The Logo of the Charley Heritage Group


The earliest recorded residents of Charley were a group of “three Friars Eremites of the Order of St. Augustine” (Potter p97) who lived in Charley Priory, a small house built for them by Robert Blanchmaines, Earl of Leicester in the twelfth century. It is possible that the Friars were not the sole residents in Charley for there is evidence of an early dwelling in the present Charley Hall and its surrounding landscape; Potter argues that a dwelling more prestigious than the Priory, known as Earlshall, existed in Charley and that this was the home of Sir Andrew Judd who was Lord Mayor of London in 1550 and was said to have a “capital mansion” in Charley. (Potter p 105).

Occupation of, or travelling across, Charley predating the twelfth century is suggested by the well documented find by two monks who, in 1840, unearthed a pot containing hundreds of Roman coins dating from the third century A.D and the field walking find in 2004 of an Stone Age wrist guard. From the late eighteenth century the name of a Bess Baggerley survives in Bess Baggerley Farm and Bess Bagley cross roads and the lady is reputed to have been a wealthy widow and landowner. Rock Farm, too, is suspected to have late eighteenth century origins, possibly a farm worker’s cottage to the adjacent Charley Hall, and persists as a dwelling today.

It is not until the period in the nineteenth century which saw the proposals for and completion of the Enclosure Act that a more detailed record of Charley begins to appear. The passing of the Act in 1808 and its ratification for Charley in 1829 resulted in a gradual increase in population and building as land was released for agriculture. Initially some of those who had purchased land under the terms of the Act built grand houses for themselves. Charnwood Lodge and One Barrow Lodge possibly date from this time and both these houses, though no longer in existence, are deserving of further research.

In 1835, newcomers to Charley (though at that time the land was within the boundary of Whitwick Parish) paved the way for what has become the largest community in Charley. Seven Cistercian monks came to live in a small cottage known as Tin Meadow House on 200 acres of land given to them by Ambrose Phillipps de Lisle with the intention of bringing the monastic life back to England after the years of exclusion following the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the reign of Henry Vlll. Over a period of 170 years that small initiative has developed into Mount St Bernard Abbey and is one of the most visited places in Leicestershire.

The Church of St. James the Greater was consecrated in 1815 on the day of the Battle of Waterloo and was completely rebuilt in 1833 because of the dangerous state of the original roof. The church was known in its early days as the Oaks Chapel of Ease or the Chapel in the Wilderness and was built on land designated at the time of the Act of Enclosure to provide churches for the ‘people of the Forest.’

The availability of National Census Returns of the ten year periods since 1841 provides an accurate record of the development of Charley from a few scattered houses to the small rural hamlet it remains today. In the nineteenth century servants tended to outnumber family in the larger houses and this situation persisted into the early twentieth century as is shown in the 1901 National Census return; however it is not always easy to identify a dwelling as the recorder often showed the approximate location rather than a specific address. The Electoral Registers provide the information of people and dwellings for the twentieth century and are invaluable for researchers and family historians alike. The most recent Register of Electors for Charley (2006) lists 76 dwellings and 172 electors, 31 of whom are Cistercian monks at Mount St. Bernard Abbey.

Until the Local Government Act of 1894, the ‘Wastes of Charley’ as it was known, was an extra-parochial area, meaning that it was outside the jurisdiction of an ecclesiastical parish and therefore, paid no church or poor rates. The 1894 Act made Charley into a Civil Parish and the first Parish Meeting was held in the Oaks School on December 4th 1894 under the chairmanship of the Rev. John Martin of Charley Hall. Today, the Parish Council – one of the smallest in North West Leicestershire – meets every other month in the John Storer Hall, Oaks Road.

In addition to the permanent residents of Charley there have been those for whom the area provided a temporary home or workplace. The delinquent Roman Catholic boys of the nineteenth century were sent by magistrates from all over England to the Reformatory or St. Mary’s Agricultural Colony which was started by the monks at Mount St Bernard. Their sentence was usually for a period of five years and the majority of them were able to learn a trade or work on the land and benefit from an established routine with regular meals and discipline. During the years of the Second World War some of the larger houses in Charley were requisitioned by the armed forces and in St. Joseph’s field there are the remaining ruins of a ‘beam bender station’, one of the nation’s defences against enemy aircraft.

Charley’s landscape of 1323.258 hectares (3269.8 acres) remains largely unspoilt by development and has within its boundaries sites of special scientific interest, a National Nature Reserve and many internationally known geological formations, but that is not to say that it is an area holding on to the past. In the 1950’s the proposed route of the M1 motorway cut through the middle of Charley but strong local opposition succeeded in the alteration of the plans but the motorway still divides the Parish. The twenty-first century problem of the consumption of energy and the resulting damage to the earth is addressed at Beacon Energy where small wind turbines provide power for the offices of The Midlands Renewable Energy Technology Transfer. This initiative was founded in 1996 by Professor Tony Marmont for the purpose of collating and disseminating research on energy conservation.

Generally speaking, the once humble houses are now transformed into desirable residences; land is farmed by landowners rather than families of farmers and the rural roads are plagued by the modern problem of heavy traffic. Residents are mainly ‘new-comers’ and (in 2008) the Charley Heritage Group could find only one person who had been born in and still lived in the Parish.


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