MEMORIES - LOCOMOTIVE
Gopsall Hall stood between the villages of Shackerstone and Twycross and dominated the
skyline for miles around. Built in 1750 by Charles Jennens, the son of a Birmingham
industrialist. Large ornamental gardens and parkland stretched all around the building.
Jennens was, like many of his contemporaries of the time, a sponsor of the arts and it
was at this Leicestershire mansion that George
Frederick Handel resided for some time. A joint collaboration between the two men
produced the Messiah, Handel writing the
music and Jennens contributing to the lyrics.
Within the grounds of Gopsall still lies the remains
of the temple that Handel is reputed to of sat and written the Messiah in. For many years
this building has been unaccessable, but now, with the help of the local council, Crown
Estates and English Hertitage, the Temple has been conserved. It is now possible to visit
this monument and a leaflet on the temple is available from Hinckley and Bosworth Council.
The figure of Relgion that stood on top of the building was donated by Lord Howe to the
City of Leicester and can now be found at Belgrave Manor, as indeed can part of the
kitchen range from Gopsall Hall!
After Jennens death in 1773 the 580 acre estate became the seat of Lord Howe. The
estate provided work for many of the villagers from Shackerstone, Congerstone and Twycross
both in the parkland and in the Hall itself. King Edward VII
was a regular visitor to Gopsall Hall as both Prince and King. His visits where generally
for the shooting and other sport that could be had on the large estate. December 1902 saw
a full scale Royal visit only a few months after the coronation.
For many years
it continued to prosper. Eventually the Hall and its parkland in was sold to Lord Waring
in 1919. Lord Waring only held on to the estate for seven years. The 1930's saw various
plans muted for its use; a motor racing circuit, an airfield, a country club or all three,
but none of these came to anything. During the Second World War the Army took over the
Hall as a REME radar training base.
From the end of the war onwards the Hall was empty and deteriorating. 1952 was the end.
The fixtures and fittings auctioned off and the building demolished.
The parkland is now Queens Estate and used for agriculture. Only the tree lined avenue
and gate house at the southern end of Shackerstone village remain as testament to a the
The music is "Gopsal" by Handel with thanks
to Cyber Hymnal
From Cliff Bowman.
of Keepers and Beaters (not sure what year this was taken) somewhere in Gopsall Park My
grandfather (Ernest Wormington) is in front of the cart wearing a flat cap, with
beard. Another photo of Keepers and Beaters (again not sure what year this was taken). My
grandfather is on the extreme left, front row.
attended Congerstone School when she was a girl (as did I also). Both my grandparents are
buried in Shackerstone and several of my aunts and uncles, including Ernest Wormington.
They ended their days in one of the cottages in Church Walk.
I used to go to the Shackerstone Station to watch
the trains when I was a boy, and it was there where I had my one and only ride on the
footplate of a locomotive; and old 0-8-0 LNW Bowen-Cooke. It must have been about 1943.
Gopsall Hall during the Second World War
From Peter Legate,
Chadenac, France. November 1997.
I was stationed at Gopsall Hall whilst serving in
REME. It was then being used,
amongst other things, as a Telecommunications Mechanics School and I was there on what
was, I believe, only a six or eight weeks course. I was then, as now, passionately fond of
music and delighted in the fact that Gopsall Hall had two good pipe organs, one in the
music room and one in the chapel. The latter was played by G. F. Handel who visited the Hall as a
friend of the family and has left us a hymn tune called 'Gopsal' (yes only one 'l'), No.
216 in Hymns A&M, pretty well known, I think, to the words 'Rejoice the Lord is King!'
I was very saddened to hear many years ago that the Hall had been demolished, though I
suppose it was almost inevitable. I believe the chapel organ was salvaged and re-installed
at Packington Church, just south of Ashby-de-la-Zouch*.
However, none of this is of any interest to the Society, I'm sure**. My only
recollection of the 'Shackerstone Flier' was our mad dash when released on Friday evenings
to catch the train to take us to the mainline connection, I presume at Nuneaton and
similarly make the return on it late Sunday evenings. It's a comment on changing times
that I used to push-bike to Shackerstone and leave my bike, unlocked and complete with
lamps etc., on the station railings from Friday evenings until Sunday night and, of
course, would have been amazed if it had been touched! I must remind myself, with
difficulty, I confess, that this is all now half a century ago! It's nice to report
however, that in this rural trance my neighbours go out for the day and often don't lock
their doors, and personal possessions are left all over the place and never touched! After
nine years living here I'm just beginning to behave the same way myself!
At this distance in the time I can't recall anything useful about the railway itself.
Very occasionally for some reason or other the train was late but we always seemed to make
the connection, though I do remember on at least one occasion having to very illegally
leap down to the tracks and race across to the London train which was just about to
One of the other pleasures of the sojourn at Gopsall, apart from the park itself, were
the cycle rides in the surrounding countryside. The names Barton-in-the-Beans, Heather,
Appleby Magna and Norton-juxta-Twycross still back happy memories. Perhaps it would be
wiser not go back, I might be in for a nasty shock - though I take courage from the
reference on the cover of your very attractive timetable to 'the delightfully unspoilt...
countryside' - so perhaps I'll risk it!
*Actually believed to be Packington Hall Church near Coventry.
** How wrong can you be?
Recollections of Former GWR Servant and Soldier, John Mayo
In September 1939,1 became a member of the
G.W.R. Chief Goods Manager's staff, because
my father (a section head) had volunteered the family car for use at evacuated HQ (Dining
cars on Newbury Racecourse sidings) provided that I could drive it! My medical took place
the same month in Reading, where we lived, but it was not for many years that I found out
that I was graded C3 - stone deaf in the left ear and almost blind in the right eye.
Absolute bunkum. So it was 'lodging' at home and being paid for it.
In 1942,1 transferred out of the Royal Army Pay Corps into the
R.A.O.C., and became a
founder member of the newly - formed R.E.M.E. Radar was 'high tech', and my Matriculation
credits in Maths, Chemistry, and Physics were of great benefit, and after a basic course
in Radio and Maths at Hackney Technical Training School in the Spring and Summer of 1942,1
was posted to No.2 Radio Mechanics School, Gopsall Hall, for a further three months
training. So a large group journeyed from Euston to Ashby-de-la-Zouch and thence to
Gopsall in 3 ton trucks.
Here was an overgrown pile of what had once been a gracious country mansion, one of
several residences of the Curzon family. Buildings had spawned everywhere, mostly in and
over the formal gardens in front of the hall. Signs of grander times could be found on the
plaques below some of the trees - "Planted by H.M. King Edward Vll in 1902". I
clearly remember the music room, still decorated with heavy crimson wallpaper resembling
brocade. The chapel, I seem to recall, was on the ground floor overlooking the formal
gardens whilst above it was The laboratory containing the then highly secret radar
equipment laid out in units for training purposes - the grim notice on the wall said it
all - 'Dead radio mechanics can be replaced - expensive equipment cannot'.
The main hall and gallery above was austere to say the least, and it was over the first
floor balustrade that a mentally disturbed student plunged to his death onto the slabs
below after excusing himself from the lecture in the 'lab'. Such were the rigours of the
course. Other hands-on training was given in the MK 11 mobile radar units set out in front
of the ornamental gardens. Accommodation was in nissen huts standing in echelon among
ancient yews, with ablution and latrine blocks so disgusting and primitive that one had to
be well upwind when me sanitary collector with his horse and cart made his daily round.
We were welcomed to Gopsall by an ignoramus of a Sergeant- Major and his cohorts,
carbon copies of permanent staff in most wartime establishments - thick from the neck up
and highly resentful of individuals with a higher I/Q, setting out to humiliate on every
possible occasion. The S/M. allocated the Leicester bus tickets ( or 'bouz' as he called
it), departing Gopsall at 14.15 and Leicester at 22.30. Woe betide anyone with a speck of
dirt on his boots - Gopsall was were the wretched individual remained.
Gopsall in wartime offered nothing but a cheerless
N.A.A.F.I. in a nissen, and it was a
case of having to 'foot it' to Twycross along a muddy and rutted park drive to the
sanctuary of the 'Curzon Anns', where I earned myself a few bob playing the piano. With
the darkness and bad going, our boots became saturated and filthy, and army vehicles
stored around after Church Parade and the usual jaunt was to Measham, where despite
rationing, there was a cafe that would serve us poached egg on toast - we didn't reveal
it's location to others.
The S/M also arranged fatigue parties, and we were detailed to draw shovels and parade
'ajacent' to "That there 3 - tonner', our transport to Snarestone goods yard where we
unloaded coal for Gopsall. Another assignment was to prepare Shackerstone Station for use
by military personnel. Hitherto, Ashby had dealt with arrivals and departures but then it
was decided to use the local station and serve it via Nuneaton and Market Bosworth. My job
was to clear the footbridge of the accumulated silt of ages.
Subsequently I passed through Shackerstone twice, once at night after a late arrival at
Nuneaton from Euston, and my final journey from Gopsall after passing out in December
1942, en route to Callington workshops in Cornwall. I cannot pretend to have enjoyed my
time at Gopsall, and have only revisited the area twice. Once in the course of an
investigation for B.R. HQ as a member of it's out based staff at
Polesworth,, when I
called in at the 'Curzon' for a pint and a chat, and on another occasion I had a look at
the Congerstone gate end. I wonder if those trees planted in 1902 by Edward Vll survived
the demolition of the hall?
Before my arrival in Leicestershire, GWR No. 4999 was all I knew of the existence of
Gopsall Hall. It was among the early members of the 'Hall class which I recorded on
The Test' in the early30's. Living in Bristol then, I was always at Ashley Hill
Station to meet my farther who travelled daily on the Swindon Works test train which ran
via Temple Meads and Badminton. The train was only a two coach affair and did those
drivers thrash the new engines to get a good run at the Filton incline!
John Mayo (Stafford 1994)
There was also a GWR Hall Class
engine of almost the same name. Apparently Great Western got the spelling incorrect to the
current use because they used a booklet that detailed properties that were sometimes open
to the public. Unfortunately this booklet had several spelling errors in it and so the
misspelling was perpetuated this way. It should be pointed out that this is not
necessarily a spelling mistake as "Gopsal" is an older spelling than the
present day one.
The engine was completed in March 1931 and cost £4,341 plus another
£1,248 for a 3,500 gallon tender. By the time of her withdrawal on 21st September 1962
she had travelled some 1,262,589 miles, had two boilers and 15 different tenders. She was
sold as scrap metal to John Cashmore Ltd of Newport, Monmouthshire on 25th August 1963.
Many thanks to the Great Western Society for the
only known picture of No. 4999 and the information on the loco.