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  • Markfield Local History Group

2019 meetings and events

November 2019 - the rise and fall of Markfield pubs

Our November 2019 meeting was very well attended. Laurence Lock gave an extremely interesting talk entitled 'the rise and fall of Markfield pubs'.   

We were all given a sheet of questions to start with, and had to try and fill in the answers. At intervals during the talk, Laurence would challenge everyone to give him the correct answer and rewarded the person closest to the answer with a prize! This led to some discussion as well as some hilarity and amazement over the actual answers, which in some cases were very different to those guessed at! We learnt that the first establishments we would recognise as pubs appeared in the 1200s - inns (for the wealthy travellers) and taverns (in towns for merchants and the middle classes).  About 200 years later alehouses made an appearance.  These were for the ordinary man, sold mostly beer and rapidly became more numerous than inns and taverns.  Under Queen Elizabeth I (1558-1603), magistrates were required to record inns, taverns and alehouses. However, it wasn’t until 1618 that alehouses were required to have a licence issued by a magistrate (later extended to inns and taverns).  The 1830s saw major changes to the licensing laws.  Most importantly, anyone wishing to sell only beer (a beerhouse) could get a licence without a magistrate’s approval.  This led to an explosion in the number of pubs.

For Markfield, licence records exist from 1753, these give the licensee’s name but only give the pub names from 1825.  In 1757 there were 6 licensed premises in Markfield. Two of these still exist today: The Axe and Cleaver (now the Bulls Head) and the Coach & Horses (although this might not have been the original name).  A third, the Framework Knitters Arms became the Boot and then the George, which closed in recent times and is now the Co-op.  The other 3 pubs are long gone. One was the Bulls Head on Shaw Lane, which closed before the current Bulls Head took the name.

By 1825 four more pubs had appeared (bringing the total to seven): The Duke of Wellington (which started as the Crown, then the New Inn, then the Pied Bull and possibly later the Stamford Arms, now a private house on Altar Stones Lane); the Red Lion (on Main Street, rebuilt next door in the late 19th century and now an Indian restaurant); the Wagon and Horses (on Shaw Lane just beyond the Flying Horse, closed in 1936 and demolished); and the Flying Horse (which was rebuilt in 1938 and is now also an Indian Restaurant) - see picture right before this, early in the 1900's.

Between 1830 and 1872 (when magistrates took back control of issuing licences) many beerhouses came and some went, for several we have no record of their name.  In this period one new pub opened with a full licence, the Copt Oak, which still operates today.  The others (beerhouses) that survived into the 1870s were: Massey’s beerhouse (on Main Street, near the Green, possibly called the Fountain, closed late 1870s); the Queens Head (which started life as the Queen Adelaide, and got a full licence in 1952); the Earl Grey (closed in the 1920s, now Bowns Homeware) - see picture, left; the Plough (on the corner of Main Street and the Green); the President Lincoln (on the corner of Main Street and London Road); and the Quarryman’s Arms (on Queen’s Street, a very old building, which has been many things, including a beerhouse from about 1872 to 1956). In the 1870s (after the opening of the Quarryman’s Arms and before the closure of Massey’s beerhouse), there were 14 pubs in Markfield. Probably the most there ever was in Markfield. No new pub has opened since the Quarryman’s Arms (the Field Head Hotel opened in the 1970s, but is in Newtown Linford parish).  Steadily, over the years, 10 village pubs have closed, leaving the four we know today. Discussion followed as to why there were so many pubs in the 1870s and why there has been a steady decline since this date. One reason could be that, once the magistrates took over the licensing of pubs again, it was harder to get and keep a licence.  A number of members and visitors were able to recall some of the older buildings and the people who lived in the pubs and ran them. Everyone agreed that it was a very interesting meeting. Laurence showed several old photos of the village pubs and would be very interested if anyone has any other old photos.  Also, there is an oral history of a pub called the Rising Sun (probably near the corner of London Road and Main Street) but no written record has been found.  Do you know of any written record of this pub? If so, please contact us via the Contact page.

September 2019 - Overseers of the poor

In September, local historian Michael Ball spoke about the care of the village poor from the reign of Elizabeth I (later sixteenth century) to the age of Charles Dickens’ ‘Oliver Twist’ (mid nineteenth century). The talk was chiefly based on the records of the Overseers of the Poor in Markfield and the surrounding parishes of Thornton, Newtown Linford, Ratby, Groby and Anstey.

After some very modern IT challenges connecting laptop and projector, the session got properly underway!

Originating from laws around the year 1600, Overseers of the Poor were elected or appointed in every parish to collect a tax on property called the poor rate, and to distribute it to the paupers of the parish. They were often reluctant, unpaid appointees working under the supervision of a justice of the peace. The law required two overseers to be elected every Easter, and churchwardens or landowners were often selected. Paupers were people without any means of support, especially a destitute person dependent on poor relief.

There were two forms of relief – firstly, ‘outdoor relief’ to pauper villagers in their own homes, through money, food, clothing, etc.  Secondly was ‘indoor relief’, where the pauper was required to enter the village or union (of local villages) workhouse, which were usually very harsh places to discourage people from applying. Local parishes often argued who should pay the union workhouse for each person!  The Market Bosworth Union workhouse opened in 1836, leading to the closure of the four houses in Markfield once situated on the opposite corner to the Bulls Head pub.

Regrettably the Markfield Overseers of the Poor accounts have not survived. However in neighbouring Newtown Linford and Anstey, there are over 100 years of detailed records.

Michael explained that the village Overseers tried hard to reject requests for support. A pauper family receiving outdoor relief would eat bread, potatoes, greens, and perhaps bacon once weekly. In the 18th century, local records show that outdoor relief could be up to 26 weeks, and include coal, rent, or even roof rethatching. Anstey bought spinning wheels for paupers, to make yarn for the village frames.

In the talk, Michael reflected on the harsh treatment meted out to idle beggars in the days of the early Tudors. On these occasions the Parish Constable was obliged  to whip them and send them on their way. By the reign of Elizabeth 1st (1558 - 1603), new laws improved the plight of the poor. Also at this time we see bequests to the poor in the wills of more prosperous members of the community. 

One such bequest was a charitable donation by Jane Avery, the daughter of a former rector of Markfield . This trust has stood the test of time and still is in existence today, with annual income of around £1,000 available for the benefit of needy Markfield villagers. 

Later in the reign of Charles 2nd (1660-1685), Settlement laws were introduced. Consequently, only those residents who could prove they had right of settlement by way of birth marriage and several other criteria could receive help from the Markfield Overseers of the Poor. Where the individual did not meet the criteria, local magistrates could give powers to the Overseers to remove the person from the village. With the assistance of the Constable, the individual or in some cases whole families could be removed to their legal place of settlement. Sometimes this had heart-breaking consequences. For example, in 1703 a woman from Woodhouse Eaves approached the local Overseers for help for herself and daughter. However the Overseers on enquiry found that her daughter Mary was the result of an illegitimate relationship with a Markfield man, and ordered the Constable to take nine year old Mary to the custody of the Markfield Overseers. 

Michael specially highlighted some 30 years of records from Anstey concerning a individual by name of Ned Ludd. In 1812 the historian John Blackner in his history of Nottingham attributes this Anstey man to be the individual who gave his name to the Luddite riots of 1811, when countless frames were smashed by aggrieved framework knitters. The organised knitting frame-breakers known as Luddites were using the name King Ludd or Captain Ludd for their mythical leader. Alas the records of the Anstey Overseers have the last word - Edward Ludlum, locally known in the records as Ned, was on several occasions described as feeble minded and unable to earn his bread. Apart from one brief period when he was taken on for a few weeks by a local framework knitter, the records reveal that he spent much of his life under the day to day care of the Anstey Overseers until his death in 1776.

In the last part of his talk, Michael with the aid of the Markfield Parish burial registers revealed the extent of poverty in the village on the eve of the 19th century.  The old saying 'the poor are always with us'  is borne out on the pages of the Markfield burial register, with several family names described as 'poor' or 'poor widow' repeatedly occurring on the pages. Throughout the 19th century, the plight of the elderly is reflected in the records of the Market Bosworth Workhouse - many of the Markfield elderly who went there were in their late 70s, with others described as feeble minded. Some occupants however were orphan children like Charles Dickens' famous Oliver Twist. 

However the major change occurred in 1907 when the Liberal Chancellor of the Exchequer David Lloyd George introduced the first so called old age pension. In 1911 the census reveals the first Markfield villagers who were enjoying this much needed assistance. The original payments were 5 shillings weekly for single men and women and 7s 6d for married couples.  This is equivalent to around £27 a week now. Note that the actual state pension for a married couple is now around £250 per week! However, old grocery records show that the pension was a princely sum before the First World War.

July 2019 - Village walk

Another successful village walk, as part of the Leicestershire Archaeology Festival. Some 27 people took part, both locals and from further afield.

Commentary was provided by one of our members, Barrie Gannon, with added details from Laurence Lock.  We learnt about the sawpits which used to exist on the Lower Green (opposite the Methodist Church) before walking up past the old Village School and the former Schoolmaster’s house where we spotted an old school desk full of flowers! 

We continued up the hill to the gate of the Parish church, to the right of which is the new war memorial which replaces the old memorial, the Markfield Institute. A plaque on the cottage to the left of the church gate reminds the visitor that John Wesley preached a number of times in the village church during his ministry. After looking at some of the old graves in the churchyard we retraced our steps and walked past the old bakery and up to Hillside to the cottages built for the quarry workers of Hill Hole Quarry.  

The climb up to Hill Hole Nature Reserve was steep, but well worth it for the views over the motorway and the surrounding countryside.  From here we walked along the side of the quarry and then on to the Altar Stones. Despite it previously being a rather dull evening, we saw an amazing sunset as we reached the rocky outcrop at the end of our walk.  

A leaflet written by members of the History Group which will guide you around the village and its landmarks can be purchased from Markfield Library at a cost of 50p.

June 2019 - Visit to Glenfield Railway Tunnel

We learnt about a very interesting aspect of Leicester and Leicestershire's industrial history when we walked through part of the Glenfield Tunnel. We were met by a representative of  the Leicestershire Industrial History Society, who run tours of the tunnel for pre booked groups. From there we walked along the disused railway line, past the Railway Inn and across the road to the now disused tunnel. 

The tunnel opened in 1832 and was one of the world's first underground rail routes. The Swannington to Leicester line was built primarily for steam trains to carry coal from the pits of North West Leicestershire to Leicester, to compete against Derbyshire coal arriving on the canals. It was designed by George Stevenson and its construction supervised by his son Robert.  It was the longest railway tunnel in the world when it was built. It ran over budget because it had to be lined completely with bricks as the builders unexpectedly found running sand as they excavated. It was closed in 1966 and British Rail sold it to Leicester City Council for £5 in 1969. We learnt that the east (Leicester) end of the tunnel has been filled in, and houses built over it. We were able to enter through the door in the west (Glenfield) end and walk down for some distance to experience the size and feel of the tunnel – a little chilly and quite dark between the lights which guided our way. We all had ‘hi viz’ jackets issued to us and had brought torches which helped us to see the various features.  The tunnel itself is quite low and not very wide, which meant that only certain engines could use it. Also, trains could only travel slowly so that they didn’t rock too much and hit the sides! We saw the small refuge arches which appeared every so often down the side of the tunnel, positioned so that any men working in the tunnel could stand in them as a train passed by.

We are most grateful to the LIHS for arranging the tour. Visit their website to see photos, tunnel tour dates and publications.

May 2019 - Leicestershire industrialists; their non- industrial legacy

We were very pleased to welcome Roger Bisgrove from Swannington Heritage Trust, who gave a talk entitled 'Leicestershire industrialists; their non- industrial legacy'. Members and visitors were amazed at the number of Leicestershire people who have influenced the landscape, buildings and institutions in Leicestershire and elsewhere. 

We learnt that William Wyggeston, a wool merchant of the Staple of Calais, was Mayor of Leicester in 1499 and 1510 and a great benefactor. He founded Wyggeston’s Hospital in 1513 and in1520 he bought the manor of Swannington which he gave to Wyggeston’s Hospital in 1521 to provide an income.  Coal mining at Swannington is  known  as far back as the 13th Century-  Swannington  is referred to as ‘where coal is got’ in documents relating to a legal dispute in which King John was involved  at that time.  In 1857, when coal mining was at its peak, Swannington provided 80% of Wyggeston’s Hospital’s income despite being only 5% of the land that the hospital owned.

Joseph Wilkes (1733 – 1805) was involved with collieries at Oakthorpe and Donisthorpe. As well coalmining and textile manufacture, he owned a brickyard in Measham and made both normal and double sized bricks, known as Jumb or Gob bricks, which can still be seen in buildings in Measham today. These were made to reduce the impact of the brick tax, which was levied on every 1,000 bricks used.   He was also interested in experimenting and improving agriculture and he inaugurated the Smithfield Club.

Sir George Howland Beaumont, 7th Baronet (1753 – 1827), rebuilt Coleorton Hall as his main residence. He was an amateur painter and exhibited paintings at the Royal Academy. He is associated with the Lakeland poets – he let out the farm on the estate to Wordsworth and his family in 1806.  Sir Walter Scott began his novel ‘Ivanhoe’ here and John Constable painted in the grounds of the house. Sir George wanted to establish a public gallery of old masters and offered a collection of his paintings to the Nation, as long as the government bought the art collection of John Julius Angerstein and provided a building to house the collections. In this way the National Gallery was founded. It opened to the public in May 1824 in Angerstein's former house on Pall Mall, and Beaumont's paintings entered its collection the following year.

Joseph Aloysius Hansom (1803 – 1882) is perhaps best known for the invention of the Hansom Cab. However, he was also an architect and designed buildings such as Birmingham Town Hall as well as Churches and cathedrals. His connection with Leicestershire is that he designed the New Walk Museum, formerly the New Walk Preparatory School (1836), as well as the Baptist chapel (1845) in Belvoir Street, later used as the town’s central library; and Lutterworth's Town Hall (1836).

John Ellis (1789 – 1862) of Beaumont Leys and Belgrave Hall in Leicester, was a Quaker, liberal reformer and noted businessman, involved in farming, coal mining and weaving enterprises.  He was chairman of the Midland Railway from 1849 to 1858 and a Member of Parliament for Leicester between 1848 and 1852. His son, Edward Shipley Ellis, was responsible for setting up New Walk Museum, the free library, the Art School and the Permanent and Temperance Building Society. 

Others mentioned included the industrialist Josiah Gimson of the Vulcan works, whose younger son, Ernest Gimson, became an architect and designed the cottage, ‘Stoneywell’, for his brother as a summer retreat. Ernest became involved with the Arts and Crafts movement, moving to the Cotswolds and designing and making a range of furniture, some of which can be seen in Leicester's New Walk Museum. 

Finally, mention was made of the generous donation of Bradgate Park to the people of Leicestershire by Charles Bennion. Born in Adderley, Shropshire, he moved to Leicestershire and eventually became  Managing Director of the British United Shoe Company from 1899 until his death in 1929. He became so fond of his adoptive home that he bought Bradgate Park and donated it in 1928, just a year before his death. 

It is clear that many of our present amenities exist as a result of the generosity of the industrialists of the past. This talk helped us to see the range of interests of these men as well as their legacy. We look forward to inviting Roger back to talk to us again!

March 2019 - Buried between road and river: new insights into the people of Roman Leicester

We were once again delighted to welcome Mathew Morris of the University of Leicester Archaeological Services who gave  another very interesting talk entitled ‘ Buried between road and river: new insights into the people of Roman Leicester’. 

New information - Mathew explained how excavations within the Roman town had revealed new information about life in Roman Leicester.  In terms of buildings, the remains of a possible Roman theatre have been identified, and a courtyard house.  Amongst the finds were two scratched curse tablets giving details of the sort of crimes that were committed and how ordinary people tried to deal with them! The Servandus curse tablet explains that the writer has had his cloak stolen and names all the people he thinks might have taken it! These are probably all slaves from one household and the list of names indicates different nationalities - Latin, British, Germanic and Greek.  These tablets are very important as written records don’t usually survive, since they are on wax tablets or wood. 

More evidence comes from the inhabitants’ physical remains – that is, their skeletons. Excavations of Leicester’s Roman cemeteries, which by law had to lie outside the boundary of the Roman city, has revealed some fascinating information about the citizens who lived in and around Leicester from the First to the Fourth century AD. A great deal of this information has been added over the last ten years.

Cemeteries - The cemetery to the East of Leicester lies in Clarence Street and was excavated in the 1990s. The Southern cemetery lies on Newarke Street, near the Magazine Gateway. Burials were found here in neat rows with the head and feet aligned West to East indicating that these are Fourth Century Christian burials.  In AD 380 Christianity became the State religion of the Roman Empire.   

The Western cemetery lies on the site of the old Equity shoe factory. When the Victorians were building there they found Roman and Saxon remains and so named the streets Roman Street, Saxon Street etc.  This area had been countryside up until the late nineteenth century and there had only been one factory on the site. Roman remains were located in one part just below the surface.  Burials were found in clay, soil and rock cut holes. Because of the wet conditions, preservation of the skeletons was not as good as the other cemeteries.  However, burials span the entire Roman period. The burials had a range of alignments and spacings, and nearly 15% were buried prone (face down). This has not been found in Leicester previously but does happen elsewhere in Roman Britain.   

Half those in this cemetery were buried in wooden coffins of different shapes and sizes, custom made for each individual, whilst others were buried in shrouds. Evidence of clothing from the graves includes hobnails from shoes, brooches and even a buckle. About one third of the burials contained grave goods buried with the body such as ceramic vessels and jewellery, flasks, glass beads, hair pins and so on. Some grave goods were placed outside the coffin.  

Lifestyle and health - Mathew explained that the skeletal remains give some indication of the lifestyle and health of the population. Stable isotope analysis of the bones suggests a diet low in protein with not a lot of seafood, although the presence of fish and shells shows that these were eaten. Evidence for diseases such as rickets and scurvy was seen, but in adults who had these conditions in childhood showing they survived these.  Some skeletons showed evidence of sinusitis, caused by living in a smoky atmosphere, as well as TB and other lung diseases. 

Sometimes it is possible for archaeologists to use information from the skeleton and the grave goods to suggest the person’s occupation in life. One skeleton, of a man aged between 36 to 45 years, shows fractures and muscle injuries. In addition, his grave goods comprised of a belt set in the Germanic Roman art style. This may well be a Roman soldier who had broken his shield arm and sustained muscle injuries through over rotating his sword arm.  

Importance of Roman Leicester - All this information suggests that Roman Leicester was more important in the Province of Britain than was at first thought. The town lay in an important strategic position with roads leading to other parts of the province going straight through the town. No town in Roman Britain has as many legionary seals, which are usually found in forts and other military sites. Two objects from the courtyard house – a Roman/ Egyptian box fragment and lead seal - indicate trade or travel from long distances to Leicester. The seal is inscribed ‘ Legio III Cyrenaica ‘ which only served in Africa and the Middle East.

Lots of questions and discussion followed before and during tea, and we look forward to another stimulating talk from Mathew in the future. 

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