Colston Bassett was a traditional sporting estate in the Victorian era and has undergone many demographic changes in recent years but remains a jewel in the Vale of Belvoir. Harriet’s ancestor, Robert Millington Knowles, bought the estate, including Colston Bassett Hall and Manor Farm House in 1875. At the time the area was at the height of fashion as the then-Prince of Wales hunted both foxes and ladies in the locality, thus attracting the aristocracy (the era’s A-list celebs) and would-be princesses to the vicinity.
RMK was a keen farmer, interested in the newest methods of agriculture. Sadly his wife Alice died very young, and their daughter, 16-year old Evelyn, took on the day-to-day running of Colston Bassett Hall and the estate’s more pastoral activities, such as distributing shoes to the village children. She later married Sir Edward Le Marchant, Harriet’s great-grandfather. The village was effectively feudal, with nearly every inhabitant working for the estate or farming as tenants on the several small village farmsteads (which traditionally sent rich milk to Colston Bassett & District Stilton Cheese Dairy, now in its 102nd year).
RMK took it upon himself to have the Victorian Church of St John the Divine built in the last quarter of the 19th Century, in memory of his wife and his sons (who also died tragically young). His descendants are buried in this church yard, and the family chapel can still be found to the left of the nave.
The stunning ruin of the Anglo-Saxon St Mary’s church lies to the west of the village, having gradually fallen out of use after the Black Death. Visiting St Mary’s is a lovely walk from Manor Farm House, including crossing the River Smite by footbridge.
Colston Bassett Hall was sold after the war to pay for death duties but much of the Estate was left in the custodianship of the Dennis Le Marchant Colston Bassett Trust, which, under the leadership of Lady Elizabeth Le Marchant, has preserved the character of the village through making conservation a priority. The demographics of the village changed hugely in the 1970s onwards as modern agricultural machinery took the place of farm workers. The former farm buildings are mainly now sold and converted and many of the inhabitants are local business people and professionals.
There are still ‘old village’ living here – including Beryl Crabtree who was the excellent headmistress of the village school, and Maggie Moulds who with her husband Percy ran the village shop (now a house). The village pub, the famous Martins Arms, continues to play a very important role in the social life of the locality. There is a thriving prep school, and a lively village hall offering activities and events such as concerts, tai chi, yoga and hosting many wedding receptions. The village land is now primarily composed of two parts – Colston Basset Trust owning three tenant farms which consist mainly of arable land, and Home Farm which is owned by Harriet’s mother and still sends milk to the Dairy