by Victoria Killeen.
In her family ﬁles, Ann Brabazon-Shevill had many references to Eastwell in England. She handed them to her cousin Victoria Killeen, nee Brett and asked for a summary. The following excellent contribution was forthcoming in mid 1998. In her last paragraph Victoria referred to an illustration which perhaps is the one shown below.
Editor's note. Since this article was written research has moved on and some information will be out of date; for instance the Coritani tribe are now thought to have been named Corieltauvi; Brabazons probably arrived in Eastwell towards the end of the thirteenth century.
EASTWELL: a brief look at the past.
The smallest of English villages have much to tell of their past and Eastwell may have more to tell than most. lt has been said that the landscape we see today is a history book of the past, and, with practice, we may learn to read it like any other book, This short essay is concerned with helping the present inhabitants of Eastwell to see the village with new eyes.
To look for a beginning to Eastwell, one has to travel back over many centuries ~almost certainly to the years before the birth of Christ. The name "Estewelle" in its early form literally means the well or stream in the east, but settlement in the area will have begun before the village took this name. Successive migration to Britain from the Continent by Bronze Age and Iron Age people established small settlements at sites where water was to be had, and the land could be easily cultivated. These
sites were developed, and sometimes abandoned, by the later influx of Romans, Saxons, Vikings and Normans. Thus, with water available, the right sort of soil, the existence of prehistoric trackways like the Saltway passing close to ~ or through the parish, and field names like Roundhill suggesting Bronze Age burial mounds, a picture of man living at Eastwell for at least the past three thousand years can be easily visualised.
Prior to the Roman invasion of Britain in A.D. 43, the area around Eastwell lay within the territory of the Coritani – an Iron Age tribe who were farmers. Although the Romans overcame the resistance of the Coritani, along with the other Celtic tribes in England, rural life would have continued in much the same way, with the inevitable fraternisation growing up between the conquered and the conquerors. No doubt, the Romans would have taken the best of land for their estates, and introduced a new
style of living. Pottery sherds found within the parish, along with the coin board unearthed at Goadby Marwood in 1953, shows that there was considerable farming and industrial activity going on in the area during the four hundred years after A.D. 43. Where did these people live? No-one really knows yet, but there must be some clues waiting to be ‘discovered’ in Eastwell.
By the year 400 A.D. the Roman occupation of Britain was being challenged by the Saxons, and, with the departure of the Roman soldiers to defend Rome in 410, the Saxons soon over-ran the countryside. The village and parish as we know it today, occupying some 1346 acres (Nicholls 1291 acres), would have been established during this Saxon period, which lasted from 410 until 787, when Viking pirates began to attack the east coast of Saxon England. Many signs of the Saxon influence on the landscape remain to be seen today. Most obvious are the ridges and furrows which formed the arable strips of the village open field system of cultivation. The strips still cover much of the parish, and even where they have disappeared on the lighter soils, ﬁeld names such as Westinghams testify to their Saxon origins. Some people will have noticed that the fields adjacent to Stathern Road as far as Lodge Farm, do not have ridges and furrows, and this area undoubtedly formed the pasture area in the open field system. lndeed, the fields are still called the ‘Pasture’, although the parish has been inclosed for at least 300 years.
lt was in this pasture area that the escutcheon of an early Saxon hanging bowl (dated at 450 A.D.) was found in 1963, and jet finger rings have turned up here also. Do we have a Saxon cemetery to be found somewhere in Eastwell? Double hedged parish boundaries are often of Saxon origin too. Does the parish boundary running north-east from Harby Hill mark the boundary of some great Saxon estate? Answers to the questions may never be found, yet small clues, when pieced together, may lead to important discoveries.
The coming of the pagan Viking marauders in the last half of the 9th century has already been mentioned. lt was a turbulent time. and the Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Mercia, in which Eastwell lay, became part of the Danish occupied area known as Danelaw. Fighting and plundering were never far away, and peace was not really established until William the Conqueror won the Battle of Hastings in 1066.
Prior to the advent of the Normans, one has to rely very much on archaeology to tell the story of the village, but in 1086, the Domesday Book gives us our first written evidence of Eastwell. Part of the land was held by Geoffrey de Wirce, who had the Manor of Melton Mowbray, and part by Aschil, one of the King's Sergeants. Between them, they appeared to have sufficient arable land for four ploughs, and there was 30 acres of meadow. Leicestershire is fortunate in having further written evidence of land holdings in the form of the Leicestershire Survey of 1124/1129, and it is clear that changes had taken place between the two surveys. During the passage of the 800 years, from the arrival of the Normans until the early part of this century, the fortunes of the village were intimately interwoven with those of the lords of the Manor, and any history of Eastwell must, of necessity, make reference to them.
Nichols, in his "History and Antiquities of the County of Leicester 1795/1815" confirms that there were two manors in Eastwell, the largest of which was the chief seat of the Brabazon family from around 1250 to 1630. This family originally came from Normandy. Of the other manor very little information is immediately available, apart from the fact that it was sold by a Mr. Blith in 1631.
The Brabazon family had a very great influence in national affairs during the fourteenth century, Roger le Brabazon being a judge of the Common Pleas, and, afterwards Lord Chief Justice of England. The involvement with affairs of State continued throughout the Brabazon association with Eastwell, Sir William becoming Treasurer of lreland and Lord Justice there in the 1540's. This association with lreland eventually led to settlement of the family in lreland, where, in 1627, William, Lord Brabazon, was created Earl of Meath. Another member of the family who is worth a mention is John Brabazon, who was slain at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485.
The fact that such an influential family lived within the village must have had a considerable impact on it. lt is fairly certain that the site of the Brabazon manor house was on that of the present Manor Farm, some calamity having overtaken it during the sixteenth century. Foundations of the old manor are said to extend over a considerable area outside the present Manor Farm and garden. The water from the Town Wells was held in fish ponds which can still be seen alongside the stream to the
east of Manor Farm.
east of Manor Farm.
Having spoken at the national prestige of one noble Eastwell Family, what is known of the lot of the peasant dwelling in the village at the same time? Certainly his life would be rough and hard. This is typiﬁed by an entry on a Court Roll for 1391 stating that "John Brabazon came by attorney, and protesting that he did not know that Robert Godeknave, of Braundeston, Chaplin, had any sheep at Eastwell. Said that a certain Ralph Clerk of Eastwell, on Saturday aforesaid, killed a certain John Danyell of Eastwell, by which all his goods and chattels were seized, etc....." Numerous other entries refer to disputes such as reaping someone else’s corn, of taking with force and arms 40.s worth of goods and chattels, and of taking his horse and detaining it.
It may be surprising, but the names of many villagers are recorded on Lay Subsidy rolls. These start in 1327, and are available for 1323 and 1381. In the latter, 47 people are named, and, with children being excluded, gives an indication of the size of the village at that time. Occupations are also given, these being mainly husbandman, with the odd shepherd, ploughman and webster.
The only present day building which can he said to go back to this period is the Parish Church. It is quite possible that a timber church would have existed before the present stone one was built, and it is perhaps worth mentioning that sites are known where religious worship can be traced back on the site to pre-Christian times. That is not to say that this happened at Eastwell. Certainly, the church in its early days had associations with Croxton Abbey, and we know that, in 1209, Robert de Arraby gave the church to the Abbey and Convent of Leicester. The architectural style suggests that the chancel was first built around 1220, and that the remainder was erected during the following hundred years. The outstanding Feature is the stone screen between the chancel and nave, and it has been suggested that the church consisted of only the chancel initially.
The church we know today has changed considerably since the time when Nichols wrote of it in 1800. Then it must have been much more like the one known by the Brabazons. Nichols records that "at the upper end of the south aisle is a little chapel, parted out from the rest of the church by an old wainscot screen. On the floor of this chapel is a large gravestone, in memory of one of the family of Brabazon, with this inscription "...cujus anime propitietur dous. Amen." If one looks carefully at the pillars on the south side aisle, one can see the grooves cut out in them, presumably for the wainscot screen. What a pity it has gone. A victim of the mild restoration of 1861 no doubt? As for the gravestone, one fitting this description is to be found in front of the pulpit, disappearing under the first pew.
At the west end of the south aisle is an old gravestone hearing a cross upon it, but little seems to be known of its age, or whom it commemorates. Nichols tells us that it formerly stood at the East end (another gravestone of the Brabazons!) which has been converted into a burial place for the family of Eyre; a family we shall deal with later. On the north side of the chancel, a well-preserved early 14th century effigy of a priest holding a chalice is to be found, and on the west side of the south porch entrance, one can see a Mass dial - a necessity in the days before clocks and watches. Little of the
medieval glass which decorated the windows remains, the only pieces being in the east window of the north aisle.
So much for the church. How did the Rector live in this quite well endowed parish? The Glebe terrier, taken in 1611, tells us that "the house consisted of 7 baies, covered with thatch, three chambers plastered, and the parlour borded" ~ that is, a timber framed house. By 1708 it had become a house "built with stone, and covered with thatch. lt contained a back kitchen floored with earth, a
hall floored with earth, a parlour floored with plaster, a kitchen payed with broadstone, a room
to set drink, etc., all these being, on the first floor. Above stairs there is no chamber. Above the
back kitchen over the hall are two chambers floored with Plaster. Over the kitchen, a chamber floored with boards. Over the room to set drinks, etc. is a chamber floored this year with plaster. "
Considerable improvement has taken place in the century between the two descriptions, but it is not clear how much is new. It is probably unlikely that the old Rectory was totally demolished. We have a clue as to when the improvements took place, for when Mr Mellors was renovating the Rectory in 1970, alter it ceased to be a Rectory, a stone was found carrying the initials W.C.M. and a date of
1658. Are the initials those of the builder or the rector? lt should he possible to ﬁnd out.
The year 1631 marks an important landmark in the history of Eastwell, for it saw the coming of the Eyre Family, who were to bring the whole of the parish under a single ownership, and keep it for 170 years. It also saw the end of the Brabazon inﬂuence which had lasted for something like 300 years, the two families spanning a total of 500 years. Rowland Eyre, of Hassop, in Derbyshire, acquired land from a Mr Blith in 1631, and on this site he built his house, the present Hall. In fact, if one looks closely, one can see Mr Blith‘s manor house standing between the Eyre Hall and the road. The Eyre building carries the date 1635 on the lead rainwater pipe heads. The Blith manor house is, therefore, earlier than this, and probably the oldest building, in the village.
Illustration: St Michael’s Church Eastwell, 1791 from John Nichols, The History and Antiquities of the County of Leicester, Vol 2 Part 1, p.168.