1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Leicestershire

LEICESTERSHIRE, a midland county of England, bounded N. by Nottinghamshire, E. by Lincolnshire and Rutland, S.E. by Northamptonshire, S.W. by Warwickshire, and N.W. by Derbyshire, also touching Staffordshire on the W. The area is 823.6 sq. m. The surface of the county is an undulating tableland, the highest eminences being the rugged hills of Charnwood Forest (q.v.) in the north-west, one of which, Bardon Hill, has an elevation of 912 ft. The county belongs chiefly to the basin of the Trent, which forms for a short distance its boundary with Derbyshire. The principal tributary of the Trent in Leicestershire is the Soar, from whose old designation the Leire the county is said to derive its name, and which rises near Hinckley in the S.E., and forms the boundary with Nottinghamshire for some distance above its junction with the Trent. The Wreak, which, under the name of the Eye, rises on the borders of Rutland, flows S.W. to the Soar. Besides the Soar the other tributaries of the Trent are the Anker, touching the boundary with Warwickshire, the Devon and the Mease. A portion of the county in the S. drains to the Avon, which forms part of the boundary with Northamptonshire, and receives the Swift. The Welland forms for some distance the boundary with Northamptonshire.

Geology.—The oldest rocks in the county belong to the Charnian System, a Pre-Cambrian series of volcanic ashes, grits and slates, into which porphyroid and syenite were afterwards intruded. These rocks emerge from the plain formed by the Keuper Marls of the Triassic System as a group of isolated hills and peaks (known as Charnwood Forest); these are the tops of an old mountain-range, the lower slopes of which are still buried under the surrounding Keuper Marls. West of this district lies the Leicestershire coalfield, where the poor state of development of the Carboniferous Limestone shows that the Charnian rocks formed shoals or islands in the Carboniferous Limestone sea. The Millstone Grit just enters the county to the north of the same region, while the Coal Measures occupy a considerable area round Ashby-de-la-Zouch and contain valuable coal-seams. The rest of the county is almost equally divided between the red Keuper Marls of the Trias on the west and the grey limestones and shales of the Lias on the east. The former were deposited in lagoons into which the land was gradually lowered after a prolonged period of desert conditions. The Rhaetic beds which follow the Keuper mark the incoming of the sea and introduce the fossiliferous Liassic deposits. On the eastern margin of the county a few small outliers of the Inferior Oolite sands and limestones are present. The Glacial Period has left boulder-clay, gravel and erratic blocks scattered over the surface, while later gravels, with remains of mammoth, reindeer, &c., border some of the present streams.

Slates, honestones, setts and roadstone from the Charnian rocks, limestone and cement from the Carboniferous and Lias, and coal from the Coal Measures are the chief mineral products.

Agriculture.—The climate is mild, and, on account of the inland position of the county, and the absence of any very high elevations, the rainfall is very moderate. The soil is of a loamy character, the richest district being that east of the Soar, which is occupied by pasture, while the corn crops are grown chiefly on a lighter soil resting above the Red Sandstone formation. About nine-tenths of the total area is under cultivation. The proportion of pasture land is large and increasing. It is especially rich along the river-banks. Dairy-farming is extensively carried on, the famous Stilton cheese being produced near Melton Mowbray. Cattle are reared in large numbers, while of sheep the New Leicester breed is well known. It was introduced by Robert Bakewell the agriculturist, who was born near Loughborough in 1725. He also improved the breed of horses by the importation of mares from Flanders.

The county is especially famed for fox-hunting, Leicester and Melton Mowbray being favourite centres, while the kennels of the Quorn hunt are located at Quorndon near Mount Sorrel. For this reason Leicestershire is rich in good riding horses.

Other Industries.—Coal is worked in the districts about Moira, Coleorton and Coalville. Limestone is worked in various parts, freestone is plentiful, gypsum is found, and a kind of granite, extensively used for paving, is obtained in the Charnwood district, as at Bardon and Mount Sorrel, and at Sapcote and Stoney Stanton in the south-west. Apart from the mining industries, the staple manufacture of Leicestershire is hosiery, for which the wool is obtained principally from home-bred sheep. Its principal seats are Leicester, Loughborough, Hinckley and Castle Donington. Cotton hose are likewise made, and other industries include the manufacture of boots and shoes, as at Market Harborough, elastic webbing, and bricks, also iron founding. Melton Mowbray gives name to a well-known manufacture of pork pies.

Communications.—The main line of the Midland railway serves Market Harborough, Leicester, and Loughborough, having an important junction at Trent (on that river) for Derby and Nottingham. Branches radiate from Leicester to Melton Mowbray, to Coalville, Ashby-de-la-Zouch, Moira and Burton-upon-Trent, with others through the mining district of the N.W., which is also served by the branch of the London & North-Western railway from Nuneaton to Market Bosworth, Coalville and Loughborough. This company serves Market Harborough from Rugby, and branches of the Great Northern serve Market Harborough, Leicester and Melton Mowbray. The main line of the Great Central railway passes through Lutterworth, Leicester and Loughborough. The principal canals are the Union and Grand Union, with which various branches are connected with the Grand Junction, and the Ashby-de-la-Zouch canal, which joins the Coventry canal at Nuneaton. The Loughborough canal serves that town, connecting with the river Soar.

Population and Administration.—The area of the ancient county is 527,123 acres; pop. (1891) 373,584, (1901) 434,019. The area of the administrative county is 532,788 acres. The county contains six hundreds. The municipal boroughs are: Leicester, the county town and a county borough (pop. 211,579), Loughborough (21,508). The urban districts are: Ashby-de-la-Zouch (4726), Ashby Woulds (2799), Coalville (15,281), Hinckley (11,304), Market Harborough (7735), Melton Mowbray (7454), Quorndon (2173), Shepshed (5293), Thurmaston (1732), Wigston Magna (8404). The county is in the Midland circuit, has one court of quarter sessions, and is divided into 9 petty sessional divisions. The county borough of Leicester has a separate court of quarter sessions and a separate commission of the peace. There are 327 civil parishes. The county is divided into four parliamentary divisions (Eastern or Melton, Mid or Loughborough, Western or Bosworth, Southern or Harborough), each returning one member; and the parliamentary borough of Leicester returns 2 members. The county is in the diocese of Peterborough, with the exception of small parts in those of Southwell and Worcester; and contains 255 ecclesiastical parishes or districts, wholly or in part.

History.—The district which is now Leicestershire was reached in the 6th century by Anglian invaders who, making their way across the Trent, penetrated Charnwood Forest as far as Leicester, the fall of which may be dated at about 556. In 679 the district formed the kingdom of the Middle Angles within the kingdom of Mercia, and on the subdivision of the Mercian see in that year was formed into a separate bishopric having its see at Leicester. In the 9th century the district was subjugated by the Danes, and Leicester became one of the five Danish boroughs. It was recovered by Æthelflaed in 918, but the Northmen regained their supremacy shortly after, and the prevalence of Scandinavian place-names in the county bears evidence of the extent of their settlement.

Leicestershire probably originated as a shire in the 10th century, and at the time of the Domesday Survey was divided into the four wapentakes of Guthlaxton, Framland, Goscote and Gartree. The Leicestershire Survey of the 12th century shows an additional grouping of the vills into small local hundreds, manorial rather than administrative divisions, which have completely disappeared. In the reign of Edward I. the divisions appear as hundreds, and in the reign of Edward III. the additional hundred of Sparkenhoe was formed out of Guthlaxton. Before the 17th century Goscote was divided into East and West Goscote, and since then the hundreds have undergone little change. Until 1566 Leicestershire and Warwickshire had a common sheriff, the shire-court for the former being held at Leicester.

Leicestershire constituted an archdeaconry within the diocese of Lincoln from 1092 until its transference to Peterborough in 1837. In 1291 it comprised the deaneries of Akeley, Leicester (now Christianity), Framland, Gartree, Goscote, Guthlaxton and Sparkenhoe. The deaneries remained unaltered until 1865. Since 1894 they have been as follows: East, South and West Akeley, Christianity, Framland (3 portions), Sparkenhoe (2 portions), Gartree (3 portions), Goscote (2 portions), Guthlaxton (3 portions).

Among the earliest historical events connected with the county were the siege and capture of Leicester by Henry II. in 1173 on the rebellion of the earl of Leicester; the surrender of Leicester to Prince Edward in 1264; and the parliament held at Leicester in 1414. During the Wars of the Roses Leicester was a great Lancastrian stronghold. In 1485 the battle of Bosworth was fought in the county. In the Civil War of the 17th century the greater part of the county favoured the parliament, though the mayor and some members of the corporation of Leicester sided with the king, and in 1642 the citizens of Leicester on a summons from Prince Rupert lent Charles £500. In 1645 Leicester was twice captured by the Royalist forces.

Before the Conquest large estates in Leicestershire were held by Earls Ralf, Morcar, Waltheof and Harold, but the Domesday Survey of 1086 reveals an almost total displacement of English by Norman landholders, only a few estates being retained by Englishmen as under-tenants. The first lay-tenant mentioned in the survey is Robert, count of Meulan, ancestor of the Beaumont family and afterwards earl of Leicester, to whose fief was afterwards annexed the vast holding of Hugh de Grantmesnil, lord high steward of England. Robert de Toeni, another Domesday tenant, founded Belvoir Castle and Priory. The fief of Robert de Buci was bestowed on Richard Basset, founder of Laund Abbey, in the reign of Henry I. Loughborough was an ancient seat of the Despenser family, and Brookesby was the seat of the Villiers and the birthplace of George Villiers, the famous duke of Buckingham. Melton Mowbray was named from its former lords, the Mowbrays, descendants of Nigel de Albini, the founder of Axholme Priory. Lady Jane Grey was born at Bradgate near Leicester, and Bishop Latimer was born at Thurcaston.

The woollen industry flourished in Leicestershire in Norman times, and in 1343 Leicestershire wool was rated at a higher value than that of most other counties. Coal was worked at Coleorton in the early 15th century and at Measham in the 17th century. The famous blue slate of Swithland has been quarried from time immemorial, and the limestone quarry at Barrow-on-Soar is also of very ancient repute, the monks of the abbey of St Mary de Pré formerly enjoying the tithe of its produce. The staple manufacture of the county, that of hosiery, originated in the 17th century, the chief centres being Leicester, Hinckley and Loughborough, and before the development of steam-driven frames in the 19th century hand framework knitting of hose and gloves was carried on in about a hundred villages. Wool-carding was also an extensive industry before 1840.

In 1290 Leicestershire returned two members to parliament, and in 1295 Leicester was also represented by two members. Under the Reform Act of 1832 the county returned four members in two divisions until the Redistribution of Seats Act of 1885, under which it returned four members in four divisions.

Antiquities.—Remains of monastic foundations are slight, though there were a considerable number of these. There are traces of Leicester Abbey and of Gracedieu near Coalville, while at Ulverscroft in Charnwood, where there was an Augustinian priory of the 12th century, there are fine Decorated remains, including a tower. The most noteworthy churches are found in the towns, as at Ashby-de-la-Zouch, Hinckley, Leicester, Loughborough, Lutterworth, Market Bosworth, Market Harborough, and Melton Mowbray (qq.v.). The principal old castle is that of Ashby-de-la-Zouch, while at Kirby Muxloe there is a picturesque fortified mansion of Tudor date. There are several good Elizabethan mansions, as that at Laund in the E. of the county. Among modern mansions that of the dukes of Rutland, Belvoir Castle in the extreme N.E., is a massive mansion of the early 19th century, finely placed on the summit of a hill.

See Victoria County History, Leicestershire; W. Burton, Description of Leicestershire (London, 1622; 2nd ed., Lynn, 1777); John Nicholls, History and Antiquities of the County of Leicester (4 vols., London, 1795–1815); John Curtis, A Topographical History of the County of Leicester (Ashby-de-la-Zouch, 1831).