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The villages of Kibworth Beauchamp, Kibworth Harcourt and Smeeton Westerby sit in the Hundred of Gartree. A Hundred was a unit of English local government and taxation, sitting between a village and a shire, which survived into the 19th century.
The Leicestershire Hundreds
The Hundred of Gartree extended south-east of Leicester as far as the borders of Northamptonshire and Rutland.
The Gartree (Gore or ‘spear’ tree) was an oak tree or bush situated about 2 miles to the north east of Kibworth Harcourt where an ancient track crossed the Via Devana, and is now known as the Gartree Road. The oak was arguably the most important landmark in the ancient local landscape. Ancient oaks were always held in high regard to the pagan elders. The Gartree Oak is thought to be one of these sacred trees and was a meeting place or moot for the elders of the Gartree Hundred. The ancient oak tree fell in the 1960s. It was replaced by a new tree in the early 2000s.
The replacement Gartree on Gartree Road
The bi-annual inspection of the hundreds was made by the Sherriff in medieval England. The inspection, known as the ‘Tourn’ was held at the Gartree Oak. During the proceedings the Sherriff would preside over full meetings of the Hundred Court.
The main function of the Court was the administration of law and the keeping of the peace. Originally the Court met 12 times a year but this was increased to fortnightly and eventually once every three weeks. Another duty of the hundred court was the maintenance of the frankpledge system.(frankpledge was a system of joint suretyship common in England throughout the Middle Ages).The court was formed of twelve Freeholders, or Freemen.
In a more local context, once a month the chosen ‘tithing men’ of Kibworth Harcourt, Kibworth Beauchamp and Smeeton Westerby would go to the Gartree Oak when they could witness the deliberations of the of the Hundred Meeting.
The Gartree would also host local landowners who would record their goods and make trading deals.
Between circa 1458 and 1750 the meetings were held at the Gartree Oak but were then moved to the Bull's Head Inn at Tur Langton, the nearest convenient inn to the ancient meeting place. This inn was demolished and replaced with houses after 2014.
Michael Wood ‘The Story of England’
The Institute of Historical Research