“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

2nd  February 2017

New bypass for Kibworth! Not a headline from 2017 but from 1810. Traffic congestion in Kibworth Harcourt had convinced the trustees of the turnpike road through Kibworth that a bypass was needed to ease the chaos of Main Street.

David Holmes’s fascinating talk on the history of the A6 turnpike between Loughborough , Leicester and Market Harborough showed clearly that congestion problems in Kibworth are nothing new. The route of the present A6 is largely unchanged since the Middle Ages but the need for a decent road which could be used throughout the year was becoming an increasingly serious problem by the end of the 17th century. At this time roads were mainly tracks which were largely unusable in the winter but the growing internal trade called for a solution to the problem of transporting goods throughout the year.

Before the Turnpike Trusts were created, individual parishes were responsible for maintaining the roads in their parish, supplying both labour and materials, which meant the road quality varied widely depending on the diligence of the individual parish.

The Turnpike Trusts were private organisations which undertook to maintain and enhance the roads under their control and in return they could charge a fee or toll for use of their road. They erected toll booths and toll gates to enforce these charges. Their impact was felt south of Leicester: the turnpike reached Oadby by 1730, Great Glen by 1733 and Kibworth by 1736. The Turnpike Trust undertook other improvements such as a new bridge at Great Glen to replace the ford over the River Sence and a bridge just south of Kibworth, near the turn for Debdale Wharf.

The improved road surfaces encouraged greater road traffic (hence the need for the bypass at Kibworth by 1810) but the Coaching Age was relatively short-lived. The use of canals reduced the demand for long-distance road carriage and the coming of the railways killed off the main coaching business. By the 1840s the coach business from Leicester was virtually dead.

Evidence of the Turnpike Trust can still be seen in the landscape today. In order to ease the burden on the horse-drawn traffic the Trust removed the tops of some of the steepest hills to reduce the gradient.  A cutting was created on the road up to Market Harborough from the Macdonalds’ roundabout,  before it reached  the present-day  Foxton crossroads. This hill had been quite a barrier and it was reported that it could take as much as half a day for a fully loaded vehicle to travel from the Bowden Inn (on the site of the present Bowden Business Village) to the top of the hill.

The turnpike trusts became increasingly financially unviable throughout the 19th century as goods and passengers used the railways and tolls were seen as a barrier to good communication. By the 1880s the turnpike trusts had been wound up and responsibility for road maintenance passed to County Councils.

More information can be found on the society’s Facebook page:

Eric Whelan

2nd March 2017

Today the term “country house” conjures up images of English country houses, the National Trust and probably Downton Abbey but Len Holden’s lively and informative talk demonstrated that the country house of popular imagination has a long history and many forms.

From the time of the Norman Conquest the country house had evolved, from a strongly fortified castle (such as Belvoir or Rockingham) through fortified halls (such as Haddon Hall in Derbyshire) to manor houses, as the country became more peaceful and the economy began to expand. Following the Dissolution of the Monasteries many former abbeys and priories were bought up and converted in to country houses (such as Newstead Abbey in Nottinghamshire and Canons Ashby in Northamptonshire).

The country house of the 18th century became the ultimate status symbol. While local magnates such as Spencer (at Althorp) or Montagu (at Boughton) or Isham (at Lamport) amassed fortunes through agriculture it was necessary to have the outward symbol of this wealth and this was the role of the country house. Also important was that the house was in the latest fashion (Palladian being especially popular) and important that nationally recognised architects were involved in the design. For instance, Christopher Wren and Nicholas Hawksmoor were involved with the re-modelling of Easton Neston, near Towcester.

The houses were further enhanced by developing extensive parklands and, again in the 18th century, the notion of a “natural” landscape was fashionable despite the fact that the “natural” landscape was carefully designed and often required considerable changes to the existing landscape.

The country houses also provided employment and were important to the local economy where, especially in the 18th century, agriculture was the only alternative. Even relatively small houses such as Kelmarsh Hall would employ between 20 and 30 servants while the massive estates could employ well over a hundred.

The physical design of the houses reflected the social hierarchy of the day. From the early castles where servants and lords mixed closely together to the houses of the 18th century and later where the design ensured the servants and masters were physically separated from each other, the provision of back stairs being the most obvious feature which ensured servants could move about the house without being seen.

The decline of the country house began in the late 19th century, when a number of factors combined to make the upkeep of estates impossible for many:  agriculture was in depression; income from rents fell away sharply; death duties and a land tax were introduced; heirs to many estates were killed during World War 1.

The economic problems of the 1930s accelerated the decline in country house ownership and many estates were sold off to pay debts or as surplus to requirements. The requisitioning of country houses in World War Two proved to be too much for some and the damage caused to the buildings during wartime occupation meant the cost of repair was unaffordable; Gumley Hall and Papillon Hall (near Lubenham) were both demolished after wartime occupation.

Ironically, the survival of many country houses in England was due to the National Trust, a charity supported by ordinary members, who took on the responsibility of these houses from the owners who had previously striven very hard to separate themselves from ordinary people.

Eric Whelan

4th May 2017

Hidden within the title of Anne French’s talk to the Society in May, the History of the Glue Factory, was an older and richer story than the title suggested.

The present factory, J G Pears, occupies a site which has seen business activity since the mid 18th century. An early enterprise was the New Bowden Inn which was established to provide shelter and horses for people trying to climb the hill up to Market Harborough. Although the present hill is steep the original slope was steeper (around 1 in 3) and before the days of metalled roads it presented a formidable obstacle for horse-drawn vehicles.

Later, with the coming of the canal from Foxton to Market Harborough, the site was home to a brick works and lime kilns which provided materials for the canal and local builders. A wharf was built on the canal to handle the movement of bricks and lime.

However, in the 1850s the site became established as a factory for the manufacture of particularly smelly products, originally tallow and then the processing of animal bones. A surprising range of products could be produced, from phosphates for agriculture, to gelatine which was used in food but also in the photographic industry and even in book-binding.

The factory was a large employer, especially from the neighbouring villages, and when the factory burnt down in the 1890s it was quickly rebuilt, much to the relief of the employees.

The business was precarious and several companies went into liquidation in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. By the mid 1930s the factory was moth-balled and then closed but was re-opened with the outbreak of World War 2 because of the demand for its products by the military. The factory was even used to process the bones of animals from London Zoo which had to be killed because of the burden of feeding them during war-time.

One consequence of processing bones (with associated flesh) in the days before refrigeration was the production of maggots in vast quantities. However, some of the more enterprising workers were able to boost their wages by selling the maggots to local fishermen.

The Croda company ran the plant for several years with gelatine for the photographic industry being a major product but when its largest customer, Kodak, switched to buying from China the company was no longer viable.

Personal reminiscences of Society members who had worked at the factory added information and individual perspectives to the topic.

The site’s long history is today visible in a number of handsome red-brick buildings dating from the early 19th century which have been used as offices.

Eric Whelan

1st June 2017

Peter Cousins’ fascinating and thought-provoking talk to the Society in June was a case study in the ephemeral nature of success and local celebrity. His subject was a man who was the epitome of the Victorian self-made man: he was a very successful businessman and his work on behalf of his local community led to him being dubbed “Champion of the People”. When he died all the local businesses closed on the day of his funeral and many people lined the route of the funeral procession. The man’s name was Orson Wright. Today, very few people have heard of him yet his legacy can still be seen, especially in South Wigston.

Orson Wright was born in 1853 in the village of Dunton Bassett, one of 9 children of a framework knitter. The family was poor and Orson had to leave school at 8 to support his family. He was apprenticed to several trades but finally settled on carpentry.

His business success began when he entered the building trade and, firstly, with partners and then with his own company, he set about building houses to rent. The foundation of his success was his forward-thinking. In 1882 he bought a large tract of land in South Wigston which he believed was suitable for development. He was correct: in 1883 some 50 people were living in houses on this estate but by 1890 this number had risen to 4000. The coming of the railways and the creation of the “Wigston Triangle”, where several lines met, led to the creation of many railway-related businesses and Orson built houses for the workers in these new businesses.

Being a true entrepreneur Orson bought the local brick works and created a local iron works so he could control most of the raw materials for his house building. The location of his land by the railway meant that he could import relatively cheaply the only material he didn’t control, the roof slates.

Orson Wright was not without some vanity: the streets he built in South Wigston were named so that the initial letters of each street spelt out “O (W)right”. Along with another builder (Isaac Harrison) he also developed an area west of the centre of Leicester called Newfoundpool where another large estate of houses was built, mostly to house people who were displaced by the building of the Great Central Railway and especially the Central Station.

Orson Wright also built factories and hotels (including the Grand Hotel in Leicester), some of which he owned and he was involved in the building of coffee houses in Leicester. Orson Wright was a staunch supporter of the Temperance Movement and the coffee houses were built as an alternative to public houses. (Despite his strong Temperance beliefs he did hold several liquor licences for his hotels.)

He enjoyed further success in the shoe trade and his business, which was taken on by one of his sons, ran successfully until the late 20th century. He was a philanthropist donating money, land and buildings to good causes. He built a village hall in Dunton Bassett which he gave to the village, partly as a “thank you” for its support of him and his parents and partly as a celebration of his success. There was a caveat – no alcohol could be sold on the premises.

He also served as a councillor in both South Wigston and Leicester. All in all a man of tremendous energy: he and his wife had 11 children, although several died in infancy.

However, Orson Wright did not live long to enjoy his success. He died in 1913 aged only 59. In a rather pleasing symmetry, the boy who left school at 8 years old left an estate worth (in today’s terms) £8 million.  

Eric Whelan

1st September 2016

To start the autumn series of meetings, the Society held its Annual General Meeting, followed by several short presentations by members of personal memories.

The Society has not increased the annual subscription for several years but it was felt necessary to increase it this year to meet rising costs.

We then heard about living in Weir Lodge during the 1970s and 80s. Another member recounted a lucky escape during a bombing raid during WWII while another told us of childhood experiences when growing up in the shadow of Hadrian’s Wall.

David Holmes

3rd November 2016

The TV archaeology programme Time Team ran for nearly 20 years (1994 to 2013) and was hugely influential in the promotion of archaeology in Britain and stimulated a whole generation of students to pursue a career in archaeology. Peter Liddle, formerly Leicestershire’s Community Archaeologist, presented a talk at the November meeting which gave an insight into the “behind the scenes” activities in the creation of a Time Team TV programme.

The essence of a Time Team programme was to perform a series of excavations over a 3 day period to try to uncover new information about a site and Time Team completed three of these 3 day digs in Leicestershire, at Stonton Wyville, West Langton and Groby Old Hall.

Peter’s talk demonstrated how much the finished programme relied on the knowledge and co-operation of the County Archaeology service. However, in the best cases, the creation of the programme, while drawing heavily on information supplied by local experts, also gave these same experts access to equipment and techniques which would normally be beyond the budgets of a county archaeology department. This was particularly true in the use of geophysical techniques. During the history of the Time Team programme these techniques developed considerably and geophysical surveys, ground penetrating radar and resistance surveys all provided very detailed information of features below the ground which previously could only be found by digging holes. These surveys allowed for more targeted digging which was both a good use of resources and provided a much higher chance of finding an interesting feature which would explain the nature of the site. This symbiosis was revealed in the three Time Team digs in Leicestershire.

At Stonton Wyville earlier fieldwalking had produced large quantities of Anglo-Saxon pottery but with the extra techniques available to Time Team the excavation revealed two significant Anglo-Saxon buildings although only 1% of the site was excavated. Similarly, at West Langton the excavation (helped by metal detectorists from Kibworth) revealed an unusual find from a single grave of 5 brooches and two swags of beads along with a large gilded bronze brooch (in 19 pieces) which was restored and exhibited in Market Harborough museum. At Groby Old Hall the geophysical surveys were able to “see” in layers below the ground which clearly defined solid features. The Norman motte on the site had stone foundations and the team were able to identify an earlier chapel on the site.

Peter’s talk showed that by working together it was possible to combine the popular with the academic with a benefit to both.

More information can be found on the society’s website

Eric Whelan