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Desford at the Outbreak of the Great War

In 1911, Desford had a population of 1 115, spread across 250 households. Desford Coal Company had opened the pit in 1902 and an analysis of the 1911 census shows this to be the predominant employer, with 139; followed by 70 in farming, 48 in service (mainly female) and 32 working for the Midland Railway. Framework knitting in people’s homes had come to an end, but there were 14 people working in hosiery factories.

The village was confined mostly to what is now the Conservation Area, with a few houses towards the edge of the parish on Forest (now Leicester) Lane, Clay (now Lindridge) Lane and Wharf Lane (Station Road).

Steam trains would pass along the railway line at the bottom of the hill and the carters were kept busy to and from the station, pleased that the toll gate at the top of the hill was no longer in operation. Mr Dymock at the Lancaster Arms had a trap for hire. Old Manor Farm dominated the High Street, as it does today, with the Blue Bell and Manor Farm opposite. The Strict Baptist Chapel had fallen into disrepair, but people could still choose to be buried in the graveyard. At the junction of Main Street and High Street was Pickering’s grocery shop and opposite it, the carpenter’s workshop, where Frankie Lane made wheels, carts and coffins. The road wound round where Main Street turned into Newbold Road and Mr Chawner had his draper’s and grocer’s shop;  with cottages as far up as the Roebuck Inn; often tucked into yards. Manor Road did not exist, but behind a high wall was Chawner’s orchard and a footpath went across the fields to Newbold Verdon. Mr Dilks, the builder, was kept busy building houses for the growing population. Other trades were 6 blacksmiths, a saddler, shoemaker and several bakers and butchers. Opposite the church was another large Manor House, next to the Bulls Head. The Infant School was newly built in 1908, to relieve the bulging Board School building, separated by the headmaster’s house. Beyond this was The Priory, another working farm.  

The Rector at this time was the Reverend Thomas. Between 1910 -13 there was much fundraising for work to the Rectory, including the sinking of a well (still there) as well as work to the church. We know that there was gas in the village as in 1913 the gas lights were installed in church. There was a grand reopening in October 1913. Although a plot of land had been donated, next to the churchyard, there was not enough money to build a parish room. There were 3 services on Sundays at both the Parish Church and Free Church and often during the week. There were women’s meetings, fortnightly lectures, concerts, a debating society, a gymnasium class for boys and a cycle club. The Band of Hope met on Tuesday evenings. There was a football team and cricket team. The Miners Institute was a Reading Room. 

Main Street before the War Memorial. Mr. Cooper's Ironmonger cart.jpg

 Main Street before War Memorial 

High Street before Manor Road. Glass Negative about1918.jpg

 High Street before Manor Rd  

There were 6 public houses in the village, plus the White Horse opposite Desford Hall, near the crossroads.  The hall was now used as a Convalescent Home and had 36 patients under the beady eye of matron, Miss Lucie Havers.

There was no piped water, so people still relied on the many wells and pumps. There were no street lights.The cart came round at night to empty the earth closets.

Desford had been a demesne manor of the Duchy of Lancaster since Simon de Montfort was killed in 1265. So, the affairs were administered from Leicester by a Steward who was responsible for seeing that the Manor Court was held (in the barn behind the Manor House) and that the reeve collected the rents. This system was still the way things were managed in 1911. (It ended in 1925) 

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