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Bowyers at Isley Walton 2021

Bowyers' shield on Stone Cottage

The Queen Anne Manor House

Parish Church with newly restored tower

Grave of John Gilles Shields 1857-1943

The Churchyard Service 6 June 2021 (photo SML)

Mark Stretton, John Gilles Shields, David Laxton, Simon Leach

The Farmhouse Threshing Hall

For 260 years between 1629 and 1890, the Bowyers' Company owned a farming estate at the village of Isley Walton in Leicestershire which had been bequeathed to it by our great benefactor, James Wood. It was the income from farm rents on that estate that enabled the Bowyers to survive as a Company for the long term after military longbow-making died out. It originally comprised 260 acres, and in 1824 the Bowyers purchased an adjacent 147 acres. The estate included a handsome Manor House, a village school and a small parish church.

On Sunday 6 June 2021 a small party of Bowyers, led by the Master, David Laxton, with Past Master Tony Kench, Court Asst Simon Leach, Hon Court Asst Sinclair Rogers and Freeman Mark Stretton, assembled at Isley Walton to take part in a service of rededication of the parish church following the completion of repairs to the church tower roof and rendering, to which the Bowyers' Company had made a modest financial contribution.

John Gilles Shields had been living at the Manor House since 1882 as estate manager, and after the estate was sold to Lord Donington in 1890 and sold on to the Gretton family in 1895, he remained there throughout. In 1928 when a plan was afoot to turn it all into a housing estate, Shields raised the funds to buy the estate back from the Grettons for the Shields family in order to preserve it for farming, and so it remains to this day. To commemorate the historic connection with the Bowyers, he installed Bowyers' shields of stone on several of the estate buildings.

The estate was later split and sold on as separate farms, and the Manor House sold as a separate grand residence, but the Shields family retains an impressively strong presence in the immediate area. John Gilles Shields' great-gransdon, also John Gilles Shields, is PCC Treasurer and owns and runs the Donington Park Farmhouse hotel and wedding venue nearby. His cousin Robert Shields is PCC Secretary, and runs the family's main business of quarrying (currently producing mass quantities of limestone for HS2 railway tracks). The parish church graveyard has a high proportion of Shields family gravestones, including the first JGS: John Gilles Shields JP CC (1857-1943).

The rededication evensong service at 6pm that Sunday was held just outside the churchyard in the Manor House grounds, conducted by the Rev Canon Mary Gregory in perfect June evening weather with over 30 present. Like many country parish churches these days, Isley Walton is part of a multi-parish family grouping, normally with just monthly services; the choir members on this occasion were welcome visitors from St Helen's, Ashby de le Zouch.

It was evident that the Shields family had provided most of the funding for the church repairs, but the Bowyers were given high prominence: it is evident that the connection is much valued. After the service we adjourned to John Shields' Donington Park Farmhouse Hotel, a charming complex of immaculately restored 1720s buildings with a medieval threshing hall, for a delightful evening of outdoor socialising. There was much commitment to keep the Bowyers' connection alive.

Past Master Tony Kench

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