Last week, I took another trip out to investigate another place that is perhaps not well publicised for it's real ale, in order to see what was on offer for the seasoned and casual drinker. The subject of my attentions on this occasion lies over the county border into Leicestershire, the least visited (from a personal perspective) of the 3 major East Midlands counties. Not too far from East Midlands Airport, is Kegworth.
Kegworth (the w is sometimes silent by locals) is a large village (population of approximately 3,500) and civil parish in Leicestershire, England.
Lying on the River Soar, it is situated on the A6 near junction 24 of the M1 motorway and is also close to East Midlands Airport. An air-crash incident in 1989 was just short of the airport's runway at the eastern side of the airport. Although this was outside the village, it has subsequently been referred to as the Kegworth air disaster.
Nearby places include Long Eaton, Castle Donington, Sutton Bonington, Hathern and Loughborough. The post town is Derby.
The site of Kegworth was situated well within the territory of the Coritani (or Corieltauvi), one of the most powerful Ancient British tribes.
A date cannot be put on the foundations of the first settlement, although Anglo-Saxon burials have been found in Kingston-on-Soar and at Hathern, a pin from the 7th century was also found near the hermitage which may indicate the date and location of the earliest settlers. The name of Kegworth comes from two languages, Old English and Danish, so it must date from some time between 874 and 1086. It means 'worth' or 'enclosure' of a man named Kaggi, the Danish name for redbeard. However, some sources claim it may mean locked enclosure, from caega "key", an Old English word.
It was recorded in the Domesday Book as being held by Earl Harold Godwin, who became the last of the Saxon kings. After Harold's defeat at the Battle of Hastings in 1066 the Earl Hugh of Chester was given the land by William the Conqueror. It was known in those days as Cachworde, Caggworth and Cogga.
After the royalists defeated Simon de Montfort in 1265, estates gained by the Earl of Gloucester included land in Kegworth. The privilege to hold a weekly market was granted in 1290.
During the Middle Ages the parish was responsible for maintaining the condition of the roads. To try to improve the rough roads in the village, an Act of Parliament was passed in 1555 ordering every man in the parish to work for four (later six) days a year on the roads; each farmer had to provide horses and carts according to his land holding. This continued until the early 18th century when, with the increase in traffic, it became necessary to change this to paid labour.
Although farming was a large factor in Kegworth life and still remains on the fringes, industry started in the late 18th century/early 19th century with the introduction of stockingers shops. Some still exist (e.g. behind the former Britannia public house) and can be recognised by the long rows of windows on the first floor. As the industry grew, small courtyards of cottages were built in the old farm yards. Women and children also worked when they could, and the hosiery and lace trade were ranked as two of the most important industries in the village from 1841 onwards. The Kegworth hand frame stockingers were highly skilled in the art of making silk stockings and they received many orders from royalty and people of high rank. Queen Victoria, the Prince of Wales, the Danish Royal Family and the King of Spain were all customers of the stockingers of Kegworth.
Meeting House Yard lay behind the present 'Friends' Cottage', and included a Quaker graveyard. The last trace of these 'yards' was demolished when the entrance to Australia Yard was removed to make way for the library in High Street.
A depression in the 1890s coincided with the introduction of the internal combustion engine, a motorbike factory was started which developed into the present Slack and Parrs.
Domestic service was also important. In 1851 as many as 121 people were described as servants, housekeepers or charwomen. In 1899 their work was arduous with long hours, and the restricted personal freedom and the lack of privacy was poor by the standards of today but at the time they counted themselves lucky to be fed, clothed and housed.
Industrialisation was the beginning of the end of this era in Kegworth’s history, but there were still socks and stockings being made in the village as late as the 1940s.
Despite the growth in trade and manufacturing, there was only a very slight increase in population during the 19th century. The number of inhabitants rose from 1,416 people in 1801 to 2,078 a century later, but with actual decline in some decades, today there are approximately 3,500 people living in the village with 1,500 houses.
Kegworth has always prospered from its advantages of trade and routes. Originally these were farming, road and river, later textiles, railway and canal, and now light industry, motorway and airport. It has been lucky in having relative prosperity and slow but steady growth which has given it the character of a friendly, active community.
Kegworth was part of the Rural District of Castle Donington until 1974 when it became part of the District of North West Leicestershire, whose administrative centre is located at Coalville.
The earliest surviving building is the church. The tower base dates from 1250 and the rest was built in 1370 when the two manors of Kegworth were united under a single Lord of the Manor.
The next oldest building visible is the Cruck Cottage forming the street front of the Cottage Restaurant. This is from the 15th century, but the stucco covering conceals its age. Many other buildings similarly hide their oldest parts under stucco or modern fronts as at the top of Packington Hill, where early 18th century timber frames show at the rear.
Many buildings in High Street and London Road date from the 18th century when the main London to Manchester road went up High Street and down Packington Hill. Some were town houses, others farmhouses with yards. Most of the latter have had their yards subsequently built on. The barn of number 55 High Street was demolished in 1979 to make room for another house, but the farmyard of number 48 remains, although the farmhouse was rebuilt in Victorian times.
The internal road system of the village gradually developed as time went on as it became necessary to obtain access to neighbouring villages.
The Romans used a ford across the River Trent nearby and a Romano-British farm lies at the end of Long Lane. A Saxon cemetery was found two hundred years ago and the bumps and hollows between the A6 and the River Soar may be the remains of a Saxon village.
Kegworth clearly has a lot of history for such a relatively small location and it was with enthusiasm that I made my way here on a very unsettled Thursday, wondering what to expect and the what the pubs I had earmarked would have to offer. Living in Clifton means that the easiest way for me to get to Kegworth was to get a bus from the city centre, a trip that takes over an hour and goes via East Midlands Airport. The trip out took longer than planned due to the normal road to the village being temporarily closed due to an accident on the M1. This still ensured that I got off the bus at my intended stop in the Market Place, just outside the church. The first location for this visit was actually outside the other end of the village, a walking journey of no more than 10 minutes whilst dodging both vehicles, due to the narrow pavements, and the frequent rain showers. Situated by the main road that runs through Kegworth, on the bank of the nearby River Soar, sits The Otter.
The Otter is operated by Mitchells and Butler, as part of its Vintage Inn estate. Originally, known as The Navigation, a succession of inns have stood on this site since 1800. The building was renovated in 1927 when it was taken over by the Shaw family who were well known in the village as they rowed anglers across the river for a penny a head. Inside, this pub/restaurant is the very definition of rustic with traditional features ranging from wooden beams to open fires. The restaurant are takes up the majority of the interior, with tables running down the inside of the building next to the windows that afford a view of the river and the fields beyond. The bar area is to the front of the restaurant section separated from the latter by furniture and a small partition. The bar is fairly long and runs perpendicular to the front entrance. As well as being very well stocked, the bar includes 3 handpulls, offering a choice of Marston's Pedigree, Brakspear Bitter and Doom Bar. I decided to start with the Doom Bar and this was a good choice as it was superb! I took a seat on a long sofa opposite the bar whilst I simultaneously enjoyed my pint and dried off. I also took in my surroundings with glee and perused the impressive sounding food menu. This is definitely worth a visit in the future, hopefully when the weather is a tad more pleasant.
Pint finished and rain abated for now, I now faced the task of making my way back into the village centre. Thankfully, this is a shorter walk than it first appears so it wasn't long before I was getting my bearings and making my way to my next stop, which was just off the Market Place, past the now sadly closed Ye Olde Flying Horse, along High Street. On the right side, sits an unassuming building otherwise known as The Red Lion.
A Georgian property, the pub is first listed in Trade Directories in 1870 when Charles Milne was the tenant. For many years, the pub was the meeting place of Lodge 28 of the Nottingham Oddfellows Friendly Society, one of 2 lodges in the village. Edgar Daniels was tenant from 1925 until well until the 1960s and was in situ when, in the 1930s, a lion from a visiting circus was encaged in the garden. Troops were billeted here during WWII. I was excited about visiting the Red Lion. The pub is Good Beer Guide listed and has an excellent reputation for a prevalence of local beer. The interior is broken up by a dividing wall with a bar on both sides serving 3 or 4 separate rooms. The walls are decorated with photos of the local area and historical artefacts. There is a smoking area to the side of the building and the pub is also dog friendly. One side of the bar includes 2 handpulls and there are others around the multiple sides of the bar, totalling 9 in all. A list of available beers are displayed on a chalkboard above the bar, something which I missed originally until it was pointed out to me by the barmaid. The choice is extensive and the majority is local. Available during my visit are Gales HSB, Bass, Adnams Bitter, Nutbrook The Mild Side, Castle Rock Harvest Pale, Blue Monkey BG Sips, Grainstore Ten Fifty, Charnwood Carousel and Shipstone's Nut Brown. I decided to go local and went for Carousel from Loughborough-based microbrewery Charnwood. This is a very good brew. At 4.2%, this is a well-rounded bitter with copper colours and citrus hops. It is late hopped with 3 American varieties to give a grapefruit aroma and a tropical fruit finish. I sat in a low bench opposite the bar, next to the front door where I'd entered and admired the nostalgia of the premises. The beer was delicious and went down very easily, helped by the comfortable surroundings and friendly regulars and staff. I was certainly glad that I'd made the effort to visit this amazing place!
The Red Lion doesn't just have a reputation for excellent beer. It's also renowned for its alleged ghostly activity and is billed as the most haunted pub in Kegworth. The most notorious apparition is that of an old lady in white who announces her presence with a sudden and dramatic drop in temperature. A workman once fled the property and refused to return after encountering the lady, who is rumoured to be the same spirit that occupies the Hermitage up the road. He was alone in a room, using a step ladder to reach the ceiling when he felt someone distinctly tap him on the back of the head. He fled in a panic. Staff also tell stories about the activity here. The son of some previous owners had some experiences in the upstairs accommodation during the 70s. One evening he awoke in his room and saw a woman standing in his bedroom doorway. He blinked a couple of times but the woman remained before suddenly vanishing. On another occasion, he was listening to music in his room with the door closed. There was a gap under the door to allow the landing light to come in. He saw the shadow of a figure moving back and forth behind the door. He jumped up and opened it but there was nobody there. A former cleaner at the club felt someone tap her on the back of the head as she was cleaning out the fire but found nobody there when she turned around. Another time, she walked into the back room and saw a man wearing a hat standing at the bar. As it was 6am, she asked him what he was doing there but he vanished instead of replying. The landlord John believes that activity in the pub increases when things are changed. On more than one occasion John and barmaid Wendy have seen pint glasses fly from the shelves, plummet from to the floor and not break. There was also a strange episode where pictures were moved, not just on the wall but into different rooms with no explanation. This is certainly a very interesting place indeed!
I was disheartened to leave the Red Lion but time was creeping on and I had another pub to visit before the long bus ride back to Nottingham. The next pub was a moderate walk away, along Station Road, on the bus route from Kegworth to Loughborough. Situated alongside the canal, opposite a bus stop, is The Anchor Inn.
This is a small but very quaint pub with shortened opening hours during the week. The Anchor is also featured in a recently published book of Britain's Heritage Pubs. Monday-Wednesday the pub is open from 5-11 but, with it being a Thursday the pub is open 12-2.30 and then open again from 5. The small bar is directly opposite the entrance and boasts 4 handpulls, 3 of which are in use at the time of my visit. My choices are Adnams Ghost Ship, Bass and Charnwood Vixen. I opted this time for a pint of Ghost Ship which is just as it should be and goes down almost too easily. This is a very comfortable and cosy pub in which to end the day's activities. Soon enough, it became time to leave and make my way back to the Market Place and wait for my bus back to Nottingham. On my way, I passed another of Kegworth's pubs which I unfortunately had no time to visit due to time constraints and the pub's late opening time of 5pm. The Cap & Stocking will have to wait for a return visit.
The trip to Kegworth was certainly worth the time and effort to get there. The pubs are interesting and unique and definitely worth a visit. It's always a pleasure to find a place that often goes unnoticed, where real ale is thriving and popular and where the pubs do their very best to maintain their reputations with the support of the locals. A number of pubs have closed in Kegworth over recent years and it's a relief to see that the ones that have survived are doing all they can to keep their end up, with significant success. In the future, the Cap & Stocking will be subject of a return visit and, who knows, perhaps Ye Olde Flying Horse can yet be resurrected. Until then, we can hope that Kegworth will continue as it has done thus far and keep its excellent drinking establishments ticking over nicely.