Type of Place: 
A small historic village on the eastern side of the Soar Valley

Walton on Wolds


This is a high standing village to the east of the Soar Valley and is the centre of a farming parish. It lies about four miles from Loughborough and most of the houses are grouped around the village green.




The earliest known name of Walton on the Wolds was "Wealas Tun Wald", meaning 'The Settlement of the British Serfs on the Wolds'. The name 'Wealas' was what the new Saxon population called the native Britons. 'Wealas' is also the source of the word "Wales", final stronghold of many of the Britons. Interestingly, we do not know what the inhabitants of the settlement called themselves....




This is a high standing village to the east of the Soar Valley and is the centre of a farming parish. It lies about four miles from Loughborough and most of the houses are grouped around the village green. The village still has many working farms and is a conservation area, although some new houses have been built.




The village is listed in Domesday Book as "Waletone" and has always been a predominantly farming community. Domesday gives the main land holder as Ralf Carnot, who held 7 carucates (roughly 700 acres) of land. The population in 1086 is estimated at 10 households (about 45 people). This had gone up to 65 people by 1377.


Walton's first recorded Rector was Hugh Despenser in 1221, succeeded by Robert de Waltone in 1238.


The handsome Manor House, home of the Mallory family, was located to the south of the church but was destroyed during the Civil War. Only faint traces of it now remain. In 1335, John Mallory was granted liberty to "free warren in all the demesne land at Walton On The Wolds", meaning he was permitted to hunt rabbits and hares.


A Muster Roll of 1540 lists that Walton had a military obligation to supply one archer and seven "byllmen" in time of war. The name of one of the byllmen specified is given as William Shakespeare, although not the famous playwright! An addendum to the roll states that "This town hath harnesse for one byllman beside Godfrey Somershall, which hath harness for himself". In other words, not only did he have to fight for the King but supply his own tools as well!


An account of 1563 estimates the village population as 17 households (about 75 people). By 1603 this had risen to 122.



In 1655, a collection was held in Walton "for the relief of the poor Protestants of Piedmont". Amazingly, this raised the sum of £1 6s 9d (£1.34) - a large amount for a village of only 200 people.



Walton had begun its process of enclosure as early as 1614. The final Award was made in 1796 and completed the transformation of the parish from the three field system of agriculture.



The old fields of Bybarrow, Cockling Croft and Longsike were now re-allocated as farms to the registered landowners. The Constable's Field at the far end of Loughborough Road was not enclosed and remained the property of the Parish. As it had in every other village, enclosure changed Walton for ever. Fields were now laid out in a uniform pattern and surrounded by a hedge, usually of hawthorn. Roads were straightened as much as possible and were given wide verges on each side.



The next change was that farmhouses were now located on their own land and away from the village centre. Lastly and perhaps most important, areas of woodland were planted for game and fox cover and common land was no longer freely available to all.



As a result of the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act, this parish became part of the Barrow-upon-Soar Poor Law Union.



A gazetteer of 1863 lists the population of Walton On The Wolds as 221 and its area as 1,443 acres. The same source lists the village as having 12 farmers; 3 shopkeepers; 2 shoemakers; 1 tavern; 1 rector; 1 blacksmith; 1 saddler and harness maker; 1 tailor and 1 wheelwright. The population of Walton has hovered around 200 ever since the 18th century.



The population of Walton On The Wolds in the late 20th century was about 250 - not so very different from the number living here in the 17th century!




The original Gothic church of St Bartholomew was built in about 1220 and was regarded by many as the most beautiful in the county. But it fell into disrepair and was demolished and rebuilt in 1739 in brick and stone. This new church was renamed St Mary's. St Mary's has a brick tower which is very unusual for Leicestershire. The church was again heavily restored in 1877 in the Victorian Gothic style. A preaching cross in the churchyard is thought to be 1,000 years old.



Wright's Directory of 1887 says "there is a considerable lodge of Druids, their anniversary being held on Whit Sunday". Unfortunately, this intriguing throw-away remark is all there is on this subject. The next year lists the Druids as "Oddfellows", so it may be that they were in fact freemasons.






If ever there was a Charnwood person who embodied the word "eccentric", it was Montague Bertie Bird, Rector of St Mary's Church, Walton on the Wolds. His father, John Bird, became Rector of Walton when Monty was just four years old. He was educated at a school in Salisbury run by his Uncle, William Warren Bird and later at Queens College, Oxford where he studied Theology. Despite this, it is thought that he never really wanted to go into the Church, preferring a career as an inventor. But, probably due to his father's insistence, he duly trained for the priesthood and became a curate at Kirkby in Yorkshire. He became Rector of Walton On The Wolds on the death of his father in June 1894, a time when the village population was just 231.



As seems to have been a family tradition, he married late in life and was aged 59 years when he married the 39 year old Miriam Nora Oldacres in 1928. She was a former nurse and may have been Monty's housekeeper at the Walton Rectory. They had one son, John Edmunds Bird, who was born in March 1932.



Monty was clearly a talented man and very much a "character". He interested himself in every aspect of village affairs and was Chairman of the Parish Council up until his death. He was President of the local society of bellringers and a keen golfer. His style as a Rector was, to say the least, a little unorthodox. He sometimes repeated a sermon he had used before and on particularly cold Sundays had been known to rush through the service and tell his congregation to get off home to the warm!



He was also an accomplished and prolific poet, writing many verses between 1892 and 1903. These he called "Tales Of Our Village" and they are based on real life village people and events, including the celebrations of the Coronation of King Edward VII.  Many poems take the form of contemporary descriptions of Walton itself. One written in 1902 was called "An Old Man's Tale" and shows how the village had changed, as seen through the eyes of the old man of the title. One verse bemoans the importing of wheat from abroad: 



"They calls it free trade - I says grow what you can

And then buy what you haven't got room for to grow;

Why don't they keep half of this foreign stuff out

And grow it at home - that's what I want to know!"



The poem goes on to regret the changes in country life in the late nineteenth century and the feelings seem so genuine that it has been suggested the "Old Man" was in fact Monty himself. Other poems told an amazing array of stories, from the life of the sexton to the story of the Walton church bells.



Monty's other great passions were inventing, gadgets and photography. His grandfather had been a blacksmith and Monty was a skilled engineer, building such diverse projects as a rain gauge and model locomotives. He even made his own tools. He was one of the first people in the area to own a car and a telephone. The question has to be asked, however, that if his telephone was a rarity - who did he ring up on it?



But more than anything, it is for his photography that Monty will always be remembered -in particular, his trick photography. He built his own camera out of plywood - complete with swivel lens and flash capability - and converted a room in the Rectory into a darkroom. His painstakingly constructed "trick shots" are not only great technical achievements but are also shot through with a tremendous sense of fun and mischief. 



One prime example shows a group of skeletons sitting around a table enjoying a glass of beer each. Another is of a group of men sitting in an open-topped car. This seems unremarkable until, on closer examination, all the figures are seen to be Monty himself! The most celebrated shot has to be a picture of our man, complete with scarf, boater and a huge pair of wings, seeming to fly effortlessly over the village!



One of the most intriguing parts of the story, however, is how we came to see his photographs at all. Although Monty's will left all his possessions to his son, none of the now famous glass plates was among them. It was not until 1954, twelve years after Monty's death, that over a hundred of his fragile glass plates were discovered in the loft of an outbuilding at Hoton Parsonage. The discovery made headline news locally but, then as now, no-one could come up with an explanation as to how they got up there in the first place. The plates themselves, after a good dusting, were as good as new and, through publication in the press, the photographs gained a whole new generation of fans. The originals are now kept safely by the County Museums and Records Service.



"Monty" Bird was a true one-off. His genuine love and respect for his parishioners inspired in them loyalty and affection. And his wit and humanity still shine through so many decades later.     



Thomas Gambel:

One of the most notable of Walton's inhabitants in the 18th century was Thomas Gambel. He was a renowned clock maker and one of his pieces is on display in Leicester Museum bearing the inscription "Thomas Gambel, His Own Work".



Augustus Charles Hobart-Hampden: 

Another celebrated Waltonian was the magnificently named Augustus Charles Hobart-Hampden. He was born in Walton Rectory in 1822, where his father, later to become the Sixth Earl Of Buckingham, was Rector. But Augustus was certainly not inclined to follow his father into the church and, instead, joined the Navy at the age of 13. After an uneven career, he retired as a Captain in 1863 and became a blockade runner on the side of the South in the American Civil War. In 1867 he entered the service of the Turkish government as a naval advisor, succeeding Admiral Sir Adolphus Slade. Here he proved to be so valuable to Turkey that he was given the title "Hobart Pasha". In all probability he never came back to his birthplace.




Walton's oldest building is known as Kingscote on Loughborough Road. This is a black and white timber framed structure and is over 600 years old. Tradition has it that Richard Iii sheltered here on the night before the Battle of Bosworth but there is no evidence to back this up.



Opposite this is the Old Manor, a brick and timber house built in 1560, with additions dating from 1845. Despite the name, this is NOT the original Walton Manor, which has long since disappeared.



There was a Primitive Methodist Chapel in Walton in the 1820s and John Skevington is known to have conducted services in the village.



The son of a leading Loughborough Primitive Methodist preacher, John Skevington became known as “the boy preacher” in his home town before embarking on a series of preaching tours around the country in the 1820s.



Skevington later became and would remain a prominent figure at the head of the Chartist movement. He also played a leading role in supporting the framework knitters of the district. As a result, he was arrested and imprisoned for a short time.



Mention of the chapel stops in 1916 and it seems reasonable to assume that it closed down around that time.



Listed Buildings in Walton on the Wolds:


10 Loughborough Road, Walton on the Wolds (Grade II)


Old Manor House, 5 Loughborough Road, Walton on the Wolds (Grade II)


The Manor House, New Lane, Walton on the Wolds (Grade II)


Church of St Mary, New Lane, Walton on the Wolds (Grade II)


Cross Base in Church Yard, South of Church, New Lane, Walton on the Wolds (Grade II)


The Old Rectory, 21 School Hill, Walton on the Wolds (Grade II)


15 Six Hills Road, Walton on the Wolds (Grade II)


Mill Farmhouse, Six Hills Road, Walton on the Wolds (Grade II)


Ivy House Farmhouse, 10 Six Hills Road, Walton on the Wolds (Grade II)


Post Box in Wall of Outbuilding Approximately 75 Metres North North West of Field Fares, Walton Lane, Walton on the Wolds (Grade I)







"The ancient families of Turville and Mallory long lived here. One may trace the site of their residence in a field on the south side of the church, where it has been conjectured an encampment previously existed and that this was converted into terraces for the plaisaunce of the Old Hall... The Rectory House is commodious and pleasantly situated. There are some well built residences in the village - that of Mr Shuttlewood is a good specimen of 1613... Some years ago we procured from a cottage wall near the green a very good example of an ancient quern. Another may be seen in the village..."



Description in 1871:
"Walton-On-The-Wolds, a parish in Barrow-upon-Soar district, Leicester; 2 miles NE of Barrow-upon-Soar r. station. Post town, Loughborough. Acres, 1,720. Real property, £2,087. Pop., 221. Houses, 57. The property is much subdivided. The living is a rectory in the diocese of Peterborough. Value, £450. Patron, Mrs. Packe. The church is good."

[John Marius WILSON's "Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales," 1870-72]

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