History of Leicestershire.


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Leicestershire Places

From Wright's Directory of Leicestershire, 1887-88.

Leicestershire is an inland county nearly in the centre of England; it is in the North Midland division of England, near the eastern sea. Leicestershire is bounded for about 20 miles north-west by Derbyshire, 30 miles on the north by Nottinghamshire, 20 miles north-east by Lincolnshire, 20 miles east by Rutland, 25 miles south-east by Northamptonshire, above 30 miles south-west by Warwickshire, and for a mile or two on the west by Staffordshire.

Leicestershire's boundary is partially formed by several rivers. It is separated from Derbyshire by the Trent, from Nottinghamshire by the Soar a tributary of the Trent, from Rutland by the Eye, from Northamptonshire by the Welland and the Avon, while on the south-west border the straight Roman road Watling Street separates it from Warwickshire. Its greatest length, from near Normanton on the north-east to the vicinity of Lutterworth in the south-west, is about 44 miles.

Map of Leicestershire by Sidney Hall in his "A Travelling County Atlas" [c.1855]

Leicestershire is about 40 miles in breadth. Its shape is irregular, something like a heart, hollow towards the north, and running to a peak towards the south. The circumference measures 165 miles, the area being about 803 square miles, or 511,907 acres, of which nearly 480,000 are arable, pasture, and meadow. It is included between 52 deg. 24 min. and 52 deg. 59 min. N. lat, and between 0 deg. 39 min. and 1 deg. 37 min. W. long.

The population of the county amounted in 1861 to 237,412, in 1871 to 269,311, and in 1881 to 321,258 [males 155,881, females 165,377] showing an average rate of increase 15.7 slightly above that of all England and Wales. There were 0.62 persons to the acre.

In the Domesday book the county is mentioned as Ledecestrecire, a name of Saxon origin. At the time of the Roman invasion, this region was occupied by the Coritani Welsh, who were conquered by the Romans. The latter had towns at Ratae [Leicester], Vernometum and Manduessedum [Mancetter], on the south-western border. Watling Street, the Fosse Way, Gartree Road, or the Via Devana, and the Salt Way crossing the Fosse Way, near the Six Hills, were the great Roman roads. They seem to have had settlements at Narborough, Loughborough, Harborough, Broughton Astley, Queniborough, Whatborough, Wellesborough, Bramborough, Burrough, Nether Broughton, Thornborough, Sharnford, Acresford, Swinford, Desford, Twyford, Scalford, Blackfordby, Burton-on-the-Wolds, Burbage, Burton Overy, Burton Lazars, Staunton Harold, and Linford. There are not many camps remaining of the Romans or Welsh, but there are barrows of various tribes among the hills.

After the Romans departed this land was taken by the English and Warings, named the Middle English, and shared the fate of the kingdom of Mercia. Later the Northmen settled mostly on the Wreake and Soar, where the names of the hamlets often end in by. Leicester became a great town of the Northmen, and was part of the commonwealth of the five burghs. It was also within the Dane laga, but after William the Norman came to be king it was like the other shires. The Normans built many castles, as Leicester, Mountsorrel, Hinckley, Melton, Whitwick, Shilton, Groby, Donington, Ravenstone, Sanvey, and Thorpe, but of these there are few remains.

There were abbeys at Leicester, Garendon, Croxton, and Owston, with some priories. The county was the scene of several battles after the accession of William II., and again during the Barons' war in the reigns of John and Henry III. At the close of the 14th century, Leicestershire was the centre from which the Wickliffites promulgated the reformed doctrine. In 1485 the Wars of the Roses were terminated by the victory of the Duke of Richmond between Market Bosworth and Dadlington. In the civil war the people chiefly adopted the side of the Parliament, but the Royalists held Belvoir Castle, whence they made several expeditions. In May, 1645, Charles I. stormed Leicester, but it was soon after re-taken, and, in the following November, Belvoir and Ashby-de-la-Zouch were lost to the Royal cause.

The surface of the county is undulating, with large tracts of table land. It is mostly a basin, drained by the Soar and Wreake, round which high hills rise, being part of the great northern hills. The highest elevation is Bardon Hill, on the west side of Charnwood Forest, which is 853 feet above the sea level, but not more than 250 feet above the adjoining lands, which are irregular and rugged.

Beacon Hill is on the eastern side of the forest. Other hills in the same district are Breedon and Cloud Hills, and Ashby-on-the-Wolds. Another range passes through the detached part of Derbyshire, which unites Leicestershire, terminating in a fork, the extremities of which are at Orton and Twycross. In the south-west the highest localities are at Enderby, Hinckley, Croft, and Higham; and in the south Saddington and Gumley. Blaby Hill, on the Fosse Way, is also a considerable eminence. In the east are Whatborough and Tilton hills, which are nearly united, and Burrough hill is a little farther north. In the north-east there is a straight range of hills parallel to the Nottinghamshire border, which runs from near Long Clawson, past Stathern, terminating in the hill on which Belvoir Castle is erected.

Situated on rising ground, in the very centre of England, its waters find their way to the Humber by the Soar and Trent, to the Wash by the Welland, and to the Bristol Channel by the Avon. The principal rivers in Leicestershire are the Soar, the Wreake, the Welland, the Avon, the Swift, and the Anker. The Trent forms the north-western boundary of the county from Castle Donington to Ratcliffe, where it receives the Soar. The latter rises in Warwickshire, though not more than half-a-mile from the boundary, and flows in a north-westerly direction, receiving, near Blaby, Billesdon Brook and other minor streams. It then passes Leicester, Wanlip, Mountsorrel, Barrow and Loughborough. At Stamford it divides the county from Nottinghamshire until it falls into the Trent. It is navigable from that point to Loughborough, whence a canal proceeds to Leicester. The length of the Soar is about 40 miles.

The Wreake rises near Goadby Marwood, flows south to Melton, then westward, past Asfordby, Frisby, Hoby, and Ratcliffe, joining the Soar near Thurmaston. The Eye rises in Rutland, and is about 25 miles in length. Its channel is partly used as a canal. The Welland forms the south-western boundary of the county from Husbands Bosworth to Rockingham, a distance of about 17 miles, and is there joined by the Eye.

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The Avon, a tributary of the Severn, also divides Leicester from Northamptonshire from Welford to Catthorpe, about 8 miles. The Swift, which rises near Gilmorton, and passes near Lutterworth, joins it after its entrance into Warwickshire. The Anker, a tributary of the Tame, divides the county from Warwicksire, a distance of 3 or 4 miles, from Mancetter to Pinwall Grange. Its tributary, the Sence, formed by springs rising near Bosworth Field, Ibstock, and Normanton Heath, joins the Anker near Ratcliffe Culey. The Devon has two sources at Eastwell and Croxton. It flows through Woolsthorpe, Maston, and Bottesford, to unite with the Trent at Newark. The Mease rises at Blackfordby, on the Ashby Wolds, and, flowing through the detached portion of Derbyshire, leaves that county near Netherseal. The Smite has sources at Nether Broughton, Hose, and Long Clawson; it waters the vale of Belvoir, and finally joins the Devon at Shelton, in Nottinghamshire.

The climate of Leicestershire is mild, and not too moist, owing to the absence of large rivers and of high hills to catch and break the clouds. As to the geological formation, it may be divided into two parts by a line from Claybrooke to Broughton. Of the Eastern division, the northern part is occupied by oolite, and the rest by lias; but red sandstone, of which Belvoir Castle is built, occurs from Grimstone to Ab Kettleby, Wymondham, and Edmondthorpe. The vale of the Soar, and the western portion of the county generally is formed of red marl, or sandstone, with the exception of Charnwood Forest, the hills of which consist of transition slate and syenite, affording valuable quarries. There are extensive coal fields on the north-east and south-west of Ashby-de-la-Zouch, and the output is estimated at one million tons per annum. At Osgathorpe there is an isolated quarry of limestone; and the rocks at Mountsorrel and Quorndon abound in felspar and quartz, as well as granite, which is used for the pavements of London and other towns. Gypsum is quarried near Leicester, and limestone and cement at Barrow. The Whittle Hill, near Loughborough, supplies hones of a superior quality.

Ibstock Colliery [c.1912]

The coal field of Leicestershire is called the Ashby-de-la-Zouch coal field, as this town is nearly in its centre. It is continued, however, on its western side into Derbyshire. It extends about 10 miles from north-west to south-east. Stone implements and other evidences of coal mining indicative of very ancient workings have been found. Early in the 13th century coal was taken hence to London. In the reign of Henry VIII., the stratum near Coleorton was on fire for several years. But other workings were tapped, while the introduction of steam machinery greatly accelerated the demand and supply. The Ashby coal field produced in 1874 from 24 collieries above 1,100,000 tons, and it is estimated that at the same rate per annum the field may not be exhausted for 250 years. The aggregate thickness of the beds is estimated at 7½ feet. At Ibstock there is one of 8½ feet at a depth of 130 yards. At the Ellistown colliery, the main coal was struck at about 760 feet. There are mineral springs at Moira and Ivanhoe, near Ashby, and at Dalby, Gumley, Hinckley, Shearsby Holt, and Burton Lazars.

The soil is principally strong and stiff, and composed of clay and marl. More than half the surface is permanently kept in pasture, and it is one of the finest grazing counties in England. Barley, oats, turnips, and beans are grown to a considerable extent. Wheat is cultivated in the sandstone district. Woods and uncultivated ground occupy but a small portion of the area. Both the horned cattle and sheep of Leicestershire are famous. The long-horned cattle are chiefly of a red colour, short in the leg, and fatten easily. The sheep are mostly large, and long-woolled. In Charnwood Forest there is an inferior breed known as forest sheep. A great number of horses are bred in the county. The western portion is the chief hunting country in England. The principal hunts are the Quorn and Billesdon, Melton and Market Harborough being the headquarters of the sportsmen during the season. Dairy farms are numerous, especially about Melton, Bosworth, and Hinckley; and the eastern part of the county is famed for its excellent cheese.

The chief seats of the nobility and gentry are Belvoir Castle, Duke of Rutland; Castle Donington, Lord Donington; Staunton Harold, Earl Ferrers; Melton, Earl Wilton; Bradgate, Countess of Stamford; Gopsall, Earl Howe; Buckminster, Earl Dysart, etc.

The Canals are the Leicestershire Navigation from Loughborough to Leicester, which is only partly artificial and partly the river Soar; the Leicester and Melton, which joins the above near Syston, and follows the course of the Wreake; [from Melton it runs to Oakham, and is called the Oakham canal]; the Leicestershire and Northamptonshire Union from Aylestone to Foxton, from whence there is a cut to Market Harborough; while the main canal continues southward past Husbands Bosworth, under the name of the Grand Union Canal; and the Ashby Canal, from the Ashby and Moira Collieries to near Nuneaton. A small canal also crosses Charnwood Forest. The county contains 207 parishes, with parts of 7 others, 26 extra parochial places, and about 560 villages and hamlets. It is divided into six hundreds of Framland, of which Melton is the principal town; Gartree, which includes Husbands Bosworth, Market Harborongh, etc.; East Goscote, with the places north-east of Leicester; West Goscote, containing Ashby, Castle Donington and Loughborough, with the places around; Guthlaxton, including Leicester and most of the parishes south-westwards as far as Lutterworth; Sparkenhoe embracing the district about Market Bosworth. The market towns are Leicester, the county town, Ashby-de-la-Zouch, Market Bosworth, Market Harborough, Hinckley, Loughborough, Lutterworth, Melton Mowbray and Mountsorrel. With the exception of the last these are County Court districts [Circuit No. 20], and the same places with Bedworth, Barrow, Billesdon, and Blaby are the seats of registries and Poor Law Unions.

Leicestershire returns four Members to Parliament in addition to the two who represent the borough. The Eastern or Melton division includes greater the part of the Unions of Melton and Billesdon, as well as several places in the Uppingham Union; population 50,282, voters about 10,200. The Loughborough, or mid-division, embraces the larger part of Loughborough Union, as well as the Barrow Union and several parishes in the Bosworth Union; population 50,614, voters about 9,400. The Bosworth or West Leicestershire division comprises the greater portion of the Market Bosworth and Hinckley Unions; population 50,834, voters about 10,000. The Harborough, or southern division, embraces chiefly the Blaby, Lutterworth and Market Harborough Unions; population 47,102, electors about 12,500. The county constitutes the Archdeaconry of Leicester, in the Diocese of Peterborough, Province of Canterbury, and is divided into the Rural Deaneries of Akeley, Framland, Gartree, Goscote, Guthlaxton, and Sparkenhoe. The county is governed by a Lord-Lieutenant [the Duke of Rutland], about 20 Deputy-Lieutenants and over 150 Magistrates. It is included in the N.E. Military District, and in the Midland Assize Circuit.

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