Monday, August 10, 2009

The contradictions of Gumley

Gumley is a village dominated by Gumley Hall 1764 which was demolished over 50 years ago.

So says a document (Word file) from Harborough District Council. It sounds odd, but then Gumley is a place of contradictions.

It has to be admitted that it has a very ugly name, yet the Arthur Mee volume on Leicestershire was happy to call it "perhaps the prettiest village in the county".

And despite its rural setting the village is largely of 19th century red brick, which gives it a slightly urban feel. It consists of one long street leading you up the hill to the church - it reminds me a little of Bishop's Castle in Shropshire.

Beside the church, the interior of which was largely recast in the 19th century, is a mysterious wooded mound, and beyond that are some impressive earthworks. Somewhere here must be the site of the Synod of Gumley, which King Aethelbald of Mercia held in 749.

Offa visited Gumley twice in 772 and 779 and one local theorist, Andrew Burbidge, reasons that Gumley must have been Arthur's Camelot.

Beyond these ancient sites is a remarkable cricket ground, but that deserves a posting of its own.

The Gumley of today does not occupy the site of the original village. That was clustered at the top of the hill, but it disappeared in the 18th century when the Hall was built and its grounds laid out. William Hanbury also had some of his plantations here.

Gumley Hall was built for Joseph Cradock (1742-1826), a Leicester man with tastes very different from those of most country squires. He was a friend of Samuel Johnson, Oliver Goldsmith and David Garrick.

After passing through various hands in the 19th century Gumley Hall came into the ownership of George Murray Smith, the Chairman of the Midland Railway. It is easy to imagine at glaring across the fields at East Langton Grange, home of the radical Liberal MP and railway contractor J.W. Logan who had built part of the rival Great Central route to London.

During World War II Gumley Hall was used for training by the Special Operations Executive, which organised sabotage behind German lines, and after the war Leonard Cheshire used it for one of his experimental communities for former servicemen and their families.

The Hall was demolished in 1962, but its stable block, complete with its clock tower in the style of an Italian campanile, still dominates the village. So you can see what the council means.

The clock tower is shown in the picture at the top of this post. Below are views of the church, the mysterious mound by the church and some of the earthworks nearby.


Anonymous said...

Can you not persuade Harborough Council to make its files available as PDFs?

Word files make life difficult for many Mac and Linux users.

Anonymous said...

Greetings from Isleworth