Thornton village is within the civil parish of Bagworth and Thornton in Leicestershire. It is a linear village lying along a scarp overlooking Thornton Reservoir to the east and Bagworth Heath to the west.
A Short History of Thornton
By Iris Gleeson
The history of the village of Thornton goes back to well over a thousand years when the first settlement was made on the ridge between the two streams which still run on either side.
Although exposed to strong winds from every direction, primarily the south west, the village is safe from flooding standing as it does 460 to 480 feet above sea level.
The village name is generally thought to be Saxon meaning the ‘tun’ (a landed property) in a thorny district.
The whole area around Thornton was covered with a thick deposit of boulder clay at the end of the Ice-age and this subsequently made an ideal bed for the construction of the reservoir in the mid 1850’s since water does not easily seep through it.
How long a church has been present in the village is unknown; although written evidence
dates back to 1220. St Peter’s Church, Thornton, is unrecorded in the Domesday Book which describes only the ‘Manor of Bageworde’. Doubtless this includes Thornton as the two have always been in the same parish.
(The above taken from the Church of St Peter’s, Thornton – A short guide & history).
In the 19th century the village was mainly agricultural, there being about 12-16 farms, few of which now exist.
Most dwellings in the village were owned by the Countess of Warwick and these were sold at a Grand Auction in about 1919, catalogues of which are still in existence.
Thornton Reservoir was built in the mid 1850’s to take the first fresh piped water to Leicester, but at that time water was supplied to the village via the Water Tower which stood at the bottom end of the village near the Wheelwright’s Cottage.
There were several areas of the village where water had to be collected from taps sited at the ends of rows of houses etc. and well within living memory; as are ‘pan’ toilets which
were emptied at night by the ‘night soil’ men.
Old kitchens were demolished and replaced with new kitchens and bathrooms containing toilets in the 1960s in the 2 rows of cottages belonging to Desford Colliery.
Other cottages were owned by Bagworth colliery and were rented out to their employees at both pits.
At about the turn of the 19th into the 20th century the advent of collieries in the area
meant that more men were needed to provide labour for the mines and therefore houses were built, and men, and sometimes their families, moved from other parts of the country for this purpose. This changed the balance of employment into agricultural workers and
miners and this was the case for many years until some of the farms were turned into
family homes and the many pits in the area were finally closed in the 1980’s.
Many more privately owned houses were built and colliery houses and council houses were sold to sitting tenants.
The village gradually changed as most people had to travel well beyond the boundaries
of the village to find employment.
Thornton had its own Post Office for many years although it changed position within the village over the years. It was finally closed after several robberies forced the Sub-postmistress to move.
This caused a great loss to the village as the office was used for so many purposes.
In 2019 the Post Office reopened in the Corner Shop.
Thornton School has been in existence for over 100 years and has had a reputation of being a good school and I am sure that most teachers’ names can be remembered by the previous pupils.
Thornton Community Centre came into existence in the 1970’s mainly because there was not an existing building which could be used for community use at all times. A committee was formed to explore the possibilities and finally a Charity was formed in order that grants could be obtained from local authorities etc. Fund raising was started in the village at the beginning of 1970 and the first building was opened on 8th September 1973; extensions were added in 1978 and 1988. The hall is in use most of the time from Monday to Friday and the activities cover all ages from Mums & Tots to Senior Citizens via Brownies, Youth Club, Yoga, Playgroup, W.I., Markfield & Thornton Theatre Group, Keep Fit, Kick Boxing etc.
The Hall can be hired for parties, weddings, and other private functions.
The Bricklayers Arms has been in existence for many years and is reputed to have been ‘kept’ by members of the Dilks family for almost 500 years. The last Dilks landlord was Arthur Dilks, who was born at the pub and retired soon after his 65th birthday in 1982. The pub was given its name because the Dilks family carried on the trade as builders. It is understood that employees were paid their wages in the pub.
The Bulls Head pub was a feature in the village for over 100 years and was enlarged over recent years and the name changed to ‘The Tipsy Fisherman’, then the Steam Trumpet, and more recently the Reservoir Inn until it closed down after a small fire in the kitchen in 2018.
Fishing licences for the reservoir had to be obtained from the pub until the new fishing lodge was built.
A public house named the ‘Stag & Castle’ existed in The Hollow near to the railway bridge and this property was also used as a ticket office for the Swannington line into Leicester as there was a ‘halt’ for passengers from the village in order that they did not have to travel to Bagworth Station.
Thornton Working Men’s Club, I believe, was convened in the afore-mentioned property before moving to its present property in Main Street. The present building was previously a farm. Many types of entertainment take place there on a regular basis.
There were several shops in the village, some being carried out from front rooms of houses and sheds but the main two belonged to Alf & Irene Orme, which sold all types of merchandise and was situated opposite the vicarage, and the corner shop at the top of Church Lane run by the Seal family for many years. In 1980 it became Lloyd & Sue’s Corner Shop. The shop still exists today.
This store, along with Thornton Nursery and Thornton Service Station, has served the local community for many years.
IRIS GLEESON – 2008
The first historical notice of Thornton, otherwise called “Torinton” is that in the Domesday Book completed in 1085 AD. In it Thornton, or Torentum, comes under the manor of Bagworde (Bagworth).
Railway – The Leicester and Swannington railway line was one of the first in the country and was laid down by Robert Stephenson.
From 1832 until 1871, Thornton was served partly by Merry Lees railway station, and the Stag and Castle Inn built in 1832 served as a station in Thornton Hollow, part way between Thornton and Bagworth until 1865.
On 4 May 1833 an accident occurred at Thornton Lane level crossing (now a bridge). The gates had been left open and a train ran into a horse and cart, the driver of which had not heard the engine driver’s bugle.
The Company had to pay for a new horse and cart along with fifty pounds of butter and eighty dozen eggs.
As a result of this accident George Stephenson, devised the steam whistle.
It was constructed by a musical instrument maker in King Street, Leicester and it became standard equipment on most steam trains thereafter.
Thornton was originally a farming village but, with the coming of the collieries in Bagworth and the Coalville area, many miners lived in Thornton too. There was no colliery or mine workings in Thornton and it is understood that underground faults made any coal under Thornton unworkable.