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Appleby in Context

An Introduction to Appleby's Past and People: How the Legacy of the Past has Shaped the Village of Today

(taken from the Village Design Statement published in 2000)

The parish of Appleby Magna is situated in gently rolling countryside in the west of Leicestershire, within two miles of the borders of Derbyshire, Staffordshire and Warwickshire. 

There are two main settlements in the parish - the villages of Appleby Magna, population around 1,050, and Appleby Parva, population approximately 50. Appleby Magna lies in a valley, away from the main roads, whilst Appleby Parva is on higher ground to the south west, flanking the busy A444.

Appleby is just outside the Leicestershire and South Derbyshire coalfield, which has had such a dominant effect on the culture and architecture of mining settlements to the east.  A nearby mine at Measham provided employment, but mining did not impact on Appleby’s village environment, and the surrounding countryside is largely unspoilt, with the exception of the M42 motorway to our north west.

In contrast, Appleby has been shaped by agriculture – some of the best (Class II) farmland in Leicestershire lies in the parish. 

The Legacy of Geography

The village grew up around a small stream running south to north, which roughly bisects Appleby Magna before it falls into the river Mease.

A traditional feature of Appleby life is flooding of the stream. This gave rise to the name of the road next to the stream: Duck Lake.

Despite a predominantly clay subsoil, the commercial extraction of clay has not impinged upon the parish. Instead there are a number of small clay “holes”, a testament to the craft of village brick making practised until the 19th century.

Bunter sandstone outcrops in the north of parish, the probable source of stones used in many old Appleby structures.

Historical Influences

Two Iron Age sites (c. 1,000 BC) have been identified near the stream. The Anglican Church and the moat house are both late medieval. These are the oldest stone buildings in the village, occupying sites on either side of the stream, within a few metres of each other. This is almost certainly the village’s first center since both structures are probably successors to earlier wooden buildings.

 There is evidence that Germanic or Anglo-Saxon people had been settled for 400 years before the Vikings arrival in the 9th century. The nearby conjunction of four county boundaries is a relic of the period when England was changing from rival districts of ruling influence into one kingdom. Appleby was shared between Derbyshire and Leicestershire for a time, finally becoming a parish of Leicestershire in 1897.

The Domesday Book refers to the village as ‘aplebi’, from the old English ‘aepel’ (apple tree) and old Danish ‘by’ (a village). There were orchards in the centre of ‘Apple Tree Village’ until the 1960s, and old trees can still be seen in many gardens. 

 Recent pottery finds demonstrate 13th and 15th century occupation about 350 metres west of the stream. Close by, several examples of timber framed building demonstrate that at the very end of the medieval period, Appleby’s centre had shifted on to higher ground. Some of the village’s characteristic sunken lanes are the product of constant trampling as animals were taken to the stream for watering. The first reliable modern map of Leicestershire, published in 1771, shows that the outline of the village’s present road structure was then firmly established.

In 1772 the open fields were enclosed, changing the landscape significantly. Big farmhouses were built, set in the midst of large new landholdings created out of an old landscape of ridged and furrowed fields. Many areas of ridge and furrow still exist – original pastureland that survived the 18th century enclosures and has so far escaped the impact of modern intensive farming.

Agricultural improvement in the 19th century resulted in a requirement for both housing and local traders. The brick cottages along Church Street date from this time. 

In the 19th century, much of the parish was within the estate of the Moore family, resident at Appleby Hall (now demolished). There was little change during this time, and only after the estate was sold in 1919 did housing developments start to appear. As a result, Appleby retains many historic buildings and features. The road layouts and settlement patterns are essentially the same as they were 200 years ago, and probably date back much further.  With the closure of the mines, changes in farming practices, and the building of the motorway, the nature of the village has changed in recent years. Almost all post-war development has been by commercial developers to accommodate a mobile, relatively affluent population, looking to settle in an attractive country village. Nevertheless, the distinctive character of Appleby remains, highly valued by villagers whether they are relative newcomers, or descendants of earlier settlers

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