This name derives from the old English words 'set', meaning an animal pen or enclosure and 'graf' meaning a ditch or grove.
A local legend gives a very different theory as to the village's name. During the renovation of Seagrave Church in the 19th century, a very old skeleton was discovered under the floor, buried in a sitting position. The legend gives the identity of this person as "Prince Segg", after whom Six Hills is supposedly named, and therefore the village was "Segg's Grave". However, there is absolutely no documentary evidence of this.
Seagrave is unique in Charnwood in that the early Lords of the Manor - the Segrave family - took their names from the village rather than the other way round.
Seagrave lies in the remote, high farming country between the Soar and Wreake valleys. It is a village which blends old and modern housing. Part of the parish boundary is formed by the Fosse Way, now the A46.
The earliest visitors to the Seagrave area were probably people travelling along the ancient Saltway which runs through the village. The building of the Fosse Way, which forms part of the present border of the parish, brought many more passing travellers and trading opportunities for anyone who did decide to settle there. However, there is no direct evidence of occupation until just before the Norman Conquest in 1066.
Several old earthworks have been discovered in the village, including a hollow way leading east down the hillside from Hall Farm. To the south of this is an area of old closes and some building foundations which may be the site of the original Seagrave Hall from the 13th century. At the bottom of this slope are the remains of three fishponds. Limestone quarrying was one of the earliest industries carried on here.
The Domesday Book survey of 1086 records the village as Setgrave, with a population of "4 bordars and 4 villeins".
One of the earliest Lords of the Manor was Gilbert de Segrave, who came here in 1165 and adopted the name of the village as his family name. It is thought that he originally came from Chaucombe Priory in Northamptonshire.
Gilbert was succeeded by his son Stephen, who supported King John in the Barons' Wars and was rewarded with lands and honours, including Mountsorrel and Cotes. In 1232 he became Chief Justice of England and Nichols claims that he built a stately home in Seagrave which was attacked and burned down in 1234 by a company of outlaws led by Richard Siward.
Stephen died at Leicester Abbey in 1241 and was succeeded by his second son, Gilbert. The family went on to win more honours and varying degrees of Royal favour.
Gilbert's son Nicholas tried to hedge his bets by first supporting Henry III and then switching sides to fight with the barons against him. At the Battle of Evesham in 1264, he was caught on the losing side and all his lands, including Seagrave, were seized. However, he was later pardoned and his lands returned. (This was the same Nicholas de Seagrave who was granted a Royal Charter to hold a Market and fair in Mountsorrel).
The Segrave family had probably not actually lived in the village since the loss of Seagrave Hall in 1234 and little is heard of them by the end of the 14th century. This was when the Lordship passed to the Mowbray family - and also when the population of Seagrave was devastated by the Black Death.
In 1488, the Mowbray lands were broken up and the Lordship of Seagrave passed to the Earl of Nottingham (later created Marquis of Berkeley), whose family held the title until the 17th century. However, the 16th and 17th centuries saw the rise of the village's wealthy middle class, into whose hands the land of Seagrave was steadily passing. Most notable amongst these were the Dison and Fosbrooke families.
In 1563, there were 46 households recorded in Seagrave and by 1670 this had gone up to 58 households. Surprisingly, there are no records to indicate which side Seagrave was on during the Civil War of the 1640s but since most of its neighbours were staunchly for Parliament, Seagrave most likely was too.
The Act for the enclosure of Seagrave's common land and open fields was awarded in 1761, the first year of the reign of King George III. Before enclosure, Seagrave's common fields were called Brinkfield, Ansley Field, Overfield and Netherfield. The chief beneficiary of enclosure was Leonard Fosbrooke, who received 39% of the newly enclosed land. During this process, ancient field divisions disappeared, new roads were created and common land was no longer available for grazing, leading to much poverty amongst the already poorest farmers.
One celebrated eighteenth century resident of Seagrave was William Bird. He was described by the early historian Nichols as "an ingenious clock maker" and died in 1774. Another was William Richard, who died in 1799 and left £100 in his will to pay for a schoolmaster in the village. By 1818, partly as a result of this, Seagrave had 12 children attending day school and 60 attending Sunday school. By 1835, the day school numbers had gone up to 39 and the village's first National School opened in 1877.
The inventor of knitting machines, William Cotton, was born in Seagrave in 1819. His new machines had a profound effect on the knitting industry not just in Charnwood but all over the world.
Leonard Fosbrooke's grandson, also called Leonard, had sold the family property - and the Lordship - to the Dean and Chapter of Westminster in 1825. The church, in its turn, sold most of its holdings in the village to local farmers - but held on to the title of Lord of the Manor.
The opening of the Midland Railway in 1840 made a great difference to the village. Although it did not have a station of its own, the one at Sileby was an easy walk away, meaning access to Loughborough, Leicester and even London was now relatively easy. The start of commuting can be dated to this point.
A gazetteer of 1863 lists Seagrave as having 21 farmers; 4 shopkeepers; 3 butchers; 2 inns; 2 bricklayers; 2 tailors; 1 miller; 1 joiner; 1 blacksmith; 1 schoolmaster and 1 shoemaker.
Piped water was brought to Seagrave in 1927, before which, water for the village had all come from wells. One of these was the "Robin Well" at the bottom of King Street (then called Water Lane). The well had a pump that could be used by anyone in the village and an annual fee was paid for someone to keep the well clean and in good order.
Oil street-lighting was introduced in 1928 and oil lighting in houses was still common until just before the Second World War. Electricity was not introduced until after 1945 and Seagrave was not connected to the sewer network until 1965.
The church of All Saints is typical of Leicestershire, both in period and style and is built of Mountsorrel granite. Some parts of the nave date from the 12th century but most is from the 13th and 14th centuries. The tower is in Perpendicular style while the chancel was rebuilt in 1891. A tenor bell was hung here in 1595 and a treble in 1710.
Augustus Burton, writing in 1622, speaks of coloured glass being used in the windows, displaying the arms of the Mowbray, Chaucombe and Segrave families. However, these windows no longer exist.
The church has both a north and a south aisle and there is a coat of arms over the chancel arch. There are large boards on the north wall of the north aisle which display the Creed and the Ten Commandments. The Lord's Prayer is painted on the wall of the south aisle. There is a circular Norman Font with segmented arches and two intriguing old chests, both with substantial locks.
The church also houses a collection of early 19th century musical instruments, including a Serpent and an Opheicleide.
The church was modernised in 1856 and the seating and floors replaced with new ones. The churchyard was closed to burials in 1889, when a new cemetery was opened.
The Old Rectory stands east of the church after having been rebuilt here from its original location. Abbotsbury Court dates from 1607 and is located near the turn-off to Pond Street. This has been much altered but retains some of its original wattle and daub construction. The windows date from the 1740s. Later in its life, Abbotsbury Court became the "Swan With Two Necks" public house, a name which was more recently changed to "The White Swan". It was sold to Ansells brewery in 1906 and has now reverted to being a private house.
This ancient tradition had a very practical reason behind it. One of Sileby's lesser known small industries was the making of Cowslip Wine. The one thing such an industry needed was, of course, Cowslips. So for 14 days in May, children in Seagrave and Sileby would be taken out of school to help adults pick the annual harvest. The holiday was last mentioned in 1921 and Sileby Cowslip Wine seems now, unfortunately, to be just a memory. Unless someone still has a couple of bottles tucked away somewhere....?
BEN MARSHALL (1768-1835)
Ben Marshall was one of the greatest sporting painters of his age and was born in Seagrave in 1768. He was one of eight children born to Charles and Elizabeth Marshall but very little is known of his early life. It is known that he worked as a school teacher, married Mary Saunders of Ratby in 1789 and moved to London. William Pochin of Barkby Hall had recommended him to Lemuel Francis Abbott and Marshall studied with him for a time.
His career as a sporting painter began to take off in London and in 1800 he had his first exhibition at the Royal Academy. John Ferneley was apprenticed with him for a few years and in 1806, Marshall met and befriended one of Leicestershire's most famous men - Daniel Lambert - who was visiting the capital. Marshall painted a portrait of Lambert which is now owned by Leicestershire Museums and even named his son Lambert after his friend. Unfortunately the baby died within the year but another son, born in 1809, was also named Lambert. There were also four other MarshalL children - Charles (born 1794); Mary (born 1797); Ann (born 1803) and Elizabeth (born 1812).
Just before 1812, Marshall left London for Newmarket to study horses and make contact with the people who were fast becoming his clients. While living here, in 1819, he was badly injured when the Leeds Mail on which he was travelling crashed, leaving him unable to work for months. The crash permanently affected his abilities and in his later years he painted less and less, becoming a sporting journalist for, among others, "The Sporting Magazine". But this severely affected his income and the later years of his life were passed in financial difficulties.
In 1825, Marshall returned to live in London where he attempted to launch his son Lambert as a sporting painter. But, although he undoubtedly had talent, Lambert was never very successful. Ben's health seriously declined following the deaths of his wife in 1827 and his daughter Elizabeth, who was tragically burned to death in front of him.
Ben Marshall died on July 24th 1835 at the age of 66 and was buried in Bethnal Green churchyard, although no tombstone or memorial remains. He was remembered in 1967, however, when an exhibition of his work was held at the Leicester Art Gallery.
Robert Burton, author of The Anatomy of Melancholy was rector of All Saints' Church in Seagrave from 1630 to his death. Samuel Johnson considered this one of his favourite books, being "the only book that ever took him out of bed two hours sooner than he wished to rise".
From "Rambles Round Loughborough" (1868):
"This place... has all the characteristics of a lovely English village. True, it has no Hall but it once had a Castle, the site of which is seen in various earthworks. The Mowbrays, the Dukes of Norfolk, possessed it, and Sir Walter Manny, so distinguished at Crecy and Calais was born in it. The village gives the title of Earl to the Berkeley family.... The Parsonage has deep interest, for in it Burton, the author of the "Anatomy of Melancholy", long resided; and a part of that famous work, which Dr Johnson himself deigned to praise, was written here."