Stowleigh – 1900s
For 18 months since this series has been running, I have been looking for a postcard or old picture with a street view of Wycomb, a hamlet north of Melton Mowbray. Last month my patience was rewarded when getting in touch with Janice and Will Pickard. Browsing through family documents, which they keep in a green-painted metal box, we unearthed two pictures of Stowleigh, the former home of their grandfather John Thomas Pickard. At the end of 1919, he bought the farmhouse – built in 1850 for a former Waltham woman, Catherine Stow – and about 230 acres of land and other properties in Wycomb and neighbouring Chadwell and Scalford.
When John Thomas died in 1941, a charity was founded to provide “either bread or groceries for poor persons who shall have been resident in Wycombe and Chadwell for at least twelve consecutive calendar months”. John’s wife, Elizabeth Ann, passed away in 1950. Just like her late husband, she was widely appreciated in the community, as written in a report of her funeral in the Grantham Journal on November 24th, 1950: “Widow of Mr J.T. Pickard, a prominent farmer, Mrs E.A. Pickard, has died, aged 81 years, at Stowleigh, Wycomb. Mrs Pickard, well known for her kindly disposition was a member of the local Mothers’ Union and the Women’s Institute. She resided in the parish of Wycombe and Chadwell for 67 years and leaves one son and two daughters.”
Their son Joseph Henry took over the farm. On August 6th, 1938, the 32-year-old married Margery Wild, a spinster who was ten years younger, and lived at Spinney Hill Farm in Burton Lazars. Witnesses were Joseph’s father John Henry and Margery’s father John Henry Wild.
Janice, Will and their three siblings lived with their parents in a house across the street, now named Pickard Lane. “I had the happiest childhood,” said Janice, “but I think it would be no fun growing up in a small place like Wycomb in these times.” “I roamed the land day in and day out, just coming home for lunch and dinner.” In the late 1980s, the family moved to Scalford.
In the early 1900s-photograph, the Stow family is depicted at the front side of the farmhouse with a big garden then used to grow vegetables.
Later fruit trees were planted, and some of the trees now still bearing fruit. “The apples are just good to feed the pigs of one of the neighbours,” says David Walker when asking him permission to take a remake of Stowleigh House. David and his late wife Barbara bought the house nearly 50 years ago.
On the village
Most of Wycomb belonged to the soke of Rothley, just as Chadwell and Wartnaby. In the latter, far more west in the borough, some of the Pickards were rooted.
Wycomb made headlines in 1979 when archaeologists found 12 skeletons in the garden of Dick and Penny Clemons who lived in Fyrtl Field Cottage at that time, a house close to a medieval chapel. Leicester Mercury of August 1st 1979 wrote: “[The skeletons] were buried around 700 years ago in or close to a medieval chapel to have belonged to the Knights Templar of Rothley. In addition, pieces of Anglo-Saxon pottery have been found at Wycomb, which is one of the few places in the county where such finds have been made. The pottery is much more lightly fired than was Romans’ and consequently less has survived.”
Peter Liddle, at that time the Leicestershire Museums archaeological survey offices told the newspaper: “The first skeletons on the site were found when the owner of the property had a drive bulldozed through the cottage he was converting. This was six years ago [in 1974]. This summer more have been found, and it is believed all have come from the site of a medieval chapel.” Most of the skeletons have been reburied, but one has been kept for further examination.
In another newspaper Henry Clemons, then a 3-years-old boy was depicted with one of the skeletons.
In a recap story published in the Melton Times on March 9th 1984, the garden was first treated as a crime scene and Wycomb made national headline news, in 1979. But when the bones were 700 years old, the police lost interest and archaeologists were called in.
The Melton Times quoted also Barbara Walker, who came to live in Wycomb in 1973 with her husband David. Barbara who had done some research into the history of Wycomb discovered that the village was once larger and the population higher. “Old houses have become derelict and in some cases, two cottages have been converted into one and very few new houses have been built. As a result, Wycomb has a population of under 50 and there are about 15 houses [in 1984].”
On the border of Wycomb and Scalford, John Green, the owner of Tudor House in Scalford, began clay pigeon shooting in 1969. A yearly festival was organised, much in favour of the local villagers. In September 1972 the Leicestershire Planning Committee agreed to a clay pigeon shooting area, for an initial five-year period. The shooting range became very popular, and soon national and international tournaments were held. “By 1975 it began to develop into a business, known as the Melton Gun Club,” wrote the Leicester Daily Mercury employing about a dozen full and part-timers. At the beginning of the 1980s opposition started growing because of very regular shootings and the site came under fire for being noisy. Although the then “local councillor for the area said there was a great deal of sympathy from the “local community towards the use of the land for what was essentially a rural pursuit,” as stated in the newspaper in 1983, many local councillors not wanting to see the range closed down, and asking the owner to come up with further suggestions for reducing the amount of noise, the range closed down on the long run.
Methodist Mission House
At the corner of Wycomb Lane and Picards Lane, a date stone on the gable end of a dwelling reads “Mission Rooms 1896”. In the late 19th century, a group of Methodists purchased an old house that was demolished, and a new chapel capable of seating 50 people was built, known as the only mission chapel in the area. It closed during the 1930s and was converted into a dwelling.
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It had a recorded population of 22.9 households in 1086, putting it in the largest 40% of settlements recorded in Domesday (NB: 22.9 households is an estimate, since multiple places are mentioned in the same entry).
Land of King William
- Households: 186 villagers. 204 freemen. 112 smallholders. 1 priest.
- Ploughland: 2 lord’s plough teams. 88 men’s plough teams.
- Other resources: Meadow 176 acres & 3 * 1.5 furlongs mixed measures. Woodland 3 * 3 furlongs & 5 acres; 1 * 0.5 league & 4 * 3 furlongs mixed measures. 6 mills, value 17 shillings.
- Annual value to lord: 34 pounds 10 shillings in 1086.
- Rothley Leicestershire Family History Guide
- Medieval Rothley, Leicestershire – Vanessa McLoughlin, 2006 (part about Wycomb) (pdf)
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