Between the 19th and late 20th centuries, Earl Shilton was a busy industrial village consisting of numerous Shoe, Hosiery and Knitwear factories. Boot & Shoe factories included Orton’s, Eatough’s and Pinchess’s as well as other smaller operations.
At one point Earl Shilton produced boots for none other than Russia’s Red Army. Many of these businesses have now closed due to competition from the far east, but a very few still continue into the 21st century.
Nevertheless Earl Shilton boot and shoe heritage provided the opportunity for other businesses to thrive alongside them, namely local carriers such as Woodwards (now the bakery distribution business) and Crowfoots Carriers (still operating as a parcel carrier). Both these businesses are now located in nearby village of Barwell. Increasingly heavy traffic flow through the village led to the planning of a bypass. Work started in Autumn 2007 and the road opened early in 2009.
The Parish Church
For centuries the chapel of St Peters had stood in Hall Field, Kirkby Mallory being the mother church.
The Noel family of Kirkby bestowed many charities on the parish. In 1854 Earl Shilton was constituted a new parish apart from Kirkby. The following year the parish totally rebuilt the church and dedicated it to St Simon and St Jude, at a cost of £3,500. When Earl Shilton was made a separate parish, instead of a chapelry of Kirby Kirby Mallory, the Rev F E Tower, the curate of Earl Shilton, was also made rector of Elmesthorpe.
The minister of the parish, Rev. F. Tower, who saw Shilton in an impoverished state, was parish priest for 27 years. His farewell address to the working people of Earl Shilton was given in 1882, on January 1st.
We are apt to speak of poverty now, but poverty is nothing in comparison of what poverty was then. Ten, twelve, and in a few cases fifteen hours work for stocking makers a day, or wages about 7/- or 8/- a week. It cannot be denied that visible marks of true prosperity were but faintly seen even here and there among the working population of that day.
The world was hard upon the poor stockingers, poverty, misery, sin met us again and again in workpeople’s houses. Some working men thought too much of themselves and became leaders of discontents, and others too little of themselves and losing self-respect appeared as if bowed down to the very dust.
Some in the parish lived unmarried yet with children, and these last were turned aside by their parents as ragged children fit only for the ragged school kept only that honourable old man, William Swinney, the parish clerk.
Some lived as if there were neither a heaven by doing well, or a hell by doing ill. The surface of religion stood out lightly in relief from the level of ordinary life. At last came the Cotton Famine, and 1,200 people of the village were thrown out of work, a most pitiable time we had of it.
There were five bells hung in the new ‘crockette’ spired church, where previously there had been three in the old chapel of St Peters. Three more bells were hung in 1921, in honour of those who had fallen in the great war, making a total of eight. The wooden beams were taken out at this time and replaced by steel girders, to support the new peal.
Parish Vicars 1854 –1947 Rev F Tower, Rev Willis, Rev Maughan, Rev H V Williams, Rev E Pillifant and the Rev E E C Jones.
The economy of the village was based mainly on boots and stockings. A whole family would work from morning until late at night for very meagre earnings. Stocking makers worked ten, twelve and even fifteen hours a day at their frames, for seven or eight shillings per week. Frame rents were high and varied from one shilling to three shillings per week. Poverty and disease were rife. In Hinckley there was a framework knitters strike in 1824. Two years later, disorder in the town was quelled when a detachment of lancers arrived, killing one man.
The Earl Shilton village population had risen to 2017 by 1831.
Many Earl Shilton people in the 1840’s became destitute and sought refuge in the Union Workhouse at Hinckley, locally known as “The Bastille.” Things had become very bad, and are spoken of as the “hungry forties.” Queen Victoria ordered an inquiry into distress, and sent in 1843 a commission headed by a Mr. Muggeridge, and afterwards much valuable information was obtained from interviews with work-people and employers. Earl Shilton frame-work knitters and hosiers, gave evidence at the enquiry of 1843. Rich Wileman, of Shilton, described himself as the oldest stocking manufacturer in the kingdom, and stated that many thousands of dozens of socks were sent to the American market every year.
At a time when a reasonable daily wage was 4/-, a report showed the weekly earnings in 27 parishes varied from 4/- to 8/- a week, Hinckley district being 5/3, Bosworth 4/6, Ibstock 4/- and Shepshed 5/6. Frame rents in the cottages were high and varied in different parishes from 1/- to 3/- per week. This rent and the addition of the vicious Truck Act (1831), made poverty and disease rife in the Leicestershire parishes (John Lawrence). The Truck Act stated that goods had to be paid for in cash instead of in kind and, as usual, hit the poorest the hardest. Had it not been for their allotments ground, things would have been much worse, as it was many were close to starvation.
In the year 1844 there were in Shilton alone 650 stocking frames. Mr. J. Homer, giving evidence to the commission, said that the whole of these were in the houses of the workpeople at that time. Neither the workshop, nor the factory system was in operation in Earl Shilton until after the findings of the Commission were made public.
Stocking making in the home quickly died out with the introduction of the factory system. Both the boot and shoe and the hosiery industry eagerly took to the new system of working and for the first time people began to be regulated by time, as the factory needed villagers to work in unison. The last known stocking-frame in Earl Shilton disappeared when its owner, a man named Mr. Pratt, who lived in Wood Street, died.
Earl Shilton saw its’ first hosiery strike in 1859. The employers involved were Messrs. Homer & Everard. Almost 130 operatives took strike action, and an appeal was sent out to workers of three counties for aid for the Earl Shilton strikers to fight it.
There is no doubt that the 1840’s were wretched times, and sheep stealing, highway robbery and burglary were common. It was not safe to go out after dark. If a man was caught sheep stealing, he was sentenced to fourteen years transportation. Fourteen years transportation was also the sentence for anyone who was driven by hunger to take a pheasant from the woods.
A Barwell man called Bottewell was sentenced to death for robbery. But luckily, the local rector, Mr Metam, managed to get the sentence commuted to transportation to Australia. Shortly after arriving in Botany Bay Bottewell was pardoned, after another man confessed to the crime. Bottewell made the slow passage home to England, and lived out the rest of his life back in Barwell.
The Social Institute was founded at the turn of the 20th century to provide a social and sporting outlet for the young men of Earl Shilton. Its first home was accommodated in two rooms above the H.U.D.C. gas showrooms in Wood St. A Grand Bazaar was held in Earl Shilton on 28th and 29th of December 1908, at the High street school, to raise funds for a new building for the Social Institute.
In 1909 the building was erected in Station road, paid for by public subscription, and a mortgage guaranteed by local industrialists, who were the founders and formed the Management Committee. The premises on station road organised football, cricket, a rifle range, chess club, skittles and billiards.