Monday, 6 May 2019


Born May 6th, died September 27th, 1843.
Born September 21st, 1844, died May 25th, 1846.
Born November 2nd, 1845, died January 11th, 1846.
Born December 8th, 1846, died May 25th, 1847.
Born December 16th, died March 10th, 1848.
Born January 28th, died October 6th, 1849.
Born January 22nd, died July 31st, 1850.
Born March 7th, died August 31st, 1851.
Born May 22nd, died October 15th, 1852.
Born July 3rd, died September 24th, 1855.
Born December 6th, 1856, died January 21st, 1859.

Accustomed as I am to wandering around my local graveyards about the town - especially on a Sunday morning when there are less people to see me go about my odd pastime - I occasionally come across a few words inscribed on the headstones which give me great food for thought.  I have been moved to write in the past of the story of three young men, siblings all, who had passed away in the summer months of a century ago during the visit of a massive weather event to the area.  The sad story which unfolded of the tragic events at the small village of Barsby on a dark stormy night in October of 1927, I have written about elsewhere, but my point is that it was my meanderings which created my ongoing interest in cemeteries and the ancient gravestones which have retained the mostly forgotten stories of the past.

During a more recent Sunday stroll in the St Mary’s Gardens, behind ‘Tubes Night-Club, I was attracted to a particularly large and beautifully embellished stone of dark-grey Swithland slate which was exquisitely inscribed by an obviously skilled artisan. The name ‘WEAVER’ appended at the very bottom of the slab told me that it was crafted by Mr Samuel Weaver,  builder and stonemason/engraver then of Sage Cross Street and the year was likely 1859.  But I was not only attracted by the fine handiwork displayed, as what really drew my attention was the amount of script he had inserted into his allotted space.  As depicted in the above photograph, (and my transcript beneath), the names of no fewer that 11 children - 7 girls and 4 boys - all belonging to parents Frederick and Mary Tyler are shown, all of which had died at a very young age, some most likely at the time of their birth. The more I perused the still very readable script, the more I wondered whatever lay behind the tragic story of this ‘message’ of over 150 years ago.

You do the math.  I gave up on the task as I started to work out the ages or days lived by each of these eleven babies; perhaps you might like to work this out for yourself. Puzzled and ever inquisitive, I engaged in the task of discovering who this desperate couple might have been, especially the poor mother who had obviously suffered the bulk of the wasted endeavour and the long days, months and years of grieving and likely puzzlement of their own.  I can pretty well safely say that Mary spent at least 23 years in confinement and can assert that in this period of time she was to give birth to a grand total of no less than 17 children of which only 3 boys and 3 girls seem to have survived to adulthood. Bizarrely, five of these were comprised of the first five born to Mary.  The sixth survivor was a ‘Fred’ who was born much later in 1854 and who grew up to marry and have a family of his own.

Fred and Mary Tyler.

Mary Roell was a Melton Mowbray girl who married Frederick Tyler in the August of 1836. I believe that this family name is mis-spelled and should be ‘Rowell’, but I have gained no useful knowledge as to her family background.  Her first-born child was Mary, in 1836 and it is perhaps ironic that as a widow, she would be living with this particular daughter when she passed away at the age of 77 years.  Mary is on record as having been employed as a laundry worker, but I’m sure that she spent more time working as a mother!
In 1841, the couple are recorded as living in Scalford Road, Fred being shown as a publican and there are four children present, but ten years later in 1851 he is shown as a watch-maker by occupation and there are now five children, with baby Mary Jane only just born in February of 1851.  A change of address tells us that they were now living in their better known address of Sage Cross Street, possibly newly built.  A salient point to mention here is the fact that baby Mary Jane was by then her eleventh born child!  In 1861, the family is still in Sage Cross Street, next door to the builder’s yard of his friend, master mason, Robert Weaver and his family and it is possible that Sam had even crafted the family tombstone for them by then.  It is interesting to also note that at least three of the Tyler children were by now in their 20’s and what’s more, there was by now a one year old, Arthur, who was named as a ‘grandson’.
By 1871, the large Tyler family was still dwindling, with Fred and Mary still in charge there now remained with them only Emma, a widow at 29, but likely the mother of 10 years old Arthur who was still resident and shown as an ‘errand boy’.  I leave my search here of a family, totally irrelevant to me and of no particular personal interest, apart from me gaining an insight into a world now passed which seemed to have retained so many sad stories.  Mary was to die in March 1888 after Frederick who had passed some 8 years earlier at the age of 70.
That then, is the sad story behind the names on the beautiful gravestone which drew my intention. What follows is a potted history of the those burial grounds in Melton Mowbray up to the present day.



It may be of interest to learn that the three main cemeteries of Melton Mowbray have each evolved from the basic conundrum of available space divided by the required demand from an increasing population. Simply resolved, when the hallowed ground comprising the limited curtilage of St Mary’s Church yard became no longer comfortably viable for the acceptance of more remains, suitable and available land was acquired from the garden area which then joined King street at the rear of the Generous Briton public house with Norman Street to the north of the town.  This was to be known as the ‘New Cemetery’.

A brief knowledge of the history of the Nation’s religious problems tells us that Melton Mowbray was very much a part of the schism which grew to be  a rancorous separation of the long established church by a smaller dissenting community in various scattered guises. Dissent was very much a proactive part of the social scene, but suffice to comment for now that the split which existed at the time of this change of location, created a ‘them-and-us’ scenario with Dissenters being laid to rest only in the northern one third of the ground provided, whilst the larger ‘established’ number of ‘remainers’ of the high church, were allocated the remaining two-thirds.

With the inevitable crowding out of the loyal deceased parishioners from the small graveyard of St Mary’s which abutted BurtonEnd, it was vital that somewhere be found to carry the ever increasing overflow. There were several acres of grassland behind the Church apparently doing little apart from providing one or two small allotments, but these were owned by wealthy outsiders then, so an alternative compromise on the grounds of cost was arranged when the Town Estate property was utilised off King Street. See the small maps  which clearly show the ‘new’ cemetery layouts.

The enforced removal from the original church grounds to the virgin land off King Street in that late Summer of 1845. was to prove not to be a permanent answer to the space problem, more a relatively short term solution and as the town expanded towards the end of the Victorian era, its useful days were to become numbered once more, when, in 1898, Meltonians would  celebrate the opening of a what was planned to be the ultimate answer to the burial problem when the new purpose-built facility in Thorpe Road was officially opened. though its future too, is now currently in doubt as the onward march of each generation continues to quickly fill up the existing allocations.  In the meantime I present below, a short account of the opening in 1845 of the ‘new’ town cemetery in 1845, through the eyes of the irascible Leicester Chronicle which is bizarrely presented with an edge of humour in some sort of reference to a competitive newspaper.
(Reproduced from the Leicester Chronicle of Saturday 25 October 1845) 

The coffin has been made, 
To receive its fallen dead. 
And therein 'twill be laid. 
When its tiny spark has fled, — 
'Twill be buried with the grandeur it deserves; 
And thus it will be sung. 
Whilst the great bell will be rung, 
" It died of sap among All its nerves “— Old Song. 
On Friday, the 3rd inst., (says a correspondent,) the new burying ground in Melton was consecrated. In anticipation of this event, the ‘Recorder’ had been ‘lying in state,’ ever since its demise, at the office of the Publisher, for its ‘nobility’ could not, even in dust, blend with the ignoble democrats over the wall ; and on Monday, the 20th inst., the ‘maiden sod’ was upturned, that its remains might be deposited in the silent tomb.  At present all that marks the mournfully interesting spot - the grave of Melton's hope - is a pasteboard tablet (in imitation of marble) bearing the following inscription; 
all that was mortal of 
After a lingering and painful illness, 
it departed this life 
the 14th day of July, 1845, Aged 20 weeks. 
Ye readers kind, who now lament, 
Be thankful while you weep. 
For I, who made you drowsy once. 
Myself am fallen asleep."  

But of course this will not be deemed a sufficient tribute to its ‘memory dear’ by its admirers. It is therefore proposed either to erect a statue to, or build a nest for, the ci-devant Editor, testifying thereby that his herculean labours have not been wholly unappreciated. If the statue is decided upon, a premium will be offered to artists for designs.

Sir Francis Grant President R.A. (1803-1878)  

Meanwhile, On a related note, referring to my recent presence at the cemetery, I might draw attention to the placement in this former cemetery - now not recognised as such in its present state - of the monument of one of our town’s most prominent former residents. By the way of a diversion from the theme of this article, I speak of the world-renowned artist and long term popular resident, Sir Francis Grant, President of the Royal Academy of Arts. A Scot, he was born in Edinburgh on the 18th January 1803. At first a student at Harrow on-the-Hill school as a young child, he was later educated in Edinburgh, but not at university nor did he achieving any significant degree. Arriving in Melton Mowbray, attracted by its reputation, he was to gain the friendship of two locally established artists, the well regarded Ferneley brothers.  Without formal training he would learn to paint and in later years, to advance this self-taught expertise to a standard beyond even his own wildest dreams. Francis grew up to become a formal portrait painter of some great renown, specialising mainly in the portraiture of many aristocratic and political figures of his time, including that of his greatest admirer, Queen Victoria. 

The Grant family home in London was at No 27 Sussex Place, Marylebone, where he spent the early days of a spoiled life with his two brothers and from where, with an inheritance of more than £10,000 from his deceased father’s estate, he vowed to spend his early years spending it all, with a further promise to train later as a lawyer.  He achieved his first avowal to spend but did not quite make his visit to the halls of higher education, instead, wasting his precious moments in his great passion of hunting and gambling, pastimes which were to bring him inevitably to Melton Mowbray, where only the very best of this popular sport was to be achieved amongst some of the most important people in world society.  

At the age of 23 years he met his wife-to-be, Emily Farquharson who also hailed from Scotland and they were married in 1826, but sadly, in circumstances seemingly unknown, young Emily, without issue, was to die in 1828, it being less than two years after their nuptials and for a short time Francis was on his own again. Extremely handsome and reportedly most attractive to the ladies of his time, the young budding artist was not to mourn for too long before he was courting local lady, the highly sought and esteemed society beauty, Isabella Elizabeth Norman (1805-1894) a relative of the Manners family of Belvoir.  On the 8th July, 1829, Melton Mowbray was to witness the wedding of all weddings at the Parish Church of St Mary’s, when Francis married for a second time. No children had emanated from his first marriage with Emily, but this new union was to eventually produce five girls and three boys born between 1830 and 1847.  I understand that one of these eight children is said to have been born out of wedlock, but I have as yet, no further details.  The Grants lived in the large house, then known simply as ‘The Lodge,’ today extant on the lower slope of Dalby Road almost opposite the swimming baths. In the 1930’s, the residence was renamed for some reason as ‘Dorian Lodge’, the name which it currently retains. When, as a popular and respected Associate of the esteemed Royal Academy of Art in London, he became their President in 1866 being simultaneously rewarded with a Knighthood from his Queen in recognition of his valuable and prolific services to art.

With a very much dispersed family of children, we usually hear mainly of two or three of his young daughters who remained in Melton as their home town. Sir Francis and Dame Isabella had retained the family home at 27 Sussex Place in Marylebone, adjoining Regents Park and in the Spring of 1871 they are to be found there in residence with four house staff and a carriage in the driveway. His work in the capital city ensured a close connection with his art, but by now it was more with the business of administration and exhibitions.  
Finally, as they say, ‘All good things come to an end’ and it was on the 5th day of October, 1878, when apparently without prior warning, Sir Francis Grant suffered what was described as a ‘massive’ fatal heart attack whilst resting at Dalby Road with his daughter, Daisy.  His funeral service at St Mary’s was widely reported as being one of the biggest turnouts ever seen in the town.



At the meeting of the Local Board, on Wednesday evening, Mr Joseph Smith, of Nottingham Road, Melton, was appointed superintendent of the new Cemetery out of fourteen applicants for the post.’     
 (Grantham Journal, 3rd June, 1893.)

Towards the end of the 19th Century, it is apparent that the ‘new’ cemetery in King Street was now becoming as congested as that of the church of half a century before and it became once more the business of the local board, in partnership with representatives of the various denominations now proliferating in the town, to provide the extra space for a future generation of the residents. In 1893, land was acquired at the side of the Thorpe Road, then utilised as public allotment gardens, for the purpose of providing an up-to-date and ‘state-of-the-art’ new facility. The Leicester Chronicle of the day, described the opening event.


On Thursday morning last, the new Cemetery provided for the locals of the town of Melton (a full description of which appeared in these columns some few weeks ago) was formally opened after having been handed over to the Board at a special meeting on the previous evening. The proceedings were of the simplest character possible, the members of the Board meeting at the Lodge, where the Chairman (Mr. J. J. Fast), in a few words, “opened the place.” It had been suggested that a dedicatory service of some kind should be held to mark the event, the proposal being that the whole of the ministers in the town should take part in it, but no definite steps in this direction were not taken, and consequently nothing was done as regards any religious ceremony. The whole of the cemetery is open, i.e no pets it is consecrated as is the custom in many towns, according to the rites of the Church of England.  Though complete as regards its buildings and the laying out of the various intersecting pathways, the Cemetery as yet presents by no means a finished appearance, no trees or shrubs having been planted, as doubtless there will be in time, and the ground near the Chapel and also the lodge still bears traces of the “hands" of the builders. When the ornamentation of the place in these respects has been carried out it will look very pretty, and we think that Meltonians will have no reason to be dissatisfied with the new burial ground when it is got into proper order. 
As stated, the Cemetery was opened in the most formal manner, with a special meeting of the Board being convened for ten o'clock that Thursday morning at the keeper's lodge. There were present— J. Fast (chairman of the Board), J. Glover, J. Gill, W. Willcox, G. N. Wing, J. Anderson, C. Callis, Rd. Barker (Clerk), and K. Jeeves (Surveyor). The grounds were formally inspected and they then, proceeding to the room where the ministers robe, the Chairman said they were there that day for the purpose of formally declaring the Cemetery open to the public, and he hoped they would all live long enough to hear the public say that they looked upon it as a boon. He would like to have expressed entire satisfaction with regard to one or two small matters which had been detected, he supposed there was nothing perfect in this world, and they must put up with things as they found them unless they had the power to remedy them. Mr. Willcox said that he thought it would a great boon to the town at large when the place was properly set out, and hoped it would not fall so heavily upon the ratepayers that some of their friends have imagined, because no doubt they would derive a considerable revenue from here on.  Mr. Glover remarked that he had no wish to see the cemetery pay its way, which would only mean a heavy death-rate.—A slight discussion then ensued with reference to the letting of the plot of ground attached to the cemetery, and it was ultimately resolved to let it by tender. 
The proceedings then terminated. The first funeral took place at four o'clock in the afternoon when the body of Mrs. Sophia Clarke, wife of Mr. Henry Clarke, refreshment-house keeper of Church-lane, Melton, was interred. The deceased, who was sixty-eight years of age, died on Monday after a somewhat lengthy  illness. Mrs Clarke was well known in the town and highly respected. The obsequies were conducted by the Vicar (Rev. R. Blakeney) the first part of the service being held the Parish Church, and then completed at the grave-side where a short dedicatory prayer was said.  The funeral was witnessed by a large number of people. The Parish Magazine for June had announced that the custom which has hitherto prevailed of the portion of the burial service being read in the Parish Church, can still observed in every case in which it is desired.
(Leicester Chronicle.)


And what of tomorrow?

For more than a century the Thorpe Road Cemetery has served the people of Melton Mowbray. Its fine lodge at the main entrance still stands today, overlooking the large, manicured area of the various sections representing the religious followings of its occupants, which must now amount to many hundreds over time.  Little seems to have changed over these years, during which time the spare plot mentioned at its opening ceremony was indeed utilised for extra space.  There is talk today, in 2019, of the sale of the lodge house as a private dwelling and news of a possible end of term for the facilities so lovingly provided all those long years past. There is even a current  public discourse on the subject of bringing to an end the ancient practice of burial in the ground in civic open spaces, leaving no doubt, much contention amongst the religious groups who will no doubt need to organise alternative methods of the disposition of loved ones.  Watch this space!

© John McQuaid 2019

Friday, 22 February 2019




Relating to the life and times of one of the most iconic of Melton’s Lodges, ’The House’, which once stood in Sherrard Street and could be said to epitomise the life and times of a great period in the colourful history of the old market town of Melton Mowbray.


Yet another valued son of old Melton Mowbray who is now almost lost - or forgotten -  in the mists of time was Josiah Gill, the son of a farmer of the same name who owned and worked his land in the very small village of Holwell, just to the north of the town.  A first-born child to the former Mary Ann Gilson of Twyford, he was soon to be one of seven siblings, but at the age of 26 years Josiah, articulate and well schooled locally as a child entered college as a pharmacy student in London and as expected, he qualified as a dispensing chemist.  Returning to Melton at the end of this training, he set up in business as the proprietor of a combined chemist and grocery shop and in the summer of 1915 he married Kathleen Broxholme of Ashby-de-la- Zouch, though no children were born to the marriage.  A younger brother, Leonard Gill, was also to open a shop in Melton which was remembered until quite recently as ‘Leonard Gill’s Hardware’ in the Market Place. Kathleen died in 1961 and Leonard followed in 1965.  Both of the businesses were to cease trading within the lifetime of the the following generation.

Josiah was greatly interested and personally involved in the social and political side of his home town, and county, especially in the matter of childrens’ education and in particular, the Sunday schools of which he was the local superintendent in which he frequently taught and preached. Politics interested him very much and he was at different times, Chairman of the Melton Mowbray Urban District Council and a prospective councillor for the Leicestershire County Council, making frequent attempts at election to that body - all unfortunately, abortive.  He did achieve success as a member for the Liberal Party in his town. As Second-in-Command of the local branch of the Salvation Army, Josiah was said to be thrilled to be deputed to meet and greet with General Booth and his wife who visited Melton to great fanfare and excitement in his ubiquitous open automobile, to speak at the Corn Exchange in Nottingham street in July of 1907.  His father sadly took his own life in 1917 at the age of 70 in 1917 and Josiah himself was to pass away in June, 1933 at the young age of 59 years.  Thankfully, much of his work is still discoverable.

I have ‘rediscovered’ Josiah Gill in this new, twenty-first century by reason of the fact that amongst all of his many interests, like myself, he had a great passion for the social history of his beloved town and was to produce a number of scholarly and readable articles for occasional publication in the local press. I have no scruples about occasionally 'lifting' a whole piece of prose in the interests of presenting an accurate account and so, as an example of one of Josiah's valuable literary contributions, I have reproduced the following article from The Grantham Journal of Saturday June 25th, 1932, which memorialises in the wonderful detail and style of the time the life and times of one of the most iconic of Melton’s many old hunting lodges -‘The House.’  


‘The House’ and Other Famous Local Residences. 

By Josiah Gill.

Sporting and artistic ghosts of a full century must have mingled their sighs when last week they watched the fall of the hammer which broke for ever the link between a distinguished family and the town of Melton Mowbray. With the departure of the venerable Miss Grant and the Hon. Mrs. Walsh, another of those old homesteads, which may be compendiously classified as Victorian, has closed its doors.  

The story of the Norman - Grant - Markham family in Melton commencing with the coming of Richard Norman, Esquire, who anon wedded the Lady Elizabeth Isabella Manners, daughter of the fourth Duke of Rutland, a popular nobleman in the days of Pitt and Fox.  Their two chief mansions have for their title of honour the definite article only, the single word ‘The’ rightly giving to these historic homesteads a stateliness and dignity all their own. In respect of Squire Norman’s newly-acquired properly, the simple grandeur of the appellative is considerably intensified, for in all probability ‘The House’ was the cradle, as it were, of the Melton Hunt. To it, so the records declare, came William Lambton when, in 1787, that pioneer Nimrod decided to make this town his headquarters and by so doing incidentally raised the place from  a townlet of small importance to the front rank among fashionable resorts. 

After about six years of being the hub and heart of the rising Hunt, the centre of ‘a most select company of noblemen and gentry of sporting celebrity,’ the fortunes of ‘The House’ appear to have changed. In the September assessment for the year 1793, the name of Lambton is erased, and that of ‘Norman’ substituted by pencil. The House was forthwith designated after the new owner and so remained until comparatively recent years when it unaccountably characterised itself having no prefix to its generic name.

With all the dignity and amenity of a country house, planted in the very heart of the town, ‘Norman House’ continued for upwards of half a century, the abode of one of Melton’s most honoured families.  Lady Elizabeth Norman, generally known by the appellation of ‘The Good Lady Elizabeth,’ was a veritable ‘Lady Bountiful’ amongst her humbler neighbours.  The sense of ceaseless responsibility to poorer neighbours of the noblesse oblige, was strong in those days and during very many years Lady Elizabeth’s discerning sympathy and delicate generosity were the means of brightening the lives of scores of her fellow-citizens.  Her benevolence among the poor was unbounded; wherever there was sickness or distress her heart was open to sympathise and her hand to relieve. Often she was found at the bedside of the afflicted, reading portions of Holy Writ, and many times was she observed on her way to the house of some sick and almost destitute person, herself carrying the means to minister to their needs. 

At her funeral, in 1852. hearse nor carriage was present, but members of the families of Manners, Grant, Straton and Forester, headed by the Marquis of Granby, were numbered among the mourners who witnessed the interment by Orlando, afterwards fourth Lord Forester, in the almost forgotten God’s acre hidden away off King Street.  In relieving the poor, Lady Elizabeth not only fed them, but physicked them also.

Perhaps the most enduring memorial of this great lady is found in the form of a homely recipe, which even to-day survives as a magnificent proof of her benevolence and charity.  Within last few days enquiries have reached the town from Africa respecting the formula of this cheap, effective medicine, with a view of employing it among indigent natives of Umtata. Owing to lapse of time the appellation of dignity very often varied by the present generation from “Lady” to “Queen,” “Mother,” “Aunt,” “Mary” and even ‘Saint’ Elizabeth’s cough mixture.  Thus is paid unwittingly the highest compliment due to a good soul of bygone days.

After the death of Mr. Norman, the beautiful font, with its exquisitely carved oak canopy, was erected to his memory in the Parish Church. ‘As a token of love and affection by his widow and fourteen surviving children.’
A romantic interest attaches to this house from its close connection with ‘the most beautiful woman in the Kingdom of high rank’ as Wraxall styles Mary Isabella, widow of His Excellency the Duke of Rutland' who died Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland in 1787.  Towards the close of her life, this magnificent Peeress - four times painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds - spent a portion of several winters at The Poplars, a house now almost lost in modern uses to which trade has converted it. Apropos of this circumstance, the Duchess not infrequently provided her immediate neighbours with one of those wonderful pieces of pomp and pageantry which in that era were so often associated with the most common-place events in life, for we have it on excellent authority that when this Ex-Vicereine paid a casual visit to her daughter, who resided on the opposite side of the street, she invariably chartered her four-in-hand pony phaeton, with its complement of liveried servants, by which in almost semi-regal state she traversed the few yards of thoroughfare. 

But ‘The Duchess Rooms’ of today suggest to us a much more intimate and prolonged association with ‘The House’ than was conceded to its neighbour.  That the Duchess and her dandy sons were great habitués of the place is certain.  In an interesting side-light on the social life of this mansion about a century ago, Mr. Brereton, the gossipy Headmaster of the School, was accustomed to give private instruction to the juvenile members of the Norman family.  On one occasion, after exhibiting some experiments, this local diarist confided to his journal under date 1822, “The Duchess of Rutland is electrified.”

The best features cf country-house life were again united during the long residence here of Colonel and Mrs. Markham and their numerous family.  Colonel Markham considerably enlarged the house and also beautified the gardens. Thenceforth the place became a most agreeable rendezvous for the junior members of the hunting families, where festivities and jollifications of merry young folk frequently took place.

On December 12th, 1877, this mansion formed fitting background for a bridal cortege.  Surely no more splendid spectacle ever graced old St. Mary’s Church than the nuptials of Cecile Markham and Cecil Samuda when a great throng of the elite of the town, dressed in full hunting attire, honoured the ceremony by their presence. On emerging from the Church the bridal party, which included ten bridesmaids, each wearing a robin in her hat, passed under an avenue cf garlands supported by scarlet-coated huntsmen, among them the venerable Duke of Rutland.

Benevolence, like hunting, runs in families, and Mrs Markham inherited from her grandmother a keen sense of personal responsibility for her neighbours welfare.  The House again became sacred to scores of townspeople who reverenced the character or benighted by the unostentatious charity so naturally bestowed by this hereditary, 'Lady bountiful.'  Melton was stirred to its depth, when, on July 20th, 1880, it heard of the death of this great-hearted lady, at the age of 44 years.  This sad event left upon the mind of the writer an ineffaceable impression.  Two days afterwards there took place the National Sunday school centenary celebration.  The silencing of the bands and the dipping of the flags and banners, as the great procession, on its way to Church, passed The House, was a token of affection towards one, who, in many ways, had befriended the youth of the town.

The only other name which counts in the annals of this mansion during the past fifty years is that of John Adrian, Earl of Hopetoun, a Chamberlain to Queen Victoria and one of her favourite ministers.  After leaving Melton, Lord Hopetoun achieved distinction by becoming first Governor-General of the Australian Commonwealth, and eventually received the honour of a Marquisate.  Since the death of Mrs. Lionel Powell in 1929 ‘The House’ has stood forlorn and dismantled, awaiting, doubtless, only the coup de grâce it will one day receive at the builder’s hand. 

Few Melton houses carry more historical reminiscences than does the old homestead situated in illustrious obscurity on the southern slope of Mount Pleasant, the name of which we again crown with the definite article.  The earliest notices we possess of ‘The Lodge’ appear in the year 1870 when it functioned as the hunting-box of that popular patron of 'agricultural improvements’, the ninth Lord Kinnaird.  The place conjures up memories of many notable people to whom it has been let during the century.  In the ’seventies, when in the tenancy of Lord and Lady Dupplin, King Edward added a distinctly interesting page to its history by a brief visit.  Again, the Americanisation of Melton may be said to have been set when James Gordon Bennett, son of the founder and himself the proprietor of the “New York Herald,” first took up his residence at this house during the absence of the Grants.

Mr. Moreton Frewen tells how on one occasion, he dined here with that great sportsman, ‘sitting next to a strange hard-bitten American who regarded Melton as a ‘lunatic asylum in pink coats.’ “I did not catch my neighbour’s name and enquired of my host.” “Oh” he said. “ Its Stanley, a man I am sending to Africa to hunt up Livingstone.”  Art, rather than rank, has, however, given to The Lodge its greatest distinction. For the one name of supreme importance and consequence in its annals is, of course, that of Sir Francis Grant.  Indeed there never was a place so associated with with the memory of one man as is this villa with the once popular President of the Royal Academy.

Sir Francis Grant came to Melton as far back as the early ‘thirties.  He began to paint and little by little, by dint of his genius and ability, he worked his way steadily onward until at length he gained a secure place among great English painters, ultimately reaching the highest position in his branch of art in this country. Three or four years before settling in Melton, young Grant commanded the notice of Sir Walter Scott in the following delightful entry in his ‘journal’ — ‘He is not going to be content with sitting at the bottom of his father’s table and passing the claret, but in giving himself heart and soul in following a delightful, though most arduous profession, and achieving in it a marked and independent position,’  But the great Scotsman did not live long enough to see how brilliantly his foreshadowing of Grant’s career was realised.

Lady Dorothy Neville represents him as the only painter she ever knew who painted by gaslight, and he was further described by a lady at Court in the words of Queen Victoria as “ the handsomest man and the most gifted artist in the three kingdoms.”  Two pictures, representing the company at Melton during the reign of the ‘Sailor King’ hang in numerous houses of the town.  ‘The Melton Breakfast’ alone, with its graceful strength and repose, is sufficient to make immortal the name of the painter who exhibited during his career not less than 253 works.

As a rider, Sir Francis stood in the first rank. ‘Nimrod’ says of him;  “He possessed the combined arts of riding over not only fences and brooks, but now and then over horses and men in the morning and by delighting Society in the evening by the sallies of his wit and humour.

It is not always that honours such as attended this young man’s funeral ceremony are so fitly bestowed.  His friends seemed to have shared the feelings of the relatives of Lord Kelvin and Florence Nightingale, who alike declined the honour of a national burial which the nation, had it been permitted, would gladly have paid to the dead by interment in the central shrine of English Christendom.

Like his great predecessor, Sir. Godfrey Kneller, Sir Francis lies far from the bustle of the capital having found sepulture in the old cemetery in King Street among the hunting scenes he loved so well.  The funeral, on October 12th, 1878, marked perhaps, one of the most imposing and impressive obsequies ever witnessed in Melton.  Previous to the hour of burial, about three hundred members of the Royal Academy had luncheon at Norman House, and afterwards joined the funeral cortège. Nobles counted it an honour to support the pall, among the bearers being Lord Kinnaird, Mr. Cope R.A., the Duke of Rutland, Viscount Hardinge, the Marquis of Bristol, and other men of high consideration.  The public attended in great numbers and the ‘Archbishop of Society’ as the northern Primate was styled, took the service.

Right to the end, while still the home of his venerated daughter, the gentle presence of the great painter seemed to hover around the house he loved so well and which remained much as it was in his time, replete with beautiful productions and souvenirs.

Among street scenes of rather less than fifty years ago, which we remember as little more than shadows, the little donkey carriage carrying lady Grant and accompanied by her majestic daughter, stands out real and tangible.  Daughter of Richard and Lady Elizabeth Norman, Lady Grant was born at “The House’ on May 25th, 1805.  After the death of Sir Francis, Lady Grant made their winter hunting box her permanent home, until in the year 1893, she ‘shuttled off the mortal coil.’ Memories of this old and respected family are revived by inspecting the windows in the Norman Chapel of the Parish Church. Especially noteworthy is the beautiful memorial to the great artist, the subject of which is a full length figure of Saint Luke as a painter. 
Despite the brisk, pleasant modernity of young Mr ‘Hammerdown the Fourth’ [the auctioneer] cheerfully stripping The Lodge of its historic souvenirs, one could not but view with genuine sadness the scene which marked not merely the end - as far as patrician associations are concerned - of two historic houses, but also deprived Melton of the last in direct succession of the fine old families which through five generations identified them with the life of the community.'


Sunday, 25 March 2018



I confess that I don’t have a lot say about this advertisement, found buried in the Personal columns of the Times in the year 1822, but I do hope that the price the gentleman would have needed to pay for it justified whatever was its result!  


     ''A Gentleman, a widower, with no encumbrance, will be happy to meet with a lady of good character, about 30 to 35, as a partner for life: the lady is expected to have some fortune, the whole of which may be settled on herself. The advertisers income is five hundred pounds a year, in an estate in the County of Middlesex, and a share in an established house, worth three to four hundred pounds a year;— from the little attention paid to a former application of this sort, the ladies must want confidence and must conclude, no man of property and good character need adopt this mode to get a wife, or think it done out of wantonness, to try the credulity of the sex they will not allow a man for want of connections, may be obliged to live single. — In answer to the first objection, I think that no man would set forth his income unless he could make it appear to the satisfaction of any Lady or her friends, and to be at the expense of advertising, to try the weakness of the sex, he thinks but a poor gratification; he cannot here set forth with propriety, his name of place of abode, as he does not think it very material which way two persons become acquainted, if they fancy each other and their sentiments agree; if therefore, any lady or friend of one disposed to alter her condition, will, from serious motives, address a line or two with particulars, an interviewer may be through the medium of the lady’s friend with out the lady’s friends herself knowing which way we became acquainted, prior to seeing the lady, will inform her friend my name and place of abode, and convince my attentions are sincere and honoured."

    Direct for W. M. left at No 89, Cannon Street, near Walbrook. 

Wednesday, 7 February 2018


A thrilling account of the exciting and chaotic hot summer’s day in Melton Mowbray in 1911, when many thousands of exuberant people turned out to witness for the very first time the ‘miracle’ of the heavier than air ‘flying machines,’ in flight together with their intrepid pilots.



    The occasion of man’s first sustained flight in an heavier than air, powered aeroplane is pretty well known to the world as being recorded on a beach at Kitty Hawk, South Carolina in 1903, by the Wright brothers of that place.  The veracity of this specific moment in time and the people involved in the event, is open to discussion to this day and the actual truth is still argued openly and keenly, especially amongst aviators in France and Britain where it is alleged the achievement had already been made.  But whatever is the truth, it is a certainty that the discovery was one of the greatest moments in the history of mankind, perhaps even more important than the first use of the wheel and more recently, the discovery of DNA.  Imagine the world which we inhabit today without the now commonplace availability of powered flight!
    When news of this momentous occasion on the other side of the Atlantic began to percolate amongst the similar-minded people of Europe, a fierce race was set in train by those in this country who heretofore had tinkered but yet merely dreamed, to create such a moment. The challenge was now on, not only to emulate or copy, but to improve on the performance in competition with each other and to add to the honing of their aviation knowledge.
     Great names are still remembered today of many of those fearless young men who experimented and frequently died at very young ages in the race to get ahead in the exciting new sport of aviation, even to the detriment of the recently new arrival of the internal combustion motor car.  But the detailed history of powered flight is not the central issue here which is  more the story of a group of young pioneers from around the world who, with the very generous sponsorship of the Daily Mail - who did more than most to encourage the advancement of what they strongly believed was to be the vanguard of world transport - set out to race their machines around the British Isles for a tempting and enormous prize of £10,000.
     Of local interest is a very early pioneer, who at an early age during his off time as a clerk at the local gas works, was puzzling his neighbours with his desperate efforts at flying a ‘rag and sticks’ glider in nearby fields.  Samuel Summerfield, whose father ran a butcher’s shop in Melton, was on the front row at the Polo field in Brentingby, just outside of Melton Mowbray, to welcome these young dare-devil heroes.  It is said that the momentous event in the summer of 1911 was to stir in him a life-long passion for the art and pleasure of flying.


It was a truly enthralling and momentous day in the history of the small market town of Melton Mowbray on Monday 24th July 1911, when a huge gathering of people turned out to witness and be amazed at, their first sighting of the new transport invention of the age, the aeroplane - a flying machine which could carry a man.  Never before had the people of the town and its surrounding areas occasioned the ‘miracle’ of an aeroplane in flight, not to mention the actual taking off or landing of one of these heavier than air machines.  At first light on this historic day, so many children had gathered at the various locations, that the majority of the local schools sought to lock the doors for the day due to a reported ‘lack of custom.’ 

1911 was Coronation year in England and King Edward’s oldest  son, George had come to the throne on the 22nd June, to replace his father.  The era of horse-drawn transport was drawing to a close and with the increased acceptance and utilisation of the internal combustion engine, ‘motoring’ was rapidly becoming the new way of traversing the land.  Forward thinking men were feverishly seeking to improve and utilise this efficient power source and this was especially so with a mind to the new and exciting art of flying a heavier-than-air machine, high above the land surface. After decades of experimentation and at the sad cost of many young lives, the inaugural flight of Wilbur and Orville Wright in America in 1903, was to establish for once and for all the certainty of mans’ ability to fly.  Now fully accepted as a reality, it was in that first decade of the 20th Century, that great advances were to be  made by the aviation pioneers towards improving the science.


In England, the London Daily Mail newspaper which probably did more for the advance of aviation in Britain than any other source of it’s time, announced early in 1911 that a prize of £10,000, (a very large sum of money!) was on offer to the flyer who could complete, in his aeroplane of choice, a 1,010 miles (1,625 km) air circuit in the quickest time.   In an age of daring and often reckless endeavour to achieve the ‘unknown’, the ‘Circuit of Britain’ would be an enormous test of skill and endurance for both the pilots and their machines.   It was also then, almost a blind journey, with machines lacking any type of refined instrumentation which was still to be invented and the distance proposed, more than anything yet attempted by most. The route, commencing at the famous Brooklands race track in Surrey, would take the ‘daring young men’ - and one or two not so young! - north to Edinburgh, then return west to Glasgow, south down to Bristol in the west and on to the finish at Hendon Aerodrome in north London.  A total of thirty competitors initially registered their entry forms with the British Aero Club and the closely scrutinised news of the pending spectacle by radio and newsprint spread rapidly across the country incurring the resultant interest and excitement of the bulk of a general absorbed public which would soon grow to enormous proportions as the day approached. 


I seems that just about everyone in the England and Scotland, especially those people over whose land the airborne cavalcade was likely to pass, was eager to see these ‘flying machines’ for themselves and as a consequence of this intense publicity, great problems were encountered with the arrival of thousands of excited sightseers, men, women and children alike, at the Brooklands Race Circuit long before the official start of the race on Saturday, 22nd July.   By the morning of one of the hottest ever recorded summers, on a sweltering and humid day, there were at least nine of the thirty competitors who had already scratched from the race due to a number of recent deaths, broken bones and other injuries, not to mention mechanical failures to the experimental home-made machines, (Perhaps there were also second thoughts on the enormity of the task ahead!), but the many thousands of onlookers, seemingly oblivious to this minor setback and refusing to leave,  continued to throng the area for a first glimpse of the futuristic machines and their brave pilots. 

A great disappointment was to increase as the predicted start of the race was continually delayed due to excessive turbulence which was created by the hot and humid temperature which reached well into the nineties and it is a recorded fact that later that week, the temperature in London would reach 97 degrees Fahrenheit, the highest recorded for the previous 70 years.  To great excitement and much noise amongst those assembled, the temperature lowered and around 4pm the competitors, in ten minutes intervals, started their engines and commenced their individual take-off , each one to a mighty roar of encouragement and appreciation from the tens of thousands of sweltering spectators by now assembled.  Their destination for this short, initial stage was the new Hendon airfield some 17 miles distant, over the River Thames to the north.


The second stage of the race, which by now contained just 17 competitors, was due to commence from Hendon in the cooler atmosphere of first light on Monday 24th July, following a religious rest-day on the Sunday.   By the time this tense moment arrived, it seems that very few people living along the 364 miles, straight-line route to Edinburgh would have been  unaware of this momentous red-letter day in aviation history and according to local reports, a massive movement of people, the like of which had never been seen gathered together before, began to assemble in the Melton Mowbray area which was almost directly under the proposed flight path.   At roughly 100 miles along the route and a couple of miles out of the town, an emergency landing area had been prepared at the Brentingby Polo Ground for the use of the competitors and their teams. Food, rest, toilets and breakdown assistance was available to those who wished to use it, but this was not a compulsory stop and any time spent would go on the clock.  

The weather at daybreak in the Melton area, as across the rest of the country, was hazy with a low hanging mist hanging around the tree tops, creating patches of restricted visibility both for the competitors above and the watchers spread out below them.   But these conditions were not to last and they would certainly not put a damper on what would turn out to be one of the most remarkable and unforgettable days in the Town’s history.

The very popular film of the 1960s “Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines” was clearly based on the exploits of these valiant Edwardians, but of almost forgotten local interest is the impact the event had at the time on the people of Melton Mowbray and the influence it had on those who would decide later to become involved in this new ‘pastime’.  The Melton Times of 1911 is mysteriously missing from all archives, but luckily, the reporter from the neighbouring Grantham Journal was there with his pencil and on the 29th July 1911, his newspaper devoted several column inches to the exciting events of the day and how they related to the local scene.  A dependable representation of the days proceedings, plus a true flavour of his view ‘in situ’ can only be properly achieved by reproducing his report verbatim.  The use of the paragraph seems not have been in vogue at the time (perhaps in the interest of space) and the quaint words and punctuation, now long disused, add interest and some amusement to the sense of period in the piece. 


THE GREAT FLYING RACE. ----- The unexampled interest evinced throughout Great Britain, nay, from end to end of Europe, in the great aeroplane race which took place during this week, for the prize of £10,000, offered by the Daily Mail, was manifested to a remarkable degree in Grantham and the neighbourhood.  Here, in common with the rest of the world, we had talked about and speculated on the probable chances of the respective competitors.  In the few days preceding the great event enthusiasm increased ten-fold and on Sunday large numbers of people declared their intention of being out on Monday morning, despite the early hour, if only to catch a glimpse of one or more of the aerial voyagers on their way from Hendon to Harrogate, the second stage of the race.  The scene in the streets in the “wee small hours” of Monday was certainly remarkable, and was probably without parallel in the history of the borough, as, indeed, was the occasion which gave rise to such an unwonted display of enthusiasm.  As early as four o’clock one was awakened by motor cars speeding on their way to points of vantage, the majority favouring Melton Mowbray and Saxby, where, as events proved, a great deal of the race was seen.  At the latter place, it is a fact that there were assembled no less than a thousand cycles and some three hundred motor-cars, whilst, of course, the crowd was largely swelled by pedestrians.  Shortly after 4 o’clock the streets were alive with people, and, judging by the scheduled times, it was generally anticipated that the flying machines would be in the neighbourhood by half-past five.  The town itself was indicated on the Daily Mail map as a likely place from which the racing men might be seen, but this proved not to be the case, and the crowds of people who waited long and expectantly in the streets were doomed to disappointment.  So were those – and there were several hundreds – who “footed” it further afield, and foregathered on Hall’s Hill or at Harrowby.  A mist obscured the view, but even had the atmosphere been clear their chances of seeing an aeroplane, in the light of subsequent events, were remote.  Motorists and cyclists, of course, had the advantage of being able to travel further afield.  Bottesford,  Redmile, and Bingham attracted a good many from here, and they saw several of the competitors, but most people probably journeyed to Waltham and beyond.  The exodus from the town in that direction certainly seemed much greater than in any other.  Motorists sped along Harlaxton-road in rapid succession, and in their dusty wake followed streams of cyclists.  All classes were there -- gentry, tradesmen, professional men, and artisans – all imbued with the one idea – to see the sight of a lifetime.  With but one or two exceptions the motors went on to Melton Mowbray, but for the rest, the hill overlooking Waltham village, and from which there is an extensive view, was considered a desirable point of vantage, and here fully a hundred people from Grantham were assembled, expectantly scanning the horizon.  Several were intrepid enough to walk the long distance to Croxton, and it was unfortunate that their ardour went unrewarded.  It was about 5.30 that the first airship was seen travelling due north from the direction of Melton Mowbray.  It was several miles from Waltham, but the winged structure could be plainly seen as it glided swiftly from view.  A second aeroplane was seen in the locality about 6.15, and, with the idea of getting a better view of succeeding flyers, many of the spectators now journeyed on towards Melton Mowbray, whilst the remainder shortly afterwards returned to Grantham.

A later report in the same newspaper referred more specifically to events in the town..


The great interest shown in the Circuit of Britain Aeroplane Race which commenced on Saturday and finished on Wednesday with Mr “Beaumont,” the racing name of Lieut. Conneau, of the French Navy, the winner of the £10,000 prize offered by the Daily Mail, culminated, so far as the Melton district, over which the “course” lay, was concerned, in a most extraordinary display of enthusiasm and admiration on Monday.  From vantage points a mile or two out of the town, not only was the unique and thrilling spectacle witnessed of airmen passing overhead on their way to Harrogate in the second section of the contest, but in no less than four instances competitors came to the ground, for renewal of petrol or other instances.  Except at Hendon on Saturday, when the first section from Brooklands was completed, at no other place throughout the whole circuit did four aeroplanes descend in one district, and, whatever the feelings of the pilots themselves might be in having to make compulsory descents, it was a sight which those who witnessed it had never seen before, and it may be many a day before they do so again.  Altogether, on Monday, ten of the seventeen competitors who set out from Hendon, either passed over or reached the vicinity (one who came down being unfortunately, unable to make further progress), and, it may be convenient to give their names here in the order in which they were seen: - 1. No.9, Jules Védrine, Morane – Borel Monoplane; 2. André Beaumont, Blériot Monoplane; 3. No. 24, Gustav W. Hamel, Blériot Monoplane; 4. No. 14, James Valentine, Deperdousin Monoplane; 5. No. 20, S.F. Cody, Cody Biplane; 6. No. 19, C. Howard Pixton, Bristol Biplane;  7. No. 17.  C.P. Pizey, Bristol Biplane; 8. No. 12, Lieutenant R.A. Cammell R.E., Blériot Monoplane; 9. No. 23, Oliver de Montalent, Bréguet Biplane; 10. Lieutenant H.R.P. Reynolds, R.E., Howard Wright Biplane.  In the early hours of Tuesday morning, No. 2,  H.J.D. Astley, on a Birdling Monoplane, flew over the district.  The fact that arrangements had been made with the Melton Mowbray Polo Club for the use of their splendid ground at Brentingby, two and a half miles out of the town, for some of the airmen to descend to replenish their petrol supply, made that particular vicinity the chief point of assembly for those who wished to witness the progress of the contest, and no better situation could have been selected.  The polo enclosure itself, as well as the immediate rising ground towards Wyfordby, just off the Saxby Road, was invaded by sightseers numbering several thousands, and several of the aeroplanes passed directly over their heads, while those which descended not only enabled everyone almost to see this particular feat accomplished, but also gave the opportunity for a close inspection of the wonderful machines.  From daybreak the town of Melton was alive with passing motor-cars, motor cycles, “safeties,” and brakes, which brought contingents from Leicester and the surrounding districts, who were making their way to Brentingby, and the scene of the Saxby Road from four o’clock to six was one which in some respects eclipsed the familiar sight of the Burton Road on the occasion of the annual steeplechases at Burton Flats.  The road was simply blocked with both wheel and foot traffic, the town of Melton itself, of course, making up the large proportion of it.  It was certainly ...


... for so early an hour, and it is safe to say that to the great majority it was a very unusual time to be “abroad.”  Of motor cyclists there was an extraordinary number, and motor-cars were to be numbered by the score.  There must have been thousands of people all told, all badly smitten with “aeroplane fever,” and all discussing what might or might not be seen.  While many hundreds proceeded down to Brentingby and over the railway level-crossing on the polo ground, as many hundreds wended their steps about another half-mile further to the Wyfordby turn, and the field through which the road passes to the latter village was simply alive with people. Those who assembled here certainly had the advantage for a start, for a distance of some miles could be seen in all directions, and two of the first three airmen passed directly over their heads, while the second one was also plainly visible.  Later it came to the turn of the crowds on the polo grounds to have their anticipations and wishes fulfilled, by the descent of three competitors in their midst, at varying intervals, and, needless to say, the excitement was tremendous, and had either of the three accomplished something definite in the contest they could not have had a more enthusiastic reception.  When it was seen from the Wyfordby Hill Top that a descent was being made, there was a regular cross-country scramble to the polo ground, half a mile away, and most of those negotiated the various obstacles that came across their path, saw the first aviator ascend, and did not leave the ground again until for good. It may be mentioned here that the Polo Club made a charge for admission to the enclosure, and what with the large crowd and rows of motor cars & co., it looked a typical race meeting, that is, of course, in an equine sense.  One section of the large, level playing area had been roped off and the spectators were supposed to keep behind them, but on the arrival of the airmen, each after a most graceful descent, their enthusiasm outdid all prevention, and the policemen on duty were powerless to prevent the crowd breaking into the centre of the ground, and ...


... was fairly mobbed in a display of delight and wonderment.  Several officials of the Leicestershire Aero Club were present, and, with members of the Polo Club, saw to it that the arrangements made, as far as they could supervise them, were as they should be.  A large repairing motor belonging to the British and Colonial Aeroplane Company, Ltd., of Bristol, which had no less than seven aeroplanes entered in the race, was present and a large supply of petrol supplied by local firms was on the ground.  In the centre of the field was a large white cross as a guide to the fliers where to alight and at the Brentingby end of the field was kindled a fire which gave off dense white smoke, also intended to attract the attention of the aviators who desired to descend.  The weather before the sun got up was very foggy, especially in the valley, and the airmen had some difficulty during this part of the journey in discerning the landscape at all, and had largely to rely on their maps, their compasses, and their judgement to guide them.  It was considerably after six o’clock before the air became really clear, though the sky itself, to those on terra firma, was visible above the haze and enabled them to see the aviators, if the latter could not properly discern them. For the younger generation the occasion was one which, in particular, will stamp itself on the memory, and hundreds of children were, of course, among the throng, as exuberant and excited as the rest.  No doubt they had promised to be “back in time for school,” but, as a matter of fact, they were not, and so small a number of scholars did present themselves at nine o’clock that it was decided to close the Schools for the day.  Naturally, there were other points of vantage in the neighbourhood beside those just dealt with from which a fine view of the airmen could be obtained on the north side of Melton, and these had a considerable quota of spectators, and those on the Scalford-road had the opportunity of witnessing a descent, in this case, compulsorily, Hamel, one of the “favourites” for the race, coming down owing to engine trouble and landing in what he described as a “two-foot field.”  It was, of course, of slightly larger dimensions than that, but his ascent from a very circumscribed space was probably the most thrilling of all. 


When one arrived at the spot thought to be the best for viewing the competitors (alluding more particularly to the Brentingby side) one’s eyes and thoughts naturally turned upwards, and in the direction from which the aviators might be expected to appear. It was anticipated that, barring accidents, the leading man might pass over the vicinity between five and six o’clock, and from five o’clock not only naked eyes, but dozens of field glasses and telescopes were directed to the south and south-east.  It was just three minutes to half-past five when a steady floating object, no larger than the smallest of small birds, was observed, and the shout of, “here’s one coming,” caused everyone to look in the same direction.  Gradually, slowly it almost seemed, the object in question assumed a shape that left no doubt it was the first of the flyers, and exactly at 5.30 a monoplane which by the aid of glasses could easily be distinguished by ‘the number’’ on each side of the plane as “9,” passed straight over the heads of the people assembled in the field over the Wyfordby hill-top.  This, from the reference, was seen to be the number of M Jules Védrine’s aeroplane, and it’s progress was instantly watched, and a loud cheer was raised, as it went by “the Broom” towards Scalford.  The hum of the motor could be heard very distinctly, and the machine appeared to be gliding along (possibly at fifty or sixty miles an hour) without the slightest trouble; in fact under perfect control.  It proceeded some miles, but was not out of range, when, suddenly as it were, at 5.32, a second aeroplane came into view through the haze which still hung over the horizon.  There were thus two in sight at once, and the second one appeared to be “taking a corner” off from the first, with a line nearer Freeby than the leading one had done.  Although it’s number could not be ascertained, there was no doubt in anybody’s mind but that this was M. Beaumont on his Blériot Monoplane and he continued on an evidently stern chase after his fellow-countryman.  At 5.35 the now fully recognised “song” of the aeroplane motor again broke on the air, and, flying at a very low altitude, there next sailed over the hill-top, “No. 24” the figures being so plain that no glasses were needed to distinguish them. It came to everybody’s mind that the airman, Mr Hamel, had some reason for being so low; not more than two hundred feet high it was conjectured, and this surmise proved to be correct.  Had he known, probably he would have brought his aeroplane to earth on the polo ground, half a mile away on his left, but he held a line which took him almost ...


... to descend in a small field between the Great Northern  Railway and the Isolation Hospital, of which more anon. Recognised as the first Englishman to cross over, he was accorded a particular hearty cheer, which could hardly have failed to penetrate the whirr of his motor.  Then came quite a lull, for one had by now begun to expect seeing aeroplanes every two or three minutes.  However, suddenly there was described going nearly over the town of Melton itself, going “entirely on it’s own,” an aeroplane, whose white tail flashed in the sunlight over the mist below and which proved to be Mr Valentines monoplane.  He was much too far off for any demonstration to be made, but the huge crowds above and below Brentingby were on exceedingly good terms with themselves, and only waited now for the first descent to be made that they could witness.  They had not very long to wait, for a minute or two after six o’clock a “speck” appeared on the horizon over the hill between Whissendine and Old Dalby, and the biplane which it in a few seconds resolved itself into was evidently for “business” on the polo ground.  As it came almost in a direct line for the assembled crowd behind the ropes, it perceptively slackened speed, and then took a delightful bird-like swerve and the next minute Mr. C. Howard Pixton’s “Bumble Bee” planed beautifully on to the level turf and with scarcely a tremor of the frame upon the running wheels touching the turf, it ran a dozen or so yards, and came to a complete standstill.  The whole thing had looked so simple and natural-like in it’s execution that for a moment or two everyone appeared lost in astonishment, but when the pilot himself, without any loss of time, sprang from his seat, which by the way, had a Union Jack cushion at the back of it, their wonderment gave way to ...


... and everyone rushed across the intervening ground to not only congratulate the pilot himself, but, as far as was possible, to examine the marvellous piece of mechanism which had dropped into their midst from a point between eighty and ninety miles away. Mr Pixton readily acknowledged the greetings, but there was no time to be lost, and while every body who could get anywhere close enough to admire the aeroplane itself did so, the mechanics of the Bristol firm, whose machine it was, quickly replenished the fuel tanks, and saw to it that everything was in order for the safe continuation of the fateful flight.  In the meanwhile a sudden inspiration appeared to seize those within the immediate proximity of the plane, and that was to inscribe their names, and in many instances addresses, on the canvas, and the aeroplane, when it left again, must have carried quite a lot of “lead” away with it in addition to it’s ordinary weight.  By twenty minutes past six all was in readiness for Mr Pixton to resume his journey, and after a trial spin along the ground, apparently to test the engine, the aeroplane, with no seeming effort, soared into the air once more, and making a circle of the ground, was in a minute or two lost to sight beyond the trees, though the motor sounds could be heard for some for some time as the pilot got under weigh.  It was rumoured that another aeroplane might be expected to alight on the ground in twenty minutes time, and this proved to be so far correct that towards seven o’clock the machine driven by Mr C.P. Pizey, also a “Bristol,” could be seen in the distance, though coming from the direction of Saxby Station.  It appears that Mr Pizey, on reaching Oakham, fancied he was at Melton, and, in searching around for a landing place, twice or thrice made a circuit of the Rutland county town, and then, finding he had mistaken the place, set off for Melton.  With the fog by now all cleared off, Mr Pizey sighted the polo ground a mile or two away and bore straight for it.  He came over the trees by the level-crossing, and, like his predecessor ...


... which quite took the heart of the spectators, stopping plump in the middle of the field.  Rousing cheers had been given all the time the aviator had been within hailing distance, and these were smilingly acknowledged by Mr Pizey upon descending from his “perch,” which also had a Union Jack cushion at the back.  Whether it was a cigarette or a cup of tea which first reached his lips we will not venture to say, but both were cordially welcome.  It transpired that one of Mr Pizey’s reason’s for coming down was engine trouble, that great bane of all aviators, and, as events proved, this turned out to be so serious that not only was he unable to continue his flight there and then, but it eventually involved the practical destruction of the biplane, and put him out of the race altogether.  When Mr Pizey had got all in readiness for a start, considerable trouble was experienced in getting the engine going, and when this was succeeded in the pilot did not attempt anything more than a run the length of the polo playing piece.  He had two more attempts before venturing to lift the machine into the air, and then he had not risen more than twenty or thirty feet before he hurriedly came down again, and before he could bring it to a standstill on the ground itself, the wheels and lower supports had crashed over the board which makes the polo “touchline” and the concussion caused the upper plane to catch a propellor blade and rip it. It was then announced that Mr Pizey would not attempt to start again without new parts to the engines being put in, and, as these had to be obtained from Bristol, a resumption of the flight was not possible before late in the afternoon in any case.  The disappointment naturally experienced by the aviator himself was shared by the crowd, a large section of whom watched the partial dismantling of the machine with sympathetic interest. The propellors, it was noticed, were constructed of wood, presumably of teak and highly polished. Then ensued a considerable period of quiescence for the spectators and many of those who had journeyed from Leicester and other places took their departure.  It should be stated that Mr. Cody, who, as previously stated, passed seventh in order over the district, took a course almost directly over Holwell Works, where his number could be plainly distinguished, but he was not visible to those assembled at Brentingby.  The time was about six o’clock.  At a quarter to nine o’clock from a south-easterly direction Lieut. Cammell flew at a great height straight across the centre of the polo ground, and it was about this time the news was received by the officials at Brentingby that Mr Hamel had had to come down in a field in the occupation of Mr Freeborough, off the Scalford Road between the town of Melton and the isolation Hospital.  He had, of course, then been down over three hours in a vain endeavour to put things right; but his own mechanics, expecting him to alight at Mansfield, had preceded there, and were, of course, anxiously awaiting him.  At length, he motored over to Brentingby, and explained that he had broken an inlet valve, and at once a new one was placed at his disposal by the Bristol Company, and not only that, but Mr Pizey, being unable to “help himself” for the time being, went back with Mr Hamel to his damaged machine to assist in putting it right.  This action was a subject of considerable comment, and showed that in spite of the great rivalry a race for such a prize must have engendered still one competitor was quite willing to come to the assistance of another in the hour of need.  Of course, Mr Hamel had been seen to come down in the field, and very soon several hundred people had congregated round his machine, which being of the monoplane type, differed very considerably from those which descended at Brentingby.  By ten o’clock, the necessary repairs to Mr Hamel’s machine had been completed, and eight minutes later he was once more ready to set our upon his big undertaking.   Before he left Mr. F. R. Carter the superintendent of the G.N. and L. and N.W. Joint Railway, who had provided men, ropes etc., for Mr Hamel’s accommodation, wished the aviator, on behalf of the spectators, all good luck on his journey, and called for three cheers, which were given with rousing effect.  Mr Hamel having started his engine gave the signal for “let go” to those who were at the rear and almost instantly the machine took to the air, and in a few minutes was out of sight.  The aeroplane was not far from the hedge, and Mr Hamel took some little risk in getting off as he did, but the exigencies of the situation demanded it.  It is of interest to know that Mr Hamel is only twenty-three years of age.  To return to the aerodrome, one might almost call it, at Brentingby after the passing of Lieut. Cammell shortly before nine o’clock, the next aerial visitor was M. Olivier de Montalent, who arrived shortly before eleven o’clock and alighted, his descent being quite as cleverly accomplished as those before. There still remained a large number of people on the ground, and M. de Montalent was given a hearty reception.  Upon wishing to go up again, the Frenchman found that the air currents were not to his liking, and he decided to wait until later in the day.  He eventually made a start at 4.13 p.m., and got away in brilliant fashion, and, when “fairly on the wing” travelled very rapidly.  Meanwhile, just after two o’clock Mr C.T. Weyman, the American aviator, on his Nieuport Monoplane, soared over the district, and he, too, was evidently bent on making up for lost time.  Mr Pizey, the stranded airman at Brentingby, had hopes of getting away early in the afternoon, but found the injuries to his machine such that it was seven 0’clock before he could essay another flight.  It appears the chief cause of the trouble was the denting of one of the cylinders of the propellor.  At thirteen minutes past seven he made an attempt to resume his flight to Harrogate, but the machine refused to rise properly, and, after a short circuit, came down with an alarming crash on to the polo ground again.  This time the biplane was seriously damaged, the propeller being smashed off, and the chassis stanchions and several ribs broken.  It was then too late to attempt to remedy the defects, and the machine was left on the ground all night.  At a quarter to eight the same evening, Lieut. Reynolds, who did not start from Hendon until after 6 p.m., went over the east end of the town, and this was the last of the aviators to pass over the district that night.  Between five and six o’clock, however, on Tuesday morning, Mr H.J.D. Astley, and his Birdling Monoplane, who had been fogbound at Irthlingborough, near Kettering, was reported by railway officials to have gone over, and he reached Harrogate at 7.35.

On Tuesday evening, Pizey had once more got his damaged machine put right, and again attempted his flight, but unfortunately without success.  He rose a short distance from the ground and cleared the hedge on the opposite side of the polo ground to the railway, but he had only gone a short distance when down crashed the aeroplane again, this time damaged in such a manner that Mr Pizey decided to retire from the contest.  He himself was unhurt, and explained that his engine, which had given so much trouble, was affected by the weather.



The iconic moment of the first sighting of powered flight in Melton Mowbray is perhaps mere happenstance today after  more than a century has been and gone.  Those daring young men did move on to much greater things, at least those who were not tragically killed in the effort, as many were, but the intense dedication of the many intrepid men and women who continued to come forward and participate in the cause, have provided us with the luxurious and speedy air transport that we so take for granted today.

I have touched briefly in passing upon the contributions of a young Sam Summerfield, the local butcher’s son whose dreams came to fruition in the small wooden shed at the back of his dad’s shop in Nottingham Street, leading to his meanderings about the town with his cumbersome glider strapped to a pedal cycle whilst on his way to the fields to practice, did much to draw me in the direction of the exciting events of 1911.  I learned that he was one of the very first holders of an official Royal Aero Club certificate and who was later to train some of the wonderful pilots of the Royal Flying Corps in preparation for the exploits of the Great War of 1914.  Sam was a local hero whose existence is hardly known today in his home town. 100 years later, we should perhaps be remembering and giving thanks for his gift to the country and for the pride vested in the small market town in which he was raised.

The Leicester Chronicle, as early as 1908, some three years before the time of the great air race as described, was already opining about the advent of manned flight and its potential value to mankind.  The following snippet is a tongue-in-cheek example of the views then being expressed:

(From the Leicester Chronicle - Saturday 18 July 1908)


    ‘The romantic days when people had visions of constructing a wonderful secret flying machine in the privacy of the backyard, and selling at some fabulous sum to the Government or a foreign Power, have long gone by, says Mr Valentia Steer in an article on aeroplanes in the July [1908] number of Cassell’s Magazine.  ‘Given sufficient money for aeroplanes at present are costly things, any engineer who has studied the subject at all could make an aeroplane that could fly.  What the world is waiting for is the adaptation of the gyronome or some other mechanical device that will prevent the aeroplane from ’turning turtle’ when in the air.  It must be remembered that ten years ago the motor car was practically unknown, five years ago it was still a curiosity.  Experts declare that flying machine development has proceeded faster than that of motor cars in their infancy.  If this state of progress is maintained, in another decade we shall have realised the recent prophesy of Colonel Fullerton R. E. that in a few years  aeroplanes will be as cheap as bicycles and all our pleas, all our political frontiers and all our tariff arrangements will have to be re-arranged, for Great Britain will no longer be an island.’

© John McQuaid 2018

See a wonderful archive of photographs from the race at this site: