Village history

This history of Waltham on the Wolds is taken from the church guide and was written by local historian, Dennis Hurton.

Waltham on the Wolds villageWaltham-on-the-Wolds is situated in the Borough of Melton in the North-East corner of Leicestershire and is five miles from Melton Mowbray, eleven miles from Grantham and approximately twenty miles from Leicester, Nottingham, Newark and Stamford.

The village enjoys an elevated position on the eastern extremity of the Leicestershire Wolds being about 168m (560ft) above sea level making it the second highest village in the county. Geologically Waltham is based partly on clay and partly on red marl with an underlying strata of jurassic limestone which has been quarried locally and used extensively throughout the village for building, providing Waltham with one of its most attractive features.

The Domesday Book’s reference to Waltham shows the village as belonging to HUGH OF GRANOMESNIL who, after the Norman Conquest, was the largest landowner in the county. Hugh allowed WALTER to hold a major part of the village and surrounding land. It has been quoted in the past that it was from this Walter that the village derived its name, Waits Ham (Walter’s town), but earlier records prior to Walter’s time refer to the village as WAUTHAM. It may have acquired its first name from WEALD (Woody) and HAM (a town) and its second from the Saxon WOLD (a hill or high place).

Saxon stone coffin found

There is little evidence of any settlement at Waltham prior to Saxon times. There is a brief mention in an archaeological report referring to some broken Roman pottery and a section of a Roman pavement being found in the village. The nearby Romano-British site at Goadby Marwood could account for the broken pot sherds, but despite the normal building work and associated excavations which have taken place in and around the village in recent years, there has been nothing to suggest that the site was occupied earlier than AD 800. There was an empty Saxon stone coffin found during some excavation work in the village in the late 1940s and there are references to similar finds in the village at an earlier date.

In the 13th Century, possibly due to the increased prosperity created by wool production in the country, Waltham became an important centre for trade. Becoming one of the five towns of Leicestershire, it was granted a royal charter by Henry III to hold a weekly market and an annual Fair to be held on 19 September. At the time Nicholls wrote his History and Antiquities of Leicestershire’ in circa 1800, he stated that the weekly market had been discontinued but that a Fair was held for the sale of horses, horned cattle, hogs and goods of all sorts. On Fair days anyone who chose was allowed to brew and sell ale and there were reputed to have been seventeen such alehouses. Unfortunately, only the locations and names of fourteen are known today.

The parish which, at one survey, comprised 2756 acres had from the time of the Conquest been held by various Norman landowners and their successors. At the expressed wish of King John the greater part of the village was bestowed upon the Abbot of Croxton Kerrial Abbey who was the King’s physician. A much smaller part of the village was held by the Nuns of Nuneaton who may have had a nunnery or small grange in the village. The foundations of what may have been this building were still visible in the late 19th Century in that part of the village called Nun’s Lane which leads to a small field referred to as Nun’s Close. It was in this area that the village tithe barn may have stood, as an adjacent parcel of land is still called ‘the Barn Yard gardens’

Duke of Rutland sells village properties

Those parts of Waltham which belonged to the various religious houses at the dissolution of the monasteries were granted by King Henry VIII to Thomas Manners, Earl of Rutland, in 1541. The village remained in the ownership of the Dukes of Rutland until the majority of it was sold in 1921, when most sitting tenants bought their own dwellings.

In its heyday as a town Waltham had need of the services of a constable. This office, according to the records, originated in the reign of Edward I and it was part of the Constable’s duties to keep the peace and care for the town’s armour. The yearly accounts of the various persons who held the office of constable survived for much of the 17th century and amongst them are several entries relating to the civil war when many levies and demands were made upon the people of Waltham, both for the Royalist and Parliamentarian troops.

It would appear that in those days the town had need of a ‘lock-up’. One entry in 1637 shows that a man was paid one shilling and three pence for mending the cage with boards and nails, while only the previous year four pence had been spent in purchasing a new lock for the same building.

A later entry shows how trying the office of constable must have been – he had to authorise the sum of two pence to be paid to a man for the whipping of a vagrant for cutting purses at the Fair. This entry is followed by an item ‘for the spending of one shilling for the buying of beer between meals’. The office of village constable ceased in 1876 when, possibly, his duties were taken over by Sir Robert Peel’s men.

Waltham’s village school

The present village school, built in the Elizabethan style in 1845, superseded a smaller adjacent building built in 1833 which has since been converted into a dwelling house.

After a number of years of Methodist preaching in various houses in the village, a chapel was erected in 1843 at the North East end of the village. Standing close by the Chapel was the Waltham Agricultural Hall, a fine Tudor style building erected in 1838. Much of the cost, together with the site, was given by His Grace the Duke of Rutland. The Hall was intended for the use of those interested in the general advancement of agriculture and to encourage enterprise among the operative classes or those employed in husbandry. When, after a number of years, the interest in the original purpose of the Hall declined, it was offered to the village as a meeting hail but this offer was not taken up as it was felt that the running costs would be too great It was, therefore, decided to dismantle the building and the stone was used to build one of the larger farmhouses still standing in the village.

Prior to the rationalisation of the railways there was a station at Waltham. This was served by a single branch line from Scalford and was situated about three-quarters of a mile from the village. It was primarily used for conveying iron ore from the local quarries but it was also used for passenger traffic at the time of the September Fair and to transport people to and from the nearby Croxton Park Races.

A study of the parish records and early trade directories reveals that for many years Waltham enjoyed the services of a number of local trades people and, although many of the trades and occupations of yesteryear have disappeared, the village is still fortunate to have retained many of these services.