Stephen Butt

Stephen Butt


This blog is about my interests in history and photography. I have always enjoyed discovering something new about the past, and there is always much to discover.

I am always pleased to chat about the subjects covered in my books and to hear about new historical research projects which I may be able to help you with.

I can also present illustrated talks to local history and heritage societies on a variety of subjects, some quite obscure, and I have my own audio-visual equipment.

If you would like to chat about a book, project, visit or idea, in the first instance, please contact me by email here.

Pochin of Leicester

ResearchPosted by Stephen Sat, February 04, 2017 08:01:31
While researching for my book on High Street brands, I discovered that James Kemsey Wilkinson, founder of the Wilko chain, worked briefly for Pochin who were based at the time in Granby Street. Wilkinson opened his own shop in 1930, appaently because he was disappointed that Pochins would not take up some of his suggestions for new products.

By happy co-incidence, I was recently looking through the souvenir programme of the famous Leicester Pageant and found this photograph of Pochins. The Pageant took place in 1932 so this must be very similar to how the store looked when Wilkinson was working there.

Broughton Astley

EventsPosted by Stephen Fri, February 03, 2017 07:15:33
I have two new talks booked in my diary. The Broughton Astley Heritage Society has invited me to talk about 'Leicester in 100 People' in October, and the Claybrooke Magna History Society about John Nichols - in January 2018!

The Rose and Crown

ImagesPosted by Stephen Thu, February 02, 2017 07:04:28
At the moment, many drivers on the A6 in Kibworth are being delayed by roadworks near to the former Rose and Crown, more recently known as Raithas, and some are no doubt wondering about its past and its future because the building has been empty for some time.

This old coaching inn has a long history. The oldest part is the section facing Main Street, which dates to the late 17th century. In 1815, the route of the turnpike through Kibworth was changed to avoid the dangerous bends along Main Street, effectively making a 'bypass' and the A6 route as we know it today. This made the elevation facing the A6 more important. It was the busiest of the many inns along the route because the bypass diverted business from the inns along Main Street.

Since the closure of Raithas, the building has deteriorated. One hopes that the present owners will soon develop the site and retain at least some of the historic features that remain.

Oak trees from acorns

ResearchPosted by Stephen Wed, February 01, 2017 06:42:46
For the next eight months I will be researching the stories of the men and women behind some of the most familiar High Street brands for a book commissioned by Pen and Sword. Remarkably, several of the big names began in Leicestershire, including Halfords, Currys PC World, Next, George and Wilko.

I recently met Tony Wilkinson, former Chairman of Wilkos, and son of the founder of the company. His father was James Kemsey Wilkinson, who opened his first hardware shop in Leicester's Charnwood Street in 1930. Tony gave me this photograph of his father, and told me of his memories of childhood, and later when he joined the family business and became manager of the company's first Leicester store in Charles Street.

St Michael's Blaston

ImagesPosted by Stephen Tue, January 31, 2017 14:23:12
Just a few miles from Market Harborough is the quiet village of Blaston. The ecclesiastical allegiances of the two modest little chapels in Blaston, separately dedicated to St Giles and St Michael, echo the ancient rivalries of the neighbouring villages of Hallaton and Medbourne.

St Giles has been long associated with Medbourne, and St Michaels with Hallaton. It was not until the twentieth century that they were united to create one ecclesiastical parish. It is said that St Giles was founded by Richard I. John Nichols informs us that this was in recognition of the gallantry of Hugo de Nevill:

By king Richard I, the lordship of Blaston was given to Hugo de Nevill, a valiant knight, who being a servant in court to king Richard the First, was in 1193 with that king in the Holy Land, where he performed the part of a stout soldier; and likewise flew a lion by a shot with an arrow into the breast, then piercing his body with a sword.

St Giles served the greater part of the valley in which Blaston lies. For centuries it was associated with Medbourne but maintained its independence as a free chapel with no obligations other than the payment of a pension of 5s per year which allowed parishioners from Blaston to be buried there. Nichols believed that the chapel's independence arose from being founded on royal demesne.

It was rebuilt between 1710 and 1714 with a round-headed doorway, two-light mullioned windows, and a small bell-cote, and it is this building that is illustrated in Nichols with a nave and small chancel and measuring just 50 feet 6 inches in length.

Both chapels were rebuilt again in 1878 by the Revd. G. C. Fenwicke. The architect was George Edmund Street who also designed the Parish Church of St Peters in Highfields in Leicester.

The chapel of St. Michael is first mentioned in about 1220 as belonging to that part of Hallaton church owned by the Martival family, and was even smaller than St Giles, being only 33 feet 6 inches in length and 17 feet 6 inches in width.

The small chapelry of St Michael comprised the eastern part of the village and a number of fields, and was served for three days of each week from Hallaton. The paddock, to the south of the main street, in which the chapel is situated, was owned by the rectors of Hallaton until it was sold in recent years.

St. Michael's seems to have been kept in very good condition in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Longmate’s engraving in Nichols shows it as a simple post-Reformation building with square-headed windows and gables with parapets; but in 1838 the archdeacon reported that the roof was in disrepair and the east and west ends cracking away from the side walls. In 1842 he described St. Michael's as ‘a most mean building in a dilapidated condition, its timbers rotten, slates loose, and ceiling falling.’

The chapel was allowed to fall into worsening repair. In 1858 it was described as 'dilapidated, dirty and dangerous'. Finally, in 1878, it was rebuilt, and services continued to be held there until about 1922. It was partly demolished in 1967 and is now an evocative ruin in a very peaceful setting.

Weston Seascape

Weston-super-MarePosted by Stephen Tue, January 31, 2017 12:18:39
I grew up by the seaside. We went for cross-country runs along the beach and later my first school holiday job was with a beach photography business. In recent years, the promenade and seafront have been improved beyond measure, mainly because of flood-prevention work. This is the view of the rebuilt Grand Pier, taken from Knightstone.

In its natural state Knightstone was a barren island reached only at low tide. It was a good fishing spot, a salmon of 30lbs once was landed there. The causeway, bath house and swimming pool were among the first features developed to create the health and holiday resort of Weston-super-Mare.

The causeway was heightened using granite from a quarry near Falmouth, owned by Dr Joseph Fox. This weighty cargo was transported round Lands End in ships belonging to his cousin G.K.Fox. Granite was also used for the characteristic Cornish bastions protecting Knightstone from the sea. Contemporary reports state that Dr Fox spent £20,000 or more on the island.

This view is from the building whch once accommodated Dr Fox's medical baths, and which are now Dr Fox's Tearooms.

Leicester in Fifty Buildings

BooksPosted by Stephen Tue, January 31, 2017 12:06:18
I enjoyed writing this book as I was able to take photographs during good weather, and chart my own chronological path around Leicester.

From its origins as a Roman settlement to its current status as one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the UK, Leicester has a proud and distinctive identity. This extraordinary history is embodied in the buildings that have shaped the city. Leicester in 50 Buildings explores the history of this rich and vibrant community through a selection of its greatest architectural treasures. From the ancent Jewry Wall to the shiny and modern National Space Centre, this unique study celebrates the city's architectural heritage in a new and accessible way.

Well-known local author Stephen Butt guides the reader on a tour of the city's historic buildings and modern architectural marvels. The churches, theatres, pubs and factories of Leicester's industrial heyday are examined alongside the innovative buldings of a twenty-first century city.

Leicester History Tour

BooksPosted by Stephen Tue, January 31, 2017 09:59:50
My next book to be published is a pocket-sized history tour of Leicester including a map so you can follow the route!

The publisher's blurb says: Leicester History Tour is a unique insight into the illustrious history of this East Midlands city. Local author Stephen Butt guides us through the streets and alleyways, showing how its famous landmarks used to look and how they’ve changed over the years, as well as exploring its lesser-known places and hidden corners. With the help of a handy location map, readers are invited to follow a timeline of events and discover for themselves the changing face of Leicester.'

Published on Wednesday 15th February 2017, it will be available from bookshops and online at £6.99.

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