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  • Markfield Local History Group

Streets of days gone by - The Green, Hill Side and Queen St.

Updated: 8 hours ago

The Green has been the centre of the village for many years. It boasts the 'Top or Upper Green' by the Parish Church and the 'Bottom or Lower or Sawpit Green' (the old village sawpit, where large logs were sawn) at the junction with Main Street. It was home to the village school for many years. Villagers gathered to hear John Wesley preach as he toured the country, probably joined from people across the local area. The first non-conformist chapel in the village was built there. It provided one of the entrances to the old quarry. The map is from 1884.

The area is still largely recognisable, although some things have of course changed. Some of the Lower Green has been lost to the bungalows; the village school closed in 1982 and has been converted to houses; Church Drive has come into being, along with the static homes at the end of Queen St; some houses by parcel 524 near to Hill Side were demolished in the 1960s, the webmaster thinks this was known as Fadge Row; and some here and there have merged or been demolished and replaced (e.g. parcel 622 and the right of 469).

The old 1811 Chapel went through various uses in the 20th Century, latterly Bob Jones' car repair garage, and was converted to apartments around 2020.

Walls have been rendered and unrendered, roof tiles have replaced thatch, the thicker local slate tiles have been replaced by the thinner Welsh variety. To the very top right, Upland Drive and St Michael's Close have taken up the open space.

The site of a water pump is marked on the map on the Bottom Green. This would have been available for use by any villager, as not all houses had direct access to a pump or well. The wooden post still there today reminds us of its location. A pump from the period has recently been added nearby. Mains water arrived in the 1920s, although take up was apparently slow due to the cost

Starting from Main St with the Bottom Green, our first picture shows the Markfield Wake (fair), which was held every Autumn, postmarked Leicester on 23 October 1905. This card shows villagers gathered on the Lower Green enjoying the carousel and stalls. The house to the top left is still here. Once in the Second World War, American troops wrecked some of the rides! A fair was also held in the field behind the Miners Institute on Main St.

This press cutting from circa 1960s shows lorries parked on The Green - sometimes, reportedly, as many as 15.

Residents had complained to the Parish Council. Perhaps village life wasn't always as ideal as we may now think it was.

This photo focusses on the village school, with the Headmaster's house next door to the right. The National School was built in 1861 and the house in 1872. The school closed finally in 1982 after the new Mercenfeld primary school was completed. At one point as the population expanded, there were classes in both the old and the new schools as well as the Methodist Church schoolroom, the Scout Hut and the Institute.

The school closed in 1982 when the last pupils were transferred to the new Mercenfeld School in the (then) newer part of the village. It has converted into private houses, although much character has been preserved. There is a school desk in the front garden of the headmaster’s house.

Here are a couple of class photos. The first has been dated to 1909 or thereabouts. The second hasn't been dated, however is the same mistress and location and quite possibly the same date.

Moving up the road slightly, this slightly later hand-coloured card, looks back down The Green, before the day nursery was built to the right (this was originally a doctors' surgery, before the move to Chitterman Way). There is a nice side view of the old school, looking down towards Main Street and the Wesleyan (Trinity) Methodist Church.

These next early twentieth century postcards show the Top Green, with St Michael and All Angels Parish Church. The first card was posted in 1906. In the second card, a group of children sit in front of the Church wall.

The house nearest the Church bears an engraved brick above the door 'EA+P 1771' and was renovated in 2018. The house on the end is clearly Victorian. The house on the other corner of Queen St, the end just visible, bears a date stone of 1700 and was once a sweetshop and grocers run by the Widdowsons. It seems reasonable to assume that the two middle cottages are also very old - their thatch was replaced by slates in the mid-20th Century (before 1958) and they are now one property.

A church has existed on this site since 1072 and there are traces of its Norman origin. Several stones carved with zigzags, built into the outside wall to the right of the porch, are probably of Norman origin. However, St. Michael and All Angels Church is mostly 13th and 14th century, although was extensively altered by the Victorians in the 19th century.

To the side of the lych gate is a blue plaque commemorating John Wesley’s 16 visits to Markfield between 1741 and 1799. He was (and still is) well known as the Methodist pioneering preacher. One Friday evening in March 1772, he arrived in Markfield during a violent rainstorm and preached to the many people gathered in the parish church.

In the churchyard, to the right of the porch, is a slate gravestone to Friswid Bodin who had twelve children and died at the age of 64 in 1687. Friswid’s husband, Francis, considered she possessed the qualities of the six biblical people he had named on her gravestone. Within the church is the tomb of George Herine who died in 1718 and is said to have been the son of the King of the Gypsies. On the exit from the churchyard is an impressive set of iron gates dating from 1826.

In 2014, some 100 years on from the start of the First World War, a new war memorial to the fallen of the First and Second World Wars was established on The Green in front of the Church. This replaced the Institute on Main St as the official village memorial and was paid for in part by the proceeds of the sale of the Institute. There is a separate page with more details.

This picture to the right dates from the early 1900s and seems to be of cottages on The Green, opposite St Michael's Church. However, this is not yet certain - attempts at identification would be welcomed.

This next photo below is presented as it looks further upwards The Green, towards the junction with Hill Side and Mill Hill Lane. The terrace of three houses at the top right were numbers 2, 4 and 6 Hill Side, which were demolished and replaced by the present 4 Hill Side in the early 1970's (part of parcel 469 on the map). The thatched cottage to the left remains today, although the thatch has long gone and an extension has been added to the front.

Proceeding up to the top of the road, next up is a 2024 picture of the recently redeveloped former Wesleyan Methodist Chapel and Temperance Hall. Up on the wall is a plaque bearing the inscription ‘Methodist Chapel 1811’. This must have reflected the growing number of non-conformists in the village, with the funds to build a chapel. Its roof contains wooden beams from old ships.

The larger Wesleyan Methodist Chapel opened on Main Street in 1894, and this 1811 building then had a succession of uses. These included housing knitting machines that formed part of a thriving village industry in the 19th Century.

Its last use before redevelopment was as a car repair garage, operated by the late Bob Jones.

The Victorian row of terraces is also shown, believed to be Westons Row in the census returns of the day. They had outside toilets, as did many village houses. These are still there, used as storage or for nothing in particular.

Before the terrace, not on the photo, there is now a more open area with garages. Until the 1960s, this was the site of a smaller row of terraces, believed to be Fadge Row on the census.

Turning left along Hill Side and walking on a little, we come to the long row of terraced houses known as 'New Row'. These were built around 1860 (when they were 'new') mainly to house quarry workers for the newly opened Ellis & Everard quarry behind (now Hill Hole).

These houses were very overcrowded and had no water, gas or electricity. Wood or coal was used for cooking and heating. Oil or candles were used for lighting, but was an expensive luxury kept to a minimum. Some families could barely afford the fuel for cooking.

The gardens at the rear grew vegetables to supplement their needs. Flowers required valuable land and would not have been a priority for most.

The toilet facilities were separate, usually within a small building at the bottom of the vegetable garden. Although freezing cold in winter, the remote ‘privy’ ensured that unwanted smells and vermin were kept away from the house. There was usually a large tub containing earth. Soil men took away the contents on horse drawn carts.

The view South from New Row is excellent. This next photo, posted in 1907, however, looks to the village from the South. With Forest Road in the foreground, New Row can clearly be seen on the hill side, with St Michael's Church spire to the right. Note the absence of other buildings between Hill Side and Forest Road.

To finish off out tour of this part of the village, we now walk down the stone steps (or back down the road) to Queen Street.

The aptly named Three Gables on Queen St was once one of three or four bakeries in the village, this one run by the Dilks family. The stone above the door reads 'T.T.P 1879'. This older photo provides a good view.

Towards the end of this short street, before the static home park, is Quarry House, now a private house. Our interest, however, is that it was formerly the Quarryman's Arms. The original cottages date from the early 1700’s and had many uses before becoming a pub. The Inn was licensed as a beer house, so could only sell beer - not wines or spirits. The earliest record we have found is Thomas Gregory recorded as the beer house keeper in the Wrights Directory of 1888. However, he was probably running a beer house there in 1880. Marston's (later Marston, Thompson and Evershed) purchased the Inn in 1900 and owned it until closure in 1956.

The landlord Arthur Gibson in the photo arrived in the years leading up to 1911, when he was aged 44. He left between 1932 and 1939. By 1939, Edward Wapples was the landlord, as shown on the 1939 Register.

At the end of the street, the footpath known as The Pieces leads down to Forest Road.

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