Leicester Exchange, Friday 14 October 1836: A striking picture of matrimonial disagreement

Court Reporter: The Mayor and Messrs. Brewin, Stokes, Ryley, Oldacres and Paget spent the day examining cases of theft while of unsound mind; drunks throwing bricks; diversion of the contents of an employer’s till; cheese theft; children caught picking pockets and robbery in the context of such depravity as I will not mention here. However, the case that stood out for me was that of Thomas Ward, of Belton, Rutland, who was charged with assaulting his wife, Elizabeth Ward. This was a singular case and one which afforded a striking picture of matrimonial disagreement.

Elizabeth Ward: I was born in Husbands Bosworth, but moved from there some time ago with my father to Belton in Rutland. It was there that I met and married my husband. We had three children, but two of them have died and the other is staying with friends. About five years ago we parted and I have since maintained myself, partly by dress-making and partly by binding shoes. I lived for about three and a half years in Nottingham and about half a year in Shearsby, but since last Christmas I have lodged with Mr. Bates in Redcross Street, Leicester. I was going to Mr. Kinsman’s with some work when I was surprised to encounter my husband. He expressed a wish to come home with me, but I did not want him to know where I lived, as he had molested me before in private dwellings .  So I consented to walk with him as far as the race-course on the London Road. But when we got there he knocked me down, rudely assaulted me and tore my bonnet, gown and undergarments all to shreds.

Mr. Bell of the Granby Toll Bar: Mrs. Ward took refuge in my house. Never in my life have I seen a woman in such a condition. Her clothes were in ribbons from head to foot.

Thomas Ward: It is true that my wife maintains herself, but she is, none the less, a very bad woman. She is a faithless wife, and what’s more, she is intensely irritating. This assault, as she calls it, was not started by me. She first took off her bonnet and started buffeting me with it. Then she began to tear her own clothes and I merely helped her in that.

Elizabeth Ward: It is all lies.

Thomas Ward: I am telling you the truth. She stays away from me only because her conduct has been such that she durst not show her face again in Belton.

The Mayor: Why would she be afraid to go to Belton?

Thomas Ward: She destroyed the life of one of her infants by over-administering laudanum. That is the reason.

The Mayor: Are you aware of the serious nature of the charge that you bring against your wife?

Thomas Ward: Yes, Sir.

The Mayor: Have you ever charged her with the crime before?

Thomas Ward: I have never mentioned it to a soul before, except herself.

Town Clerk: Then, as it is not known to any person in Belton, why would she be afraid to go back? Is there any other cause?

Thomas Ward: Yes, she robbed a wagon on the turnpike-road.

Town Clerk: Was she taken before a Magistrate for the offence?

Thomas Ward: No one ever knew of it but myself!

Town Clerk: Then that could not be the cause of her being afraid to return.

Thomas Ward: Oh she is well known for a loose character in Belton and her conscience troubles her so, she will never be able to stay long anywhere. She is always moving about!

Court Reporter: Mrs Ward treated all her husband’s charges very lightly and declared them to be totally false. It was clear that, though her manner showed no symptoms of insanity, her husband’s incoherent stories indicated either derangement of intellect or the most unscrupulous recklessness.

Mrs Ward: Can you not bind him over to keep the peace?

The Mayor: He clearly has no sureties by which we can hold him to any such promise and I am reluctant to send him to gaol. There is nobody present here to day who can tell us anything about the previous lives and conduct of either party, so we can conclude nothing on the merits of the case. Yet he has assaulted the lady most unjustifiably and for that we shall fine him five shillings and costs. If he is unable to pay he shall go to prison for fourteen days. It seems highly likely to me that we have not heard the last of these goings on.

The Leicester Chronicle: or, Commercial and Agricultural Advertiser (Leicester, England), Saturday, October 15, 1836; pg. [2]

© 2017


Shearsby, 3 July 1841: Very Valuable Tithe-free Estate, called Bullivant’s Farm for sale

Up for auction at 4PM on 3 July 1841 at the Three Crowns Hotel (corner of Horsefair Street and Gallowtree Gate, Leicester) was the ‘very valuable tithe-free estate, called Bullivant’s Farm’ in Shearsby. This farm could be found near the church in the village and consisted of a good-sized substantial brick-built farm-house, with out-buildings, walled garden and the following rich grazing and arable land.

No. Area Acres. Roods. Perches.
1 House, Garden, &c. 1 1 16
2 Home Close 11 2 14
3  Cotton’s Close  1  0  15
 4  Townsend Close  7  0  14
 5  Osier-bed Close  12  1  28
 6  Bean Hill Close  14  2  32
 7  Barn Close (Arable)  9  1  15
 8  Meadow  6  2  37
 9  Far Close  13  0  27
 10  Far Long Close  12  3  20

Measurements: 40 perches = 1 rood, 4 roods = 1 acre.

The whole of the above farm land (excepting Barn Close) was said to be rich grazing land, in a high state of cultivation. It was then in the occupation of a Mrs. Walker (widow), who was under notice to quit by the next Old Michaelmas Day (29 September).

The farm was free from any tithing obligations, but subject to a land tax of £6 12s. 10d., a Fee Farm Rent of £1 and a Quit Rent of eight pence per year to the Lord of the Manor. Purchasers might take advantage of the offer for one half of the purchase price to remain on mortgage for five years at 4.5%.

In November that year the farming stock, hay, corn wool, keeping, furniture, etc. belonging to William Walker was up for auction. The first day’s sale consisted of 230 ewes and theaves (1 – 2 year old ewes, that have not yet given birth to lambs, at least in the Midlands and some southern English counties), 75 fat shearhogs (lambs after first shearing), 155 lambhogs (second year lambs), five rams, fourteen capital dairy cows, eleven in-calf heifers, two barren cows; eleven fat cows, steer, seg (“An aged bull that is castrated is called a segg.” Oxford English Dictionary), five calves, five draught mares, two hackney horses, pony, yearling colt and filly, foal, five store pigs, two sows, capital six-inch and narrow wheel wagons and carts, double and single ploughs, harrows, land roll, winnowing machine, fleaks [I have no idea what a fleak was], horse tackle, ladders, etc. Also about 770 fleeces of superior wool.

All the above was to be sold at the Saddington Keeping at an auction supervised by B. Payne & Son from 10 o’clock onwards. Later that day the sale moved to the Keeping on parry’s land for the wheat, barley oats, 170 acres of grass keeping rented until the next 25th of March, 20 acres of stubble, three acres of swedes and some stacks of hay and clover.

On the second day of the sale all the household furniture, china, glass, brewing vessels. dairy utensils, kitchen requisites and about fifty capital cheeses were to be disposed of.

In April 1842, some 70 acres of superior grass-keeping land, recently occupied by Mrs. Walker, came up for sale. This may well have been the same land as her husband had farmed during his lifetime

Two years after the initial sale, on 22 July 1843, the Leicester Chronicle’s Births, Deaths and Marriages column carried the news of the passing of Ann Dowell, who had died in Leicester, after a very painful illness, the previous Tuesday. Ann was the widow of the late William Walker, who had died on 3 April 1841, aged 52.

The Leicester Chronicle: or, Commercial and Agricultural Advertiser (Leicester, England), Saturday, July 03, 1841; pg. [2];

The Leicester Chronicle: or, Commercial and Agricultural Advertiser (Leicester, England), Saturday, November 20, 1841

The Leicester Chronicle: or, Commercial and Agricultural Advertiser (Leicester, England), Saturday, April 23, 1842; pg. [2];

The Leicester Chronicle: or, Commercial and Agricultural Advertiser (Leicester, England), Saturday, July 22, 1843;

Image: Shearsby Parish Council (2016) The Parish of Shearsby: Map of fields by M. Jeffery.

© 2017. Comments, Likes and Pingbacks welcomed, especially if you know what the word ‘fleak’ means.

Bath Inn, Shearsby, 18 April 1839: William Simons’s land up for auction

Potential purchasers of agricultural land were invited to gather at the house of Mrs. Reeve, the Bath Inn, Shearsby, on Thursday 18th of April 1839 at 4PM. On offer was the field to the right hand side of the turnpike road from Leicester to Welford, at the foot of John Ball Hill, owned by William Simons. This field (or Close) contained 3 acres 2 roods of excellent grazing land.

Also for sale that day was the dwelling-house, then occupied by Thomas Ross, with its spinning-room, comb-shop and offices. In the 1841 census Thomas Ross was found living in Church Street with his children Grace and James.

There were also two tenements, with a shared garden, in the occupation of – Weston and – Whitmore in Mill Street. In 1841, 30-year old John Whitmore, agricultural labourer, lived with his wife Ann (25), daughter Mary (5) and sons John (2) and William (1). Robert Weston (28) was a stocking frame knitter, living with his wife, also Ann, and daughters Harriet (4) and Mary (2). Both families living just next door to  John Pallet’s smithy.

The Leicester Chronicle: or, Commercial and Agricultural Advertiser (Leicester, England), Saturday, April 13, 1839; pg. [2];

© 2017. Please check the timeline to view this story in the context of other village stories by date.


13 April 1918: Private Robert Simons, Service Number 21373

The Grave Registration Report for the Ploegsteert Memorial in Hainault, Belgium has only brief details about Robert Simons. He is just one of the 11,401 casualties buried and commemorated there. It states that he was the son of Reuben Simons, of Fleckney, Leicester; husband of Grace Lilian Simons, of 103, St. Leonards Rd., Clarendon Park, Leicester.

He was a member of the Third Battalion of the Coldstream Guards, service number 21373. Around the date of his death there was action in the Ypres/Armentiers area in the Battle of the Lys.

In the 1901 census, Robert, aged 14, was registered with his sisters; Mary E. (14), Frances Helen (11) and Florence Rebecca (9). He had been born in 1887, but was already working as a hosiery hand. At the next census in 1911 he was found visiting the Briggs family of Sutton In Ashfield, Nottinghamshire and working as a hosiery maker.

His first appearance in the census returns though was in 1891 as Bob Simons living on Mill Lane, Shearsby with his parents Reuben (born in 1850) and Eliza, and older brothers Charley and Harry. Reuben had married Eliza Weston in 1872. She was the daughter of Thomas and Mary Weston of Shearsby and had been christened there in April 1848.


“England and Wales Census, 1901,” database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:XS45-WHC : 8 April 2016), Robert Simons in household of Mary E Simons, Shearsby, Leicestershire, England; from “1901 England, Scotland and Wales census,” database and images, findmypast (http://www.findmypast.com : n.d.); citing Lutterworth subdistrict, PRO RG 13, The National Archives, Kew, Surrey.

“England and Wales Census, 1911,” database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:XWS9-RY4 : 2 August 2017), Robert Simons in household of Mabel Briggs, Hucknall Under Huthwater, Huthwaite, Nottinghamshire, England; from “1911 England and Wales census,” database and images, findmypast (http://www.findmypast.com : n.d.); citing PRO RG 14, The National Archives of the UK, Kew, Surrey.

“England and Wales Marriage Registration Index, 1837-2005,” database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:2DLL-6GK : 13 December 2014), Reuben Simons, 1872; from “England & Wales Marriages, 1837-2005,” database, findmypast (http://www.findmypast.com : 2012); citing 1872, quarter 3, vol. 7A, p. 17, Lutterworth, Leicestershire, England, General Register Office, Southport, England.

“England and Wales Census, 1891,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:W63G-GZM : 1 April 2016), Bob Simons in household of Ruben Simons, Shearsby, Leicestershire, England; from “1891 England, Scotland and Wales census,” database and images, findmypast (http://www.findmypast.com : n.d.); citing PRO RG 12, Leicestershire county, subdistrict, The National Archives of the UK, Kew, Surrey.

“England Births and Christenings, 1538-1975,” database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:NPC8-YXX : 6 December 2014, Eliza Weston, 02 Apr 1848); citing SHEARSBY,LEICESTER,ENGLAND, index based upon data collected by the Genealogical Society of Utah, Salt Lake City; FHL microfilm 595,767.

Shearsby, 1629: An example of the use of gossip as a weapon

The case of John Moore v Elizabeth Turvile (1629) arose from the Rector of Knaptoft and Shearsby wishing to defend himself from insults directed his way by one of his female neighbours and parishioners. Elizabeth Turvile, it was alleged, had said that he ‘had preached false doctrine and delivered many things in his sermon that might better have been left out, and that he had kissed Motley’s wife, and that one Black Dick’s wife was coming to the town and that she would be a more fit woman for Mr John Moore to kiss’.

This powerful mix of literary criticism and sexual gossip had left the Rector with little option but to sue his neighbour. The legal discussions relating to the case can still be found UK’s National Archives.

This altercation is included in Bernard Capp’s 2004 book ‘When Gossips Meet’ as an example of how women might use gossip as a tactical device as a way of keeping clergymen in their place. Turvile was a member of the major land-holding family in the village, and John Moore a leading campaigner against enclosure. Witnesses to the dispute suggested that Turvile felt some of the Rector’s sermon material was intended as personal criticism of her, but that the immediate context was his attempt to impound her pigs.

Her comments also reflected badly on other neighbours: the wives of Motley and Black Dick, effecting either intentional or collateral damage to their reputations.

Whether he felt that recourse to the law had cleared his name or not, the Rev. Moore found himself repeatedly bringing cases to the courts, often revolving around land disputes with his son.


Capp, B 2004, When Gossips Meet, Oxford University Press, UK, Oxford. [online] [accessed 1 March 2017]. http://bit.ly/2lV2T5V

[Moore v Turvile, 1629] LRO, 1D 41/4, Box 6/88– 90.

Short title: Turvile v Moore. Plaintiffs: William Turvile and others. Defendants: John Moore, clerk. http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/C3961465

Short title: Moore v Moore. Plaintiffs: John Moore the younger. Defendants: John Moore the elder. http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/C5727147

Short title: Moore v Moore. Plaintiffs: John Moore the elder. Defendants: John Moore the younger and Joan Moore his wife. http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/C5727519

Shearsby, 14 January 1835: William Simons’s Insolvency

By the end of 1835 hard times had caught up with 54 year old William Simons. The debts had piled up beyond his ability ever to discharge them and he had had to sign the legal papers to end his tailoring business by insolvency. William Walker, a Shearsby farmer (and friend) and Thomas Davies, a Leicester grocer, took responsibly for managing affairs on his behalf. They were hoping to sort out as much as possible within two months. Anyone who owed money to Simons was asked to pay the estate or risk being sued themselves.

In April 1939 William Simons was selling land that he owned in the parish. However, eventually things may not have worked out too badly for him, as in 1846 William Simons was noted as the School-Master for the Shearsby village children.

William was the son of Thomas and Elizabeth Simons and had been christened in the village church on 5 August 1781. In the 1851 census, William Simons, aged 69 and a teacher, was living in Mill Street, with his wife Ann. She was a few years older than him and originally from Wanlip.

The Leicester Chronicle: or, Commercial and Agricultural Advertiser (Leicester, England), Saturday, January 17, 1835; pg. [1];

Shearsby, 6 Edward III: Lay Subsidy assessment

The hamlet of Shearsby as a whole contributed 40 shillings to the amount collected for Leicestershire in 1332, the sixth year of Edward III’s reign. Those who paid the tax are listed here. There are people recognisable from the 1327 Assessment given that different transcribers have been at work in copying the details.

Name Shillings Pence
William Charnells 5
Laurence Chaplain 6
Clemence Dancelot 18
John Heyne 3 6
 John Ravenhed  18
 John son of Hugh  20
 Roger Heyne  2  6
 Isolda de Veer  2
 John Petlyng  2  6
 Roger Swan  3
 William Helewys  3 6
 John Gode  18
 Henry Dorewood  5  10
Total 40

Farnham, George F. (1931) Leicestershire Medieval Villages. Vol.5. Leicester, W. Thornley. [Accessed at the Leicestershire Record Office].

Image: Edward III and his son the Black Prince. See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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] http://www.poetryatlas.com/poetry/poem/2833/the-man-of-ross.html [accessed 13 April 2017]

© 2017