Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Husbands Bosworth

Husbands Bosworth in Leicestershire is one of those places that I’ve never visited, though I would certainly like to see it one day. So what follows is what I can glean from the Internet. For several generations it was home to the Orton family, ancestors of my maternal grandfather, Albert Edwin Orton

Farmland north west of Husbands Bosworth (1)
It’s thought that the name was originally “Baresworde’, which is the Saxon word for Bar’s farm or settlement. The village, on gently rolling, fertile land close to the Avon river and the Grand Union Canal, was given the prefix “Husbands” to distinguish from the nearby Market Bosworth. “Husbandsmen” is another name for farmers.

In 1086, when the Domesday Book was written, Husbands Bosworth had a population of seventy one households, and was in the possession of five Norman lords. In the middle ages the village was established enough to build a church. Much of All Saints church has since been rebuilt, but the tower dates back to the fourteenth century.

The village gained some fame (or notoriety) in 1616 when 15 women were arrested as witches, and nine of them were tried and hanged on the same day. The other six were reprieved by the king, James I, after he happened to be passing through the area. One had already died in prison.

Several versions of the story appear online, but the gist of it is that the women were called to cure John Smith, the young grandson of the local land owner, Erasmus Smith, when he began having epileptic fits. When they failed to cure him by exorcism, they were accused of witchcraft. (One version says that the boy himself accused them, then later admitted that he’d made it up).

Unfortunately there seems to be no record of the names of the fifteen women accused of witchcraft, so I'll never know if any of them were among my ancestors. The name Orton is common in Leicestershire and the neighbouring counties, in fact there is a town in Leicestershire with that name. The first Orton in my family line that I’ve found living in Husbands Bosworth was John Orton, born about 1774. He and his wife, Mary Steans, were married in the parish church there in November 1804.

Husbands Bosworth (2)
Mary was born in Husbands Bosworth, as was her mother, Elizabeth Illiff, so it seems her family had probably been in the village for several generations. I haven’t been able to discover where John came from, though it’s likely to have been somewhere nearby. Nor do I know what John did for a living. But given that his sons were carpenters and wheelwrights, he probably had a similar occupation. They would have provided a service to the local farmers and villagers, who relied on wooden carts for transporting people and produce, and wooden farming implements.

John and Mary had at least four sons, one of whom, John (born 1807) died at the age of four. As was common in those days, the next son born after his death was given the same name, John. The two remaining sons, Thomas and Richard, both died in their twenties. A child baptised under the name Mary Ann Horton in Husbands Bosworth in 1815 may be John and Mary's daughter.

The younger John seems to have been a bit of a larrikin, as I’ve described in a previous post. He married Mary Ann Brown from nearby North Kilworth, in August 1841, though their marriage took place in Birmingham. John could have been working there, or possibly there was some objection to the marriage. Mary Ann was pregnant with their first child, Thomas Brown Orton, at the time.

The Cherry Tree, c1908, now demolished (3)
John and Mary Ann lived in Husbands Bosworth for the rest of their married lives and had six more children. John was self-employed as a carpenter, when he wasn't in court or in prison. After his death in 1880, Mary Ann became a publican, running the Cherry Tree in High Street, Husbands Bosworth, for several years. She retired to Leicester to live with her daughter Lucy.

The village reached its peak population of 934 in 1871 and then began to decline, as people in rural areas moved to cities and towns looking for work. By the 1891 census most of the Orton family had left Husbands Bosworth. Thomas Brown Orton, my mother's great grandfather, moved with his family to Manchester. It must have been quite strange moving from a small rural settlement to a place as large and overcrowded as Manchester.

1.Stephen McKay, Farmland north west of Husbands Bosworth - geograph.org.uk - 172870CC BY-SA 2.0
2. Mat Fascione, Husbands Bosworth 1CC BY-SA 2.0
3.Cherry Tree. Image from the Bosworth Bugle, issue 249

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