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  • Markfield Local History Group

2018 meetings and events

Historic Medicine in Markfield

In November, around 40 people, both members and non members, enjoyed a fascinating talk at our November meeting by Tony Wood entitled ‘Historic medicine in Markfield’. 

As you may know, Tony ran the village Pharmacy for many years.  The first pharmacy opened in 1969 next to the chip shop on Main Street. Prior to this the doctors did their own dispensing - readers may remember the wooden building in the front garden which was both the surgery and dispensary! Initially the pharmacy dispensed basic stock mixtures for coughs, indigestion etc, and tablets were counted out by hand. These were known as ‘The tablets’ or ‘The mixture’ although the pharmacist could put the proper name on the bottle if the doctor agreed to this. 

From the late 1700s to the mid-late 1800s, three generations of doctors lived at the Manor House in Markfield, next to the Bull’s Head public house. There are plaques in St. Michael’s church commemorating two of the doctors who lived here – Charles Dally being one of these.  During restoration work at the Manor House a prescription book from the 1800s was discovered, and Tony has worked to translate entries, which are written in abbreviated Latin. Tony explained how in the early years, doctors were not qualified, but as time moved on, formal qualifications were required.

The mid-1800s saw great changes, with the industrial revolution, the Stockton and Darlington first passenger railway in 1826 and riots in towns as workers were replaced by power looms in the factories. In the 1830s a cholera epidemic caused the death of around 20,000 people – the disease spread quickly because of crowded living conditions. People suffered from injuries, too, as a result of their work.

Some people could afford to pay for private treatment from a doctor, others joined a ‘sick club’ and paid so much per week in order to be treated. The prescription book from the Manor House shows the sources of income for the doctors – private, ‘sick club’ and also Poor Law, which covered the treatment of those living in the workhouse, (thought to be located in cottages opposite to, or near, the Bull’s Head). Towards the end of the book, the doctor also listed the names of patients together with their age, occupation and nature of the ailment - for example, injury from a cow, disease of the bowels, worms, or  an industrial work related injury.  In 1826 there were 77 members of the ‘sick club’. 

We all tried to read extracts from the prescription book, but found it very difficult! Luckily, Tony was able to help here!  The doctors used a complex weights and measures system -   grains, scruples, drachms and ounces. The signs used for each one in the book were also unfamiliar and had to be explained.   The drugs used to make up each medicine came from many countries. For example, cascarilla, or sweet wood bark, came from the Bahamas, and was used to treat wind and indigestion. Quinine originally came from Peru but was then grown in India. Opium and Mercury compounds were also used! Leeches were important in blood letting – it was interesting to see pictures of the leech jars used in the chemists shops, with breathing holes at the top. We learnt that leeches still play an important part in medicine today!

Everyone thoroughly enjoyed listening to Tony and were able to chat afterwards and reminisce. We are looking forward to inviting him back to speak to us again. 

Early years of state education in Markfield

At our September meeting, our talk was entitled ‘Trouble and Strife; the early years of state education in Markfield and four neighbouring Charnwood Parishes’ given by Michael Ball. 

He started with a brief overview of the history of education from Tudor times, including the introduction of grammar schools, charity schools and National Schools - the latter built by the National Society for Promoting the Education of the Poor [in the Principles of the Established Church in England and Wales], on behalf of the Anglican Church. After the 1870 Education Act, more schools were built under the direction of School Boards, supported by household rates. The Board school in Ratby, for example, opened in 1873.

Michael explained that the Head Teachers of schools were expected to keep daily accounts of the happenings of the day in the school logbook. They also recorded attendance, truancy, pupil discipline, severe weather and epidemics. It was fascinating to hear some of the entries and how they reflected the social and political life at the time they were written. 

Michael stated that much of the truancy occurred as a result of children working on farms during the harvest. For example, Ratby log book mentions children absent because of ‘blackberrying, mushrooming or gleaning'*. In September 1873, children in Groby were absent because they were gathering potatoes. Children from the schools in Markfield, Groby and Ratby were used as beaters for the shoots that took place. Children might also be absent for church outings or, in Markfield, to attend the flower show which was a very important event in the annual calendar. In October 1909, Mrs Lillingston (of Ulverscroft Manor) presented needlework prizes won at the flower show for work done by the children in school.  *gleaning - going around fields after harvest to gather the grain or produce left behind.

Illnesses were also mentioned in the school logbook. In 1910, Markfield logbook mentioned an outbreak of scarlet fever, and in September of that year the Ministry of Health ordered the schools to be closed for one week. In 1912 and again in 1929 there is mention of a diptheria outbreak, resulting in the death of several children. 

School trips also feature in the log books - in 1903, 17 children from Standard Sixth walked from Markfield to Leicester to see the canal, the museum and Victoria Park. They returned by train to Desford and then walked back to Markfield. We all marvelled at the enthusiasm of the children and staff to undertake such a journey which would be completed by coach today! Michael’s research into the logbooks of the schools has revealed some interesting insights into village life and we look forward to another visit in the future. 

Village Walk 2018

The first event of July was the village walk which we organised as part of the Leicestershire Archaeological Festival. 36 people were counted taking part, although there may have been more! It was great to welcome people who live in the village and wanted to know more about it and its history, as well as visitors from further afield. It was a very enjoyable evening and quite warm although not as hot as earlier in the day! Again, the walk was led by one of our members, Barrie Gannon, with help from Laurence Lock. We all gathered on the Green outside St. Michael’s Church and made our way down to the lower village Green, where we looked at the old Village School and the former Schoolmaster’s house. From here it is possible to see the Methodist church and the old bakery on Main Street which was still operating within living memory, and is just one of the buildings in the village which sports a blue Heritage information plaque. Laurence was able to tell us about the various pubs that used to exist in the village – eleven in total!

Going back up the hill we paused at the old cottage by the parish church where a plaque reminds the visitor that John Wesley preached a number of times in the village church during his ministry – on one occasion there was such a crowd that not everyone could fit into the church! We walked up to Hillside to look at the cottages which were built mainly to house the quarry workers who worked in Hill Hole Quarry (known as New Row). The views from here over the motorway and the countryside beyond are well worth the walk! We then climbed to Hill Hole Nature Reserve and heard more about the history of the quarry industry. The rock quarried, Markfieldite, is some of the oldest in the world and is very hard and durable which explains why quarrying developed as a major industry here.

We walked on to the Altar Stones and saw the sunset which was quite spectacular. Despite walking for nearly two hours, everyone said how interesting they had found the walk. If you are thinking that you would like to learn more about the history of Markfield, a leaflet written by members of the History Group guides you around the village and its landmarks. Copies are available in Markfield Library at a cost of 50p.

Taylor's Bell Foundry

Our second event of July took us to Loughborough, where we were lucky enough to have a guided tour of Taylor’s Bell Foundry. We listened to a very informative talk from our guide on how the foundry came to be there. The firm was founded by John Taylor, who won the contract to cast the bells of All Saints Church. The churchwardens insisted that the bells be cast in Loughborough, so John moved from Devon and rented premises in Pack Horse Lane. In 1859, a purpose built bell foundry was completed in the Cherry Orchard. When a fire seriously damaged the foundry in 1891, it was redesigned and rebuilt. The last member of the Taylor family died in 1981, and the firm is now a limited company but retains the family name. Recently, the only other bell foundry in Britain, based in London, closed, and so Taylor's of Loughborough is the only operating bell foundry remaining in this country. 

We then watched a video showing how bell moulds are made and how bells are cast before looking around the factory itself. We saw the machinery involved and followed the process through from mould making to casting and tuning. Our guide rang bells made from four different metals and it was very clear why ‘bell metal’, an alloy of tin and copper, is used for church bells! We also learnt that every bell produces more than one note when struck, with a main note, or ‘fundamental’, which is the loudest note and ‘harmonics’, quieter but very important notes which affect the tone of a bell! 

We were very lucky to see some of the bells from St. Paul’s Cathedral and were able to see the inscriptions on the sides of the bells ‘up close’. Although they were not casting bells during our visit, the iron frame for a bell was being cast and we watched the process from the gallery above the foundry. It was interesting to see the stages of casting which we had seen on the video in real life and to experience the sights, sounds and smells of the process!

When we were looking around the museum at our leisure afterwards we realised that an American couple had joined our group. The gentleman had come with other members of Orlando Cathedral choir to sing services at Canterbury Cathedral and had driven up to the bell foundry on his free day. He is a carilloneur and plays a carillon in America, which is made up entirely of bells made at Taylors foundry in Loughborough! It was great to think that he had been able to join our group and learn more about the bells that he plays.

Greyfriars Friary, Leicester

In May, members and visitors heard a fascinating talk by Mathew Morris of Leicester University Archaeological Services about the excavation of the Greyfriars Friary in Leicester.  

We all knew that  the discovery and identification of the mortal remains of King Richard III made headline news and captured the imagination of thousands of people both here and in other parts of the world. However, we did not realise that archaeologists were as keen to discover the whereabouts of the Greyfriars site itself, which had lain hidden for hundreds of years with just a few clues to its location, such as street names. Friars were mendicants who would beg for alms but would also preach from a property they had bought, or which was given to them. Several benefactors of the order are suggested in Leicester, amongst them Simon de Montfort and his wife Eleanor.

It is known that the friars arrived in Leicester in 1231, with a chapel built by 1255 and the church completed by 1290. In 1485 the body of King Richard III was buried in the choir of the church and in 1538 the friars surrendered to the commissioners of Henry VIII at the dissolution, after which the buildings were demolished for building materials and the land sold. Robert Herrick bought the site, and built a house on the land, laying out a garden. He erected a pillar over the grave site of King Richard III, but in time both this and the exact site of the Friary was lost.  It is amazing to realise that, of the area where the Friary was thought to lie, only 83% was accessible to the archaeologists and only 1% was actually excavated!

During the excavations archaeologists identified fragments of benches inside the chapter house, which lay side by side with the church. The tile pattern of the floors could be seen from the grouting, as the tiles themselves had been removed, but the pattern was diagonal to the walls. The domestic buildings had yellow and black floor tiles laid diagonally, possibly similar to Leicester Abbey. Some encaustic tiles with yellow clay decoration were recovered from the church. 23 different tile patterns were found including ‘fleur de lys’, an eagle displayed on a shield and the royal coat of arms. The eagle may link to Edmund, Earl of Cornwall, who held Oakham Castle and leased the Earldom of Leicester for four years and suggests that he donated money to the Friary. The church was 50 metres long, similar in size to Leicester Cathedral. 

The descriptions of the buildings were vividly brought to life for us in a digital reconstruction created by De Montfort University Digital Building Heritage Group. 

A number of graves were found, but only those under threat from the building of the King Richard III visitor centre were excavated.  The burials were not of friars but of people who would demonstrate their piety by being buried in a friary. The money from such burials would help to support the friars. Archaeologists were able to identify aspects of the life of the individuals found, and to prove that the manner in which the remains of King Richard III were buried was not the same as the other burials examined.  

This was a very stimulating and informative talk and we look forward to welcoming Mathew back to talk to us again soon!

Recollections of Markfield 

At our March meeting we were delighted to welcome a former Markfield resident, Mr. Bill Williamson, who spoke about his memories of growing up in Markfield before and during the war. There was a mix of people in the audience, including recent incomers to the village, together with residents born in the village who remembered many of the things that Bill mentioned in his talk. 

Bill began by introducing his two grandfathers and how they came to be linked to the village. His maternal Great grandfather, Henry Cooper, was senior surgeon at Wellingborough hospital. His son, Bill’s grandfather, at one time held the tenancy of Bardon Hall farm.  He arranged for Bill’s uncle to become the Markfield postmaster. His paternal grandfather, William Williamson, lived to be over 100 years old and at one time owned a smallholding and Monumental Mason’s yard on the Green in Markfield. The yard and fields of this smallholding are now occupied by bungalows but the house can still be seen today. 

Bill brought along some photos, one of which showed him in his mother’s arms in 1930 in front of the old Post Office on Main Street, which originally stood a few doors away from the George Public House.  The post office window has been infilled now and the wall rendered.   Bill’s Uncle George was the Markfield postmaster from the 1920s to 1940.  Bill talked about attending the village school before the war, and helping to carry lunch up to Cliffe Hill quarry in his school lunch hour, a task which many of the boys did as a matter of course so that the quarry workers could have a cooked meal!  He recalled the different ways that he and his friends passed their leisure time, including swimming in a variety of locations which would not be allowed today!

In 1940 Bill went to Coalville Grammar School and his family were very pleased to have support from a local philanthropist who provided a school uniform and a variety of books for the young student. 

There was much interest in Bill’s talk from those attending, and some even joined in with their own memories. It was a great opportunity for friends to reunite and reminisce and we hope that Bill will be able to attend some of our meeting in the future. 

Annual General Meeting, January 2018

We held our AGM at the Library in Markfield, where we reviewed the successes of last year’s programme and looked forward to the coming year. Speakers in 2017 gave us fascinating insights into Stoneywell Cottage gardens, the history of women’s suffrage, occupations of Markfield and the Ashby canal. We had a very informative visit to Leicester Cathedral where those who felt able climbed the bell tower and listened to a talk on the bells and their history. This was followed by a look around St. Nicholas’s Church opposite the Holiday Inn, where we marvelled at the Saxon and later features and heard about the part that the church played in the reinterment  of King Richard III. 

The village walk proved very popular again – it is great to attract new visitors to Markfield from around the county and beyond as part of the national Archaeology Festival.  We will be running the walk again in 2018.

Part of the work of the group involves research on a range of projects and this includes looking at the archive of photos and documents relating to the village and surrounding area which we hold. 

This year marks the one hundredth anniversary of the end of World War I.  There will be a number of events across Britain and we discussed what we might do in Markfield to commemorate this. The annual service at the new War Memorial on The Green is always well attended, but there may be other ways in which we can observe the anniversary. The former Institute which for many years was the village war memorial has now sadly been demolished.  Members recalled memorials on the walls of the institute, although their present whereabouts are not known. If anyone has any information about this or any photos or other memorabilia which they would like to share with the group, please do not hesitate to contact us. 

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