The numerous ways in which people earn their living change over time. Some employments, such as agriculture, mining, quarrying and bellfounding (in this picture) have been in Leicestershire for many centuries, while others, such as framework knitting, have a much shorter history. The census and trade directories provide basic information about how people earned their living in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and this can be supplemented by a study of business records, newspaper articles and advertisements, farm surveys and photographs, to name just a few sources. For earlier periods we are reliant on a wider range of material which was produced for many different purposes, such as probate inventories, which survive in large numbers for most Leicestershire towns and villages for the 16th and 17th centuries, wills, manorial records and inquisitions post mortem.
Leicestershire’s earliest bell founder was Johannes de Stafford, who is believed to have had a foundry in Leicester in the late fourteenth century and who cast a large bell for York Minster in 1371. He is probably the John of Stafford who was elected mayor of Leicester in 1366 and 1370. He clearly produced high quality work, for his bells could still be found in 1876 in the Leicestershire churches of Aylestone, Beeby, Great Glen, Little Dalby, Loddington, Ratby (believed to have been brought there from Ulverscroft Priory following the dissolution of the monasteries), Shenton and Thrussington.
In the fourteenth century, he was probably one of many bellfounders in England, but today only two businesses survive, at Whitechapel in London and in Loughborough, where John Taylor & Co cast new bells for churches on a regular basis.
Our research guide on farms and farming will help you to research the history of agriculture in your own parish.