Melton Mowbray

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Melton Mowbray is a town in the Melton borough of Leicestershire, England. It is 14.5 miles (23 km) to the northeast of Leicester, and 18 miles (29 km) southeast of Nottingham. The town lies along the course of both the River Eye and the River Wreake and currently has a population of 25,554.

Promoted as the “Rural Capital of Food”, Melton Mowbray is perhaps best known for its culinary specialities, being the home of the eponymous pork pie and one of the six homes of Stilton cheese.

The name Melton comes from the early English word Medeltone – meaning ‘Middletown surrounded by small hamlets’ (and therefore has the same origin as places called Milton and Middleton). Mowbray is a Norman family name – the name of early Lords of the Manor – namely Robert de Mowbray.

In and around Melton, there are 28 scheduled ancient monuments, around 705 buildings listed as having special architectural or historical interest, 16 sites of special scientific interest, and several deserted village sites.

There is industrial archaeology including the Grantham Canal and the remains of the Melton Mowbray Navigation. Windmill sites, ironstone working and smelting archaeological evidence suggest that Melton borough was densely populated in Bronze and Iron Ages. Many small village communities existed and strategic points at Burrough Hill and Belvoir were fortified. There is also evidence to suggest that the site of Melton Mowbray in the Wreake Valley was inhabited before Roman occupation (43A.D).

In Roman times, due to the close proximity of the Fosse Way and other important Roman roads, military centres were set up at Leicester and Lincoln; and intermediate camps were also established, for example, Six Hills on the Fosse Way. Other Roman track ways in the locality passed north of Melton along the top of the vale of Belvoir scarp; they linked Market Harborough to Belvoir, and linked the Fosse Way to Oakham and Stamford.

Evidence of settlement throughout Saxon and Danelaw period (8th/9th centuries) is reflected in many place names. Along the Wreake Valley, the Danish suffix “by” is common, as is evident in Asfordby, Dalby, Frisby, Hoby, Rearsby and Gaddesby. In addition, a cemetery of 50–60 graves, of Pagan Saxon origin, was found in Melton Mowbray. Although most villages and their churches, had origins before the Norman Conquest of 1066, stone crosses at Asfordby and Sproxton churches and Anglo-Saxon cemeteries as found at Goadby Marwood, Sysonby and Stapleford, are certainly pre-Conquest.

Melton Mowbray itself had six recorded crosses the construction of which spanned several centuries: (i) Kettleby Cross, (close to the present Total filling station near the junction of Dalby Road to the Leicester Road), (ii) Sheep Cross, on what was Spital End, (now Nottingham Street/Park Road Junction, (iii) Corn Cross at the Swine Lane/Spittle End junction, (reconstructed and reinstated on the Nottingham St/High St junction in 1996 as a memorial to the Royal Army Veterinary Corps), (iv) Butter Cross or High Cross, at the west end of Beast Market,(again reconstructed from partial remains of the original Saxon cross in 1986/7 in the Market Place), (v) Sage Cross, at the East end of the Beast Market close to Salt gate,(on Sherrard Street opposite Sage Cross Street), and (vi) Thorpe Cross at the end of Saltgate (near the junction of Thorps Road and Saxby Road). All the original crosses were removed or destroyed during the reformation and other periods of iconoclasm or simply to make room for traffic or other development.

The effects of the Norman conquest are recorded in the 1086 Domesday Book. This document indicates that settlements at Long Clawson and Bottesford were of noteworthy size; and that Melton Mowbray was a thriving market town of some 200 inhabitants, with weekly markets, two water mills and two priests. The water mills, still in use up to the 18th century, are remembered by the present names of Beckmill Court and Mill Street.

Melton Mowbray has been a market town for over 1,000 years. Recorded as Leicestershire’s only market in the 1086 Domesday Survey, it is the third oldest market in England. Tuesday has been market day ever since royal approval was given in 1324. The market was established with tolls before 1077.

Legacies from the Medieval period include consolidation of village and market town patterns; in Melton Mowbray, Bottesford, Wymondham, and Waltham-on-the-Wolds. The latter had a market in medieval times that continued until 1921, and an annual fair of horses and cattle. Many buildings in Melton Market Place, Nottingham Street, Church Lane, King Street and Sherrard Street have ancient foundations. Alterations to number 16 Church Street revealed a medieval circular stone wall subjected to considerable heat. This is probably the `Manor Oven’ mentioned in 13th century documents. Surveys of 5 King Street show it to be part of an early medieval open-halled house. It may be part of the castle or fortified Manor of the Mowbrays, which existed in the 14th century.

King Richard and King John visited the town and may have stayed at an earlier castle. In 1549 following the Dissolution of the chantries, monasteries and religious guilds, church plate was sold and land purchased for the town. Resulting rents were used to maintain Melton School; first recorded in 1347 and one of the oldest educational establishments in Britain. Funds were also used to maintain roads, bridges and to repair the church clock.

During the English Civil War, Melton was a Roundhead garrison commanded by a Colonel Rossiter. Two battles were fought in the town: in November 1643, Royalists caught the garrison unaware and carried away prisoners and booty; in February 1645, Sir Marmaduke Langdale, commanding a Royalist force of 1,500 men, inflicted severe losses on the Roundheads. Around 300 men were said to have been killed. According to legend a hillside where the battle was thought to have been fought was ankle deep in blood, hence the name ‘Ankle Hill’. However, this name is mentioned in documents pre-dating the Civil War. Furthermore, in the past, the names of Dalby Road and Ankle Hill have been switched around, thus confusing the true site of the battle.

Local notable families seem to have had divided loyalties, although the War ended with great rejoicings outside the “Limes” in Sherrard Street, home of Sir Henry Hudson. His father, Robert Hudson founded the “Maison Dieu” almshouses opposite the Church in 1640, which complement the stone built “Anne of Cleves House” opposite. This was built in 1384 and housed chantry priests until the Dissolution. It was then included in the estates of Anne of Cleves by Henry VIII, as a divorce settlement in the 16th century, although there is local debate about whether she ever stayed there or not. Anne of Cleves’ house is now a public house which is owned by Everards Brewery, a Leicester-based brewery.

Between 1942 and 1964, RAF Melton Mowbray was situated to the south of the village, towards Great Dalby. The Class A airfield was originally intended for aircraft maintenance but was taken over by Transport Command. Many types of aircraft were flown from the airfiled, including Spitfire, Mosquito, Corsair, Vengeance, Hellcat, Dakota and Halifax aircraft, plus Horsa and Hadrian gliders.

Melton Mowbray served as a Thor Strategic missile site between 1958 and 1963, when 254(SM) Squadron operated a flight of three missiles from the base.

The airfield now houses a small industrial estate and much of the original infrastructure has survived. The airfield regularly hosts large “bank holiday” markets.

Stilton cheese originated near Melton Mowbray, and is still made in the town today. Stilton cheese takes its name from the village of Stilton, 80 miles north of London, where it was marketed to travellers on the Great North Road, though no Stilton was ever made there.

Although supermarkets routinely carry pork pies with the label “Melton Mowbray”, there is in fact a specific “hand-raising” process and recipe which marks a pie as a Melton Mowbray pork pie. In the centre of Melton, on Nottingham Street, there is Dickinsons & Morris’s “ye olde pork pie shoppe,” where one can buy true Melton pork pies. However these pork pies are not made in the shop, as some think, they are now made in a factory outside of town. On 4 April 2008 the European Union awarded the Melton Mowbray pork pie Protected Geographical Indication status, following a long-standing application made by the Melton Mowbray Pork Pie Association. As a result of this ruling only pies made within a designated zone around Melton, and using uncured pork, are allowed to carry the Melton Mowbray name on their packaging.

The Fox Hunting crowd also left their mark on the town in a different way, through their “high jinks”.

The phrase painting the town red is said to have originated in Melton back in 1837. Out celebrating a successful hunt, the Marquess of Waterford and his hunting party found several tins of red paint which they daubed liberally on to the buildings of the High Street, some traces of which can still be seen on doors of older buildings in the town.

There is also a picture labelled “A Spree at Melton Mowbray.” and subtitled “or doing the Thing in a Sporting-like manner”. It is dated 1837, the same date as the Marquess’ event. It appears to take place on what is now called Leicester Street and depicts men in hunting clothes climbing on Swan Porch (a building in the market place), fighting and a gentleman apparently being robbed. There is no mention of any red paint. Of course this sort of thing may have been common in Melton Mowbray at this time and there is no evidence that the picture depicts the same events. What is certain is that the physical evidence appears to support the town was painted red. However this does not necessarily mean that the phrase came from the event, and according to the Oxford English Dictionary, the phrase originated in the United States in the late nineteenth century.

The Melton Mowbray event was recorded as happening in the early hours of 6 April 1837. It was later recorded in the London Examiner. Henry Alken’s pictures A Spree at Melton Mowbray and Larking at the Grantham Tollgate are said to illustrate the event. The events were depicted in a play called The Meltonians at The Theatre Royal, Drury Lane in 1838.

Melton Mowbray is home to Melton cloth (first mentioned in 1823), which is the familiar tight-woven woollen cloth which is heavily milled, and a nap raised so as to form a short, dense, non-lustrous pile. Sailors’ pea coats are traditionally made of Melton cloth, the universal workmans’ donkey jackets of Britain and Ireland and in North America, loggers’ “cruising jackets” and Mackinaws.

Melton shares a Member of Parliament with Rutland, which together form the appropriately named “Rutland and Melton” parliamentary constituency.

Melton Mowbray is home to a rare example of early town government. The Melton Mowbray Town Estate was founded at the time of the Reformation, in 1549, when two townsfolk sold gold sequestered from the church and bought land to be held in trust for all inhabitants. The Town Estate provided early forms of education, the first street lighting, and today owns and operates the town’s parks and sports grounds, and the town’s market.

The Town Estate is not a public body but a charitable trust run by 14 feoffees (trustees). Melton Town Estate has been criticised for a lack of openness and in 2009, was the subject of a BBC Inside Out programme. The feoffees’ decision not to participate in the programme, according to the Charity Commission, “left the impression that they were not open about their business and did not feel accountable to the public for their actions”.

Melton Mowbray had only 1766 inhabitants in 1801, but in 1831 they had increased to 3327, in 1841 to 3740, in 1851 to 4434, and in 1861 to 4436.

The Melton Mowbray official web site’s About page lists the current (2009) population of the town as 25,276, and that of Melton Borough as 46,861.

Prior to 1960, the Production Engineering Research Association of Great Britain (PERA) came to the town on Nottingham Road and employed around four hundred people in supporting research and development in industry. It is also home to the East Midlands Manufacturing Advisory Service.

In 2000, the East Midlands Regional Assembly (EMRA) was based in a building also on Nottingham Road.

Petfoods came to the town in 1951 as Chappie Ltd, employing at its peak over two thousand people, it now employs around one thousand. It changed its name Petfoods in 1957, Pedigree Petfoods in 1972 and most recently Masterfoods in January 2002. At Melton, it makes four million items of petfood every day, which is less than it used to. Masterfoods now have their UK headquarters close to Melton at Waltham-on-the-Wolds.

Melton Carnegie Museum is based in Melton Mowbray. The museum has recently been refurbished and visitors can expect a “hands on”, audio visual family orientated experience showing the history and importance of the town. Included are sounds from the ages, a history of the hunt, a preserved phone box, a buried (underfoot and perspex) Saxon and shrapnel from WWII.

Melton Mowbray is renowned for its music-making. The Melton Band (a traditional British-style brass band) can trace its directors back to 1856 and was, until recently, called Melton Borough Band. The colourful Melton Mowbray Toy Soldiers Marching Band was formed in 1936 and Happy Jazz – a dixieland jazz band – has been performing in the town since 1996. There is also the Melton Mowbray Tally Ho Band, formed in 1936, and Tornado Brass, a mixed brass and woodwind group, was founded in the 1980s.

Melton has several pubs, some of which, like the Generous Britain (affectionately known as the Jenny B) continue to encourage new live music and the Noels Arms regularly have experienced local bands playing. There are several other pubs in Melton surviving the latest recession, including one of the oldest establishments in the area, The Anne of Cleves. This ancient building on Burton Street close to St Mary’s church has features dating from the early 14th century. Originally home to Chantry Monks the building was taken during the dissolution and given, by Henry VIII to Anne of Cleves as part of the divorce settlement.

The town boasts an unusual cinema, The Regal, in King Street in the centre of the town. This is a family run picture house which remains in business despite the rise of the huge “Showcase” groups, providing up to date shows with a personal touch. The building itself is a remarkably preserved purpose-built theatre complete with period interior design, sumptuous colours with winding staircases and fancy plasterwork.

Concerts have been played in the carousel bandstand in Melton Mowbray Park since August 1909. There is still a series of concerts on summer Sundays.

The historic Stapleford Miniature Railway built in 1958 is a private steam hauled passenger railway at Stapleford Park around three miles to the east of Melton Mowbray. Famous for its fleet of steam locos and scenic location, it attracts thousands of visitors and tourists during occasional summer openings for charity. It is of the same 10/4″ gauge as the Town Estates small railway that runs in an oval around play close park in Melton, albeit a lot longer.

Also half a mile to the north east of Melton is the theme park “Twin Lakes”. A locally popular venue this park provides a whole host of family and children’s attractions and rides.

Melton railway station is on the line from Birmingham to Stansted Airport via Leicester, Peterborough and Cambridge. Trains run hourly in either direction. Since early 2009 East Midlands Trains have offered a single daily journey from Melton Mowbray to London St Pancras and return. This is notable for being the first regular passenger service to cross the spectacular and historic Welland Viaduct since 1966.

Note: this page is partly based on a Wikipedia page. Text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. Where possible, text is being updated to original, fully referenced research. ‘Our photos’ means we took the photographs. The Street View and street map visuals are courtesy of Google.

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