CHARNWOOD BOROUGH - AN OVERVIEW (1)
DERIVATION OF NAME:
The earliest form of "CHARNWOOD" is probably "CERNE WODA", from the Celtic "CARN", meaning "cairn" and the Old English "WUDU", meaning "wood". Some sources give "CWERN" as the derivation, meaning hand mill, the stone for which which was quarried in this area. A third claimant is "GWERN", an old British name for ALDER, of which there was supposedly once a profusion here. Whatever the truth, "CHARNWOOD" and "CHARLEY" come from the same root, with the suffix "-LEY" denoting open land, rather than forest.
THE BOROUGH OF CHARNWOOD:
CHARNWOOD as a Borough came into being in as a result of a major change in local administration. The LOCAL GOVERNMENT ACT of 1972 revolutionised the way local councils were organised, with the result that from April 1st 1974, 1,400 existing councils were reduced to 422 new councils plus six metropolitan counties. The old counties, county boroughs, urban districts and rural districts were replaced by counties and districts operating under separate councils. County wide issues such as education came under the remit of the new County Councils with more local issues being dealt with by parish councils as before.
In Leicestershire, twenty administrative districts were replaced by eight new districts plus Rutland. It was then up to each of the new districts to apply for either city or borough status.
CHARNWOOD DISTRICT became CHARNWOOD BOROUGH and comprised the old BARROW ON SOAR Rural District, SHEPSHED Urban District and LOUGHBOROUGH Municipal Borough, giving it a population second only to LEICESTER. The New Borough Council had 58 members all of which, with the exception of LOUGHBOROUGH, were based on existing parishes
The boundaries of the new Borough were almost immediately criticised for their arbitrary nature. They relate to the boundary changes of pre-1939 and are purely administrative, having no clear physical, social or economic basis.
Unlike many Boroughs created by the 1972 Act, CHARNWOOD is somewhat lopsided with the main urban centres of LOUGHBOROUGH and SHEPSHED off to one side in the North West. In essence, CHARNWOOD BOROUGH is made up from five distinct areas:
(1) The WOLDS country - one area in the north and one in the south. Geologically, these areas have much younger rocks then the FOREST but the settlements are much older. These were the most highly populated areas of the Borough until the 18th century but today are almost entirely agricultural, being little touched by industry. The gentle slope of the Wolds land rises eastward from the SOAR VALLEY to a flat area around SIX HILLS. THere area also small deeply cut valleys where streams have cut through clay to reach the more resilient rocks beneath. The relief of the WOLDS has an overall south-west/north-east trend, largely following the drainage pattern of the land.
(2) Part of CHARNWOOD FOREST. This is the area with the oldest rocks and the poorest soils. Settlements here were established relatively late but the area is important for it's physical resources and amenity value. The FOREST has the highest land in the Borough, culminating in BEACON HILL The trend of the relief is north-west/south-east and produces a series of ridges and steep sloped valleys.
(3) The SOAR/WREAKE VALLEY. This forms a "corridor" through the Borough and has been important for movement and transport since at least Saxon times. This has greatly influenced the pattern of development here, most of which has grown up along the river and, later, along the canals and railways. The valley runs south east/north west to eventually join the Trent Valley. It has a flat flood plain about 1.5 miles wide and flooding has been a problem in this area for centuries. Although much improved, it has not been completely conquered even today.
(4) The urban area around SHEPSHED and LOUGHBOROUGH. The period of greatest development here was in the 18th and 19th centuries with the spread of industrialisation.
(5) The urban area of BIRSTALL and THURCASTON. Growth here has always been tied in closely with that of LEICESTER. Their geographical proximity has led to a much closer identification with the County Town to the south rather than north to the rest of the Borough.
So it can be seen that when it began, the Borough had little cultural or geographic homogeneity. Nevertheless it has established a distinctive identity and is strategically positioned at the centre of a triangle joining LEICESTER, NOTTINGHAM and DERBY. CHARNWOOD has settled into a unity of its own, with the settlements along the SOAR VALLEY as "backbone" of the Borough and the urban area of LOUGHBOROUGH forming a link between the FOREST and the WOLDS country.
"CHARNIA" - THE PHYSICAL EVOLUTION OF CHARNWOOD:
CHARNWOOD's current landscape is the result of complex events over millions of years. It's ancient rocks were originally formed through volcanic eruptions over 800 million years ago, the ash from which eventually formed the "CHARNIAN " rocks. About 500 million years ago, massive earth movements raised up a huge island of these rocks which it may be simpler to think of as "CHARNIA". The island was periodically surrounded by the sea, the movements of the earth giving it the north-west/south-east alignment we can see today.
In the PERMIAN period (200 million years ago) "CHARNIA" formed part of a massive, continental mountain range stretching from the Atlantic across Europe to the Urals in Russia. The TRIASSIC period saw CHARNIA being covered with sediments known as KEUPER MARLS, formed from sea and desert deposits. Erosion slowly removed these Marls until, by the last Ice Age, the higher sections of ancient "CHARNIA" began to reappear, aided by the movement of glaciers. This is still seen today with ancient crags protruding through much younger rocks to form the present pattern of rocky, infertile hills and fertile valleys.
These PRE-CAMBRIAN CHARNIAN rocks are among the oldest in Britain and contain many of the most ancient fossils. The rock is found all over the County and stretches at least as far as NORFOLK.
PRE-HISTORY TO IRON AGE (250,000 BC - AD 43):
It was long thought that the inhospitable terrain of CHARNWOOD, including heavy clay solid and thick forests, had deterred settlement by early man. But archaeological evidence, much of it discovered quite recently, has reinforced the importance of the Soar and Wreake Valleys as early routeways, especially from the Iron Age onwards.
The earliest archaeological find in the whole of CHARNWOOD is from RATCLIFFE ON THE WREAKE, near SHIPLEY HILL. This is a flint hand axe dating from the early Stone Age (250,000 - 8,000 BC). However, as this is such an isolated find, it is extremely unlikely that there were any settlements here at that time. It would be fascinating to know how it came to be there. A Stone Age hunter lost in alien territory perhaps? Or possibly lost during an exploration to find new hunting grounds? Whatever the reason, it's owner did not stay. There are also a few finds from the later MESOLITHIC hunting parties in the early post-glacial period, again, probably from hunting parties rather than residents. Evidence of their presence is found in characteristic flints which have been found in WANLIP, BUDDON WOOD and QUORN.
Hunters by their very nature were often nomadic, especially this far north. Scarcity of prey would necessitate a continual search for food and any settlements would probably be more like camp sites than villages. Permanent settlements indicate a change from a hunter-gatherer lifestyle to one based on farming and the domestication of animals. So it is logical that the earliest evidence of settlements woudl be found after the arrival of farmers in Britain around 4,000 BC - the start of the NEOLITHIC period. Despite a lack of NEOLITHIC monuments, distinctive polished stone axes of the period have been found in the Soar Valley, made from CHARNWOOD rock. These were also traded and have been found as far afield as Norfolk and the Peak District. REARSBY has a circle of pits - probably the remnants of wooden poosts forming a "henge" type monument - and also a small number of NEOLITHIC "BEAKER" finds dating from around 2,000 BC.
There is some evidence from artificial defences that BEACON HILL was also inhabited at this time. A hoard of Late BRONZE AGE (1,700-600BC) objects was discovered here when a drive was constructed through the entrenchments of the hill. This consisted of two spearheads, a gouge and an axe. An armlet was also found nearby, together with an axe mould of the same period. All of these contained traces of lead, added for easier casting. Such a hoard suggests that the site was probably a settlement or a focal point in this period. BEACON HILL is also the site of one of the only two IRON AGE forts discovered so far in the County, dating from between 600BC-AD43. This forms one of the last surviving visible features in the landscape known to the CORITANI, the tribe who occupied most of the East Midlands area at the time of the Roman Conquest.
Evidence of widespread European trading has also been found in the CHARNWOOD area. A socketed axe found at SIX HILLS is of a Breton design while a brooch discovered at BARROW ON SOAR probably originated from the shores of the Adriatic.
There are several prehistoric trackways in CHARNWOOD. Although famous as a Roman Road, the FOSSE WAY, which runs North-South through the east of the Borough was in all probability far older. The second ancient trackway in CHARNWOOD was THE SALTWAY. This was a route by which salt was brought from the Norfolk coast into the Midlands and entered Charnwood at SIX HILLS. From there, it ran down into BARROW ON SOAR, on through QUORN and probably as far as Beacon Hill, where there is evidence of both BRONZE AGE and IRON AGE occupation. It is also thought that an ancient track, THE RIDGEMERE, may have run along the ridge connecting QUENIBOROUGH with SYSTON, TILTON and BARKBY.
The inhabitants of CHARNWOOD immediately before the Roman invasions have become known as the CORITANI. These were just one of many tribes to inhabit these islands, including the ICENI, the TRINOVANTES, the BRIGANTES, the PARISI, the CORNOVII, the DUBONNI and the CATUVALLAUNI. (BOUDICCA was a Queen of the ICENI). The exact name of the tribe who lived here has been argued about for decades but CORITANI has become the accepted name. The area in which they lived - later known as the CIVITAS CORITANORUM - included most of modern LEICESTERSHIRE and LIncolnshire with LEICESTER as their local capital. There are many archaeological sites across the two counties which are associated with the tribe and they are known to have issued their own coinage. The tribe is barely mentioned in the records of the Roman Invasion of AD 43 and it is probable that they submitted peacefully and became quickly assimilated. Their name lived on in the full Roman name for LEICESTER - RATAE CORITANORUM, or "RATAE OF THE CORITANI".
ROMAN SETTLEMENT (AD 43 - 410):
The section of the Roman Army occupying the eastern central parts of Britain were the NINTH LEGION and a considerable, though unknown, number of auxiliary units. However, there is little evidence of substantial Roman encroachment into the present area of CHARNWOOD BOROUGH other than to extract minerals and materials. A possible Roman burial Chamber was found at MOUNTSORREL in 1881, just one foot below the surface of Broad Hill but this was later lost as part of the quarry.
Granite mining in MOUNTSORREL dates back to Roman times, when it was used for local buildings. However, much of this was taken from hills and the open countryside rather than being deliberately quarried. Although SWITHLAND as a village did not at the time exist, the earliest evidence of slate use in this area dates from ROMAN times. Again, it was was acquired from natural outcrops rather than deep quarries. Diamond shapes ROMAN SLATE ROOF TILES have been found all over CHARNWOOD and beyond.
The FOSSE WAY ran from Exeter to Lincoln and was constructed in about AD46-48 as a stage in the Claudian conquest of Britain. It is very probable that at least part of the route was already an ancient trackway before the Romans arrived. It forms the extreme north east boundary of the Borough, crossing fully into CHARNWOOD at SIX HILLS. It runs south-south-west, forming the present Parish Boundaries of RATCLIFFE, COSSINGTON, THRUSSINGTON, SEAGRAVE, BURTON ON THE WOLDS and WYMESWOLD and leaves the Borough in THURMASTON. One of the most important indications of Roman settlement was discovered in THURMASTON in 1791 when a ROMAN milestone dating from AD120 or 121 was found by the FOSSE WAY. This was erected to commemorate the visit to Leicester of the Emperor Hadrian in AD120 and is now housed in the Jewry Wall Museum, Leicester. A similar mile stone was found near SIX HILLS in 1854.
The VIA DEVANA, which ran from Leicester to Chester, ran through ANSTEY and it is thought that there was a line of Roman Villas along the SOAR Valley, extending north from the regional centre at RATAE (LEICESTER). In CHARNWOOD, there is some evidence of such villas at ROTHLEY and at the now deserted village of HAMILTON near BARKBY. There were probably smaller Roman settlements at THURMASTON, SYSTON, MOUNTSORREL and BARROW ON SOAR.
ANGLO-SAXON AND SCANDINAVIAN SETTLEMENT:
With increasing attacks on Rome in the early 5th century, Roman forces were being steadily withdrawn from Britain. In a comparatively short time, the Romans had left for good, leaving the country ripe for invasion du others. These quickly came in the shape of the ANGLO-SAXON and SCANDINAVIAN invasions of the 5th to 11th centuries. It was in this period that the basis of today's man-made landscape of CHARNWOOD, establishing the basic pattern of villages and settlements and clearing much of the area's woodland. There is a surprising number of ANGLO-SAXON cemeteries in the SOAR VALLEY, including examples at THURMASTON, MOUNTSORREL, WANLIP, ROTHLEY, COSSINGTON, BARROW ON SOAR and LOUGHBOROUGH itself.
Perhaps the most important finds were at THURMASTON in 1954, when a cemetery containing 96 Saxon cremations was discovered during building work on Humberstone Lane. Some contained ornaments which had been distorted by the heat of the fires. This extensive pagan cemetery probably dates back to the very earliest Anglo Saxon period of the late 5th century. A Saxon cross has been found at ROTHLEY which has been variously dated as being from the 9th or early 11th century. Several items of Saxon jewellery were also unearthed in the 1950s and 1960s and various other finds have been discovered all over the CHARNWOOD area. Pagan burials ceased in the 7th century when the ANGL-SAXONS converted to Christianity.
Evidence of extensive SAXON and SCANDINAVIAN settlement is also to be found in place names. Names ending in - BOROUGH (such as LOUGHBOROUGH) refer to a Saxon fortified place and those ending in -TON (such as COSSINGTON) show a SAXON enclosure. In the later years of SAXON settlement, many of the best sites had already been occupied. This lead to the establishment of smaller, outlying settlements with names ending in -LEY (a clearing); COTES (meaning outlying hut) and -WOLD (meaning wood). ROTHLEY, COTES and WALTON ON THE WOLDS show this period of settlement. The highest concentration of Saxon names is found in the WOLDS areas of the Borough.
Although evidence is scarce for earlier times, the CHARNWOOD area was almost certainly part of the administrative area called GOSCOTE HUNDRED during the ANGLO-SAXON period. This was one of several SAXON HUNDREDS (also called WAPENTAKES) in LEICESTERSHIRE, two of the others being FRAMLAND and GUTLACISTON. The inhabitants of each MANOR would be subject to the civil jurisdiction of their particular Lord of the Manor, although all would have had the right to use common and "waste" land. This right would not be lost until enclosure in the 18th century. The MANORIAL COURTS dealt not only with minor crime but was also arbiter of disputes between tenants. Some MANORS also had a "leet", meaning the power to oversee some more serious criminal justice. This power was an enduring one and, for example, LOUGHBOROUGH still had a Court Leet until the early 19th century. Spiritual offences and matrimonial disputes would normally have been dealt with by the local clergy. But some villages had what was known as a "PECULIER" Court - a lay assembly which dealt with these problems without involving the Church. The most notable one in CHARNWOOD was in SWITHLAND.
After the invasions of 877, the whole area became part of the DANELAW and under the domination of the DANISH invaders. This continued until the retaking of Leicester in 919 led, according to many sources, by AETHELFLOEDA, daughter of ALFRED THE GREAT. Many Anglo-Saxon villages were taken over in the Scandinavian invasions, producing some hybrid names or complete name changes. Some completely new settlements were also established. Scandinavian influence is seen in names ending in -BY (meaning a homestead) and -THORPE (denoting an outlying or "daughter" settlement). Prime examples of this are BARKBY and BARKBY THORPE. The WREAKE VALLEY area of CHARNWOOD has the most names of Scandinavian origin. It is interesting to note that there are no names of SCANDINAVIAN or SAXON origin inside the FOREST area of the Borough. But it does seem that at least some of the SCANDINAVIAN invaders liked the area and stayed - the name of NORMANTON ON SOAR, just over the Borough border means "settlement of the North men".
The MOODY BUSH STONE in the south of the Borough is thought to mark the spot where the Danish and Norman court of the GOSCOTE HUNDRED met, twice a year. The name derives from "MOOT", the old Norse word for meeting. Another important "MOOT" site may have been at SIX HILLS, which was in any case an important location. Not only is it on the border of both the Borough and the County, but it lies on the intersection of the FOSSE WAY and the ancient SALTWAY (The FOSSE WAY itself was probably built along a much older trackway.) It also seems that the land around SIX HILLS was regarded as a separate area, outside of the surrounding parishes (rather like WASHINGTON DC in the USA).
NORMAN AND MEDIEVAL CHARNWOOD:
Immediately following the NORMAN CONQUEST of 1066, great tracts of CHARNWOOD land was granted by WILLIAM I to his supporters and Norman nobility. The two who received the majority of land in the Borough were HUGH LUPUS, EARL OF CHESTER and HUGH DE GRANTESMAISNELL, later EARL OF LEICESTER, who received 37 manors in all. Reputedly, this was as a reward for saving WILLIAM I's life during the Battle of Hastings. Given the similarity of names, it is very possible that HUGH was the ancestor of the later MEYNELL family, well known in CHARNWOOD. The various villages of the area were then "sub-let" to other nobles who rented individual plots of land to tenant farmers. But under Norman law, all land ultimately belonged to the KIng.
Not that the BRITONS accepted NORMAN domination without a fight. The CHARNWOOD area suffered greatly during WILLIAM I's march across Leicestershire to put down the rebellion of 1068, and was left in a rather impoverished state. A little known, possibly legendary "guerilla" figure in CHARNWOOD at this time was ERICK THE FORESTER. He is supposed to have gathered a large force to resist the advance of the NORMANS into CHARNWOOD. He was defeated but WILLIAM I was reputedly so impressed by him that he made ERICK one of his Generals!
Place names evidence shows clearly that the vast majority of CHARNWOOD settlements are pre-Norman in origin, a fact confirmed by DOMESDAY BOOK in 1086. The largest single settlement recorded by DOMESDAY is SHEPSHED, with a population of around 300. LOUGHBOROUGH at this time had only about 150 inhabitants, fewer than BARROW and ROTHLEY and about the same as WYMESWOLD. The few not recorded here came into existence in the 12th and 13th centuries, including SWITHLAND, WOODHOUSE, and NEWTOWN LINFORD. These are all on the edge of the Forest and are the result of woodland clearance.
Most of CHARNWOOD's other villages were well established by the 1300 and churches were beginning to need repairs in the 13th and 14th centuries. Medieval land use and buildings, both religious and secular, left a significant mark on the CHARNWOOD landscape. These included NORMAN CASTLES such as at MOUNTSORREL; MONASTIC ESTATES (ULVERSCROFT, 1150 and GARENDON, 1133) and DEER PARKS in BARROW AND QUORN; BEAUMANOR; BRADGATE; BURLEIGH; GARENDON; ROTHLEY; SHEPSHED and LOUGHBOROUGH. Less impressive but no less important, one of CHARNWOOD's oldest inns - THE MALT SHOVEL in BARKBY - was probably built around this time.
Such development led to the disappearance of many villages as separate entities, adding to those such as HAMILTON which probably died as a result of plague, leaving behind it legends of ghosts and dire warnings...!
The importance of the road which was later to become the A6 is clearly seen in the Medieval period, when MOUNTSORREL became an important settlement. Indeed, such was it's strategic value that the village almost rivalled LEICESTER in importance. MOUNTSOREL CASTLE acheived national prominence in the 13th century when it played a key part in the BARONS WARS which followed the sealing of MAGNA CHARTA.
In 1346, the ancient SAXON administrative division of GOSCOTE HUNDRED was divided in to EAST GOSCOTE and WEST GOSCOTE,the name of the former being reused to name the new village built in the 1960s.
The first documented visit to CHARNWOOD of a reigning monarch comes in 1387 when RICHARD II visted LOUGHBOROUGH. He evidently liked the town as he came back again a few years later!
A brass in WANLIP church dated 1393 carries the country's first such recorded inscription in English.
The 15th century also saw CHARNWOOD at the centre of national events. In 1485, tradition maintains that the forces of RICHARD III passed through the SOAR VALLEY on their way to fight the forces of the future HENRY VII. HENRY himself is said to have stayed at the "GREAT HOUSE" in LOUGHBOROUGH just after the BATTLE OF BOSWORTH. (This house still exists on Church Gate and is now LOWE'S ANTIQUE AND FURNITURE SHOP).
The sixteenth century saw one of the most momentous changes in CHARNWOOD's history when all monasteries and Abbeys were disolved by HENRY VIII in 1539. The contents of ULVERSCROFT PRIORY were sold for just £10 3s 10d (£10.18p) and the site given to THOMAS, EARL OF RUTLAND. He did rather well out of the dissolutions as he was also granted the lands of the dissolved GARENDON ABBEY, which were to be held by his family until 1632 when they passed as a dowry to the Royalist Duke of Buckingham.
Other than this, the TUDOR period was a relatively stable one for most people in CHARNWOOD - unless you were connected to the Royal Family! The building of BRADGATE HOUSE was started by THOMAS GREY, MARQUIS OF DORSET in the 1490s in the reign of HENRY VII and was completed in the early years of the 16th century. It's lack of fortifications were an indication of new found peace and the house was built almost entirely of the most modern material available - red brick.
CHARNWOOD's greatest celebrity is from the 16th century, and also from BRADGATE - LADY JANE GREY. Debate still rages as to whether she was ever really Queen of England but this tragic young girl is without doubt the area's best known resident.
THE 17TH CENTURY:
Another royal visit came in 1616 when JAMES I paid a visit to LOUGHBOROUGH and, according to some sources, BRADGATE HOUSE. However, his son - CHARLES I - could not be guaranteed such a warm reception as the majority of CHARNWOOD sided with PARLIAMENT during the Civil War of the 1640s. The main exception was LOUGHBOROUGH which remained staunchly loyal to the KIng and maintained a ROYALIST garrison at the now demolished BURLEIGH HOUSE.
Despite having been visited by CHARLES I and his Queen, HENRIETTA MARIA, BRADGATE was also firmly on the side of Parliament during the Civil War. So important was this felt to be that the house was attacked by the Royalist forces in September of 1642. It seems there fears were justified as THOMAS GREY, son of the Earl and Commander of the Parliamentary forces in Leicestershire, became one of the principal signatories of the death warrant of CHARLES I.
The position of the Borough meant that it again became a focus of national events at this time. The Borough even had it's own battle in 1644 at COTES when PARLIAMENTARY forces attacked a ROYALIST contingent for possession of the strategically vital COTES BRIDGE.
The Plague hit CHARNWOOD again in the 1630s and 135 people died in LOUGHBOROUGH alone during an outbreak in 1631. Ten years later it devastated BIRSTALL and THURMASTON, where records show that the village "had the sicknesses for one whole year".
The restoration of the monarchy in 1660 must have been deeply resented by the largely Parliamentarian people of CHARNWOOD and was not without casualties. There are several accounts of "ejected ministers", Puritans thrown out of their churches by the new order. One of these was WILLIAM GRACE of SYSTON who found later employment as a schoolmaster.
Royal connections continued in 1696 when WILLIAM III visited BRADGATE. One result of this was the widening of a medieval bridge in ANSTEY - still known as KING WILLIAM'S BRIDGE - to smooth the royal journey.
The enduring power of the Court Leet was seen in the building of new Chamber to house the LOUGHBOROUGH Court in 1688.