“Understanding yesterday, for the benefit of  today and tomorrow”

Read reports from earlier years © 2005-2018, 2019  All Rights Reserved  Kibworth History Society and W.G.Weston

3rd September 2015

A large number of members attended the first meeting of the new season of talks and visits.

A short AGM was followed by a members’ evening. Seven members spoke briefly about some aspect of historical interest. These included: recollections of working at Bitteswell Airfield,  examples of three generations of wedding veils, memories of attending the bi-centenary service at St Paul’s Cathedral for the Battle of Waterloo, and to reading about a house in an old newspaper, only to realise they lived in that same house.


1st October 2015

Appropriately for the month in which we commemorate the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt, this month’s meeting was devoted to the English & Welsh archers of the 14th & 15th centuries who were crucial to England’s military dominance in Europe at that time.

Peter Hallett, assisted by his wife Joan, presented a wide-ranging history of the lives and experiences of the archers.

The Black Death and subsequent plagues of the late 14th century reduced the English population by around 50% but allowed the creation of the yeoman class in England who were often landowners and economically independent. This class provided a large proportion of the archers and were well-motivated and skilful, a fact reflected in the fact that archers were more highly paid than other regular soldiers.

Although obviously dangerous, being part of an army could be financially rewarding: in foreign wars there was the prospect of booty along with the fact that soldiers were paid for every day they were on campaign while workers at home were forbidden to work for wages on Sundays and the numerous holy days throughout the year which by the 15th century meant nearly 100 days per year were unpaid.

Peter had re-creations of clothing and equipment used by the archers. The centre-piece was a padded jacket worn by archers. The original jacket was quilted and would have been made from 35 layers of linen which incorporated a deer skin in the middle of the layers. The sleeves were detachable to allow maximum freedom of movement and there was extra protection for the arms provided by a line of chain. This jacket gave very considerable protection, especially from stabbing weapons but allowed the archers to move freely.  

Along with the familiar bows and deadly arrows Peter also had an example of the small shield used by the archers. Incorporating a central boss the shield (about the size of a pasta dish) was made of heavy-gauge metal and allowed the archer to parry sword or dagger thrusts and could be used as an offensive weapon.

The successes of Crecy, Poitiers, Agincourt and many less well-known battles created the reputation of English and Welsh archers as big-eating, hard-drinking, carousing but highly effective fighters who were feared and admired across Europe.


Peter & Joan Hallett in contemporary costume.

4th February 2016

Bradgate Park, the subject for the February meeting, presented by Bob Gregory, is an area of some 830 acres of open countryside only 6 miles north-west of the centre of Leicester with rugged and seemingly untamed scenery. Ironically, when the park was created in the early 13th century it was an area rigidly controlled as a deer park and surrounded by a ditch, bank and fence to ensure the deer were carefully managed for sport.

The deer park was extended over succeeding centuries by the Grey family who were wealthy enough to build a large brick manor house in the park in the 1520s. Brick was an unusual and expensive building material and the design reflected the more peaceful condition of England at the time since the house had no real defensive features.

Bradgate’s most famous inhabitant was Lady Jane Grey, the “9 day Queen” who was the tragic victim of a power struggle at Court and was executed aged only 17 in 1554.

The Grey family shifted their focus to their other estates and by the late 18th century Bradgate House was a ruin and the park was used mainly as a sporting estate. The late 18th century saw the building of one of Bradgate Park’s most famous landmarks: Old John. This distinctive tower was built as a folly and one use was as a viewing tower to observe horses being trained on a course laid out below Old John.

The second striking landmark is the war memorial. This was raised for the Leicestershire Yeomanry, a small mounted force originally raised during the early 19th century but which saw service in both world wars. It still exists today as a separate force long after larger military groups have lost their distinctive identity.

In the early 1920s the Grey family started to sell off their estates and they sold the village of Newtown Linford and parts of Groby but retained Bradgate Park until 1928. In that year Charles Bennion (founder of the British United Shoe Machinery Company) bought Bradgate Park from the Grey family and handed it over to the people of Leicestershire to be used “In perpetuity as an open space or public park for the purposes of recreation.” The park is now managed by a Trust and is one of the most popular Leicestershire attractions which receives thousands of visitors even without active promotion.


3rd March 2016

A large number of members enjoyed this month's talk by Alan Tyler about The National Trust in the East Midlands, an area covering Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire, Northamptonshire and Nottinghamshire.

Alan, who is a volunteer speaker for the Trust, explained that there are 59 sites in the region, of which 23 are regularly open to the public. The scale of the Trust's activities may be gauged by the fact that it owns 20,000 hectares of land, including 13% of the Peak District National Park. There are also thirteen holiday cottages in the region. All this is managed by a relatively small workforce with the help of 4,500 volunteers who are involved in all aspects of Trust work. Visitors are most aware of volunteers on duty in the houses and they also help in many other ways, gardening, catering, habitat management etc.

Alan gave brief outlines, with photographs, of a few of the sites in the region. The Trust owns a range of properties in the region that represent many aspects of English culture over many centuries. Though it has only one site in Leicestershire, Stoneywell Cottage, in Ulverscroft, this is an important Arts & Crafts house. Staunton Harold church, on the border with Derbyshire was one of very few to be built during the English Civil War. Lyveden, near Oundle, was started in 1595 by Sir Thomas Tresham but never finished.

Other buildings mentioned were, Hardwick Hall, Belton House, Sudbury Hall and Tattershall Castle. While the house at Clumber Park has been demolished, the large site of 1,537 hectares provides opportunities to enjoy many outdoor pastimes and pursuits. Another notable outdoor area owned by The National Trust is Kinder, Edale and the Dark Peak, including Kinder Scout, an area favoured by many walkers.


7th April 2016

The Little Theatre in Leicester, home of the Leicester Drama Society, is little in name only. It is large in ambition and long in tradition as Mike Bull’s lively talk demonstrated.  The Little Theatre is so-named because it is a member of the Little Theatre Guild of Great Britain whose members own or lease their theatre building.

The Leicester Drama Society was formed by three Leicester businessmen in a room above The Turkey Café in Granby Street, Leicester, in November 1921 and by June 1922 the Society was able to mount its first production at the Royal Opera House in Silver Street (demolished in 1960).

By 1930 the Society was able to stage its first full-length play at its current home. The building in Dover Street had been a Baptist Chapel which had closed and taken over by a sect known as Rechabites who then sold half the building to the Drama Society. The joint ownership was not viable in the long term and the Drama Society finally bought the remaining half from the Rechabites.

The theatre continued to thrive and it remained open during WW2, despite being hit by an incendiary bomb (which fortunately didn’t explode), and was running full seasons of productions until a major disaster struck in April 1955. The theatre building was completely gutted by fire but luckily the external walls survived intact. The Society buckled down to re-building its theatre and by 1958 the newly re-furbished 350 seat theatre was re-opened for full productions.

Although referred to as an “amateur” theatre this label scarcely reflects the commitment and quality of the Society’s output. An annual season running from September to July with 12 productions represents a degree of organisation and dedication similar to any professional theatre. While there are some paid employees the majority of tasks are undertaken by volunteers. Between 1930 and 2011 the Society staged 1000 productions in its Dover Street building and continues to add to this number.

The Society has distinguished patrons in Sir Anthony Hopkins and Tim Piggott-Smith (and, until his death, Sir Richard Attenborough) and takes its productions to other theatres, including the famous Minack open-air theatre in Cornwall.

Eric Whelan

5th May 2016

Kibworth and Smeeton during the Second World War.

Early in the war, when an invasion of Britain was a real threat, the Kibworth Invasion Committee was established to co-ordinate all local services (fire, civil defence, Home Guard and others) to ensure a prompt response to any invasion.  This included designating Home Guard and ARP (Air Raid Precaution) posts around the village and a large house, (The Warren) at the end of Church Street (near the A6,) as an emergency hospital. However, Norman Harrison’s talk mainly brought out the increased feeling of community within the village generated by the war.

Rigorous blackout regulations were imposed to hinder German bombing but breaches were handled fairly: amongst villagers fined were the local rector and doctor and General Jack (who lived in the Old House in Kibworth Harcourt), who was repeat offender.

Food was always important to morale and, along with rationing, other initiatives were instigated in the village. A British Restaurant was established in Kibworth High Street (the building  today occupied by Natures Purest), with seating for 96 people, and was heavily subsidised to  provide plain, nutritious and affordable food . It finally closed in January 1945.

A more unusual food scheme was the Rural Pie Scheme under which meat pies were provided to villages in the area. Kibworth’s supplies were delivered to the Oddfellows Hall in Paget Street on Thursdays. The scheme was popular and at their peak sales were 1300 pies per week.

Possibly the major impact to village life was the arrival of evacuees. Leicestershire was considered a safe area and by January 1941 over 12,000 evacuees had arrived in Leicestershire. The population varied as people moved back and forth (mostly to London).  In Kibworth the impact was felt in the local schools: at the Junior School (now the Old School surgery) 90 pupils from a London school were accommodated in one half of the building and the village children in the remainder. Space was tight!

Kibworth and Smeeton were directly affected by the war.

In November 1940 a series of bombs were dropped on the village landing in fields south of Fleckney Road. Fortunately no one was hurt and no major damage inflicted, although Smeeton Road was closed for a period because of unexploded bombs. Between 1940 and 1943 75 bomb alerts were recorded.

The war years were that odd mixture of the routine and the extraordinary: people got married and died; houses were bought and sold and even service improvements were made, such as extending piped water to the cottages in Station Hollow at Kibworth. But overlying the mundane were the very real changes brought about by the war.

Current and former Kibworth residents gave personal memories to enrich a very informative evening.

Eric Whelan

2nd June 2016

Felicity Austin gave us a fascinating insight into the History of the Seaside Holiday which was informative, humorous and visual, for she had dressed in the style of an early Victorian bathing costume.

Her talk covered the period from 1840, when only the wealthy could go on holiday, through the time of railway expansion and development of seaside holiday towns that catered for visitors from industrial towns and into the modern era. Early resorts, established before the arrival of the railways, could only be reached by coach or sea. Most seaside holiday towns were developed during the late nineteenth century so that city dwellers could make use of their slowly increasing amount of leisure time and escape, if only for a day, from the poverty of normal daily life. The concept of bank holidays was introduced in 1871. She spoke about the changing nature of holidays, how the length of holiday entitlement has increased over the years.

A seaside holiday was both a time and a place where people could do things that would ave been frowned upon in normal working life. Technology helped to expand people's horizons and experiences. The Brownie Box camera, the first camera that ordinary folk could afford, was introduced in 1901, about the same time as postcards. Other staple parts of seaside holidays during the first half of the twentieth century included sticks of rock (first made in 1876), walking on a pier, riding on dodgem cars (introduced in 1928), Punch & Judy shows. The first Butlin's holiday camp was opened in 1936, offering for the first time a complete package of accommodation, food and entertainment for all ages. The 1960s heralded the introduction of overseas holiday packages.

Felicity had brought with her a collection of seaside holiday memorabilia, including postcards, posters, sweets and swimsuits. The audience was able to share recollections of holidays they had spent at the seaside, things they had done and types of clothes they wore. It was an excellent finale to the society's season of talks.