Written by Isobel Cullum
During this festive season of goodwill, we remember the inn at Bethlehem and the inn of the Good Samaritan. Our local innsserve as a resting place where travellers can stay during a journey and people can relax with a pint of ale, communicating with each other and telling their tales. Various functions and activities and many a tangled web is woven upon their premises, but the beauty and attraction is something to be amazed at. We can speculate on the origin of their colourful signs. Above all, these monuments have stood until the present time, surviving the great changes in society.
Let me take you on A Journey "Inn" the Past, back to the 18th and 19th centuries when travel by stage-coach was in its heyday - a far distant cry from the speeding cars and traffic jams of modern day life. Those were the days when only 24 ( or may be 25) stage-coaches travelled along the roads of Kibworth Harcourt and Kibworth Beauchamp. The first stage-coach from London to Leicester passed through Kibworth in 1744, the road having become a turnpike route in 1726. Before we begin our journey it is interesting to note that in the 18th century, the main road came from Leicester and went down hill to the Old House, twisting round and up hill to the Rose and Crown on its way to Market Harborough. This route was by-passed around 1809-10 by the road we now know.
If you are sitting comfortably then we will begin our journey, and just for a while, day-dream, imagining ourselves travelling through Kibworth in a stage-coach during the 1860s. To set the scene as it was, ladies you are dressed in crinoline dresses, accompanied by elegant gentlemen! Our coach, travelling from Leicester, tumbles down Main Street and grinds to a halt at our first inn called The Horse Shoes, where mine-host, George Kimbell and his two sons, Eaton and John, offer us a warm welcome. George is also proprietor of the adjoining shoe-forge.
After drinking our first jug of beer we journey on and turn the corner by the Old House. A gallop around the winding bend leads us to the Nelson Inn (later known as The Admiral Nelson). This inn, kept by William Wright, adjoins the high brick wall of the Old House and is famous for its long-alley bowling and club feasts at Whitsuntide. We dismount from our coach and meander across the road to The Fox, which adjoins the bakehouse. This old fashioned public house, managed by Mr Searank, is attached to the brewhouse and outbuildings.
A tipple here stands us in good stead for the journey up the hill to the Rose and Crown. Our coach rattles into the stable yard; again we dismount to wine and dine and stroll in the pleasure gardens opposite this early 18th century building. Meanwhile servants rush out to change the team of horses. The Rose and Crown, run by Mr Austin, was once a celebrated Posting Inn and one of the finest hostelries in the county. The roomy stables accommodate a troop of horses. Feeling refreshed we travel a few yards down the road to the Foxhound. After quenching our thirst with a mug of frothing beer we leave Kibworth Harcourt.
I hope my fellow passengers are not too featherbrained, for the journey is not yet over! Our coach gently manoeuvres down the road to the Coach and Horses, the first inn in Kibworth Beauchamp. We are greeted by the good landlord, Joseph Coleman and his wife. This very old hostelry has a wooden pump and long trough standing in front of it. The trough not only serves as a watering place for horses, but a handy receptacle for cooling down a drunken mortal! Many waggoners, carrying coal and railway goods from Kibworth Station, stop here to water their horses. Members meet at the bowling alley at the back of the inn next to outbuildings and the harness room.
Once again we mount our coach and continue the journey, gathering up speed as we pass the Church. A sudden bump, and then a bounce, sends us hurtling over the railway bridge at the bottom of Church Hill, straight into the Railway Inn! Behind the inn is a large yard with stabling for 12 horses, pigsties and a blacksmith's shop.
Feeling in fine fettle we clamber into our coach and start to get our voices tuned up, in preparation for the next stage of our journey. Cross bank floats by and the Old Swan appears. A great pub, where we all start singing along with the proprietor, Charles Watts, a popular bass singer in his day. The principal club feasts are held here at Whitsuntide. This seems to be good excuse for getting drunk and picking a fight with an innocent bystander. If the fights gets too big, it is usually adjourned to, and fought out in Baker Innocent's field.
We stagger out of the Old Swan, happy, yet a little sad to be nearly at our journey's end. Feeling brave and singing a festive song, our great team heads for the final destination, the Royal Oak (now Beauchamps). Many free displays of tumbling, juggling etc., take place in front of this house. One of the most amazing performers is Blondin, who stretches a rope from the roof of this house to that of houses opposite. Blondin walks blindfolded; wheels a barrow across; balances a stove and cooks a pancake, which he tosses in the air, all to the gasps of astonishment from the large crowd below.
Unfortunately we are now at the end of our journey, and, hopefully, still in a day-dream and not too drunk! What a good time this is to take up the challenge and follow in Blondin's footsteps!! During the period when these nine inns flourished anyone could buy a licence to sell beer and inevitably Beer shops were set up in front parlour and back rooms. This is one of the reason why our innkeepers had second jobs, basically to keep them going. No doubt this second occupation influenced many landlords to change the name of their inn. The Horse Shoes became The Blacksmith's Arms during George Kimbell's time. So not only did Kibworth boast nine pub but beer houses too! This represents a lot of 'boozers' per head of population! The surviving inns, the Three Horseshoes Inn, the Rose and Crown, The Coach and Horses Inn, The Railway and the Old Swan continue to provide Kibworth with pleasant drinking surroundings. If you want to know more about Kibworth's past may I suggest you read the 'History of Kibworth and Personal Reminiscences' by F P Woodford, available at Kibworth Library Extinct Inns (prior to 1860s) Halford Arms, The Half Moon, The Bird in the Hand, The Crown and Sceptre, The Red Lion and The Navigation. Was this last inn known as The Blue Boar, The Blue Bell, The Sun or even The Moon?!
© Isobel Cullum December1994
Kibworth and District Chronicle
The two Kibworth villages developed distinct identities throughout the nineteenth century, based in large part on their different economic character. Kibworth Harcourt remained largely agricultural with a vibrant service sector based on provisioning the A6 traffic. Kibworth Beauchamp always had a more industrial character, from when the weavers predominated and this continued with industrialisation in the nineteenth century as factory production took hold in the village.
The differing economic chracteristics was also subtley reflected in the more "advanced" politics that developed in Beauchamp in contrast to the Tory dominance in Harcourt. This is evident in the choice of street names in the expanding Beauchamp village, with new streets named after the leading Liberal politicians of the late nineteenth century, such as Gladstone and Melbourne. These political rivalries sometimes also found expression in public bitterness, as evidenced in April 1897, when a suggestion that both parish councils co-operate in planning Queen Victoria's jubilee celebrations was decisively rejected at a Harcourt parish council meeting.
What is evident from reports of the meeting is that there was a general feeling in Harcourt that Beauchamp considered themselves more advanced in their civic efforts. The meeting instead agreed that Harcourt would build something permanent to mark the Queen's jubilee, with perhaps a village hall "emphatically asserting that Merton College, the lords of the manor, would have pleasure in giving the necessary ground." Kibworth-Harcourt-Parish-Meeting-1897.pdf
On an earlier occasion, in 1885, when the new vicar, the ebullient Bangalore-born Merton man Edmund Knox, took on the ecclesiatical parish of Kibworth, the rivalry between the two Kibworths was one of the most striking, and challenging, aspects of his new living.
Beauchamp, he noted, the home of 'stockeners' and predominantly 'radical', was in stark contrast to Harcourt, 'the home of the sporting squirearchy and retired businessmen of Leicester'.
Between the two 'was kept up a half-playful antagonism', with even the most minor disagreement eliciting 'fiery eloquence' poured forth with 'passion such I had never heard in Oxford'.
On one occasion, he recorded:
The vestry debated warmly the plan of a sewer which was to run down a road that divided the two villages [Ed. A6]. It was even suggested, with a fine disregard of costs, that two parallel sewers should be constructed, that the sewage of one village should not be 'contaminated' by the waste of the other.