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Croft

Tradition has it that the parish stone pit at Croft, known as Clevis, was worked by the Romans and that their engineers used its granite in constructing the foundations of bridges on Fosse Way. Moreover, some of the Croft stone used by the Romans at their settlement at Leicester was reused for church building by the Saxons in the eighth century after they had embraced Christianity. This was the case, for example, at Brixworth in Northamptonshire where Croft stone, used at Leicester, was re-used in the 8th and 9th centuries in the earliest phase of the church's building. It should not be too readily assumed that quarries used in the Roman period ceased production with the collapse in Britain of Roman urban centred society. The place-name Croft, first recorded in 836, is derived from the Old English cræft, 'craft, machine, or engine', the craft in question being perhaps that of quarrying.

Croft Hill rises up suddenly nearly two hundred feet from the Soar flood-plain, and stands out as an isolated landmark almost at the physical centre of England. Because of its individual shape and its position it was used in Saxon times as a place of assembly where matters of importance were discussed and settled.

Such was the case in 836 when Wiglaf, king of Mercia, was joined by the Archbishop of Canterbury and eleven of his bishops and three abbots, besides twenty-two laymen of authority and influence to witness a grant of land by Wiglaf to the monastery of Hanbury in Worcestershire.

The parish church of Croft is dedicated to St Michael the Archangel, one of the twenty-one ancient Leicestershire dedications to the archangel, a fact which makes it third in popularity amongst the English counties, being only exceeded by Herefordshire and Middlesex. It is difficult to believe that a conspicuous high place like Croft Hill did not have pagan connections, and that these were displaced by a Christian dedication to St Michael, under whose protection Wiglaf, king of Mercia, and Ceolnoth, archbishop of Canterbury, met in 836.

With the Norman conquest, conjecture as to Croft's quarrying tradition moves on to more solid ground. The survival in the parish church of Norman font and of a Norman window are evidence of a church of local quarried stone replacing its Anglo Saxon predecessor which may have been wooden. By 1220 the church was part of the endowments of Leicester abbey. With the dissolution, however, of the abbey in 1520, the patronage of the rectory of Croft was purchased by members of the local gentry to provide a living for their male relatives. In due course it came into hands of the Adnutts.

Though these rectors were often absentees, the spiritual needs of the parish being served by a succession of curates, the material welfare of the parish seems not to have suffered unduly. A village school was erected in 1854 and a house for the mistress was built in 1861. Building in Croft stone, however, was costly and local brick, which was much cheaper, was the choice.

The Adnutts were gentry and to engage in trade would have been seen as particularly unbecoming for clerks in holy orders of the established Church and Justices of the Peace. Thus, the economic potential of Croft' s abundant reserves of granite and clay passed them by. The Pratts, who lived at Greystones, now part of the Aggregate Industries Croft office complex, were less resistant to trade, and their brick making enterprise used the clay from their meadows along the banks of the Soar.

In 1865 Samuel Davenport Pochin, 1826-1904, acquired the Croft brick works. He came from Wigston Magna where his father was a pillar of the Independent Chapel. Samuel settled in Croft and in 1868 was joined by his elder brother Henry Davis Pochin and together they established the Croft Stone and Brick Company in 1872.

In 1872 Croft also acquired a new rector, the Revd James Brookes, MA, 1847-1926, who was resident in the parish. His father who had purchased both the advowson and lordship of the manor from the Adnutts, lived in Croft House.

James Brookes built himself a new rectory and extensively restored the parish church in Croft stone, he and his family meeting most of the cost. The Brookeses represented rural Tory Anglicanism at its best, serving the local community as magistrates, churchwardens, and masters of the hunt. The Pochins, on the other hand, represented Liberal Nonconformity and its connection with trade and industry. It was they who transformed Croft into an industrial village.

Henry Pochin whilst retaining an interest in the quarry at Croft had other interests and did not live in the village. He made his fortune as a manufacturing chemist and lived stylishly at Bodnant in the Conwy valley. His daughter Laura married Charles McLaren, a successful barrister, and had travelled far from the circumstances of her grandfather William Pochin, who complained in 1832 that he couldn't 'get a living by all put together, and was losing his little property fast'.

Croft, its quarry flourishing under Pochin direction, was now considered to be 'a dark and rapidly increasing village'. This disturbed Samuel Pochin, and he built a chapel for his employees and a Sunday school for their children.

Download the brochure on the history of Croft quarry

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