History of the Hall

Narborough Hall, Leicestershire

Although Narborough Hall is now best known as the county’s premier destination for gifts and cards, the 400 year old Hall has always been, and still is, a family home. The long and chequered history and the varied stories of the many people who’ve called Narborough Hall home over the centuries makes for fascinating reading.

The current owners, Paul & Wendy Broadley, bought the hall as a dilapidated wreck back in 1976. The previous owners had applied for permission to knock the building down but, as reported in the Mercury c. 1973. Local planners refused the application and the building was saved from demolition. They were however, allowed to sell off the land for housing, leaving the house lying empty until Paul & Wendy began the restoration. The mammoth task of restoring the hall to it’s former glory has been a labour of love for the Broadley family and is still ongoing today, funded entirely by the shop which opened in 1992. The shop has allowed the public to share the space and provided the vital funds for numerous restoration projects including large scale repairs to the roof and listed chineys, stonework restoration, granite work and internal maintenance including most recently the restoration of the fine oak parquet floor in the main shop room. 

Earliest records suggest that the Hall was first built around 1600 by James Meade. Originally from Staffordshire, he married local girl Mary Rodes in Braunstone in 1582 and in 1598 James Meade bought 19 houses and 135 acres of land in Narborough. James and Mary established themselves here and built their family an imposing granite mansion house with views over the River Soar which is now known as Narborough Hall.

The following generations built up the family’s assets by purchasing further land. Marriages between the Meades and other local land owning families further increased their standing in the area. James Meade died in 1616 and was buried at All Saints Church in Narborough, where an inscription on the church wall can still be seen to this day.  

In 1628, William’s sister, Mary, married a wealthy local land owner, Maurice Miles of Cosby. William was admitted to Grey’s Inn in 1631 and married Elizabeth, daughter of Charnell Pettie in 1637. William’s will of 1660 shows that the family were prospering at this time. Eldest son Charnell receives “the messuage (house) at Narborowe in my occupation with all its buildings, barns, yards, gardens, orchards, tofts, crofts, messuages, cottages and lands… all the timber and goods in my house, mills and other places in Peckleton; my great church bible, all my law books in my study at Gray’s Inn and at Narborowe; my bedstead in the ceiling chamber with its bedding and two flaxen sheets; my great pot which is whole at the top and the great fire racks”. Whereas often the younger son and daughters might have fared very poorly, William provides for them too, bequeathing his second son Christopher the advowson of the rectory of Peckleton and giving Christopher and all of his four sisters £250 each.       

Charnell died in 1712, his heir William only outlived him by two years, so the estate soon passed to his son, also William. He married Elizabeth, daughter of Rev Edward Wilson, Rector of Nailstone, and they had two children, Christopher and Susannah. When William died in 1736 he left his whole estate to his wife Elizabeth who, in 1737, married Jonathan Van, Curate of Narborough. Elizabeths’s Son Christopher Meade became Rector of Peckleton but died childless in 1758. Her daughter Susannah Meade never married and remained close to her mother.

The family estate at Narborough must have been quite substantial by this time, they had purchased further land in Narborough from Mr Wollaston making Elizabeth Van a wealthy and powerful landowner. In the election papers of Sir Thomas Cave for 1762 Mrs Van of Narborough is noted on a mailing list as a lady with electoral interests meaning that, although as a woman she was unable to vote herself, she must have been very influential and her support would have been valuable. 

Sadly though, it seems that fortune turned for the family and according John Throsby ‘these ladies (presumably Elizabeth Van and her daughter Susannah) were extremely unlucky in their purchase; they bought it immediately before the American war (of Independence, which broke out in 1775), and in consequence, I believe sunk their own family estate with this.’ This financial crisis is evidenced  by a notice in the London Gazette of January 1783 stating that the manor of Narborough, it’s mansion house with appertuances, the advowson of the church along with a water mill, farmhouses, barns, a plantation of young trees and a further 350 acres of land were ‘to be peremptorily sold, pursuant to a decree of the High Court of Chancery’. Elizabeth died in …. and her epitaph can be seen below her first husband, Willam Meade’s in Narborough church, ‘the once happy wife of the above honest man’. 

So, the Narborough estate was purchased in 1783 by Thomas Pares II, a lawyer in London but who also continued his father’s (Thomas Pares I) legal practice in Leicester. According to Burke’s Peerage, the Pares family were established in Leicester in the time of Elizabeth I. They were the most successful of the few business families who established themselves at the forefront of the county’s landed society. They used their involvement in the law, banking and hosiery manufacture to increase their political influence as well as to fuel their purchase of land.  

In 1776, Thomas Pares II bought the mansion on the site of Grey Friars Abbey which had originally been built by William Herrick. We know that Herrick’s garden had contained a 3-foot tall stone pillar inscribed, "Here lies the body of Richard III sometime King of England.” which may possibly have remained there when Pares bought the property. Indeed, Richard Buckley said in a statement. ‘Interestingly, the 18th-century map of Leicester shows a formal garden with a series of paths leading to a central point.’ (12-Sep-2012 University of Leicester Press Office). Pares certainly greatly enlarged the house at the end of the 18th century adding two extensive wings leading to it being considered to be the principle private residence in Leicester. Leicester University Archaeological Services report that at this time the house faced Friar Lane behind a large forecourt, with a walled garden extending back to Peacock Lane. It was certainly one of the finest houses in the borough with one local noting that few other dwellings in the town were as desirable.

So, the Pares were already experienced in ‘extreme makeovers’ and proceeded in the same vein in Narborough. Pare’s partner in the legal firm was Samuel Miles and when he married Thomas’ sister Ann, the manor house at Narborough was modernised to become their main residence. They raised the level of the first floor, laid a fine oak parquet floor in the principle reception room, added a bay to this room and the principle bedroom above, was panelled along with the landing. They also added a brick built entrance hall, featuring large stained glass windows and a mock tudor belvedere all in keeping with the emerging trend of gothic revival. It was at this point that the building was deemed grand enough to deserve the appellation of ‘Narborough Hall’. 

When Ann and Thomas’ brother, John, died and John’s wife went abroad, Thomas was left as guardian of John’s three children; Thomas (Tommy), Agnes and Mary. Letters in the Pares archive show how Tommy was asked to leave Harrow school and was evidently sent to live with his Aunt Ann and Uncle Samuel at Narborough Hall. However, it seems that Tommy was not to be tamed and the Gentleman’s Gazette of 1840 reports that Thomas John Tyleston Pares of Narborough Hall married Hariette Bermingham at Gretna Green (ie eloped without the consent of their parents). They later married ‘officially’ in London yet the union was not to last and the couple separated in 1847.  Tommy went on to marry again and emigrated to Canada where his son, Hugo Burnaby Tylston Pares was born. Tommy and his wife spent the remainder of their lives in Canada but Hugo later emigrated to America. Several descendants of this american branch of the family have visited the hall recently. 

Samuel Miles died in 1841 and Ann in 1846. After that, the Hall appears to have been sold to George Bellairs, a Leicester wine merchant, George Bellairs junior continued the legal heritage of Narborough Hall and practised as a solicitor, additionally he rose to the rank of Colonel in the 1st Volunteer Battalion of the Leicestershire regiment, he also served as a JP and was vice president of the Leicestershire Archaeology Society. The following resident was William Orton, a surgeon. He and his family lived at the hall until 1871, on their parents’ deaths their three children paid for a stained glass window to be installed at All Saints in their memory.

Around the turn of the century William Taylor was using the extensive outbuildings of Narborough Hall. Research by Darren Harris shows that William was already very successful in business but must have been feeling the strain when his doctor advised him to take up a relaxing hobby, so he began playing golf. At this time, golf balls were smooth but professionals had noticed that damaged balls tended to travel further. Golf balls were then produced with all kinds of irregular patterns but Taylor began to experiment at Narborough to see what design would achieve maximum flight. He is quoted as saying ‘Never waste time in making what other people make, devise something new that they have not thought of’. During his lifetime Taylor invented numerous machines for precision engineering and was awarded an OBE for his services in the second world war.    

These are just a few of the stories uncovered in Narborough Hall’s history so far, undeniably, there’s still so much more to be discovered.