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It is easy to underestimate the impact and dominance that the Church had over individuals and communities in past centuries; in people's daily lives and upon their psyche.  Sileby's customs, holydays and holidays were a mixture of local and national traditions mainly commemorating church festivals, rituals and feasts, or observing important dates in the agricultural calendar. It was also custom for the church to demand monies and resources to upkeep the church buildings and its clergy.


Today, in general, the village observes ancient holy days such as Easter and Christmas, along with annual celebrations such as Bonfire Night. However, many of the original meanings behind these events are lost to secularism or in hard nosed retail promotion. Imported customs such as 'Trick or Treat' and more generalised popular culture are replacing older traditions.

Although many of Sileby's parish records have not survived, it is possible to piece together aspects of its parish customs from other sources. 

The Parish Church Patronal Festival

An important annual parish event was the Patronal festival, a day in which a parish's patron saint is commemorated. In Sileby's case, the church is dedicated to the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, whose anniversary is the 8th September. Early 16th century records mention the church as "Our Blessed Lady [Mary] of Sileby". Before the Reformation, St Mary would have taken precedent in the religious and daily lives of the parishioners, with images, icons, lights, prayers and gifts made to her altar in the Lady Chapel and elsewhere within the church. Originally, parishioners would attend an all night vigil in prayer prior to the holy day with celebrations taking place during the day. The word 'Wake' refers to the festivities and other events after being awake all night.

                   'Mary, Queen of the Heavens'                                                                                                              Source : Eric Wheeler

                     Source : John Whittington                                                                                               


                                                                                   Above the Chancel Arch, Sileby Parish Church

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Wakes and Wakes Week

After a calendar change in 1752 (see page on Dates) the Sileby Wake(s) became detached from the main patronal festival. By the early 19th century they had developed into an annual fair in their own right. It was then held on the weekend and weekdays after the 19th September and was known as Wakes Week. The fair has been held at various locations around the village including behind the Brewery, Mountsorrel Lane and the Washpit off Swan Street.


A flavour of the Wakes festivities is given by the Leicester Chronicle on the 30th September 1882,

"the annual feast has been held during the week, and on Sunday and Monday there was a very large influx of visitors. The proprietors of stalls, shooting galleries, swings, Aunt Sally, &c., pitched their tents as usual on the Washpit bank (near the current Post Office). The Sileby Brass Band played in various parts of the village on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. The drum and fife band also played some lively airs, and several cricket matches were played." 

In 1932, the Wakes were "taking place, and thanks to the fine weather the village was crowded both Saturday and Sunday. The usual shows, with additions such as Noah's Ark and The Dodgems and various dances were well patronised." (Leicester Evening Mail, 26th September 1932)

Contrast the above with the 1960 advert for the Wakes,

"All the fun of the fair at SILEBY WAKES...

The fair will open Sept. 29th to Oct. 1st...

Rock and Roll Competitions. Cash Prizes...

Saturday. Carnival Night"

The Wakes fun fair was a feature of annual village festivities up until the late 1980s.


                                                                                                    The Wakes Fair - Undated

                                                                                                    Source : John Whittington

Church Ales

A Church or Parish Ale was brewed in order to be sold at feasts and other parish events, often also called Ales. They were a common form of parochial fundraising with profits going towards church repairs, building projects, maintaining the poor and funding other parish activities. Ales were an important social activity and were often accompanied by music, dancing and general merriment, which unsurprisingly made them a very popular aspect of parish life. Evidence for Sileby's Church Ales comes from the many bequests of malt made to the church in villager's wills. In 1520-1, Thomas Turlington ordered that the two quarters of malt that he had bequeathed to Sileby's church 'masters' should be made into a church ale. Most Pre-Reformation wills simply refer to a bequest of malt to the church. For example, Thomas Gibson gave a bushel of malt to 'Sylby church' in his will of 1531, as did John Dawson and Richard Preston in 1547 and 1551 respectively. The effects of the Reformation and the rise of Puritanism eventually put paid to this cherished activity.


The Statutes Fair

Every year a fair for hiring servants was held in the village on the first Monday after the 25th October. It was known as the Sileby Statutes and was a market for employers to engage domestic and agricultural servants for the next year. When negotiations over pay and conditions were completed, a shilling or another acknowledgement normally passed to the new employee to seal the contract. The payment of wages was usually made at the end of the contracted period.

In the early 19th century the fair was often held at the Horse and Trumpet public house, but it seems that the High Street was where many of the deals were done. In 1935 an elderly woman reminiscing about seeing the last Sileby Statute said that farmers and their wives would walk up and down High Street looking for prospective servants and labourers, asking if they wanted a 'situation'. She added, "hanging across the High Street from the upper windows were the smocks, breeches and other labourers clothes to be purchased by the hired servants". The day of the statutes was usually a vibrant affair, and attracted people into Sileby from surrounding villages. 

The Statutes of 1852 passed off quietly according to local newspaper reports. The 4th November edition of the Nottinghamshire Guardian revealed that the annual statutes "were not so numerously attended as usual and good, strong servants were scarce. Most of those present, however, were hired, and, especially waggoners and dairy maids, who asked and obtained good wages... There was the usual supply of gingerbread stalls and shooting galleries... Several police officers were perambulating the village until late at night, but, we believe, not one case of pocket picking occurred."

​Springtime Parades

Whitsun, or White Sunday, is the seventh Sunday after Easter, and is the alternative name for the christian holy day of Pentecost. It was an important event in every parish calendar as it was the first summer holiday of the year. Whitsuntide is the name of the holiday period for the week after Whitsun. In the early 17th century it was recorded that Sileby celebrated Whitsun with ales and suppers. By the mid 19th century, the holiday gave way to parades and dinners of the various philanthropic, friendly and sick clubs.


On Whit-Monday 1843, the local lodge of the United Ancient Order of Druids held their annual meeting at the Horse and Trumpet Inn, followed by a parade with flags and regalia, a church sermon and a dinner served for 'upwards of a hundred'. The next day, the Rose of Sharon Lodge of the United Order of Druidesses held their first anniversary meeting at the same pub. They also paraded around the village with music and flags, except that they were dressed all in white with emblems. The local newspapers reported that thousands of people from the surrounding villages had assembled in the village to watch. Rather sedately, 130 ladies sat down to tea at the Horse and Trumpet afterwards! 

Perhaps the most well known Whitsun event was the Whit-Monday parade organised by Sileby Adult School, then known as the 'Infirmary Demonstration'. It originated after Mr H Woolley, the secretary of the Saturday Hospital fund and fundraiser for Leicester Royal Infirmary, challenged the Adult School to increase Sileby's subscriptions to hospital funds.


Until the 5th June 1948 when the hospital became part of the National Health Service, the Leicester Royal Infirmary was a charitable organisation and relied on subscriptions and fundraising events to keep it functioning. Parishes, businesses and individuals were encouraged to contribute to the Infirmary; not only to serve the needs of individuals, but to make sure each settlement paid their way. In the last aspect Sileby was sadly lacking. When Mr Woolley spoke to the Adult School in 1908 it was claimed that the cost of Sileby patients at the hospital was not being met by Sileby's contributions. Therefore the Adult School immediately decided to organise a fancy dress parade to boost funds. The next 40 years saw the resulting Whit-Monday parade bloom and raised many thousands of pounds towards the provision of hospital beds. In all, around £12,000 was raised and 11 beds were provided. It was such a successful means of raising money that the scheme was copied by many villages throughout the county. Over time the event also became known as the carnival and gala, with the crowning of the carnival queen being one of the high points of the day.


  The Infirmary Parade, Barrow Road - Undated c1930

                                                                                           Lorry decorated with a Japanese theme


The Adult School parade was replaced by the Sileby Gala, which began after a hiatus lasting a decade or so. The Gala raised money for various village organisations and charities. It was managed by committees mainly made up of members from Sileby's football and cricket clubs. It was the highlight of the village year for so many. By the 1970s various sportsmen or celebrities opened the event. However, for various reasons, the event lost much of its support after the millenium (in spite of the organiser's hard work to keep the event alive). The last Gala was held in 2017.  

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1977 Gala.jpg


Fundraising in the 1977 Gala

Source : John Whittington

                       Sileby Gala, late 1970s : Colourful Scenes on King Street

                                              Source : John Whittington

May was also the time of other parades and events. The crowning of the May Queen was a childrens pageant organised by the Parish church and National school. Traditionally, maypoles and dancing around them were a common feature of May Day festivities, and were incorporated into other parades in the Spring calendar. Local folklore, quoted in the Loughborough Echo of 3rd March 1916, says that Sileby's inhabitants were envious of Mountsorrel's maypole at the Butter Cross there and made efforts to remove it to Sileby. The situation caused a feud between the two parishes. It seems that the maypole had been taken three or four times by Sileby men and each time Mountsorrel retrieved it. It was finally broken up after being put back at the Butter Cross. As with all folklore the 'facts' are to be taken with a huge dollop of caution, especially as the Mountsorrel storyteller adds that Sileby's inhabitants were afraid to go through Mountsorrel from then on!

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Maypole in a procession, Cossington Road c1910

The chapels in the village had their annual Sunday School anniversaires in May and June which also included parades, collections and other fundraising events. There was a certain competitive edge to this especially in the 1930s when the two Methodist churches tried to outdo each other over the amount of money they could raise.


Edith 'Popsy' Gilbert recalls the festivals in the village in the 1920s and 1930s 

Cowslip Gathering

Another activity in May was that of cowslip gathering. Cowslip flowers were used in the manufacture of cowslip wine and in other medicinal remedies. The cowslips grew in overgrown grass verges, mainly on road sides, but can also be found in open woodland, meadows and pastures. It was mainly gathered as a cash crop, and in many cases families included children went out picking this free harvest. Locally, the wide verges in the roads around Seagrave were a lucrative source, although further north in the Vale of Belvoir was a favoured location for working parties to visit. The main impact on Sileby was on children's education. Despite the Elementary Education Act of 1870, cowslip gathering was one of a number of harvesting activities where children were illegally kept away from school.


Mott's Cowslip Wine - Advertisement 1880s

Royal Connections

Sileby has more than a passing relationship to royalty. Other than villagers fervently celebrating Bonfire Night in November (a very overt anti-catholic celebration!), there is much more other evidence of Sileby's loyalist leanings.


Firstly, Sileby was a royal manor.  It was part of a royal estate owned by King Edward the Confessor at his death in 1066. After the conquest the manor was granted to and held by the King's barons and noblemen (with a few interruptions along the way) until the end of the 14th century when Henry, Duke of Leicester seized the throne. With the accession of Henry IV in 1399, Sileby manor was incorporated into the monarch's private holdings as a Duchy of Lancaster property. Therefore, Sileby has been in royal custody since at least the 15th century and it technically only stopped being this way in the 19th century when some of the manorial rights were sold off or became uneconomical to collect and enforce.


During the 15th century Sileby manor was one of a number of manors and estates gifted in royal dowries for the use of the new queens during their lifetime. Queen Joan (wife of Henry IV), Queen Catherine (wife of Henry V) and Queen Margaret (of Anjou), the wife of Henry VI, all possessed Sileby by this route.

During the English Civil Wars of the 1640s, the village clergy aligned themselves to the King against Parliament. Being on the losing side, they were severely punished for their royal support; some were stripped of their roles, one suffered crippling fines and another lost his life in the conflict.


The name King Street was first coined around the 1730s, before which it was known as East Lane. Although some may argue that this relates to the King family in Sileby, this road name is certainly related to the monarch. With the threat of the Jacobites being very real in the early 18th century, naming one of the main roads as King Street showed solidarity with Britain's Hanoverian rulers. It also happened elsewhere. This loyal support can be seen again when a bell was produced for the Parish church peal, shortly after 1745. Its inscription celebrates the defeat of the Jacobites at Culloden in 1745 : 'In honour of William Duke of Cumberland, victor over the rebellious Scots' .

The early 20th century also saw Back Lane referred to as Queen Street, but it had reverted to the original Back Lane by the 1920s.


The most prominent support shown in the more recent past is that of street parties and other events celebrating royal occasions. Whether it was a coronation, jubilee, royal marriage or royal death, the village has shown its loyalty to a great extent. 


Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee

20th June 1887


King George VI Coronation

12th May 1937

Source and © : ROLLR DE 5861

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Queen Elizabeth II

Silver Jubilee Programme 1977

​​Plough Bullocking - Plough Monday

Plough Monday is the name given to the first Monday after January 6th, and it marked the resumption of the agricultural year after the Christmas holiday. In the East Midlands it was common for farm labourers to tour their locality with a plough to raise money, often also singing, performing plays or dancing. Participants were mainly men and boys, known collectively as 'plough bullocks'. They frequently disguised themselves by covering their faces with soot, ochre or white lead. Most wore costumes, with harlequins being popular, and usually one or more also in women's clothing. The bullocks often carried wooden swords and a balloon-like bladder attached to a stick with string. The custom was often thought to be a nuisance by those locals who were the butt of plough bullocking revels and shenanigans. One such occasion occurred at Sileby in January 1869. Thomas Henry Knight took offence to being hit on the head with a bladder and pulled his sword stick out upon two 'bullocks' and threatened to cut them down. The men retaliated by hitting Knight with sticks. Knight filed a case of assault against the revellers at the local court; the case was later dismissed.


                                                                                            Plough Bullocks, possibly at Sileby c1910

                                                                                                          Source : John Whittington

The Perambulation or Beating the Bounds

Before parishes were reliably surveyed and mapped, it was the community's collective memory that ensured that parish and field boundaries were not encroached upon or moved altogether at the expense of individual farmers, landowners or the parish itself. Every few years during Rogationtide—the fifth week after Easter, the parish priest together with churchwardens, parish officials and village boys inspected or 'perambulated' the parish boundaries to see if there were changes from the previous check. En route, the clergy gave divine blessing to notable points within the landscape. The village lads were 'encouraged' to remember the locations of important markers and boundary stones, thus ensuring that the collective memory was carried over to the next generation. A Parish Ale often accompanied the boundary examination. No record of a Sileby perambulation has survived, but 17th century sources note that crosses or bleases were made on trees to identify the parish boundary with Barrow.   


​Church Dues

One of the most arduous and probably most controversial charges upon Sileby's householders during the medieval and early modern period was that of ecclesiastical tithes. This was a local tax of a tenth (10%), sometimes more, levied by the church of the all produce or fruits of a household or farm with few exemptions. Every tenth lamb, calf, egg or orchard fruit could be claimed as well as field crops and profits from other pursuits. 


In Sileby's case, they were divided into Great Tithes, paid to the Improprietor (the lay person that held the right to present a vicar) and Small Tithes paid to the vicar. Originally they were used to support the local clergy and church, but by the 16th century the Great Tithes had become a commodity that was sublet for a fee. By the 17th century Sileby's 'Tithe farmers', as these tithe collectors were called, would make sure that everyone paid their dues under the law, often causing immense suffering, particularly the Quakers who refused to pay on religious and moral grounds. The payment of tithes in Sileby was eventually abolished in 1759-60 when they were exchanged for a seventh part of the total parish lands. (see more info under the Parish Church section)

Prior to the Reformation it was also common practice for Sileby villagers to bequeath their best 'good' (called a mortuary) to the church upon death. Robert Osborn granted his best animal to the church in 1514, and in 1526 Robert Thorpe had bequeathed his 'best beyste'. In 1523 Richard Walter gave his best good explaining that it was 'according to the custom and manner of the country'.

Paying the Parish Clerk

The role of the Parish Clerk prior to 1894 was a many faceted one, covering church, administrative and sometimes educational functions. For winding and seeing to the church clock and chimes the clerk was given the rental profits of land in Sileby's North Meadow. In 1759-60 this was exchanged for the 'Clock Piece', now the allotments on the other side of the blue bridge off Barrow Road. In addition, every householder was compelled to give the clerk four pence at Christmas.


Reverend Hunting's Revivals


A number of traditional customs were rediscovered by the Rev. Raymond Hunting during his tenure as vicar from 1956-1985. Two of the more famous customs were re-created in the 1960s and 70s and managed to grab the attention of the local and national media. The first was that of giving oranges to the children after the Sunday School anniversary sermon. This custom was revived after the vicar had spoken to Charles Hudson, a 90 year old villager, who remembered conversations that he had as a youth with elderly gentlemen during the 1880s. They recalled that the practice of giving oranges in the churchyard had ceased around 1810. The vicar first gave about 200 oranges to children on the 22nd May 1960; the oranges were donated by an anonymous benefactor.

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​                                                                       Rev. Hunting (left) giving out oranges to children (early 1960s)

                                                                                                    Source : John Whittington

Another tradition 'rediscovered' by the good Reverend was that of Nippy Hug Day. On the Friday after Ash Wednesday, it was custom, so the vicar maintained, that a Sileby youth could demand a kiss from a girl in the street. If this was refused then the youth could pinch and hug the girl instead. In February 1972 his story made the national tabloid press. By 1974 an exasperated Rev. Hunting was reported to be tired of all the leg pulling and media attention gained by his discovery. The Daily Mirror (1st March 1974) reported that the fed-up vicar complained of film crews wanting him "to run up and down chasing girls." Even now, this story is occasionally recaptured by the media; ITV in 1989 and the BBC in 2016. BBC Story

Rev. Hunting also revived a number of other lost customs relating to the ringing of the church bells. One practice was the tolling of the Pancake or Shriving bell on Shrove Tuesday, which was the traditional feast day before the start of Lent on Ash Wednesday. Another was ringing a Curfew bell on Good Friday. It was rung as a token gesture and as a reminder of the original Curfew bell which Rev. Hunting claimed was rung daily at 8pm before the First World War. Ringing a Gleaning bell was another of the vicar's restored traditions and related to the ancient custom of gleaning after the harvest was brought in. Put simply, gleaning was a fixed time where the parish poor were allowed to search over the previously harvested fields and retrieve any part of the crop not taken initially. There were rigid rules to this activity and the prescribed time for gleaning was controlled by the tolling of the Gleaning bell in the morning and evening. Finally, the vicar also brought back the 'Stir-up' bell on 'Stir-up Sunday', which was on the Sunday before the first Sunday of Advent. Traditionally, the Christmas Pudding was made on this day.

Switching on the Christmas Lights

One of the most popular village customs of recent years is the annual switching on of Sileby's Christmas Lights. This occurs on the first Friday in December and is organised by Sileby Parish Council. Properties on High Street and King Street are lit with strings of trailing lights, as are the trees on Martin's Walk. Parts of High Street and Brook Street are closed to allow for the crowds of people attending, mainly families with children. There is an official lighting ceremony and a carol service together with roundabouts and various stalls. Santa usually makes an appearance too!


Sileby Christmas Lights, 27th December 2021

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