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A story about the village (or Swine) green from 1726.

This article was written by the Reverend Foord Kelcey in 1908 for the parish magazine.

Those who read last month’s story of the Town Lands carefully will remember that amongst the property belong to the Trustees was the Village Green. And if they read right through the note at the end, they found that in the early days of its history it was called the Swine Green. This name seems long since to have been forgotten. Some of the witnesses in the action at law that I am going to tell about, whose memory would carry them back to about 1660, say they remember the swine of the town (ie of the village or parish) being turned out and tented upon it, from whence it was called Swine Green.

It must be understood that the Green has undergone considerable alterations within the last 25 years which has quite changed its character. Among the Town Lands papers there is a small carefully made plan of the Green dated 1802, in which the brook is shown running straight from where the factory boiler-house now is, across to the right of the fire-engine house, flowing round close by the gravel causeway, and then back again by a sharp turn to the ‘little bridge’. This, no doubt, was the natural course of the brook, and we know that the present course was made artificially. People who remember the old course tell that the water-way was much less clearly defined than the new one, the banks were lower and the water would often run over the adjacent ground , while sometimes it was so shallow that children could cross the brook by a few stepping stones. Since the alteration in the course of the stream, the level of the green in both parts has been considerably raised so that the ground now is well above the water level except at flood time.

The fence too along the road is modern. These alterations have entirely changed the character of our Village Green, and made a capital playground for children where the pigs of the village used to feed and wallow. It is interesting to have re-discovered the old name “Swine Green”, but we may be glad to think it no longer suitably applies. The present area of the Green is just an acre and a half, which tallies with a note made in 1726, the period of the story I am now going to tell.

The information for my story is contained in a large square paper document found in the Town Lands box. It is what lawyers call a Brief – that is a statement of claim or defence in an action at law drawn up for the use of the barrister who appears for one of the parties in Court.

I ought to say that, as yet, this Brief is the only source of information about this action that I know of. If a trial of the action took place it would have been at the Leicester Assizes, and I expected to find some official record of the trail and result. I have applied to the Clerk of the Peace who sent me to the Temple in London, then I went to the Law Courts, then to the Record Office , and lastly to the British Museum, but all in vain. Through official carelessness the record of the Assizes at this period have been lost or destroyed.

This make the Brief, our solitary record of this piece of parish history, the more valuable. I don’t think we need doubt that the decision of the matter was in favour of the Quorn people as the Village Green in its entirety is still part of the Town Lands, though it is now rented by the Council and thrown open for public use. That the action was tried in Court seems likely for on the margin of this Brief are pencil notes probably made by the barrister to help him in conducting the case, and I suspect the signature on the outside “Wm Gylby, August 3rd 1726” is also his.*

This Brief shows that an action was brought in 1726 by the Earl of Huntingdon as Lord of the Manor, against our Town Trustees (called Feoffees than) challenging their right of ownership in the chief part of the Village Green.

As related in a former paper, the parish of Quorn was in old times included in the parish of Barrow, and also in the great manor or estate of the Lord of the Manor of Barrow. Lords of Manors formerly had extensive rights over the lands and people in their manors. Among these rights was the ownership of all waste lands or commons. Now, in 1726, Theophilus, Earl of Huntingdon, was Lord of this Manor, and the action was brought against the Town Lands Trustees in his name.

The claim to the Green as waste or common land seems to have been set up before 1726, when the action was actually brought, as we shall see when we come to the evidence of a witness named Edward Stocks. But in 1726 matters came to a climax, and the lord of the manor brought his action for trespass and damage against men named John Stevenson, John Smith and Benjamin Mounteney, because, by the order of the Trustees, they had trespassed on this Green, injured the grass, and cut down, and carried away eighty willows and five loads of underwood, and also carried away five loads of wood and five loads of timber, and converted them to their own use to the loss of the claimant of £120.

It appears that about forty or fifty years before 1726 the Trustees had planted the Green with willow trees and had separated off a pieced of the Green by a fence and ditch and cut the willows there as osiers. This piece was about one quarter of the whole Green and was situated at the southern end, ie near the little bridge. This osier bed had been let to one Robert Locker. He is called in the Brief a scuttlemaker, which no doubt means basketmaker, and he would use the osiers in his trade.

Now it seems that the Earl did not claim this piece as waste or common, but only the rest of the Green which had not been enclosed, but which was covered thickly with willow trees.

The Brief tells how the right of the Trustees was defended. The title was traced out on the lines indicated in the last paper (in Oct Magazine), but some interesting details are given in the Brief which are not there told. It was related how a Commission of Enquiry was held in 1631 to settle what lands actually belonged to the Town Lands Trustees. The Brief gives the names of the witnesses called in connection with the Enquiry and the substance of their evidence . By this means we have preserved some account of Village Green as it was 150 years before 1726, ie 330 years ago, in the reign of Queen Elizabeth. This is too interesting to be passed over.

The Enquiry was held in Loughborough, March 31st 1631. Six inhabitants of Quorn had been previously examined as witnesses. The first was William Presson (probably the same as Preston) who said he was 80 years old, that he had lived in Quorn 45 years ago and continued there 30 years before, that he knew the Swine Green whereon many willows grew which were yearly cropt by the Churchwardens and Town Officers, and sold by them for the town’s use. Note, this old man’s memory would go right through the reign of Queen Elizabeth, he having been born in the time Edward VI. Wm Brandon, aged 61, Francis Harris, aged 51, (who said he was “a scholar in Quorndon 45 years ago”) John Hawkins, aged 65, and Lawrence Squire, aged 62, gave similar evidence. Humphrey Johnson, aged 60, said he had been employed by Francis Bradshaw and John Collington, Churchwardens, to crop the willows and that the heads had been sold.

This evidence established that in 1631 and at least 50 years earlier the Trustees or Parish Officers had used the Green as though it belonged to the Parish Lands.

Francis Harris, in his evidence , say that “45 years before William Taylor and Richard Draper rented the willows that grew on the Green, by which we may suppose that in the reign of Queen Elizabeth these two men were basket makers here, who cut the young shoots off the willows for use in their trade”

The evidence of these witnesses, long before dead at the time of the action, was produced in the records of the Enquiry.

Now we come to the witnesses ready to stand in Court and give evidence in 1726. First there were Theophilus and George Thompson, Matthew Fukes (no doubt a practical man like his descendants of the present day), Joseph Skellington and Pleasant Harris. These were to prove that “the Osier Bed was taken out of Swine Green about 40 years ago, and was planted with osiers by Robert Locker by the direction of Mr Chaveney one of the feofees, and before that time was an undivided part of Swine Green, and rent had been paid ever since for the same by Robert Locker, James Tugman, Robert Cropper and Robert Tugman”.

Moreover T Thompson, M Fukes, P Harris with William and Joseph Frankes could also say that they had known Swine Green for 60 years and that they remembered the swine of the town turned out and tented upon it. They had frequently served on Lord Huntington’s jury (at the Manor Court at Barrow), and had never known any presentments of town cattle for trespassing there.

Richard Watkin is ready to say that about twenty years before he was employed to cut willows on Swine Green by Thomas Chamberlain the Constable and to make gates, stulpps and rails to fence off the field; and John Measures remembered Watkin doing the work. Robert Cropper is to testify that he took the Osier Bed about seven years ago of Mr John Parnam (one of the Town Feofees) and held it two or three years at £5 per annum, that he paid the first year’s rent to John Parnam and the next to this brother Thomas, and complaining of the fence to Walter Brandon (another Feoffee) was told he might cut some of the willows in question for they belonged to the town and he accordingly cut some.

The evidence of Edward Stocks shows that the matter had been in dispute 10 years before, for he said “he was employed by Wm. White (Lord Huntingdon’s agent) about ten years ago to fetch two or three trees off Swine Green blown down by the wind; and the Feoffees complaining of it, Wm White ordered him to draw the trees back again and a flood came and carried them away.

James Tugman said that he rented the Osier Bed twenty years ago from the Town Feofees, and had heard that Oliver and Locker rented it before his time.

Mr John Watts produced the Town Book (which he had received from Mr Hartopp) wherein the rents of the land were entered; and other witnesses whose names are not given were to be called to prove that there never were two Swine Greens in Quorn, and that the part of the Green on which the trees in question grew was never let to any tenant, it lying open to the town and unfenced, and the trees growing so thick that the herbage was not worth anything.

Now, before concluding let us sum up the points of village history revealed in our story.

First we are enabled to picture our Village Green 350 years ago, in Queen Elizabeth’s time. It consisted of the same ground as now, but the course of the brook was different, and it was open at the Church end to the road. Moreover it was so swampy that only willows could be grown on it and the pigs of the village routed about and wallowed in its mud.

Meantime the right to crop off the young sprouts of the willows was let to parishioners who carried on the trade of skuttle or basket makers. To improve the use of the willows, about 1665 the Trustees allowed their tenant, Robert Locker, to part off by fence and ditch, about a quarter of the Green at the little bridge end, and to cultivate it as a regular osier bed. Locker (and his father before him) had been preceded in his trade by Taylor, Draper and Oliver, and was followed by James Tugman (about 1705), Robert Cropper (about 1719) and Robert Tugman.

At last it seems that the Trustees determined to clear the Green (except the osier bed) and it must have been thick with trees and under growth, if, as alleged, 80 willow trees were cut down and 15 loads of underwood, wood and timber were carried off.

Then again, we see the Earl of Huntingdon, as lord of the manor, endeavouring to assert one of the rights yet left to him , and the inhabitants of Quorn resisting his claim and standing up for their rights, successfully, as it seems certain.

Some day I may tell of some of the powers of the lord of the manor and how they were exercised in this parish. In modern times the powers have greatly diminished. At the present time Mr Warner of Quorn Hall is lord of the manor of Barrow, in whose high sense of duty and neighbourly interest in our parish we may safely trust, should any of the old power remain.

* I have found evidence of a William Gylby of Gray’s Inn, Middlesex being active in the East Midlands during this period. It is not out of the realms of possibility that more could be found out about this Gentleman. KP

 Submitted on: 2011-01-23
 Submitted by: Kathryn Paterson
 Artefact ID: 1175

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