Today is -

The Wright family during their stay in Earl Shilton.
1850 - 1950





Charles Wright 1862-1952
Julia Wright née Middleton 1864-1948
married 12-Apr-1887 in the Parish Church,
Market Bosworth, Leicestershire.

A closer look at the Wrights reveals that their sojourn in Earl Shilton endured for approximately one hundred years, from about        the middle of the nineteenth century to the middle of the twentieth. A period during which three generations were born and bred there, ensuring the continuity of the male line, and a time during which William Wright in particular, or more precisely his immediate descendants, left their respective families to branch out laterally.

To clarify these three generations were headed by William (1814-1897), Charles (1862-1952) and Charles William (1887-1970). Thomas coming before them, and being the originator in the district, and John Trevor (Jack), being the last of the line, born there and departing later to end the five generations’ time in and around Earl Shilton.

Many of these other lateral descendants, from William’s daughters, extend now to third and fourth cousins still residing locally, and yet largely unrecognised to each other under their many differing names, the male line, however, is now extinct in Earl Shilton. One of these branches, although still using the Wright name, actually emanates from an illegitimate birth to one of William's daughters, therefore, as they are using her maiden name that family cannot be classed as a continuation of the male line. Perhaps this might seem chauvinistic by today's standards but it is still considered a correct assessment by genealogical conventions.

Although William Wright was baptised in the parish church in 1814, he only took up residence about 1850; the male line then lived in various locations in Earl Shilton until 1946. It was John Trevor Wright who then left the area to resume his married life, after interruption by the war, and later nurture the next generation in Boston, Lincolnshire.

Between 1828 and 1872 there was one other Wright family living in Earl Shilton, although after a little research it could be shown that there was only a tentative connection between it and the family of the main investigations. This other Wright family, headed by another William Wright who became established by 1851 as a farmer of 220 acres in Church Street, had connections to the Wileman, Hobill and Oldacre families through marriages. However, they also seem to have become extinct in Earl Shilton after 1872 and yet again their family continues in collateral lines under other names. Correspondence with a descendant of this line now living as a third generation immigrant in New Zealand, was recently established, indicating another interest in the life and times of the Wright family.

The first recorded evidence of the Wrights in the district was in 1810 when Thomas Wright, William's father, married the widow Alice Harrison, on 11th March 1810 in the parish church at Kirkby Mallory, subsequently settled in Normanton Turville and started a family there. Marriage in Earl Shilton before 1854 was not possible, as the church, dedicated then to St Peter, was only a chapelry of the parish church of Kirkby Mallory. Baptisms and burials had, however, been conducted there since the buildings dedication and certainly since parish records commenced in the 1520's.

The parish church was largely rebuilt in 1855 and rededicated to St Simon and St Jude, following Earl Shilton's reconstitution as a parish separate from Kirkby Mallory in 1854, by an order of the Queen in council. Records of a church, existing on the present site, and the adjoining castle extend back well beyond the appearance of the Wright family however, at least as far as the Domesday survey when the Normans assessed that ‘Sceltone’ was worth 70 shillings and had the benefit of a priest.

Thomas and Alice's first-born daughter Ann was baptised on 5th August 1810 at the Parish Church in Earl Shilton. The rest of their children followed suit over the next few years until their last, George, was baptised in Thurlaston, as by then, in 1831, when Thomas would have been about fifty and Alice somewhat older, the nearer church at Thurlaston would probably have been more convenient. During this period, the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, it was usual to have children baptised at the earliest opportunity, as child mortality was quite high. In common with others the Wrights followed this tradition, allowing us now to estimate birth dates fairly accurately and prove the point that little, in family affairs, has changed over the years. Thomas and Alice’s daughter baptised in August of the year in which they were married, in the previous March, leaves us to speculate on their activities and reasons for their union. Although Thomas never actually lived in Earl Shilton, it was he who had moved into the locality from the small hamlet of Burton Lazars near Melton Mowbray, sometime between 1790 and 1810. He had settled in Normanton Turville to establish what, after a short period while he was a farm labourer, developed into a family business of Higglers and Carters. Incidentally, Burton Lazars was also the birth place of William Wright the farmer referred to earlier, and although the probability that he was a distant cousin of Thomas is strong, further research is necessary to prove the blood ties.

It is not clear why Thomas settled in Normanton Turville. The large estate, attached to Normanton Hall, may have provided work for the Agricultural Labourer, and later the need for transportation of produce may have offered more work and an income. This estate, founded by the first of the Turvilles - one of William the Conqueror's Nobles - had, like many similar country land-holdings, been in decline for some time when Thomas settled in the area with his wife Alice.

By 1861 there was no trace of the Wrights at Normanton Turville and the steady decline of the hamlet continued until it became completely defunct by the 1900's. The estate and the Hall in particular, however, survived in various levels of ruination until the building was finally demolished in the middle 1920's. The building, presently used as a dwelling, is in fact the converted remains of a small chapel originally built for the Roman Catholics by the Worswicks in 1875. It is more likely that the move by Thomas Wright was prompted by the generally improved prosperity of the villages and hamlets in the area, where the cottage based hosiery industry, relying on the hand-frame knitters, was booming. The strict controls and heavy financial demands of the London based Framework Knitters Company drove manufacturers to the Midlands and especially to Leicestershire where the local breed of sheep grew wool most suitable for worsted spinning and knitting.

The revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars raging abroad made labour scarce and the demand very high for hosiery, including many types of garments, socks, stockings, shirts, cravats and gloves. The need to service these outworkers was also evident and must have presented opportunities to the Wrights as Carters. Also, at that period, a number of smaller landowners and farmers operated hand-frames, and thereby combined the two lifestyles of farming and hosiery manufacture in the countryside. Although William Iliffe had begun manufacturing hosiery in Hinckley on a large scale, sometime after 1640 following the arrival of the first knitting frame, generally the trade was still rooted in the villages. For a time hand-frame knitting was so successful it became the county’s only industry employing whole families from the youngest – hosiers started work at about 12 when they could reach the foot pedals of the frame – to the oldest. This village based industry giving the need for the finished products to be collected and transported to the larger traders and wholesalers.

Victory at Waterloo in 1815 signalled a deep economic depression as soldiers returned to swell the labour force and demand for the hosiery products slumped. A Parliamentary Commission on the state of the framework knitters, published in 1845, showed that shortly after the war with France, a weeks wage had fallen from 14 to 7 shillings, and this was only the beginning. The decline of the cottage-based industry accelerated as steam and gas powered hosiery factories began to develop, adding further to the depression. As the 'hungry forties' expired, Earl Shilton was perhaps a little fortunate, as boot and shoe manufacture now developed at a pace in the area. Thomas Crick, who had manufacturing premises in Leicester, and had established himself as a leading industrialist, handed out work to the decaying framework villages. Earl Shilton and Barwell being amongst the first to benefit. The method of production, known as the 'basket-work system', where the uppers were cut and closed in the factory and the making of the shoe - the attachment of the soles to the uppers - was completed in small workshops and attics in the villages, would again require the services of carters to transport the goods to and fro.

Thomas and his sons, Thomas and John, had thus firmly established themselves as carters by the 1840's and 50's, having dropped the claim to be higglers for whatever reason. Could it be that 'higgling' or 'haggling' carried the stigma sometimes attached to tinkers and other traders that bartered their goods? A higgler was variously compared to a peddler, huckster, hawker or even a costermonger. It is now difficult, however, to clearly identify any specific commodity that they may have dealt in and carting was becoming more clearly recognised as a trade with prospects as the need to transport goods was mounting.

But what of William? Although his brothers Thomas and John had joined their father's trade there was no sign of William during his teenage or twenties in Earl Shilton, but in 1847, when he was about 37 years old, his first child, daughter Elizabeth, was born in Stretton, Warwickshire. It seems he took to other pastures and started a family of his own in Warwickshire. After extensive searching no record of his marriage between 1838 and 1852 can be found, either in local records or at the General Registry, London, however, he had returned to Earl Shilton by 1851 and set up home with his 'wife' Ann and daughter Elizabeth in Lower Church Street. William's brother, Thomas, died in 1860 and as his father had died sometime earlier. William was now free to take up the old family business of higglers. Since by 1861 his family had grown to four daughters and a son, not including Elizabeth who had also died a few years earlier, now needed support. A return to higgling by William prompts some speculation - why did he go to Warwickshire and why was he the odd one out not involved in the carting? Was there some family rift or simply a normal desire to find a partner and produce a family of his own? On his return to Earl Shilton, between 1845 and 1851, unlike his siblings he had already started this family. Brother Thomas for instance was still at home with his parents and continued so for at least another ten years, beyond the age of thirty. A clue to another possibility is in William's residence at the 'Marl Pit' in 1861, extraction of the valuable clay like material known as 'marl', commonly used as a calcium rich fertiliser during the nineteenth century, would contribute to the family upkeep by generating wares for the higgling trade. The site, incidentally, is still known as 'Marl Pit Farm' and the large depression, in the surrounding land, records the evidence of these earlier extractions.

During the 1850's, despite much poverty that still existed and the spectre of the soup kitchen, set up to assist the destitute, the people of Earl Shilton generously contributed to the appeals made by the church for funds to maintain the church fabric and establish day-schools. These day-schools were intended for weekday education of the village children, as opposed to the already established Sunday schools. With funds raised by subscription and a parliamentary grant the Earl Shilton school was built in 1858, a comparatively large building with room for 200 children costing £1,050. Following on from the rebuilding of the church in 1855 at a cost of £3,500 it is obvious the appeals for contributions at this very difficult time were exceptionally well supported. Some of William's offspring took advantage of the new school, Louisa and Charles both being scholars in the 1860's and 70's, while their elder sisters were employed in local stocking factories, which had managed to survive the slump and, incidentally, continued production well into the twentieth century. During the nineteenth century the term ‘scholar’ has to be treated with some caution as it could refer to anyone aged below one to the then ‘full’ age of twenty-one. It is known in the family, however, that Charles and his siblings did attend day-school periodically at this time.

As the close of the nineteenth century drew nearer the old basket-work system died out. Largely influenced by the National Union of Boot and Shoe Operatives, founded locally in 1874, as the members pushed for better conditions in the engine powered factories and an end to the often exploited and cheap laboured outwork system. New inventions and powered machinery, as adopted by the manufacturers in Leicester, further fuelled the move to the factory manufacturing system and by 1896 there were twelve independent boot and shoe employers in Earl Shilton, in what was fast becoming the centre of the footwear industry.

For whatever reason, William returned to general labouring towards the end of his life, which finally came in December 1897 and thus left his son, Charles, to continue the line, as his uncles had remained bachelors and as far as is known had no issue. Following his early education at the church schools, Charles entered the boot and shoe factories as a shoe finisher, where he remained for most of his working life. The Wright family, like the vast majority of those living in the eighteenth century, was devoted to following their religious convictions according to the rites of the established Church of England. At some period, either while Charles was a child or possibly later during his adulthood - his wife Julia could have been party to the decision - they were converted to following a branch of the dissenters, known as the Independents. In 1669 Archbishop Sheldon ordered an inquiry into the number of dissent groups in Leicestershire and, although during the early years of these churches it is difficult to make any clear distinction between them, the Earl Shilton group was listed as being Presbyterian. However, they considered themselves to be 'Independents' and followers of the doctrines of Robert Browne whereby they, the members, governed themselves. Although dissent in Earl Shilton reaches back as early as 1651, when the Baptists - probably developed from the earlier group of the 1640's at Broughton Astley - first started to hold their secret meetings in private houses, by 1831 there were 430 Independents, four times the number of Baptists. This popularity may have accounted for the Wrights' choice and conversion. Having been established in 1810 with only five members and a meeting place of a barn in Wood Street, the Independents membership had doubled by the end of the first year and had continued to rise at a rate that demanded a dedicated meeting house. Therefore, due mainly to the generous endowments of a Mr Isaac Basford, in 1824 the Independents' present church building was erected. At a total cost of £1,400, with 500 ’sittings’, a Sunday school building was also provided, but it is not evident whether the Wrights took the provision of reading and writing, together with religious instruction into account, or possibly the installation of an organ in the 1860's may have been a factor of persuasion.

Charles' children, however, 'enjoyed' both Sunday school at the Independent chapel and day-school at the church school gaining a basic education in the arts of reading and writing, together with instruction in the dissenters’ approach to religion. Although by now, in the middle of the nineteenth century, nonconformist views and doctrines were accepted, establishment in the previous century had been more difficult. Occasionally some recording of nonconformist's family affairs was made in the parish registers along with the majority of the parishioners. Some of the clergy, however, were still unable to mask their distaste for dissent, as shown by the rector of Blaston. For example, on the 15th May 1719 when he recorded that "Jane daughter of Samuel Porter & Jane his wife (two damned and Damnable Barngoers) was Baptised (the father sayth) by one David Soames, a Presbyterian, ergo having no more Lawful Authority to baptize than a chimney sweeper".

The dissenters meeting houses, or churches as they are now called, still survive in Earl Shilton with the one exception of the Primitive Methodists’ building, which was demolished in the 1970’s. Although the remaining church buildings are occasionally restored the old Sunday school rooms in all cases have been replaced with modern function rooms which still serve the general community. Play-schools, dancing classes, concerts, exhibitions and bazaars are common activities, together with the traditional Sunday functions and weekday meetings of the different church memberships.

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