Month: January 2017

Shearsby, 1835: An Analysis and Compendium of all the Returns made to Parliament

There had been a growing interest and government sponsored activity in producing statistical account of the population of the United Kingdom. This was eventually to culminate in the series of once-a-decade censuses from 1841 onwards. In 1835 an attempt was made to summarise what had been learnt since the start of the century for 6000 towns and parishes in England and Wales. This report has been digitised and made available online as a part of the UK Medical Heritage Library.

Shearsby’s entry in the statistical tables appears on page 168 and covers the area in acres for the parish; the annual value of the property, based on the 1815 property tax; the amount expended for maintenance of the poor in 1828-29 and the population in the parish for 1801, 1811, 1821 and 1831. The village is marked as having a curate to look after church affairs.

Area in acres 1815 property tax amount Maintenance of the poor in 1828-29 Population in 1801 Population in 1811 Population in 1821 Population in 1831
780 £1,961 £270 249 260 310 354


Royal College Of Surgeons Of England (1835). An analysis and compendium of all the returns made to Parliament, since the commencement of the 19th century, relating to the increase of population, and the amount and appropriation of the parochial assessments, tithes, &c. [online] URL: Accessed 26/01/2017

Further Research

How did the village compare with its neighbouring communities at this time? Did the population continue to show a increse in the following series of national censuses from 1841 onwards?


Shearsby, 1327: Contributors to the Lay Subsidy

Shearsby as a whole contributed 34 shillings to the amount collected for Leicestershire in 1327. Those who paid the tax were:

Name Amount
Will’mo de Charnells 2sh. 9d
Isolda le Veer 3sh.
Laur’nc’ Capll’o 3sh. 6d
Jon’ne de Peatlyng’ 2sh.
Clement’ q’ fuit’ ux’ Galfr’ Danteloc’ 2sh.
Rob’to Bonde 2sh. 6d
Joh’ne de Knapetoft’ 3sh.
Joh’ne Abouenyekyrke 2sh. 6d
Joh’ne Steyn 2sh.
Rob’to de Blaby 2sh.
Will’mo de Wylughby 18d
Henr’ Donword 18d
Rog’o Heyrm 12d
Johne Crownere 2sh.

William de Charnells held a Manor in Shearsby of the fee of Marmyon.

Image: By Numisantica ( [CC BY-SA 3.0 nl ( or CC BY-SA 3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

Leicester Assizes: August 3, 1825. The trial of Hannah Read

Court Reporter: I attend the courts and my reports are circulated in the newspapers of Oxford, Derby, Worcester and elsewhere. My pieces can be curtailed or extended depending on my readers’ taste for the sensational. Readers might remember that back in April 1825 Hannah Read had been arrested for the murder of her husband, James Read.

Judge: Mr Goulburn.

Mr. Goulburn: Your Honour, I would like to state the facts of this case. The deceased had been a soldier in the late wars, serving in Royal Wagon Train that made such a name for itself during the battle of Waterloo. At the time of his death he was in receipt of a small pension from the Chelsea Hospital. He had been married to the prisoner for between eight and nine years; but in consequence of mutual disagreements they had lived apart for two years before March last. The deceased, however, hearing that his wife had formed an adulterous connection with one Waterfield, by whom she had a child, insisted on her quitting that man, and again living with hm. To this she complied, but at the same time threatening that she would do for her husband. I am obliged to call the attention of the jury to this fact, because the proof of the crime alleged against the prisoner is wholly of a circumstantial nature. Therefore it is necessary in investigating this crime to take into consideration the whole of her conduct before and after the death of her husband.

Judge: Circumstantial?

Mr Goulburn: Yes, Your Honour. To this end I call my first witness, Thomas Read, the brother of the deceased.

Thomas Read: It was back on the sixth of March this year when my brother took his wife to live with him again. She had been living in Sheepshead with a man named Jonathan Waterfield and had had a child, which she did not blush to confess was his. On her return, though, Hannah behaved badly towards James, to the point were I confronted and remonstrated with her, threatening to have her brought here, Your Honour, for her misbehaviour.

Judge: You did, did you?

Thomas Read: On the Monday following, the twenty-first of April, she again left my brother, but I was able find her and bring her back to him. At twelve o’clock that day she sent for her husband to go with her to Foxton to visit her relative ther. It would be a journey of about seven miles. The last time I saw my brother was as he left Shearsby to go with his wife to that place. By six o’clock the same evening Hannah had returned and called for me. She told me that her husband had run away from her mad. When I asked her what she meant by that she said:

Hannah Read: “When we got below Gumley, Jem began to dance and jump about as if he were mad; then he damned and swore, and fell onto the grass, and tore it up with his hands. After that, he jumped up and ran as hard as he could towards Debdale-wharf. I went to the bridge but could only look after him.”

Thomas Read: “Why did you not alarm the people in the neighbourhood?”

Hannah Read: “I was too much frightened to do so.”

Thomas Read: “Hannah, I fear you have pushed my poor brother into the navigation, and have drowned him there.”

Hannah Read: “Good Lord, Master, we were never within a closes’s breadth of the navigation.”

Thomas Read: I then called upon the new constable in the village to keep her in custody while gathered people together to assist me in searching for my brother. The following morning, as I was engaged in dredging the canal, I pulled up my brother’s corpse from a bridge near Foxton. I said to Hannah, who was there with me at the time, that the body appeared to be bruised.

Hannah Read: “If there are any bruises, he made them himself, for he tumbled down along the towing path as if he were mad.”

Thomas Read: This seemed contrary to what she had told me on the previous evening. She told me afterwards that he had tumbled into the canal, about eighty yards from the bridge, and that she had held his hat out to try to save him.

Mr. Goulburn. Thank you, you may stand down. I now call upon James Alney, the constable at Sheepshead, to tell us what happened when the deceased went there to recover his wife.

James Alney: I went with a man from Shearsby to the house of one Jane Wright. Upon my knocking on the door and asking if Hannah Read and John Waterfield were in the house, Hannah put ther head out of the window and called back inside to Waterfield.

Hannah Read: “O Lord, John, here is Jem come back!”

James Alney: The man from Shearsby insisted on her going back with him.

Hannah Read: “If I do, I won’t live with you; I would sooner murder you.”

James Alney: Then she threw a wooden weaver’s bobbin, as big as my arm, at her husband in the street.

Mr. Goulburn: Mary Gamble.

Mary Gamble: Hannah came to me that Monday, before she and James set off for Foxton, telling me that her husband had insisted on her living with him, but that she was against this and had said:

Hannah Read: “Damn him, I’ll do for him.”

Elizabeth Whitmore: I was there when Mr. Read was endeavouring to persuade his wife to live quietly with him, heard her say:

Hannah Read: “Damn you, I’ll never live with you; I’ll finish you between this and Monday night.”

Ann Robinson: Hannah Read came to my house on the evening when her husband was drowned, and told me that he had run off mad towards Gumley. I told her “You will be guarded until your husband is found, dead or alive. People think you have drowned him; and if you have, you are sure to be hanged.” She said:

Hannah Read: “Nobody saw me drown him; and therefore no one can swear against against me”.

Mr. Goulburn: I call Robert Johnson, boatman.

Robert Johnson: I saw two people on that Monday afternoon near the bridge at Foxton. There was a man wearing a smock-frock, and a woman, who had a child in her arms, wore a red gown. The next day I was helping to drag the canal, and pulled out the body of the dead man. When found, his right hand was still in his breeches pocket. I believe the man we pulled out of the canal was the same as the one I had seen the previous evening.

Mr. Goulburn: Call back witness Read!

Thomas Read: When I saw them leave the village, they were dressed as Johnson described. And the place where Johnson saw them was in the opposite direction to where Hannah said they had been going.

Court Reporter: Another witness proved that that they were dressed in the manner described, and that they were seen near the lock. Then the Coroner Mr. Meredith Esq. was called:

Charles Meredith: I have here an examination of the prisoner..

The Judge: Which I will not hear read. I don’t agree with this practice of taking confessions from people in my gaols and producing them on their trial. Let people speak for themselves, I say. What can you tell about the body you were asked to look at?

Charles Meredith: The deceased met his end by drowning.

Court Reporter: The prisoner, who during the examination of the witnesses she had frequently contradicted their statements and was now called upon for her defence. She roused herself from a sort of stupor into which she had fallen, and in a low voice and wild manner protested that she was wholly innocent of the charge made against her. She described her husband’s conduct to have been frantic, and inexplicable, and that he had left her suddenly and fallen into the river.

The Judge: Members of the Jury, you have heard the testimony of several witness against the prisoner, and yet all the evidence is merely circumstantial. I urge you to consider this evidence with the most scrupulous attention, giving the prisoner the benefit of your doubts, if any should arise, concerning her guilt.

Court Reporter: After deliberating a quarter of an hour, the jury pronounced a verdict of..

Foreman: Guilty.

Court Reporter: The learned judge’s placing the black cap upon his head aroused her again from stupor, but when he addressed her by name she responded by a frantic shriek of melancholy fear and horror. She continually interrupted him by such appeals as:

Hannah Read: Save me! Oh, save me! For God’s sake, do not hang me! Oh save me for the sake of my six children, and my baby of six months old!

The Judge: Execution to take place next Friday morning. Afterwards her body to be taken down and  sent to the Infirmary for the benefit of the anatomists.

Image: Leicester Castle, 1821, looking towards the Criminal Court where Hannah Read was tried.

© 2017 Shearsby History Notes.

Fleckney: August 7, 1828. The lost sheep

As Thomas Perkins of Fleckney recounted his view of the events at the Leicestershire Assizes on August 7th, 1828, he was anxious to assure everyone of his impartial and thorough methods of tracking down the suspected thief of his missing ewe lamb. He recalled counting his sheep in a field between three and four o’clock that day and finding them all present, but had returned at five and found one to be missing. He had spotted a footprint in the ground and took the measure of it with a stick. Asking around gave him some more clues and he headed with a friend uphill towards the next village of Saddington and the house of a possible suspect. The house was empty, but in an outhouse at the back he found a ewe and a lamb, one of which he recognised as his own lost lamb. He took it back to his own field and it was immediately taken and suckled by its mother.

Thomas then went across to Shearsby and met with John Peberdy, the son of the owner of the house where the lamb was found. He confronted him with the recovered lamb, accused Peberdy of stealing it to sell to his father, to which Peberdy confessed “I did”. Perkins than asked to check Peberdy’s shoes, noting eight rows of nails lengthways, exactly agreeing with the tell-tale footprint back in the field. Peberdy did not make any resistance to be arrested, and if he had suffered any distress of mind while in prison, Perkins knew nothing about it.

According to the Leicester Chronicle’s report of the case: “The Judge, in summing up, observed that the fact had been clearly proved, and the jury found the prisoner guilty. – Sentence of death recorded”.

But in Shearsby people thought that there was more to this story. Mary Peberdy, John’s wife organised a petition among her neighbours and prompted letters in support of her husband. Grounds for clemency pointed to a transaction between Thomas Perkins and John Peberdy in which John had ended up not being paid. Added to which, the Peberdys had four small children, stole while temporarily insane and had a nervous irritability. A letter from surgeon John Marriott certified a history of insanity in the family, with John’s mother having committed suicide and four other family members noted as lunatics. Whilst remanded he had failed to recognise his wife and she had also missed the opportunity to speak up for his good character at the trial. Nine Shearsby residents stood up for their neighbour by putting their names to the petition.

Whether as a result of this petition, or not, John Peberdy’s sentence was commuted to imprisonment and in September 1828 he was sent down to the Milbank Penitentiary for life.

Further Research

Who were the people who signed Mary Peberdy’s petition?

Who were John and Mary Peberdy’s children and how did they fare?

The featured image on this post is a Leicester Longwool breed kept in Speeton, Yorkshire since 1834. What sort of sheep were commonly kept in Fleckney at the time of John Peberdy’s theft?

Shearsby: July 12, 1813. The most deplorable state of outrageous madness

Readers of regional newspapers carrying the story in July 1813 will have been saddened to discover the fate of the unfortunate Elizabeth Weston of Shearsby. She had been found drowned on Monday 12th of July in one of the village’s ponds. At the inquest into her death it was found that pregnant, she had drowned herself after being rejected by the the putative father. A note had been found addressed to this young man ‘replete love, tenderness and forgiveness’. He, it was reported, had tried to copy her actions and only been prevented by his friends’ forcible restraint and remained ‘in the most deplorable state of outrageous madness’.


The Ipswich Journal (Ipswich, England), Saturday, July 31, 1813

What interests me about this tragic story is how it has been shaped before publication. Most likely the case was picked up by people present at inquests in Leicester able to write up events as they took place and circulate them in newspapers. There is in this brief piece of reportage a noticable bias towards reconciliation. There is sympathy, of course, for the unfortunate young lady, but also for the young and unnamed man. While Elizabeth is named and commemorated, the young man is allowed to slip into obscurity and rebuild his life. Those people who knew all too well who he was would have been reminded on one hand of the letter and its words of love, tenderness and forgiveness’ and his remorseful desperation on the other.

Elizabeth Weston herself was buried in the village churchyard and a headstone put up naming her, her proud parents John and Elizabeth and noting the exact day of her passing, so that none should forget. She was 21 years old when she died.


“England Births and Christenings, 1538-1975,” database, FamilySearch( : 11 February 2018, Elizth. Weston, 07 Aug 1791); citing Shearsby, Leicester, England, index based upon data collected by the Genealogical Society of Utah, Salt Lake City; FHL microfilm 952,297.

Shearsby: April 21, 1825. Hannah Read arrested for the murder of her husband

As William R– set off one the six-mile journey to Lutterworth to be sworn in as Shearsby’s constable on the 21st of April 1825, tragic events were starting to unfold that would long be remembered. His first duty that day had, however, been a straight-forward as any he might have hoped for. He re-paid the previous constable, Richard Messanger, for the costs of his earlier journey to Blaby for a meeting about the militia in the county. Richard had performed the job of constable for the past three years and was, no doubt, relieved to be able to hand it on to someone else. William noted that he handed over four shillings and six pence for the expenses on that trip, the same as he himself was to claim for the Swearing-In journey. He carried with him to Lutterworth the shilling required to pay for the oath that would make him officially Shearsby’s constable.

Already that morning, James Read, one of the villagers, had discovered that his troubled and troublesome wife Hannah had gone missing. No-one in the village could recall when this couple had got on and it was only in the previous month that she had been brought back to Shearsby with a new baby in tow. This latest child had been born in Shepshed while Hannah had been living with Jonathan Waterfield. It was in addition to the three children she had with James Read, and two from previous relationships: Ann Packwood, aged about 14; William Packwood, about 12; Elizabeth Read about 9 and born after James and Hannah married in May 1816; and Uriah Read, born May 1820 and Emmanuel, aged 2. Not long after Emmanuel’s birth, James had got into money troubles over a calf he he purchased, but been unable to pay for. James considered it wise to disappear for a bit, at least until he was able to repay this debt.

In his absence, Hannah was able to wander off and found her way to Shepshed, 14 miles north of Leicester. She stayed with a young couple, Jonathan Waterfield and his wife, taking on some of the domestic chores while Jonathan’s wife was in the latter stages of pregnancy. There had been Waterfields living in Shearsby in 1818, when Thomas and Widdow Waterfield, along with Hannah Packwood, were recorded as receiving support in the Overseer’s accounts. Sadly, complications from the birth meant that both mother and child died soon after. Hannah and Jonathan drew closer together after this loss, to the point where Hannah gave birth to Jonathan’s child.

By this time James Read had been able to resolve his money troubles and tracked his wife down in Shepshed. He went with James Alney, the constable at Shepshed to the house where they were staying. As the constable was knocking on the door, Hannah put her head out of the window and called back to Waterfield, “Oh Lord, John, here is Jem come back”. James insisted on her coming with him, but initially Hannah was against the idea, replying “If I do, I won’t live with you; I would sooner murder you”. James Alney later recalled that this accompanied a weaver’s bobbin, “as big as his arm” sailing out of the window.

Nevertheless she did return with her husband to Shearsby, even if she was not happy about it. On her return her neighbours took her husband’s side: “Hannah”, they said “if you will not consent to live with your husband, and sleep with him tonight, we will douse you in water”. But she replied that she would rather have a naked sword run through her than consent to such proposals. Things remained uneasy between Hannah and James.

Her April escape did not go well. Her brother-in-law, Thomas Read, correctly guessed her direction and was able to bring her back before she could get any distance. At mid-day Hannah sent over one of her children with a message for her husband, promising that if he were to accompany her on a visit to her relatives in Foxton, she would live peacefully with him. James agreed to this plan and the last his brother saw of him was as they left the village: James in a smock-frock, hat and carrying a stick, Hannah in a red gown. Their route would take them past the new reservoir at Saddington and along the Leicestershire and Northampton Canal newly cut through the fields around Foxton.

Hannah was back by six o’clock the same day and sent for her brother-in-law with distressing news. Her husband had left her and run away mad: when we got below Gumley, she said, he had begun to dance and jump about as if he were mad; then he damned and swore, and fell on the grass, tearing it up in his hands. She had last seen him running as hard as he could back along the canal towards Debdale Wharf. All Hannah could do, was go to the bridge and watch him go. She had been too frightened, she said, to have called on any of the people nearby for help.

Thomas feared the worst. He said, “Hannah, I fear you have pushed my poor brother into the navigation, and have drowned him”. But she denied it, crying “Good Lord, Master, we were never within a close’s breadth of the navigation”. Thomas called on the constable, now returned from his swearing in at Lutterworth, and asked him to keep her in custody, while he organised people to help him search for his brother.

The constable called on two villagers: Dyson and Bottrill, to guard Hannah for what turned out to be the next three nights and four days, costing him twelve shillings between them, plus seven shillings and three pence ha’penny for their provisions and another four shillings four pence ha’penny paid to Thomas Weston for their ale.

Another villager, Ann Robinson later recalled a conversation with Hannah that evening, where she had warned her: “You will be guarded till your husband is found, dead or alive. People think you have drowned him; and if you have, you are sure to be hanged”. Hannah replied, “Nobody saw me drown him, and therefore nobody can swear against me”.

Next morning the constable hired a horse and cart from Ann’s husband Joseph to convey Hannah to Foxton (costing another six shillings). It was not long before a body was found in the canal by the bridge near Foxton. Thomas Read remarked that his brother’s body appeared bruised. Hannah now claimed that James had tumbled into the canal while madly running away, and that any bruises had been made by her husband himself. She had tried to save him by holding out his hat, but to no effect. This change to her story was not lost on James’ brother.

The constable made other trips to Foxton asking for anyone who could remember seeing anything. Among those there he found Robert Johnson, a boatman, who remembered seeing a man in a smock-frock and a woman in a red gown with a child in her arms. He had helped drag the canal that morning and found the body of the man he recognised, drowned, with his right hand still in his breeches pocket.

Hannah Read was tried for the murder of her husband at the Leicester Assizes on 3 August 1825.


  • Berrow’s Worcester Journal (Worcester, England), Thursday, August 11, 1825;
  • The Derby Mercury (Derby, England), Wednesday, August 10, 1825;
  • Jackson’s Oxford Journal (Oxford, England), Saturday, August 13,
  • The Ipswich Journal (Ipswich, England), Saturday, August 13, 1825
  • Shearsby Constable’s Accounts. Leicestershire Record Office. DE548. [See catalogue entry.]
  • Particulars of the trial, execution, and confession of Hannah Read, who suffered at Leicester, on Friday last, for the wilful murder of her husband (1825)$1i (accessed 13th january 2017)
  • JAMES REED Born SHEARSBY, Leicestershire Served in 85th Foot Regiment; Royal Waggon Train. Discharge Papers.

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South Leicestershire, 29 September 1327: Assessments for Edward III’s Lay Subsidy

Around 1891 the Rev. W.G.D. Fletcher of St. Michael’s, Shrewsbury published his transcription and notes on the 1327 Lay Subsidy of Leicestershire as “The Earliest Leicestershire Lay Subsidy Roll, 1327”, noting that this was the oldest surviving taxation record for the county. The original document would have been used by the people responsible for collecting the receipts to fund the main item of government expenditure being planned at that time; which was the war against neighbouring Scotland.

The document records the amount each town and village in the county was assessed for and the names of the individuals making the payments. Michaelmas Day (29th September) was chosen as the day on which the assessments were to be made, and several loyal and good men were summoned from each vill to determine the tax according to its true value, amounting to a twentieth part of all movable goods.

I have transcribed the data again to a spreadsheet and visualised the results in Tableau Public. Check out the maps and charts for a snapshot of the wealth and populations for the communities in the Guthlaxton and Gartree Hundreds of South Leicestershire, in comparison with the Borough of Leicester itself.

Visualisation Content
Taxpayers Map of communities with the names of villages given in the Lay Subsidy
Assessments Map of communities with modern nmes and graded by size of subsidy paid
Averages Map with size of community graded by average of tax paid divided by number of taxpayers
Bar Chart List of communities graded by amount of contribution paid
Bubbles Group similar communities by amount of contribution
Scatter Plot Graph of taxpayers and contributions
Pareto Pareto chart showing where 80% of the tax yield can be found.