Suvarna Garge (Editor)

Earl Shilton

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Population  10,047 (2011)
Region  East Midlands
Sovereign state  United Kingdom
Local time  Thursday 9:57 PM
District  Hinckley and Bosworth
OS grid reference  SP472980
Country  England
Post town  LEICESTER
Shire county  Leicestershire
UK parliament constituency  Bosworth
Earl Shilton httpsuploadwikimediaorgwikipediacommonsthu

Weather  6°C, Wind SE at 3 km/h, 83% Humidity

St matthews and earl shilton on itv 2010

Earl Shilton is a small town in Leicestershire, England, some 5 miles (8 km) from Hinckley and about 10 miles (16 km) from Leicester, with a population of around 9,000 (as of 2005), increasing to 10,047 at the 2011 census.


Map of Earl Shilton, Leicester, UK


For the Ancient and Medieval History of Earl Shilton: see Ancient and Medieval Earl Shilton


Between the 19th and late 20th centuries, Earl Shilton was a busy industrial village with numerous shoe, hosiery and knitwear factories. The boot and shoe factories included Orton's, Eatough's and Pinchess's, and other, smaller, operations. At one point Earl Shilton produced boots for the Russian army. Many of these businesses have now closed due to competition, but a few continue into the 21st century. Nevertheless, the Earl Shilton boot and shoe heritage provided the opportunity for other businesses to thrive alongside them, namely local carriers such as Woodwards (now the bakery distribution business) and Crowfoots, (still operating as a parcel carrier). Both these businesses are now located nearby in the village of Barwell.

Increasingly heavy traffic flow through the village has led to the planning of a bypass. Work started in Autumn 2007 and was officially opened on 27 March 2009.

Earl Shilton Castle

Robert Beaumont (Bossu) was present at the death of King Henry in 1135, and the Earl of Leicester became a close advisor to the new king Stephen. Henry's daughter Matilda felt that she should be on the throne, and with the aid of her half brother the Earl of Gloucester, she launched a ferocious war upon her cousin Stephen.

As the defence of his lands became paramount, it is likely that Robert Bossu began the fortification of Shilton Hill. The Earl of Leicester’s’ new motte and bailey castle would protect the vale of Kirkby, along with Beaumont’s lines of communication to the South and West.

Earl Shilton's castle was built around the site of an existing twelfth century chapel called Saint Peters that lies between Church Street and Almey’s Lane. This area is known locally as ‘Hall Yard’. Nearby are the springs, from which the castle drew its water, now known as Spring Gardens.

The castle, as a fortress, lasted for 30 to 40 years before its destruction and subsequent conversion to a hunting lodge. There are no records of a siege or fighting in the area of Earl Shilton, even during the civil war, which probably shows that the castle was doing its job (John Lawrence). When the church was rebuilt in 1854 the stone was used from the castle for its construction.

In 1173 Prince Henry started a rebellion against his father King Henry II. Robert Beaumont the Earl of Leicester was in France when the rebellion began and eagerly joined the Prince’s faction, fighting several battles. While still on the road, on 17 October at Farnham outside Bury St Edmunds the king’s supporters attacked. Norfolk and Leicester were surprised and defeated. Beaumont was captured and taken to prison at Falaise in Normandy.

The king now set about destroying the Earl of Leicester’s castles and the demolition men soon moved into Earl Shilton. Only the fortress of Leicester and Mount Sorrell survived this destruction. Earl Shilton manor remained, being a good source of revenue.

Shilton Park

Shilton Park was probably created by Simon de Montfort, 5th Earl of Leicester, after he became Earl of Leicester. De Montfort’s association with the village was such that he added the prefix ‘Earl’ to its name.

The original purpose of Shilton Park was to provide a hunting ground, stocked with game, for the lord of the manor's sport and table. The park was surrounded by a deep ditch to keep the animals in, and beyond that, a high fence to keep the general population out. The Earl of Leicester’s park of Tooley sat below Shilton Hill, stretching into the northwest towards Desford, enclosing 450 acres (1.8 km2).

The upkeep of the park lay in the hands of the Earl's bailiff, or ‘Keeper of the park’, a much sought after occupation as the park generated substantial revenue to help offset its huge running costs. It supplied a rich source of timber, horses were raised, and the park provided a continual supply of fresh meat, while fees were levied on anyone wishing to graze their animals on parklands.The bailiff could graze his own animals in the park freely, at the Earl’s discretion.

Tudor Earl Shilton

Following the battle of Bosworth, Henry VII reinstated the Park laws for Earl Shilton. Henry Churchman was appointed bailiff for the parks upkeep, and also bow bearer for the park of Leicester Firth (New Parks). George Hastings became the keeper of Earl Shilton and Hinckley Parks in 1507, and by 1560 the keeper was George Vincent.

During the reign of Henry VIII, the crown gave a parcel of the lands in Earl Shilton to Trinity Hospital, Cambridge.

At the time of Queen Elizabeth I in 1564, there were ten families living in Earl Shilton, strangely a smaller population than at the time of the Domesday Book in 1086. But old squabbles over land rights were still prevalent. During Elizabeth’s reign local gentry such as Richard Grey, Richard Dylke of Kirkby Mallory, William Jervis of Peatling Magna, John Harrington and John Watters were all arguing about ownership of land in Earl Shilton between 1580 and 1594.

By the turn of the seventeenth century, Sampson Goodhall, gentleman, was the head of a well-to-do family living in Earl Shilton. The summer of 1608 saw the family owning several cottages, pastures, ploughlands and meadows, along with orchards and gardens. However, the Goodhalls were to suffer badly despite their wealth (John Lawrence).

In 1611, Leicestershire suffered from a severe outbreak of the Plague. Infected houses were marked with a cross, business was practically suspended, and there seemed to be no one with sufficient knowledge to cope with, or mitigate, the effects of the epidemic. During the plague years Shilton suffered like most other villages.

Sampson Goodhall began burying his family at the beginning of May - Will Goodhall, Sampsons son, buried 9 May. Rich Goodhall, another son, was buried 10 May. Anna Goodhall, buried 9 May. Maria Goodhall, buried 1 June. Ann Goodhall, Sampsons wife, was buried 8 June. In total for the year 1611, 21 deaths occurred in Earl Shilton, double that of the previous year (Parish Records).

Sampson survived the plague and by the Autumn of 1615 he and his new wife Isobel were in the law courts of King James I. George Arlington Esq paid damages of £60 to the Goodhalls in a dispute over cottages, land and all manner of tithes arising in Earl Shilton.

It is interesting to note that at this period of plague William Holdsworth, the parish curate, made double entries in the registers. This was the only time that occurred throughout the registers. The reason remains unknown.

The Thomas Family also suffered during the plague - from the old registers of 1611. Alexander Thomas, buried 28 April. Will Thomas and Wife, buried 21 April. John Thomas, son of Will, buried 18 May. Thomas, son of Will, buried 25 May

The Stuarts

Earl Shilton’s freeholders, or principal landholders, in 1630 were Richard Churchman, Richard Veasey, Samuel Wightman, and Sampson Goodall. The crown also held some land in the village, but during the reign of Charles I the crown sold Earl Shilton’s farm to the Earl of Ilchester whose rents were later given up to Guy’s Hospital, London which received them for many years.

In 1636, John Wightman gave £50 for the poor of Hinckley and a field in Earl Shilton was also let, earning £3 5s per year. By 1711 Peter Cappur was the steward of the manor in Shilton and John Wightman's legacy was in dispute. At the Court Baron for that year, on 13 October, Francis Thompson, a tenant of Studford Close, Earl Shilton, surrendered a field of 2½ acres to Nathaniel Ward and Thomas Sansome, held in trust for the poor of Hinckley. This charity ran for some time for in 1809. Rob Thompson and Thomas Sansome were the trustees.

The Purchase of Shilton Park at Tooley

Henry Morrison was knighted at Whitehall in 1627 and he and his wife purchased Simon de Montfort's hunting park of Tooley. Their daughter Letticia married Luis Carey, Viscount Falkland and they resided for a time at the Park. In 1608 Tooley contained 3,500 trees worth nearly £1000.

During the crisis of the English Civil War Viscount Falkland fought for the King in the Royalist army. At the failed siege of Gloucester in 1643 he exposed himself fearlessly but later that year his luck ran out at the First Battle of Newbury. On 20 September he met his death leading a suicidal charge against a hedge lined by the enemy's musketeers.

From 1642 the broad tract of country between Ashby de la Zouch, Leicester and Watling Street became the buffer zone between the rival garrisons of Royalists and the Parliamentarians. One of the first shocks that the war had in store for the civilian population was the sudden increase in the number of new taxes that had to be raised for the support of these new garrisons. Records show that the Parliamentary tax for the combined parishes of Burbage and Sketchley was £2-8 shillings and 4 pence per month.

Clergymen who openly sided with Parliament were easy targets for Royalist raiding parties. Colonel Hastings, with four troops of horse coursed about the country as far as Dunton Bassett and Lutterworth, and took near upon a hundred clergymen and their sympathisers, carrying them as prisoners to Hinckley.

On the other side Parliament listed nine clerics from the Market Bosworth and Hinckley area who suffered sequestration for supporting the king. Thomas Cleveland, of Hinckley, and John Lufton, rector of lbstock, had offered money or prayers for the king. William Holdsworth, the curate of Earl Shilton, openly reviled the Parliament and stood accused of reading a Royal Protestation in the middle of a sermon.

Parliament's Captain Flower, while temporarily billeted at Stoney Stanton, ordered the delivery of twenty strikes of provender for his horses by the inhabitants of Burbage and Sketchley. On another occasion his troop ordered two quarters of provender from Stapleton. The largest claim for free quarter was for a force of two hundred and eleven troops and seventy two horses under Colonel Purefoy and Colonel Bosseville, when they set up camp at Hinckley in the summer of 1643. The townspeople of Hinckley also provided quartering for twenty three horsemen for a single night in 1644. Parliamentary troopers from Astley House stood accused of taking a rapier, a swordbelt and a snapsack worth 8 shillings from Sampson Goodhall when they passed through Earl Shilton. (Alan Roberts 2001)

Following the Civil War the Parliamentarians began to take revenge on their old enemies. Earl Shilton’s Richard Churchman was listed among the gentry who in 1645 were 'compounded' for their estates with the Parliamentary Sequestration Committee, along with Thomas Crofts, another royalist. This meant that they had to pay a heavy fine to retrieve their estates.

Also the local curate William Holdsworth was accused of being a royalist or 'malignant'. John Walker, who wrote about the Sufferings of the Clergy during the Grand Rebellion, records that Holdsworth was hauled before the County Committee in 1646 for 'reviling' Parliament (see also the Committee for Plundered Ministers). His offences included ignoring the Directory set by Parliament to enforce puritan reforms, refusing sacraments to those not kneeling, allowing Sunday games and reading a royalist Protestation in the middle of a sermon. He was also accused of being "several times drunk" and using "old notes as new sermons" for the past twenty years.

Framework Knitting

Around this time William Iliffe changed the whole economy of the area by introducing the first knitting frame to Hinckley in 1640. He bought a knitting frame for the substantial sum of £60 and set it up in his house, thought to be located at the top of Castle Street. Stocking frames soon spread to Earl Shilton, with each stocking maker renting his frame and working from his cottage, while wives and daughters sat at their spinning wheels.

In 1694, Sir Verney Noel, of Kirkby Mallory, left £100 for the poor children of Earl Shilton to be sent to London, to be taught the art of Framework Kitting.

Things change little it seems, for payment of council tax, or community charge, has never been popular and has perennially been tarnished with tales of corruption. In Earl Shilton Vestry meetings were originally held in the parish church but later moved to the Plough Inn. Later the Baron’s Court replaced the Vestry.

The Baptists

There were Baptists in Earl Shilton from 1651. These dissenters from the established church met in cottages around Church Street and Mill Street as their religion was against the law. During the Restoration the Baptists were still under persecution and the Shilton dissenters continued to worship in secret. Eventually Baptist worship became licensed under an act of Parliament. King Charles II’s state papers say that licenses to Edward Cheyney and William Biges of Earl Shilton were granted.

John Goadby died in 1714, and in his will he bequeathed to the ‘minister and poor Baptists in Earl Shilton - my close and its associated lands, commonly called Crowhearst. And to take any rents, fines or profits, for the disposal of the said Baptists.'

Many generations of Cheneys also worked tirelessly for the Baptists, the last dying in 1815. A Baptist meeting house was erected in 1758, which was enlarged in 1844, while the Sunday school began in 1801.

In 1861 economic disaster struck the village when the American Civil War broke out and cotton could not be exported. The Baptist minister, Reverend Parkinson, was forced to resign through lack of funds. Crowhearst and its land was eventually sold to Mr W H Cotton in 1928 and the money invested in government stock.

By 1664 Earl Shilton had thirty-four households assessed for hearth tax, and during the reign of William III in 1687 there were fifty-two houses assessed in the village.

Licence of Cottages used for Worship in Earl Shilton

1720 Jeremiah Parker 1722 Jonathan Johnstone 1725 Joshua Brotherton 1726 Joseph Smith 1731 Samuel Cheney 1760 William Randen 1790 Daniel Harrold 1792 Thomas Green

Note that not all dissenters were Baptists. William Randen was known as a Presbyterian (John Lawrence).

The Baptist Church is still present in Earl Shilton, and celebrated its 360th anniversary with a special service on 22 May 2011.

Thomas Boothby of Tooley

In 1696, and at 15 years of age, Thomas Boothby inherited the estate of Tooley Park. Married three times, he acquired through his wives various estates in Staffordshire. From his mother, he inherited land at Foston in Derbyshire and Peatling, Countesthorpe and Earl Shilton in Leicestershire.

The ease of his position was such that the young ‘Tom O' Tooley’ was able to devote himself almost exclusively to the pursuit of hunting. He established the first true pack of foxhounds in the country and the Quorn Hunt with a number of hounds inherited with the Tooley estate. Boothby embarked on an astonishing career of 55 seasons as Master of the Quorn Hunt.

Boothby kept a mistress, Catherine Holmes, at Groby Pool House. A local clergyman informed Boothby's wife about her husband's mistress. After an angry wife had confronted him, Boothby got hold of the minister in question and almost drowned him in Groby pool.

Superstition and witchcraft

Superstition was rife in eighteenth century England, and there are many strange tales of ghosts, witches and spirits. A woman of Earl Shilton parish declared ‘that she had been bewitched by an old woman from Aston in 1776. Her accuser saw the old woman unceremoniously thrown into the horse pond, despite her 80 years of age. Luckily the old woman just managed to escape with her life.’

Extract from Leicester and Nottingham Journal, July 6, 1776:

“A woman of the parish of Earl Shilton, in the County of Leicester, has been subject for some years to a disorder resembling the bite of the tarantula, and so astonishing the ignorance of many, that they imagine that she has been bewitched by an old lady in the neighbouring village of Aston.

On Thursday, June 20th<--archaic/> last, the afflicted, her husband and son went to the old woman, and with dreadful imprecations, threatened to destroy her instantly unless she would submit to have blood drawn from some part of her body, and unless she would give the woman a blessing and remove her disorder. The son, who is a soldier, drew his sword and pointing to her breast, swore he would plunge it into her heart if she did not immediately comply.

When the old woman had gone through the ceremony they went off, but the person not being cured they collected a great many people and on Monday last returned to Aston pretending to have a warrant to justify their proceedings. Then with uncommon brutality they took the poor creature from her house, stripped her quite naked, and after tying her hands and legs together threw her in a horse pond. She was then taken out, and in this shameful condition exhibited for the sport of an inhuman mob. As she did not sink they concluded she really was a witch, and several returning the following day determined to discipline her in this cruel manner until they should put an end to her wretched existence. The posse was not sufficiently strong, so she escaped for that time. The consideration of the old woman being over 80 years of age, and of her being a pauper and friendless, render it the duty of magistrates to exert themselves to bring to punishment these atrocious offenders.

There was also the strange tale that came to light in 1778. A house in Earl Shilton, was said to be plagued by its former long dead occupant. Tables and chairs were known to dance about the room, while pewter dishes jumped off the shelves. But alarm was worse when wigs and hats flew off the heads of their wearers. Villagers agreed that the disturbed spirit was a local man who could not rest in his grave because he had been defrauded in life. (Palmer 2002)

An Elmesthorpe farmer, complained in 1811 that, ‘it is common almost everywhere amongst the women that when they brew, they make crosses to keep the witch out of the mash-tub, so that the ale might be fine.’ He added that ‘farmers and common folk were very great believers in old popular tales of ghosts, fairies and witches, and of people and cattle being under the evil tongue.’

Peg-Leg Watts and the Stocks

In 1705, the payment by the Reeve for Shilton manor was £34 8s 614d. The Reeve was voted into office annually by the freeholders of the parish. There were 61 freeholders who voted in 1719, but this number had dropped to 28 by 1785.

The Overseer of the manor had various facets to his job. Daniel Marvin Overseer in 1755, made charges of 5shillings for ale at the burial of a pauper.

In 1760, Alderman Gabriel Newton, of Leicester gave to Earl Shilton and Barwell £20 16s from his charity, for the educating of 20 poor boys from each village.

James Perrott was a successful surgeon who worked in Earl Shilton. He married the widow, Lady Ann Sharpe, and they lived in the village for over 40 years, until she died 1791, at the age of 62 years.

Famous for his prowess as a wrestler Samuel Marvin also lived in Earl Shilton.

The last soul to be incarcerated in the Earl Shilton stocks was a man called ‘Peg-leg Watts’. What crime this local ‘ne’re do well’ had committed we have no idea, but the stocks were situated opposite the old churchyard. Also in the vicinity there was the village round house or gaol. Unfortunately all traces of the old lock-up have now disappeared.

An Act of Enclosure was passed in 1778. Earl Shiltons’ open fields, meadows and 1,500 acres (6 km²) of heath land were all enclosed. Thomas, Viscount Wentworth, was entitled to all small tithes vacarial dues in Shilton.

Scrymshire Boothby had the entitlement of the great tithes, payment in lieu of tithes, hay and meadow lands in Hall fields and Breach field. The following year Scrymshire Boothby sold Tooley Park to John Dod, and the remainder of the estate was divided.

Shilton Heath, famed for over a century for its steeple chasing, was gone for good.

Viscount Wentworth also had his lands in Elmsthorpe enclosed, including an extensive rabbit warren. He exchanged these after 1778 for 2 acres (8,100 m2) of land in Shilton parish.

The Earl Shilton Turnpike

The Turnpike trust had two tollgates at Earl Shilton. One at the bottom of Shilton Hill, which was kept by a man called Harrison for many years. The other tollgate was where the Belle Vue road meets the Hinckley road. Travellers were said to have gone around by Elmesthorpe to avoid the gate and its tolls.

The gates were administered by the Turnpike Trusts, and were bid for every year by prospective candidates, and this led to a deal of local corruption. Bribes were offered to secure the contract, and not all of the money was spent on the upkeep of the roads. Many small parishes like Earl Shilton had a large mileage of roads within their boundaries and found it well-nigh impossible to maintain them.

Roads and pathways were very bad indeed. Cart-ruts ran deep down the main streets and the stones on the old "corseys" (footpaths) must have been very dangerous at times. Loose stone was very often strewn about, and it remained for the carts to roll them in, and in the era of the toll-gate the wider the wheels the less toll they paid to go through them. A great handicap, however, was the fact that these carts often followed in the existing ruts as a matter of course, and so made them worse than ever. Roads and repairs were paid for through the Vestry, which had replaced the Barons Court of the 17th century. The Vestry met for many years in the Plough Inn, Church Street, setting the parsons rate, church rate, poor rate, overseers rate, watch rate and the highway rate for the parish.

Stagecoaches passed frequently through Earl Shilton, it being on the route to Hinckley and Birmingham from Leicester. Coaches with names such as the Accommodation, The Magnet and The Alexander were all running in 1830. Coaches stopped at a place near to the White House in Wood Street, beside the Lord Nelson Inn. On one tragic occasion a coach overturned near to the entrance of Burbage Common and a man was killed in the ensuing wreckage (John Lawrence).

In 1800 there were 249 inhabited houses in Earl Shilton, with a further 8 uninhabited. The population stood at 1287, 655 males and 632 females. Agriculture employed 118 villagers, while the 716 souls employed in trade and manufacture showed the dramatic rise of stocking manufacture.

The First School at Earl Shilton

Thomas Green, succeeded to the Baptist Church in Earl Shilton and in 1801, started the villages first school, where reading and writing were taught, as well as to receive the elementary knowledge of the Christian faith. In 1850 John Green kept the school and was the master. He was given notice to quit; having displeased the Church. It was, however, cancelled and he was advised to "keep things in order." This school kept going until 1858, when the Church of England schools were built. The Church of England Schools had room for 200 children and cost £1050 to build, the money being raised by subscription and grants. One school stood in the High Street and another in Wood Street.

The Workhouse

The economy of the village was based mainly on boots and stockings. A whole family would work from morning until late at night for very meagre earnings. Stocking makers worked ten, twelve and even fifteen hours a day at their frames, for seven or eight shillings per week. Frame rents were high and varied from one shilling to three shillings per week. Poverty and disease were rife. In Hinckley there was a framework knitters' strike in 1824. Two years later, disorder in the town was quelled when a detachment of lancers arrived, killing one man.

The Earl Shilton village population had risen to 2017 by 1831.

Many Earl Shilton people in the 1840s became destitute and sought refuge in the Union Workhouse at Hinckley, locally known as "The Bastille." Things had become very bad, and are spoken of as the "hungry forties." Queen Victoria ordered an inquiry into distress, and sent in 1843 a commission headed by a Mr. Muggeridge, and afterwards much valuable information was obtained from interviews with work-people and employers. Earl Shilton frame-work knitters and hosiers, gave evidence at the enquiry of 1843. Rich Wileman, of Shilton, described himself as the oldest stocking manufacturer in the kingdom, and stated that many thousands of dozens of socks were sent to the American market every year.

At a time when a reasonable daily wage was 4/-, a report showed the weekly earnings in 27 parishes varied from 4/- to 8/- a week, Hinckley district being 5/3, Bosworth 4/6, Ibstock 4/- and Shepshed 5/6. Frame rents in the cottages were high and varied in different parishes from 1/- to 3/- per week. This rent and the addition of the vicious Truck Act (1831), made poverty and disease rife in the Leicestershire parishes (John Lawrence). The Truck Act stated that goods had to be paid for in cash instead of in kind and, as usual, hit the poorest the hardest. Had it not been for their allotments grounds, things would have been much worse, as it was many were close to starvation.

In the year 1844 there were in Shilton alone 650 stocking frames. Mr. J. Homer, giving evidence to the commission, said that the whole of these were in the houses of the workpeople at that time. Neither the workshop, nor the factory system was in operation in Earl Shilton until after the findings of the Commission were made public.

Stocking making in the home quickly died out with the introduction of the factory system. Both the boot and shoe and the hosiery industry eagerly took to the new system of working and for the first time people began to be regulated by time, as the factory needed villagers to work in unison. The last known stocking-frame in Earl Shilton disappeared when its owner, a man named Mr. Pratt, who lived in Wood Street, died.

Earl Shilton saw its first hosiery strike in 1859. The employers involved were Messrs. Homer & Everard. Almost 130 operatives took strike action, and an appeal was sent out to workers of three counties for aid for the Earl Shilton strikers to fight it.

There is no doubt that the 1840s were wretched times, and sheep stealing, highway robbery and burglary were common. It was not safe to go out after dark. If a man was caught sheep stealing, he was sentenced to fourteen years transportation. Fourteen years transportation was also the sentence for anyone who was driven by hunger to take a pheasant from the woods.

Tradespeople of Earl Shilton Parish 1840–1849

See Earl Shilton tradespeople

The Parish Church

See Earl Shilton Parish Church

The Old Volunteers

The traditional greeting of the Leicestershire miners was ‘old bud’ (old bird). This has now been transformed to ‘me duck’

Before the regulation of the First World War it was possible for men to buy beer before breakfast time in the village.

Many Shilton men joined the old ‘Volunteers’, belonging to the Hinckley Company; these were later incorporated in the ‘Militia’. Clad in their red jackets, blue trousers and pipe clayed trimmings with pointed helmets, it is said that on Saturday nights Earl Shilton resembled a garrison town when everyone wore their uniform.

The Leicester Mercury was first published in 1836. Newspapers during the eighteenth and nineteenth century were very few, and many Shiltonians brought up before the First World War remembered when one copy sufficed for several families. These were read aloud in the candlelight of the poor homes of the villagers, the few people able to read being in great demand. The old Candle House, where candles were made, stood for many years in Almeys Lane, and during renovations to the Baptist Chapel much brickwork of the Candle House was incorporated in the building.

Election days in the village were, prior to the universal franchise, very hectic. The candidates usually arrived at the polling stations (usually the schools) in horse cabs. They were often assaulted by the crowds, and top hats worn in those days were often sent flying. Many of the rougher element were given beer and locked up for the day to preserve the peace (Foster).

Morris dancing took place on Plough Monday, when the dancers went round the village to collect money. If this was refused they entered the house and refused to quit until ransom was paid either in cash or food. Fishing nets on long canes were carried to reach bedroom windows where they had locked doors. German bands also visited the village, as did travelling bears, which danced to music.

In 1861 the village crier was Thomas Foster, who advertised sales, meetings and public news. The last man to hold this post was a blind man called Bannister, who also made baskets.

Houses in the village were rented by groups of men who, when they had finished their work, then "shopped it", or took it, to some central depot in the village, and were usually paid each trip. Sweaters, or child labour, were often exploited, and regularly after a period of drunkenness these sweaters were compelled to sit working all night with their elders to make up for lost time. Many worked from the age of eight or nine, in the local term "got more kicks than half pence."

Old Job Toon

In the middle of the nineteenth century Job Toon commenced trading as a grocer and licensed victualer in Earl Shilton. Job was a devout Methodist, and his shop was still trading in 1868. In 1850 he installed his first a stocking frame in his home, which laid the foundations of J Toon and Son.

He worked the stocking frame with his wife Matilda, and gradually purchased more frames and rented them out in the community. Job would pay for the stockings produced, minus the rent of the frame. Job purchased a small building just off wood Street, and the early factory was powered by steam.

Horse and drey took the factory produce to Elmesthorpe Station. Job Toon had three sons Alfred, James and Carey. Alfred and James went into the hosiery business, while Carey became a successful local farmer.

Alfred was the senior partner and earned a salary of £5 per week. In those early days stockings were not so delicate and were sold by weight, warmth not high fashion appears to be paramount as the heaviest were the most expensive. During this period much of Toon’s trade was with South America. Alfred had four sons, two of them died during the 1930s, and his two surviving sons, Stanley and Carey, took over the firm that now operated over 1000 machines knitting machines.

The Wake

The ‘Wake’, or local fair, was a holiday in Earl Shilton and held, traditionally, on the Saints day of the parish church. According to old accounts in the parish, Ale drunk on Feast Day (Wake) in 1809 was £5 12s. 0d, and in 1820 £6 5s. 6d.

The "Wake," was always held on the last Sunday in October. People had a full week’s holiday from work, public houses were open all day, and "captains" were elected to take charge of the singing. The captain was also responsible for the whips round for beer, which entitled all and sundry to drink together and so retain the company.

The wide portion of the Hollow, nearest the Wesleyan Chapel, was the earliest site for the Wake amusements. The stalls and roundabouts extended the full length of Wood Street the wakes also incorporated a procession around the village.

Mr. Hopkins, a well-known resident of Keat’s Lane, was a proprietor of amusements. A large boat on wheels, and drawn by horses, went the whole length of the village, and was patronised very much by the children.

At the turn of the 20th century a field in Station road also became the site for the annual wake or fair. The amusement part of the "Wakes," roundabouts, etc., were very prominent on this field.

On the other side of the road there were also numerous entertainments from time to time, including those well-known "Strolling Players" of Holloway’s Theatre. Many people enjoyed these shows and were able to see fresh plays every night during the thespians' stay at Shilton. No one may now recall the plays "Maria Martin and the Red Barn," "The Face at the Window," "The Dumb Man of Manchester," but they did pull in the crowds (John Lawrence).

The Pinfold

An old stone building, which stood near to the Baptist Chapel, was known as the Pinfold. This was a place for penning stray cattle prior to the enclosure of the common fields - 1758. It was latterly used as a place for weighing stone from the old Parish Quarry.

In the village a knocker-up was employed in the 1880s and for over 50 years ensured that people attended the early Sunday morning classes.

The Old Smock Mill

The Old Smock Mill stood near to the Parish Quarry was built around 1800, at a cost of £800, and stood for over a century before being demolished. It was a noted landmark and a favourite place for rambles and picnics. There were two other mills in Earl Shilton, one stood on the Wood Street Recreational ground near the ‘Mount’, while the other was near the top of Birds Hill.

It is possible to go the whole length of "Old Shilton" without touching the main street. The paths I refer to are known as "The Backs." Indeed, Shilton is a maze of these alleys and "Backs." The reason is, I suppose, that the old field pathways have kept their rights of way throughout the centuries, and the haphazard planning of the straggling village made desirable the small alleys leading to the main street.

Wood Street, locally known as Wood End, is the way leading to the wood referred to in the Domesday Survey, via the "Heath Lane," which was noted in the 17th century for steeple chasing. The Raven family possessed a monster mangle. This was considered to be an outsize of its kind, and washing came from all over Shilton to The Hollow to be mangled by it.

The Workhouse Gardens and Spring Gardens are names to be conjured with in this area near the church. No doubt both had great bearing in the life of the community in bygone days. Rackett Court once stood near to the "Hill Top." These were old Tudor buildings, and a flue sketch of them can be seen in "Highways and Byways of Leicestershire." A recluse by the name of John Freestone was the last occupant. On the opposite side of the road is an ancient barn, which, although containing very massive oak beams, obliterates one of the best views in the county. This gives the name to this part of the locality of the Barn-end.

There are a few old Georgian three-storied houses around "Hill Top," and a very old thatched house opposite the "Roebuck Inn," the date on its front giving the year 1714. It is one of the very few thatched ones surviving in Shilton. Keats Lane was formerly known as "Cake Lane," and once it contained many old-fashioned houses. It overlooks the Vale of Kirkby and also overlooks some splendid scenery. A bake-house was situated many years ago near to Whitemore’s factory, and a bell was rung when the oven was hot. This was when the bread was made at home and sent to the bakers. This is probably, too, the origination of "Cake Lane." There was also a bake house in Candle Maker Alley, a small lane running between Almys Lane and the top of The Meadows, where between the World Wars, local folk would take their roasts along to be cooked in the oven.

Near to the present West Street stood the old Yew Tree Farm, prior to the erection of the present Jubilee Terrace. An old malt-house once stood on this spot, and when it was demolished a large wall was built with the bricks, facing the present "Fender Row." This wall has now disappeared with the advent of the Council houses.

The "Dog and Gun Inn" was removed in the 1930s to another site at Keat’s Lane, a little distance from where the old licensed house had sold beer for over 150 years. This old building still stands and exists today as a private house.

There was also in Keat’s Lane, up until the 1940s, an old glove business that used hand frames, and was run by Mr Linney Spindle Hall, close by, was the last dwelling house in memory to contain the old glove frames. "Wightmans Row" and the old "Glove-Yard" have, like many more old houses, vanished from this region.

Trade and the Civil War in America

In 1861 the Civil War had broken out in America, and Earl Shilton was hard hit by the fact that the Northern States blockaded the ports of the Southern States, so that cotton could not be exported. Something akin to famine prevailed in Earl Shilton as the chief trade of the area was frame-work knitting. Frames could be found in nearly every house. During these devastating times the Baptist minister, the Rev. Parkinson, had to resign through lack of funds, and the Rev. Freesdon said, "that a church that could not support its minister, and a pastorate that had commenced with so many signs of blessing, ended through a war raging on the other side of the Atlantic".

The Elmesthorpe Road was commenced during these dark days as Relief Work. Many of the workers received no more than bread and meat for their hard labours. At this time over 1,200 people were out of employment. The work was sponsored by the Right Hon. the Earl of Lovelace and his daughter, the Lady Anne Noel, and carried out in 1862-3. They also forwarded £800 to the unemployed cotton workers to work worsted instead of cotton.

The depression seemed to continue for many years, and the figures given by the Hinckley District Relief Committee in July, 1864, make interesting reading - Subscriptions raised in Earl Shilton parish were to the amount of £161 1s. 4d, while the destitute poor received from that fund £992 10s. 4d., in addition 195 barrels (31.0 m3) of flour, 30 sides of bacon, 100 tons of coal and left-off clothing were distributed by this fund in the district. (Foster)

Towards the end of the nineteenth century several parcels of land were held by the parish as charitable lands namely; Town land meadow, Town Land close, the Barn Close (near Hill Top), the Old Close and part of Breach Field. These lands were rented out and the income used for poor relief.

Among other relief the poor of the parish would receive bread at Easter and Coal at Christmas. Allotments were also set-aside for the poor. One set of plots was at the bottom of Shilton Hill and a second in the Townlands off Breach Lane.

The South Leicestershire Railway

See South Leicestershire Railway

Wood Street School

In 1871 Wood Street School opened for around 30 pupils and the headmistress was a Miss Witnall. Wood Street was a very small school with only 2 classrooms. In 1907 they added 2 extra classrooms and a corridor, as village expansion led to overcrowding at the school.

By 1965, numbers had risen to such a degree that they used the church hall for school dinners, physical education, music and movement

Wood Street School was partly burned down in the early hours of 17 January 1984, following a break in. The curtains were set alight which in turn ignited an oil feed pipe, causing major damage and ultimately the school's demolition.

The Brick Works and Gas Works

Station road was known as Breach Lane before the railway arrived, and with the exception of “The Lodge” and a few houses near to the Hollow it was very thinly populated.

The old brickworks were situated on the site of present Metcalfe Street, which was named after Mr. James Metcalfe for many years a headmaster at the High Street, Church of England School.

The Gas Works (now dismantled) were also situated in Station road, and were built in 1866 by the Earl Shilton Gas Light and Coke Company. Mr A Lee was the manager.

The ‘Stute’

The Social Institute was founded at the turn of the 20th century to provide a social and sporting outlet for the young men of Earl Shilton. Its first home was accommodated in two rooms above the H.U.D.C. gas showrooms in Wood St. A Grand Bazaar was held in Earl Shilton on 28th and 29 December 1908, at the High street school, to raise funds for a new building for the Social Institute.

In 1909 the building was erected in Station Road, paid for by public subscription, and a mortgage guaranteed by local industrialists, who were the founders and formed the Management Committee. The premises on Station Road organised football, cricket, a rifle range, chess club, skittles and billiards.


Annually circuses and wild beast shows were in evidence in Earl Shilton, prior to the advent of the “movies.”

The “Picture House” in Station road, began life as a roller skating rink called the Royal Rink, and was erected in 1910. Mr. H. S. Cooper started this very much-needed enterprise that would bring the glamour of Hollywood into the village.

The cinema was forever after known to all as ‘Harrys’.

Following the Second World War generations grew up attending the Saturday matinees at the picture house, or sessions at the new, outdoor, roller skating rink built beside it. The grandeur of the old Royal Rink could never match the Danilo or Gaumont in Hinckley, but it still drew a sizeable crowd. During the 1960s the running of the cinema was taken over by Mr Coopers daughter Freda, and her husband Jack Aldridge, who had previously run a local taxi firm.

The Catholic Church and Normanton Hall

The Catholic Church was erected in 1908 and was situated in Mill Lane. The Catholic school adjacent was erected in 1910 for the education of 80 children, a Convent and priest’s house being added later. The church was under the patronage of the Worswick family, who had their countryseat at Normanton Hall (now demolished), which lay outside Earl Shilton on the road to Thurleston. Father Grimes was the first priest. In the years prior to the church in Mill Lane being erected the Catholics worshipped in the private chapel of Normanton Hall.

During the First World War, German prisoners were interned at Normanton Hall. After its demolition, just after the war, it was a sad blow for the Catholics and to the whole neighbourhood as many were employed there.

The Convent was several times empty during the 1930s and 40s, but was reconditioned and used in the form of a seminary. It was for some years also used as a hosiery factory.

A fire destroyed Normanton Hall in 1925, and the property was subsequently sold off. Shortly after the demolition of Normanton the altar, a magnificent piece of work, was presented to Earl Shilton’s St. Peter’s Church in Mill Lane. A fire, in the 1940s, destroyed part of this building, but fortunately not damaging the altar. Father Barry-Doyle, a former priest, and a well-known elocutionist, greatly delighted local audiences with his poetry and monologues during his stay at Normanton.

The Boy Scouts

The first Boy Scouts troop was formed around 1916. The original Master for the Earl Shilton troop was Mr Horace Perkins, and Mr W Cotton was president

Mr Perkins recalled - ‘Much of the Scouts equipment was homemade. In the early days we water proofed heavy bed sheets and would sew them into tents’ (John Lawrence). The Scout troop took part in the World Jamboree, at Olympia, London in 1920. During the Jamboree they camped in the town of Barnet.

Mr Rudkin was a local carrier and the first man in the village to possess a motor charabanc. Bus and safety regulations were not in evidence, as the seats were ordinary chairs, set in rows and roped around the sides. Children were given free rides round the village on its inception.

The Great War

One thousand men from Earl Shilton served in British forces during the First World War. Many men from Earl Shilton, in the Fifth Leicestershire Regiment, also served in Ireland during the 1916 Easter Rising. The village factories also supplied the government with thousands of pairs of socks and army boots. These same manufacturers also supplied vast orders for the Russian Cossacks.

During the latter stages of the war, Earl Shilton held a ‘big gun week’, when a large howitzer was paraded around the village. Many were invited to buy War Bonds. Military bands often visited the village to inspire recruiting. In a very different age when information was seriously censored and patriotism was paramount, young men clamoured to join up. In one week alone 80 enlisted, and were cheered on by crowds of happy followers as they marched to Elmesthorpe station on their way to the mud filled trenches of the Western Front.

It was all over on the 11th November 1918. All work was suspended for the day, while flags and bunting appeared in windows. Fireworks were let off and a comic band toured the streets. Watching silently were the German prisoners of war who were working in the area and billeted at nearby Normanton Hall.

A captured field gun stood for a time near the Wesleyan Chapel, and was removed for a time to a field off station road. The gun's final resting place was the Wood Street Recreation Ground, which was once a sand pit, where the gun now lies buried and forgotten.

Over a hundred men from the village were lost in the conflict, and a cenotaph was erected in their memory. Two soldiers, both Earl Shilton men, who died in 1916 and 1917, are buried in the parish churchyard.

On wake Sunday 1919, and for many years afterwards, the British Legion, public bodies and factories held a parade for the fallen.


Sport has been represented in Earl Shilton by several worthy exponents, especially at cricket. Sam Coe, Loni Brown, Joe Brown and Arthur Hampson were all selected for county honours. Billy Ball and George Panter, of an older generation, were also outstanding. Earl Shilton had a regular fixture at one period with Coventry and North Warwickshire.

Shilton Victors, a football team who had their headquarters at the "King William IV" public house, won three cups in a single day, a very noteworthy achievement. Most of the factories in the village ran sides for the benefit of the Earl Shilton Sunshine League. These matches were played after tea when work ceased, and very keen rivalry was witnessed, and good football without the frills was usually served up for the large crowds that assembled. Mr. H. Bradbnry presented a silver cup that was played for each year by knock-out competition. The venue for these hectic matches was in a field off Station Road at the rear of the Constitutional Club. By 1923 Earl Shilton had many football clubs in vogue. The church and chapel fielded useful sides, also very often second elevens. The Adult School fielded three sides for quite a long time, and rented two fields, one which was situated on The Mount. Foot racing was once very popular, and many wagers have been run for around the local fields. On one occasion the village sweep who was to cycle on his three-wheeler, challenged a well-known local runner to race from Shilton Hill to Kirkby, the runner to have the length of the hill start. The runner was easily passed down the Kirkby Lane and retired. In 1947 Mr. Macartney, was still living in the village, being over 90 years of age. He was the village sweep and carried on this occupation when he was over 80 years of age.

Between the World Wars Earl Shilton boasted a horticultural society, which held an annual flower and sports event in a field in Kings Walk. Cycle racing, high jumps, donkey racing and all manner of foot racing.

Second World War

During the Second World War there were 192 air raid alerts in Earl Shilton, the first occurring on 26 June 1940 and the last on 20 March 1945. The village siren was erected on the factory of Toon and Son in Wood Street.

The Local Defence Volunteers, later to be renamed the Home Guard, were organised in June 1940. They had their headquarters in a large house near Birds Hill called ‘Holydene’, the fire service and ambulance sharing a room here for a time. The Local Defence Volunteers were conspicuous in their denim overalls early in the war, but as time went on they were issued with army battle dress, tin hats, American rifles with bayonets and by the end of the war even boasted a couple of Lewis guns. One section of the Home Guard was on patrol every night and by the time they were stood down their strength had grown to 140 men. They were commanded in the early days by Captain Wileman and later by Major Wand of Desford.

Three parachute mines were dropped on the night of 20 November 1940. One landed in Barwell while the other two came down in the Northwest corner of Earl Shilton. One of these mines failed to explode, and there were no casualties.

More incendiaries fell in Elmesthorpe on 4 December 1940. The German plane was brought down near Leicester Forest East. The Earl Shilton Home Guard were called out to the scene and prisoners were taken.

At 7am on 27 July 1942, a lone German bomber dived out of the clouds near the church and let go of three stick bombs. They landed at the back of Mr T Carter’s farm in Church Street, destroying a barn and badly damaging a house. Mr Carter had a very lucky escape himself, as he was out in his yard at the time only 20 yards (20 m) from the blast. A bull was so badly injured that it had to be put down. The plane went on to machine gun those unfortunate enough to be going to work.

Mr T J Langton recalls -

I was at Earl Shilton R.C. School, in Mill Lane, when on this particular morning a lost German plane flew low over Keats Lane and as a boy I remember as Gary Cassell was on his way to the same school as this plane flew over, low and sprayed machine gun bullets along Keats Lane. He ran into an entry and dropped his scarf. When he eventually recovered it, he noticed it contained a bullet hole. He told the story to Michael Mortimore, the son of the village bobby who also attended the school. On hearing this, Mike Mortimore said 'It was a good job he had not got it wrapped round his neck, at the time.'

During the night of 30 July 1942 a 2,000 lb (910 kg) bomb killed a pig and a chicken, named Walter and Eric, respectively.

At the top end of the village, the Air Raid Patrol, ARP wardens, met in the back room of the Plough, a Public House run by Joe Lucas. They patrolled the streets checking the blackout and fire watching.

Hundreds of villagers went into munitions work, and eventually there was a munitions factory opened in the village. The village also took child refugees from Coventry, Birmingham and London.

Many villagers had shelters put in their gardens, but there were also public shelters in Wood Street, Station Road, Almey’s Lane, Keats Lane, The Hollow and Belle Vue.

Soldiers were billeted in most of the public buildings during the war. The military authorities requisitioned the Working Men's Club dance hall, the Adult School Hall, the Social Institute, Constitutional Club, and the Co-op village hall. After Dunkirk, the Sussex Yeomanry moved into the village, being replaced in turn by the Royal Army Ordnance Corps, Royal Artillery, Royal Marines and the Pioneer Corps. The Wesleyan Chapel in the Hollow was transformed into a British Restaurant, for the troops. Training was undertaken on the recreation grounds and other open spaces around the village. Mr Astley’s sand pit in Heath Lane was used as a shooting range.

There were around 900 local men and women serving in the regular British forces, of which 25 were killed in action. One local man, Ordinary Seaman Ernest Holt, of HMS Mohawk, who died in October 1939, is buried in the parish churchyard and there are two soldiers buried in the separate Earl Shilton Cemetery.


Earl Shilton Wikipedia