Sunday, 4 October 2015

Spotlight on Ancient Loughborough, Part 2 The Coneries

A revealing trip to Northamptonshire!

Recently, I was lucky enough to visit Sir Thomas Tresham's triangular lodge, just outside Kettering / Desborough, in the village of Rushton. Tresham, was a devout Roman-Catholic farmer, who was imprisoned for his religious beliefs, as Protestants in the time of Elizabeth I regarded Catholics with great suspicion. He designed the lodge in 1593 when he was released after 12 years in prison, and it was completed by 1596.

The lodge was built on the edge of Rushton Park, Tresham's home, and was placed in rough open ground, surrounded by rabbits, no surprise since the supposed purpose of the lodge was as a place for the warrener (the keeper of the rabbit warren) to live and run his business. However, the lodge was much more than this, being a building with huge symbolic meaning - the shape and the number of things that appeared in threes - representing the Holy Trinity, and proudly announcing Tresham's devotion to Catholicism.

So, what has this to do with Loughborough? Well, thinking about the road from the railway station into town, this starts as Nottingham Road, beyond the station, and beyond the Brush, in fact approximately at the junction with Cotes Mill. If you come into Loughborough from that direction, if you're anything like me, you think Nottingham Road comes up past Towles, now SOFA, on the right, past Queen's Road on the left, past the Greyhound and Putts on the left, past the Tap and Mallet and the Stag and Pheasant [ok, this is only a ghost sign!] on the right -which, indeed it does. I'd always thought it then continued up, turning gently leftwards, past the Koh-I-Noor, the Royal George pub and the Sunnyside Hotel on the left, and the City Heights flats, and Enterprise Cars on the right [ok, I know this has very recently moved to the end of Epinal Way at its junction with Park Road], to the junction with the old Post Office on the corner. Here, the road which carries straight on becomes Baxter Gate.

But no, Nottingham Road actually makes a right turn at the junction with the Royal George pub, into the road with the Post Office sorting office on its end - but, don't drive down there, it's one way, but coming the other way!!! So, if that's Nottingham Road, then what name is given to the stretch from the Royal George pub to the old Post Office? That would be The Coneries.

Thinking back to Tresham's lodge, as well as being called the warrener's lodge, it also appeared in his account books as the "Connegerie Lodge". A "connegerie" was an old word for a rabbit warren, and was so called because "coney" was an old word for rabbit. So, does this explain our road called The  Coneries? Indeed, it does.

If you carry along Nottingham Road as it turns into The Coneries, and turn right into Sparrow Hill which has 12 Degrees West on one corner, and flats on the other (formerly the town's Maserati/Ferrari dealership owned by David Clarke) and continue down until you are standing outside Caravelli's Italian restaurant, then this is the explanation.

To return to Tresham for a moment. In 1598 Tresham was breeding rabbits, and killing them for profit - from the fur, which was used as trimming for clothes, and for their meat. There were various grades of rabbit, the best being the "rich" rabbit, which had black and white fur and which were bigger and plumper than the other, either grey or black ones. They were sold in groups of a hundred, and fetched £10 for the "rich" ones, £5 for the black ones, and £3 for the grey ones.

Loughborough's Manor House (where the Lord of the Manor may, or may not have lived) is the beautiful old building which now houses Caravelli's. Some of the timbers have been tree-ring dated to 1477, and it is known that rabbits were bred in the grounds surrounding it - which would have extended far beyond The Coneries. Naively I imagined that the Lord of the Manor would have used his rabbits as a source of food for himself and his family, but having learned of Tresham's dealings in rabbits for both meat and fur, I am now supposing that Loughborough's Lord of the Manor would have been doing the same thing.

How lovely that this historic activity has been preserved in the naming of the local road.

With many thanks to my friend TJ for reminding me that 34 years after first catching a glimpse of the Triangular Lodge, it really was time to see it for myself, and to my friend EM for sharing his knowledge of the Manor House with me.       


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