Insley’s Lane, Shackerstone, Leicestershire

Following my visit to Hull Museum and the recreation of the Wheelwrights workshop there I was reminded of my post about my great-great grandfather.

He was Thomas Insley (on the left) a splendid Victorian gentleman,  whose son Joseph married my great grandmother (Florence) Lilian Hill in or about 1908.  I remember her well.  The Insley family lived in Shackerstone in South West Leicestershire.

Today Shackerstone is a pretty unspoiled rural village and in the mid-nineteenth century the village was a successful self-supporting Victorian community that had four farms, two pubs, two shops, a builder, a carpenter, brick works, a post office, a coal merchant, a dressmaker, a shoemaker and a blacksmith.

Nearby Shackerstone Mill was situated by the River Sence and was operated by my other great-great grandfather the Petcher family who owned Bridge Farm where there was a bake house and a bakery.

It also was the home for a successful coach building business that was first established in the 1770s.  It was run by the Insley family, which provided employment for a coachbuilder, a wheelwright and up to thirty other employees. The coach works were situated in Insley’s Lane in the centre of the village and convenient for the railway station from where it supplied wagons and later on wheelbarrows throughout the country.

The invention of the wheel was arguably the most important ever and the skill of a wheelwright in building a wheel was considerable and this made the Insley’s very important and influential people in the village.

The hub, or nave, of a wheel was made from seasoned wych elm that would not split even with mortises cut in it for spokes.  It was barrel-shaped to accommodate two iron stock hoops that were shrunk to fit direct from the red-hot forge.  The hub was then set in a cradle and the spoke mortises marked, drilled and cut.  The mortises had to allow for a tapered fit and also for the angle of dishing of each spoke.  The hub was augered to receive a cast-iron ‘box’ or ‘metal’, which was driven in and was the bearing for the axle.  Finally, the top of the hub was cut away so that a cotter pin could be later inserted to retain the wheel onto an axle.

The spokes were usually made from oak, which had been seasoned for a minimum of four years.  They had square ‘feet’ that fitted into the hub and circular ‘tongues’ that fitted into the felloes.  Two spokes would fit into each felloe, which was made of ash or hickory.  The felloes would have preferably been grown curved so that when the wood was sawn using a template, less grain of the wood was cut resulting in a stronger component.  Felloes were joined together with an oak dowel.


The complete wheel was held together with a tyre made from iron.  The tyre would start life as an iron bar, perhaps four inches wide and three-eighths of an inch thick for a working cart-wheel.  It would be shaped using a tyre-bending machine, which is a set of rollers operated by a handle that bent the bar into a perfect circle and after welding the two ends of the bar to form a ring the tyre was heated in a circular fire.  Meanwhile, the wheel was mounted on a tyring platform – usually a large stone or metal plate – using a clamp to hold the hub of the wheel.

When the tyre was ready it was carried from the fire with tongs, and placed over the rim of the wheel.  After hammering into position, water was poured onto the hot metal to cool it before the wood of the wheel became burnt.  As the metal contracted it crushed the joints of the wheel tight and so completed the job.

Two genuine Insley farm carts…

Towards the end of the nineteenth century the traditional craft of the wheelwright faced increasing competition from the manufacturing industries and factory produced cast iron wheels and they had to diversify and find new business.  One way was to expand into the coach building business and by the 1901 census both Thomas and my great-grandfather Joseph were recorded as ‘coach builders’.

From documentary evidence and first hand accounts we can be sure that the Insley coach-builders manufactured a full range of carts and wagons for local farms and businesses including the nearby water mills.  Their catalogue included the ‘gig’ which was a light two-wheeled sprung cart pulled by one horse or a pony and a ‘dray’, a versatile four-wheeled flat-bed cart usually pulled by two horses but they were also well-known for a specialist cart of East Anglian or Lincolnshire design called the ‘hermaphrodite’

This was a unique type of two-wheeled cart that could be converted to a four-wheel wagon when extra capacity was required in the fields at harvest time.  Although they were all rather similar and were based on the same overall design, each had their own distinct differences in regards to their place of manufacture and according to records the Insley design was quite unlike anything else made locally at the time.

For smaller farms that could not afford a barn full of expensive specialist vehicles the selling feature of the cart was that it was a multi-purpose vehicle that could be used throughout the year.  For most of the time the top frames, raves and fore-carriage could be removed and the rear part was used as a conventional tip cart, whilst at harvest time an ingenious conversion provided a wagon with the large carrying platform and the additional length and the temporary advantage of four wheels converted it into a high-capacity hay wagon.

This multi-purpose design explains the name hermaphrodite which is a term that derives from Hermaphroditus, the son of Hermes and Aphrodite in Greek mythology, who was fused with a nymph, Salmacis, resulting in one individual possessing physical traits of both sexes, i.e. it was interchangeable.  Locally the wagon was referred to as a wagonette, the morphy or the moffrey.

The drawing is of an Insley wagonette that was probably built in the 1920s for the farmer H S Foreman of Stapleton, Leicestershire, about ten miles from Shackerstone.  The maker’s name, Insley, can be clearly seen on the front of the wagon on the front board of the tub. It was in regular use until about 1965 and was eventually transferred to a rural museum in Herefordshire for safe keeping.  The drawing is by the grandson of the owner M A Foreman, himself a Leicestershire farmer.

Coach building was another trade that required enormous skill and to complete a single order could take as long as six months.  They were very successful at this as well but what they probably didn’t need was the motor car, Henry Ford and the assembly line and the business ceased trading in 1935.



24 responses to “Insley’s Lane, Shackerstone, Leicestershire

  1. Fascinating stuff – I love researching family history can get a bit addictive!


    • I have found it hard to get much further back than this I have to say – it requires hard work!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes definitely! I had a good start as my family have always been good about collating family history and so know quite a bit about some of the lines. Currently trying to find out more about the London branch of dad’s paternal grandmother (a real “cockney” and so proud of it though she lived all over the place as an adult). Have found out so much but struggling to get back prior to 1800 though plenty of leads. Just need to spend several days or possibly weeks in the London Metropolitan Records Office now……


  2. Henry Ford gave us cheap cars but destroyed small factories and small villages and I know the ship has long since sailed but I do so miss that world. I really treasure posts like this one. Thanks.


  3. You might find the relevant Kelly’s directory of some use. Lots of them are available on DVD nowadays. Try ebay or “” which is Irish but deals with English counties. In euros whatever they are.


  4. It was fascinating to watch the wheelwright at Acton Scott working farm in Shropshire finish a wheel he had been making. It almost tempted me to enrol there and then on their three-day wheelwrighting course.


  5. Thanks for sharing…so much history and beautiful photos.


  6. Great lesson, Andrew, and quite some family history. The recent book I read about Rinker Buck’s modern journey across the US in a covered wagon made your story all the more relevant. Thanks. –Curt


  7. I’d never heard of the place, Andrew, but now I feel brim full of knowledge 🙂 🙂


    • It is a small village near Market Bosworth where my paternal ancestors came from. There are some interestingly named villages nearby – ‘Barton in the Beans’, ‘Newton Burgoland’ and ‘Sheepy Magna’.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Andrew, loved this! So informative and I loved the personal connection. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. In both of the two photos of the carts, there is a black shape near the top of the frame. If there was only one picture, I’d have thought it was a bird in flight, but the shape is identical in both. Do you know what it is?


  10. Hi,
    Not forgetting another Thomas INSLEY (died.1776), my five times great grandfather, who owned a farm on Insley’s Lane in the 1700’s.
    There were many Thomas’s prior to this and many followed after, not surprising given that Thomas Insley and Sarah (Blower, of Heather) had seven children.

    Most notable character was a nephew of Thomas, namely Richard Insley of Lutterworth a Captain in the army of Queen Elizabeth I, in Ireland.
    Richard’s claim to fame was that he recaptured Dublin Castle from the Irish. As a result of this deed on the 26th of April1602, in the 44th year of the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, Richard was granted a Coat of Arm’s by Queen Elizabeth for services rendered during the war in Ireland. The original citation, manuscipt and Arm’s are on display in Dublin Castle.
    The Arm’s were registered at the the College of Arms, London by Richards son Gabriel INSLEY in 1682.
    (Gabriel through marriage to second wife Jane was related to Lady Godiva).
    Not withstanding the above there are several INSLEY’S who have featured in various exploits. Hugh and Ralph for example were in paid service of Henry V’s army during the French Campaign (1413-1422 Bayeux, Lisieux and Agincourt) under the command of Henry’s brother, Humphrey Duke of Gloucester. Henry V was the first King of England to pay his army.

    Searching the records can be and is a tedious exercise. Often one finds that various scribes have written down the family name phonetically mis-spelled in the Bishops Transcripts for births (Christenings), marriages, and deaths (burials) with many variations. For example,
    Hinslie, Ansley, Annesley, Ainslie, Ainsley, Ilsley, Insiley, Innesley, Inslaye, Hensley, Hinchley, Hinsley, Anslee, are known examples of mis-spellings of INSLEY. A relatively easy problem to solve working forwards but not so when working back in time.
    My lineage records go back to the C16th with some single issues recorded in the 1400’s, and an as yet unproven line back to 1090 (Domesday Book era).

    Several other Thomas Insley’s are littered throughout the 1700’s and 1800’s.

    Well there you go, yet another relative appears on the scene.
    Best regards,

    Gordon Leonard Insley
    Duffield, Derbyshire


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