Melton-Mowbray, or Melton (St. Mary)

MELTON-MOWBRAY, or Melton (St. Mary), a market-town and parish, and the head of a union, in the hundred of Framland, N. division of the county of Leicester, 15 miles (N. E.) from Leicester, and 105 (N. W.) from London; containing, with the chapelries of Burton-Lazars, Freeby, and Welby, 3937 inhabitants. The old name of this place was Medeltune, gradually contracted to Melton, indicating the situation of the town in the middle of the five hamlets that compose the parish; the adjunct Mowbray is the name of its ancient lords, which they assumed by command of Henry I. During the civil commotions in the time of Charles I., a severe action occurred in the neighbourhood, between the royalists and the parliamentary troops, in February 1644, when the forces of the latter, consisting of about 2000 men, were routed, and 170 killed. The town sustained considerable damage by fire in 1613; and in 1637 the plague raged with great violence. It is situated on the road from London to Leeds, in a valley on the small river Eye, and is neatly built: the streets are paved, watched, and lighted, the expense being defrayed out of the Town estate, which produces nearly £800 per annum; and the town has a good supply of water. Here is a building fourteen feet in diameter, called the Manor oven, in which, in the time of Sir Matthew Lamb, an attempt was unsuccessfully made, on the plea of feudal right, to compel the inhabitants to bake their bread. The principal attraction of Melton, and one great cause of its improvement as a town, is the celebrated hunt to which it gives name: the season commences in November, and continues about five months, during which there is an influx of sportsmen from all parts of the kingdom; stabling is provided for nearly 700 horses. A permanent subscription library and newsroom are supported. The chief article of manufacture is bobbin-net lace, and there is a minor one of worsted-hosiery. The general traffic was facilitated, especially in the supply of coal, by opening a navigable communication with Loughborough, called the Melton-Mowbray and Oakham canal, which was effected in 1790, and which, near the town, is intersected by the river Wreak. The railway, also, between Syston and Peterborough, has a station here. The market is on Tuesday, and on every alternate day there is a large show of cattle: fairs take place on the Monday and Tuesday after January 17th, on March 13th, May 4th, Whit-Tuesday, August 21st, and September 7th, principally for horses, cattle, and sheep. The powers of the county debt-court of Melton-Mowbray, established in 1847, extend over the registration-district of Melton-Mowbray.

The living is a vicarage, with that of Sysonby annexed, valued in the king's books at £16. 8. 9.; net income, £580; patron, T. Frewen, Esq.; impropriator, W. Blake, Esq.: the tithes were commuted for land and a money payment in 1760. The church is a spacious and lofty cruciform structure, chiefly in the early English and decorated styles: a tower rises from the intersection, and at the west end is a handsome porch. The transepts (which have aisles) are the largest and finest in the county; in the south aisle of the edifice is the effigy of a mailed warrior of the 13th century, in a recumbent posture, and cross-legged. In the reign of Henry VIII., the church was considerably heightened, and a series of elegant windows was put up over the aisles. There are chapels of ease at Burton-Lazars, Freeby, and Welby; and places of worship for Independents, Wesleyans, and Roman Catholics. Some schools appear to have been established here at a very early period, and are noticed as existing previously to 1247, when they were taken under the patronage of Henry III., as possessor of the temporalities of the priory of Lewes. Three schools are at present maintained from the Town estates: there are two exhibitions for a school here, conjointly with another school at Leicester, to Lincoln College, Oxford, but they have not been available hitherto; and Sir Richard Raynes, in 1732, bequeathed property now producing £55 per annum, for clothing 26 of the boys. Almshouses have been endowed at various periods, for 12 persons; and the poor in general have some small bequests. The union of Melton comprises 54 parishes or places, 53 of which are in the county of Leicester, and 1 in that of Nottingham; the whole containing a population of 19,297. John de Kirkeby, Bishop of Ely in 1286, and founder of Ely Palace, Holborn; Archbishop William de Melton, lord high chancellor of England in the reign of Edward III., and who was buried in the church here; and the eloquent, but eccentric, John Henley, who was educated at the free school; were natives of this place.

Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of England, by Samuel Lewis, 7th edition, published in 1848.