Viking raids did not affect the villagers of Earl Shilton. But in 874 – 875 a great heathen army of Danes moved up the River Trent and into the heart of Mercia. They attacked and overran Nottingham before moving their ships along the River Trent into North Leicestershire.
The Vikings called their farmsteads a ‘thorpe’, and designated who owned the land with the word ‘by’. There are many examples of villages with Viking names such as Elmesthorpe, Ullesthorpe, Ashby and Cosby, which show the Danish settlement throughout Leicestershire, while in Warwickshire there are few. The name Elmesthorpe, originally Aylmersthorpe, derived from a Saxon lord named Aylmer and Thorpe, a Danish word for village. Earl Shilton retained its Saxon name of Sheltone despite the settlement of Danes in the area. The name relates to a ‘shelf’ as the original village was perched on the hill around Hilltop.
Before the Norman Conquest the Saxon Theign, or Lord, of Earl Shilton is not known, but records show that Shultone had 5 ploughlands worth 5 shillings at the time of Edward the Confessor. Shultone’s neighbour, the village of Barwell, stood on the lands of Leofric, Earl of Mercia (John Lawrence).
Attached to the village of Sheltone were 12 acres (50,000 m²) of meadow and a mill of 16 pence (£0.07) value, with woodland 8 furlongs (1609 m) in length and 3 broad valued at 70 shillings (£3.50). Following the Norman invasion there must have been some inflation as during the time of Edward the Confessor Sheltone’s woodland was valued at 5 shillings (£0.25).
In 1094, Hugh de Grandmesnil was worn out with age and infirmity. In accordance with the common practice of the period, he took the habit of a monk, but expired six days after he had taken to his bed on 22 February at Leicester. Hugh’s eldest son, Robert, inherited his Norman lands in the Ouch valley, while Ivo de Grandmesnil became Sheriff of Leicester, and master of Earl Shilton manor.
The story of the Grandmesnils begins in the mid eleventh century, in central Normandy, where the family were famous for the breeding and training of the great war horses of the age, so prized by the knights. The De Grandmesnils had made a fortune from a string of stud farms which they owned on the plains of Ouch, but during the minority of Duke William the stability of Normandy began to break down. Norman society was brutal at the best of times, but now it went into overdrive, as old scores were settled as the barons made a grab for each other’s territories.
Roger de Beaumont brought savage warfare to the lands of Roger de Tosny, as he tried to grasp control of the Risle valley, in 1041. De Tosny was joined by his ally Robert de Grandmesnil, but in June their forces were shattered in a surprise attack by the Beaumont clan. In the savage fight, de Tosny and two of his sons were killed. Robert de Grandmesnil fared little better. He was carried from the field mortally wounded only to die of his wounds three weeks later. His two sons, Robert and Hugh, divided his property between them; Robert joined the church, while Hugh took on his father’s mantle of warrior politician.
Hugh de Grandmesnil wielded power at the court of William Duke of Normandy, but the paranoid Duke banished Hugh in 1058. For five years Hugh was out of favour at court but in 1063 he was reinstated as Captain of the castle of Neufmarch en Lions. The Grandmesnil star continued to rise and Hugh was made a cavalry commander for the invasion of England in 1066.
England’s’ King Harold was in Yorkshire defeating a Viking army when news was brought that the Duke of Normandy had crossed the channel, and he immediately started south to meet this new threat. Rashly, Harold forced marched his Saxon army to Kent where he met William on the battlefield of Hastings.
There is a popular story that Hugh de Grandmesnil almost came to a sticky end at the battle of Hastings (wace). As fierce battle raged, Hugh’s horse leapt a bush during a cavalry charge and his bridle broke. Barely able to keep upright in the saddle, and with no control over his horse, Hugh saw to his dismay that he was all alone, and careering towards a great band of Englishmen, each wielding a five-foot axe while baying for blood. In moments the English would surround him and hack him down. But just as Hugh was preparing to die and his enemies leaped in for the kill, the Saxons gave out a great shout in triumph. Hugh’s horse immediately shied in fear and bolted in the opposite direction. Frightened by the Saxon victory cry, the stallion carried its helpless master away from the English and back to the safety of his own lines. By shear luck Hugh had survived, aiding his Duke in victory. With the death of Harold, late in the day, Duke William became King William I of England.
Following the conquest William I assailed Leicester, and took the city by storm in 1068, about two years after the Battle of Hastings. In the assault a large portion of the city was destroyed, along with St. Mary's Church. William handed the Government of Leicester over to the tender mercies of Hugh de Grandmesnil, one of the Norman adventurers.
He also gave De Grandmesnil 100 manors for his services, sixty-five of them in Leicestershire, including Earl Shilton. He was appointed sheriff of the county of Leicester and Governor of Hampshire. He married the beautiful Adeliza, daughter of lvo, Count of Beaumont-sur-l'Oise, with whom he inherited estates in Herefordshire, and three lordships in Warwickshire. Hugh had become one of William the Conqueror's main men in England and was at the heart of Anglo-French politics. In 1067 he joined with William Fitz Osbern and Bishop Odo in the government of England, during the King's absence in Normandy. He also was one of the Norman nobles who interceded with the Conqueror in favour of Williams’ son Robert Court-heuse, and effected a temporary reconciliation.
Earl Shilton, like many English villages, first appears in recorded history in the Doomesday Book of 1086, which is the first complete tax record for the whole kingdom. One of the parcels of land gifted to Hugh de Grandsmesnil by King William the Conqueror was the village of Scheltone, now known as Earl Shilton. The village measured some 500 acres (2 km²), standing on the top of a low ridge in the southwest of the county. Schulton or Scheltone is an ancient word, which means shelf. The village boasted 3 ploughs, with 1 serf and 4 sokemen. Sokemen were the highest class of free peasants, a lower aristocracy, and were thought to be the descendents of the Danish army, who had settled in the East Midlands during the wars with Wessex. The village also had a priest, 10 villeins and 5 bordars. Villeins and Bordars were below Sokemen, slaves tied to the land and their lords whim. Villeins often held between 30 to , while Bordars were of a lower standing and usually had a smallholding. Attached to the village of Sheltone were 12 acres of meadow and a mill of 16 pence value, with woodland 8 furlongs in length and 3 broad valued at 70 shillings. Following the Norman invasion there must have been some inflation as during the time of Edward the Confessor Sheltone’s woodland was valued at 5 shillings. The population of the village would have been 75 to 80 people.
The fields of Earl Shilton manor were open spaces divided, almost imperceptibly, into long narrow strips. Only the fields being grazed by cattle were fenced. The others are open and are identifiable as separate fields only by the crops which they bear. The unusual detail is that the single crop in each field is separately farmed - in individual strips - by peasant families of the local village.
Some of the strips which belong to the local lord, were farmed for him by the peasants under their feudal obligations. Strip-farming is central to the life of a medieval rural community. It involves an intrinsic element of fairness, for each peasant's strips were widely spread over the entire manor; every family will have the benefit of good land in some areas, while accepting a poor yield elsewhere. The strips also enforce an element of practical village democracy. The system only works if everyone sows the same crop on their strip of each open field. What to sow and when to harvest it are communal decisions. The field cannot be fenced, or the cattle let into it, until each peasant has reaped his own harvest. But when the harvest was in the Peasant would also have no other choice but to pay their lord to grind the corn in his mill.
Ploughing too is a communal affair. The heavy wheeled plough needed for northern soils is expensive, as are horses or oxen to pull it. So a team of horses and plough works successive strips of an open field for different peasants. The long narrow shape of the strips reflects the difficulty of turning the team at each end. In addition to the open fields, each village or manor has common land where peasants have a right to graze cattle, collect wood, cut turf and at times catch fish.
Adelize the wife of Hugh de Grandmesnil died at Rouen in 1087, and was buried in the Chapter House of St. Evroult. They had five sons and as many daughters together - namely, Robert, William, Hugh, lvo, and Aubrey; and daughters Adeline, Hawise, Rohais, Matilda, and Agnes On the death of William the Conqueror, also in 1087, the Grandmesnil’s like most of the Norman barons were caught up in the civil war raging between his three surviving sons. Now lands in Normandy and England had two different masters, as Robert became Duke of Normandy and William Rufus was installed as the king of England. Royal family squabbles put fortunes at risk if Barons took the wrong side, and ultimately this was the fate of the Grandmesnil family for they tended to support the fickle Duke of Normandy against the Engilish king, although alegencies changed cotinually. Duke Robert did not always support his barons loyalty, which is illustrated in Hugh’s later struggles.
By 1090 Hugh de Grandmesnil, even as an old man, was still defending his lands in Normandy. Hugh made a stand along with his friend Richard de Courci at the Castle of Courci sur Dive, as Robert de Belesme laid siege to them. Belesme had driven his army into the lands along the river Orme, and the Norman Barons, in the true tradition of clan warfare, had quickly joined the fight depending on what suited their political and territorial ambitions.
Robert de Belesme did not have enough troops to totally surround the castle of Courci, so he set about building a great wooden engine called the Belfry. This monster was a great tower which had several floors and could be rolled up to the castle walls, delivering scores of knights to the front line on the castle walls. But unfortunately for Belesme, every time the Belfry was rolled forward, Grandmesnil sallied from the castle and attacked a different part of the line. This would mean that soldiers manning the Belfry were urgently needed elsewhere to beat back Grandmesnil’s attack. These skirmishes were frequent savage and bloody. On one occasion William, son of Henry de Ferrers (another Leicestershire landowner, whose family would become Earls of Derby), and William de Rupiere were captured by de Grandmesnil and ransomed for a small fortune. But the boot was on the other foot when Ivo de Grandmesnil, Hugh’s son, and Fitz Gilbert de Clare were seized by the attackers. Ivo was later released, but de Clare unfortunately did not survive the horrors Belesme’s dungeon (Planche).
As the siege continued a bizarre deadly ritual was played out. The inhabitants of Courci had built their oven outside the castle’s fortifications, and it now lay midway between the main gate and the enemy’s Belfry. The men of Courci therefore, would stand to arms and rush from the castle to surround the oven, so that the baker could go to work. Here they would defend their bread, as the attackers would attempt to carry it off. This would often lead to a general engagement as each side poured more troops into the fray. There was much slaughter over a few loaves of bread. But on one occasion Grandmesnil’s charge was so ferocious that De Belesme’s men were scattered. The men of Courci over ran the great siege engine. It was quickly torched, the blaze reducing it to a pile of ashes. But this success was short lived, as Duke Robert of Normandy took sides with De Belesme. It now looked all over for De Grandmenil and De Courci. Fortunately, King William Rufus arrived with a fleet in arms against his brother, and so Duke Robert and De Belesme simply packed up and went home. This illustrates Norman baronial society, where petty land squabbles escalate into all out warfare. Friends and allies are made on the spur of the moment to suit current circumstance, and enemies are very easily made.
In 1094, Hugh de Grandmesnil was again in England, and worn out with age and infirmity, finding and his end approaching. In accordance with the common practice of the period, he took the habit of a monk, but expired six days after he had taken to his bed on 22nd of February at Leicester. His body, preserved in salt and sewn up in the hide of an ox, was conveyed to the valley of the Ouche in Normandy by two monks. He was laid to rest at the Abbey of St. Evroult, and buried by the Abbot Roger on the south side of the Chapter House, near the tomb of Abbot Mainer.
Hugh’s eldest son, Robert, inherited his Norman lands in the Ouch valley, while Ivo de Grandmesnil became Sheriff of Leicester, and master of Earl Shilton manor. Following a long futile war with his brother William Rufus, Duke Robert through his tardiness failed to take the English crown. Duke Robert had decided to take off on the first crusade in 1095 and simply packed up and set off for Jerusalem. Robert would lease Normandy to William Rufus for 10,000 marks and use the money to equip a well armed force. While peasant armies struggled overland the well to do went by ship. William's brother Odo and many others, who had rebelled against William Rufus in 1088, felt that this was a good way to avoid the English kings wrath. Ivo de Grandmesnil, Sheriff of Leicester, along with his brothers thought it best to saddle up and get out of town.
Robert of Normandy was one of the leaders of the Christian army, but he was just a barbarian warrior in the opinion of the Emperor in Constantinople. The crude turbulent crusaders soon pushed on from the elegant court of Constantinople, to the siege of Nicaea, which quickly fell. This early success soon led to grumbling among the Christian army, as there was no sack of the city to satisfy their bloodlust and thirst for plunder. They did not trust the Emperor and friends now eyed each other with suspicion. The Crusaders now crossed the deserts of Anatolia in a nightmare journey arguing with their allies, who they relied on for food and guides. They managed to drive off the Turks at the battle of Ramalah but gloom soon descended again as ‘Gods army’ reached Antioch.
The siege of Antioch lasted for nearly eight months, and for the crusaders outside its walls life was miserable business. In just a few weeks the food had ran out, and the Turks who roamed the mountains killed any Christian who strayed to far from camp. A harsh winter turned the pilgrims’ inadequate shelter into a stinking bog. Clothes rotted on men’s backs, and just when things could not get any worse, a massive Turkish army approached. Despondency and panic took hold among the Christians and there were mass desertions.
But the Christians for once had a stroke of luck. A Turkish captain was persuaded to give up his tower for gold, and he led the crusaders into the city by night. Finally the great city had fallen, but the victory was a hollow one. Antioch was bare after an eight-month siege, there was no food to be had, and to cap it all the next day a fresh Turkish army appeared at the gates. The crusaders were caught like rats in a trap. Exhausted, sick and depressed the army of Christ did not even had enough fit men to man the entire length of the city walls. It was a grim daily struggle to hold the Turks at bay. On the third day of the siege, after a terrible battle on the walls that lasted well into the night, the Grandmesnil brothers, planned to escape their inevitable slaughter. William Grandmesnil, his brother Aubrey and Ivo of Grandmesnil, banded together with several other knights and their followers, and undercover of darkness secretly let themselves down from the wall on ropes. They fled on foot to the coast and in a wretched state reached the port of St Simeon.
The motley Crusaders in Antioch miraculously drove off the new Turkish army at Antioch, and eventually went on to take Jerusalem. While the Grandmesnils would come to regret their premature departure.
Upon his victorious return from the crusades, Duke Robert was appalled to find that his young brother had snatched the throne of England. William Rufus had died in a hunting accident, and Henry had moved swiftly to stake his shaky claim, and now sat firmly on the throne. It appears that Ivo de Grandmesnil was influenced by his brother Robert, who held the family lands in Normandy, and joined the faction fighting against King Henry of England. War quickly followed.
Duke Robert set sail for England in 1101 and his army caught up with Henry at Alton, on the Winchester road. A peace was quickly negotiated and Robert went back to Normandy with promises of English gold. Unfortunately, this left the Duke’s supporters high and dry and king Henry, ‘a famously unpleasant individual’ took note of his enemies, including the Grandmesnils (Morris).
King Henry bestowed the manors of Barwell, Burbage, Aston, Sketchley and Dadlington on Hugh de Hastings, as he set about getting rid of any baronial opposition. Thus, Ivo, Sheriff of Leicester, found that he was in disgrace at court, and also swamped with lawsuits and delayed judgements by the king. The cronies of the king’s court treated Ivo like a standing joke, and courtiers openly called him ‘ropedancer’, a reference to his escape from Antioch. His star was definitely on the wane, and when he over reacted to the jibes, Ivo was fined for turbulent conduct at court. To escape his situation, Ivo had little choice but to finance another trip to the Holy Land, where he could regain his honour fighting for god.
Ivo approached Robert Beaumont, Count Mulan, to procure a reconciliation with the king, and to advance him five hundred silver marks for his expedition. For this service the whole of Ivo's domains were pledged to Beaumont as a security for fifteen years. Beaumont was also to give the daughter of his brother Henry, Earl of Warwick, in marriage to Ivo's son, Baron Hinckley, who was still in his infancy, and to restore him his father's inheritance. This contract was confirmed by oath, and ratified by the King. But the luckless Ivo died on his crusade to Jerusalem, and when he did not return Robert Beaumont broke his oaths and took control of the whole of Leicester. He dispossessed Ivos’ children, forgot about the marriage, and added all the Grandmesnil estates to his own. By sleight of hand, Earl Shilton manor was now held by Robert Beaumont, who was created the first Earl of Leicester by the king.
Ivo’s son and heir, Hugh de Grandmesnil, Baron Hinckley, never recovered the honour of Leicester, however, his daughter, Petronella, married Robert de Beaumont, the third Earl of Leicester, and thus the two antagonistic families were joined.
Robert Beaumont, Count of Mulan, died on the 5th of June 1118, and his son, another Robert, known as Bossu, became the 2nd Earl of Leicester. Robert and his twin brother, Waleran, were taken into the court of King Henry I on the death of their father. Although Robert Bossu held lands throughout the country, in the 1120’s he began to rationalise his estates in Leicestershire. The estates of the See of Lincoln and the Earl of Chester were seized by force. This gave Bossu a compact block of estates which were bounded by Nuneaton, Loughborough, Melton Mowbray and Market Harborough.
As the defence of his lands became paramount, it is likely that Robert Bossu began the fortification of Shilton Hill. The Earl of Leicester’s’ new motte and bailey castle would protect the vale of Kirkby, along with Beaumont’s lines of communication to the South and West.
Earl Shilton's castle was built around the site of an existing twelfth century chapel called Saint Peters that lies between Church Street and Almey’s Lane. This area is known locally as ‘Hall Yard’. Nearby are the springs, from which the castle drew its water, now known as Spring Gardens.
The castle, as a fortress, lasted for 30 to 40 years before its destruction, and subsequent conversion to a hunting lodge. There are no records of a siege or fighting in the area of Earl Shilton, even during the civil war, which probably shows that the castle was doing its job (John Lawrence). When the church was rebuilt in 1854, the stone was used from the castle for its construction.
In 1173 it was Prince Henry who started a rebellion against his father King Henry II. Robert Beaumont the Earl of Leicester was in France when the rebellion began and eagerly joined the Prince’s faction fighting several battles. While still on the road, on October 17th at Farnham, outside Bury St Edmunds the king’s supporters attacked. Norfolk and Leicester were surprised and defeated. The miserable Beaumont was captured and carted off to prison at Falaise in Normandy.
The king now set about destroying the Earl of Leicester’s castles, and the demolition men soon moved into Earl Shilton. Only the fortress of Leicester and Mount Sorrell survived this destruction. However, Earl Shilton manor would remain, being a good source of revenue.
In medieval times the park was a rich mans playground, and definitely not for the leisure and recreation of the masses, rather like an exclusive golf club today. The original purpose of Shilton Park therefore, was to provide a hunting ground, stocked with game, for the lord of the manors’ sport and table. Internally the park was surrounded by a deep ditch, to keep the animals in, and behind it, a high fence to keep the general population out. The Earl of Leicester’s park of Tooley sat below Shilton Hill, stretching into the northwest towards Desford. It enclosed and it cost an absolute fortune to maintain.
The upkeep of the park lay in the hands of the Earls bailiff, or ‘Keeper of the park’, a much sought after occupation, as Shilton Park generated substantial revenue to help offset its huge running costs. It supplied a rich source of timber, horses were raised, and the park provided a continual supply of fresh meat, while fees were levied on anyone wishing to graze their animals on parklands. One of the perks of the bailiff was that he could graze his own animals in the park freely, at the Earls’ discretion.
The great earl appointed Richard de Schulton, the elder, as his man in Earl Shilton, whose job it was to manage the running of the estate. He also collected the Earls’ dues. A service that Richard de Schulton would perform for the Earls of Lancaster for roughly the next thirty years.
The Manor of Sheltone 1297 The main house with gardens and all its issues are worth three shillings. There are worth yearly £7 at 6d per acre. There are in villainage 34 bovates of land for which the villains render 10/- 5d. There are of land in villeinage which render 49s 8d. The natives hold 27 acres 1 rood which render 27s 41/2d. Free tenants render 27s 7 1/2 d. The cottars render 80 hens worth 6s 8d. There is a windmill and a watermill worth 53s 4d, a pasture worth 40shillings. The grazing is worth 10s. The Park of Tolowe (Tooley) is not extended because the bailiff has all his animals there.
A knight, Richard de Schulton, the elder, held the land from Edmund, Earl of Lancaster, and saw to the daily business of the estate. Richard is the first person that we know who lived and worked in Earl Shilton. His recorded history began when he attended King Edward I Easter court at Leicester in 1283. Richard de Schulton and his wife, Constance, became lord and lady of the manor, and had at least two sons, Richard, the younger, and John. The family were minor Leicestershire gentry who are known to have held other lands in Thurleston, Mershton, Normanton juxta Thurleston, Weston juxta Blaby, Normanton Turville, Countesthorp and Bitmeswelle.
Thomas of Lancaster became the new overlord of Shilton Manor in 1298, on the death of his father Edmund ‘Crouchback’. Earl Shilton manor at this time had worth yearly £7. Two years later, in 1300, Thomas of Lancaster was fighting in the Scottish Wars alongside his uncle Edward I at the siege of Caerlaverock castle.
The same year Roger of Desford’s son, Richard, along with his friend Simon, son of the provost, were caught cutting down trees and carting them from Priors Wood in Kirkby Mallory, and Richard de Schulton brought them up before the king’s justice later that year demanding compensation.
It was some time before 1314, Richard de Schulton, the elder, died. His wife Constance, re married and William de Nevil moved into the manor with her. This took up much court time, as the family squabbled over their inheritance with the younger Richard de Shulton.
William de Nevil was also in court for various crimes and thefts of his property. In 1321 three men from Shilton, Ricard Blodewe, John Annys and John, son of Rodger, were all charged with taking Will de Nevils’ boar, worth 20 shillings and hunting it maliciously with dogs.
In 1324 Henry, who had succeeded his brother to the title of Leicester and Lancaster, met with John Norton Mayor of Leicester and his burgesses at Shulton Manor. The great Earls’ arrival at Earl Shilton must have been a grand occasion, as accommodation and food were made available for a large retinue of barons, knights and servants.
Cost to the Mayor and Burgess of Leicester for meeting Henry, the Earl of Leicester and Lancaster, at the manor of Shulton 1324.
The burgess records recall the expenses of the occasion
To Robert of Cadeby for having his counsel 2 shillings On Friday before the Lords coming - bread 6 ½ d - wine 2 s 8d
Sent to Sir Thomas le Blount and Sir Ric de Rivers Present to the Earl - bread 29s - wine £8 16s - 3 carcasses of beef £2 5s - 7 pigs £1 11s 6d - with porterage and dressing 7d - 20 quarters of oats £1 17s 6d 21 pairs of hose, given to the esquires and officials £1 11s 0d To the Earls messenger 1 shilling for hose To the poultry keeper 6d for shoes Total £17 17s 31/2d Borough of Leicester records
An armed raid took place in Earl Shilton in 1326. Nicholas de Charnels, at the head of a band brigands rode into Earl Shilton intent on plunder (John Lawrence). This party of raiders contained three other knights, the parson of Aylmesthorp (Elmsthorpe), along with their servants and retainers. They burst into the manor house yard and grabbed what they could, eventually riding off with goods and chattels worth £300. Will de Nevill must have been distraught for he had lost an absolute fortune. But the manor was held from Henry Earl of Lancaster, and it was not long before the miscreants were up in court. In the Trinity court of Edward II, held in Leycester 1326 -
Nicolas de Carnels, Parson John de Charnels, Walter de Bodicote of Weston, Richard de la Hay of Aylmersthorp and Roger de Claybrook of Leycester, were made to answer for their crime.
Richard de Schulton, the younger, had been born in the twilight years of the thirteenth century, and would become a young knight in the retinue of Henry de Ferrers of Groby. Henry de Ferrers, was a notable warrior who fought for Edward III in Scotland and France. Henry married Isabel Verdon and took part in the first battle of the Hundred Years War at Sluys. On 23rd July 1340 the English attacked the French fleet. Sluys was a dramatic naval victory for Edward III. The French ships were chained together, while the English remained mobile, and were able to destroy the French ships
The grand old lady, Constance de Shulton expired on the 20th May 1349, the year the Black Death arrived at Earl Shilton. Her second husband Will de Nevil had already died, some twelve years before, in 1337. Whether her death was related to the dread plague is unknown, but she was over seventy years of age. She had seen off two husbands who had been Lords of the manor at Earl Shilton, and had been at the heart of Leicestershire knightly society since the rein of Edward I. Her son Richard, who must have been in his 50’s, took over running the family estates at Earl Shilton. Richard de Shulton also lived for over seventy years, but by 1361 John de Neld held the manor at Shulton on the death of Henry Grosmont, Earl of Leicester.
In the September of 1365, burglars were at work in Neubold Verdon. Tomas Danyel of Shulton and William Bannebury of Neubold, took away goods and chattels from the home of William Savage, the parson, and ‘dispastured his hurbage with cattle.’
John of Gaunt the fourth son of King Edward III, was born at Ghent (or Gaunt) in Flanders, in 1340. In 1359, at Reading Abbey, he married Blanche, the younger of the two daughters of Henry Plantagenet, Duke of Lancaster. The manor of Earl Shilton was given to Gaunt as part of her dowry.
John of Gaunt would often enjoy the hunting offered by Shilton Park and its Manor, when he was in residence at Leicester Castle.
Robert de Swillington, a knight, was leasing a plot of land in Shilton Park by 1392. This included Priors Wood, 10 acres in Kirkby Mallory, and Shilton Wood, another . It was passed onto Roger de Swillington, who on his death, in 1418, left the property to his son John. Unfortunately John de Swillington did not have long to enjoy his inheritance. He died the following year and the woodland was passed to his sister Joan. The De Swillington family’s association with Shilton Park ended with the death of Joan in 1427.
A gang of serial poachers were caught in Shilton Park in 1420. Three men from Thorneton, Yeoman Thomas Harryson, together with Thomas Jakes and William Northowe, both husbandmen, aided by John Oakes of Odeston, were all charged with ‘breaking the kings park of Schulton and hunting therein’. William Armeston, representing the king also accused them of the same crime at Desford and Leicester Firth (New Parks). How the court disposed of these illicit hunters is not recorded, but the kings retribution would probably be administered in a swift and grizzly fashion.
Hostilities in France continued, but momentum swung to the French with the appearance of Joan of Arc in 1428. The Nock Verges, Earl Shiltons’ archery ground, would have been in constant use during this time as the wars with France raged on.
During the rein of the Yorkist King Edward IV, the Shilton Park laws were rescinded, probably as it had belonged to the Lancastrian princes, and the land was given over to the Ruding family.
On Friday, August 19th, King Richard III left Nottingham and travelled south toward the city of Leicester. In Leicester, with his captains still mustering his men, he learned from his scouts that the army of Lord Stanley was at Stoke Golding while William Stanley was at Shenton. Henry Tudor and his small army were camped around Atherstone. On the following day, Richard and his royal army left the city of Leicester expecting to meet his rival near Hinckley.
Swinging into the southwest, Richard is thought to have used the ancient track way to Shilton Hill and his army spent the night camped around the churches of Shulton and Elmesthorpe. No doubt all the food in the village was requisitioned before the royal army moved on to Sutton Cheyney and Ambion Hill where Richard was defeated and killed.
But even in Earl Shilton, a manor that historically belonged to the house of Lancaster, cheers were muted. For as the Earl of Richmond’s foreign mercenaries marched on to Leicester they carried the sweating sickness with them. This can be traced in contemporary records, from Milford Haven to Leicestershire (Biggs). Sweating sickness, also known as the "English sweate" (Lat. sudor anglicus), was a mysterious and highly virulent disease which struck England and later Europe in a series of epidemics the first beginning in 1485 and the last in 1551, afterwards apparently vanishing. The onset of symptoms was dramatic and sudden, with death often occurring within hours. Its cause remains unknown.
At the end of the Wars of the Roses Edward Trussel held plots of land in Derby, Earl Shilton and was Overseer of Elmesthorpe manor held from Lord de la Zouche. Elmesthorpe was valued at £34 at this time, while his holdings in Earl Shilton were worth 40 shillings. When Trussel died his children were still young and his lands were held by the king, for his son, John Trussel, was still in his minority. Unfortunately John Trussel did not have very long to enjoy his estates, for he quickly followed his father, dying on 20th December 1499. The next heir was John’s sister, Elizabeth, who was born in 1497, and was ten years old when the court granted her inheritance in 1507. We do not know what befell little Elizabeth Trussel, but shortly after this period Elmesthorpe was depopulated and the church fell into disrepair.
Following the battle of Bosworth, Henry VII reinstated the Park laws for Earl Shilton. Henry Churchman was appointed bailiff for the parks upkeep, and also bow bearer for the park of Leicester Firth (New Parks). George Hastings became the keeper of Earl Shilton and Hinckley Parks in 1507, and by 1560 the keeper was George Vincent.
During the rein of Henry VIII, the crown gave a parcel of the lands in Earl Shilton to Trinity Hospital, Cambridge.
By the turn of the seventeenth century, Sampson Goodhall, gentleman, was the head of a well to do family living in Earl Shilton. The summer of 1608 saw the family owning several cottages, pastures, ploughlands and meadows, along with orchards and gardens. However, the Goodhalls’ were to suffer badly despite their wealth (John Lawrence).
In 1611, Leicestershire suffered from a severe outbreak of the Plague. Infected houses were marked with a cross, business was practically suspended, and there, seemed to be no one with sufficient knowledge to cope with, or mitigate, the effects of the epidemic. During the plague years Shilton suffered like most other villages.
Sampson Goodhall began burying his family at the beginning of May - Will Goodhall, Sampsons son, buried May 9th. Rich Goodhall, another son, was buried May 10th. Anna Goodhall, buried May 9th. Maria Goodhall, buried June 1. Ann Goodhall, Sampsons wife, was buried June 8th. In total for the year 1611.
21 deaths occurred in Earl Shilton, double that of the previous year (Parish Records).
Sampson survived the plague, for by the Autumn of 1615, he and his new wife, Isobel, were in the law courts of King James I. George Arlington esq paid damages of £60 to the Goodhalls, in a dispute over cottages, land and all manner of tithes arising in Earl Shilton.
It is interesting to note that at this period of plague William Holdsworth, the parish curate, made double entries in the registers. This is the only time that it occurs throughout the registers. The reason for it remains unknown.
The Thomas Family also suffered during the plague - from the old registers of 1611. Alexander Thomas, buried April 28th. Will Thomas and Wife, buried April 21st. John Thomas, son of Will, buried May 18th. Thomas, son of Will, buried May 25th
In 1636, John Wightman gave £50 for the poor of Hinckley and a field in Earl Shilton was also let, earning £3 5s per year. By 1711 Peter Cappur was the steward of the manor in Shilton and John Wightmans legacy was in dispute. At the Court Baron for that year, on October 13th, Francis Thompson a tenant of Studford Close, Earl Shilton, surrendered a field of 2 ½ acres to Nathaniel Ward and Thomas Sansome, held in trust, for the poor of Hinckley. This charity ran for some time for in 1809, Rob Thompson and Thomas Sansome were the trustees.
The Purchase of Shilton Park at Tooley
Henry Morrison was knighted at Whitehall in 1627, and he and his wife purchased Simon de Montforts old hunting park of Tooley. Their daughter, Letticia, married Luis Carey, Viscount Falkland and they resided for a time at the Park. Back in 1608, Tooley contained 3,500 trees worth nearly £1000.
During the crisis of the English Civil War, Viscount Falkland fought for the King in the Royalist army. At the failed siege of Gloucester in 1643, many times he exposed himself fearlessly. But later that year his luck ran out at the First Battle of Newbury. On the 20th September, he met his death leading a suicidal charge against a hedge lined by the enemy's musketeers.
From 1642 onwards the broad tract of country between Ashby de la Zouche, Leicester and the Watling Street became the buffer zone between the rival garrisons of Royalists and the Parliamentarians. One of the first shocks that the war had in store for the civilian population was the sudden increase in the number of new taxes that had to be raised for the support of these new garrisons. Records show that the Parliamentary tax for the combined parishes of Burbage and Sketchley was £2-8shillings and 4 pence per month.
Clergymen who openly sided with Parliament were easy targets for Royalist raiding parties. Colonel Hastings, with four troops of horse ‘coursed about the country as far as Dunton Bassett and Lutterworth, and took near upon a hundred clergymen and their sympathisers, carrying them as prisoners to Hinckley.
On the other side Parliament listed nine clerks from the Market Bosworth and Hinckley area who suffered sequestration for supporting the king. Thomas Cleveland, of Hinckley, and John Lufton, rector of lbstock, had offered money or prayers for the king. William Holdsworth, the curate of Earl Shilton, openly reviled the Parliament and stood accused of reading a Royal Protestation in the middle of a sermon.
Parliaments Captain Flower, while temporarily billeted at Stoney Stanton, ordered the delivery of twenty strikes of provender for his horses by the inhabitants of Burbage and Sketchley. On another occasion his troop ordered two quarters of provender from Stapleton. The largest claim for free quarter was for a force of two hundred and eleven troops and seventy two horses under Colonel Purefoy and Colonel Bosseville, when they set up camp at Hinckley in the summer of 1643. The townspeople of Hinckley also provided quartering for twenty three horsemen for a single night in 1644. While Parliamentary troopers from Astley House stood accused of taking a rapier, a swordbelt and ‘a snapsack’ worth 8 shillings, from old Sampson Goodhall when they passed through Earl Shilton. (Alan Roberts 2001)
Following the Civil War the Parliamentarians began to take revenge on their old enemies. Earl Shiltons’ Richard Churchman was listed among the gentry who in 1645 “compounded” for their estates with the Parliamentary Sequestration Committee, along with Thomas Crofts, another royalist. This meant he had to pay a heavy fine to restrieve his estates.
Also the local curate William Holdsworth was accused of being a royalist or “malignant”. John Walker, who wrote about the Sufferings of the Clergy during the Grand Rebellion, records that Holdsworth was hauled before the County Committee in 1646 for “reviling” Parliament. His offences included ignoring the Directory set by Parliament to enforce puritan reforms, refusing sacraments to those not kneeling, allowing Sunday games and reading a royalist Protestation in the middle of a sermon. He was also accused of being “several times drunk” and using “old notes as new sermons” for the past twenty years.
In 1694, Sir Verney Noel, of Kirkby Mallory, left £100 for the poor children of Earl Shilton to be sent to London, to be taught the art of Framework Kitting.
Things change little it seems, for payment of council tax, or community charge, has never been popular and has perennially been tarnished with tales of corruption. In Earl Shilton Vestry meetings were originally held in the parish church but later moved to the Plough Inn. Later the Baron’s Court replaced the Vestry.
John Goadby died in 1714, and in his will he bequethed to the ‘minister and poor Baptists in Earl Shilton - my close and its associated lands, commonly called Crowhearst. And to take any rents, fines or profits, for the disposal of the said Baptists.
Many generations of Cheneys also worked tirelessly for the Baptists, the last dying in1815. A Baptist meetinghouse was erected in 1758, which was enlarged in 1844, while the Sunday school began in 1801.
In 1861 economic disaster struck the village when the American Civil War broke out and cotton could not be exported. The Baptist minister, Reverend Parkinson, was forced to resign through lack of funds. Crowhearst and its land was eventually sold to Mr W H Cotton in 1928 and the money invested in government stock
By 1664 Earl Shilton had thirty-four households assessed for hearth tax, and during the rein of William III in 1687 there were fifty-two houses assessed in the village.
Licence of Cottages used for Worship in Earl Shilton
1720 Jeremiah Parker 1722 Johnathan Johnstone 1725 Joshua Brotherton 1726 Joseph Smith 1731 Samuel Cheney 1760 William Randen 1790 Daniel Harrold 1792 Thomas Green
Note that not all dissenters were Baptists. William Randen was known as a Presbyterian (John Lawrence).
Boothby kept a mistress, Catherine Holmes, at Groby Pool House. But a local vicar informed Boothby's wife about her husband's mistress. After an angry wife had confronted him, Boothby got hold of the minister in question, and almost drowned the fellow in Groby pool (John Lawrence).
Superstition was rife in eighteenth century England, and there are many strange tales of ghosts, witches and spirits. A woman of Earl Shilton parish declared ‘that she had been bewitched by an old woman from Aston in 1776. Her accuser saw the old woman unceremoniously thrown into the horse pond, despite her 80 years of age. Luckily the old woman just managed to escape with her life.’
There was also the strange tale that came to light in 1778. A house in Earl Shilton, was said to be plagued by its former long dead occupant. Tables and chairs were known to dance about the room, while pewter dishes jumped off the shelves. But alarm was worse when wigs and hats flew off the heads of their wearers. Villagers agreed that the disturbed spirit was a local man who could not rest in his grave because he had been defrauded in life. (Palmer 2002)
An Elmesthorpe farmer, complained in 1811 that, ‘it is common almost everywhere amongst the women that when they brew, they make crosses to keep the witch out of the mash-tub, so that the ale might be fine.’ He added that ‘farmers and common folk were very great believers in old popular tales of ghosts, fairies and witches, and of people and cattle being under the evil tongue.’
Extract from “Leicester and Nottingham Journal, July 6th, 1776:
“A woman of the parish of Earl Shilton, in the County of Leicester, has been subject for some years to a disorder resembling the bite of the tarantula, and so astonishing the ignorance of many, that they imagine that she has been bewitched by an old lady in the neighbouring village of Aston. On Thursday, June 20th last, the afflicted, her husband and son went to the old woman, and with dreadful imprecations, threatened to destroy her instantly unless she would submit to have blood drawn from some part of her body, and unless she would give the woman a blessing and remove her disorder. The son, who is a soldier, drew his sword and pointing to her breast, swore he would plunge it into her heart if she did not immediately comply. When the old woman had gone through the ceremony they went off, but the person not being cured they collected a great many people and on Monday last returned to Aston pretending to have a warrant to justify their proceedings. Then with uncommon brutality they took the poor creature from her house, stripped her quite naked, and after tying her hands and legs together threw her in a horse pond. She was then taken out, and in this shameful condition exhihited for the sport of an inhuman mob. As she did not sink they concluded she really was a witch, and several returning the following day determined to discipline her in this cruel manner until they should put an end to her wretched existence. The posse was not sufficiently strong, so she escaped for that time. The consideration of the old woman being over 80 years of age, and of her being a pauper and friendless, render it the duty of magistrates to exert themselves to bring to punishment these atrocious offenders.
An Elmesthorpe farmer, complained in 1811 that, ‘it is common almost everywhere amongst the women that when they brew, they make crosses to keep the witch out of the mash-tub, so that the ale might be fine.’ He added that ‘farmers and common folk were very great believers in old popular tales of ghosts, fairies and witches, and of people and cattle being under the evil tongue.’
In 1760, Alderman Gabriel Newton, of Leicester gave to Earl Shilton and Barwell £20 16s from his charity, for the educating of 20 poor boys from each village.
James Perrott was a successful surgeon who worked in Earl Shilton. He married the widow, Lady Ann Sharpe, and they lived in the village for over 40 years, until she died 1791, at the age of 62 years.
Famous for his prowess as a wrestler Samuel Marvin also lived in Earl Shilton.
The last soul to be incarcerated in the Earl Shilton stocks was a man called ‘Peg-leg Watts’. What crime this local ‘ne’re do well’ had committed we have no idea, but the stocks were situated opposite the old churchyard. Also in the vicinity there was the village round house or gaol. Unfortunately all traces of the old lock-up have now disappeared.
An Act of Enclosure was passed in 1778. Earl Shiltons’ open fields, meadows and 1,500 acres (6 km²) of heath land were all enclosed. Thomas, Viscount Wentworth, was entitled to all small tithes vacarial dues in Shilton.
Scrymshire Boothby had the entitlement of the great tithes, payment in lieu of tithes, hay and meadow lands in Hall fields and Breach field. The following year Scrymshire Boothby sold Tooley Park to John Dod, and the remainder of the estate was divided. Shilton Heath, famed for over a century for its steeple chasing, was gone for good.
Viscount Wentworth also had his lands in Elmsthorpe enclosed, including an extensive rabbit warren. He exchanged these after 1778 for two acres of land in Shilton parish.
The gates were administered by the Turnpike Trusts, and were bid for every year by prospective candidates, and this led to a deal of local corruption. Bribes were offered to secure the contract, and not all of the money was spent on the upkeep of the roads. Many small parishes like Earl Shilton had a large mileage of roads within their boundaries and found it well-nigh impossible to maintain them.
Roads and pathways were very bad indeed. Cart-ruts ran deep down the main streets and the stones on the old “corseys” (footpaths) must have been very dangerous at times. Loose stone was very often strewn about, and it remained for the carts to roll them in, and in the era of the toll-gate the wider the wheels the less toll they paid to go through them. A great handicap, however, was the fact that these carts often followed in the existing ruts as a matter of course, and so made them worse than ever. Roads and repairs were paid for through the Vestry, which had replaced the Barons Court of the 17th century. The Vestry met for many years in the Plough Inn, Church Street, setting the parsons rate, church rate, poor rate, overseers rate, watch rate and the highway rate for the parish.
Stagecoaches passed frequently through Earl Shilton, it being on the route to Hinckley and Birmingham from Leicester. Coaches with names such as the Accommodation, The Magnet and The Alexander were all running in 1830. Coaches stopped at a place near to the White House in Wood Street, beside the Lord Nelson Inn. On one tragic occasion a coach overturned near to the entrance of Burbage Common and a man was killed in the ensuing wreckage (John Lawrence).
In 1800 there were 249 inhabited houses in Earl Shilton, with a further 8 uninhabited. The population stood at 1287, 655 males and 632 females. Agriculture employed 118 villagers, while the 716 souls employed in trade and manufacture showed the dramatic rise of stocking manufacture.
The Earl Shilton village population had risen to 2017 by 1831.
Many Earl Shilton people in the 1840’s became destitute and sought refuge in the Union Workhouse at Hinckley, locally known as “The Bastille.” Things had become very bad, and are spoken of as the “hungry forties.” Queen Victoria ordered an inquiry into distress, and sent in 1843 a commission headed by a Mr. Muggeridge, and afterwards much valuable information was obtained from interviews with work-people and employers. Earl Shilton frame-work knitters and hosiers, gave evidence at the enquiry of 1843. Rich Wileman, of Shilton, described himself as the oldest stocking manufacturer in the kingdom, and stated that many thousands of dozens of socks were sent to the American market every year.
At a time when a reasonable daily wage was 4/-, a report showed the weekly earnings in 27 parishes varied from 4/- to 8/- a week, Hinckley district being 5/3, Bosworth 4/6, Ibstock 4/- and Shepshed 5/6. Frame rents in the cottages were high and varied in different parishes from 1/- to 3/- per week. This rent and the addition of the vicious Truck Act (1831), made poverty and disease rife in the Leicestershire parishes (John Lawrence). The Truck Act stated that goods had to be paid for in cash instead of in kind and, as usual, hit the poorest the hardest. Had it not been for their allotments ground, things would have been much worse, as it was many were close to starvation.
In the year 1844 there were in Shilton alone 650 stocking frames. Mr. J. Homer, giving evidence to the commission, said that the whole of these were in the houses of the workpeople at that time. Neither the workshop, nor the factory system was in operation in Earl Shilton until after the findings of the Commission were made public.
Stocking making in the home quickly died out with the introduction of the factory system. Both the boot and shoe and the hosiery industry eagerly took to the new system of working and for the first time people began to be regulated by time, as the factory needed villagers to work in unison. The last known stocking-frame in Earl Shilton disappeared when its owner, a man named Mr. Pratt, who lived in Wood Street, died.
Earl Shilton saw its’ first hosiery strike in 1859. The employers involved were Messrs. Homer & Everard. Almost 130 operatives took strike action, and an appeal was sent out to workers of three counties for aid for the Earl Shilton strikers to fight it.
There is no doubt that the 1840’s were wretched times, and sheep stealing, highway robbery and burglary were common. It was not safe to go out after dark. If a man was caught sheep stealing, he was sentenced to fourteen years transportation. Fourteen years transportation was also the sentence for anyone who was driven by hunger to take a pheasant from the woods.
A Barwell man called Bottewell was sentenced to death for robbery. But luckily, the local rector, Mr Metam, managed to get the sentence commuted to transportation to Australia. Shortly after arriving in Botany Bay Bottewell was pardoned, after another man confessed to the crime. Bottewell made the slow passage home to England, and lived out the rest of his life back in Barwell.
In the year 1849 there were two private schools, Mars Ring’s day school; Arrabella and Sussanah Chamberlain had a ladies’ school, and according to Hagars Directory of 1849 the Petty Sessions were held in the Plough Inn every alternate Tuesday. The Court Leet, embracing 25 parishes, was also held there.
Mr Parsons was the owner of the stone quarry and Mr W Toon was manager. The quarry was later taken over by the parish overseers.
William Pride was the excise officer William Deanville was county police officer
Chapel of St. Peter (now St. Simon and Jude) Curate Rev. John Longhurst; Newton’s Free School: Will Thornloe Walker, master. Boarding and Day School: Will Thornloe Walker, master. Boot and shoe makers: Joseph Breward, John Chandler, James Pawley, John Rowton, Will Cotton. Bricklayer: John Carr. Butchers: John Burton, Will Buxton, Will Coley, Thomas Wileman. Carpenters: Stephen Bannister, Thomas Breward, Will Lampert, Will Mansfield. Cooper: John Jackson. Framesmiths: John Hancock, Richard Wileman. Gardener: Daniel Harrold. Grocers and Druggists: John Elliot, John Homer, James Kinder, Richard Wileman. Hairdresser and perfumers: Henry Lowe. Linen and woollen drapers: Ralph Oldacres Hobill, Joseph Langton. Malters Will Randon, Sam Salisbury, Sam Tomlinson. Hosiery manufacturers: Will Cooper, John Hancock, Will Spencer, Thomas Toon, Rich Wileman, Thomas Wileman. Miller: John Reynolds. Plumbers, painters, glaziers: John Carter, Joseph Dormer. Saddler and harness-maker: Sam Salisbury. Shopkeepers: Will Dent, Mary Elliot, Robert Featon, Tames Green, Thomas Toon, Thomas Wileman. Spirit dealer: Joseph Langton. Straw hat maker: Sussanah Hodgson. Surgeons: Joseph Burdett Evans, Thomas Spencer. Tailors: John Coley, John Cotton, Thomas Kirkland, Thomas Oliver Tallow chandler: John Elliot. Wheelwrights: Stephen Bannister, Will Mansfield. Leech dealer: Sarah Smith (1861).
Taverns and Public Houses— Bowling Green: Will Hancock. Dog and Gun: Will Sargent. The George: Eleanor Baker. Lord Nelson: Thomas Aimey. Nags Head: John Spooner (in 1830 Isaac Steane). Plough: John Tibbals. Red Lion: Thomas Oliver. Royal Oak: Elisabeth Orchard. Walnut Tree: Will Randen. Duke of Wellington: John Ladhin. Horse and Trumpet: Joseph Chamberlain.
Other Industry Wool was bleached in a yard, which stood between Huit farm and Mill lane.
The minister of the parish, Rev. F. Tower, who saw Shilton in an impoverished state, was parish priest for 27 years. His farewell address to the working people of Earl Shilton was given in 1882, on January 1.
“….We are apt to speak of poverty now, but poverty is nothing in comparison of what poverty was then. Ten, twelve, and in a few cases fifteen hours work for stocking makers a day, or wages about 7/- or 8/- a week. It cannot be denied that visible marks of true prosperity were but faintly seen even here and there among the working population of that day. ….The world was hard upon the poor stockingers, poverty, misery, sin met us again and again in workpeople’s houses. … Some working men thought too much of themselves and became leaders of discontents, and others too little of them-selves and losing self-respect appeared as if bowed down to the very dust. Some in the parish lived unmarried yet with children, and these last were turned aside by their parents as ragged children fit only for the ragged school kept only that honourable old man, William Swinney, the parish clerk. Some lived as if there were neither a heaven by doing well, or a hell by doing ill. The surface of religion stood out lightly in relief from the level of ordinary life. At last came the Cotton Famine, and 1,200 people of the village were thrown out of work, a most pitiable time we had of it.”
There were five bells hung in the new ‘crockette’ spired church, where previously there had been three in the old chapel of St Peters. Three more bells were hung in 1921, in honour of those who had fallen in the great war, making a total of eight. The wooden beams were taken out at this time and replaced by steel girders, to support the new peal.
Parish Vicars 1854 –1947 Rev F Tower, Rev Willis, Rev Maughan, Rev H V Williams, Rev E Pillifant and the Rev E E C Jones
The Rebuilding of Elmsthorpe Church
The Reverend Tower was instrumental in the rebuilding of Elmsthorpe Church by giving the first £60 for its reconstruction. The reopening was on Tuesday, July 4, 1868, at a cost of £600.
The first evening service was in 1924. The organ was installed in 1931 at a cost of £200 (it was repaired and restored in 1992 at a cost of £5,500). Before 1931, there was a harmonium. In 1931, there was no electricity, so the organ had to be pumped by hand (the handle is still there). This was dedicated by Dr Cyril Bardsley, Bishop of Leicester, who is the first bishop ever recorded as visiting Elmesthorpe Church, on Advent Sunday. Matins and Holy communion at 11am were followed by an organ recital at 3pm by Mr Bonsir from Barwell.
The church was lit by oil lamp prior to electric lighting and electric heating was installed in 1962.
Before the regulation of the First World War it was possible for men to buy beer before breakfast time in the village.
Many Shilton men joined the old ‘Volunteers’, belonging to the Hinckley Company; these were later incorporated in the ‘Militia’. Clad in their red jackets, blue trousers and pipe clayed trimmings with pointed helmets, it is said that on Saturday’s night Earl Shilton resembled a garrison town when everyone wore their uniform.
The Leicester Mercury was first published in 1836. Newspapers during the eighteenth and nineteenth century were very few, and many Shiltonians brought up before the Great War, can remember when one copy sufficed for several families. These were read aloud in the candlelight of the poor homes of the villagers, the few people able to read being in great demand. The old Candle House, where candles were made, stood for many years in Almeys Lane, and during renovations to the Baptist Chapel much brickwork of the Candle House was incorporated in the building.
Election days in the village were, prior to the franchise, very hectic. The candidates usually arrived at the polling stations (usually the schools) in horse cabs. They were often assaulted by the crowds, and top hats worn in those days were often sent flying. Many of the rougher element were given beer and locked up for the day to preserve the peace (Foster).
Morris dancing took place on Plough Monday, when the dancers went round the village to collect money. If this was refused they entered the house and refused to quit until ransom was paid either in cash or food. Fishing nets on long canes were carried to reach bedroom windows where they had locked doors. German bands also visited the village, as did travelling bears, which danced to music.
In 1861 the village crier was Thomas Foster, who advertised sales, meetings and public news. The last man to hold this post was a blind man called Bannister, who also made baskets.
Houses in the village were rented by groups of men who, when they had finished their work, then “shopped it”, or took it, to some central depot in the village, and were usually paid each trip. Sweaters, or child labour, were often exploited, and regularly after a period of drunkenness these sweaters were compelled to sit working all night with their elders to make up for lost time. Many worked from the tender age of eight or nine, in the local term “got more kicks than half pence.”
He worked the stocking frame with his wife Matilda, and gradually purchased more frames and rented them out in the community. Job would pay for the stockings produced, minus the rent of the frame. Job purchased a small building just off wood Street, and the early factory was powered by steam.
Horse and drey took the factory produce to Elmesthorpe Station. Old Job Toon had three sons Alfred, James and Carey. Alfred and James went into the hosiery business, while Carey became a successful local farmer.
Alfred was the senior partner and earned a salary of £5 per week. In those early days stocking were not so delicate and were sold by weight, warmth not high fashion appears to be paramount as the heaviest were the most expensive. During this period much of Toon’s trade was with South America. Alfred had four sons, two of them died during the 1930’s, and his two surviving sons, Stanley and Carey, took over the firm that now operated over 1000 machines knitting machines.
The “Wake,” was always held on the last Sunday in October. People had a full week’s holiday from work, public houses were open all day, and “captains” were elected to take charge of the singing. The captain was also responsible for the whips round for beer, which entitled all and sundry to drink together and so retain the company.
The wide portion of the Hollow, nearest the Wesleyan Chapel, was the earliest site for the Wake amusements. The stalls and roundabouts extended the full length of Wood Street the wakes also incorporated a procession around the village.
Mr. Hopkins, a well-known resident of Keat’s Lane, was a proprietor of amusements A large boat on wheels, and drawn by horses, went the whole length of the village, and was patronised very much by the children.
At the turn of the 20th century A field in Station road also became the site for the annual wake or fair. The amusement part of the “Wakes,” roundabouts, etc., were very prominent on this field.
On the other side of the road there were also numerous entertainments from time to time, including those well-known “Strolling Players” of Holloway’s Theatre. Many people enjoyed these shows and were able to see fresh plays every night during the thespians stay at Shilton. No one may now recall the plays “Maria Martin and the Red Barn,” “The Face at the Window,” “The Dumb Man of Manchester,” but they did pull in the crowds (John Lawrence).
In the village a knocker-up was employed in the 188o’s and for over 50 years ensured that people attended the early Sunday morning classes.
It is possible to go the whole length of “Old Shilton” without touching the main street. The paths I refer to are known as “The Backs.” Indeed Shilton is a maze of these alleys and “Backs.” The reason is, I suppose, that the old field pathways have kept their rights of way throughout the centuries, and the haphazard planning of the straggling village made desirable the small alleys leading to the main street.
Wood Street, locally known as Wood End, is the way leading to the wood referred to in the Domesday Survey, via the “Heath Lane,” which was noted in the 17th century for steeple chasing. The Raven family possessed a monster mangle. This was considered to be an outsize of its kind, and washing came from all over Shilton to The Hollow to he mangled by it.
The Workhouse Gardens and Spring Gardens are names to be conjured with in this area near the church. No doubt both had great bearing in the life of the community in bygone days. Rackett Court once stood near to the “Hill Top.” These were old Tudor buildings, and a flue sketch of them can be seen in “Highways and Byways of Leicestershire.” A recluse by the name of John Freestone was the last occupant. On the opposite side of the road is an ancient barn, which, although containing very massive oak beams, obliterates one of the best views in the county. This gives the name to this part of the locality of the Barn-end.
There are a few old Georgian three-storied houses around “Hill Top,” and a very old thatched house opposite the “Roebuck Inn,” the date on its front giving the year 1714. It is one of the very few thatched ones surviving in Shilton. Keats Lane was formerly known as “Cake Lane,” and once it contained many old-fashioned houses. It overlooks the Vale of Kirkby and also overlooks some splendid scenery. A bake-house was situated many years ago near to Whitemore’s factory, and a bell was rung when the oven was hot. This was when the bread was made at home and sent to the bakers. This is probably, too, the origination of “Cake Lane.” There was also a bake house in Candle Maker Alley, a small lane running between Almys Lane and the top of The Meadows, where between the wars, local folk would take their roasts along to be cooked in the oven. Near to the present West Street stood the old Yew Tree Farm, prior to the erection of the present Jubilee Terrace. An old malt-house once stood on this spot, and when it was demolished a large wall was built with the bricks, facing the present “Fender Row.” This wall has now disappeared with the advent of the Council houses.
The “Dog and Gun Inn” was removed in the 1930s to another site a Keat’s Lane, a little distance from where the old licensed house had sold beer for over 150 years. This old building still stands and exists today as a private house.
There was also in Keat’s Lane, up until the 1940s, an old glove business that used hand frames, and was run by Mr Linney Spindle Hall, close by, was the last dwelling house in memory to contain the old glove frames. “Wightmans Row” and the old “Glove-Yard” have, like many more old houses, vanished from this region.
The Elmesthorpe Road was commenced during these dark days as Relief Work. Many of the workers received no more thab bread and meat for their hard labours. At this time over 1,200 people were out of employment. The work was sponsored by the Right Hon. the Earl of Lovelace and his daughter, the Lady Anne Noel, and carried out in 1862-3. They also forwarded £800 to the unemployed cotton workers to work worsted instead of cotton.
The depression seemed to continue for many years, and the figures given by the Hinckley District Relief Committee in July, 1864, make interesting reading - Subscriptions raised in Earl Shilton parish were to the amount of £161 1s. 4d, while the destitute poor received from that fund £992 10s. 4d., in addition of flour, 30 sides of bacon, 100 tons of coal and left-off clothing were distributed by this fund in the district. (Foster)
Towards the end of the nineteenth century several parcels land were held by the parish as charitable lands namely; Town land meadow, Town Land close, the Barn Close (near Hill Top), the Old Close and part of Breach Field. These lands were rented out and the income used for poor relief.
Among other relief the poor of the parish would receive bread at Easter and Coal at Christmas. Allotments were also set-aside for the poor. One set of plots was at the bottom of Shilton Hill and a second in the Townlands off Breach Lane.
Life in the area would never be the same again, as people and goods were whisked from town to town at untmagineable speeds. Railway timetables also meant the regulation of clocks nationally, and local time became a thing of the past. 'The South Leicestershire Railway, opened in 1862 between Nuneaton and Hinckley, and the remainder was completed early in 1863. (William White, History, Gazeteer and Directory, 1863).
The next station up the line, heading north from Hinckley, was Elmsthorpe. Elmsthorpe Station, its yard and sidings served the villages of Barwell and Earl Shilton. In 1908 travelling by horse drawn Brake to Leicester from the villages took 2 hours. By 1910 the journey to Leicester by train took 31 minuites and Nuneaton was just 14 minuites away. The South Leicestershire Railway was later vested in the London & North Western Railway, and then became part of the London, Midland & Scottish Group Amalgamation scheme of 30 Dec 1922.
Elmesthorpe was a popular spot for many years, and during the summer you could always find a gaggle of small boys perched on the steps running down from the road bridge overlooking the platform. Here they would exchange stories and collect engine numbers (John Lawrence).
Elmesthorpe station was closed after 105 years of service, in March 1968, as the result of a closure plan started some 3 years earlier. It came in the wake of Dr Beechings cuts. Trains still used the tracks but Elmesthorpe, Croft, Narborough, Wigston Glen Parva, and Nuneaton Abbey Street stations all closed down on the same day. Elmsthorpes station buildings have now been destroyed. The signalbox at Elmesthorpe remained working until January 1970 , when British Rail decided that they could cope with the long section from Hinckley to Croft, a distance of .
By 1965, numbers had risen to such a degree that they used the church hall for school dinners, physical education, music and movement
Wood Street School was partly burned down in the early hours of 17th of January 1984, following a break in. The curtains were set alight which in turn ignihted an oil feed pipe, causing major damage and ultimately the schools demolition.
The old brickworks were situated on the site of present Metcalfe Street, which was named after Mr. James Metcalfe for many years a headmaster at the High Street, Church of England School.
The Gas Works (now dismantled) were also situated in Station road, and were built in 1866 by the Earl Shilton Gas Light and Coke Company. Mr A Lee was the manager.
In 1909 the building was erected in Station road, paid for by public subscription, and a mortgage guaranteed by local industrialists, who were the founders and formed the Management Committee. The premises on station road organised football, cricket, a rifle range, chess club, skittles and billiards.
The “Picture House” in Station road, began life as a roller skating rink called the Royal Rink, and was erected in 1910. Mr. H. S. Cooper started this very much-needed enterprise that would bring the glamour of Hollywood into the village.
The cinema was forever after known to all as ‘Harrys’.
Following World War II generations grew up attending the Saturday matinees at the picture house, or sessions at the new, out door. roller skating rink built beside it. The grandeur of the old Royal Rink could never match the Danilo or Gaumont in Hinckley, but it still drew a sizeable crowd. During the 1960s the running of the cinema was taken over by Mr Coopers daughter Freda, and her husband Jack Aldridge, who had previously ran a local taxi firm.
The church was under the patronage of the Worswick family, who had their countryseat at Normanton Hall (now demolished), which lay outside Earl Shilton on the road to Thurleston. Father Grimes was the first priest. In the years prior to the church in Mill Lane being erected the Catholics worshipped in the private chapel of Normanton Hall.
During the 1914—18 War, German prisoners were interred at Normanton Hall.
After its demolition, just after the war, it was a sad blow for the Catholics and to the whole neighbourhood as many were employed there.
The Convent was several times empty during the 1930s and 40s, but was reconditioned and used in the form of a “Seminary.” It was for some years also used as a hosiery factory.
A fire destroyed Normanton Hall in 1925, and the property was subsequently sold off. Shortly after the demolition of Normanton the altar, a magnificent piece of work, was presented to Earl Shilton’s St. Peter’s Church in Mill Lane. A fire, in the 1940’s, destroyed part of this building, but fortunately not damaging the altar. Father Barry-Doyle, a former priest, and a well-known elocutionist, greatly delighted local audiences with his poetry and monologues during his stay at Normanton.
Mr Perkins recalls - ‘Much of the Scouts equipment was homemade. In the early days we water proofed heavy bed sheets and would sew them into tents’ (John Lawrence). The Scout troop took part in the World Jamborbee, at Olympia, London in 1920. During the Jamboree they camped in the town of Barnet.
Mr Rudkin was a local carrier and the first man in the village to possess a motor charabanc. Bus and safety regulations were not in evidence, as the seats were ordinary chairs, set in rows and roped around the sides. Children were given free rides round the village on its inception.
During the latter stages of the war, Earl Shilton held a ‘big gun week’, when a large howitzer was paraded around the village. Many were invited to buy War Bonds. Military bands often visited the village to inspire recruiting. In a very different age when information was seriously censored and patriotism was paramount, young men clamoured to join up. In one week alone 80 enlisted, and were cheered on by crowds of happy followers as they marched to Elmesthorpe station on their way to the mud filled trenches of the Western Front.
It was all over on the 11th November 1918. All work was suspended for the day, while flags and bunting appeared in windows. Fireworks were let off and a comic band toured the streets. Watching silently were the German prisoners of war who were working in the area and billeted at nearby Normanton Hall.
A captured field gun stood for a time near the Wesleyan Chapel, and was removed for a time to a field off station road. The guns final resting place was the Wood Street Recreation Ground, which was once a sand pit, where the gun now lies buried and forgotten.
Over a hundred men from the village were lost in the conflict, and a cenotaph was erected in their memory.
On wake Sunday 1919, and for many years afterwards, the British Legion, public bodies and factories held a parade for the fallen.
Shilton Victors, a football team who had their headquarters at the “King William IV" public house, won three cups in a single day, a very noteworthy achievement. Most of the factories in the village ran sides for the benefit of the Earl Shilton Sunshine League. These matches were played after tea when work ceased, and very keen rivalry was witnessed, and good football without the frills was usually served up for the large crowds that assembled. Mr. H. Bradbnry presented a silver cup that was played for each year by knock-out competition. The venue for these hectic matches was in a field off Station Road at the rear of the Constitutional Club. By 1923 Earl Shilton had many football clubs in vogue. The church and chapel fielded useful sides, also very often second elevens. The Adult School fielded three sides for quite a long time, and rented two fields, one which was situated on The Mount
Foot racing was once very popular, and many wagers have been run for around the local fields. On one occasion the village sweep who was to cycle on his three-wheeler, challenged a well-known local runner to race from Shilton Hill to Kirkby, the runner to have the length of the hill start. The runner was easily passed down the Kirkby Lane and retired. In 1947 Mr. Macartney, was still living in the village, being over 90 years of age. He was the village sweep and carried on this occupation when he was over 80 years of age.
Between the wars Earl Shilton boasted a horticultural society, which held an annual flower and sports event in a field in Kings Walk. Cycle racing, high jumps, donkey racing and all manner of foot racing.
The first bombing took place on the night of 20th–21st November 1940, when three parachute mines were dropped. One landed in Barwell while the other two came down in the Northwest corner of Earl Shilton. One of these mines failed to explode, and both villages had a narrow escape as no one was injured and no serious damage was done. The following day a Royal Navy bomb disposal squad and blew the thing up at 3 pm. This left a good size crater near the ‘Brockey’, but soon afterwards this was filled in.
More incendiaries fell in Elmesthorpe on December 4th 1940. Chased across Shilton by the RAF, the German plane was brought it down near Leicester Forrest East. The Earl Shilton Home Guard were called out to the scene and prisoners were taken.
At 7am on July 27th 1942, a lone German bomber dived out of the clouds near the church and let go of three stick bombs. They landed at the back of Mr T Carter’s farm in Church Street, destroying a barn and badly damaging a house. Mr Carter had a very lucky escape himself, as he was out in his yard at the time only from the blast. A bull was so badly injured that it had to be put down. The plane went on to machine gun those unfortunate enough to be going to work.
Mr T J Langton recalls -
I was at Earl Shilton R.C. School, in Mill Lane, when on this particular morning a lost German plane flew low over Keats Lane and as a boy I remember as Gary Cassell was on his way to the same school as this plane flew over, low and sprayed machine gun bullets along Keats Lane. He ran into an entry and dropped his scarf. When he eventually recovered it, he noticed it contained a bullet hole. He told the story to Michael Mortimore, the son of the village bobby who also attended the school. On hearing this, Mike Mortimore said 'It was a good job he had not got it wrapped round his neck, at the time.'
During the night of July 30th 1942, a bomb landed in Everards field near to Kings Walk, but apart from a pig being killed the bomb only rattled a few windows. The crater was still in evidence in 1947.
Mr T J Langton also recalls - I was woken up early one morning and was later told there had been an explosion, close by in Earl Shilton. Later that morning, it was discovered that a bomb had fallen in the Leacroft’s, and landing on soft ground restricted it’s damage to killing a pig and a chicken, belonging to the Fullylore family. It was later reported in newspapers, but owing to the war situation, it was not given out as being Earl Shilton, only ‘a Midland’s village’.
But it was not only the Germans that the villagers had to watch out for as a greenhouse in Huit Lane was hit by a stray anti-aircraft shell.
On the night of the big raid on Coventry planes passed over the village the whole night long. There was the distant sound of the anti aircraft batteries could clearly be heard and there was a huge orange glow in the sky, which marked the firestorm raining down on Coventry.
At the top end of the village, the Air Raid Patrol, ARP wardens, met in the back room of the Plough, a Public House run by Joe Lucas. They patrolled the streets checking the blackout and fire watching.
Hundreds of villagers went into munitions work, and eventually there was a munitions factory opened in the village. The village also took child refugees from Coventry, Birmingham and London.
Many villagers had shelters put in their gardens, but there were also public shelters in Wood Street, Station Road, Almey’s Lane, Keats Lane, The Hollow and Belle Vue.
The Local Defence Volunteers, later to be renamed the Home Guard, were organised in June 1940. They had their headquarters in a large house near Birds Hill called ‘Holydene’, the fire service and ambulance sharing a room here for a time. The Local Defence Volunteers were conspicuous in their denim overalls at the beginning of the war, but as time went on they were issued with army battle dress, tin hats, American rifles with bayonets and by the end of the war even boasted a couple of Lewis guns. One section of the Home Guard was on patrol every night and by the time they were stood down their strength had grown to 140 men. They were commanded in the early days by Captain Wileman and later by Major Wand of Desford.
Soldiers were billeted in most of the public buildings during the war. The military authorities requisitioned the Working Men's Club dance hall, the Adult School Hall, the Social Institute, Constitutional Club, and the Co-op village hall. After Dunkirk, the Sussex Yeomanry moved into the village, being replaced in turn by the Royal Army Ordnance Corps, Royal Artillery, Royal Marines and the Pioneer Corps. The Wesleyan Chapel in the Hollow was transformed into a British Restaurant, for the troops. Training was undertaken on the recreation grounds and other open spaces around the village. Mr Astley’s sand pit in Heath Lane was used as a shooting range.
There were around 900 men and women serving in the regular British forces, of which 25 were killed in action. Their names were duly added to the war memorial.
John N Lawrence 'Associations with Earl Shilton - A Leicestershire Village' 2006
The Normans David Crouch 2002
History of Earl Shilton Tooley Park and Potters Marston G H Foster 1940 Baxter
History of Earl Shilton and Tooley Park G H Foster 1947 Baxter
Castle Mark Morris 2003 Pan Books
The Domesday Book Michael Wood
The Companions of William the Conqueror Wace
A History of Britain Simon Sharma
Leicestershire Archeological Society - Vol 28 1952
LEICESTER: SANITATION versus VACCINATION J.T. BIGGS