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The current development of the proto-town of Sileby is a reflection of contemporary demands upon increased population and the need for housing, infrastructure and services. This is a far cry from the processes and events that allowed Sileby to evolve into its modern day form.


Before 1066

The parish has produced evidence for prehistoric human activity since at least the Mesolithic era (c9000 to 4300 BC) and possibly earlier. Neolithic flint implements and tools are found widely across the village.


Iron Age 'trackway' going into the distance, with ditches (yellow pointers) in 2012

Jubilee Avenue in the background. This is now the site of Southfield Avenue

In 2011-12 early Iron Age structures were discovered in excavations off Seagrave Road and another Iron Age site was found during exploratory works at the new Leicester City Training Ground in 2018.


The Seagrave Road site was superseded by a Romano-British farming settlement and roadway. Sileby and its environs has produced further evidence for Roman occupation, the most spectacular of which is the Roman cemetery which was found just outside the western parish boundary in 1867. In Summer 2021 the first Roman evidence showed up in the village centre. Archaeologists found a late Roman ditch in groundworks before the development of the barns at 7 King Street.  

The Seagrave Road site also hints at continued occupation into the Anglo-Saxon period. Other evidence relating to the Anglo-Saxon and Viking period has been found in the parish, but their number has been small and little work has been done to discover their significance. 


Many former parish historians have firmly put the foundation of modern day Sileby in the Viking period. The word Sileby means ‘Sighulf’s village or estate’. Sighulf is a Viking personal name and this has led many to assume that this is proof enough for the existence of a settlement at this time. Others have taken this further and linked it to the Viking settlement of the East Midlands and have given the village a foundation date of around 840 AD due to this event. This evidence is highly circumstantial and there's been no serious archaeological investigation in the village core to prove these theories. However, there may be other minor settlements in the parish, namely at Canby and Hogston; one a Viking place name, the other one is old English.

​1086 - Domesday and after

The first written record of the village occurs in the Domesday Book, King William's great listing of lands, tenants, property and people made mainly for taxation purposes. It reveals that in 1066 Sileby was divided into three main landholdings, two of which were centred on former royal estate centres at Rothley and Barrow upon Soar. After 1066 King William redistributed his new English lands upon his close aides and supporters. Sileby’s largest recipient (and main overlord) was Hugh de Grantmesnil. He had been granted 100 manors, 65 of which were in Leicestershire. His tenant was a man called Arnold who became Lord of the Manor. In 1086 Sileby numbered at least a hundred people including a small core of sokemen (freeholders) which would have great implications for the later development of the village.


By the mid-14th century Sileby manor had 22 freehold farms along with 43 customary smallholdings and a number of other cottages and tofts, suggesting a sizeable village population. In 1377 Sileby had the 5th highest recorded population in Goscote hundred, behind Loughborough, Ashby de la Zouch, Castle Donington and Barrow upon Soar. Sileby’s medieval economy revolved around its agriculture, especially in sheep farming. Wealthy wool merchants are mentioned in records at this time. In 1478 the common fields were named as Howefield, Welbeckfield, Candeby field and South field. Candeby or Canby field may have also been divided into two, making a total of five open fields.


A parish church was not recorded at Domesday but there are hints to a church existing at Sileby during the late 11th century. Nevertheless, the earliest written reference to it is in 1220. Most of the current church dates from the late 13th to 15th centuries.

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                                      Decorative Head                                                                                                          Ecclesiastical Head

                            Lady Chapel - St Mary's, Sileby                                                                                          Porch - St Mary's, Sileby  

                                                                                                      Grotesque head corbel

                                                                                                      a figure holding a mitre                

                                                                                                  Clerestory - St Mary's, Sileby


Until 1450 the advowson of Sileby parish church (the right to present a priest) and the tithes (ecclesiastical tax on certain agricultural produce of the village population) were held by the Lords of Sileby manor. On 3rd August 1450 John Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk and Lord of Sileby manor appropriated (gifted) the church and rectory at Sileby to Axholme priory in Lincolnshire. After Henry VIII's dissolution of this priory in 1538 the advowson and tithes were sold off to private individuals taking away this important church right and source of income. This heralded a serious decline in the local church for the next 150 years as the tithes were treated as a valuable, exploitable commodity by its owners, far from their original purpose.


Post Medieval Developments

From 1629-40 the Shirley family sold their Sileby manorial holdings to its tenants, effectively making Sileby a freeholder village. In essence, local power had shifted to the inhabitants, in particular to the gentlemen and larger landholders, although control of agriculture and minor misdemeanors still sat with the manor.

The English Civil Wars affected the village in many ways. Sileby's lords and clergymen leaned towards the Royalist cause, and this led to the clergy in particular to endure persecution and retribution. Incumbents came and went, and the parish register was imperfectly kept. Preliminary skirmishes may have occured in the parish before the Battle at Cotes Bridge on the 30th March 1644.

The relative liberties gained by Sileby's inhabitants during the 17th and 18th centuries led to the evolution of an 'Open' parish. Open settlements had comparative freedom to develop, tended to be more populous, had nonconformist chapels, a greater element of social laxity eg. pubs, and also tended to have greater numbers of the poor. These village characteristics are fully honed in the 250 years following the manorial sales. Compare these traits with Sileby's southern neighbour at Cossington; a controlled and ordered ‘Closed’ village with its lack of industry, shops, chapels and terraces.

By the early 18th century effective church leadership led to the re-appointment of vicars and the purchase of a site for a new vicarage. However, the church had faced divisions caused by the rise of nonconformity. After 1650 nonconformist congregations (Baptist, Quaker and Presbyterian) began to take root in the village. Although initially persecuted, these religious sects managed to progress. In 1850 there were at least four chapels (two Baptist and two Methodist) in Sileby, and a Catholic church was to join them by the late 1870s. The late nineteenth century saw much animosity and sectarianism between the established church and Methodist groups and this was particularly seen in the establishment of rival schools and problems in administering parish charities.


                                                                                          Post Enclosure fields off Barrow Road

From the late 17th and early 18th century many farms had been sold to outsiders. This move saw the establishment of small landed estates, mainly owned by gentlemen and speculators. By the late 1750s Sileby’s landowners opted to enclose the village common fields largely as a result of influence from this landed interest. Therefore, the Enclosure Award of the 3rd June 1760 ended the communal aspect of agriculture that had existed for hundreds of years. Over 55% of the land was now owned by seven people, four of which were non-resident. Most farms were still based in the village centre but some owners opted to construct farm units out in the midst of their new alloted fields. Outlying farms such as Quebec, Hanover and Belle Isle were built in the half century or so after enclosure.

One surprising aspect of enclosure was the growth of land and property ownership in the parish. Normally, a concentration of land into fewer and fewer hands was the pattern seen in other parishes after enclosure. However, Sileby bucked the trend. Sileby's population often invested in property, or in land allotment schemes popular after 1830. In 1773, only 19% of people paying the land tax in the village owned small land or housing plots. By 1868, this figure had risen to 53%. It was a settlement of small freeholders which would have great impact on the future development of housing and industry in the village. For example, the different housing styles on Swan Street, Seagrave and Cossington Roads are mainly the result of the freeholders developing their own building plots to their own plans and specifications.  

The Rise of Industry

Sileby had become an industrial village by 1800, if not before. This was largely due to the influence of framework knitting. The framework knitting industry had been established here by artisan masters around 1700. By 1831 over 50% of the working population was engaged in framework knitting, mainly through family orientated teams, working in workshops, sheds and converted house rooms. It was often poorly paid, over subscribed (too little work), and open to abuse by masters and middle men.  

Advances in transportation aided in the movement of goods and people. The River Soar was canalised as the Leicester Navigation (completed and opened in 1794) and a canal coal wharf (near the current cricket ground) was established by the 1820s. The railway, and Sileby station was opened in 1840, providing transport links to local towns and cities, their markets and to the capital itself.

The first factories were recorded in the 1860s, although the main drive for factory production was achieved by Leicester firms constructing branch factories later in the century. As the hosiery industry waned in the latter decades of the 19th century, the boot and shoe making industry eclipsed hosiery as the main employer.


Industrial growth also led to a significant increase in population which in turn led to developments in services and infrastructure. Between 1801 and 1911, Sileby’s population climbed from 1,111 to 3,082.


At the start of the First World War Sileby could boast its own gas works, a brewery, four brickyards, three schools, an adult school, three chapels, a Roman Catholic church, its own sewerage system, a myriad of factories and workshops, two political clubs, various sports teams, a library, a railway station and ten public houses or beerhouses!


Council house building was a feature of post-First World War developments in the village with schemes on Ratcliffe Road, Cossington Road and the Greedon estate constructed at this time. However, it was the industrial aspect of the village which still took precedence. Companies such as Melody Mills, Excelsior, C. H Preston, Towles, Bradgate Textiles and others became major employers locally. Nevertheless, it was shoe manufacturer Newbold and Burton that had the greatest impact. Over time their site expanded to take over a central swathe of the village, and post-1945 they also purchased local shoe firms Lawson Ward and Moirs.

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Derelict Newbold and Burton Factory 2002

Into the Modern Age

From the 1960s tougher trading and economic conditions meant harder times for Sileby’s industries. Closures started to occur from this period until by 1995 when all but a handful of factories had closed down or production had switched elsewhere.


The late 1960s also saw the growth of private housing estates. Estates such as Heathcote Drive and Charles Street/Chalfont Drive added hundreds of dwellings to Sileby’s housing stock and produced a suburban landscape out of the village fields. After 1995 the former factory brownfield sites also provided for private housing development with the Burton Road estate and Melody Drive resulting from it. This and current trends for housing schemes on newer greenfield sites have all added to the suburban proto-town landscape that Sileby has been forced to adopt under local housing targets and legislation.


Today, Sileby is a long way from its former agricultural and industrial roots. It is now a bustling commuter village with a population approaching 10,000 people. However, it is proud of its independent spirit, its freeholder roots and the entrepreneurial drive and endeavour shown by its former inhabitants. Sadly, a new householder would find it difficult to know what culture and history Sileby has outside of a few old buildings and some of its road names.

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