Oral History

The Power(s) of Barwell

Hinckley Historian No.27 - Spring 1991

I first became interested in researching my family tree in 1981, after discovering an old family tree my brother had started for a school project. My initial research was on my mother’ s side. She had far more living relatives and at that time we used to visit the Midlands about once or twice a year I have managed to trace the Power family back to the 1600s. A Richard Power came over from Ireland in the 1660s to settle in Leicestershire. Although the name Power is now one of the fifty most common names to Ireland, it is not native to Ireland, but arrived with the Anglo-Norman invasion at the end of the twelfth century as Le Poer. The coat of arms is silver with a black stripe across the top. The crest is a stag’s head and the family motto is: ‘Per Crucem Ad Coronan’, meaning roughly ‘Through the Cross to the Crown’.

Shenton's Tree by William Powers The tablet that exists today
Shenton's Tree by William Powers (left/top), The tablet that exists today (right/bottom)

Over the years the Manor at Barwell has been in the Powers’ family, up until Tom Powers’ wife’s death in 1956. On the14th June 1646, a Captain John Shenton, an officer in the army of King Charles 1, fought at the battle of Naseby. When Charles 1 was defeated by Cromwell’s army, Captain John Shenton fled to his estate a mile out of Hinckley, where he hid in a wych elm.

John Powers
John Powers

His enemies passed by underneath the tree without observing him, and his life was spared. An Edward Power, married one of the grand-daughters of Captain John Shenton, making the POWER connection. The Powers family held this tree in great respect for believing it saved one of their ancestors and my great grandfather, William Powers, b. 1862, drew a pen-and-ink drawing of it.. To this day, a tablet marks the site of this tree and records how John was saved. The tree was blown down in 1942. As it happens I have since discovered that the POWER and POWERS family of Barwell, are unlikely to be connected. My POWERS family I have now traced back to 1730, in Catthorpe.

In the early nineteenth century Barwell Manor changed hands and George Powers, my third great uncle, b. 1826, took possession. It was an extremely grand place, consisting of a kitchen, butler’s pantry, study, living room, dining hall, entrance hall, drawing room, and six large bedrooms, not forgetting the servants’ quarters. George had his money tied up in land and property, and was a farmer and butcher by trade. He had three sons - George Wightman, Alderman John, and Thomas.

John became Chairman of the Hinckley Bench. He was also a solicitor and as a complete contrast, bred dogs and was a judge at Crufts. John lived at Barwell House, and the nearby corner where the Ashby Road and the Hinckley Road meet is still called ‘Jackie Powers Corner’.

Alderman John’s son, John Frank, was a mad-headed character. Once he drove his car on ice, skidded and turned right over, landing the right way up. The next day he took a friend out to demonstrate what had happened and managed a repeat performance. However, I later discovered he was killed in a motor cycle accident!

Tom and Florence Powers nee Coley at Barwell Manor House
Tom and Florence Powers nee Coley at Barwell Manor House

John Powers was a very good cricket player. The Barwell team would be anxious to have his services as often as possible. However, John was not always able to reach the ground at the start of the match, so the Barwell team would hope to be still batting when he arrived. On one occasion the opposing captain won the toss, but put Barwell into bat in the hope that he could get them all out before John Powers arrived. Fortunately for Barwell, John reached the ground while Barwell were still batting. He went in at the fall of a wicket and proceeded to make a big score. The normal thing would have been for Barwell to have declared, leaving themselves enough time to get their opponents out. However, John Powers said to the opposing captain, “Who won the toss?” “I did,” said the captain. “Well if you put us in, you’ll have to get us out,” said John. He thus continued to bat until the end of the match, so the opposing side did not get a knock at all! George Wightman Powers went to New College, Oxford (where he gained an M.A.). He was also a barrister-at-law at Lincoln’s Inn; author of ‘England and the Reformation 1485-1603’, and Recorder of Leicester.

Thomas Powers, who was the last person to live at the Manor, was probably the largest agricultural contractor in the country at the beginning of the twentieth century. He had between thirty and forty traction engines which would be employed throughout Leicestershire, Warwickshire and beyond. He owned practically all the land surrounding Barwell, and had the village land-locked. He was particularly interested in antiquities and would often return from a sale with an emblem or a piece of masonry belonging to an old hall. Once, he purchased a castle in Wales and transported all the stones to Barwell by steam power and completely rebuilt the Manor House.

On a number of occasions he was brought before the magistrates for offences caused by his engines, but he almost always won his case. Tom Powers died in 1932 and his wife, Florence; and two sons, Thomas and George, continued to live there until 1956, when Florence died. Following her death a two-day sale took place which included antique guns, weapons, suits of armour and a host of other articles. The Manor lay unattended for many years until it was sold in the 1960s and demolished. The site became the location for Harvey House.

A few articles from the Hinckley Parish Magazine add to the Powers’ story

8th March 1893 6 p.m. Monday

Eve last... A Horse and Trap belonging to Mr. George Powers, driven by a labourer, turned down Chapel St., towards home, when the horse reared, dashed down the hill, overturned and was destroyed. It was a miracle no one was hurt as people were just coming out of the factories and the streets were full of women and children.

14th Oct. 1893 Cricket Scores

Name Times
not out
John Powers 4 493 74 37.92 17 innings
William Powers 2 121 40 13.45 11 innings

The late Mr. T. Powers, excavating the foundation of an engineering shed at the rear of the manor house, discovered an earthenware urn, possibly going back to 1400 BC. (Now in Leicester Museum).

From left to right: abt 1901 Mr and Mrs Staniforth Ann, Sarah Powers, Sarah Ann Powers nee Grewcock, Emma Powers and daughter, Gwen. Sarah Ann Powers with her children,George, Louisa, Sarah, Emma, Elizabeth and William, My Gt Grandfather at the front about 1868
From left to right: abt 1901 Mr and Mrs Staniforth Ann, Sarah Powers, Sarah Ann Powers nee Grewcock, Emma Powers and daughter, Gwen. (left/top),
Sarah Ann Powers with her children,George, Louisa, Sarah, Emma, Elizabeth and William, My Gt Grandfather at the front about 1868 (right/bottom)

Elizabeth Marston Powers nee Wright, William Powers and Louisa Powers. about 1910
Elizabeth Marston Powers nee Wright, William Powers and Louisa Powers. about 1910

William Powers, my second great grandfather, b. 1831, purchased another prominent building in Barwell, ‘The Queen’ s head’, built in 1556. The County Council have plans of an old cottage built on this site before this time. He was a licensee victualler for nearly seventeen years, but sadly died at the early age of thirty-seven. This left his wife, Sarah Ann, to run ‘The Queen’s Head’ and bring up six children. William Powers Junior, was the second son of William and Sarah Ann. He had five sisters, one of whom died in infancy, and an elder brother.

From the age of eighteen until he was twenty-five, William worked as a wheelwright. Then at twenty-five he married Elizabeth Marston Wright, the only daughter of George Wright and Matilda Bacon, on 3rd April 1888.

On the marriage of her son, Sarah decided to retire. William Powers ran ‘The Queen’s Head’ for twenty-eight years. He and his wife Elizabeth were very popular with all classes of the community.

Elizabeth Powers William Powers
Elizabeth Powers (left/top), William Powers (right/bottom)

They were both devoted workers and offered hospitality to scores of travellers in the boot and shoe industry. They became known throughout a wide area and were famous for the first-class luncheons which they provided. A large meat dish used at ‘The Queen’s Head’ is now in the possession of an Aunt of mine and I have one of the large white table cloths which was used during that time.

Above the hustle and bustle of the main public area was a large room, stretching almost the length of the building. It was often used for large luncheons by the Cricketers and the Earl Shilton Building Society staff and directors. The room has now been split into several rooms to accommodate the owner and his family, since the public area has been extended downstairs.

William Powers’ sister, Sally recalled a humbler customer at ’The Queen’s Head’, to whom a bit of bread and cheese was given out of charity. He would always eat most of the bread, then ask for a little more to go with the remaining cheese, then ask for a little more cheese to finish off the bread and so on.

The Queen’s Head ice-cream used to be called ‘hokey pokey’
‘The Queen’s Head’ is now the second oldest building in Barwell, the first being the Church. In the last decade or so it has had a facelift. It is a listed building and the front has been transformed to its former timber and brick, giving it a timeless quality and a great deal of character. The large stone to assist travellers climbing into carriages or on to horses still stands in the same place today. The inn was a popular stop, being on the main route from York to London. (left/top),
Ice-cream used to be called ‘hokey pokey’ (right/bottom)

For twenty-seven years William was a director of the Earl Shilton Building Society, a link which has been in the family for over a century. In the early years the Society’ s trip to London was a great event in Barwell village.

One year, Alderman John Powers became detached from the party. The others anxiously went around asking the London policemen, “You haven’t seen John Powers, have you?” It was of course inconceivable to them that such a distinguished personage should not be recognized throughout the land. The trips always included a meal. The provision of ice-cream as the sweet course puzzled the Shiltonians (used to suet puddings and fruit pies). One old chap complained in disgust, “For puddin’ they gen’y okey” (ice-cream used to be called ‘hokey pokey’).

William was a keen sportsman, cricket being by far his favourite game. He was for many years a playing member of the Barwell Cricket Club and an ardent supporter. For fifty-six years he attended the historic match with Coventry, either as a player or visitor, and he was present at the one hundred and twenty-seventh annual match at Coventry a month before he died. He was also a member of the County Cricket Club and had attended the County Cricket matches at Leicester on many occasions in the last season before he died.

William was also an artist in his spare time, working in pen and ink and water colours. In 1911, Barwell church was trying to raise money for a new organ and Constance Powers, my Grandmother, started an autograph book for members of her family and locals coming into the pub. People would sign their name and give a donation. I now have the book with many of the Barwellonians signatures.

William painted a picture for his daughter William Powers, Geoff Geary, Alfred Titley and his wife, Arthur Herbert, Charles Belton.
William painted a picture for his daughter(left/top),
William Powers, Geoff Geary, Alfred Titley and his wife, Arthur Herbert, Charles Belton (right/bottom)

William and Elizabeth worshipped at Barwell Parish Church and William was a bell ringer there for fifty years. He was very interested in the restoration of the church bells and adjacent is a photograph of him with the eight bells before they were hung. He assisted in the first changes after the opening on 17th March 1934, two months before he died.

Constance Lily
Constance (left/top),
Lily (right/bottom)

William and Elizabeth had three daughters, Lily, Elsie and Constance (my grandmother). Sadly, Lily and Elsie died in a diphtheria epidemic in 1893. At around the time of their death, the diphtheria epidemic was under discussion by members of the village and council at Hinckley. An inspector had arrived to make an inquiry into the very high mortality rate in the area compared to the rest of the country. It was thought that the sanitary conditions were a possible cause. The sewers were ventilated by man-holes in the street and the water closets and cesspits were only emptied when they were overflowing.

Elsie Constance Maud Powers married George Bliss
Elsie (left/top),
Constance Maud Powers married George Bliss (right/bottom)

The majority of the councillors objected to the inquiry and wanted to defend their position. They thought it was the people’s duty to give notice when they were full. A doctor complained they were not disinfected properly and that the dictatorial was probably due to the sewer gas, as the stench was overwhelming. Many villagers also complained that the man-holes were often blocked and once it rained all the contents overflowed down the street and into people’ s houses. It was suggested the milk should be boiled as the cows could be drinking from contaminated streams. The council’s main worry seemed to be in trying to discover who had been informing on them!

My great grandmother found it difficult to recover from her daughters’ deaths. It was while she was away from the house burying one of her daughters, that the other one died. Connie grew up alone, never knowing her sisters. William died in 1934 after a serious illness of cancer of the throat.

Constance Maud Powers married George Bliss, of Earl Shilton on 25th October 1921 at Barwell. My grandfather, George, was a real character and was full of tales and mischief…….Ahh - but that’s another story!