Hinckley Historian Magazine

Hinckley Historian Magazine No.23 - Thomas Powers and Barwell Manor

(The origin of this brief article comes from the comments made following a lecture given by the author on famous figures in Hinckley's past. Mr. Harry Bevin, following the lecture, asked if I knew of the famous Mr. Thomas Powers and indicated that he was a notable figure in Barwell’s past. Mr. Bevin, amongst his considerable collection of archive material, has much relating to Mr. Thomas Powers and he has made this available to me. In essence the account is based on a discussion with Mr. Harry Bevin to whom I express my thanks for the original idea of the article and the material which has been incorporated within it).

The Powers family have been prominent in Barwell for at least two centuries and probably for much longer. Within Barwell churchyard the memorials to the family and its forebears are considerable, marked by numerous headstones in Swithland slate. George Powers of the Manor House Barwell is typical, having been born in 1826 he enjoyed a long life in the village, being buried in 1907. Thomas Powers was one of three brothers. John became chairman of the Hinckley Bench and George also followed a legal inclination, becoming Recorder of Leicester. The interest of Thomas was in the land. He became, by the beginning of the twentieth century, one of the biggest agricultural contractors in the area, if not in the Midlands. The numerous contracts which he made are recorded in the extract from one page of the account book shown in the article. Mr. Powers had between 30 and 4-0 traction engines which would be employed throughout Leicestershire and Warwickshire and beyond. Often traction engine crews would be up to three weeks away from Barwell. The engines might have a plough, scuffle and a living van to provide accommodation for the crew. For many years Mr. Price was foreman and his son became a traction engine driver, one of the few remaining members of Mr. Power's traction engine workers still alive today.

The Engine Shed behind the Manor House was the centre for all the maintenance and repair which was necessary. Two of the engines, No.78 and No.79, are still in Leicestershire today, No.78 being featured in one of the photographs. These Fowler Traction Engines, manufactured in Leeds, were purchased by Mr. Powers from the War Office at the end of the First World War.Many of the men who worked for Mr. Powers were from Lincolnshire, attracted by the higher wages that were offered at a time when agricultural depression followed the end of World War 1. When Mr. Powers died in 1932 the engines were mainly sold to Cope Arnold of Wolvey and the workers had to find fresh employment. Mr. Powers had a particular interest in antiquities. In 1980 in No. 6 of the Hinckley Historian, David Wood published an interview with Mr. Artie Payne, who well remembered the influence and interests of Mr. Powers as the following comments indicate:

"Mr. Thomas Powers owned practically all the land surrounding Barwell. He had Barwell land locked.

It is proverbial how he (Mr. Powers) would return from a sale with an emblem or a piece of masonry or something belonging to an old hall, like Normanton Hall. My own father installed the panelling (the oak panelling). In his dining room there was a piece of sculpture embodying Virgil's idea of the Laecoon, suggesting man was helpless in the grip of fate."

The Manor House, portrayed in the photographs, had various pieces of masonry incorporated in the building from other structures. Some of the exterior additions came from a church at Ashby St. Ledgers in Northamptonshire. Many people remember the Manor as a house that was notable as a home and a sanctuary for some magnificent and valuable items. Mr. George Powers remembers in particular a large clock in the hall of the Manor House which had once belonged to Coventry Corporation. Mr. Thomas Powers as a contractor was in a position which often enabled him to preserve items which might otherwise have been destroyed or lost.

Mr. Powers died in 1932, respected as a notable local figure and a firm but fair employer. A three-day sale took place at the Manor where Mrs. Powers and her two sons continued to live. In 1956, following the death of Mrs. Powers, a two-day sale took place at the Manor which included antique guns, weapons, suits of armour and a host of other articles, books, paintings and papers. Mr. Bevin at the sale obtained a 5,000 year old quern amongst other items and the account book, an extract from which is to be seen in this article.

The Manor House was then leased and various ideas were entertained about the future use to which the building might be put. Some people, such as Harry Bevin, thought it would make a much needed local musuem but this was not to be. The building was sold in the 1960s and demolished. The site became the location for Harvey House with the famous Mr. Thomas Powers now a local memory at the end of a century which began with him dominating the life of the village.

(Thanks are due not only to Mr. Bevin but also to Mr. T.Belton, Mr.G. Powers and Mr. T. Powers in the preparation of this article).


Two of Mr. T. Powers Traction Engines in Service

Jack Price behind engine Tom Price driving
Jack Price behind engine (left/top), Tom Price driving (right/bottom)

A page from Mr. T. Powers Ledger
A page from Mr. T. Powers Ledger

The Editor