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The Grange at Burton on the Wolds

Joan and Peter Shaw

The field to the east of Burton's allotments contains the earthworks of an early medieval grange or farm that belonged to the Cistercian Abbey of Garendon. In the middle of the field was a stone circle with a large stone in the centre that was known locally as the Grange Stone.

Garendon Abbey was founded in the twelfth century. Its site is close to Junction 23 of the M1 motorway on land now known as Garendon Park. Like many religious houses, the abbey was wealthy, thanks to bequests made in return for prayers said and souls saved. It had land and property as far afield as Cleveland, Humberside and London. However Burton on the Wolds was one of its richest estates. At the Dissolution of the Monasteries between 1536 and 1541 Garendon Abbey owned 1,440 acres of arable land in Burton parish and thirty acres of meadow, plus grazing land and houses; the parish has a total acreage of 2,500. The Abbey also owned half of Six Hills Wood and we wonder whether this latter was the area that became Twenty Acre and later Mundy's Gorse.

The land on which stood Burton Grange has been ploughed in recent years and given over to arable farming, but George Green, a founder member of the Loughborough and District Archaeological Society and Colin Platt of Leeds University Archaeological Department made a survey of the site in 1963 while its features were still discernible, and thanks to them we have a comprehensive view of the field at that time.

George Green's sketch map of 1963.

Both men recorded what they had found. Mr Green kept copious notes of his visits to places of archaeological interest. Of Burton, he wrote:

    We went very fully round the site. Remember this is a large field but it is nearly covered by earthworks. We felt that one long ditch or channel running the fully length of the field down to Burton Roadside Cow Pasture waste was a drainage channel but it is surprising how extremely wide, deep and well-marked it is. The greater moated side is fairly high up the hillside but on three sides it is extremely well marked still. Outside it, down in the north-east corner is an extremely large ditched area that would seem to indicate another large building. From this there runs along the bottom of the field a well-raised and broad bank it continues right along to the field entrance gate which is near Burton village and faces Wymeswold road. Between this bank and the roadside waste an extremely deep hollow persists partially marked by the great thorn hedge of the field. It carries a deep-set stream. Outside this hollow is a further hollow which marks the earlier trackway of the Sixhills Road (the present motor road over the cow pastures is set a little higher and with less swinging to and fro). Just by the field gate but on the outside of the field the small brook is dammed across by a fairly broad brick-built dam with a low-down grill in it. I take it this was a sheepwash place. It is nearly overgrown and crumbling. Just inside the field along the bank by the hedgeside an extra hollow or ditch occurs but it does not persist for far.
Colin Platt gave his own interpretation of the earthworks in his book The Monastic Grange in Medieval England. He said the earthworks included the remains of a deep wide moat, cutting off a corner at the highest portion of the field. Enclosure banks circled the rest of the field to form a large rectangular outer enclosure. He thought that the small moated enclosure held the grange buildings and the outer enclosure functioned as an outer court. Mr Platt included Burton in a list of examples of the classic grange plan.

Paul Courtney's map, published in circa 1981.

Fred Hartley's survey, published in 1989.

Probably the grange was managed by the monks of Garendon for only a comparatively short time. In 1253 they were paying tithes to the parson of Prestwold for land they were cultivating themselves, but by 1325 the Lord of the Manor of Seagrave was receiving rents from 'the free tenants in Burton Grange'.

A few tenants of the Grange are known by name. In 1361 John de Mowbray died 'seised of one knight's fee in Oseby and Burton super le Wold, which the Abbot of Garendon held', in 1536 it was held by the 'heirs of William Gould', and in 1539 it was granted in fee to John Wileman. The parish registers show Nicholas Inglish living there in 1574, John Pollard in 1587 and John Tansley in 1633 but by that time the property may have been split between more than one household.

The Landsdowne Cartulary which lists Garendon's holdings, speaks of a sheep enclosure at Burton outside the ditches of the grange court. In common with many other religious establishments, Garendon derived most of its revenue from sheep and cattle grazing and its tenants probably continued farming in like manner. Some readers may recall Dr W.G. Hoskins' heartrending story of the demise of Willowes, 'Doom fell upon the little hamlet of Willowes, in its remote hollow in the wolds that look across the vale to Brooksby, on a December day of 1495, when Sir Ralph Shirley turned all the arable into sheep and cattle pastures, and thirty persons departed in tears and perished.' In 1518, Sir Ralph Shirley held the Manor of Burton. There is no evidence that he held the grange, but he doubtless controlled what went on there. In his will, Sir Ralph requested that he be buried at Garendon Abbey.

After the Dissolution of the Monasteries, Garendon Abbey and its possessions were granted to the Earl of Rutland.

When Henry Skipwith of Cotes died in 1610 'the farm and grange of Burton were held of the King, as of the Honour of Leicester, in chief, by a twentieth part of a knight's fee, and worth 5.'

'Grange Close' was included in the Burton Hall Estate when it was sold in 1838. By that time there were no habitable buildings and the field was under pasture.

In 1868, Wymeswold historian Thomas Rossal Potter wrote, 'On the right of the road to Seg's Hill [Six Hills] may be noticed the Grange Stone. A few years ago, the Druidical circle of which it formed the centre was unfortunately broken, but at the writer's suggestion Lord Archibald [Archibald St Maur of Burton Hall, later to become Duke of Somerset] kindly stopped the work of demolition, or the whole would have been macadamised,' suggesting perhaps that this happened at a time that work was being carried out on the nearby road.

The story told is that German prisoners broke up the Grange Stone to make a rockery around the sergeants' mess during the Second World War (the sergeants' mess was situated in Town End Plantation, a few hundred yards west of the field). However, George Green wrote that when he made a search of the field on 26th December 1956, he found the stone in two pieces a hundred yards back from the common. One piece was still fixed firmly in the ground and was surrounded by a saucer-like depression about six feet in diameter. The measurement around the top of this fixed portion was ten feet nine inches, and Mr Green thought it was similar to erratics at Grimston and Thorpe Arnold. He found faint evidence of a circular embankment but noted no specific measurements, just that it was a 'little distance away' from the Grange Stone.

We cannot rule out the possibility that this circle was of ancient construction but some monastic granges are known to have had round dovecotes and it has been suggested that the circle could have been the foundation or supports of a structure such as this.

There has no doubt been a succession of buildings on this field. It is littered with fragments of tile and slate and large pieces of stone have been pushed into the hedgerow. Apart from that crushed and spread on the roads, much of the building material will have been reused around the parish.

A small group of residents, led by the local archaeological warden, walked the Grange Field in later 2004. Predictably, finds were confined to early and later medieval pottery and ceramic building material. They were unable to identify remnants of the Grange Stone.


Photographs of Grange Field taken by Peter Shaw circa 2004.
Top: looking south. Bottom: looking south-west.


Paul Courntey, 'Monastic Granges of Leicestershire', Transactions of Leicestershire Archaeological and Historical Society Vol. LVI (1980–81)

George Farnham, 'Prestwold and its Hamlets in Medieval Times', Transactions of Leicestershire Archaeological and Historical Society Vol. XVII (1932–33).

R.F. Hartley, The Medieval Earthworks of Central Leicestershire, (1989)

W.G. Hoskins, Essays in Leicestershire History, (1950).

Wallace Humphrey, Garendon Abbey, (1982).

John Nichols, History and Antiquities of the County of Leicester, Vol III Pt II, (1800).

Colin Platt, The Monastic Grange in Medieval England, (1969).

T.R. Potter, Rambles Around Loughborough, (1868).

The Green Collection in the Local Studies Room at Loughborough Library.

Documents relating to Burton on the Wolds at the Record Office for Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland.


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