The old centre of Kibworth Harcourt lies 200 yards east of the present main road where the principal street, known as Main Street, leads into Albert Street and has remained much the same since mediaeval times and is the main part of The Kibworth Harcourt Conservation Area.. The principal route along Main Street was bypassed by the present A6 Leicester Road in 1810. (see Modern/ TheTurnpikeRoute through Kibworth Harcourt).
Main Street runs from Leicester Road in in an easterly direction until it reaches The Old House (see Early Modern/The Old House) when it turns right to return to the main road near the old Rose and Crown Hotel. The dog leg pattern of roads by the present Main Street and the Nook existed in 1484.
Main Street was very much the heart of Kibworth Harcourt and as one travels along the road from the old Rose and Crown Hotel the historical significance of the road becomes apparent.
Taking a walk down Main Street from The Rose and Crown the first section of the street was formerly known as the King’s Highway, or Berry’s Hill and used to have several shops and Inns (see Modern/A Journey Inn the Past). Berry’s slaughterhouse and butcher’s was at no. 10 and gave this part of Main Street the name Berry’s Hill after ‘Beefy’ Berry, the butcher between the two World Wars.
15 Main Street was ‘The Smithy’, housing the local wheelwright, a vitally important trade in the days of horse drawn transport. The forge was still in service until the 1940s. Legend has it that the wheel of a wagon belonging to the famous preacher John Wesley was repaired here when he passed through the village on one of his evangelical journeys.
Turning to the left this section of Main Street boasted three Inns, thFoxInn at 16, the Navigation Inn at 24, opposite was the Admiral Nelson at 31 which had a skittle alley at the rear and ceased trading in the 1930’s.
No 18 was the Old Bakehouse, this was a baker’s complete with delivery yard at the rear of the building. The end of the Old Bakehouse used to be perfectly square but several coaching accidents occurred at this spot and the end wall was rebuilt at the angle you can see today. At least one accident resulted in a fatality when a coach overturned and several outside passengers were pitched through the windows of nearby houses.
A barn, formerly situated to the rear of 25 Main Street was, it is believed, in the early 19th century, the setting for the Kibworth Theatre (see Modern/Kibworth Theater).
As Main Street reaches the Old House we turn to the left back towards the Leicester Road.
The abundance of Inns continued with The Red Lion at 78 Main Street and at 88 The Three Horseshoes Inn, now trading as Boboli’s, an Italian style restaurant.
The Inn was once owned by Merton College and was sold in 1935 to The Northampton Brewery Company.
On the opposite side of Main Street is the Manor Farmhouse which has medieval origins and is a Grade II listed building. (see Medieval/ Manor House /Manor Farmhouse).
Next we come to Priory Farm at 41 Main Street which is a 16th Century Grade II listed building, formerly known as Ivy Cottage. It is a rectangular house built partly of ironstone with a timber framed upper storey, later faced with brick. The use of differing materials indicates that the house was built in stages over many years.
Continuing towards Leicester Road and on the left is no. 43, The Limes built on the site of an older property. The Limes is an extensive villa dated 1880. In amongst much older buildings, this imposing house, which had extensive stabling and paddocks at the rear, is a good example of Victorian domestic architecture.
During this festive season of goodwill, we remember the inn at Bethlehem and the inn of the Good Samaritan. Our local innsserve as a resting place where travellers can stay during a journey and people can relax with a pint of ale, communicating with each other and telling their tales. Various functions and activities and many a tangled web is woven upon their premises, but the beauty and attraction is something to be amazed at. We can speculate on the origin of their colourful signs. Above all, these monuments have stood until the present time, surviving the great changes in society.
Let me take you on A Journey "Inn" the Past, back to the 18th and 19th centuries when travel by stage-coach was in its heyday - a far distant cry from the speeding cars and traffic jams of modern day life. Those were the days when only 24 ( or may be 25) stage-coaches travelled along the roads of Kibworth Harcourt and Kibworth Beauchamp. The first stage-coach from London to Leicester passed through Kibworth in 1744, the road having become a turnpike route in 1726. Before we begin our journey it is interesting to note that in the 18th century, the main road came from Leicester and went down hill to the Old House, twisting round and up hill to the Rose and Crown on its way to Market Harborough. This route was by-passed around 1809-10 by the road we now know.
If you are sitting comfortably then we will begin our journey, and just for a while, day-dream, imagining ourselves travelling through Kibworth in a stage-coach during the 1860s. To set the scene as it was, ladies you are dressed in crinoline dresses, accompanied by elegant gentlemen! Our coach, travelling from Leicester, tumbles down Main Street and grinds to a halt at our first inn called The Horse Shoes, where mine-host, George Kimbell and his two sons, Eaton and John, offer us a warm welcome. George is also proprietor of the adjoining shoe-forge.
After drinking our first jug of beer we journey on and turn the corner by the Old House. A gallop around the winding bend leads us to the Nelson Inn (later known as The Admiral Nelson). This inn, kept by William Wright, adjoins the high brick wall of the Old House and is famous for its long-alley bowling and club feasts at Whitsuntide. We dismount from our coach and meander across the road to The Fox, which adjoins the bakehouse. This old fashioned public house, managed by Mr Searank, is attached to the brewhouse and outbuildings.
A tipple here stands us in good stead for the journey up the hill to the Rose and Crown. Our coach rattles into the stable yard; again we dismount to wine and dine and stroll in the pleasure gardens opposite this early 18th century building. Meanwhile servants rush out to change the team of horses. The Rose and Crown, run by Mr Austin, was once a celebrated Posting Inn and one of the finest hostelries in the county. The roomy stables accommodate a troop of horses. Feeling refreshed we travel a few yards down the road to the Foxhound. After quenching our thirst with a mug of frothing beer we leave Kibworth Harcourt.
I hope my fellow passengers are not too featherbrained, for the journey is not yet over! Our coach gently manoeuvres down the road to the Coach and Horses, the first inn in Kibworth Beauchamp. We are greeted by the good landlord, Joseph Coleman and his wife. This very old hostelry has a wooden pump and long trough standing in front of it. The trough not only serves as a watering place for horses, but a handy receptacle for cooling down a drunken mortal! Many waggoners, carrying coal and railway goods from Kibworth Station, stop here to water their horses. Members meet at the bowling alley at the back of the inn next to outbuildings and the harness room.
Once again we mount our coach and continue the journey, gathering up speed as we pass the Church. A sudden bump, and then a bounce, sends us hurtling over the railway bridge at the bottom of Church Hill, straight into the Railway Inn! Behind the inn is a large yard with stabling for 12 horses, pigsties and a blacksmith's shop.
Feeling in fine fettle we clamber into our coach and start to get our voices tuned up, in preparation for the next stage of our journey. Cross bank floats by and the Old Swan appears. A great pub, where we all start singing along with the proprietor, Charles Watts, a popular bass singer in his day. The principal club feasts are held here at Whitsuntide. This seems to be good excuse for getting drunk and picking a fight with an innocent bystander. If the fights gets too big, it is usually adjourned to, and fought out in Baker Innocent's field.
We stagger out of the Old Swan, happy, yet a little sad to be nearly at our journey's end. Feeling brave and singing a festive song, our great team heads for the final destination, the Royal Oak (now Beauchamps). Many free displays of tumbling, juggling etc., take place in front of this house. One of the most amazing performers is Blondin, who stretches a rope from the roof of this house to that of houses opposite. Blondin walks blindfolded; wheels a barrow across; balances a stove and cooks a pancake, which he tosses in the air, all to the gasps of astonishment from the large crowd below.
Unfortunately we are now at the end of our journey, and, hopefully, still in a day-dream and not too drunk! What a good time this is to take up the challenge and follow in Blondin's footsteps!! During the period when these nine inns flourished anyone could buy a licence to sell beer and inevitably Beer shops were set up in front parlour and back rooms. This is one of the reason why our innkeepers had second jobs, basically to keep them going. No doubt this second occupation influenced many landlords to change the name of their inn. The Horse Shoes became The Blacksmith's Arms during George Kimbell's time. So not only did Kibworth boast nine pub but beer houses too! This represents a lot of 'boozers' per head of population! The surviving inns, the Three Horseshoes Inn, the Rose and Crown, The Coach and Horses Inn, The Railway and the Old Swan continue to provide Kibworth with pleasant drinking surroundings. If you want to know more about Kibworth's past may I suggest you read the 'History of Kibworth and Personal Reminiscences' by F P Woodford, available at Kibworth Library Extinct Inns (prior to 1860s) Halford Arms, The Half Moon, The Bird in the Hand, The Crown and Sceptre, The Red Lion and The Navigation. Was this last inn known as The Blue Boar, The Blue Bell, The Sun or even The Moon?!
© Isobel Cullum December1994
Acknowledgements - Kibworth and District Chronicle 1994