Around old Burbage

Book written by John D. McNaughton on the brief History of Burbage in Leicestershire.


This book has been produced for two reasons — first, to bring back to the light of day photographs of Old Burbage; secondly, to enable people to enjoy seeing and reading about Burbage of the past.

I hope that this collection of photographs will bring back happy memories to those who knew Burbage of old, and at the same time be of help and interest to schoolchildren working on projects of Burbage, and also to the thousands of newcomers and visitors to our village.

The majority of the photographs in this issue date from around the turn of the century, together with a sprinkling of some of more recent years.

Where history cannot be covered by photographs, I have given a brief account of Burbage prior to the photographic section.

I feel that it is most important to the community that a pictorial record should always be available for people to see and enjoy, and it is with this thought in mind that I should be pleased to hear from anyone who may have old postcards or photographs of Burbage which may be of use in the production of a further issue of our history.

Brief History of Burbage

church street and st.catherines church in burbage
Church Street and St.Catherines Church in Burbage

Burbage is situated in the county of Leicester, approximately 14 miles south west of the city and one mile south of the hosiery town of Hinckley, and it is separated from Warwickshire by the Roman Watling Street.

At one time it was called Burbach and there are two theories as to how this name was derived. One mentioned in Nichols is that 'Burr' was a species of thistle which abounded in the area, and that 'Bach' was a small rivulet. The second suggests that 'Bur' is a hill, and 'Bach' a spring, and this second suggestion seems to be the most acceptable, since Burbage is on a hill, and underground springs do abound in the old village area.

The Domesday Book records Burbage as being held by the Abbey of Coventry, having been granted to the Earl Abbott in the year 1043.

In 1100 the Manors of Aston, Burbage and Sketchley were given to Robert de Flamville. The name Flamville now only remains as a suffix to Aston.

When Robert died his only heir was his niece, who married into the Hastings family, thus beginning the Hastings connection with Burbage. The direct line of Hastings died out in 1374. The Earldom of Pembroke was held by the Hastings family (Pembroke Castle in south west Wales is well worth a visit).

The name of Hastings does not appear in this area again until 1416, when Reginald de Grey (who at that time held the Manor of Burbage) was given the title of Lord of Hastings, he already having the titles of Lord Waysford and Ruthin. The Grey family remained Lords of the Manor from 1408 until the end of manorial rights in 1935.

The Parish Church is dedicated to St. Catherine of Alexandria, and dates back to the 13th century, although it is doubtful if any of the original building remains above ground. The oldest part of the building is the Tower, of which the foundations are believed to be Saxon.

The main body of the Church was rebuilt in 1842, in Early English style, at a cost of £2,500, the money being raised locally by donations, which, to some extent, reflects the wealth of the parish in those days.

The Church contains a number of interesting memorials. In the South Aisle is a stained glass window to the memory of J. S. Crossland. He lived at Burbage House, a large Gothic styled mansion which was rebuilt in 1842, and was demolished in 1935. A modern building was erected on the same site.

J.S. Crossland was the second largest landowner in the parish.

On the East wall of the South Aisle is a tablet depicting Richard Wightman, his two wives and eight children, dated 1578. The Wightman family are amongst the oldest of Burbage families surviving to the present day. At one time they lived at Moat House and The Grange.

On the south wall of the Chancel is a monument to Anthony Grey, Earl of Kent, who for 54 years was Rector of this parish from 1589-1643. He is said to have lived at the Old Hall (now called The Grange) in Aston Lane (known to locals as Lord's Lane). He died at the age of 95 years and is buried in the Chancel of Burbage Church. His wife, Magdalene, bore him twelve children — Grace, Henry, Magdalen, Christian, Faithmyjoy, John, Patience, Job, Theophilus, Priscilla, Nathaniel and Presala.

Soon after the death of his father, Job became Master of Leicester Hospital and later Rector of Ibstock and Kibworth. Henry, the eldest son, inherited his father's title, Earl of Kent.

On the north wall of the Sanctuary is a memorial to Blackwell Parkyns, of Leicester Grange, who died 17th July, 1721. Nichols, in his history of Burbage, records that Sir William Parkyns, father of Blackwell, was in the seventh year of the reign of William III convicted, with others, and executed for high treason on 3rd April, 1696.

Other interesting parts within the Church are: the South Door, which is dated 1633; the wood carving above the entrance to the Belfry was carried out by a local man, Mr E. Campton. Only one side was completed when Mr Campton died in 1935, and offers were made to complete the carving, but it was the wish of the Rev R. D. H. Pughe, the Rector at that time that the carving should remain unfinished.

It would appear that towards the end of the 19th century and in the early part of this century, the Church Tower presented itself as something of a challenge to the young men of the village to climb the eighty feet of vertical iron ladders and carve their names in the soft sandstone battlements. When I nervously made the climb to the battlements after being guided through the bells by the Captain of the Belfry, Mr Frank Measures in June, 1979,1 noted down a few of the old Burbage names which many will still remember: J. P. Rice, A. Colkin, G. Gamble, W. W. Dawson, H. Campton, A. Chamberlain, G. Rivitt, R. Taylor, E. Burton, J. Dowell, G. Keen, G. Hands, to name but a few.

Since the reign of Elizabeth I there have been only twelve Incumbents in the Parish of Burbage and this, I should think, is something of a record for any parish. The average number of years for each Rector to date is just over 31.

The Church Register started in the year 1562, but no details of the way of life in the village are recorded. The Font is said to be over 400 years old and bears the coat of arms of the Hastings. The first organ in the Church was purchased in 1856 at a cost of £120. The present Clock was placed in the Tower in 1887 to commemorate the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria. The Choir Stalls and Bishop's Chair were presented in 1937 by Balliol College, Oxford, who are Patrons of the Church.

No local history would be complete without the name of Forryan being mentioned, for this old Burbage family can be traced back at least 500 years. In those early days from 1540 until the end of the 18th century, the family showed considerable wealth. They held many acres of land in the village, and through the years have held positions of Churchwarden and Overseers of the Poor. The Forryan family still live in the village to this day.

Burbage, for many centuries a small farming community, remained very thinly populated. In a census of 1801 there were only 1098 inhabitants. It was not until the turn of the century that the population exceeded 2,000.

Three major building programmes appear to have taken place, the first being in the 1890s, the second in the mid-1920s to 1930s, the main areas of this period being Sapcote Road, Hinckley Road, Woodland Avenue, Forresters Road, Sunnyhill, Lychgate Lane, Lutterworth Road, Grove Road, Sketchley Road, Coventry Road and Three Pots. The third major building scheme started in the early 1950s beginning with Brookside being cut through from the bottom of Sketchley Hill to the Burbage Road.

This surge of building development continues to this very day and there is no sign of a halt to it. What used to be a rural community has now become a mere suburb of Hinckley with a population of around 15,000.

Almost all of the small farms in the west of the parish have disappeared to meet modern requirements, along with nearly all of the magnificent trees which graced the fields. I should mention that nearly all the elm trees in the parish have fallen victim to Dutch Elm disease and have had to be cut down. The landscape will be bleak without them and it will take at least 70 years to restore the area to its former glory.

Conservation in 1974 came too late to save many of the old houses and thatched cottages in Burbage, for the last ones were demolished in the 1960s.

However, let us hope that the present conservation area around the old village remains and improves for many years so that all who live here or visit may enjoy a pleasant walk around Old Burbage village.

John D. McNaughton