Speakers: Nick Fathers and the late Mrs Billington
15 March 2022
There are close links between Thurcaston and Belgrave, the two villages having been directly connected by road until the route was diverted along Beaumont Leys Lane in the 1990s. At the Society’s March meeting, our member Nick Fathers took us back several generations earlier, on a photographic and historical tour entitled “Welcome to Belgrave”. Nick’s explanations were enlivened – not to say upstaged – by the contemporary opinions of Mrs Sarah Billington, landlady of the Bull’s Head, who was conjured up for us by Sandra Moore.
The talk was illustrated with a fine collection of photographs of Belgrave at different periods. Some came from postcards, like the example here that provided Nick’s title. It was one of many local scenes published by the postmaster Walter Clayton. Other photographs came from a collection of glass negatives and were so well preserved that Nick was able to zoom in and show details of children’s faces and of goods for sale in the shop windows.
Until the mid-19th century, Belgrave was a small, self-contained village centred on its hall, church, village green and the medieval bridge on Thurcaston Road. Then, from a population of 1200 in 1845, it rapidly grew six-fold as people moved from the countryside to find work in factories in and around Leicester. The grand houses along Loughborough Road show that the area first became a fashionable suburb but before long all the spaces in between were filled with the rows of terraced housing that we see today. To support the greater population, there was a wide variety of shops and an extraordinary number of pubs and alehouses. That might explain the building of a subtantial police station, which survives but is no longer in use. The small village school close to the river was replaced by the National School – known as the “Nashy” – on the corner of Thurcaston Road. This was the terminus of the tram line from Leicester and a tram shed survived nearby until quite recently.
Other interesting pictures showed:
- The “Old Tree”, an elm that stood for many years outside the Talbot Inn and was the main meeting place in the village.
- The Green at the bottom of Bath Lane, which was flooded in 1912.
- A venue for pleasure boating next to the bridge.
Piecemeal development through the 20th century has destroyed much of the character of Belgrave but there are still things of historical interest to spot if you know where to look! From April, the Belgrave Heritage Trust will have photos and other information on display at Belgrave Hall, each Wednesday and on the first weekend of each month, so that would be a good time to go and explore the area for yourself.