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Brief History of Melton Mowbray

 

  Melton Borough has played a unique role in the historical development of rural middle England, shaping the fabric of the landscape, the economy and the community which exist today. The Borough is especially renowned for its rural tradition, heritage, country pursuits, bustling market town and picturesque villages; with the combination of old and new creating both interest and variety.

ABOUT MELTON MOWBRAY

The market town of Melton Mowbray is home to manufacturers, research and educational institutions of national importance. The town also has a long established association with foxhunting, pork pies and Stilton cheese, it is a popular and lively place to visit, especially on market days and has a rich and varied heritage. Melton's history is still evident today if one looks above the modern shop frontages and at buildings such as the Anne of Cleves' House, a gift from King Henry VIII to his divorced wife in the mid 16th century. The cathedral-sized St. Mary's Church dates from 1170. Known as the stateliest and most impressive of all Leicestershire churches, its 100 foot tower dominates the town.

This church forms part of the Framland church trail along with 14 other churches in the 'Framland area'. Copies of this leaflet are available from Melton Tourist Information Centre, Melton Mowbray. Outside the town, the Borough has a rural feel: its peaceful countryside rivalling the Cotswolds with well-treed rolling green hills, valleys, unspoilt villages, hamlets, gated roads and old village churches, constructed in mellow local ironstone. Melton Borough has benefited from the development of towns to the west, itself avoiding large scale industrial activity, resulting in an area with an attractive historical background. It has:

  • 28 Scheduled Ancient Monuments
  • Around 705 buildings listed as of Special Architectural or Historical Interest
  • 16 Sites of Special Scientific Interest
  • At least 12 deserted village sites
  • Rural villages and interesting churches
  • Industrial archaeology including the Grantham Canal, the remains of the Wreake Navigation
  • Windmill sites, ironstone working and smelting Archaeological evidence suggests that
  • Melton Borough was densely populated in Bronze and Iron Ages.
  • Many small village communities existed and strategic points at Burrough Hill and Belvoir were fortified. There is also evidence to suggest that the site of Melton Mowbray, in the
  • Wreake Valley, was inhabited before Roman occupation (43 A.D.).
  • In Roman times, due to the close proximity of the Fosse Way and other important Roman roads, military centres were set up at Leicester and Lincoln; and intermediate camps were also established, for example, Six Hills on the Fosse Way.
  • Other Roman track-ways in the locality passed north of Melton along the top of the Vale of Belvoir scarp; linked Market Harborough to Belvoir, and linked the Fosse Way to Oakham and Stamford. Evidence of settlement throughout Saxon and Dane Law period (8th/9th centuries) is reflected in many place names.

Along the Wreake Valley, the Danish suffix "by" is common, as is evident in Asfordby, Dalby, Frisby, Hoby, Rearsby and Gaddesby. In addition, a cemetery of 50-60 graves, of Pagan Saxon origin, was found in Melton Mowbray. Although most villages and their churches, had origins before the Norman Conquest of 1066, stone crosses at Asfordby and Sproxton churches and Anglo-Saxon cemeteries as found at Goadby Marwood, Sysonby and Stapleford, are certainly pre-Conquest.

The effects of the Norman invasion are recorded in the 1086 Domesday Survey. This document indicates that settlements at Long Clawson and Bottesford were of noteworthy size; and that Melton Mowbray (Medeltone - meaning 'Middletown surrounded by small hamlets') was a thriving market town of some 200 inhabitants, with weekly markets, two water mills and two priests.

The market is the only one mentioned in the Domesday Survey in Leicestershire; it was established with tolls before 1077. The water mills, still in use up to the 18th century, are remembered by the present names of Beckmill Court and Mill Street. Legacies from the Medieval period include consolidation of village and market town patterns; in Melton Mowbray, Bottesford, Wymondham, and Waltham-on-the-Wolds. The latter had a market in medieval times that continued until 1921, and an annual fair of horses and cattle. Many buildings in Melton Market Place, Nottingham Street, Church Lane, King Street and Sherrard Street have ancient foundations. Alterations to number 16 Church Street revealed a medieval circular stone wall subjected to considerable heat. This is probably the `Manor Oven' mentioned in 13th century documents. Surveys of 5 King Street show it to be part of an early medieval open-halled house. It may be part of the castle or fortified Manor of the Mowbrays, which existed in the 14th century.

King Richard and King John visited the town and may have stayed at an earlier castle. In 1549 following the Dissolution of the chantries, monasteries and religious guilds, church plate was sold and land purchased for the town. Resulting rents were used to maintain Melton School; first recorded in 1347 and one of the oldest educational establishments in Britain. Funds were also used to maintain roads, bridges and to repair the church clock. In the Civil War, Melton was a Roundhead garrison commanded by a Colonel Rossiter. Two battles were fought in the town: in November, 1643, Royalists caught the garrison unaware and carried away prisoners and booty; in February, 1645, Sir Marmaduke Langdale, commanding a Royalist force of 1,500 men, inflicted severe losses on the Roundheads. Around 300 men were said to be killed. Legend tells us that this battle left around 300 men dead and that the hillside was ankle deep in blood, hence the name 'Ankle Hill'. However, this name is mentioned in documents pre-dating the Civil War. Furthermore, in the past, the names of Dalby Road and Ankle Hill have been switched around, thus confusing the true site of the battle.

Local notable families seem to have had divided loyalties, although the War ended with great rejoicings outside the "Limes" in Sherrard Street, home of Sir Henry Hudson. His father, Robert Hudson founded the "Maison Dieu" almshouses opposite the Church in 1640, which complement the stone built "Anne of Cleves House" opposite. This was built in 1384 and housed chantry priests until the Dissolution. It was then included in the estates of Anne of Cleves by Henry VIII, as a divorce settlement.

 
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