A Taste of Syston History
Syston probably came into existence during the Anglo Saxon period. In spite of its position next to a major Roman road, the Fosseway, and proximity to two sizable rivers there is little evidence of earlier habitation.
The origin of the name Syston is in dispute but some believe it may have been after the Angle, Sigehae who gave his name to a farmstead on the site which later grew into a village. It is possible he came to the area in the sixth century as there is evidence of colonisation in the Wreake Valley at this time.
At the time of the Viking invasions in the 9th century there are clear signs of them joining the Anglo-Saxons in colonising the Syston area. There are a number of villages with names ending in by evidence of Viking occupation. The name of this original settlement changed several times in the next ten centuries having been variously known as Sideton, Sireston, Sison, Siterton and Sitestone. When the survey known as the Domesday Book was carried out in 1086 the village was known as Sitestone.
The landowner for most of Leicestershire was Hugh de Grentemaisnil, a favourite of King William, his tenant in Syston was Suain. This is an Old English name and it seems likely that Syston was one of the few villages to have an English lord in 1086. The likely population at this time may have been about 120.
The survey also showed that Syston had a mill and the services of a priest with the likelihood of a church in the village. The oldest parts of the present church, including the font, date some 200 years after the Norman invasion.
Much of the church was rebuilt during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries and alterations and additions continued over the following centuries. The earliest named priest, Gilbert Mallori, was recorded in 1206 and after the names of the incumbents are recorded almost unbroken for 800 years. The local church was controlled by Ulverscroft Priory for more than 200 years but after the dissolution of monasteries the power passed on to the University of Oxford together with the right to collect tithes.
The church is dedicated to Saint Peter and Saint Paul and their combined emblems of a crossed sword and keys are variously displayed in the church. These emblems are also used by the St Peter and St Paul Aided Primary School and the Town Council.
Photograph of the Church of St.Peter and St.Paul, taken from the gateway into Upper Church Street, Syston in the early years of the last century.
Syston grew slowly until the 1800s when industry began to take over from the traditional dependency on the land. The coming of the canal and later the railway, particularly the branch line to Melton Mowbray and the accompanying station, led to a growth of population and an escalation of industry in the village, in 1801 Syston had a population of 1,124. The railway also gave easy access to Leicester where occupation could be found.
For the first part of the nineteenth century the main local industry was framework knitting, whole families were involved in the process. As this home industry lessened the benefits of the railway brought employment itself and allowed access for the setting up of a foundry and the start of the boot and shoe industry in Syston. During this century the population steadily grew to around 3000 people and in the last quarter many houses were built. By the end of the century framework knitting was finished and factories took over.
The twentieth century saw the growth of industry in the village; several companies produced boots and shoes or the components for the industry. Other companies produced knitting machines and other large and small components for the hosiery industry that thrived in Leicestershire until the rapid decline in the 1990's.
Little remains of the two major industries in the town, some knitwear is still produced and shoes are distributed from local warehouses. Warehouses and other distribution provide some employment in Syston with other employers being the food industry and small miscellaneous companies operating from industrial units.
Many people travel to Leicester and surrounding towns for employment, the excellent rail, bus and road links providing easy transport.
Syston retains many of its original thatched roofed cottages but some were regretfully pulled down in less enlightened times and others had the roofs altered to local slate.
The photograph on the right is of High Street, Syston. On the left the former Blackmoor's Head Public House (now 81 and 83 High Street) dating back to 1679. Further on Tilley's grocery and a mixture of eighteenth century and Victorian Houses. On the right ancient thatched cottages leading down to the Queen Victoria.
The centre of the town, particularly High Street and The Green, retains many houses dating back to the 18th century. Some of these have been altered and experienced a variety of uses over the years but most are in good order.
To the right is a photograph of The Green, Syston around 1880. Looking North East towards the Parish Church. Facing is Lower Church Street which leads to the Church.
Syston Parish Council was first established in 1894 and remained until 1987 when the then village adopted 'Town' status. The Council Offices are at the Community Centre in School Street in the premises that were once the Primary School. The population of the Town continues to grow. In 1951 it stood at 5,508 and in 1999 13,000.
This photograph is of the Community Centre taken after re-opening in May 2002.
Much of the information above has been taken from 'Syston Past', a book published by Syston Historical Society. The writer is grateful for the use of this material. TJG
Syston Town Council would like to thank Tim Garner (Chairman of The Syston Historical Society) for writing and supplying the photographs for this article.
The Syston Historical Society meets at the Methodist Hall, High Street, Syston on the 3rd Monday of the month at 7.30pm.