top of page

The Free Trade Inn

Cossington Road



The Free Trade Inn : Undated, Early 20th century


The Free Trade Inn : View in 2013

Introduction and Early History

The Free Trade Inn is one of Sileby's most iconic buildings. Its wooden beams and thatched roof evoke a traditional charm, reminding its viewers of old coaching inns and rosy cheeked yokels supping ale and gossiping around an open fire. It is that image with which a building of this age exudes, and exhibits history at every turn.

However, the image is not totally borne out by the facts! In the grand scheme of things, the Free Trade Inn isn't even the longest established pub still trading in Sileby. That accolade must go the Horse and Trumpet. It was never a coaching inn either. Nonetheless, the pub is one of the oldest standing buildings in Sileby. And, for all the other inventions of pub 'olde world' charm, all fake and contrived, this building at least is genuine through and through.

The building that makes up The Free Trade Inn is an former peasant house/farm that has been converted for the purpose of an inn. Depending on which expert that you read, this timber framed building has been dated anywhere from the medieval period (Webster, Pevsner 2003) to the late 16th or early 17th century (Listed Building Register). It is a Grade II listed building. Whatever the exact construction dates are, the historical picture is more straight forward. The deeds survive and date back to 1699. They form a number of marriage settlements showing the continuation of property ownership through the King family of Sileby. The Kings are recorded in the 16th century as occupying a large landed estate in the village and held the important position of manorial bailiff in the early 17th century. Their prospects continued to rise and by the mid 18th century Thomas King had made his fortune as a mercer in London. The beginning of the 19th century saw their Sileby possessions as just one part of their extensive family estates; the main family branch had not lived in the village for some time.

In 1809 the Cossington Road building and its sizeable plot came up for sale and was purchased by William Palmer of Loughborough for £327. Although Thomas Ferryman was recorded as Palmer's tenant from 1818 according to land tax returns, it wasn't until the Beerhouse Act of 1830 that Ferryman was to start his beer retailing business. By the time Thomas had established his business part of the former plot had already been divided and sold off. The northerly part accommodated Palmer's beerhouse property and close. The southern part had been sold off to the trustees of Sileby's Baptist congregation in 1827. 


Ferryman was documented as the publican in the 1841 census, and he was living there with his elderly mother Ann at that time. He later married Mary Dakin of Sileby in 1842 and together the couple ran the business until Thomas's death in 1864. Thomas had managed the business impeccably. His reputation held sway when in 1850 he was admonished by the local magistrates after being caught opening after hours, but the fine was reduced due to his previous twenty years of good conduct and behaviour.


What's in a Name!

The Free Trade Inn name appears in records after 1846. This is significant as it was the period when the issue of Free Trade was of paramount importance for British industry and exports. In essence, up until the 1820s Britain had laws and tariffs to aid and protect domestic agricultural and industrial production and prices, but this inhibited foreign trade. After 1820, Britain's primacy, industriousness and its empire enabled it to take a unilateral decision to get rid of these protections. This allowed it to tap into foreign markets in a more effective way and widened British influence in the process. Under the stewardship of Prime minister Sir Robert Peel, by 1850 all major restrictions had been eliminated including the controversial Corn Laws in 1846. The policy would endure up until the First World War.


Locally, the issue of Free Trade was popular amongst the radical and liberal elements of society. The Leicestershire Mercury of 11th July 1846 reports of a "Free Trade Dinner" held at the Fountain Inn in Sileby. Here the workmen of 'Mr Palmer' feasted and toasted John Biggs and Sir Robert Peel, the local and national leaders of the Free Trade movement. It is therefore no coincidence that the Free Trade name and association became aligned with Mr William Francis Palmer's beerhouse. In January 1847 the name Free Trade Inn first appears in newspapers. Incidentally, the Free Trade pub sign shown above has absolutely nothing to do with the Free Trade political connection. According to an Everard's brewery advertisement this sign shows rum running and a man avoiding the Revenue men. This a total fabrication made up by Everard's marketing department in 1959! (see bottom of page)

Family Connections

The Palmer's hold on the property ended in 1867 when the beerhouse was sold to William Hand of Sileby, a former policeman, for £425. He had also been the licensee of the Fountain Inn since 1866. William Hand's acquisition started a family association with the Free Trade that was to last for over fifty years. This connection follows the ownership of the pub through William's widow Elizabeth, to her new husband George Tinkler, and then to her daughter Clara Hand. Clara later married Charles Henry Parkinson in 1903, another family with strong associations to pubs in Sileby. Clara Parkinson sold the beerhouse to Everard's brewery in 1923, and they still own the premises to this day, nearly a century later.

After Thomas Ferryman's death in 1864 the beerhouse was kept by his widow Mary. She continued to manage the business until her early eighties and only relinquished the pub in 1881. The licensees for the next 15 years were Job Smart, Thomas Holmes, Thomas Chamberlain and John Thomas Dakin. In 1896 William Henry Topley Willars, a former shoehand and his wife Mary entered the pub as licensees. The Willars' formed a 66 year attachment to the pub, with William Henry the elder followed by his son, William Henry "Billy" Willars in 1931. Billy became a Sileby stalwart serving on the Parish Council and as an officer of the parish church. He retired in 1962 along with his sister Elsie Taylor who had assisted him for a number of years.


                  Card produced to commemorate Billy Willar's 50 year                           Billy Willars in 1959

                  association with the Free Trade, 25th September 1946

The Spiritual Goal

As a beerhouse the lack of a wine and spirits licence for the Free Trade Inn seems to have been a setback to the business. A number of owners and licensees went to the local magistrates to establish a case to have one granted to them. It was always to no avail due to the large number of licences in the vicinity, but it did not stop the applications going in. William Hand had an application quashed in 1874. In 1936, Billy Willars appeared before Loughborough's magistrates and argued that he needed a wine licence to satisfy the new habit of women wanting to drink wine instead of beer. Again, the magistrates refused the application. It wasn't until the 10th March 1953, nearly 123 years after opening, that the Free Trade Inn finally got its full wine and spirits licence!

Description - 7th September 1914 

(Valuation Act : National Archives IR 58/51167/354)


Brick and Half Timber. Thatched Roof. Worthless (as) any other business.

a) Basement – Beer Cellar

b) Ground Floor – Tap small, Tap large, Kitchen, Scullery, Serving Place, 4 pulls

c) 1st Floor – 3 Bedrooms

Beer Trade

2 Barrells per week.

Bottled Trade 10 Dozen Pints per week.


Rent £25 yearly



Timber & Corrugated Steel Rough shed (Belonging to the tenant)

2 Timber & Corrugated Steel Fowl Houses (Belonging to the tenant)

Old Cowhouse, Stable with 2 stalls, Coalhouse and Wash house - all with a Clubroom over. Brick and Slate, old and fair (condition)


2 Privies, Brick & Slate, fair (condition).

Owners, Licensees and Publicans



William Palmer, Loughborough

Ann Palmer, widow

William Francis Palmer

Elizabeth Palmer, widow

William Hand

Elizabeth Hand, widow

George Tinkler

Elizabeth Tinkler, widow

Clara Hand/Parkinson after 1903

Everards Brewery, Leicester



 1809 - 1832

 1832 - 1843

 1843 - 1863

 1863 - 1867

 1867 - 1877

 1877 - 1878

 1878 - 1893

 1893 - 1901

 1901 - 1923

 1923 to date



Thomas Ferryman

Mary Ferryman, widow

Job Smart

Thomas Holmes

Thomas Chamberlain

John Thomas Dakin

William Henry Topley Willars

William Henry Willars





c1830 - 1864

 1864 - 1881

 1881 - 1882

 1882 - 1889

 1889 - 1890

 1890 - 1896

 1896 - 1931

 1931 - 1962


Notes on the listings

The dates are accurate to within a year of that given due to licencing records often starting part way through a year. Also, when electoral electoral rolls and trade directories are used the names quite often reflect the previous years occupiers. Due to privacy and data protection a decision was made to have a listing cut off date of about 1960.


Free Trade Inn - June 2013


Free Trade Inn - February 2007

august 1976a.jpg

Free Trade Inn - August 1976

Source : John Whittington


Free Trade Inn - Undated

William H Willars name

above the door so 1962 or before

Free Trade Inn Sileby (5).JPG

Free Trade Inn -

Undated frozen scene

Source : John Whittington

Everards Ephemera 

Everards Advertising Postcard c1960

Free Trade Inn and other Leicestershire Everards Pubs

free trade advert_edited.jpg

Newspaper Advertisement (unknown media) - Free Trade Inn, 1959

Everards marketing campaign

Source : John Whittington

bottom of page