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In addition the WHO has digitised versions of:

  • George Farnham's unpublished MS of notes about Wymeswold medieval history (akin to a 1920s update of Nichols)
  • Enclosure Award and later maps plus assorted terriers held in the archive of Trinity College Cambridge
  • Marshall Brown's pharmaceutical journal 1869
  • Wymeswold school log books 1875–1982
  • Wymeswold Parochial Charities minutes 1880–1930
  • photographs taken by Philip Brown between 1890s and 1930s
  • Sidney Pell Potter's A History of Wymeswold 1915
  • Lily Brown's diary 1916
  • Church Council Minute Book for St Mary's, Wymeswold 1932–1955
  • WI survey of Wymeswold gravestones (St Mary's; Baptist chapel; Methodist chapel; 'The Quakers') 1981–2
  • Rempstone Steam Fair programme 1983
Email bobtrubs@indigogroup.co.uk to discuss access to these (e.g. via memory stick or ZIP file).


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The north Leicestershire railway that never was

Bob Trubshaw

Researching and writing about local history involves much thinking about what happened in the past. Taking a rather philosophical perspective then places are what they are now because they are, so to speak, the sum total of everything that has happened there in the past. From an even deeper philosophical viewpoint then places are also the sum total of something even more vast and imponderable – all the things that did not happen in the past.

This viewpoint opens up vast possibilities for those interested in 'alternate' histories – way more than merely 'What would have happened if Germany had won the Second World War?' or 'What if Napoleon had not been defeated at Waterloo?' This essay is just as counterfactual, but in a much more local way. It's about what didn't happen in Wymeswold or Willoughby in the late nineteenth century.

Sometime in the late 1980s someone – I've long since forgotten who – briefly mentioned there were once plans to build a railway through Wymeswold. Of course this never happened. Presumably it would run from Loughborough and go towards Melton Mowbray as this would have enabled the many dairy farmers with farms in and around Wmeswold to more easily get their milk to the Silton dairies in Melton.

Bearing in mind trains cannot climb steep gradients then a quick look at the 1880s Orndance Survey maps shows there was only one option for the route. After leaving Loughborough it would cross the River Soar at Stanford on Soar (close to where the Great Central viaduct would later be built in 1896 to 1897) and then follow the south bank of the King's Brook towards Hoton. Best guess is that the line would deviate from the watercourse to come closer to the village. Although this would need a cutting, there would be the added benefit of a bridge to take the Loughborough to Nottingham road (now the A6) over the track.

The route would then continue along the same watercourse to the confluence with the River Mantle then follow the Mantle towards Wymeswold. Again it would make sense to create a cutting in the rising ground where the Scout hut and cricket clubhouse are now located at the side of Burton Lane to allow a bridge to take the road over the track. Wymeswold station would logically be to the west of that bridge, roughly opposite Trinity Crescent and London Lane.

Just possibly the line would have continued to follow the Mantle and head towards Six Hills and thence to Ragdale and on to Rotherby where it would join the Midland Railway's Leicester to Melton line. But this would generate little or no extra traffic.



Alternatively, if the route went towards Willoughby and then on to Old Dalby it would join the Melton to Nottingham line. Well only after 1879 as that was when the Midland Railway's Old Dalby route was opened. This route would serve Willoughby and have the added benefit of making it easy for goods and passengers to change at Old Dalby for trains to Nottingham. However, in this fictional 'what if' approach it is plausible that the Old Dalby to Melton part of this route was created at an earlier date (as part of the Loughborough to Wymeswold route) to link Loughborough to Melton, with the line from Old Dalby to Nottingham being added subsequently.

Looking at the contours on an OS map it seems most likely that the line would need to run to the south of Willoughby village. Most plausibly Willoughby station would have been on Hades Lane. A cutting would take the line under the Fosse Way (A46) before a fairly steep descent (eased by a generous 'contour following' curve) down to Old Dalby.


Making money from Londoners keen on questionable country pursuits

In addition to linking the Wolds villages to local destinations such as Loughborough, Melton and Nottingham there was potential for profitable passenger services to London – certainly 'specials' if not ones running to a regular timetable. This poster from 1902 makes clear that the Great Central Railway was promoting itself to those interested in travelling from London to the Midlands for fox-hunting. The poster includes the prices for 'first class hunting season tickets'. These trains had carriages and horse boxes. Presumably the Midland Railway had similar arrangements. After all, without the railways subscription fox hunting would not have taken off in the way it did as such trains during the hunting season enabled Londoners to travel to the hunt during the morning, take part, then be home in time for bed. With the railway's restaurant car providing a breakfast on the way north and an evening meal on the way home.


How different Wymeswold and Willoughby might have been

So there would be several benefits from such a line. But perhaps not enough to justify the substantial costs of construction. However had the line come about then in all probability Wymeswold and Willoughby would have grown considerably because of the easier access to the national rail network.

The most predictable benefits would be a local coal merchant in the goods yards at both Wymeswold and Willoughby. As already noted, dairy farmers could more easily send their milk to Melton. And also send milk on to London – and we know that milk from farms near to the Melton to Leicester line was being sent to London. Transport of livestock to and from markets would have been easier. Bear in mind farmers buy their livestock from one or more markets and sell at different markets, so they are not always using the nearest ones. This minimises inbreeding. And which markets are used for buying or selling are passed down from father to son, presumably over a great many generations.

In addition to such obvious benefits, the presence of a railway allows for development of businesses that otherwise would not have been located there. An agricultural merchant selling feedstuff and the latest farming equipment might have set up at either Wymeswold or Willoughby. Older maps shown a 'Kiln Close' near to where Wymeswold Memorial Hall – clearly associated with the clay deposits at the south end of Clay Street. Whatever was actually there seems to have been fairly small-scale. But the ability for a railway to deliver coal might have led to much more substantial brickmaking activities stretching west to where Trinity Crescent is located. Such a brickworks would have been labour-intensive so would have needed a few dozen simple terraced houses to be built near to the works. Presumably the streets would be named 'Alford Street' and 'Leake Street' after the two pre-eminent men of Wymeswold, Dean Alford and Judge Leake.

One curious outcome of this specific alternative history is that if this brickworks was still operational in the 1930s then the chimneys would have prevented the building of Wymeswold airfield. Although by the 1980s such a brickworks would likely have closed down and the land 'developed' into an industrial estate akin to that on the former airfield, just much closer to the village.

Once mechanised drilling of bore holes for water had been developed in the late nineteenth century then someone might have realised that the deeper ground water in the Wolds is rich in gypsum. Which would make it an excellent match for the water supplies at Burton on Trent. If you want to know why this is important then according to the 'The Oxford Companion to Beer' website:

    Gypsum's positive effects are to reduce wort pH, improve malt extraction efficiency through enhanced amylolytic activity, give a buffering capacity to the wort, balance the hop flavor for highly hopped beers, improve wort clarity, and remove phosphates and proteins in the wort trub [i.e. particles suspended in the wort].
    beerandbrewing.com/dictionary/6KDwm8vWwW/
So could one or more of the many East Midlands breweries – such as Everards or Shipstones – have set up premises alongside the railway in Wymeswold? The malt would have arrived by rail from Newark or Grantham and the hops transported from Kent, while the casks of beer would be readily transported to nearby towns and cities. If so there would have been a strong smell of malt over the village once a week, as I recall from visiting Horsham regularly in the late 1980s when King and Barnes were still brewing there. And yet more terraced houses would have been needed for the workers. Who spent their evenings downing pints of Alford Ale, Potter’s Porter and Leeke’s Judgement IPA…

One of the reasons Wymeswold's population fell from the 1880s onwards is because the younger men and their families were moving to Loughborough for work at light engineering companies such as Brush Engineering or Morris Cranes. But a railway would have made Wymeswold and Willoughby equally attractive locations for manufacturers, with the advantage that the workforce did not need to relocate. Just one such manufacturer would have significantly changed the way these villages evolved during the twentieth century.

And there's another tantalising possibility. T.R. Potter had established a well-regarded school in Wymeswold in the 1830s. If that school had still be operating at the time the railway arrived – and that is a big 'if' – then maybe it would have evolved in exactly the same way the schools at Oakham and Uppingham did (and indeed the endowed schools in Loughborough also) as these were also reliant on the railways to transport their pupils to and from their parents when terms ended and started. If so the western end of Far Street in Wymeswold may have taken on an entirely different appearance as classrooms and dormitories were steadily added. Not to mention the need for extensive sports fields.


How Wymeswold might have developed around 1900 if the railway had been built

    Key:
    A: Wymeswold School
    B: brickworks
    C: light engineering works
    D: brewery
    E: terraced houses (where Appleton Drive and the Memorial Hall were actually built)
    F: Wymeswold Station (in a cutting)

 

No railway meant no brickworks, no brewery, no engineering, no terraced houses and no public school. Perhaps just as well if you like Wymeswold and Willoughby the way they actually evolved…

 


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