History of the Parish of Higham-on-the-Hill
The geographical centre of England (as calculated by the Ordnance Survey) is situated in the parish of Higham-on-the-Hill near to the village of Fenny Drayton.
People lived in the area of Higham before 1000 BC and have left behind Neolithic flint implements. Bronze Age burial mounds have also been found. The Romans occupied the area from between 43 and 47 AD, the nearest remains are at Mancetter. Roman coins have been found near the Watling Street - the old Roman road that borders Higham parish.
There was probably a Saxon settlement at Higham because the suffix -ham is Anglo-Saxon. Christianity came during this time (7th century) and there may have been a Saxon church. When Leofric was Earl of Mercia, his wife- Lady Godiva- famously persuaded him to reduce taxation in the area which included Higham. Higham is not mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086, though the lost village of Lindley which was within the Higham parish area is mentioned. St Peter's Church was built between 1130 and 1180- the fine Norman (Romanesque) tower remains, other parts of the present church being added in the 18th and 19th centuries.
The Plague reached Leicestershire in 1348 killing probably a third of the population. It was a contributory cause to the desertion of Lindley. The other main cause being the enclosure of agriculture lands in the 16th century.
The parish church achieved some stability during the 16th and 17th centuries, partly because some to the clergy of that time stayed in place (probably wisely) in spite of the political and ecclesiastical storms at national level, thus recalling the mythical Vicar of Bray.
By the 19th century Higham may well have been the model for a village described by George Eliot in her novel Felix Holt, (she lived only four and a half miles away during her childhood): "But there were trim cheerful villages too, with a neat or handsome parsonage and grey church set in the midst; there was the pleasant tinkle of the blacksmith's anvil...".
Before the 19th century some of the rectors taught a few children. In 1838 Higham School was built which continues today as a Church of England Junior School. The buildings are adjacent to the Community Centre. In the 19th century, in the days before social security, several charities were established, one of them provided gowns, diapers etc. to poor pregnant mothers. The box for these goodies has been preserved.
The Fisher family, with a family tree traceable back to the 16th century, has provided rectors of the parish from 1792 till 1967- a remarkable 179 years. Geoffrey Fisher, born in Higham Rectory, became Archbishop of Canterbury and crowned the Queen in 1953.
There was a Methodist Society between 1884 till 1910 which probably met in a hired room. In 1959 two cottages were joined together to form a Methodist Church which today co-operates with St Peter's parish church in various ways.
The Ashby-de-la-Zouch canal which winds its way through the parish was opened in 1798, taking coal from Leicestershire to Warwickshire. It is now the site of pleasure boats, fishing and tow path walking. The railway from Nuneaton to Burton was opened in 1873 with a station at Higham, and was closed in 1970. A branch from Hinckley to Stoke Golding, passing through the parish, was built but never used.
The buildings of Higham Grange were racing stables in the 19th century later becoming a convalescent home for injured miners. Today it is a Muslim School for boys. Lindley Lodge was a private school in the 19th century. It is now a missionary training college for the interdenominational Youth With A Mission organisation.
During the second World War a RAF airfield was established to the west of the village which is now the site of the Motor Industries Research Association.
In spite of the radical development of urban Britain, Higham has remained essentially a farming village with life centred round its two churches, school, Community Centre, three pubs (now two), and several shops (now only one). Some of the fields show the ridge and furrow structure derived from pre-enclosure farming of 400 years ago. The population has not changed much during the 19th and 20th centuries, it being now just over 700.
A fuller account may be seen in the book The Story of Higham-on-the-Hill, the Centre of England by Michael Cox, published by Hinckley and District Museum in 2002. It can be borrowed from Hinckley library or from the author, Tel 01455 212799