Month: August 2017

Shearsby Baths, 6 June 1840: Broken heads and severe bruises

It all seems to have started on May 12th 1840 when John Clarke, Esq., of Peatling Hall sent his son Henry and a party of his men down the Bruntingthorpe to Shearsby Road to forcibly sort out the land dispute he was having with William Reeve at the Shearsby Baths. There were twenty-eight people in this party, including James and Thomas Loyley, and Isaac and William Gamble, all coming equipped with pick-axes and shovels to pull down the fencing recently put up by Reeve on land Clarke claimed to be his. Reeve took legal action in response, bringing the matter before the judges at the Lutterworth Petty Sessions on May 14th. William Reeve claimed that the land in question had been in possession of his forefathers for years and that previous Lords of the Manor had never claimed it before. The case was dismissed as out of the Lutterworth court’s jurisdiction, but with the understanding that Mr. Clarke would refrain from all further acts of violence in support of his claim.

On Saturday 6th of June the village peace was again disturbed by the appearance of a number of men, again headed by Henry Clarke, with shovels and axes and heading for Reeve’s fence. This time, Reeve was  ready for them with his own party of men, some from Dunton, ready with iron bars to face the intruders. A general fight broke out, leading to several ‘broken heads and severe bruises’. Things might have got worse, had not the Rural Police arrived to break things up. The village had rallied in support of Reeve, with even the old women mustering in considerable force and ‘leaving marked proofs of their prowess on the countenances of their opponents’. Henry Clarke sustained some injuries and got his clothes torn for his efforts.

Feelings were still running high the following Monday when villagers assembled and in retaliation pulled up the posts and rails around the cottage that Clarke had recently purchased from a Mr. Walker of Shearsby. These posts widened the cottage boundaries and encroached onto the road itself and were becoming an obstacle to travel. The matter was again brought to the Lutterworth Petty Sessions, who again declined to decide on the matter, referring the  land dispute to higher courts and binding the parties to keep the peace in future.

The Leicester Chronicle: or, Commercial and Agricultural Advertiser (Leicester, England), Saturday, May 23, 1840

The Leicester Chronicle: or, Commercial and Agricultural Advertiser (Leicester, England), Saturday, June 13, 1840

© 2017


John Ball Hill, 7 June 1830: Alterations intended to be made in lowering the hill

The Turnpike-road that wound between Leicester and Welford followed the contours of the land closely. About mid-way it bypassed the village of Shearsby and headed south, passing the intersecting lanes between Saddington and Bruntingthorpe, and rising to 533 ft. at the top of the John Ball Hill. That would be a rise of 142 ft. from the point where the road crossed the brook between Shearsby and Arnesby: a long, steep climb for the horse-drawn carts of the day. It was a stretch of road with a poor reputation. The wooded fox coverts either side near the top were named after alleged highway robbers John and Jane Ball and there had been an incident of attempted robbery as recently as 1822.

The road was a commercial operation, charging its travelers for its use at toll booths along the way. Investing in the upkeep of the road was a part of the role of the Trustees. In June 1830 they put out a call to tender for anyone wanting to take on the proposed work to alter the height of the hill. Would-be civil engineers did not get long to decide as any proposals to engage in the work needed to be considered at the Trustees Meeting to be held at the Three Crowns Hotel on the 21st of June. The surveying work had, however, already been completed and the plans could have been viewed at the offices of Mr. Parsons, a Leicester surveyor.

It is unclear today whether any such work was undertaken. In 2017 concerns about traffic and the steepness on the hill remain, though they now focus on the speed and inattention of the drivers. There is an online petition on the website of the current operators of the Turnpike road, now the A5199 and run by the Leicestershire County Council. The petition calls for the council to ‘urgently improve traffic management and road safety on the A5199, on the roads approaching Shearsby and the nearby crossroads of Saddington Road / Bruntingthorpe Road’. If you share the Shearsby villagers’ concerns about safety along this stretch of road, please do add your name to the petition.

The Leicester Chronicle: or, Commercial and Agricultural Advertiser (Leicester, England), Saturday, June 12, 1830

Leicester Townhall, 29 August 1837: “The Man of Ross” called to pay his ale-score

“BUT all our praises why should lords engross?” asked poet Alexander Pope in 1732 before putting forward the case for John Kyrle (1637-1724) as a non-aristocrat who had made a memorable impact during his lifetime. Kyrle had dedicated time, expertise and a good deal of money into his philanthropic efforts on behalf of Ross-on-Wye, the town where he lived. For this he became known as the “Man of Ross”, celebrated not just in verse, but also in popular culture, with a pub carrying that name in the town.

Over one hundred years later there was evidence that his fame was still recalled when his name was alluded to in the Small Debts Court held in the Leicester Guild Hall. The reporters who wrote up the cases in the Small Debts Court, held on Saturdays and dealing with less than life and death issues, tend to adopt a more informal writing style. the defendant, Ross, is frankly described as ‘a blunt customer’, while the landlady, Mrs. Colton, is described as intervening in a way ‘less conciliatory than her spouse,  and in her heat, forgetful of the character of her house’.

The case was brought by a beer-house keeper called Colton who was chasing a £5 debt owed by Shearsby wool-comber Samuel Ross. Colton had brought the amount of the debt down to £5 so as qualify for the attention of the Small Debts Court after Ross (he claimed) had stood surety for his drinking companions who had spent the whole day drinking at Colton’s House.

Ross countered that while he might, as he put it, have “passed his word” for a pint or two of ale for a friend, but that he had not been present for a good part of that day and had not intended for the publican to carry on the supply of beer until two in the morning at his expense. One of Ross’s companions that day, another wool-comber, explained that they had been attending a village wake held about eleven miles from Leicester. They had spent the day drinking and gambling, as was their habit, but that it was unfair for the whole charge to fall onto Ross.

The Commissioner asked if the witness would admit to any share in the ale included in the bill. Somewhat reluctantly, he agreed to having drunk his portion with the rest.

Colton tried to coax payment out of Ross with friendly phrases: “Come, come! Ross is an honourable name, Sam: the ‘man of Ross,’ you know”. Sam Ross replied: “Honourable name, indeed! Are you to fix this debt upon me because they call me Sam Ross? If that is to stand good, an honourable name would be the ruin of a man.” His view was that the landlord had trusted the men doing the drinking and should have looked  to them for payment.

Mrs Colton, the landlady, was roused by this response: “Looked to them for the money! was it likely that we would trust such a set of scoundrels , without some security?”

The witness brought in by Ross, joined in: “Why, mistress, you encouraged the scoundrels, as you call them, to drink your ale when Sam and your husband were at the Shearsby feast; and they got so drunk in the house, that they began to fight with the poker and tongs”.

The Commissioners found in Colton’s favour, but fixed the re-payments in monthly 10s installments. They took the opportunity to express their opinion of the reprehensible conduct of the landlord: there did, after all, appear to have been a good deal of Sunday drinking on his premises. Ross said that it was hard on him to have to pay the bill for a score of drinkers, most of whom had left town and would not be seen again. The Commissioners told him that at least he would have the assistance of his witness, who had admitted to swelling the bill with his share of the drinking.

The Leicester Chronicle: or, Commercial and Agricultural Advertiser (Leicester, England), Saturday, September 02, 1837

Pope, Alexander (1732) The Man of Ross [Online] [accessed 13 April 2017]

© 2017

Shearsby, Saturday 17 April 1841: Riot and attempt to rescue a prisoner

John Pallett, the constable for Shearsby in 1841 brought a case to the Lutterworth Petty Sessions on Thursday 6 May, charging James Pawley, William Coleman, Mary Harris and Mary Allen with creating a riot and attempting to rescue a prisoner from his custody.

The previous Saturday he had been at the same court to see Sarah Whitmore committed to a House of correction for three months as a rogue and a vagabond. John Pallett, along with the other two village constables, Richard Messenger and John Wilde, had described her as a woman of loose character,  convicted before as a disorderly person who had left her illegitimate children chargeable to the parish.

On arriving back at Shearsby the constables and their charge had stopped off at a public house. The first such house on their route back from Lutterworth would have been at the Baths, a couple of fields before the village itself. It was during this break that Whitmore requested to be allowed “to retire a few minutes”. Pallett granted this request, but, after some time had elapsed and she had not come back, he went in search of the prisoner and found that she had escaped through the back of the premises. She could just be spotted heading down the street in the company of James Pawley.

John Pallett roused the other two constables and they set off in pursuit, soon re-capturing the escapee. But by now others had gathered around her. the constables described ‘a mob’ which followed the party through some fields until they arrived at a stile where a scuffle broke out and Pallett was struck by William Coleman. The constables were able to carry on into the town street in the village itself, but were followed by the mob, who used exceedingly bad language and were throwing stones (and ‘etc’). One stone thrown by Mary Harris struck John Pallett on the shoulder. Mary Allen and James Pawley were present and encouraging the mob but did not use violence themselves.

William Coleman and Mary Harris were convicted and charged 15s. 3d. each in penalty and costs while James Pawley and Mary Allen were acquitted.

In the 1841 census, James Pawley (30) was found in Hill Street a few doors up from Mary Harris (51). John Pallett (25) was a blacksmith and living on Mill Street. Mary Allen (22) lived in Mill Street. Richard Messenger (25) was a farmer living in Church Street.

The Leicester Chronicle: or, Commercial and Agricultural Advertiser (Leicester, England), Saturday, April 24, 1841

The Leicester Chronicle: or, Commercial and Agricultural Advertiser (Leicester, England), Saturday, May 15, 1841

“England Births and Christenings, 1538-1975,” database, FamilySearch ( : 6 December 2014), Sarah Whitmore, 23 Mar 1806; citing SHEARSBY, LEICESTER, ENGLAND, reference ; FHL microfilm 595,767

© 2017

Shearsby, 3 December 1836: Fatal accident at Mill

There is a gravestone in the Shearsby churchyard in memory of young Thomas Weston, ‘catched up in the mill’ back on the 8th September 1782. But he was not the only victim of industrial accidents at the village windmill.

On Friday 2 December 1836, the 61 year old miller,  John Wylde, was on the steps of his mill and about to enter when the door blew suddenly back and threw him to the ground. His injuries included a broken collar bone and several ribs, leaving him barely able to crawl to a neighbouring shed. It was a full three hours later when he was found there by his son. Medical aid was immediately called, but the unfortunate miller died on the Saturday morning.

In August 1830 John had married Ann Read, the daughter of Thomas and Elizabeth Read. She had been born in the village and christened there on 30 July 1809.

The work of running the mill was carried on for a time by the son,  John Wylde, but by June the next year he was hoping to pass on the mill to new owners. The autioneers, S. Horton of Mowsley, called anyone interested to the New Inn at Shearsby on Friday 23rd June at 4 o’clock to bid for the windmill, the brick roundhouse underneath it and the surrounding grounds, estimated at one rood, or thereabouts. The mill was described as being in good repair and the business in full trade.

In December 1837 some of the household furniture, brewing vessels and carts belonging to the late Mr. Wylde were auctioned off, along with some hay and the use of some rented grass-keeping land.

It is not clear how successful these auctions were, however, as in June 1841 John Wylde was noted as a miller and living on Mill Street.

The Leicester Chronicle: or, Commercial and Agricultural Advertiser (Leicester, England), Saturday, December 10, 1836

The Leicester Chronicle: or, Commercial and Agricultural Advertiser (Leicester, England), Saturday, June 10, 1837; pg. [1]

The Leicester Chronicle: or, Commercial and Agricultural Advertiser (Leicester, England), Saturday, December 09, 1837

© 2017

Shearsby, Tuesday 25 August 1840: Disgraceful attack on four Irish labourers

Trouble was already brewing between the resident agricultural labourers of Shearsby and the visiting Irish by the late Summer of 1840. On Thursday 20 August Thomas Wilson brought a case before the Lutterworth Petty Sessions asking the magistrates to bind some unnamed defendants to ‘keep the peace to all Irishmen that might come to England’.

The following week the magistrate J. A. Arnold, Esq., then presiding over the Lutterworth Petty Sessions, heard that this peace had been already broken in what was reported as a disgraceful attack upon four Irish labourers.

It was Andrew Wilson, a Shearsby farmer, who made the complaint against John Elliott and Thomas Botterill for willfully and maliciously breaking two of his barn doors and two gates. Despite the prejudice perceived to have existed for some time among the local labourers against Irish reapers, Wilson had allowed four reapers to sleep in his barn about half a mile away from his house. One of this group, Thomas Hands, stated that he had been awakened at sometime in the night by several people calling out “Are there any Irishmen here?” and demanding admittance. but the Irishmen refused to open the doors “till they had lost their lives”. At this the defendants said that they should lose their lives then and began a violent attack on the barn doors. Finding that they could not force open the doors they ran to the nearby field gates and broke them down so that they could use the bars as levers. They managed to lift the lower parts of the doors from their hinges and tried again to enter, but were repulsed by the Irish inside, one on each side of the door and armed with forks.

Foiled in this attack, they then began to throw stones at the barn and kept this up for three to four hours, accompanied with the uttering of dreadful threats. Negotiation was their next ploy: “they called to the Irish and told them they were their own masters, and if they would come out they (defendants) would see them safe four miles along the Leicester road, and if they would promise not to come back to this part of the country again no harm should be done to them”. The Irish replied that they just wanted a night’s sleep and would go elsewhere of their own accord next morning and never come back, but that they would not come out of the barn just then, for fear their lives would be sacrificed.

At that point the Rapid coach came by, placing this whole incident somewhere along the Turnpike Road from Leicester to Welford (and onward south to London, about 80 miles south). The besieged Irish called out to the passengers for assistance and at this their attackers disappeared. The Irishmen then made it safely to the house of Mr. Wilson, reaching him a three in the morning.

It was 20 year old Thomas Wilson who was roused and had to deal with the disturbance. He listened to Hands and his account of what had happened and then went with the Irishmen back into the village. There they were able to identify John Elliott and Thomas Botterill, and to the best of Hands’ belief: Samuel Dyson, Daniel Billingham, Robert Wesson and Richard Simons.

At the Petty Sessions, William Fretter said that all of that group had been in his house that night and had drunk a good quantity of beer (which he had needed to bring over especially from Gilmorton, three miles away). When had they left at nine o’clock, he described them as ‘rather mellow’.

Mr. Marsh, the solicitor defending John Elliott and Thomas Botterill, called George Billingham. Elliott had been in his company at Fretter’s until nine o’clock, after which they had returned to the Shearsby, but had not passed within 150 yards of the barn in question. When they reached the village they had gone to Botterill’s house and stayed there until sometime between 11 and 12, after which he had gone home. Mary Billingham corroborated his statement and Jane Botterill, Thomas’ wife, swore that her husband had gone to bed when Elliott left, not leaving the house again until he went to work the next day.

The magistrate was unimpressed by these alibis and fined Elliott and Botterill £1. 7s. 6d., adding that he thought it was a most disgraceful assault. The Shearsby labourers involved do not come out of this story looking well. The trigger for their actions had been the presence of Irish reapers in a largely sheep-grazing parish (and consequently few opportunities for supplementary wages at harvest tine) to which alcoholic beverages had been copiously added. However, framework knitters work long hours and need their wits about them to avoid losing fingers to their machines. Their drinking during the working week may be an indicator of the effects of the economic downturn of the 1840’s, making them workless and wageless knitters.

Thomas Willson was the son of Andrew and Alice Willson and was christened on 3 January 1819 at Shearsby. In the 1841 Census he was found in Knaptoft Fields with his parents and siblings: Arthur, Eliza and Cornelia. Andrew Wilson (christened 1 January 1778 at Shearsby) had married Alice Waples of Husbands Bosworth on 31 Oct 1816.

In the same 1841 Census there was a 60-year-old Thomas Botterill, working as a carrier, in the first house surveyed in Church Street,  Shearsby. John Elliott was recorded as a 25-year-old butcher living in Hill Street, next door to Richard Simons, a 28-year-old Stocking Frame Knitter. Samuel Dyson (25, Agricultural labourer) lived farther up Hill Street. A 3-year-old Eliza Billingham was staying in the house that day, indicating a Dyson-Billingham connection. In fact Daniel Billingham had married a Mary Dyson in Shearsby on 30 January 1837. Robert Weston (28) was recorded living in Mill Street with a wife and two children and working as a Stocking Frame Knitter. There was a William Fretter born in 1814 in Mowsley, something that again points to the action taking place uphill from the village of Shearsby.

The Monthly Chronicle commented later in 1840 that “A greater importation of Irish labourers has taken place this year for the harvest than the oldest inhabitant of Liverpool can remember, in expectation of gaining employment in the Northern, Midland and Southern districts. In this, however, they have been egregiously disappointed… we have seen scores of these poor fellows with blistered feet and scarcely able to crawl… not having obtained a single day’s work in Lancashire, Nottinghamshire or Leicestershire, through all which counties they had in vain ‘padded the hoof’.

Leicestershire Mercury (Leicester, England), Saturday, August 29, 1840; pg. 3

Coventry Standard (Coventry, England), Friday, September 4, 1840

Image taken from page 155 of ‘Sunlight and Shade. Being poems and pictures of life and nature. Illustrations by F. Barnard, etc

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What next?

Where did Thomas Hands and his party come from in Ireland? There is some suggestion that the name is known in Dublin and Monaghan, but that might just be in the singular ‘Hand’ form, with ‘Hands’ more likely in Ulster or roscommon regions.

Shearsby lane, Saturday 30 April 1842: As much or more right to the land

Thomas Read (junior), Samuel Robinson and Jane Botterill were brought before the magistrates at the County Office, on 30 April 1842, charged with committing wilful damage on certain property in Shearsby-lane, belonging to Mr. John Clarke. Just who owned the waste land along the lane was disputed between the defendants, and others who had laid out gardens there, and Mr. Clarke of Peatling Hall. When Mr. Clarke’s men disturbed the gardens and began building a wall the Shearsby residents reacted by pulling it down and throwing the bricks down a nearby well.

The bench (W. Heyrick, J. King and J. Grundy, Esqrs., and the Rev. J.P. Newby) considered that in this case they had no power to adjudicate, being limited by legislation passed in the 24th section of an act passed in the 7th and 8th years of George IV. The defendants had committed the damage under the fair and reasonable supposition that they had as much or more right to the land than Mr. Clarke. A further charge of assault was also dropped against them as it arose from the same incident and it appeared that an unnecessary degree of violence had not been used.

A similar incident had been dealt with a week or two back involving land on the Belgrave lane.

The Leicester Chronicle: or, Commercial and Agricultural Advertiser (Leicester, England), Saturday, May 07, 1842; pg. [1];
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County Office, 6 May 1843: Frightening away the fowls

Thomas Marvin, of Shearsby, was charged by Wm. Peberdy with shooting at his (complainant’s) fowls, because they had trespassed in defendant’s garden, and at such a short distance from his (complainant’s ) house, that some of the shots struck the window:- this made complainant afraid lest, on some future occasion, serious injury might be done to his family. There appeared to be no intention on defendant’s part to do anything more than frighten away the fowls, which had done much injury to his garden; and after being warned that he much not thus take the law into his own hands, the case was dismissed on defendant promising to offend so no more and paying the costs.

The Leicester Chronicle: or, Commercial and Agricultural Advertiser (Leicester, England), Saturday, May 13, 1843; pg. [1];

In 1841 there was a 50-year old butcher named Thomas Marvin living on what looks like ‘By the post lane‘ in Sheasrsby. He lived with his wife May and children Thomas, George, Elizabeth and Hannah. Neither of his immediate neighbours, however, were called Peberdy. It is not until several Census pages later that a William Peberdy appears living in Carts Court. He is there listed as a 45-year old agricultural labourer, along with his wife Elizabeth and children Jane, Robert, Thomas, Sophiah, Haphzabah, Marriah and Amos. Neither of these addresses are likely to be recognisable to 21st Century residents of Shearsby, but if people were living at the same locations at the times of the Census and this newspaper story, then they could be no more than the range of a shotgun apart.

Image taken from page 136 of ‘Histoire de Sornéville en Lorraine et de Jean Aubry, capitaine de grenadiers, sous l’Ancien Régime