Norman times

Melton history index

Melton Town

By the time of the Domesday Book (produced between 1080 and 1086) there is reference to “Medeltune”. Perhaps the name “Melton” comes either from “Milltown” – there being two watermills in the area, or from “Middleton” – Melton being central to several hamlets.

The township of Melton then would seem to consist of 38 families – giving a population of about 200 persons.

Geoffrey de Wirce, from the Anjou-Britanny border, was the first Norman Lord of the Manor of Melton. 1077 provides written evidence of Melton as a market town – though it is probable that Edward the Confessor (1042 to 1066) granted it market status. Its market status is re-affirmed in a charter from 1324.

Robert de Molbrai, one of William the Conqueror’s noblemen, seems to have inherited Melton Manor – though he was subsequently imprisoned after revolting against Rufus. In this manner the town became known as ‘Melton Mowbray’.

The lineage continued through his wife, Matilda, who had two sons by another husband. The eldest son was Roger, who participated in the Crusades, returning to endow the Leper Hospital at Burton Lazars. The second son was Hamo lived in the hamlet of Eye Kettleby, and seems to have taken the name “Belers” – as a result of which the hamlet of ‘Kirby’ became known as ‘Kirby Bellars’.

Melton’s Parish Church

St Mary's Church.

St Mary's Church. (Click to enlarge.)

There is some evidence of earlier Church buildings on the site of the Parish Church – suggesting Christianity arrived in the area considerably earlier than the current building. The Domesday Book records the presence of two priests to serve the Town in 11th century.

Melton Mowbray’s current Parish Church of St Mary (the Virgin) probably dates from the latter half of the 12th century – both the sandstone and the grey limestone being from local sources – the final phase, the vestry, being completed in 1532.

Anne of Cleve’s House

The Anne of Cleeves on Burton St.

Anne of Cleeves. (Click to enlarge.)

The only other medieval building still standing in Melton Mowbray is the Anne of Cleve’s House, probably dating from 1384 and serving as accomodation for the chantry priests of Melton.

Its name derives from Henry VIII assigning the revenues from this house and land as part of the divorce settlement to Anne of Cleve – though there is no evidence of her having resided there. Today the building is the Anne of Cleve Public House.


Melton Market

The Market Cross.

The market cross

The market continued to flourish, each commodity with its own market cross – a Sheep Cross in Nottingham Street, a Corn Cross near the junction of Nottingham Street and High Street, while a Butter Cross stood in the Market Place. Sage Cross, where herbs were sold, is preserved by name, at least, in Sage Cross Street. At least two crosses also stood as boundary-markers to Melton Mowbray parish.

The photograph shows the present-day reconstructed Corn Cross, placed near the former Corn Exchange in the Market Square in 1996. A plaque honours the Royal Vetinary Corp receiving the Freedom of the Town in 1977.

Early Schooling

The earliest reference, in 1347, indicates the school being confiscated by the Crown from the French Cluniac Order, owing to the hostilities between the two Nations at that time. This would make the Melton School one of the earliest in England.

Law & Order

In a programme on BBC Radio 4 (March 2003) The Long View, Jonathan Freedland spoke of the rule of gang law in 14th century Leicestershire.

The Folville family (of Ashby Folville fame) featured as infamous outlaws: John Folville had inherited the manor of Ashby Folville and seems to have lived within the law. However, his brothers, Eustace, Laurence, Richard, Robert, Thomas and Walter formed the core of a criminal gang — for instance, involved in the murder of Roger Bellers in 1326. In 1332 the Folvilles kidnapped judge Sir Richard Willoughby, near Waltham-on-the-Wolds — demanding 1300 marks for his release. King Edward II duly paid the ransom.

Richard Folville was appointed by his elder brother as rector of Teigh (some 7.5 miles to the South East of Melton Mowbray). Richard and associates sought sanctuary in the Church, in 1340. Arrows were shot at the pursuers, killing one and wounding others. Sir Richard de Colville (a Justice of the Peace) entered the Church and dragged Richard outside and beheaded him — the customary treatment of outlaws at that time. However Richard de Colville had still to seek absolution for his sacrilegeous behaviour (in killing a cleric), receiving a penance which required him and his associates to tour local parishes and to be beaten at each Church!

Next page: Post reformation