A Wolds Diversion

By Joan and Peter Shaw

You will hear the beat of a horse's feet
And the swish of a skirt in the dew,
Steadily cantering through
The misty solitudes,
As though they perfectly knew
The old lost road through the woods

Rudyard Kipling

The first visual image we have of the parishes of Burton and Prestwold is from John Prior's map of 1777. An Ordnance Survey map of 1805 shows a similar road layout, as does Carey's map in John Nichols' History and Antiquities of the County of Leicester published around the same time. Burton township is depicted as a square, the north side being part the main highway from Six Hills to Cotes bridge with two highways running south, intersected by a short village street, and joining outside the main area of habitation. A large house, or seat, is situated to the south east 1.

Charles James Packe's plan of 12 September 1818 shows the proposed roads around Prestwold Park. The church is marked 'A'; the Queen's Head pub that stood next door had gone, other buildings are not identified.The parish boundary stone can still be found close to 'B'.

Charles Godfrey Mundy's plan of 14 September 1818 outlines his proposed changes within Burton on the Wolds; the present roads are heavily shaded. The old town pool is opposite Cresswell's Yard. Water Lane is now Seymour Road; the property shown as Cookes is Ivy Cottage; Harrisons is Fountain House, and Mr Rowlands is Manor Farm. The plan shows clearly the difference in alignment between Burton Hall and its stables. Note that north is approximately at the top of this page as reproduced.

The earliest depiction of the roads around Burton and Prestwold, from John Prior's map of 1777. The roads subsequently built by Packe and Mundy (now parts of the B675 and B676) are shown shaded grey.
Reproduced from Leicestershire in 1777, edited by J.D. Wilding (Leicestershire Libraries and Information, 1984).

On Ordnance Survey maps from 1835 the layout is more or less as it is today. The highway from Six Hills diverts from the old line – along the present Brook Street and across Prestwold Park – and instead goes through Burton via the more southerly village street, turning north to merge with its old route beyond Prestwold 2. One of the highways which went south from Burton is gone. The result is a road east to west crossed in the centre of the village by one running north to south.

These changes were not gradual. Until 1773 a public highway could be diverted only by obtaining a royal writ. Following an act passed in that year, two or more Justices of the Peace in Special Sessions could make orders for the diversion of a highway with the consent of the owner or owners of the land.

On the 14th September 1818, at the house of Joseph Brown, known as the Greyhound Inn, having found that certain parts of the public highway within the township of Burton on the Wolds and the parish of Prestwold could not be 'conveniently enlarged and made commodious for travellers', two Justices agreed that the highway be diverted in accordance with plans submitted by Charles James Packe of Prestwold and Charles Godfrey Mundy of Burton Hall. They ordered that a rate of sixpence in the pound should be levied and that the money raised should be 'paid and applied in making such recompense and satisfaction as required by the direction of the several acts now in force for the diverting, turning and stopping up public highways'.

Notices were put up on all the affected roads on the 17th September, and on the church door on the three succeeding Sundays.

The present footpath through Prestwold Park follows the route of the old highway which parishioners would have taken on Sunday, 20 September 1818. Some may already have read the notices, most would know that something was afoot but would learn the details for the first time as they clustered around the church door to hear them read aloud.

At the General Quarter Sessions held at Leicester Castle on 19th October 1818, Edwyn Andrew Barnaby Esq and Frederick Gustavus Fowke Baronet, Justices of the Peace, confirmed that the new highway was complete and 'put into good condition and repair'.

Within the woods, a moss-covered stone marks the point at which the boundary between Burton and Prestwold diverts from the brook. It is undated, but probably stood on the highway, serving not only as a guide to travellers and a reminder to local people that they left the security and jurisdiction of their own parish, but also as a clear indication of who was responsible for the road's upkeep.

To the south of the B676, a stunted hedgerow follows the line of the old Burton to Loughborough bridleway. Its onward course across the Bandalls is no longer apparent.

Opposite the modern school on Burton's Barrow Road is a short lane serving the old gardener's cottage and a few modern houses. This is all that remains of a direct link between Burton and Walton. It was said that when this and the nearby bridleway were closed, the distance between the two villages was increased by a mile overnight.

By 1818 Prestwold consisted of only a few dwellings tenanted by estate workers and one of the biggest constraints to extending and improving Prestwold Hall must have been the fact that both south and west faces were just a few hundred yards from a public highway; the redirected highways gave scope for improvement of the Hall and Park. Burton was much larger but Mr Mundy was the Lord of the Manor of Burton and owned most of the village. The highway through Burton which was closed ran very near to Mr Mundy's home, Burton Hall, and separated the house from the new stables. The changes made enabled him to carry out the next stage of his plan to turn a simple country gentleman's residence into an elegant mansion3, however, he faced a problem – the town pool now lay within his grand new park. Alongside his smart gates and lodge he installed a fountain in the form of a lion's head, and in so doing provided the village with clean water and a lasting identity4.


  1. There is no precise date for the building of Burton Hall and the house shown in Mr Prior's map is probably Manor Farm. The map does not include the bridle roads from Burton to Loughborough and Burton to Walton, and there are no hamlets marked although there may have been some sort of settlement on Burton Bandalls.
  2. Originally, the highway from Six Hils entered Burton where the brook now emerges from its culvert. The course of the brook has altered since the 19th century. Before the changes, the highway departed Burton via the Bottom or Lower Butts (where the archers once practised their skills), the new highway went across the Upper Butts. In common with many other villages where roads were diverted, the new road through Burton became Main Street, the old one was renamed Back Lane.
  3. Mr Mundy inherited Burton Hall in August 1811 and began work almost immediately, employing Thomas Ayres of Kedleston to design his new gardens.
  4. A hundred years later, the local inspector reported that the water which issued from the fountain at Burton Park was the best in the area. Diagonally across the road from the fountain, and fed from its waters, a pool and sheepdip were constructed. Burton's new centre became known as Washpit Square.

Originally published in the WHO (Wolds Historical Organisation) Newsletter 2000.

Copyright the author