A History of Hoby by John Farrer

Copyright © John H. Farrer.
Leicestershire County Council
Libraries and Information Service 1980
ISBN 0 85022 073 4


My thanks are due, in the first place,
to Mr R.G. Dowse, who gave me his
valuable and carefully collected
material with which to start this
little book. They are due also to the
many Hoby people who endured and answered
my questions: to my wife who has patiently
typed, corrected, and re-typed the various
versions of this manuscript: finally, to
Mr David Antill, Librarian, Publications
and Public Relations of the Leicestershire
Libraries and Information Service

The Villiers brass in the south aisle of Hoby Church as recorded by John Nichols, the historian, in 1800.
Drawn by Tessa Fenner.



  1. Earliest Times              
  2. Village Life in the Middle Ages
  3. The De Houby Family
  4. The Manor House
  5. A Conflict of Loyalties
  6. Before the Civil War
  7. Crown and Parliament – The Rawson Story
  8. “The Old Order Changeth”
  9. Canals and Railways
  10. Squires and Parsons
  11. The Church
  12. The Nineteenth Century
  13. The Last Hundred Years



There is no certainty as to when the ridge above the river Wreake, on which Hoby stands, was first settled. The official Church Register refers to stone arrow heads having been found in the river bed below the village: there are field names, “Michelwalda”(1) and “Harepits”(2) are examples, which suggest a Celtic influence, but even the name “Hoby” gives no certainty as to whether the village was founded by the Anglians in, perhaps, the sixth century, or was not established until the Danes conquered the region in the ninth century. Whilst authorities differ(3) as to the derivation of the name, all agree on its meaning – “the settlement on the hill”.

The Christian conversion of Mercia occurred in the middle of the seventh century, but there is no written record of a church in the village until 1220. However, since churches are known to have existed in Ragdale, Frisby and Rotherby, all villages then smaller than Hoby, before the Norman Conquest, it is reasonable to suppose that the present church stands upon the site of an earlier one.


At the time of the Domesday Survey(4) in 1086 Hoby is recorded as having a population of 12 families and a cultivated area of about 500 acres. The people of the village – villeins and bordars – were all unfree, which suggests they were of Anglian stock, living under an alien lord of the manor, formerly Danish and now Norman.

The Test de Nevill ‘1124’ states that Hoby had then a cultivated area of about 1,000 acres, implying a rapid increase in population, perhaps refugees from other villages ravaged by Civil War. It may be that early in the following century Hoby, too, suffered devastation. In 1217(5) the French army having raised the siege of Mountsorrel, marched eastwards through the Vale of Belvoir, avoiding the Royalist castles of Newark and Nottingham, on their way to Lincoln. Roger of Wendover describes the event in these words – “When the (French) barons arrived at Mountsorrel, after pillaging, as is their custom, all the cemeteries and churches on their march, they marched through the Vale of Belvoir and there everything fell into the hands of these robbers, because the French soldiers, being the refuse and scum of the country, left nothing at all untouched”.

It is very likely, therefore, that this period of the history of Hoby began with desolation, with the peasant huts and the church in ruins, as the rebel army filed eastwards towards Melton Mowbray.

In 1220, according to the Bishops’ Register, Bishop Hugh de Wells installed Ralph de Hoby as incumbent of Hoby church. This is the first mention of a church at Hoby; since many churches in this part of Leicestershire are recorded for the first time during this decade, it seems probable that some, including Hoby Church, were being rebuilt after the devastation wrought in the civil war.

All Saints was built in the style now described as Early English; originally the church seems to have consisted of a tower, a nave and a small chancel. In the fourteenth century the chancel was enlarged, the aisles and clerestory were added to the nave, and a spire was raised above the tower. It is significant that the latter was originally built without any windows and with access only from within the church; the lessons of the years of violence had been learned. According to Nikolaus Pevsner (“The Buildings of England’ series), the old benches, now occupying the north and south aisles, were added in the fifteenth century.

The south aisle served as a chantry chapel; tradition, and the Official Church Register, state that it was provided for the Villiers family, who became lords of the manor of Hoby in the fifteenth century. It is possible that these, the first resident lords of the manor, furnished the benches referred to above. It is probable that the badly defaced brass which lies in front of the altar in the south aisle, marks the tomb of two members of that family. A piscina and double sedilia were provided for the use of the rector and the chantry priest, for whom a house was built on the site of the present Chantry.

The Augustinian priory at Kirkby Bellars was founded at about the same time as the Hoby chantry was established; perhaps it was a canon from this priory who served the Hoby chantry.

According to one authority,(6) mediaeval farming in Hoby was based upon two large open fields: it seems probable that most of the arable land lay to the north of the Thrussington – Asfordby road. According to the glebe terriers, the earliest of which date from 1603, these two fields became subdivided into four: the Nether and Over Sand fields: the Middle Field and the Clay Field. Interspersed among the open strips were some enclosed fields called closes or wongs – Bressons Close, Addisons Close, Priests Wong, Brier Wong. To the south of the road were meadows and common land; West End, Austrian, Baincroft and Moors Back. During the sixteenth century the area to the west of Bonners Lane, now Mill Lane, was brought into cultivation and was named the New Field.

If Hoby farmers followed the custom of most Leicestershire villages,(7) their principal summer crops were barley and beans, which together occupied about four fifths of the cultivated acreage, with winter crops of wheat and a little rye or oats. Pasture for cattle was limited to the leys or headlands and to the baulks which separated the strips. Only pigs were allowed to graze on the common land.

The only surviving example of mediaeval housing is Rooftree Cottage:(8) without, of course, its recent extensions at the southern end, it provided accommodation for two families. The fact that one of the former doorways now stands several feet above the modern road indicates how much the land has been eroded by wheeled traffic since the cottage was built in about the year 1430. Many existing houses stand upon mediaeval foundations.

The Black Death seems to have affected Hoby less severely than some neighbouring villages: Brooksby, for example, is said to have lost half its population between 1340 and 1400. The Poll Tax returns of 1377(9), by which time the Black Death had been active for thirty years, show Hoby as having almost 50 taxpayers, indicating a population of about 200. A more serious threat to Hoby was the enclosure of land. At some time in the sixteenth century the Villiers family enclosed about 100 acres of land lying to the north of what is now The Elms. The Earl of Huntingdon’s Commission (10) appointed in 1607, reported that there were in Hoby “two houses of husbandry decayed by Sir George Villiers, deceased, by taking away the land which dyd belong unto the same ……”

It is significant that the diocesan returns for 1563(11) show only 37 families in Hoby, a reduction in population since 1377.

The Hoby Mill is mentioned in court records as early as 1230(12), when Gilbert de Houby granted the church of Chaucumbe “free course of the water of the Wreke for the mill”, and entry and passage over Gilbert’s lands to the same. The mill was used for fulling, presumably in association with the local cloth trade. It seems to have fallen into disuse in the eighteenth century.

The sixteenth century was an age of rising standards of living, at least for those fortunate enough to retain land and work: in the will of Alexander Oldershawe, a Hoby farmer who died in 1522, there are – after a lengthy and pious preamble – no less than eight bequests, varying from eight to twenty pence each, to various churches and shrines in the neighbourhood, and the gift of a noble to the church of Hoby. Thereafter the will concludes “also 1 bequeath to John Carter of Asfordby a quart of corn….. to William Weston a doublet of worsted and to Margaret Weston a kerchief…..” By contrast, the will of William Henton of Hoby, who died in 1610, offers no devout preamble and no bequests to churches, but provides £60 each to his wife and his two sons and £40 each to his daughters. Even allowing for the change in the value of money, there is a marked difference in the level of affluence.

Richard Smythe, the rector of Hoby who died in 1579, left a personal estate of £220, which represented about 20 years’ income for a farmworker.


The Domesday Survey states that in 1066 the Manor of Hoby belonged to Ulf, son of Tope, “one of Earl Waltheof’s men”. Ulf(13) was of Danish origin and a large landowner with estates in Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire, as well as in Leicestershire. After William’s victory at Hastings he probably felt his position insecure. Much of his lands he gave to Abbeys – Peterborough, Crowland and Romsey – but Hoby, with other estates, was sold to the Archbishop of York. Ulf planned a pilgrimage to Jerusalem with his wife Madsiline, presumably in the hope that the new king’s wrath might have cooled upon his return. The agreement with the archbishop stipulated that, if he returned, Ulf could repurchase his estates. History does not record whether he did, in fact, return. Aldred, the Saxon Archbishop, died in 1069 and was replaced by a Norman, who would almost certainly not have fulfilled the agreement.

At the time of the survey, Hoby was held by a Norman, Drogo de Bevrere, who had subinfeudated this Manor to a Saxon, Adelelm. Thereafter, it passed rapidly through various hands until in 1259 Gilbert de Houby became tenant of the manor, holding in service from the Earl of Nottingham.

The de Houby family fortunes prospered,(14) largely owing to the activities of the two Matildas. The first Matilda acquired land in Hoby about 1260, as a result of the suspiciously rapid demise, without issue, of three brothers and two sisters. The second Matilda, her daughter-in-law, who clearly believed that “virgates are a girl’s best friend”, brought a series of court actions between 1263 and 1302, as a result of which she held on her death in 1311 lands north of the Trent as well as Medbourne, Hoby and other estates to the south. Her son, Walter, paid a fine in order to be excused the military responsibilities of knighthood, so that he could apply himself to the family business. By 1322 he is recorded as holding land and houses in Sileby, Rotherby, Bringhurst, Drayton, Prestgrave and Hoby. In addition to this, he held Brooksby, for which John de Villars paid rent “a pair of gilt spurs, value 6d”. Not surprisingly, he contributed 11s33/4p out of the 36s63/4p collected by the lay subsidy of 1327.(15)

Walter had two sons, Anketin and John, who seem to have inherited some of their great grandmother’s proclivities: in 1332 they were indicted for felony by the Sheriff of Leicester but could not appear because they were “doing time” in Northampton Castle for felonies “in divers counties”. They seem to have been members of a gang, mostly sons of prominent families, who murdered Roger Beler and committed several robberies. They broke into the church at Kirby Bellars “and for half a year took the profits of the said church”; they broke into the manse, damaging doors and windows, and stole goods valued at 100 shillings.

John de Houby must have survived his imprisonment and repented: in 1354 he left all his rights to the manor of Kirkby Bellars (which his father had acquired) to the wardens and chaplains of the chapel of the man he had murdered in order that prayers should be said for the repose of the souls of his brother Gilbert and Gilbert’s wife, son, daughter-in-law and grandson. All, it seems, had predeceased John de Houby. No prayers were to be offered for the souls of his father, Walter, or his other brother and fellow convict, Anketin. Anketin’s son, also Anketin, seems to have followed in his father’s footsteps: in 1361 he was pardoned for robberies committed in Leicestershire and for breaking out of Leicester gaol because of “good service done in the munition of Calais”.

The indomitable Walter kept his eye firmly on his goal: in the Easter term of 1330 he brought an action against William Wobode, his bailiff in Hoby, for falsifying accounts. Wobode is described as a “chaplain”.

Walter granted his sister-in-law, Joan, the tenancy for life of his house and garden in Hoby. He must have regretted it: in 1337 Walter’s careful soul was so shocked to see the damage wrought by Joan during her tenancy that he summoned the sheriff to come in person and view “the destruction and waste” – clearly, a preliminary step to instituting proceedings against Joan’s heirs.

Walter died on 27th June 1349: his heiress was Agnes, daughter of his third son Gilbert, who had predeceased him. Agnes died of the Black Death only three months later. So the lands so carefully accumulated by generations of de Houbys passed to Agnes’s son, John de Fritheby, a boy of fifteen, for her husband, Roger, John’s father, also died in 1349.

By 1362 the manor house in Hoby is reported as “worth nothing beyond the outgoings: a dovehouse worth nothing because it is ruinous: a garden worth 18d: twenty-eight virgates of arable land worth 40d each annually, but the third part of each virgate lies fallow each year”.

John de Fritheby, the last of the direct line of the de Houbys, died in 1362. He was only 28. Four generations of the family had died within 13 years; the succession passed to one Elizabeth de Houby, who married John Belers: through their daughter Joan the estate passed in 1478 to the de Villiers family.


The official Church Register tells us that the Villiers family “built Hoby Hall in Elizabeth’s time”. An entry in the Leicester Probate Registry,(16) dated 13th December, 1623, shows that Thomas Villiers gave his son, Richard, “the lease of my house in Hoby wherein I now dwell”. This appears to be the same property as that referred to in an earlier will, dated 1606, of Sir George Villiers (father of the first Duke of Buckingham). This describes “a capital messuage called the Ferme in Hoby”; it is probable that Manor Farm stands on the site of “Hoby Hall” and also, in all probability, of that house so “wasted” by Joan de Houby 200 years before. The manor remained with the Villiers family until the early eighteenth century.


During the sixteenth century Hoby suffered, as did all England, the effects of unemployment and inflation. There is evidence that it suffered, too, from the effects of the spiritual conflict between the Old and the New Faiths.

It was possible to accept King Henry’s decree that the Pope no longer had authority over the English Church. The Pope, after all, was a foreigner and had no right to trouble English consciences. In 1562,(17) however, all clergy were called upon to affirm to their Bishops their acceptance of the Articles of Religion. It was more than Henry Joliffe of Hoby, or many other English clergy, could stand. The Bishop of Lincoln himself was a prisoner in the Tower of London because he could not reconcile his commitment to the teachings of the Catholic Church with his loyalty to his sovereign.

It is not surprising that Henry Joliffe’s bitterness of spirit found expression: banished from his living and from the rectory, he took refuge in a house in Hoby: on the walls of one of its rooms was painted a typical sixteenth century sporting scene and across the top of this Joliffe had written:

“Praier to God is the only meane
To preserve all from a wicked queane.
He that most feareth to breake God’s behest
Is he that loveth and serveth him best.”

In the south aisle of the church there is a drawing of this mural. It was recently found in the Rectory and is dated 1899. Presumably, it was made when the wall was revealed during rebuilding. It is said that the drawing was found in Holm Cottage, certainly near enough to the Church to enable Henry Joliffe to glower at his supplanter. It is only fair to remark, however, that the official Church Register records that in 1899 the old rectory at Rotherby (whose living was joined to that of Hoby in the early nineteenth century) was pulled down, and that William Prowdefoote, rector of Hoby, also resigned his living in 1562, fearing “to breake God’s behest”. Since his successor, William Thorpe, continued to live at Cottesmore, William Prowdefoote may have stayed in the rectory, and it may have been he who thus expressed his defiance.

“Copy made in 1899 of 16th century mural (sporting scene) purportedly found in Holm Cottage”.

Henry Joliffe was replaced by Richard Smythe, son of an old Hoby family. It seems that Smythe did not entirely satisfy his superiors for in 1576

“Copy made in 1899 of 16th century mural (sporting scene) purportedly found in Holm Cottage”.

the Bishop of Llandaff inducted William Reade to Hoby(18) for Bishop Watson of Lincoln, though now released from the Tower, was not allowed to resume his duties. Local pride was too strong, however, and Smythe returned to the rectory until his death in 1579: then, after a decent interval, William Reade was reintroduced to the living. There being no local claimant, he was suffered to remain, to enjoy an income of £22:8:9d per annum, to offer a musket in his Queen’s defence, and to guide his flock between the twin perils represented by Papists and Puritans until his death in 1614.(19)


Mathias Scampion, Rector of Hoby from 1614–1639, had the endearing habit of entering not only the names, but also the occupation of his parishioners in the Church Register. It is possible, therefore, to form a picture of the village in the first half of the seventeenth century.

There were five yeomen – John Beeby, Leonard Colman, William Henton, William Scampion and James Smith – each, presumably, occupying one of the farms standing within the village. It is unlikely that a farm stood on the site of “The Elms” at this time, for this land was owned and probably farmed by the Villiers of Brooksby. Two “husbandmen”, one shepherd and the surprisingly small number of four labourers complete the total of those who worked on the land.

Many crafts were represented: John and William Hubbard were weavers: Thomas Browne, Thomas Knight and William Toone were tailors: William Browne a collar-maker and Michael Bonner a shoemaker. The blacksmith’s forge was owned by Thomas Burstall and the bakery by William Parre. There was a carpenter, Thomas Bruan, a thatcher, Thomas Smith, and George Hubbard and Christopher Brewin ran the seventeenth century predecessors of the Blue Bell and the Rutland Arms.

This is not, of course, a complete record of all who lived and worked within the village. The fact that certain names, Armstrong, Felstead, Harrison and Wright are examples, appear in the Parish Register only during the years when it was in the charge of the Parliamentary Registrar, Richard Cattle, suggests that even at this date there were families of Dissenters in Hoby.


In the struggle between the Crown and Parliament Hoby lay between Royalist Nottingham and Parliamentary Leicester. The effect of the conflict upon the village is reflected in a curious entry in the Parish Register for the year 1641. Here appears the signature of James Squire, “curate to Mr. Rhodes”. Immediately below another hand was written ”who was cast out by Thomas Rawson after two years possession”. The events which these words presage provide a dramatic, if melancholy, episode in the life of the village.(20)

The entry in the Hoby Church Register, which records the induction of Thomas Rawson (see “Crown and Parliament” P.8)
Reproduced by kind permission of the Rector of Hoby, Housed in the Leicestershire Record Office, ref: DE/2007/1.

The advowson of the village of Hoby was claimed both by Lord Berkeley and by Sir George Villiers. Lord Berkeley’s nominee was the unfortunate John Rhodes. That of Sir George Villiers was Thomas Rawson, who was inducted on 6th July, 1642. The Civil War broke out in the following month and, in the words of a near contemporary writer, Thomas Walker, “Thomas Rawson was forced to abscond to avoid the miseries of a prison”. Since Parliament did not appoint his successor, Edward Smith, until October, 1644, nor confirm Rawson’s sequestration order until December, 1646, Mr. Rawson is to be commended for prescience rather than for providence, for he left his wife, Lydia, and at least six surviving children, to fend for themselves.

When Edward Smith, “that godly and orthodox divine”, presented himself at the rectory the stout-hearted Lydia refused to admit him, whereupon he summoned assistance in the form of a troop of Parliamentary horse from Leicester. These, according to Walker, “by force, in a barbarous and inhuman manner, dragged her out of the house and turned her into the churchyard”. Here, and in the church tower, she lay with her family for some days until the rector of Rotherby, Francis Needham, gave them shelter.

However, Mr. Needham, too, was sequestrated and Lydia and her children were again forced to live in a church tower, this time at Rotherby, with a blanket hung between them and the congregation. “There are those who have seen” writes Walker, “Mrs. Rawson and her children stand around a sieve of horse-beans, eating them by handfuls”. He adds “How Mr Rawson disposed of himself…… I cannot learn”. Thomas Rawson was, as John Arlott would say in another context, “fairly adjacent”. A daughter, Lydia, was baptised in September, 1643; a son, Thomas, in September, 1644 and yet another son, George, sixteen months later. All these baptisms are witnessed, a very unusual procedure, which suggests that they may have been carried out in secret. The birth of Cordelia Rawson, daughter to Thomas and Lydia, in January, 1653 is recorded by Richard Cattle, the Parliamentary Registrar.

Eventually Lydia Rawson returned to Hoby and was accommodated in a mean house with a single room: seven of her children were boarded out, two as far away as Melton. Three were taken by one Mathew Wolfe, a lacemaker in the village. In June, 1655 Lydia died, giving birth to her fourteenth child, who was christened Benjamin on the day of his mother’s funeral.

Thomas Rawson, senior, returned to the living after the Restoration, but survived for only two years. “He was a worthy good man and very well loved by those who knew him” reports Thomas Walker – a verdict which might surprise the modern reader.


Among the historical documents which throw light on life in Hoby in the seventeenth century are the glebe terriers – records of the glebe strips and of the owners of adjacent strips. A comparison of the glebe terriers of 1605 and 1703 reveals interesting changes. The 1605 terrier yields a much longer list of owners of adjacent strips than does that of 1703; indeed, the latter names only eight farmers and of these, the names of William Henton, father and son, are the only ones that recur with any frequency.

A second point of difference lies in land use; by 1703 two at least of the four principal fields were laid down to grass, in addition to the common grazing, leys and headlands, whereas in 1605 Hoby was still predominantly arable,(21) with barley, beans and spring wheat the principal crops, mainly for local consumption.

At the beginning of the century it seems the village society consisted mainly of tenant small-holders farming for subsistence and a few copy-holders; by 1700 five freehold farmers have emerged(22) as more affluent than the rest, having profited by the change to cattle, and particularly to sheep rearing, in order to supply markets in the growing towns. In 1630 there is only one freeholder — Lady Villiers; by 1702 there are five and by 1776, ten.

In 1704(22) Daniel Defoe found Leicestershire “taken up with breeding and feeding…….. they have the largest sheep and horses in England”; Another writer of that time states “The graziers of Leicestershire are in the habit of selling of their sheep, if they show signs of liver-rot, to the London market and then our own Citizens and Dainty Dames do make good cheer”, There is the ring of contempt for those foolish enough to live in towns.

One consequence of this change was a sharp fall in the population: a return of 1603 shows 140 communicants of all denominations in Hoby; a similar return for 1676 records only 90. According to one authority, most of Hoby farmland was enclosed, “by consent”, as early as 1632.

In 1760 a Commission for the Enclosure of Hoby was appointed at the request of Sir John Robinson and Mr. Thomas Hewett who, between them, claimed to own two thirds of the manor. The Act which followed awarded 240 acres to the Rector in lieu of tithe and glebe, most of the remainder being apportioned between Mr. Hewett, who took the land to the east of the present Ragdale road and north of the Asfordby road, and Sir John Robinson, who took most of the remainder of the land to the north of the village. A few small-holdings were awarded in the area now occupied by the new houses south of the Thrussington road and east of the Brooksby road to the Palings and the Toones, to William Morris, John Batson, Henry Willowes and John Orton. The total area allocated by the Commission was 1250 acres: most of this may have been confirmation of existing enclosures(23).

The effect of enclosure and the consequent change to grazing was to create unemployment; those deprived of small-holdings tried to find work elsewhere but the Settlement Laws made movement difficult. Those who attempted it were liable to be expelled by the Overseer of the Poor to the parish nearest to that from which they had come. Several re-settlement orders signed by Hoby Overseers are extant. The plight of children of paupers was particularly pitiful. They were liable to be apprenticed for an unspecified period and for virtually no more than their keep to any craftsman who was willing to exploit them. Among those apprenticed was one Thomas Wolfe, possibly a descendant of the lacemaker who had given shelter to Lydia Rawson’s children one hundred years before.

In the eighteenth century and the early nineteenth century many Hoby children were apprenticed to weavers, tailors and framework knitters in neighbouring villages. The risks to the apprentices (generally aged between 9 and 13) were underlined by the clause in their indentures which provided that the Parish would pay the employer £5 at the end of each 3 years of the apprenticeship “provided the child is alive and well cared for”.


Unemployed labourers might find work as “navigators” digging the canals which, during the last quarter of the eighteenth century were constructed in Leicestershire and neighbouring counties. The Melton Mowbray Navigation scheme for making the Wreake navigable between Melton and the Turnwater Meadow (where it met the Grand Junction canal from Loughborough to Leicester) was put into commission in 1797.(24) The original Waterhouse was built as a lock-keeper’s cottage. The navigation was profitable for a short time in the 1830’s, but the opening of the Midland Railway from Syston to Melton in 1846 reduced the river traffic from 40,000 to 14,000 tons annually: by 1858 receipts had dwindled to £437 a year. The railway refused to make an offer for the navigation which was finally closed to traffic in 1877.


In 1702 the Villiers holdings in Hoby were sold to Sir John Robinson who thus became possessed of about one-third of the cultivated land.

The Robinson family did not live in Hoby and the effective Squires were the Hentons, three of whom appear in the Hearth Tax Returns for 1666, One, who paid tax on four hearths, probably occupied the Manor Farm. The Hentons claimed, at the end of the eighteenth century, to have lived in the village for 1,000 years. Other old fashioned Hoby names are Smythe (Smith) who appear in the fourteenth century Poll Tax Returns, as did the Dalbys, the Websters, the Roses, Taylors, Schepherds (Shepherdsi; in 1524 the names Botte, Hubbard and Kirby also appear. The Hentons first appear in the tax returns for 1572; thereafter they are never absent until the end of the eighteenth century.

In 1703 the Rector, Richard Coxe, pulled down the old rectory and built the house with which the people of Hoby are familiar. He seems to have been a person of some means for all the work was done at his own expense. His daughter, Anne, married Robert Browne, who himself became Rector of Hoby in 1722. He was succeeded by his brother, Henry, in 1732, by his son, Henry, in 1743, and by his great nephew, Henry, in 1784.

The daughter of this last Henry Browne married the first Gilbert Beresford in 1814: the last of four generations of Beresford rectors died in 1949, ending a family association with the living which had begun in 1696.


Burton, the seventeenth century historian, whose history of Leicestershire first appeared in 1622, records having seen stained glass in all the windows of Hoby church, including “a fair glass monument” in honour of Gilbert de Seagrave, Bishop of London 1313-1317. Nichols, visiting the church in 1800, found stained glass only in the east window of the north aisle and in the second window from the door on the north side of the church. It seems hardly likely that Parliamentary soldiers, who are usually charged with the responsibility for damage to churches, would have been so selective in breaking windows. Neglect, rather than deliberate destruction, seems to be the most probable explanation of their loss. The existing stained-glass windows are, of course, modern.

Neglect of the church certainly cannot be laid to the charge of the Beresfords: during the latter part of the 19th century extensive repairs to the chancel, nave and roof of the church were carried out, and the fourteenth century Decorated windows of the chancel and south aisle were skilfully restored. Much adverse criticism has been passed upon Victorian restoration of churches, but there is no doubt that Hoby church would not have survived to the present day had it not been undertaken. Many will feel less sympathy with the removal of the old box pews and choir-stalls, the displacing of the fifteenth century benches and the erection of the modern choir – screen.

Although the eighteenth century may have been a time when the fabric of the church was neglected, during the latter part of it the fine Swithland slate tombstones appeared in the churchyard. The carving seems to have been the work of craftsmen from neighbouring villages.


The increasing leisure and affluence of certain classes of society led to the growing popularity of foxhunting. In Leicestershire foxhunting started at Belvoir as early as 1730: in the early nineteenth century the main centre shifted to Melton Mowbray: here, in the 1830’s the fraternity would meet at Lord Alvanley’s house opposite the George Hotel. It is said that it was possible in those days to ride from Nottingham to Melton Mowbray without meeting a single fence. Few horses could have made such a journey in winter, so heavy was the clay before drainage was introduced.

In the 1870’s Brooksby Hall became a centre for the Quorn Hunt: sometimes as many as 500 riders would meet there – “a field altogether free from the rough element” – to quote one who took part. Undoubtedly, the Hunt provided employment for many Hoby people as grooms, stable boys, chambermaids and cooks.

Social distinctions are uncompromising in a Directory published in 1849. Under Hoby it recorded three “gentry”, the Rector, a Mrs. Briggs and a Miss Calverley. Of those classified as “tradesmen” there are six “farmers and graziers” – William Beeby, Thomas Henton, Robert Lacey, Benjamin Simpkin, Isaac Wilbourn and David Wood. No agricultural labourers are mentioned; the seventeenth century weavers are gone; but a tailor, Joseph Mathers, two shoemakers, John Kirby and John Whitaker, and a carpenter, John Beeson, remain. So, of course, does the blacksmith, Charles Worrall, and the innkeepers, William Henson of the Blue Bell and Mary Hickling of the Rutland Arms. New vocations are those of carriers, John Brewin, Thomas Ward and Charles Worrall. The last-named combined this with the role of “receiver” of letters at the Post Office, then accommodated at “Church Gables”. There was also, for the first time, a schoolmaster, Samuel Calvert, in charge of the “National School”, attended by 60 pupils. The infants’ schoolroom is now the dining-room of “Hillcrest”. The “National Schools”, started by Alexander Bell in the early years of the century, were organised on the “Monitorial’ principle.

The population of the village, which rose to almost 400 in mid-century, had by 1870 declined to 300. The pull of the towns was beginning to be felt.


The last quarter of the nineteenth century saw a sharp decline in the fortunes of English farmers, though Leicestershire farmers suffered less than their colleagues, for they depended less upon grain and cattle rearing. Fox-hunting landowners favoured dairy-farming tenants, and the trade in liquid milk and cheese was expanding, at a time when other farm products were suffering from foreign competition,

Hoby’s neighbour, Ragdale, became entirely devoted to dairy farming and Hoby residents were, for many years, accustomed to see Ragdale farm carts, loaded with clanking churns, driven like chariots through the streets of the village in time to catch the morning train from Brooksby.

The Pagets of Ibstock, who acquired the manor of Hoby in the early nineteenth century, were bankers by origin:(26) they represented the tide of change in land ownership which was sweeping the country and the county. Land was becoming concentrated in new, and fewer, hands. By 1873 98% of farmland in Leicestershire was owned by 800 persons.(27) A Directory of 1902 shows that at that time only two residents of Hoby owned more than 150 acres each. That these new landowners were not unmindful of the needs of tenants is evidenced by the number of houses in Hoby which bear the initials of a member of the Paget family.

Outwardly, there was little change in Hoby society in the fifty years which preceded the first Great War. The life of the village continued to revolve around the church. The Rector was the acknowledged head of village society to whom men bowed and women curtseyed as he passed. Attendance at church was expected of all and those whose jobs depended on the goodwill of farmers and traders did not fail that expectation.

The strain of Dissent, noticeable in the village in the seventeenth century, received a stimulus from the growth of Methodism:(28) the Countess of Huntingdon, “the Queen of Methodism”, lived at nearby Donington Hall. In 1824 William Wood, a Hoby farmer, formed a Methodist group in Hoby. The first chapel was built in 1834 on land given by Jonathan Wood. It is significant that John Wood, the last of the family to serve the chapel, combined the duties of churchwarden at Rotherby with those of Chapel Steward at Hoby. For many years chapel services were held in the afternoon, in order that members of the congregation could attend morning or evening services in the church. One Hoby Methodist preacher, Peter Mackenzie, held special services in June of each year at which up to a thousand people met under canvas.

Nor was it only in spiritual matters that direction was given by those in authority: the late William Felstead, who was born in Hoby in 1878, remembered his father voting in the election of 1895. The Conservative candidate for the Melton division was Lord Edward Cavendish: a Hoby farmer, mounted on a white horse, addressed his labourers in the field. “Today’s election day, lads. I’m giving you the time off to vote. See to it that you vote for Lord Edward!”

A glimpse of Edwardian days in Hoby is given by the following report in the “Melton Times” of July, 1910

“A series of productive and successful efforts organised on behalf of Home Missions and the Curates Society was resumed at Hoby in the pretty garden and grounds of Warren Farm House. The event attracted a large company, a list of those present including Colonel Yate, Lady Theresa Cross, Mrs. Henton and Mrs. Ellison and party.

Mrs. Brett Bailey had a most productive and extensive work stall. The amusements included a weighing and coconut alley, run by Mr. Jack Bailey, . and Putting, organised by Mrs. James.

An Open Air Tea was presided over by Mrs. Bailey and Mrs. Hunter, and much valued assistance in waiting was provided by the Misses James. A downfall of rain around 6 p.m. caused temporary dispersal of the guests, but this cleared later and with the arrival of the Frisby Brass Band dancing commenced under the baton of Mr. Parr.

The financial result well exceeded expectations and Mrs. Bailey was able to hand over to the Society a handsome round sum of £10.”.

These were far from halcyon days for workers on the land; William Felstead earned 5/- a week as a youth, 10/- a week as a grown man. For those who were unemployed life was even harder. A reporter on the “Melton Times” spent a day in the local workhouse in March, 1914. He found that the diet consisted of eight ounces of dry bread with “unlimited” hot water for breakfast and for the evening meal: at midday the meal was augmented by two ounces of cheese. On this fare the male inmates were required to spend eight hours a day sawing timber.

Hoby had it own “workhouse”, which stood immediately behind “Hillcrest”. It may have started life as the Sunday School which, as the Church Register records, was founded in 1727 with the funds provided by Sir William Villiers and Catherine Gregory’s bequests. Subsequently, it appears to have been used by the National School from 1841 – 1871, and after the founding of the Church School in the latter year, wąs converted to an almshouse. The last tenant who benefited from its services shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War, impressed her memory upon her neighbours as a widow with three children and a colourful vocabulary, employed with singular fluency. During the war the cottages were occupied by refugees, who scandalised the village by washing themselves at Bott Hole which, as older residents will recall, was strictly reserved for drinking water.

In the 1920’s Hoby became a frequent meeting place for the Quorn Hunt which was sometimes attended by the four Royal Dukes. Times had changed since the 1870’s; many who joined the meet were towndwellers who came by car, who could not recognise, and therefore not respect, a field sown with winter wheat. Few could now afford to maintain a string of hunters or employ grooms. As a source of employment for Hoby workers, if not as a social occasion, the Hunt was now less important than formerly.

Despite the increased use of cars, for the transport of goods the village was still largely dependent upon the railway and the carrier; for the first two decades of the century this latter, function was performed by William Ward, scion of a long line of Hoby carriers who had brought merchandise from Leicester and Melton. His horse was said to be so well trained that, on Saturdays, it stopped at every public house. It’s owner, who had by then ceased to be it’s driver, was unable to make deliveries until Sunday.

In the years prior to the Second World War Hoby was self-sufficient to an extent that would be impossible today. Hoby corn, ground at Brooksby Hall, was sold by Thomas Lacey, the Hoby corn merchant, to Harry Henson, the Hoby baker. Cattle reared on Hoby fields were slaughtered by Thomas Henton in his cottage opposite the church and sold to the butcher next door. Alfred Kirby made boots and shoes, Eunice Kirby, dresses. Mrs. Osborne, in her cottage in Church Lane would, for three-pence, wring out anyone’s washing in her huge mangle weighted with stones. Miss Pym, living in the end cottage of that row which formerly stood in the Blue Bell carpark, would mend them for a similar consideration. As late as 1936, Charles Worrall worked his smithy and James Lucas sold milk from his farm.

There was briefly, a revival of village industry in the 1920’s and 1930’s when Thomas Clay opened a hosiery factory on a site behind Rose Villa. It seems to have had a comparatively short life, for no trace of it can be found after 1939.

Since leisure was scarce, it was enjoyed to the full. On Whit-Monday there was a service in the church, followed by a dinner served in a marquee in the field behind the Blue Bell. “All the village attended” we are told by those who recall it; some so ardently celebrated that happy juxtaposition that not all were able to join the procession which, in the afternoon, paraded through the village, led by a man with a blackened face. There was a village cricket team, which played in a field adjoining the Ragdale Road; an annual tea-party for children on the lawn at The Grange, and a Festival Feast held each November in the village school – an echo perhaps of the old Church Ale, held in the church on All Saints Day in mediaeval times.

Since 1945, conditions of life in the village have improved considerably with the introduction of electricity and piped water to all houses. It has changed, too, in that most Hoby people find employment outside the village.

Yet there remains a sense of continuity with the past; the five farms are still working as they have done for centuries: the winding Main Street follows the path beaten by the feet of mediaeval peasants round long-vanished crofts and headlands: most evocative of all is the view of the village from the river path near the site of the old mill: seen at that distance, the cluster of houses on the ridge, surmounted by the church spire, appears much as it must have done six hundred years ago.



L.R.S. Lincoln Record Society
T.L.A.S. Transations of the Leicestershire Archaeological Society.
V.C.H. Victoria County History of Leicestershire.

  1. G.F. Farnham “Leicestershire Mediaeval Village Notes” Vol:5. P.202.
  2. Glebe Terrier 1745.
  3. Differing views are expressed by:
    1. K. Cameron & C.M Gelling “Place Name Evidence for the Anglo-Saxon Invasion and Saxon Settlements” Part III.
    1. E. Ekwall “Concise Oxford Dictionary of Place Names” (4th Edn.) English Place Name Society “Chief Elements in English Place Names” Vol:1. P.2.
  4. J. Nichols “History and Antiquities of Leicestershire” Vol:III. Part I. P.264.
  5. Roger of Wendover “Flowers of History” Vol:2. P.391 (Trans. J.A. Giles – London 1886).
  6. T.L.A.S. Vol:XXV. P.77.
  7. R.H. Hilton “Economic Development of several Leicestershire Estates in the 14th and 15th Centuries”.
  8. T.L.A.S. Vol:XXX. Ps 48-50.
  9. Farnham op.cit. P.211.
  10. T.L.A.S. Vol:XXIII. P.262.
  11. V.C.H. Vol:III P.166.
  12. Farnham op.cit. P. 198.
  13. L.R.S. Vol:19 Ps xli – xliii.
  14. The story of the de Houby family will be found in Farnham op.cit. P.97 et seq.
  15. Details of tax returns will be found in Farnham idem of population returns in V.C.H. Vol:3. P. 166 et seq.
  16. Farnham op.cit. P.218.
  17. Dixon “History of the Church of England” Vol:5. p.416.
  18. L.R.S. Vol: 23. P.104.
  19. L.R.S. Vol:23. P.296.
  20. W.G. Hoskins “Studies in Leicestershire Agrarian History” Ps. 154-176.
  21. Nichols op.cit. P.264.
  22. T.L.A.S. Vol:XXV. P.77.
  23. C. Hadfield “Canals of East Midlands’ devotes a chapter to the Wreake Navigation.
  24. Glebe Terrier 1745.
  25. V.C.H. Vol:2 P.240.
  26. V.C.H. Vol:2. P.245.
  27. Josiah Gill Jnr. “History of Wesleyan Methodism in Melton Mowbray and the Vicinity” Ps. 142–146.