In John Nichols' History of the County of Leicester, written in the early 19th century, he refers to an intriguing memorial stone in Holy Trinity Church at Barrow. Most of the stone, dated 1739, is dedicated to Philippa Gilbert (nee Lilley), and her own family. Several lines are about her sister Elizabeth Lilley, who is described as practising 'chirurgery', which is the French word for 'surgery'. The stone also says 'many cures she did for charity'.
Elizabeth Lilley was born in 1652 and died in 1721. At this time most people were very poor and they would have sought cures from local practitioners of folk medicine. It seems likely that Elizabeth was such a person.
Though it has not been possible to find references to women practicising medicine, a well-known aristocratic woman's book on the subject was published in the 17th century after her death. She was Lady Elizabeth Talbot - Grey, Countess of Kent, who was a granddaughter of Bess of Hardwick. She is the co- author of 'A choice manual of rare and select secrets in physick and chyrurgery' ('Collected and practised by the Rt. Hon. Countesse of Kent'). The use of the French word is intriguing, though it seems to be a 'hangover' from the use of Norman French, which after the Conquest was used in England for several hundred years.
Elizabeth Lilley is likely to have been the village midwife and dispenser of herbal treatments and probably did bloodletting too. Her charitable service would have been highly valued by the people of Barrow, most of whom would have been impoverished and probably malnourished. Examination of memorial stones such as that to Philippa Lilley's family, reveals that many children died in infancy.
Other than what is recorded by Nichols as having been written on the memorial stone, we know little of the Lilley family. In fact so far we have been unable to find the memorial stone. It may have been moved, lost, damaged or used in the 19th century resoration of the church. However in the late 16th century and early 17th century there are Holy Trinity records of baptisms of members of a 'Lilly' family which seem to be linked to Philippa and Elizabeth. Their father Theophilus (b.1625),was the vicar of the neighbouring village of Sileby. Theophilus' father William was a Churchwarden at Barrow in 1625. William was the son of Thomas Lilly. There are records of a Thomas Lyllie in the Easter Books of Holy Trinity between the years 1599 - 1616. He employed servants during that time.
The fact that their family had close connections to Sileby and Barrow may account for Philippa and Elizabeth Lilley having memorials in both villages. Though recorded in Nichols the stones in Sileby have not been found. As the stone at Barrow was placed there by Elizabeth's niece it is likely that the stones at Sileby were the original memorials.
As no marriage record has been found for Elizabth it seems that she devoted her life to prayer and the care of others.