The ancient borough


Victoria County History



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'The ancient borough: Bromkinsthorpe', A History of the County of Leicester: volume 4: The City of Leicester (1958), pp. 380-383. URL: Date accessed: 20 April 2014. Add to my bookshelf


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That part of St. Mary's parish which lay to the west of the River Soar formed the liberty of Bromkinsthorpe. The soil of the area is mostly Triassic Marl and Sandstone, but on the west bank of the Soar there is a narrow zone of alluvium with, farther away from the river, gravel terraces. Boulder Clay, which forms the surface of so much of the adjacent region, is almost entirely absent.

The Roman Fosse Way (fn. 1) runs through Bromkinsthorpe, and the remains of a Roman villa have been discovered on a site near the centre of the liberty. (fn. 2) It was probably the nature of the surface soil, free from the heavy clay which covers much land in the vicinity, that led to the establishment of a villa here, and it is also possible that the estate which presumably surrounded the villa occupied roughly the same area as the later liberty, though this can be no more than a conjecture. There is no information about Bromkinsthorpe for any date before 1086, and it is therefore impossible to establish any connexion between the villa's estate and the later liberty.

In 1956 Bromkinsthorpe was largely a residential district, of a middle-class character. On its eastern side, bordering on the Soar, there are some warehouses and factories. The two main roads, once turnpikes, which run from Leicester to Hinckley and to Narborough respectively, have become the chief highways of the district. The lesser roads in general either follow the ancient lanes, (fn. 3) or, more frequently, the field boundaries as they existed in the early 19th century. (fn. 4) The only building of any note in the liberty is Wyggeston's Hospital. The present hospital buildings were completed in 1868, and replaced the earlier hospital in the centre of the borough. (fn. 5) The hospital is a long range of buildings in the Victorian Gothic style, built of red brick with facings of Bath stone and a tiled roof. At the north end of the range stands the chapel, with a slender stone spire at its southwest corner, and an apse at the north end. The hospital stands in extensive and well wooded grounds. (fn. 6)

In 1086 it was said of Bromkinsthorpe that 'This land belongs to Leicester with all its customary dues'. (fn. 7) The exact nature of the link between Leicester and Bromkinsthorpe at this time is, however, obscure. There does not appear to be any evidence that the Leicester burgesses ever exercised common pasture rights in the fields of Bromkinsthorpe, or that Bromkinsthorpe ever constituted one of the borough's open fields, in the way that the east and south fields did. It is, on the other hand, clear from the position in 1086, as stated in Domesday, and from the fact that during the Middle Ages Bromkinsthorpe seems always to have been considered as lying within the jurisdiction of the borough authorities, that there was a close connexion between the liberty and the borough, and that Bromkinsthorpe, though separated from Leicester by the Soar, was never a rural township clearly outside the borough. In this Bromkinsthorpe may be contrasted with Knighton, which although within St. Margaret's parish for ecclesiastical purposes was never under borough control until 1892. (fn. 8) It is possible that Bromkinsthorpe had once formed one of Leicester's open fields, and that the burgesses had possessed there common rights of which they had been deprived, perhaps by the action of Hugh de Grentemesnil at some date between the Conquest and 1086.


In 1086 Hugh de Grentemesnil held 6 carucates of land at Bromkinsthorpe, together with a further 2 carucates there which belonged to the soke of Ratby. (fn. 9) Four sokemen in Smeeton (fn. 10) were attached to Hugh's land at Bromkinsthorpe. (fn. 11) Like most of Hugh's other lands in England, Bromkinsthorpe came in the 12th century into the hands of the Earls of Leicester. (fn. 12) By the 13th century two manors existed.

The manor of WALSH HALL, or DANET'S HALL, was held from the earls of Leicester, and subsequently from their successors, the earls and dukes of Lancaster. The first mention of the family of Walsh, or Waleys, in connexion with Bromkinsthorpe occurs in 1279, when William le Waleis is stated to have been a tenant of lands there formerly held from Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester. (fn. 13) The Walsh family continued to be important landholders at Bromkinsthorpe until the 14th century. (fn. 14) From the fact that the manor was subsequently known as Walsh Hall (fn. 15) it may be conjectured that the family was at one time possessed of it, but there is no other evidence that the lands which the Walshes held in Bromkinsthorpe constituted a manor. The ownership of the manor is not clear before 1428, when it was being held by Richard Danet. (fn. 16) The Danet family had been possessed of lands in Bromkinsthorpe for more than 200 years before 1428; Amaur Danet owned a mill there in 1200, (fn. 17) and during the 13th and 14th centuries various members of the family appear as important landowners in Bromkinsthorpe. (fn. 18) The Danet family continued to be lords of the manor (fn. 19) until at least 1647. (fn. 20) Subsequently, before 1681, the manor came into the hands of a family called Charlton, who were descended from the Danets. (fn. 21) About 1700 the manor was acquired by the Watts family, who held it until 1769. (fn. 22) After the death in that year of John Watts the property changed hands repeatedly; it was first sold to a Mr. Weightman, and then passed by successive purchases to Samuel Unwin, to a Mr. Powell, and to William Bentley. (fn. 23) Neither the Watts family, nor any of their successors, are referred to as lords of the manor, though they were the owners of the estate formerly held by the Danets, and the manor as such seems to have disappeared by the start of the 18th century. In 1804 Danet's Hall was bought by Dr. Edward Alexander, (fn. 24) on whose death, in 1825, it came to Elizabeth Kershaw, (fn. 25) and subsequently to Dr. Joseph Noble. (fn. 26) After Dr. Noble's death, the property was sold in 1861 to the Leicester Freehold Land Society for building. (fn. 27)

The manor of WESTCOTES in Bromkinsthorpe was for most of the Middle Ages held by Leicester Abbey. The abbey's holding originated in a grant of land by Robert FitzParnell, Earl of Leicester, (fn. 28) and in a gift of a manor in Bromkinsthorpe by Ranulph Portarius, who became a canon of the abbey. (fn. 29) The abbey also obtained a smaller grant of land in Bromkinsthorpe from Seward Pitefrid. (fn. 30) The exact dates of these three grants are not known, but FitzParnell's must have been made between his accession to the earldom in 1191 and his death in 1204; in all probability FitzParnell's grant was made in or shortly before 1204, for it formed part of a complicated series of property exchanges between the earl, Leicester Abbey, and the Bishop of Lincoln. (fn. 31) The manor in Bromkinsthorpe granted to the abbey by Ranulph may be the same property as the 7 virgates and 1 bovate outside the West Gate of Leicester confirmed to the abbey by Henry II in a charter granted between 1154 and 1162. (fn. 32) The manor of Westcotes remained in the hands of Leicester Abbey until the Dissolution. On the surrender of the abbey in 1538 (fn. 33) its lands came to the Crown. In 1557 a survey of the manor was made with a view to selling it to John Ruding, (fn. 34) whose father, another John Ruding, in 1536 had leased the manor from the abbey for 81 years, (fn. 35) but in August of the same year the Crown sold Westcotes to two speculators in monastic lands, Thomas Reve and Richard Budde, (fn. 36) who in 1558 sold it to the younger John Ruding. (fn. 37) The manor remained in the hands of the Ruding family until 1821, when Walter Ruding sold it to Thomas Freer, Clerk of the Peace of Leicestershire. (fn. 38) Freer's son in turn sold the property to Joseph Harris, a Leicester solicitor, before 1846. (fn. 39) By the time of Harris's purchase of the property the manor as such seems to have ceased to exist.

Economic History.

The possibility that Bromkinsthorpe had once formed one of Leicester's open fields, and that the burgesses had once enjoyed common rights there, has already been discussed. (fn. 40) An extent of Leicester Abbey's lands in Bromkinsthorpe, drawn up in 1381, shows that the arable land was then divided into strips of the usual type. (fn. 41) In 1448 there were three open fields in Bromkinsthorpe. (fn. 42) Alongside the Soar lay several meadows. (fn. 43) At the final inclosure of Leicester Forest in 1628 106 acres were allotted to the freeholders of Bromkinsthorpe in compensation for the rights of common pasture which they had hitherto enjoyed in Leicester Forest. The land allotted lay in the part of the forest which was immediately adjacent to the western boundary of Bromkinsthorpe. After this addition the total area of the west field, and of the meadows adjacent to it on the west bank of the Soar, was perhaps about 800 acres. (fn. 44) Bromkinsthorpe seems to have been inclosed piecemeal during the 16th and 17th centuries. A late-16th-century terrier shows strips in the open fields as already partly consolidated, and apparently some inclosure had by then taken place. (fn. 45) In 1628 there was still a considerable area of open land, (fn. 46) and the fact that at the inclosure of Leicester Forest in the same year holdings in Bromkinsthorpe were described in terms of virgates (fn. 47) suggests that the arable fields were still largely open. When the inclosure was completed cannot be stated, but it was probably not long after 1628.

Bromkinsthorpe is separated from the area of the old walled borough of Leicester by the River Soar, which until the flood prevention works of the late 19th century was here divided into several channels, running through a stretch of marshy ground. (fn. 48) The existence of this natural barrier for long prevented the growth of any substantial suburb in Bromkinsthorpe. At first the only connexion between the walled borough and Bromkinsthorpe was by a rather circuitous route, running from the West Gate to cross the main channel of the Soar over the West Bridge, and then along the Augustine Friars island to Bow Bridge, which crosses a subsidiary channel of the river to link the island with Bromkinsthorpe. The West Bridge is mentioned in 1325, though it probably already existed in the 12th century. (fn. 49) Bow Bridge existed by 1520; (fn. 50) it may have existed earlier, and is traditionally said to have been used by Richard III in 1485. (fn. 51) Braunstone Gate Bridge, which crosses the subsidiary channel of the Soar to the south of Bow Bridge, and provides a more direct connexion between the southern part of Bromkinsthorpe and the walled borough, appears first on a map drawn about 1600. (fn. 52) Until the 19th century Bromkinsthorpe, despite its nearness to the town, remained almost entirely rural, and in 1802 the only houses, apart from the two mansions of Danet's Hall and Westcotes, lay along either side of Braunstone Gate, (fn. 53) a road running from Braunstone Gate Bridge to the Narborough road. (fn. 54) Even in the early 19th century Bromkinsthorpe still remained a pleasant country district, where the inhabitants of Leicester could stroll. (fn. 55) The grounds of the two manor houses, Westcotes and Danet's Hall, were improved about this time. (fn. 56) Gradually, however, buildings began to encroach. The first factory to be built in Bromkinsthorpe was a notable structure in the 19th-century Gothic style, the Bow Bridge Mills, which still exists. It is not known when this factory was built, but it already existed in 1828. (fn. 57) During the first half of the 19th century buildings encroached only slowly on the agricultural land and by 1852 the only part of Bromkinsthorpe that had been built over was a small area immediately to the west of the two bridges over the Soar. (fn. 58) The new streets in this area, built on the alluvium of the river valley, were liable to flooding, and were very inadequately provided with sewers. (fn. 59) It was not until after 1860 that buildings began to spread rapidly in Bromkinsthorpe. Danet's Hall was sold for building in 1861, (fn. 60) and three years later the site of the hall and its grounds was already built over. (fn. 61) Many other sales of land for building occurred in 1860–70. (fn. 62) In 1886 the old mansion of Westcotes was demolished, and its grounds built over. (fn. 63) By about 1900 the whole eastern half of Bromkinsthorpe, that is, the half that lay nearest to the borough centre, had been laid out in streets. (fn. 64) By 1938 virtually the whole of Bromkinsthorpe had been built up. (fn. 65)

Other aspects of the history of Bromkinsthorpe, namely its administrative and ecclesiastical history and the history of the parochial charities in which it shared, have been described above, as they are part of the history of St. Mary's parish as a whole. (fn. 66)


1 The line of the Roman road is roughly that of the present (1956) Narborough Road. The present Fosse Road is of medieval origin: V.C.H. Leics. iii. 72.
2 The site is bounded by King Richard's Road, Fosse Road Central, and Norfolk Street: F. J. Haverfield, Roman Leic. 44; V.C.H. Leics. i. 196.
3 e.g. the present King Richard's Road was originally a track, known as Watts' Causeway in the first half of the 19th century, from Bow Bridge to Danet's Hall: [Watts], Walk through Leicester, frontispiece map; White, Dir. Leics. (1846), 189, 190.
4 Cf. T. and G. Ellis, Plan of Leic. (1828), and the modern street plan.
5 G. Cowie, Hist. Wyggeston's Hosp. 58.
6 For a photograph see below, plate facing p. 393.
7 V.C.H. Leics. i. 314–15. This entry has been wrongly ascribed to Bruntingthorpe, and the ownership of Bromkinsthorpe at the date of the Survey has been attributed to Robert, one of the vassals of the Count of Meulan: ibid. 337. Farnham followed V.C.H. Leics. in correcting Nichols, who actually identified the two entries correctly: Farnham, Leics. Notes, i. 219; Nichols, Leics. iv. 565. It is unlikely that the rather distant village of Bruntingthorpe could have belonged to Leicester 'with all its customary dues'.
8 See below, p. 443.
9 Ratby lies some 4 miles west of Bromkinsthorpe. It was held by Hugh in 1086.
10 i.e. the hamlet now forming part of Smeeton-Westerby, about 10 miles south-east of Bromkinsthorpe.
11 V.C.H. Leics. i. 314–15; and see n. 7 above.
12 E.H.R. liv. 387.
13 Nichols, Leics. iv. 565.
14 Ibid. 570; Assoc. Archit. Soc. Rep. and Papers, xix. 262.
15 Farnham, Leics. Notes, vi. 245, 246; Leic. Boro. Rec. 1327–1509, 5, 43.
16 Leic. Boro. Rec. 1327–1509, 234.
17 Ibid. 1103–1327, 5.
18 Ibid. 1327–1509, 187; Farnham, Leics. Notes, vi. 240–1; Feud. Aids. vi. 559; Assoc. Archit. Soc. Rep. and Papers, xix. 262.
19 Farnham, op. cit. vi, 242–5.
20 Ibid. 246; Leic. Boro. Rec. 1603–88, 360, 375.
21 Nichols, Leics. iv. 570; Leic. City Mun. Room, 17D44/3.
22 Nichols, Leics. iv. 570.
23 Nichols, Leics. iv. 570–1.
24 Ibid. iv. 571.
25 Curtis, Topog. Hist. Leics. 32.
26 White, Dir. Leics. (1846), 152; A. Fielding Johnson, Glimpses of Ancient Leic. (1906), 365.
27 Fielding Johnson, op. cit. 365; Leic. Chron. 14 Sept. 1861; Leic. City Mun. Room, 10D52/303.
28 Nichols, Leics. i, App. 55; Rot. Chart. (Rec. Com.), 145.
29 Nichols, Leics. i, App. 71. Ranulph had obtained the land from Robert the son of William the son of Aufred, of Bromkinsthorpe.
30 Nichols, Leics. i, App. 54. Seward held the land from Robert le Bossu, Earl of Leic.
31 Reg. Antiquissimum, ed. C. W. Foster, iii. 215.
32 Nichols, Leics. i, App. 57–58.
33 V.C.H. Leics. ii. 16.
34 B.M., Harl. MS. 606, ff. 63 sqq.
35 Nichols, Leics. iv. 566.
36 Cal. Pat. 1557–8, 279.
37 Nichols, Leics. iv. 566.
38 Curtis, Topog. Hist. Leics. 32: see Leic. City Mun. Room, 8D50 for 18th- and 19th-century estate papers.
39 Fielding Johnson, Glimpses of Ancient Leic. 366–7; White, Dir. Leics. (1846), 140.
40 See above.
41 B.M., Cott. MS. Galba E. 3, f. 109.
42 Ibid., f. 110b; Leic. Boro. Rec. 1509–1603, 454.
43 B.M., Cott. MS. Galba E 3, ff. 9, 10; Leic. Boro. Rec. 1327–1509, 425.
44 Nichols, Leics. iv. 786, 788, 791, 793; T.L.A.S. xiv. 6, 9; L. Fox and P. Russell, Leic. Forest, 137. There may have been some inclosure already in 1536, when several closes are mentioned: Nichols, Leics. iv. 566.
45 Leic. Boro. Rec. 1509–1603, 454–5.
46 Farnham, Leics. Notes, vi. 246.
47 Nichols, Leics. iv. 786; there were then said to be 30½ yardlands in Bromkinsthorpe; cf. the 31 yardlands said to be there in 1279: ibid. iv. 565.
48 See above, pp. 277–8.
49 V.C.H. Leics. iii. 86.
50 Farnham, Leics. Notes, vi. 244, where Gerard Danet bequeathes £10 for repairing the bridges between his house and the Austin Friars. See also Leland, Itin. ed. Toulmin Smith, i. 16.
51 Nichols, Leics. i. 301; and see below, p. 388.
52 Leic. Boro. Rec. 1509–1603, p. xvii; V.C.H. Leics. iii. 86.
53 [Watts], Walk through Leic., frontispiece map. Braunstone Gate is mentioned in 1555: Farnham, Leics. Notes, vi. 245.
54 A road roughly following the line of the Roman Fosse Way.
55 [Watts], Walk through Leic. 58.
56 Nichols, Leics. iv. 567, 571.
57 T. and G. Ellis, Plan of Leic. (1828).
58 i.e. the area enclosed by King Richard's Road, the Soar, Braunstone Gate, Hinckley Road, and Leamington Street: J. S. Crossley and G. Foxon, Rep. on Condition of River Soar (1852) (Leic. City Ref. Libr., Pamphlets O 3, vol. ii), frontispiece plan.
59 Crossley and Foxon, op. cit. 10; Wm. Johnston, Diarrhoea of Leic. (1876) (Leic. City Ref. Libr., Pamphlets O 3, vol. iv), 12; Griffith, Rep. on July Floods (1880) (Leic. City Ref. Libr., Pamphlets O 4, vol. ii), 7; Leic. Jnl. 15 Feb. 1867, p. 6.
60 J. and T. Spencer, New Guide to Leic. (1888), 111; for the house, see J. Throsby, Select Views in Leics. 262–5.
61 John Barclay, Modern Leic. (1864) (Leic. City Ref. Libr., Pamphlets O 4, vol. iii), 4.
62 Leic. Jnl. 2 Mar. 1860, p. 1; 8 Feb. 1867, p. 1; 15 Feb. 1867, p. 1; 22 Feb. 1867, p. 1.
63 Spencer, New Guide to Leic. (1888), 112. Proposals that the house and grounds should be bought by the town for a park or public library were not accepted by the corporation: ibid. 112; T.L.A.S. vi. 164; for the house see Throsby, Select Views, 324–6.
64 Wright, Dir. Leic. (1902), frontispiece map.
65 Kelly's Dir. Leic. (1938), frontispiece map.
66 See above, pp. 369–80.