Thurcaston’s Changing Landscape

Leader: Peter Smith

15  June 2021

It was lovely to meet other members in person on a beautiful June evening, when the Society’s Peter Smith led a walk exploring the changing landscape between Thurcaston and Beaumont Leys.

The layout of roads we see today dates from 1799, when Enclosure completely changed the way the land around Thurcaston was farmed.  The Enclosure Commissioners took the strips of land held in communally worked, open fields and re-arranged them into privately owned blocks.  At the same, they specified where roads, footpaths and other rights of way should run.  We do not have any detailed maps from before that time but a small scale map published in Nichols’ History of Leicestershire and the Enclosure Award itself give us some clues.

The village was clustered round All Saints’ Church, with an area of common land or “waste” where Rectory Lane now is.  Roads radiated out from here to neighbouring villages.  In a field next to the church, a “hollow way” has been worn by the passage of feet and hooves on the path to Coffin Bridge, which was the route used by residents of Cropston to attend the church or bring their dead for burial.

Near Park View Riding Stables we crossed a section of the old parish boundary, marked by a wide, double hedge.  The boundary was later moved to run along the backs of the houses in Thurcaston.  The fields in between now fall within Leicester City and the City Council’s draft Local Plan proposes that 600 houses could be built there in the next 15 years.

The A46 Western Bypass was carved through the area in 1995.  Beyond it, we entered Castle Hill Park, where Leicester University is currently running an archaeology summer school to excavate the site that the Knights Hospitaller occupied from 1240 to 1482.

The system of paying annual tithes to the church was abolished at Enclosure.  In compensation, the Rector was allocated additional “glebe” land along the west side of Leicester Road to support his income.  A small pool at the back of the modern Glebelands estate is the source of the Thistle Brook, which runs through Thurcaston, crossing Leicester Road at the mini roundabout.  The pool also marks the corner of the old parish boundaries with Beaumont Leys and Birstall.

Alongside the Thistle Brook is a strip of land that was undeveloped until very recently.  It marks the line of the Old Leicester Road and a public footpath still follows it.  The landscape is ever-changing and we had to detour around the latest phase of the Ashton Green development before we could rejoin the footpath to pass under the A46 and across rough fields to Rectory Lane.  Here, beside the path and now overgrown, there is another hollow way to remind us how many other people have walked this route in the past.