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Brief History of Belton in Rutland
Belton is not recorded in the Domesday Survey of 1086 but its manor is thought to have been attached to Ridlington at that time. The name of the village is first recorded as ‘Beleton’ in a Pipe Roll of 1167 but its actual derivation and meaning are somewhat unclear. The first element, bel, could be from the Old English meaning a beacon, funeral pyre, glade or dry ground. Bel was also the name of a pagan sun god. The second element, tun, is more specific being the Old English for an enclosure, settlement or village. For several centuries Belton was within the extensive Forest of Leighfield and therefore it is probably most likely that the name means a settlement within a forest glade. The cleared glade may perhaps be identified as the large oval space which once surrounded the village green and was subsequently obscured by 19th and 20th century building development.
The parish of Belton contains 1,024 acres (414 hectares) comprising mostly clay soil and the land falls approximately 200 ft. (61 m.) from its highest point of about 500 ft. (152m.) in the north-west to the Eye Brook in the south.
Up to the middle of the 20th century Belton would have been considered mainly agricultural village throughout most of its history. Until the Enclosure Act of 1794 most of the land was laid out in an abstract mosaic of myriad strips together forming the three open fields, namely West Field, Mill Field and Park Field. In 1794 the traditional open field farming system was abandoned and approximately 90% of the parish land area, some 919 acres (372 hectares), was surveyed and laid out in the field pattern which is still largely in place today.
Although the Enclosure Act steadily caused major changes in the visual landscape and economic life of Belton a much more dramatic and immediate event was a fire in 1776 which destroyed or damaged 27 houses in the village, probably representing about a third of the total dwellings. Another unwanted but spectacular event occurred on May 25th 1942 when a German Dornier bomber dropped its bombs on Belton, fortunately with no human casualties but several buildings were damaged.
Turning to the architecture of Belton, the parish church of St. Peter, built of ironstone and limestone, is the oldest building in the village with its south arcade dating from around 1200. The church was then developed and extended over the next three hundred years or so. The eminent architectural historian Sir Nikolaus Pevsner wrote of Belton, the village round the church is delightful. Its highlights are the row of ironstone cottages with mullioned windows south-east of the church and a group further north, especially Hillcrest, and west of the church two individual houses, the Old Hall and Westbourne House. The Old Hall was the manor house, probably built originally in the late 16th or early 17th century by the Haselwood family but later altered by the Verney family c.1675.
During the second half of the 20th century Belton, like many villages within Rutland, became a largely commuter village with most of the inhabitants earning their living outside the village. However, although the social and economic make up of the village has altered immensely, the population figures have not changed greatly in the last two hundred years, being 366 in 1801 and 335 in 2001 respectively.
Anyone wishing to know more about the history of the village should contact the secretary of the Belton History Society.