LEICESTERSHIRE, an inland county, bounded on the north-west by that of Derby, on the north by that of Nottingham, on the east by Lincoln and Rutland, on the south-east by Northampton, and on the south-west by Warwick. It lies between 52° 23' and 52° 58' (N. Lat.), and 0° 40' and 1° 37' (W. Lon.); and consists of 804 square miles, or 514,560 statute acres. Within its limits are 44,774 inhabited houses, 3273 uninhabited, and 449 in course of erection; and the population amounts to 215,867, of whom 105,616 are males.
This county, which derives its name from the principal town, formed part of the territory of the Coritani, and, subsequently, of the Roman division of Britain called Flavia Cæsariensis; under the Anglo-Saxons, it was a central portion of the powerful kingdom of Mercia. It suffered severely from the incursions of the Danes, who, landing on the eastern coast, laid waste the whole county as far as Leicester, which town, having finally fallen into their possession, became, on their peaceable establishment in this part of the kingdom, one of their five principal cities in England. Leicestershire was formerly included in the diocese of Lincoln, but under the act of the 6th and 7th of William IV., cap. 77, it has been transferred to the diocese of Peterborough, in the province of Canterbury. It forms an archdeaconry, comprising the deaneries of Akeley, Christianity, Framland, Gartree, Goscote, Guthlaxton, and Sparkenhoe, and containing 213 parishes. For civil purposes it is divided into the hundreds of Framland, Gartree, East Goscote, West Goscote, Guthlaxton, and Sparkenhoe. It contains the borough and market-town of Leicester; and the market-towns of Ashby-de-la-Zouch, Market-Bosworth, Market-Harborough, Hinckley, Loughborough, Lutterworth, Melton-Mowbray, and Mountsorrel. Under the act of the 2nd of William IV., cap. 45, the county was formed into the Northern and Southern divisions, each sending two representatives to parliament; and two members are returned for the borough of Leicester. The county is included in the Midland circuit, and the assizes and quarter-sessions are held at Leicester, where stands the county gaol.
The general surface is a succession of gently rising hills, with a few precipitous declivities, so that almost the whole is available for cultivation. The highest grounds are some of the summits of the Charnwood Forest hills, which consist of barren rocks, projecting abruptly above the surface, and composed of a kind of granite; and these peaks, though their elevation is not more than 800 or 900 feet above the level of the sea, command some of the most extensive and beautiful views in the kingdom. About 240,000 acres of land are under occasional tillage. A considerable quantity of wheat is grown, but barley is the favourite grain crop; and oats are cultivated to a great extent, on account of the number of horses bred and kept in the county. About half the inclosed land consists of permanent grass, and the natural meadows on the banks of the rivers and brooks are very numerous and extensive, and frequently of excellent quality. In various parts are good dairies which produce large quantities of cheese; and Stilton cheese, the richest and highest-priced thick cheese produced in Great Britain, is made in most of the villages about Melton-Mowbray: it obtained its name from the circumstance of the first maker of it resident at Wymondham, near Melton-Mowbray, having supplied an inn at Stilton, where it first became generally known and esteemed. The county has long been distinguished for the improvement of every species of live-stock.
The Mineral productions comprise ironstone, which is plentifully found on Ashby Wolds, and has been smelted and cast into pigs, and utensils for various purposes, at the works by the side of the Ashby canal; lead-ore, which is found of a rich nature in the fissures of the limestone obtained at Staunton-Harold, and is smelted; coal, of which there are mines at Cole-Orton, the Lount, and Ashby Wolds; slate, which is raised in large quantities of a rather thick and heavy quality at Swithland, to the east of Charnwood Forest; limestone, of which the Bredon quarries are excavated in an isolated rock of considerable extent having a slight covering of earth, and of which there is some in extremely high request at Barrow-upon-Soar, producing the famous Barrow lime; and freestone, which exists in most parts, as does also clay suitable for bricks. The red granite from the rocks at Mountsorrel furnishes a valuable material for macadamizing the roads. The principal Manufactures are those of woollen-yarn, worsted, and stockings, which prevail not only in Leicester, Hinckley, and other towns, but also in the principal villages throughout most parts of the county; indeed, the number of persons employed in trade here is to the agricultural class nearly as seven to four, and of these a very large portion are employed in the manufacture of wool into stockings, principally at Leicester, Hinckley, and Loughborough, both for the London market and for exportation. At Loughborough, Hinckley, and Ashby, hats are manufactured. The making of machine lace, introduced of late years, is carried on to a considerable extent, principally in the towns and neighbourhoods of Loughborough, Leicester, and Ashby. At the two first places are several malt-kilns. Cheese is a considerable article of exportation, it being computed that not less than 1500 tons are annually conveyed down the Trent, for the consumption of the metropolis and the navy.
The principal river is the Soar, which, with the aid of different artificial cuts, has been made navigable from the Trent (into which river it empties itself near Sawley in Derbyshire) up to several miles above Leicester, a distance of above twenty miles. The Ashby canal was first designed to communicate with the navigable channel of the Trent, below Burton, and with that view was constructed so as to be navigable for barges of sixty tons' burthen; but all the money subscribed, amounting to £180,000, having been expended, the line from Ashby to the Trent, on which are a tunnel and several locks, was abandoned, and tramways substituted on the high grounds. The canal is navigable from Ashby Wolds to the Coventry canal, in which it terminates, for boats of 24 tons' burthen, being such only as can float on the Coventry canal. The line of the Leicester navigation is down the valley of the Soar, to the Trent, being sometimes along the channel of the Soar, and at others carried from it by means of locks into a new channel, as before stated. The Melton canal is carried from the Leicester Soar navigation along the valley of the Wreke, to Melton-Mowbray, whence it has been continued to Oakham: the Grantham canal, from the Trent below Nottingham to Grantham, passes through the northeasternmost part of the country. The Union canal, from the navigable channel of the Soar, near Leicester, was designed to pass by way of Market-Harborough, and join the Nene at Northampton, and also to communicate with the Grand Junction canal; but its progress towards completion was arrested by unfavourable circumstances. The railways attached to the Ashby canal extend about twelve miles from that navigation, by the town of Ashby, to the Lount colliery, Cole-Orton, Ticknall, and the Cloud-Hill lime-works; they were constructed at an expense of £30,000, and along the line are various embankments and deep excavations, besides a tunnel about a quarter of a mile in length. The Midland railway enters the county from the south, at Claybrooke, near Lutterworth, and, taking a northern course, passes by Leicester, Syston, and Loughborough, near which last place it quits the county for Derby and Nottingham. At Syston a line branches off to Melton-Mowbray, and the county of Rutland. The Leicester and Swannington railway is noticed under the head of Leicester.
The Roman stations within or close to the limits of the county were, Rate, at Leicester; Vernometum, on the northern border, supposed to have been at Willoughby; Venones, near High Cross; and the celebrated station of Manduessedum, at Mancetter, on the borders of this county and Warwickshire. The principal remains of Roman buildings have been found at Leicester; and other miscellaneous Roman remains have been discovered at Rothley, Wanlip, Harborough, Burrow, and Catthorpe. The ancient Watling-street first touches Leicestershire at Dove bridge, on the Avon, whence it proceeds in a north-eastern direction towards the Anker, near Mancetter, where it quits for Warwickshire, after having formed the south-western boundary of the county for a distance of upwards of 20 miles. The Fosse-road from Lincolnshire enters near the Roman station Vernometum, and joins the Watling-street at High Cross; its course may be distinctly traced, more particularly on the eastern side of the county, and near the village of Narborough. The Via Devana from Colchester to Chester, enters near Cottingham, and at Leicester joins the Fosse, which, however, it soon leaves for Grooby, whence it proceeds by Ashby to Burton-upon-Trent; it is visible on a hill between the parishes of Cranoe and Glooston, and in other parts of its course. Another ancient road, which the Rev. T. Leman, in his account of the Roman roads and stations in Leicestershire, calls the "Salt Way," and considers of British origin, entered the county from Lincolnshire, in its way to the salt-works at Droitwich, and is visible in some parts of its course over Charnwood Forest. The number of Religious Houses prior to the Dissolution was thirty-one, including three colleges, six hospitals, three commanderies of the Knights Hospitallers, and one alien priory; the principal remains are those of the abbey of St. Mary de Pratis, near Leicester, of Ulverscroft Priory, and of Grace Dieu nunnery. There are few remains of ancient castles; the chief are the picturesque ruins of the castellated mansion of Ashby, the most ancient portions of which are of the reign of Edward IV., and the ruins of Kirby Castle. Among the numerous elegant seats that adorn the county, the most distinguished are, Belvoir Castle, the seat of the Duke of Rutland, and Donnington Park, that of the Marquess of Hastings. There are medicinal springs at Ashby-de-la-Zouch, Burton-Lazars, Dalby-on-the-Wolds, Gumley, Neville-Holt, Leicester, and Sapcote.