One hundred years after the end of the First World War, residents and visitors to Melton can now follow a special trail to see the buildings which played a pivotal role in the town’s war effort.
Local historian Derek Simmonds has already researched and written two books about Melton’s links to the Great War and he wanted to round off his work with something to mark this year’s poignant anniversary.
The result is the Melton Mowbray First World War Centenary Walking Trail 1918-2018, which features 19 landmarks within easy walking distance from the town centre.
They include military places of interest, such as the Drill Hall, where troops were based, Wicklow Lodge, which was converted into a hospital to treat casualties from the battlefields, and the Defence Animal Centre, or Remount Depot as it was then known, where horses were stabled and prepared for service in the conflict.
There are also buildings on the trail which were invaluable for civillians and soldiers, alike, during the war, such as the old Post Office on Sherrard Street, which is now a betting shop, and the former Picture Palace cinema, on the junction of Thorpe End with Saxby Road, where just the brick frontage still remains.
The structures of some buildings still remain, like the old War Memorial Hospital which has been integrated into a new housing development on Ankle Hill, and the railway station, where troops went off to war and casualties returned to from the front.
The Melton Times office, in Nottingham Street, is also featured, as a primary source of information for residents on news from the various theatres of war and lists of those killed and injured.
Special guides have gone on sale this week and proceeds from the £1 cost will go to the Melton Mowbray Belvoir Rotary Club so the money can be used for local community groups and activities.
Derek said: “I was absolutely gobsmacked when I first saw these guides printed out - I felt quite emotional to be honest.
“A lot of these places have been forgotten about but they all have a little story attached to them and they need to be told for future generations.
“I think this trail is quite unique. Most towns have got buildings relating to the First World War but they won’t have a special trail like this one.”
The first 12 landmarks can be visited inside a couple of hours, Derek estimates, while the other seven are a 20 to 30-minute walk from the town centre.
His interest in the Great War came from his grandfather’s service in France during the conflict. He wrote a book about Wicklow Lodge, on Burton Road, and detailed the remarkable story of how it came to be used as an auxilliary military hospital in August 1914. His research revealed that 1,484 soldiers were treated from 1915 to 1919 in the building, which is now divided into residential flats.
Derek also wrote a comprehensive study of the role of the Melton and District Territorials during the First World War, detailing the stories of the fallen and the injured, many of whom were young boys.
He was keen to mark the 100th anniversary of the end of the conflict and came up with the idea for a trail while relaxing on holiday by an Italian lake.
“I started to list the places in Melton related to the First World War,” recalled Derek.
“I wrote down the old post office, the Melton Times office, Ye olde Pork Pie Shoppe, because the first terrorials were called ‘the pork pie crunchers’ and the Corn Exchange, because that was the HQ for the Leicestershires for a period, and then I had to include the Old War Memorial Hospital, which was gifted to the town by Colonel Dalgleish in honour of the fallen.
“I soon realised there were a long list of places to visit on a trail.”
Derek is indebted to the support he has received from local businesses, who have helped him fund the printing and promotion of the guides, with special mention for Graham Hall at B&H Midland Services, Jenny Barnes at Richard Barnes Funeral Directors, John Milner and Maria Jesus Alfara.
They are on sale at Melton Sports, on King Street, Richard Barnes Funeral Director, on Windsor Street, and the Melton Carnegie Museum, at Thorpe End.
He is hoping to print some A4 guides which can be kept as a permanent reference to the trail but requires a sponsor - anyone interested can call him on 01664 567396.
Derek added: “I think this trail will be great for the town because people will linger in the town and they will visit businesses near some of the locations.
“For me, this trail will mean a kind of closure on the work I have done to research Melton’s links to the war.”
The 19 landmarks to visit on the Melton Great War centenary trail:
1 Market Place
2 St Marys Church
3 New Park and Play Close
4 Memorial Gardens
5 Boyes wall
6 Melton Times office
7 Corn Exchange
8 Ye Olde Pork Pie Shoppe
9 Old Post Office
10 Keswick House
11 Melton Carnegie Museum
12 Railway Station
13 Former War Memorial Hospital
14 Wicklow Lodge
15 Picture Palace
16 Thorpe Road cemetery
17 Drill Hall
18 Defence Animal Centre
19 Sysonby Church