Transport in Markfield
The earliest evidence of roads is from Roman times over 2,000 years ago, with records indicating two roads in the area. Antiquarians in the 18th Century referred to another road passing directly through Markfield, however nothing has yet been proven.
A 14th Century document refers to a landmark called "le auterstone", which may have been either a Roman alter stone, a boundary stone or a milestone. It is reported to have been removed from a field between Copt Oak and Markfield when cultivation began in the 18th Century, and used for road construction.
Until the 17th Century, roads would have been little more than earth tracks impassable in winter. Turnpike Trusts were formed to improve road conditions. In 1753 the turnpike from Leicester to Ashby came into being and toll gates were erected to collect charges. The local section ran along the present day Ashby Road and Leicester Road (then known as Slough Lane).
The tollgate was firstly on Ashby Road near the blacksmith's (at the Hill Lane junction) and later moved to Field Head. The nearby Coach and Horses Inn has been offering refreshment (and in those days a change of horses) since about 1842.
In the mid-19th Century, a return trip to Leicester on a carrier's cart cost under 1 shilling (about £4 in today's money). A local resident recalled how in the 1930s she spent a third of her weekly wages to catch the Warners bus into Leicester, the fares costing some 4 shillings and 6 pence (4/6d), equivalent to around £10 today. Compare this to the £6 per day by bus now!
With the development of railways as the 19th Century progressed, Markfield people could walk the four miles to Bardon Hill Station to catch trains to Coalville, Leicester and beyond. Goods could be delivered to Bardon and brought by horse and cart (and later by motor vehicle) to the village.
Markfield's quarries supplied stone for road building. Ellis and Everard worked the Hill Hole quarry from 1860 to around 1914. The Cliffe Hill quarry opened first in the 1870s, then closed for some years and reopened in 1891.
In 1924, the old turnpike road (now the A50 and A511) was tarred from Field Head to Bardon Station by the County Council which had become responsible for maintaining principal roads. This made it much more suitable for the new motor vehicles and more usable in the winter.
The newly tarred road would have seen steam engines carrying beer from Burton upon Trent to the village pubs; steam lorries laden with stone from the quarries; which in turn were replaced by petrol engined vehicles. Such vehicles changed the way of village life, as goods could be delivered from further afield and villagers could travel further, so villages became less self-sufficient.
Cars however remained an unusual sight in the village throughout the 1920s and 1930s. The Rev Henry Chambers is thought to have owned the first car, a black Model-T Ford named Alice. Doctor Robinson bought a two-seater Morris Cowley soon afterwards. Bill Geary then bought a Rhode and Mr Higgins acquired a second hand Deemster around 1925/26.
Public transport moved on from a space in the carrier's cart to motorised buses (or lorries with removable benches!).
Laurence (Laurie) Brown started "Brown's Blue Coaches" in 1923 when he purchased a lorry for carrying coal in the daytime and which could be converted to a bus at other times. The business became a substantial concern and had increased to a fleet of some 39 vehicles and 70 staff by the time he sold the company to Midland Red in 1963. Scheduled services ran to Leicester and surrounding villages. The original garage was on Ashby Road, near his house where the first vehicles were kept.
Bus services were also run by Dick Warner, with the buses kept near The Green (where Warner Close is now). He was first mentioned in Kelly's Trade Directory in 1914, was also a haulage contractor and one of the first local men to provide a regular bus service to Leicester.
The face, noise and fame of Markfield changed again with the opening of the M1. The sections from Crick to Kegworth (junctions 18 to 24) opened in November 1965. The A50 bypass opened in 1970, taking the "through traffic" away from the village.
Today the village still has its excellent road links in the A50 and the M1, together with bus services by Arriva and Roberts. Long gone however are the horse drawn carts and steam vehicles of 100 years ago!!
This article is largely drawn from "Markfield into the Millennium" published in 1999 by Leicestershire Libraries and Information Service in partnership with the Markfield Local History Group.