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IMPRESSIONS OF SILEBY : 1850-1900

Melville & Co., Directory & Gazetteer of Leicestershire (1854) p126

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T R Potter, Rambles Around Loughborough (1868) p46

(The author has walked from Walton to Seagrave and has now made the journey to Sileby)

“A mile and a half brings us to another village, which has less of the rural character than the two we have just visited – SILEBY

Crossing the Midland Railway, we notice the old Hall, now partly converted into the house of the station-master, but formerly a residence of the Sherards and Kings, we enter the churchyard of St. Marys. This is a noble structure, containing architectural features of great interest, amongst which may be mentioned the Domus inclusa. The monuments and chained books are worth notice. An elm tree in the churchyard is said to be the oldest in the county. It is a subject for the pencil. The vicarage, long held by the father of the Loughborough bench, the Rev. John Dudley, and now by the Rev. Norman Pochin, is a delightful residence. Its gardens have lately become famed for their roses, which have carried off the first prizes at the Crystal Palace and other leading exhibitions. We never before beheld the Queen of Flowers in such perfection of form and bloom.

A very commodious National School, long wanted in this populous parish, was erected by the exertions of the present vicar. His predecessor, though himself a learned man, was not favourable to the march of intellect among the F.W.K’s. If the railway and the loom have somewhat de-ruralised this large village, it still retains two of the favourite adornments of Arcadia, Roses and Lambs.”

Leicester Chronicle, 14th May 1881

 

"The Villages of North Leicestershire

Sileby

Villages are mostly of one uniform plan. They usually consist of a few scores or hundreds of more or less pretentious dwellings fringing a main road, with, in the more populous cases, a few short lanes diverging off at right angles. In the case of Sileby the plan is different. A few minutes’ journey upon the main line of the Midland Railway covers the seven miles between the county town and this large village, and enables the visitor to alight at its station. This is approached on each side by a lofty bridge, and has been erected at such an elevation as to supply a commanding and comprehensive view of the whole district. Lingering upon the platform this pleasant afternoon upon the threshold of “rosy-footed May,” one can realize at a glance the general outline of Sileby. This is at once observed to be neither straight, nor partially curved, but circular. In other words, descending from the station to the street, one can turn to the left; pass down through the principal thoroughfare; veer still round by the left by the side of the rivulet by which the parish is watered; and continue this circuitous course along the dwelling lined thoroughfare, until he regains the railway station from a direction entirely opposite to that by which he left it. Looking down upon the village from this point of vantage, one beholds a singularity diversified spectacle.

 

The centre of the circle is filled by a few acres of grass and allotment ground, studded with fruit trees heavy with snow-white blossom. The circumference is bordered by structures as miscellaneous as their architecture. The vast majority of course represent dwellings of widely-different dates, from the dingy old thatched and timber “framed” cottage of a byegone century, to the improved new brick cottage of yesterday. These are relieved at intervals by framework-knitters’ workrooms or small factories. Towering above the whole, like Tritons among the minnows, are the handsome parish church, a large and commodious villa, and – a brewery; while stretching away in the distance are the pleasant outlines of the Wolds and Charnwood Hills. Of the history of Sileby a good deal is known, but it includes little that is noteworthy. The manor of Cilebi, Siglebi, or Sylebi – as it has been variously rendered – was in olden times held by the Mowbrays: thence it passed to the Berkeleys. In 1586 it was given by Henry Lord Berkeley, on his daughter’s marriage, to his son-in-law George Shirley, an ancestor of its present owner Earl Ferrers. His Lordship as one time held a court here every three years, but it is stated that no manorial rights have now been claimed here for nearly half a century. In 1759 the parish was enclosed by Act of Parliament. It is in the Hundred of East Goscote, and now consists of 2,190 acres of land, described as “partly clay and partly good turnip and barley soil.” At the census of 1871 the population numbered 1,766, and occupied 409 houses. the staple industry of the village is hosiery. As one passes along its streets the characteristic periodic whirr of the frame issues from one dwelling after another, and in one or two instances this measured monotonous strain merges into the continuous “din” of the village factory.

 

The most striking object of interest in Sileby is of course its parish church. But before entering the edifice, the visitor cannot but be struck by a picturesque old elm, which, with the return of “flowering May,” is once more assuming its garb of delicious greenery. How many centuries this village patriarch has braved the winter’s blast, or afforded a welcome shelter from a scorching summer’s sun, it is impossible to say. But this at all events is evident – it is now a mere wreck of its former majesty and beauty. True the trunk of this village monarch still measures some 30feet. It is however a mere skeleton, being from top to bottom entirely hollow. All that now remains is the outer bark; but, Phoenix-like, from this mere shell is still springing vigorous young branches and fresh foliage. The old elm appears to be still regarded as a sort of village trysting-place or cross, for here on a favourable afternoon may often be seen groups of the less busy villagers watching the new arrivals, or leisurely discussing the latest instalment of general news or local gossip.

 

St Mary’s church is a handsome and imposing edifice. It dates from the period of the Decorated Gothic style, but received additions in the subsequent Perpendicular order, which prevailed from the year 1400 down to about 1558. The church consists of chancel, north and south chapels with quasi transepts; north and south aisles, and tower. The whole has recently undergone a judicious and thorough restoration, at a cost of about £6,000, under the superintendence of Mr. Blomfield, the eminent London architect, and now presents a chaste and effective appearance…

 

Adjoining is the vicarage, which has been characterised as a “delightful residence”. This was at one time occupied by the Rev. Norman Pochin, and its garden was then far famed for its roses… Within a stone’s-throw are the National schools. These, with a suitable house for the master, were erected of Mountsorrel granite in 1860, at a cost of £1,200, which was raised by subscription. In 1874 an infants' school was added at an expense of £500. The whole will accomodate 350 children...

 

No fewer than four chapels provide for the religious wants of the Nonconformists. A couple of years ago the village became the headquarters of a new (Primitive Methodist) circuit... (and) embraces 315 members and seven connexional chapels. The Wesleyan Chapel "fronts" the High Street... The General Baptists have also a small chapel, which dates from around 1820... In 1874 a tastefully designed Roman Catholic school-room was built here, and is supplemented by a mistress's residence... on Sunday is utilised for the ordinary services of the Church of Rome, worship being conducted by priests from Ratcliffe College...

The newest educational institution in the village is that known as the Undenominational Schools, erected through the munificence of Mr Caloe, for the "sole use and benefit" of the inhabitants... Here over a score of infants, ranging from the tender age of fifteen months up to three years, are taken care of from morning till noon and from two to about four, while their mothers are at work. On reaching three years they become recruits for the ordinary classes... to commence the usual career of school life... Mr Style, the master is doing more than steadily improving the size and efficiency of the school... he can already boast a Band of Hope...and a Drum and Fife Band... Since July either a lecture or an entertainment has been given each alternative Saturday... (He) also contemplates the establishment of a reading room and cafe.

On April 1st 1878, a Burial Board was established...the members bought two and a half acres of land near the village, which they laid out as a cemetery... In 1868, Sileby was provided with gas by means of a local company. The works were erected adjacent to the High Street...

Of friendly societies there are several. The oldest, the Good Intent Lodge of Druids, was established in 1833. There is among others, a lodge of Druidesses... a branch of the Nottingham Friendly Society... and lodge of the Manchester Unity of Oddfellows, entitled the "Star of Hope." The village has in addition, had various co-operative land societies... many scores of the more industrious and thrifty working men have been enabled to obtain allotments, and become in a small way their landlords... Sileby has shown its interest in the great political questions of the day by forming its own auxiliary of the North Leicestershire Liberal Association.

As for charities, Sileby has eight. Of these the principal is the Rev. Wm. Staveley's... Lane's charity amounts to £48 per annum... The other bequests are unimportant...

In conclusion, though Sileby is in some respects not so historically noteworthy as some of the rural parishes to which reference has been made, it is not without its claims to the attention of the antiquary and the modern inquirer into the growth and development of village life.

May 2nd, 1880. RAMBLER."

Anonymous, 'Sileby', in the Ratcliffian Magazine (October 1895) p313-316

“That distance lends to enchantment to the view is especially true of Sileby. All visitors to the College (Ratcliffe College) are delighted with the prospect from Mount Pleasant near the back gate. From there the landscape is extensive; for one looks down and across the valley of the Soar, past Mount Sorrel, and up the rising ground to the range of Charnwood Forest Hills which form the horizon...

 

In the midst of such surroundings lies the village of Sileby; and O that it were worthy of them! (the beautiful landscape and villages in view). For even a mere casual acquaintance with its dirty streets and rude inhabitants is enough to annihilate all poetic feelings. The dirt and rudeness of Sileby are in the ascendant all the year round... From whatever direction one may approach Sileby, one must descend to get into the centre of the village... From the railway station platform one looks down upon the chimneys of the village and from there the semi circle of rising grounds, cut up with allotment gardens on one hand and brickyards on the other, is strikingly noticeable, while, towards the centre, the cemetery ascends the slope, and at the very bottom of the hollow the village covers the ground... There can be no doubt therefore that Sileby is a low place...

Sileby church is a truly noble building for such a village...

The hosiers of Sileby were induced to join the Union some time ago, and now the hosiery trade of the village is languishing. The shoe-makers, whose trade is comparatively new to the place, are determined to keep their independence.

Another hint, which may possibly instruct parish councillors, some of whom have caught the craze for small freeholds, is contained in a short conversation that took place in a railway carriage as the train was leaving Sileby station. A gentleman, who had come from a distance, asked a native, who had just got into the carriage :

"What is the trade carried on in this village?"

 "Hosiery and shoes, about half and half."

"Oh," said the stranger, "the homes look so irregular and delapidated, that is the reason I asked."

"Aye," responded the villager, in a desponding tone, "there are so many of them little bits of freeholds"...

Little boy : "Which is the largest room in Sileby?"

Answer : "The room for improvement." "

A E Trasler, Sileby Mens Adult School. My recollections of the sixty years 1899-1959 (1959) p1-2

Reminiscing about Sileby in 1899...

"It may astound young people nowadays to hear that only 60 years ago (in 1899) there was no Cinema, Radio or Television, very few motor cars and no public motor transport and only one or two telephones in the village, no national health facilities and no old age pensions.

Sileby was known as a rough place (to let it down lightly). Probably there was some truth in the old saying "Give a dog a bad name" etc. Maybe the village did deserve some of the bad character attributed to it. Licensed premises were open all the day and were used to a large extent, I am afraid.

The character of the work available largely accounted for this. The machine was just in its infancy in the shoe trade, and in Sileby particularly, hand work was almost universally prevalent...

It was no uncommon thing for some of these men to work almost day and night for four days and then almost live at one of the pubs for the rest of the week."

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