In 1387, the Clerk in Geoffrey Chaucerís Canterbury Tales walked from London to Canterbury along the Roman Watling Street which, centuries later, in that area, became the A2. Here in Leicestershire, its companion, the A6, may have been travelled by Chaucer himself, because it is said he was married at St Mary de Castro in Leicester. His family home being in London, this would have been the obvious route to meet his bride.
This busy thoroughfare has gained much notoriety over the decades that traffic through Kibworth has increased, but it has a much longer history.
In 1726, it was the first route through Leicestershire to be upgraded by being turnpiked. Turnpiking meant levying a charge for travelling along the road, the money raised being used to improve the surface. Without this, carts carrying goods, and coaches carrying people, would sink in the mud during the rainy season. Along the A6 you can still see hollows in the fields where gravel was extracted for resurfacing.
Even after turnpiking, the fastest journey time for the 89 miles from London to Lutterworth was 13 hours, an average speed of just 6.84 mph. Travel on the mail coaches was nearly always at night when the road was less busy without local horses and carts; but at night, the temperatures dropped. Darkness, the cold, and frequent tots of warming rum were a recipe for disaster.
The lay-by next to the Kibworth Antiques Centre, near a place known as Rectorís Plantation, was the former route of the road, a deliberate detour to lessen the gradient where ĎJohnnyís Brookí crosses. No doubt this was a ford until the water course was channelled under the highway. At about midnight on 21 April 1834, Michael Ingo, aged 73 years, died here after his stagecoach was involved in an accident. He lies buried in St Wilfridís churchyard. Ironically, straightening out the road in the 1960s encouraged the traffic to speed up along this section.
The original route through Kibworth Harcourt followed Main Street, so travellers from Market Harborough would turn right at the Rose and Crown (more recently known as Raithas), pass the Old House, turn left, and re-join the present route at the other Main Street junction opposite Lodge Close. So, the present congested road between the two Main Street turnings is a bypass, constructed in about 1815.
Other travellers in the past came to grief here. The old bakery, at the corner of Main Street, was once perfectly square, but the corner was chamfered because of numerous coaching accidents, with passengers even being thrown through the windows of the adjacent cottages.
Another traveller who had an unfortunate experience on this road was Christian VII, King of Denmark. In 1766, he had married his cousin, Caroline, daughter of Englandís King George III. On 4 September 1768, His Majesty, then just 19 years of age, was on his way from Leicester, returning to London. He had dined in Kibworth and resumed his journey with only a coachman and his close friend of the same age, Conrad de Holke.
Perhaps it was teenage bravado which led the pair to set off on their own without their entourage, which was still packing up back in Leicester. As luck would have it, their coach broke down somewhere south of Kibworth. De Holke and the coachman went ahead to seek help, leaving the King on his own.
Most of Market Harborough rushed to the rescue, including women and children, but all galloped past the poor lad because they didnít recognise him, screeching to a halt and making a U-turn somewhere near Great Glen. His appearance, it seems, did not accord with their concept of what the King of Englandís son-in-law should look like. His Majesty, it was reported, was Ďa good deal incommodedí, but a fresh chaise relieved him, and conveyed him safely to Harborough.
Undoubtedly, the long story of the A6 is set to continue. This highway has influenced the development of the Kibworth villages for centuries, for better and for worse. Today, it is a source of pollution - and of much debate and discussion. What will the next chapter in its story bring?
Stephen Butt, Parish Clerk, KBPC