A History of the County of Leicestershire: Volume 5, Gartree Hundred. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1964.
This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.
THE HUNDRED OF GARTREE
The hundred of Gartree extends south-east of Leicester as far as the borders of Northamptonshire and Rutland. The Roman road which ran from Leicester in this direction to join the Ermine Street was called the Gartree road during the Middle Ages; it is not now passable along its whole length, but some parts are still in use. (fn. 1) The surrounding country overlies the Lower Lias clays which stretch eastwards from Leicester to the Middle and Upper Lias hills of 'High Leicestershire' on the borders of Rutland. The greater part of the area is thickly covered with glacial drift which produces a variety of soils particularly suitable for growing goodquality grass. The whole region is therefore largely devoted to live-stock farming in which sheep and cattle are equally important, and the landscape is an almost unbroken expanse of grassland with few arable fields, part of the well-known hunting country shared principally by two packs, the Quorn and the Fernie. Except in the east, the undulating country in this part of Leicestershire rarely rises above 500 ft. Its principal topographical features are formed by the action of two systems of streams: those, like the River Sence, which flow north-westwards and are tributaries of the River Soar; and those which flow south-eastwards and are tributaries of the River Welland. This is a district of small, nucleated villages, frequently sited on patches of gravel by large springs in the valleys of these streams. The only substantial town in Market Harborough.
The ridge which forms the watershed between these two systems of streams is believed to mark the line of a Bronze Age trackway running through Mowsley, Saddington, Kibworth Harcourt, and Illston to Tilton. (fn. 2) The Roman road from Leicester cuts this trackway at right-angles, at a point in Shangton parish that is almost the geographical centre of the hundred. Close to this point of intersection is a gore-shaped piece of land, whence the hundred takes its name, (fn. 3) once crowned by the Gartree bush. (fn. 4) Here the hundred courts met from at least 1458 (fn. 5) until 1750 when the bailiff decided to move them to the 'Bull's Head', Tur Langton, the nearest convenient inn to the ancient meetingplace. (fn. 6)
As far as is known there have been no changes in the composition of the hundred since 1086. (fn. 7) It consists of 38 ancient parishes and part of St. Margaret's parish, Leicester, together with six parts of parishes which lie in other hundreds. St. Margaret's and Evington parishes have been included in the borough of Leicester since 1836 and 1896 respectively, and they have been described elsewhere. (fn. 8) Of the six parts of parishes lying outside the hundred, four have been reserved for treatment with their parishes; these are Baggrave and Ingarsby (Hungarton), Keythorpe (Tugby), and South Marefield (Tilton). The other two are included here: Holyoaks, which was in Stoke Dry (Rut.) but was not fully described with that parish, (fn. 9) and Mowsley, which was in Knaptoft but which has been the chief settlement in the parish since the depopulation of Knaptoft in the 16th century. In addition to the 37 ancient parishes, four chapelries are described in separate articles in this volume: Mowsley; the town of Market Harborough, which has for long been the chief settlement in the parish of Great Bowden; Illston on the Hill, which was at one time a chapelry of two adjoining parishes and which has long been independent for civil purposes; and Fleckney, which had a considerable degree of independence from the parish of Wistow and was considered to be a separate parish in 1831. (fn. 10)
A noticeable feature of the hundred boundaries is that a south-eastern extension of the East Goscote hundred separates the main body of Gartree from its outlying members, Baggrave, South Marefield, and the ancient parishes of Burrough on the Hill, Knossington, Owston with Newbold, and Pickwell with Leesthorpe. All the outlying members constituted a single fiscal hundred (Knossington hundred) within the Gartree wapentake at the time of the Leicestershire Survey in 1130. (fn. 11) The Gartree wapentake may once have included all those parishes which separate the main body from its outliers. The present arrangement is perhaps the result of an adjustment of boundaries to accommodate the large royal soke of Rothley, the greater part of which lay in the hundreds of East and West Goscote. It was unusual for an important soke to extend beyond the borders of a single wapentake, (fn. 12) and it is significant that seven manors belonging to the soke of Rothley at the time of the Domesday Survey were situated in the area which lay between the main body of the Gartree hundred and its outliers. (fn. 13) The evidence is not conclusive, but a possible explanation of the eastward extension of the East Goscote hundred may be that several fiscal hundreds were taken out of Gartree and Framland wapentakes and added to Goscote in order to bring nearly all the soke of Rothley into one wapentake, thereby leaving a single fiscal hundred which belonged to Gartree isolated from the main body. (fn. 14)
The royal soke of Great Bowden was confined to the hundred of Gartree. In 1086 the king held the manor of Great Bowden, which had belonged to Edward the Confessor, with its sokeland scattered through twelve other parishes in the hundred. (fn. 15) During the 12th century the greater part of the sokeland was granted away. (fn. 16) The soke was mentioned in the Pipe Roll of 1173, but before 1250 it had been completely dismembered, (fn. 17) and the only part of its organization which survived was the soke of Stretton. The manor of Little Stretton, which belonged to the Harcourt family, possessed pieces of sokeland in six other parishes, all formerly part of the soke of Great Bowden. (fn. 18)
In the 13th century it seemed likely that the lordship of the hundred would become attached to the manor of Great Bowden. Both the manor and the hundred were twice included in the same grant, (fn. 19) and both were the subject of grants made by the king to the queen. No record of the Crown's alienating the farm of the hundred has been discovered before 1266, but an inquisition made in that year gave the value of the farm at which the hundred had previously been let. (fn. 20) The grant of the hundred in September 1266 to William de Boyville for life was followed in March 1268 by the commitment of the hundred to Eleanor of Castile, the wife of Edward, the king's son. (fn. 21) Queen Eleanor until her death in 1290 sub-let the farm to the same William de Boyville, and Adam Bernard, to whom the hundred and manor of Great Bowden were granted in 1292, probably on the death of William de Boyville, paid his rent to the queen's executors. (fn. 22) The grant of the hundred to Robert de Waltham for life in July 1311 (fn. 23) was revoked in the following October as part of a deliberate policy by the Lords Ordainers. (fn. 24) Until the accession of Edward III the hundred remained in the hands of the Crown, but the office of bailiff was farmed to a succession of persons who paid an annual rent to the Exchequer. (fn. 25) In 1327 Edward III granted the hundred to his mother Queen Isabel for life. (fn. 26) She farmed the office of bailiff to two of her servants for the duration of their lives, John de Denton in 1330, (fn. 27) and after his death, John de Astwyk. (fn. 28) The latter's tenure of the bailiwick did not expire on Isabel's death in 1358 when the hundred reverted to the Crown. Astwyk paid his farm to the Exchequer instead of the Queen's treasury until his death in 1369. (fn. 29) In 1363 the reversion of the office of bailiff had been secured by the king's cook, John Goderich, with a grant in survivorship to his son William. (fn. 30) It is unlikely that they exercised the office themselves in person. The officers of the hundred court in 1384 were Henry de Foxton, the steward, and Robert de Stonton, the bailiff. (fn. 31) The farm of the hundred in accordance with statute was officially joined to the farm of the shire, (fn. 32) but the office of bailiff continued to be leased by the Crown for an annual rent. The following were recipients of grants of the bailiwick: William Teryngton in 1398; (fn. 33) William Hogwick for life in 1399; (fn. 34) Robert Clitheroe for life in 1414; (fn. 35) and William Myners in 1418. (fn. 36) In 1446 Myners secured a grant of the farm of the hundred itself, (fn. 37) but in 1452 he found it necessary to recognize the illegality of separating the farm of the hundred from the shire because the Exchequer had charged him with various sums of money that were missing. (fn. 38) The reversion of the bailiwick on the death of Myners belonged to Thomas Merying. (fn. 39)
Full details of later grants have not been discovered, nor any evidence to show that the office of bailiff continued to be leased by the Crown during the 16th century. In 1652 the rents and profits of the hundred were included in a survey of the king's possessions. (fn. 40) But James I appears to have leased both the hundred and the bailiwick. John King in 1608 received a grant for 21 years of the bailiwick of the hundreds of Gartree and Guthlaxton. (fn. 41) About the same time a similar grant conveyed the lordship of the hundreds of Gartree and Guthlaxton for 21 years to William Ireland, but this grant was disputed and Ireland probably did not gain possession of the hundreds until 1617. His son William Ireland secured a renewal of this grant for another 31 years in 1661 from Charles II, (fn. 42) who apparently granted the profits of these two hundreds in 1665 to his queen, Katherine of Braganza. (fn. 43) The Sheriff of Leicestershire contested the legality of Ireland's grant in the Common Pleas in 1677 and was upheld. (fn. 44) In 1717 the ancient hundred rents were in the possession of the two daughters and co-heirs of John, Lord Somers (d. 1716), and their respective husbands, Charles Cocks and Joseph Jekyll. (fn. 45) Hundred courts continued to be held during the 18th century by various solicitors on behalf of Charles Cocks, Lord Somers (1725-1806), then described as lord of the hundred of Gartree. (fn. 46)
Little evidence of the business of the hundred court has survived. Estreats from the hundred court rolls for the years 1458-60 and 1462-4 show that the sheriff held his tourn twice a year after Easter and Michaelmas, and that the hundred bailiff held a court every three weeks in various villages scattered throughout the hundred, although the evidence for the years 1462-4 suggests that the meeting-places for these courts were latterly confined to Foxton, Kibworth, and Pickwell in rotation. (fn. 47) Views of frankpledge were being held on the Wednesday of Easter week in both 1557 and 1578. (fn. 48) The threeweekly courts were then almost certainly no longer held, and were described in 1652 as 'long since neglected'. (fn. 49) But a court leet continued to be held twice yearly (on the Wednesday after Easter Sunday and the Wednesday after Michaelmas Day) until 1750. The bailiff of Lord Somers was still holding this court in 1798, but it is not known when the practice was discontinued. (fn. 50)
In the early 13th century the recognized revenue to the Crown from the hundred of Gartree was 34 marks for the hundred farm, 40s. 11d. for view of frankpledge, and 113s. 6d. for sheriff's aid. (fn. 51) But the inquisition made in 1266 before the lordship of the hundred was granted to William de Boyville emphasized that its value had decreased. If sheriff's aid and view of frankpledge were reserved for the king, the hundred could be let for 100s. 'to allow fair sustenance to the keeper'. (fn. 52) In fact William de Boyville paid £12 5s. 9d. to Queen Eleanor for the farm of the hundred. (fn. 53) The royal bailiffs between 1311 and 1327 and the bailiffs of Queen Isabel paid an annual rent of £16 for the privilege of their office, which is some indication of the value of the perquisites of the court. (fn. 54) In modern times the only profits of the hundred were the ancient hundred rents, known as 'common fine money', 'tithing silver', or 'viscountal money', payable by several townships. These rents, which were valued at £6 12s. a year in 1652 (fn. 55) and £8 16s. 4d. in the late 18th century, were payable by fifteen townships in the hundred, the first nine of which were required to provide jurors, and by the lord of the manor of Keythorpe. (fn. 56) Land in Keythorpe, Saddington, and Mowsley was held for rent and suit of court to the hundred of Gartree. (fn. 57) At the end of its life all that the court seems to have done was to receive these rents.