The 1870s: A Decade of Decisions – From the Society Journal No 3

Here is an extended piece discussing the trials and challenges of agricultural workers in the Wychwoods during the 1870s. It is taken from the WLHS Journal No. 3 (1987). We republish it here as part of an occasional series celebrating the work of the Society over time. (A PDF of the article can be found here).

As we look at the Wychwood villages in the 1870s it may be helpful to consider the viewpoint and fate of a local agricultural labourer, such as Thomas Turner, a Milton man, who in 1873 was married with a family of eight children. What was lifelike for such a family? How much were they affected by, and aware of, happenings elsewhere in England and overseas?

Farmers at this time had been benefiting from a period of steady or rising prices; in fact, they were near the end of what was later seen as the ‘golden age’ of Victorian High Farming. The repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846 had removed protection from home-grown crops but was not immediately followed by a serious slump in prices, as had been feared. It was only after the mid-1870s that competition, first from increased grain imports and later from foreign refrigerated meat, began to have its effect. This was eventually reflected, as we shall see, in a shift to greater dairy and livestock production in the Wychwoods area. More immediately falling corn prices signalled the beginning of a time of difficulty and depression in farming, locally and nationally.

By the 1870s improved communication, not just by rail, but also along improved roads, had enabled the development of a cheap and efficient postal service and telegraph network. Speedy delivery of national, and a rapidly expanding number of local, newspapers was also possible. In Milton and Shipton educational provision had been considerably expanded during the mid-century. The Education Act of 1870 introduced national compulsory elementary education to the age of ten. Levels of literacy began to rise. All these developments were making it more possible for people of all classes to be more aware than ever before of what was happening in other places.

An Oxfordshire farm labourer, like Thomas Turner, in the 1870s was earning 11-12s a week, a basic average of about £35 p.a., allowing for loss of pay during bad weather or illness. Turner may not have read a newspaper, but he was probably aware than industrial workers’ wages were higher than his own (in fact some 50% higher), and that farm workers in the north were also able to command better pay. There farmers, faced with competition for labour from nearby manufacturing towns and receiving higher prices for produce because of local market demand, had to be more generous. In Milton Thomas was expected to work long hours, from sunrise to sunset, under very hard conditions for his small and uncertain wage. This pay alone was scarcely enough to feed a family, even on the poorest diet, and was inadequate to provide for reasonable clothing against wet and cold. Many local farm workers lived in cramped conditions, in tied or rented cottages with no security of tenure.

Things did not get better in the Wychwoods during the mid-century. Population rose considerably in both villages between 1801 and 1901, by 53% in Milton and 65% in Shipton. For both communities the most intense period of growth came between the 1830s and 1860s (Table 7 and Figure 4). By 1871 Shipton and Milton had reached a peak of population. Thereafter they experienced stagnation or absolute decline. It was the 1870s which set the seal on this change of fortune, for it was during these years that the village economies finally proved unable to sustain the rapidly enlarged population. The basic problem was clear in the Milton work force, of which Thomas Turner was part in 1871.

There were ten farmers who employed 58 men, six women and 21 boys, whereas some 100 men were described in the census as farm workers. There was more labour than there were jobs, and despite the non-farming occupations of mason and quarry work for the men, and gloving for the women, there were insufficient alternatives to absorb this surplus (Figure 7). Some of those not taken on by farmers might hope for seasonal work like hedging, ditching, or harvesting, or do casual work like hoeing, stone picking or threshing, but unemployment was becoming an increasing threat to their existence.

Life had been less grim for villagers when they could still benefit from nearby Wychwood forest. There had been no royal hunting or strict control of the forest since the previous century and people grazed cattle, hunted game and collected fuel there. With enclosure and the clearance of the forest after 1856, there followed a few years when surrounding villages could enjoy surplus timber and venison and there was plenty of work to be had; all this came to an end when the new enclosed farms came into production. Not only were the villagers deprived of their source of game, probably their only meat apart from a household pig, but the Poaching Prevention Act of 1862 had brought in harsh new measures which enabled the police to search anyone suspected of carrying a bird or rabbit which had been taken illegally. The penalty for night poaching could be three months in jail with hard labour. To add to all this was the new Poor Law introduced in the 1830s and based on a punitive workhouse test.

The growing number of friendly societies in Shipton and Milton at this time shows the dread that labouring families had of becoming unable to support themselves, and worst of all, of suffering the stigma of a pauper burial. The Shipton Friendly Society was established in 1860. It met at the Crown Inn on the second Monday in February, May, August and November when its members spent two hours in friendly but sober company, and paid 4s into the box’. Of this 3s went to the Stock Fund, 6d to the annual feast, 3d to an incidental fund and 3d towards beer. Members had to meet definite conditions before being voted into the society; they must ‘bear a good character, be of sound habit of body, not labouring under known or concealed distemper’, and be between the ages of 12 and 45 years. After a year’s membership they would receive when ill or not working, 8s a week for up to 52 weeks, and then 4s a week. Society membership also ensured a decent burial, not only through help with the daunting expenses, but also through much valued marks of respect from fellow members before and during the funeral. The friendly societies also provided welcome opportunities for fellowship and a rare chance for labourers to organise their own affairs, although, as at Shipton, local clergy and notables were frequently involved.

Outside the quarterly meetings society affairs were operated by two stewards and their four assistants, whose job it was to visit sick members weekly (unless they had smallpox or some other contagious disease), to engage a ‘medical man’ when necessary, to account for all expenditures, and generally to maintain a well-ordered and respectable appearance. This was the tone of the Society as a whole, with its rules excluding from benefit any member who ‘wilfully ran himself into danger, such as cudgeling, or football playing, fighting, drinking or such like’, and expelling anyone claiming benefit whilst still working or found ‘at a public house or gaming, or engaged in any other improper way’. A door keeper was appointed to ensure that only members entered the Society’s meetings.

Despite these sober strictures Society events were enjoyable and important parts of village life. This was especially true of the annual feast, a rare day off work, In Shipton this took place on the Wednesday of Whitsun week and was paid for from the members’ quarterly 6d and an additional payment of 2/6d for the dinner. Feast day had an elaborate ritual of its own. Each member was required to attend divine service, walking in procession in twos ‘as they stand on the books’, or pay a fine of 1s.

The stewards were to solicit the local clergyman to preach a suitable sermon or be fined 2/6d. Festivities then lasted until ten at night with the feast in the club room at the Crown, followed by a more general fete and fair for the women folk and children of members. To belong to a friendly society was an important thing in a labourer’s life; it provided special occasions and fellowship in a hard life, and some relief from the constant threat of unemployment or sickness. Was it enough for the farm labourers of the Wychwood villages?

In the early 1870s rural workers started to take more radical action to remedy their situation. Joseph Arch, a Warwickshire hedge cutter and Primitive Methodist preacher, urged his fellow workers to fight for better pay and conditions by means of a trade union. In February 1872 Arch held his first meeting at Wellesboume, Warwickshire. Two months later on 16 April the first meeting of what was to become the Oxford District of the National Shipton Friendly Society Club Day, Whitsun 1908.

Shipton Friendly Society Club Day Whitsun 1908. Shipton Band are entertaining the crowd outside Shipton Post Office in Church Street

Agricultural Labourers’ Union was held on the green at Milton under Wychwood. Fifty men joined that evening, having appointed 35 year-old Joseph Leggett of Milton as their secretary. Leggett had been born in Windsor, married a Milton girl, and was not himself an agricultural labourer, but a carpenter employed by Alfred Groves of Milton. Like many of his fellow unionists Leggett was a Dissenter in -religion, a Baptist. The April meeting elected a committee of six, two from Milton (James Mills, agricultural labourer, and William Barnes, carpenter), two from Shipton William Ri ht and Charles Cox, agricultural labourers) and two from Lyneham. Once started the movement grew at an amazing speed. A week later they held a second meeting, also at Milton, at which rules and objectives were agreed. These included the demand for a nine-hour day, with extra pay of 4d per hour for overtime and Sunday work. The minutes of that meeting state that ‘After the rules were read a large number joined the Union from different parishes, an excellent feeling prevailed among the men, who quietly dispersed to their homes’.

By May, only a month later, 13 branches with over 500 members had been set up in the area. Demands were extended to include a basic minimum wage of 13s a week, and a day’s work at harvest time of 13 hours, including 2 hours for meals, paid at 4s a day without beer.

The idea of working men joining forces to demand fairer treatment was resented and strongly resisted by the farmers. In July Mr Maddox of Shipton dismissed six of his 25 labourers for joining the union. Tensions affected all three Wychwood villages, including Ascott where, as John Calvertt of Fairspear Farm recorded in his diary, ‘Mr. Robert Hambridge …. told me how lie had been persecuted by the Josh Arch-ites, two or three years ago’. Union members paid a subscription of 2d per week to the union funds, which were used to assist those who suffered loss of employment because of their membership. Thomas Turner of Milton was one of those who claimed assistance; he was paid 9s for-one week in January 1873, perhaps because of a lock out.

In the spring of that year the Wychwoods attracted national attention over the notorious affair of the women ‘martyrs of Ascott’. In April Robert.. Hambridge who farmed some 400 acres at Ascott, was approached by his labourers for a rise of 2s per week in their basic wages. Hambridge refused and the men went on strike. Within a week, labourers on other farms in the village followed their example. In May Hambridge decided to hire men from Ramsden to take the place of the strikers. On the morning of 12 May, a group of wives and daughters of the Ascott strikers met two of these men as they came to work in the village and tried to persuade them to stay away.

Although initially deterred, the men subsequently returned, under the protection of a single police constable, and began work. For their allegedly intimidatory action 17 Ascott women were arrested and charged at Chipping Norton Petty Sessions with breaching the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1871, a piece of legislation aimed at restricting picketing by trade unionists. It was claimed that the women had threatened violence. Sixteen of the Ascott women were found guilty and sent to prison, seven of them for ten days and the remaining nine for seven days hard labour.

They were transported to Oxford jail under police escort. The sentencing magistrates were the Revd W,E.D. Carter, Phillimore’s successor as vicar of Shipton, and the Revd Thomas Harris rector of Swerford. The harshness of the sentences, and the fact that two of the women were nursing babies, which had to go to prison with them, caused an outcry not just amongst union supporters but nationally. The affair was debated in the national press and in Parliament. The Lord Chancellor required the Lord Lieutenant, the Duke_ of Marlborough, to investigate events. Despite the Duke’s stalwart defence of the rigorous action of the magistrates the Lord Chancellor disagreed, firmly pointing out to the Duke that ‘the authority of the law would have been in this case better vindicated by a different and more lenient course’. Many Wychwood unionists were Nonconformists; and the actions of the local clerical magistrates must have added religious resentment to social and economic grievances. When the Ascott Martyrs were finally released from prison there were large demonstrations, and on 20 June at the gates of Mr. Hambridge’s farm, Joseph Arch himself presented each of the 16 women with £5 and a silk dress in royal blue, the union colour.

By this time the NALU Oxford District had set up headquarters in Oxford with Joseph Leggett of Milton as organising secretary. The District was affiliated to the national headquarters of the union in Leamington. The Union made a major policy decision to assist families to emigrate, arguing that as long as there was surplus labour available the farmers would not give in to their demands.

In July 1872, when the first efforts of the Union were being blocked by the farmers, Charles Carter, an emigration agent from a New Zealand construction firm, Brogden and Sons, held a meeting at Shipton, at which he recruited ten families. They left on 13 September, and arrived at Napier, Hawke Bay on 28 December, a journey of over three months. Letters from these first emigrants, giving glowing accounts of life in New Zealand, were passed around at home in Oxfordshire, and did much to encourage others to take the same course. Fares were paid for families on condition that the men either worked for a stated period for the construction firm or agreed to refund the loan once they were settled.

This was the start of a period of massive emigration from the area. Over 200 per 100,000 of population left Oxfordshire, the highest figure for any county except Cornwall, with its special problems of a failing mining industry.

In November 1873 the emigration agent, Carter held another meeting at Milton. This took place in a large marquee, which was used frequently at this time for chapel and union functions. It was owned by Isaac Castle a typical example of the respectable Victorian radical working man. Isaac was a Primitive Methodist who ran a coffee tavern in Milton to assist the cause of temperance. In 1881 he appeared in the census living in High Street, Milton with his wife Anne. Castle was then aged 55 and described as a woodman.

In 1873 his marquee was pitched in a field near the village and there 5-600 gathered for a meeting lit only by lanterns. The audience had come from far and near to hear Carter speak for an hour and 40 minutes on the wonders of life in New Zealand, comparing it to the ‘march downhill with the workhouse at the bottom’, which they faced in England. A collection of £17 was made to help a group about to leave for Hawkes Bay.

We do not know the exact number who left Milton, but the shipping company records tell of about 100 adults and children going from the village, including Thomas Turner with his large family. By 1881 Milton’s population had fallen by 126, a loss of 13% during a decade when Shipton’s population fell by 5% and that of Oxfordshire remained stable (Figure 6). The Milton emigrants included several large inter-related families, and many of those active in the union movement and in the Nonconformist chapels. These Dissenting groups, which organised their own affairs and provided lay preachers from amongst their own ranks, did much to provide the determined, lively-minded men of independent and radical spirit who led Wychwood trade unionism in the 1870s.

By comparison with the adjoining village people in Shipton took little part in active unionism. Perhaps Milton’s larger population, the fact that it had undergone more rapid and radical changes in its property-owning structure in preceding years, and had no big house or strong Anglican presence, all contributed to its position as the real stronghold of local unionism. Certainly before 1874 only the Wiggins family had emigrated from Shipton. In May 1874

Shipton was described the NALU journal, The Chronicle as a ‘large respectable village with only about 14 or 16 in the Union’. Then a party of 17 from Shipton joined the ‘Cospatrick’, which sailed on 11 September. The ship caught fire in the South Atlantic and sank, leaving no survivors from the 429 emigrants on board. A memorial to this disaster stands on the village green at Shipton showing the names of more extended family groups, the Hedges and the Townsends, lost to the village.

After tragedy interest in emigration waned. The incident was a great shock to the area, and at the same time the outflow of workers that had been taking place during the previous three years was having its affect. Wages and conditions of work were gradually improving as the bargaining powers of the labourers strengthened. Even in Shipton, Union membership increased sharply in 1875. A very large demonstration was held at Milton on Wednesday 28 July 1875. Joseph Arch, the NALU President, was led in procession from Shipton station to Milton village green. Bands played, banners waved, and nearly 800 people had tea in Isaac Castle’s great tent. The demonstration was said to have been attended by 3-4,000.

The NALU members certainly had reason to be pleased with theft achievements during those first years. Basic wage rates had risen 20-30% between 1873 and 1874, and 40-50,000 people had emigrated under Union-sponsored schemes. Total Union membership had reached over 150,000. From this point however, the movement was destined to run into difficulties. A prolonged period of strikes and lockouts in East Anglia laid great demands on the Union’s central funds. When eventually the strike collapsed it led to bitterness in other parts of the country, as branches saw 75% of their contributions being diverted to the Leamington headquarters. There were disputes at the Oxford District HQ as to future policy, and the old strong feelings of united purpose gradually slackened as real wages improved. Of the pioneering leaders many had left for New Zealand, including Joseph Leggett, James Mills and William Barnes, all from Milton. All this weakened the Union’s position, but another factor was soon to become dominant.

By the second half of the decade the prosperous years of farming were well and truly over. John Calvertt’s diary tells of year after year of disastrous weather. Successive harvests were ruined by rain, and when there was a dry spell it seems to have been fatal to crops, cereal and fodder alike. In years past a bad season might have caused a rise in market prices, but now the American prairies had been opened up, and ship loads of cheap cereals were arriving at English ports, causing prices to fall. Some farmers like Calvertt were able to continue in their comfortable lifestyle despite these troubles, but many smaller farmers did not manage to survive this period of depression, and landowners were finding it hard to dispose of leases on vacant farms.

As things became genuinely difficult for farmers the labourers were forced to accept some cuts in wages, but since the cost of living had fallen their real wage was in fact still better than at the beginning of the decade. Although the period of heady agitation had died down, the villagers now had a sense of what could be achieved by co-operation. The Union lapsed, and many of the young and vigorous leaders amongst the working men had gone. Amongst those who were left was there some legacy of the independent spirit which had helped families to brave the long voyage to the other side of the world, and to risk hardship by challenging farmers for better conditions? Now in more defensive mode, it was into allotment schemes, friendly societies and chapel-going than energies flowed.

See and download this article as a PDF here.

Sources and References

Rules of Shipton Friendly Society, 1860, ORO Willis I/v/1;

Census enumerators’ books Milton and Shipton, 1881, PRO microfilm in LHL;

The minute books of the Oxford District of the National Agricultural Labourers’ Union, 1872-9, published in P. Horn (ed.), ‘Agricultural Trade Unionism in Oxfordshire 1872-81’, Oxfordshire Record Society., Vol. XLVIII (1974);

Rollo Arnold, Oxfordshire Emigrants to New Zealand during the Farm Labourers’ Revolt in the 1870’s (typescript of lecture to Wellington Group of the New Zealand Society of Genealogists, 17 June 1976).

The Cospatrick Tragedy – From the Society Journal No. 14

The Cospatrick Tragedy – From the Wychwoods Local History Society Journal No. 14

Here is an article by Margaret Ware, taken from the WLHS Journal No 14 (1999). We republish it here as part of an occasional series celebrating the work of the Society over time. (A PDF of the Society’s Journal No 14 can be found here).

A separate PDF of the article is available here.

The Cospatrick Tragedy: Memorial

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Shipton Church from Cospatrick memorial. Estimated 1920s

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High Street Shipton 1920s, with Cospatrick Memorial

On the village green at Shipton under Wychwood, next to the war memorial, stands a stone drinking fountain with a distinctive tall, conical spire. It was erected in 1878 in memory of the seventeen members of the Hedges and Townsend families from Shipton who lost their lives in the South Atlantic in a fire on the emigrant sailing ship, the Cospatrick, bound for New Zealand.

The brass plaque on the north side lists Richard Hedges aged 56, Sarah his wife (53); John Hedges (24) and Sarah his wife (22); Thomas Hedges (27), Charles Hedges (18) both sons of Richard and Sarah. That on the south lists Henry Townsend aged 62, Ann his wife (53); George Charter (31), Jane Townsend his wife (35) and their two children; Henry Hedges (30) and Mary Townsend his wife (30) and their three children. All the men were agricultural labourers.

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Photograph from a postcard of The Green, showing allotments bordered by a wall. There is no seat around the tree at this date. Also photo taken pre-metal plates on the Cospatrick Memorial. Date: c. late 1920s

The Cospatrick Tragedy: Background

19th Century Emigration from Oxfordshire: See Our Book Review


In late Victorian England many agricultural workers and their families led desperately hard lives. They laboured by hand for long hours in harsh conditions for low wages, earning on average only half as much as industrial workers. Rural tied housing was often poor and insanitary, with no security of tenure. The country way of life was strictly regulated by the landlords and tenant farmers, the squire and the Church, with harsh administration of the Poor Law and of penalties for poaching. These conditions were made worse in the 1870s by a run of bad weather and poor harvests.

The early 1870s saw the newly formed National Agricultural Labourers Union beginning the fight for better wages and conditions, but many people emigrated to start a new life in Australia, New Zealand and Canada, a substantial number of these coming from Oxfordshire.

During this period the New Zealand government provided free passages to assist over 50,000 English people to emigrate, while the Agricultural Union and others set up funds to buy clothing and equipment for the long and arduous journey, with Union officials often acting as emigration agents.

The voyage under sail in an iron clipper usually took about fifteen weeks, although newly-commissioned steamers were completing it in half the time. Animals, chickens and geese were taken on board for food but seasickness and epidemics of scarlet fever, measles and typhoid took their toll and many people, especially children, died on the journey.

However once the survivors had arrived and settled in, they frequently sent back enthusiastic reports of their improved conditions and of the many attractions of the new country’.

Emigration rose to a peak in 1873 and 1874, and during this period at least 160 people are known to have left for New Zealand from Milton and Ascott, many to settle in the Hawke’s Bay area, but until the autumn of 1874 only three folk had ventured from Shipton. Then Richard Hedges and Henry Townsend with their wives and families joined 400 other emigrants and 44 crew on the Cospatrick which sailed from Blackwall Dock in London on 11 September bound for Auckland.

About the Cospatrick

This engraving of the Cospatrick appeared in the Illustrated London News 19 January 1875. Reproduced with kind permission of Mr R R William

This engraving of the Cospatrick appeared in the Illustrated London News 19 January 1875. Reproduced with kind permission of Mr R R William

The Cospatrick was a two-decked, full-rigged wooden ship of about 1,200 tons, owned by Shaw Savill & Co, which had transported thousands of people during the previous nine years without incident. It had recently been inspected and pronounced sound. In addition to the passengers and their stores (which included coal for cooking and heating), it now carried iron rails and cement, and an inflammable cargo of linseed oil, turpentine and varnish, candles, rum, brandy, wine and beer. Fire precautions were strictly enforced, fires and lights being lit only by the cook and stewards while the emigrants themselves carried out fire-watch duty.

The Fire on the Cospatrick

Nevertheless fire broke out just after midnight on 17 November near the boatswain’s locker, and spread quickly. Panic ensued and most people died in the inferno or drowned when they jumped from the blazing ship, which sank after two days. Only two of the ship’s four lifeboats got away, laden with emigrants and crew. They were over 700 miles from the Cape of Good Hope and without food or drink, mast, sail or compass. After three days one boat drifted out of sight. The other was sighted by a passing ship after ten days but only four people, three of them crew members, were still alive. The remaining emigrant died after being rescued.

Aftermath of the Cospatrick Tragedy

This appalling tragedy shocked the nation. The Board of Trade enquiry later concluding that the fire probably started as a result of someone attempting to raid the liquor store. It was one of the worst maritime disasters of the century and probably contributed to the waning of interest in emigration thereafter. The steady drain of the labour force had also begun to concern farmers at home, and was providing a stronger bargaining position for the Agricultural Union to secure better wages and working conditions for its members, so there was now less incentive to leave.


In 1877 a committee in Shipton under Wychwood raised £70 towards a memorial to the local victims of the disaster and the fountain was erected on the green a year later. As time passed the carved stone lettering-weathered and faded, and brass plates bearing the original inscriptions were fixed on the north, south and west sides on 17 November 1934, the sixtieth anniversary of the tragedy. A fourth brass was also added, on the east side, recalling the original tragedy, and to commemmorate the coronation of King Edward VII in 1901.


The inscription on the west side reads:

Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again but whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst.
John, Ch. IV v. 13 and 14

Bibliography
Rollo Arnold, The Farthest Promised Land, Victoria University Press, Wellington, New Zealand 1981. Dr Arnold portrays the national picture of emigration to New Zealand and the role of the infant trade unions.

R.R. Williams, The Survival of Twin Pen-Stryd, Cymgen (Wales), Anglesey 1975. The story of the disaster and the amazing survival of Able Seaman Thomas Lewis of Anglesey.

Wychwoods History No. 3,1987, pp45-52 gives an account of the social and agricultural conditions of the time. See the article here, or download as a PDF here.

More Memories of Shipton -The Village Shops and Roundsmen | From the Society Journal No. 10

Here is a second extended piece by Dorothy Brookes, taken from the WLHS Journal No. 10 (1995). We republish it here as part of an occasional series celebrating the work of the Society over time. (A PDF of the article can be found here).

Mrs Brookes, born Dorothy Coombes, grew up in Shipton under Wychwood during the second two decades of this century. Her earlier recollections were published in Wychwoods History no. 7 (1992), and are also available here.


Most local villages were almost self-sufficient; there were family grocers, bakers, dress makers, wheelwrights, a butcher, several smaller shops and one or two public houses. Shipton was no exception.

When my mother’s youngest sister Lily Longshaw left school, she went to day work at the Bankhouse. The owner ran a family grocer’s business as well as a small bank. Her wages were two shillings a week and a bit of lard to take home to her mother. In those days grocers bought whole pigs and boiled the bacon for sale over the counter along with the home-made lard and brawn. The owner used a shovel to pick up the sovereigns in the bank and Aunt held open the canvas bags for him to tip the money into. She then had to clean the room for the next day’s business. He told her he knew her father Robert had brought the family up to be honest, so he had no worries about losing any of the money.

While Aunt Lily was there, the then Prince of Wales called in one day for help with a hunting accident. He was out with the Heythrop Hunt and MajoeBrassey had been thrown from his horse.

The people who kept the grocery shops didn’t inspire much loyalty. The one with the bank attached to it was well-stocked and always had good, smart staff and a regular delivery man. The owner, however, was not so popular as he was overbearing, noisy and could have a child shaking in its boots in seconds. His wife never deigned to speak to village folk; their only son was not allowed to mix with other children but had a governess instead of attending the village school. I don’t think us school children ever envied him, we saw him as a lonely little figure forever muffled against the cold, the governess dragging him along when he looked over his shoulder at the ‘working-class’ children playing happily on their way to and from school.

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Bank House Shipton estimated 1900s

The other big shop (now Shipton House Stores) had little railings to prevent children leaning against the windows. The maiden ladies who, with their brother (Ernest, Mary and Ellen Dee) kept this establishment, just didn’t approve of children window-gazing. They would come to the shop door and ask if mother had sent us down for something. But they never shouted at us and ‘Miss Mary’ was our kind Sunday School teacher who once organised a picnic for us. One side of this shop was given over to drapery sales, and near to Christmas a lighted Christmas tree appeared in place of the usual hats, stockings and rolls of cloth. The tree was surrounded by books, dolls, games. paintboxes and numerous small toys. Once the cry went up that ‘Dees’ had decorated, we tore out from school and spent the next couple of hours deciding what our Mam would ask Father Christmas to bring us. The grocery side was festive too, with huge mounds of dried fruits, cheese and sugared almonds. How we loved it all.

The village sweet shop was older with a distinctive smell and usually a couple of cats sitting on the counters. They stocked everything that was tempting to a child with a Saturday’s penny to spend – lovely glass jars filled with boiled sweets, hundreds and thousands, broken toffee, sticks of barley sugar, long ‘shoelaces’ of liquorice and numerous other delights. They also sold the basic groceries. Woodbines, cheap tobacco and snuff. What was more important, they gave credit to poor families, and there were plenty of these. Neither did they mind weighing up two ounces of cheese or loose tea. If they could not pay their bills they borrowed a box of stores from a similar shop in the next village. The first imported New Zealand lamb was sold at the back of this shop and, later on, fish and chips.


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Hathaway’s shop High Street Shipton 1930s. Originally Dees stores, the shop was built in 1919 when Mr Dee moved from his premises opposite Shipton Lodge. The drapery section was upstairs with the groceries below. Deliveries were made to surrounding villages by Stanley Gorton seen here with Mary Barnes and the Model A Ford van. The railings around the shop went in the war effort in 1940


A notice on the yard wall said ‘Stabling and Horse and Trap for Hire’. This was a relic from the days when my great-grandfather Peter Townsend owned all this property. When my Granny (Eliza Coombes nee Townsend) was a child they lived in what is now the Doctor’s house near the school. It was only a cottage then and her father did cobbling. (During later alterations the window he sat by was discovered, walled up in a passage). He also drove for people who did not have their own coachman. He bought property at the top of Church Street and opened refreshment rooms, a pork butcher’s shop and had a horse and trap for hire, the stables being down where the gasworks were later built (now the site of ‘Bowerham’ sheltered flats). Her mother sold ‘piece goods’ (materials by the yard) in the room over the refreshment rooms. Most of the property was eventually sold except for the refreshment rooms which were turned into a grocery shop. Granny’s sister Maria married Richard Avery from Burford and they lived there with their two sons.

Later on you could hire a car from here, and once we all went to Chippenham for the day for 42s. We started at eight o’clock in the morning with Mother, Dad, three children and the driver, all in a red Ford car. We had several adventures on the way: this was 1922 and the roads weren’t quite as good as they are today. We got lost once or twice before finally reaching my uncle’s house, and on the homeward journey the car had several punctures. A kind lady at a roadside cottage lent a bicycle for our driver to go to a garage miles away for help while my brother and I sat on a roadside bank watching several adders basking in the evening sunlight. Eventually we got home safely, my mother paid the driver and Dad gave him 2/6d. It was a good thing he didn’t charge for his time!

Grampy Coombes had a brother (Henry) who was for several years the village undertaker and wheelwright, while his wife and daughters ran the post-office. I only ever saw them from the other side of the counter and was expected to call them ‘Miss’. (These were Kathleen, later Mrs George Wiggins, and Miss Jessica Coombes).

There were several smaller shops where sweets were sold from tins, and like the others they had a tobacco licence and sold snuff. On their shelves were packets of starch, soap and blue bags. They also sold loose tea and sugar but not much else. All these shops suffered terrible losses when the Cooperative opened at Chipping Norton and started delivering twice a week around the villages – groceries, shoes, clothes, bread and cakes and, what was most useful, they also brought bags of pig food in the shape of ‘toppings’ and barley. The great attraction was the quarterly dividend; few women could resist this and many found it their first form of saving.

Besides the gypsies who came round the village with pegs and ferns, there were regular pedlars or packmen. They came every few months with lace, ribbons and cottons. There were no operations for bad hips in those days and one saw much suffering and quite a few crippled people. On the principle that everybody had to eat, most women kept back a few pence to spend with these unfortunates. One such old man rested his basket on the wall and gratefully accepted a cup of tea; he had a speech impediment too.

A reel of white cotton cost 21/2d; he took your shilling and counted out your change as follows: “uppence-‘appeny, ‘eppence, ‘ourpunce, ‘ipunce, ‘ixpense and a ‘illing’. Then there was the Thankyo’ man who bought rabbit skins, rags and old iron. He always paid the best prices and when he left he would slam the gate with a flourish, loudly callingThankyo’; that way the next housewife know he was on his way.

Another old couple brought gravy-salt, bar-salt and pepper. They sometimes brought lardy-cake and could be heard crying their wares ‘lardy-cake and lamp-oil!’. These two old boys had wonderful hair which they said was due to them wiping their paraffin-soaked hands through it before serving the lardy-cake. If you were going out it was quite safe to leave the money on the door-step for the paraffin, shoe-polish etc. Fresh fish and fruit were brought to the door, the fishman meeting the early morning train to get the fish sent overnight from Yarmouth so that it reached our tables in less than twenty-four hours.

Early Days at Shipton | From the Society Journal No.7

Here is an extended piece by Dorothy Brookes, taken from the WLHS Journal No. 7 (1992). We republish it here as part of an occasional series celebrating the work of the Society over time. (A PDF of the article can be found here).

I was born Dorothy Mary Coombes in 1911 in a small cottage, the last in a row of stone-built houses called Blenheim Cottages erected on land known as ‘manorial waste’ alongside the Burford Road. The top three were much older than the others: ours, ‘Top House’, the one nearest Burford, had a stone staircase. None of them had back doors. Farther down the road there was a common wash-house and drying ground. The cottages faced west and from their tiny bedroom windows could be seen Icomb Roundhouse, Stow-on-the-Wold and, away in the distance, Batsford Park. Tiny gardens and a rough pathway separated the cottages from the road which went up the hill to Burford or downhill through Shipton village, past the railway station and then on to Chipping Norton.

My mother always said that history unfolded itself on the Burford Road. There was no railway at Burford so people from there had to travel the four miles over the Downs to Shipton Station. There were carriages from the big houses, carters from the farms with their teams and huge wagons loaded with corn, cattle being driven, a horse-drawn bus and a few people on foot.

When I was three years old we moved just down the road to a better cottage. My father made many journeys to the new home with a truck he had made, my brother and sister helping him each time to push the load while I rode on top as I was the youngest. Mother scrubbed out as each small room became empty. A new tenant would make a thorough inspection of the vacant house and report to the neighbours if it had been left dirty.


The new house was a `back-to-back’, ours facing the west and the Burford Road like the one we had left, the back tenant facing east with their garden path going into a small lane. It was a much nicer house than the old one; there was a good garden with a pig sty, a good shed and our own lavvy’. But it had its drawbacks: there was no pump, so water had to be fetched from the stand-pipe some distance away. When it rained hard my mother had to stand at the door with a broom to turn away the water that cascaded madly down the steps. However, enough rainwater could be collected in a huge tub for washing the clothes, ourselves and for boiling the pig-swill.

I am told that the day I was three years old, I demanded a clean ‘pinny’ and a note for the teacher as I was now old enough to go to school. It seems that at two years old I had followed my sister and brother the mile to school and I vividly remember my mother snatching me away from the wallboard

'Top house', Blenheim Cottages, Burford Road about 1945
‘Top house’, Blenheim Cottages, Burford Road about 1945

where I was making an effort at writing my name. I was scolded all the way home with Mother saying ‘You shall go the day you are three my girl, I’ll have no more of this worry’. And go I did, although I must confess I don’t remember that day.

The Great War had started on August 4th of that year and our dad had volunteered for service on September 5th. My mother told us of the day he left home in his best suit to catch the train to Oxford. Here he enlisted in the 2/4th Oxon. and Bucks. Light Infantry. After a few weeks’ training and embarkation leave he was soon en route for France. It was along time before we saw him again and each night Mother led us, her three children, in prayer for his safe return. One night I was watching her brush and comb her lovely long hair when she said ‘It’s moonlight, the same moon that is shining on your dad. I wonder where he is tonight?’ We soon found out, for in a few hours’ time there was a shout from the garden of ‘Mother, open the door!’

Mother lit the candle and, carrying it downstairs, opened the door to a weary, muddy and pack-laden soldier. In a very short while she had our dad into clean clothes and, sitting by a blazing fire over a cup of strong tea, he told us how a few days’ leave had been granted following a terrible battle. A troop train had brought the soldiers from the Channel boat at Dover, up to London and then down to Oxford. From there, there had been no further transport. The men could either sleep on the platform or find their own way home; some lived in Oxford but others out in the villages.

Dad and his companion, a young man from Taynton, had walked to Shipton. The young man had come Shipton way to see Dad indoors and then had the long, cold walk over the Downs to his own home at Taynton. While Dad was at home he helped Mother with the garden and mended our shoes and boots. Mother ironed his uniform to kill the many fleas he had brought back with him, arid then left us at Granny’s while she went to the station to see him off again. In a few days’ time she took us to stay at Chippenham with her brother Walter Longshaw and his four children. We lived there for almost a year.

I was six when we returned home – too young to know anything of war? Our schoolmaster didn’t think so. There was no radio or television in those days, but Mr Strong read the war reports to us from his newspaper. He told us when local young men were killed in action and who was badly wounded; we were taught to sing patriotic songs and to hate the Kaiser and his people. None of the schoolchildren had ever seen the sea but we were taught that the navy was playing a vital role in the defence of our island. To illustrate this, my dad sent me a Navy ABC for Little Britons. I took this book to school many times and have it to this day.

The way to school led through the churchyard. One morning I had raced ahead of my brother and sister and turned the corner into the narrow path. There, leaning against the wall was a familiar figure – it was ‘our Dad’. He had travelled down on the first available train from Oxford and was waiting near the school to see his ‘mites’ before walking the last mile home. The schoolmaster met him too and said that we children could go home. We heard that he had been awarded the DCM and were very proud to read the following week in the Oxford Times:-

Lance-Corporal T.T. Coombes of the 2/4th Oxford and Bucks. Light Infantry has been awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for Auspicious Gallantry.
When an enemy torpedo knccked a man over the parapet severely wounding him, Coombes went out in full view of the enemy at 150 yards range and lifted the man back into the trenches. Lance-Corporal Coombes is an Oxfordshire man – his home being at Shipton under Wychwood.

We were soon to hear that he had been promoted to the rank of Sergeant. Later I remember the lovely Easter egg Dad sent us from Eastbourne, where he was recovering from burns from a discharged Very pistol. My brother saved most of his share to give to Mother the next Sunday. At times, food was not very plentiful but Donald never started his dinner until he was sure that ‘our Mam’ had hers on the table. He helped her in the garden, ran errands, cleaned the shoes and knives and was generally the ‘man of the house’. He was still only nine when Dad came home from active service. The schoolmaster told us about the coming Armistice and explained what it was. We expected Dad to come at once but of course this was not to be for a while. There were great celebrations in the village and Mother took us to Oxford to see the victory parade. I remember the decorated trellis arches and Dad waving to us as he marched by.

Eventually Dad resumed his work as a stonemason at Groves’ but, once home in the evening and in by the fire, he did not want to go out. He slept badly, haunted by the spectres of his young comrades dying in the mud and filth of Flanders, of the countless women and little children fleeing before the battles, the many screaming horses and cattle and miles of the cruel barbed wire that tore at flesh and clothes. I heard Dad say ‘The man who invented barbed wire should have been hanged with it’. The world ‘Fit for Heroes’ to live in proved not to be so.

Before long, men and boys who had been feted and cheered on their return from France were roaming the countryside looking for work. They often called at our house for hot water, tea, bread and cheese or perhaps an old pair of shoes or a jacket. Homelessness is no new thing: some of these men were on the road for years, and soon whole families were tramping, making their way to Northleach or Chipping Norton workhouse. There were hard hills to climb to get to either of these places where the men were expected to work for their supper. This may seem practical to those who have never known poverty, but these people were hungry, cold and ill-clad against the weather. They were in no shape to do much wood-chopping or scrubbing. No wonder they preferred to find a dry barn in which to bed down for the night.

Once a month there was a cattle sale down in the village; the sale ground was where the Bowls Club now have their green. Most of the cattle drovers were men who ‘lived rough’; they started early in the morning bringing the cattle in from neighbouring farms. Some came from villages many miles away: we could hear cows and sheep coming over the hill from Burford: not much time was wasted getting ready for school on sale day. Plenty of help was needed with the droving once the animals got near the village.

With my friends I stood at road junctions and open gateways to prevent the awkward cows straying off the road. At dinnertime we helped drive animals up the Burford road, very reluctant to go in to our dinner which Mother had cooling on the plates so that we could get quickly back down to the sale where we mingled with the grown-ups until the second bell for school.

We went back again after school, and this time helped a drover take cattle to the crossroads on the Downs. These men were paid a few shillings for this work and they usually gave a penny to any young child who would go up the hill with them. At Fulbrook, school-children would be waiting there to carry on to Burford. This continued until the cattle reached their new home, often miles out over the Cotswold Hills. From these huge farms, corn was brought to the mill at Shipton Station.

Shipton livestock sale, 1930's, held regularly at the back of the Crown Inn, now the vegetable garden and bowling green
Shipton livestock sale, 1930’s, held regularly at the back of the Crown Inn, now the vegetable garden and bowling green

The carters had to make an early start and usually got to Shipton as we were ready for school. Their wagons were piled high with great loads of corn, and each drawn by a team of enormous but very gentle shire horses. The horses were decked out in well-shone brasses and some wore little caps on their ears. The wagoner had a ‘bolton’ of straw he could sell to provide his dinner money; it went to the first pig-keeper who had a shilling to spare.

We school-children followed the wagons down the street, hanging on to the tail-board and lifting our feet off the ground, thus getting a ride for a few yards. Envious school-mates would soon cry ‘whip behind’ and the wagoner would grin and curl his whip over his shoulder, trying to tickle someone’s ears. Later in the day the wagons had to make the long journey back to their farms. I was very friendly with one of the carters and instead of riding on the wagon he would walk up the hill towards Burford chatting to me. He wanted to hear bits about the world we had learnt at geography lessons and said he wished he had got a bit of learning. He liked to hear the recitations and songs and would make the cart horses stand until he had heard the last verse.

The horse-drawn bus made regular trips to Shipton Station to meet the trains. It came from Burford, picking up passengers from Fulbrook and the top end of Shipton on the way. The coachman was fond of ale and often stopped at the Red Horse too long so prudent passengers alighted here and walked the last quarter mile to the station. The once-talked-of branch line to Burford was never built although it was mentioned on the deeds of a cottage my father once owned as it might have gone through that cottage garden.

Other vehicles came up and down the ‘Turnpike’ (now the A361), mostly horse-drawn. There were the gaily-painted caravans of the fair people who came to the village twice a year and put up roundabouts, swinging-boats and stalls. The women folk went round the houses with baskets of pegs and cottons; if you bought from them you had a lucky face; should you refuse, calamity or sudden death were forecast. We knew one of the men with the fair as he came into the village in spring and autumn to sweep the cottage chimneys.

One year there was a constant stream of Foden lorries through the village, all heavily laden on the southbound journey, with their loads hidden under tarpaulins. We wondered what they were and finally found out that surplus shells and ammunition from the war were being taken to Bristol to be dumped in the Channel. These lorries had to pass close to our gate and one day the road surface gave way and the wheel sank in, firmly stuck in the clay. My mother went out to see what was the matter and made cocoa for the man and boy while it was decided what to do

. In those days the only telephone in the village was at the Post Office, so a telegram was sent for help but it was three days before a relief with hauling tackle arrived, during which time the lorry had sunk even deeper into the clay. The driver slept in the cab and the boy in our wash-house and Mother helped with the food situation: the driver did have a tin of bully and some bread with him. The village children swarmed around to look at the shells and we wondered if we might get blown to bits in our beds.

The first rescue attempt was a wash-out; the thick steel rope broke and bits flew far and wide: it was lucky no-one watching was hurt. We children were sorry to see ‘our Foden’ finally rescued as it had been quite an exciting few days. The Fodens were steam wagons and ran on coal: the driver gave Mother a bit of coal for her kindness.

Haymaking in the early thirties
Haymaking in the early thirties

Other events came along to claim our attention. Sparks from the chimney of the Foden belonging to Groves the builders set fire to a barn up the Station Road; the horse-drawn bus turned over and people were injured; a school-friend was impaled on the spiked railings outside the Baptist Chapel; one night a terrific gale brought many trees down, blocking roads and lanes; torrential rain or melting snow caused the River Evenlode to flood the meadows and Station Road so that we were sorry that the school wasn’t on the other side of the river.

On the whole though, school-days passed pleasantly enough, and it was soon time for those not lucky enough to go to Burford Grammar School to think about looking for work. The girls mostly went into domestic service and the boys either to the farms or, if they were lucky, to an apprenticeship to a carpenter or into the building trade. There were a variety of ways of getting to the Grammar School, mostly scholarships of one sort or another. Boys walked to Burford from the villages and those from Kingham came to Shipton on the train and then on by foot or bicycle.

The Girls’ Grammar School had only just been opened then (1922); previous to this, a favoured few who could afford the train fare went to Oxford with forgotten scholarships somehow brought out into daylight for these lucky ones.

My brother won a scholarship to Burford: I missed the exam because I caught the dreaded scarlet fever. No-one knew where I caught it as there was not another case in the district. It was contagious and, in those days often fatal, but my mother said she would nurse me at home as the nearest isolation hospital was many miles away at Reading. She faithfully carried out the strict rules laid down by the village Doctor and as a result I recovered and no-one else caught the complaint from me.

I got the rest of my education when and how I could, reading books considered too old for me, watching others and, later on, attending W.E.A. classes and taking full advantage of anything offered by the Women’s Institute and their wonderful Denman College.

But before that, there were changes at home. Dad bought Rock Cottage round the corner and we moved our bits and pieces to a much larger place. Mother got the pig to move by rattling his food bucket; not having been fed all day he was no trouble to get into his new home.

There was a lot of work to do on this old cottage but with Mother as labourer it soon became a good home. Dad dug stone from the garden to build the garden wall. This cottage had a tithe on it and after quite a battle with the powers-that-be Mother and I went to the Old Bailey in London and finally got it redeemed. It was many years before there was a water supply – I had left home long before that came about.

The Burford horse-drawn bus at Shipton station, about 1910

Reproduced from the WLHS Journal No.7 (1992)

Observations on Ridge and Furrow in Honeydale Field | From the Society Journal No. 7

Here is an extended piece by Jim Pearse, taken from the WLHS Journal No. 7 (1992). We republish it here as part of an occasional series celebrating the work of the Society over time. (A PDF of the article can be found here).

Honeydale Farm lies on a spur of the Cotswold limestone, looking southeast over the valley of the River Evenlode, in the parish of Ascott under Wychwood. The farm takes its namc from the seventeen-acre field known as Honeydale since the Enclosure of 1838. Prior to this, Honeydale furlong within this same area dates back to at least the fifteenth century.

The origin of the name stems from the nature of the soil which is sticky yellow clay. I ploughed, cultivated and harvested Honeydale field between 1954 and 1967, after which it was laid down to permanent grass. Although using a tractor and three-furrowed plough, I maintained the old ridge and furrow system because of its advantages. No drainage system, however modern or efficiently laid, will remove large quantities of surface water as quickly as ridge and furrow. Excess water is immediately transferred down the gradient of the ridges to the furrows which become temporary ditches carrying water downhill to the nearest watercourse. Land drains, though very effective in the long term, only work by removing water after it has soaked down through the soil. This takes time on clay, so that in a wet season with rain nearly every day, the surface of a flat field will remain wet.

See this video of what is happening at Honeydale these days

A continuing tendency for ridges to level down each time the ground is cultivated results in an infill in the furrows making it necessary to ridge up the field once in every three years. That is done starting at the central backbone of each ridge, turning the soil upwards to form a peak and working outwards to the furrow thus leaving the furrow open. In the remaining years the field would be ploughed as normal with wider lands as on a flat field. In wet years furrows produced a poorer crop whilst ridges did well; in dry years the reverse occurred. On average only a quarter of the land, the extremes, was badly affected, three quarters producing a fair crop.

Ridge and furrow in the Evenlode valley – not Honeydak Field, but looking south from the Ascott Road near Shipton. Ridge and furrow often shows up clearly in frost or snou (as here), or in the early morning or late evening in oblique, low sunlight.

When corn was harvested in sheaves and needed to be left standing in stooks to dry, oats which had very green stems required the longest drying time and needed to stand in the fields ‘while the bells were rung on three Sundays’. In wet summers it was an advantage to stand the stooks on the ridges to catch the drying wind. Carrying the corn was also made easier when wagons could be drawn along the furrow allowing the load to be built with less effort. If sheaves were stacked too damp or green they would either go mouldy or ferment, possibly sufficiently to produce spontaneous combustion.

When the soil was loosely cultivated or freshly planted, it did tend to wash down the furrows, but the curving shape of the ridge and furrow slowed the flow of water which left some of the moving soil on the sides of the furrows instead of washing it down the field. It is frequently stated that the curving shape of the ridge and furrow arose by the manoeuvring of the ox ploughs at the ends of the fields. But I wonder if it was partly deliberate through the desire to prevent soil erosion as suggested. It would be interesting to test this theory by checking slopes for curved ridges and flat land for straight ridges. From our view of the valley, only the former are in evidence.

I am convinced that the ridge and furrow system was created deliberately and not as an accidental effect of ploughs repeatedly cultivating individual strips. If the ploughmen of the past knew how to plough, they also knew how to keep the field level if they had wanted to. This is reinforced by the fact that oxen could have pulled a plough on a flat plane across a slope much more easily compared with the effort required to plough up and down which was the normal practice.

The width of modern machinery – drills, sprayers and combines – causes difficulties on ridge and furrowed land. They hit the ridges too hard and miss the furrows. This is the main reason for the modern levelling of these fields. But flat fields displaying large pools of water in winter and early spring are quite possibly levelled ridge and furrow. Of course, nowadays modern fertilisers can normally revive crops affected by waterlogged soil.

The deeper, more fertile soil under ridge and furrow was better suited to wheat production than was the surrounding stonebrash. When wheat was making very high prices at the beginning of the nineteenth century, my guess is that most of these ridge and furrow lands were growing the crop for high profit. But ridge and furrow is still an advantage on grassland since, after prolonged heavy rain, a flat field will be waterlogged whilst furrows channel away all the excess water allowing the ridges to dry more rapidly.

There is no doubt that the ridge and furrow system as practised in the past with a large workforce and mostly manual farming methods was a practicable proposition but one which is not compatible with modern arable farming.

What’s in a Name? | From the Society Journal No.15

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Here is an extended piece by John Rawlins, taken from the WLHS Journal No 15 (2000). We republish it here as part of an occasional series celebrating the work of the Society over time. (A PDF of the Society’s Journal No 15 can be found here).

Those who study the nineteenth-century census returns from 1841 onwards find that the names of persons living in households can usually be read, but, to find where those households were within the village is more difficult. The local enumerator for each census did not necessarily follow the same route as his predecessor and give only the vaguest indication of where people lived.

In 1841 Milton’s enumerator divided the parish into Upper and Lower Milton and names only three definite locations, most of them roads, in each area to cover the 118 buildings. By 1891 the census enumerator gave little more detail or specific names to the households he visited and in Shipton James Alfred Willis named 29 buildings or groups of buildings he called on, but he named no thoroughfares.

Kohima with stables and clock tower in the 1900s viewed from the direction of Bruern Road

Mr Gilbert the Milton enumerator for 1891 named 17 individual buildings and four roads when he completed his census of the 215 households. Some of those named survive today, such as High Lodge, Springhill Farm and Sunrise; others are different through change of use, for example Coffee Tavern to the present Wychwood Surgery; or the same name has moved to another house. Heath House in Church Road, Milton kept that name until 1930 when the then owner Brigadier General Kirby changed it to Heathfield House. His reason for the change of name would seem to be to allow him to take the name Heath House with him when he married Mrs Paisley in March 1930. So, on her marriage Mrs Paisley not only took on the new surname of Mrs Kirby but her own home, Kohima, now took on her new husband’s choice of name, Heath House.

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Kohima from the southern gateway in Lyneham Road

Kohima was the name given to the property in Lyneham Road, Milton by Mrs Damont whose husband had been killed at Kohima in north-east India in 1857 during the Indian Mutiny. Apart from the house there were stables and coach house complete with clock tower, a pair of semi-detached cottages and six bungalows with their exteriors built from corrugated iron and using the name Kohima. Today the name only remains on the bungalow built on the site of two of the former corrugated iron bungalows.

Soon after the building of Matthews mill in 1911, a pair of semi-detached cottages were built in Station Road, Shipton, to house employees at the mill. One of the first occupants was the clerk, Mr Goss and his wife, from the Reading area. He named the cottage Falklands after the island of that name where he was born and to which his great grandfather had emigrated in 1850. In the I920s the Goss family moved to another Matthews tied cottage, Pike House, Station Road. This was named after its former use as the gatekeeper’s house on the old turnpike (see photo page 63). As he approached his retirement Mr Goss had a bungalow built for himself in Bruern Road, Milton. He did not live long enough to live in it but is still carries the name he gave it – Falklands.

Station Road Shipton, 1920s, looking south from above the railway. The nearest of the semi-detached houses is named “Falklands”

Like Falklands and Kohima, other house names have been brought to the area. The first Matthews home in Shipton was called Tothill from the family farm in Lincolnshire. This name was then changed to Holmwood, and changed again to Cromwell House and now back again to the present Holmwood. When called Holmwood before the Second World War, part of the grounds were used by Shipton Bowls Club, and during its spell as Cromwell House after the war it was home to the Wychwoods Tennis Club. In 1977 much of the grounds of the house were developed as a residential estate, taking the name of the original house, Tothill.

At the time of his marriage Samuel E. Groves of Alfred Groves and Sons built a pair of semi-detached cottages opposite the present Wychwood Church of England School. Mr Sam and his wife, Muriel, called their new home Berwyn to remind them of their honeymoon spent in North Wales.

A larger house was subsequently built for them on adjacent land and called Four Winds, after John Buchan’s book The House of the Four Winds.

About five years ago two members of the Basson family, whose relatives had been licensees at the Quart Pot at the turn of the century, called on me asking where The Anchorage was. They had been told that it was in Frog Lane, Milton, but having checked all property names they could find not find it. Luckily I could recall helping my father prune the roses for Mr Southam at The Anchorage some fifty years ago. Since then it has changed its name to Orchard House.

The Anchorage was built towards the end of the nineteenth century when two other neighbouring buildings in Frog Lane were built in non-vernacular style – Holmwood and Frogmore House. The former has been renamed Woodside and the latter became Forest Lodge in the I930s which it remained until the I950s when it became Forest Gate. The previous name of Forest Lodge was transferred to a newly-built house on the opposite side of Frog Lane, and the original name, Frogmore House, was adopted by another new house, as Frogmore, in Frog Lane.

The name St Michael’s was used in Shipton for the two houses below the Crown (now called Ivan House and Gales Green) when they were run as a boarding school/college for young ladies from 1869. The name transferred to a newly-built school/college in Milton Lane in 1881, and the name remained when the building was subsequently occupied by the Waifs and Strays Society and during its requisition by the military during the Second World War. The building then became a corn mill and chandlery for Alfred Meecham and Son and the name again transferred. This time it was to the site opposite on which council houses were built in the late 1940s – St Michael’s Close. The building built as St Michael’s in Milton Lane was demolished in 1989 and the site redeveloped as Willis Court.

One might have presumed that Jubilee Lane in Milton had some connection with the celebrations concerning Queen Victoria, but the name is derived from the 50th Jubilee anniversary in 1889 of the building of the Baptist chapel at the top of the High Street. At that jubilee it was decided to raise subscriptions for the building of a manse in the lane which had been variously known as Dix’s Lane. The Road, Groves’ Lane and Barnes’ Corner and is now known as Jubilee Lane

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Ariel view of Shipton in Winter in the 1920s. The aeroplane wing can be seen in the bottom left corner. The white pathces in the fields in the centre are hoar frosts

From my limited research of records of Milton and Shipton it would appear that in the late nineteenth century very few residential buildings had names. Exceptions were farms and the larger properties – Shipton Court, Shipton Lodge etc, and the inns. Public buildings like schools, churches and chapels also had names. Small cottages had no names unless they were in a row or group when a collective name was used, as with Magpie Alley, Mount Pleasant and Fiddlers Hill in Shipton and The Square, Frog Lane and Hawkes’ Yard in Milton.

In the twentieth century the spread of the naming of buildings was slow, although new buildings were usually given names and there was some up-market naming of the already existing names.

In the early 1920s there was some attempt with numbering properties on the newly-built estates, a policy which continues today. But the numbering of the older roads has progressed little, with the exception of Milton High Street.

For some reason, unknown to me, it was around the late 1930s that more of the smaller properties were given names and by the same time the names of most roads and lanes had evolved into the names generally accepted today.

Today all buildings have a name or number (some both) as well as a road or street name, and both house and street names are displayed on boards or plates and are recorded on maps. Unfortunately for the local historian some house names have been changed in the last one hundred years, a few more than once, and any owner can change the name of their property at any time.

A PDF of this article can be downloaded here

The 19th Century Letters of Thomas and Hannah Groves | From the Society Journal No. 2

Here is an extended piece by Norman Frost, taken from the WLHS Journal No 2 (1986). We republish it here as part of an occasional series celebrating the work of the Society over time. (A PDF of the Society’s Journal No 2 can be found here).


The following are extracts from the letters of Thomas and Hannah Groves written in the year 1851 when they visited London in order that Thomas should receive medical treatment for a growth on his face. We are very much indebted to Mrs Marjorie Rathbone (a great-great-granddaughter of Thomas Groves) for not only preserving these letters over the years but also for allowing the use of them for this article. When quoting the contents of the letters, spelling and punctuation (or lack of it) is as in the original.  

Thomas was born on the 3 June 1789 and died on the 12 July 1860. The 1851 census shows Thomas and Hannah living with their family at Elms Farm in Shipton Road, Milton under Wychwood. He is described as a mason employing 16 men and a farmer of 12 acres on which he employed one man. His wife Hannah was born in 1792 and died in 1870. They are both buried in Milton churchyard. Members of his family, employees and local inhabitants are mentioned in the letters and a brief description of each one is given in the final paragraph of this article.   

Thomas Groves visited Dr Batty of South Newington, Middlesex for treatment in the summer of 1851. He and Hannah were able to obtain lodgings in the Pegasus Tavern near to Dr Batty’s residence.

In an undated letter Hannah wrote: ‘we was much put to get lodgin we thought we couldnt get a bed in the place we pay 2 pound a week at this place your father is so well he has never been laid up one day since we have been from home that is a great comfort to me in a strange  place’.  

On 25 July Thomas writes:   

‘Mr Batty informs me that he can cure my face’.  

On 1 August he again writes:   

‘I received Sarahs letter yesterday and was happy to heare you are all well and that Alfred is able to get out in the mornings I have named his case to Mr Batty and he say^.he must leave off those destructive pills He says he will send him something that will remove it’.  

On 4 August he is obviously anxious about his mason’s business:  

‘Have Alfred seen Harwood of Charlbury about the rim of the arch is the coping set on Upstones wall [Upstones lived at what is now Holly Corner, Upper Milton] Use plenty of lime in the foundations of the bridge’.  

8 August:   

‘Mr Batty has taken the lump off my face this morning they put in arches here like the one I have sketched [drawing of  elliptical arch of the style used by Isambard Brunei when building the Great Western Railway a few years earlier] if the centre is made as I proposed’you will want 4 or 5 stiff pieces of larch large enough to make two it would be better to stand on edge 5″ by 8″ or 9″ and 20″ long Matthew had better do it be sure to have it strong enough’.   

11 August:   

‘I am pleased to hear you are getting on with the bridge hope you will endeavour to please Mr Bayliss’.

14 August:   

‘Philip if you have finished at the quarry you had better get the harvest started but let it stand till ripe have Matthew finished The Carfax how does the old arches turn out’.  

A very cheerful letter is dated the 21 August:   

‘Dear Children, Pleased to hear that you are all well and that you have plenty of business and plenty of money and to inform you that we had £10 pound off Uncle Silman if Edward should come he may bring us some cash for this is a very expensive place’.  

However a following undated letter was very much back to business:  

‘Dear Edwin, I should be obliged if you would call on Mrs Edward if she has not been to pay her rent Also if John Miles and Richard should pay thers you must not give them anything back as we have to pay the takesis (taxes) and that is 8 or 10 shillings a year and ther rent is £3-3s a year and Mrs Edwards £3-10s’.  

On 4 September:   

‘Pleased to hear the bridge is making good progress should wish to have the ashlar for the parropet etc worked well as the season is rapidly advancing for using to much mortar Philip had better set on more men to get out more [stone ?] block if he takes on more men it may be getting dry and fit for use how is he coping with the harvest you may get the coping sawed for the bridge as soon as you can and some of the best dry block your coping on the wing walls will finish under the string courses Sarah will please bring me a warmer waistcoat’.  

A very descriptive letter follows on 1 October:   

‘I fear you will think we have quite forgot as I have not rote to you before my hand has been shaking that I could not rite We left Purfleet yesterday morn at 10 oclock by boat to Blackwall then took train and came to London took a cab and came to the Bank and took the bus I gave order to the conductor to put us down at Rathbourn Place instead of that he took us nearly to Camden Town we had to walk to Woborn Place took a bus then to South Place your mother was tired down we took a coop of tea and spent a very pleasant evening after a very tiresome day Send me a line today to say how you get on with the bridge if the plowing is wanting to be done get Pratts team plant some winter beans if you think best Tell Ellen you must let her please herself about staying with us another year’.  

Evidently one of his men had an accident for on 31 October he writes:

‘Pleased to hear R Pitts is likely to occupy his place so soon and trust it will be a warning to him to fasten the ladder How are you getting on in the feild and in the quarry do not come from the quarry without a load of wallstones let them be chopt a little off the rough and be laid at the end of the house on the left of the stable door opposite Mr Bursons door or Alfreds shop Your mother says she shall want a great many loads when you have time you may draw some mortar by doing so you will oblige your affectionate Father & Mother T & H Groves’.   

The good news came on 1 November:   

‘I am just returned from Mr Batty and he says my face is perfectly cured of the disease I wrote tonight as I knew you would be very pleased do not talk much about it the less the better at present’.  

21 November:   

‘We intend coming home by the Moreton coach if we can if we cannot we must come by the other to the top of Burford Hill hoping that we shall arrive safe please send the rag cloak yours affectionately T & H Groves’.  

These extracts are but a small selection of the total so carefully kept by Mrs Rathbone. The total lack of any punctuation and the rapid change of subject require them to be read very carefully. However, they do give a good idea of life 130 years ago.

The remarks about the cost of living in London would apply equally well today. London apparently had quite a comprehensive transport system from the remarks made by Thomas when travelling by boat, train, cab and horsedrawn omnibus, even if the conductors were not too reliable. With today’s banking services it is easy to forget the problems of those days when one must have had to carry any cash that was likely to be needed.  

Unfortunately I have yet to discover a great deal about the masonry work that made Thomas so anxious – I would particularly like to know more about his elliptical arches.  

Of the names mentioned in his letters I have been able to discover a little more. George, his eldest son, was born on 25 September 1817 and died on 2 August 1886. He is buried in Milton churchyard. At the time of these letters he was married to Charlotte (nee Pargetter of Lutterworth) who was nine years his junior. Their first child, also Thomas, was born  in May the next year and was followed by seven more children. At this time he shared a house with his brother Phillip at Upper Milton but later moved to Jubilee Lane. On his father’s death he took over the Milton quarries.  

Philip was born in 1821 and also became a stonemason. He died on 9 April 1900 and was buried in Milton churchyard where his wife Mary, who predeceased him on 18 May 1860, was also buried. Sarah was Thomas’s only daughter. She married twice but had no children. She and her first husband, James Ellis, had a bakery and grocery shop in Milton High Street. They are both buried in Milton churchyard.  

Edwin, the third son, was born on 20 December 1825 and was unmarried when he died on 13 April 1873. He had a tailor’s business in the High Street next to the Baptist chapel.  

Alfred the youngest son, was born on 28 December 1826 and died on 16 January 1914. He is buried in the Baptist burial ground at Milton. Locally he is possibly the best known of the family as he carried on the family business as a stonemason at The Elms and formed the modern company of Alfred Groves & Sons. His first wife, Ann Shepard, bore him three children but died in 1855. His second wife, Mary Reynolds, gave him another ten children and thereby ensured the direction of the family business unto the present day.  

Matthew was Thomas Groves’ younger brother, born in Shipton in 1796. He was a carpenter by trade and lived with his wife Ann Sophia Pratt from Leicestershire in Milton High Street next to the Butcher’s Arms. So far we believe they had three children, some of whose descendants correspond regularly with this society.   

Ellen Miles was a living-in servant to the Groves family. Thomas’s remark ‘tell Helen she must please herself about staying’ was presumably a reference to the end of her year of service when a servant would then go to the hiring fair (possibly Burford Fair) to seek employment for the coming year. Thomas gave her the option of staying with them. Evidently she thought they were good employers and we can see in subsequent letters (not quoted here) that she stayed. Her parents Richard and Elizabeth (nee Puddle) were tenants of Thomas Groves and lived in a now demolished cottage on the site of Poplar Farm Close. From Thomas’s letter their rent was £3 3s a year.  

The tenants quoted in these letters were John and Jane Miles (nee Hunt) who lived in Lower Milton. They were in their late seventies and obviously John was beyond working as a farm labourer as both were living on parish relief.  

The last tenants to be noted were Thomas Edwards and his wife who lived in a cottage on the Shipton Road at Milton, possibly now part of the present house ‘Hoplands’. They were both newcomers to the village. They had three children and Thomas worked for Groves as a plasterer.    

Information used to supplement these letters was obtained from:  

Family papers in the possession of Mrs Marjorie Rathbone.  

1842 Milton under Wychwood Tithe Returns.  

1851 Oxfordshire Census.  

Milton under Wychwood Graveyard Surveys compiled by Jack Chapman.  

Acknowledgements are made to Roy Groves of Illinois U.S.A., Keith Barrie of Newport Beach, Australia and Keith Miles of Milton for information received

The Burford – Shipton Omnibus: A Note from the Past

Here is short piece by Norman Frost, taken from the WLHS Journal No 2 (1986). We republish it here as part of an occasional series celebrating the work of the Society over time. (A PDF of the Society’s Journal No 2 can be found here).


The Burford-Shipton omnibus was started in 1870 by William Matthews. In 1888, the date of this timetable, the proprietor was T. Paintin & Son who ran the coach three times a day to connect with trains at Shipton station. The journey time was a little under one hour.

The Burford-Shipton Omnibus

They also ran a daily coach to Witney Station, leaving at 9.15am and returning at 5.05pm. The first Witney station was opened on 13 November 1861 when the Witney Railway opened its line to Yarnton Junction near Oxford. On the 15 January 1873 the East Gloucestershire Railway opened its line from Fairford to a junction with the Witney Railway just south of the old Witney station. A new station was opened on the East Gloucester line and the old station was used for goods traffic. It is still in use today but sadly without its railway.

Burford Omnibus Service Poster

The timetable is headed with the title ‘The Original Burford Omnibus Service’. This in conjunction with the final paragraph suggests that there had been competition for these services. A little over thirty years after this timetable was printed the service ceased. A photograph taken about this time shows the coach in Shipton station in a run down condition and near the end of its days. The proprietor was then Walter Holloway.

Bones under the Pew

Here is short and somewhat mischievous piece by Jack Howard-Drake, taken from the WLHS Journal No 2 (1986). We republish it here as part of an occasional series celebrating the work of the Society over time. (A PDF of the Society’s Journal No 2 can be found here).


In October 1732, Sir Thomas Read and George Read were granted a faculty or licence by the Bishop ‘to appropriate a Place in the Parish Church of Shipton under Whichwood commonly called or known by the name of the Scull house being under the respective Pews or Seates of the aforesaid Sir Thomas Read Bart and George Read Esq.,…’. They were to dig another ‘Scull house’ near the old one ‘to put all sculls and bones in for the future’ and were granted the old ‘Scull house to be a Dormitory or place of Buryall’ for their families provided they kept it in ‘constant and decent’ repair at their own expense.

Efforts to locate these ‘Scull houses’ with any certainty have so far proved unsuccessful. They were presumably under what is now known as the Read chapel. The old one, which became the Read’s family burial place, measured about fourteen feet from north to south and about nine feet from east to west, measurements which are difficult to reconcile with those of the present chapel, the floor of which is at two different levels above the main floor of the church. There is perhaps a clue in what appears to be the top of an arched entrance to a vault low down on the outside of the east wall immediately under the centre of the memorial window.

It is within living memory that the area of the chapel was screened off from the rest of the church and that the Pepper family used the small door on the south side to go in and out unobserved. But we have so far failed to find any record of the building of the chapel in its present form.

We should be glad of any information which might help us to discover the history of these burial places and the use of the chapel for the private pews of the local gentry.

A Wychwoods Farming Year 1854–55 | From the Archive

Here is an extended piece by Wendy and Jim Pearse, taken from the WLHS Journal No 15 (2000). We republish it here as part of an occasional series celebrating the work of the Society over time. (A PDF of the Society’s Journal No 15 can be found here).

The farming year begins in the autumn after harvest. The previous crops are carried and stacked and the land lies waiting, in anticipation of the next agricultural cycle.

October
The sowing month for autumn crops. The soil has been ploughed and harrowed to a tilth suitable to receive the seed. Sacks of corn, a half peck measure, guide flags and a seed lip are taken to the field in a horse drawn cart. The sower can then set up his first flag near the straightest traverse of the field.

He begins his measured pace across the field, the seed lip of corn filled by the half peck measure, suspended from his shoulders by leather straps, each handful of seed cast in a sweeping arch in concert with the rhythm of his pace. Flags are regularly moved into position to guide his progress across the field.

The crop may be wheat, rye, beans or vetches and once the sowing is completed, horses will drag the harrows over the field to cover the seed. Hopefully soil conditions will be on the dry side, sticky mud on boots makes heavy going and several miles may need to be walked in one day.

A number of trains run through the valley daily since the completion of the Oxford, Worcester and Wolverhampton Railway only a year ago. During construction the necessary earthworks caused great disruption to farmers especially in Ascott where the line of the railway interrupted the access to their fields on the west and north sides of the parish and after a period of nearly eight centuries abruptly severed Ascott d’Oyley Manor from its associated village.

In the fields the sound of the trains approaching will compete with robins and wrens singing in the hedgerows. Rooks are not welcome – their voracious quest for newly sown seed will soon thin out the crop. At this time, potatoes for humans and mangolds for cattle are also harvested and the sheep are progressively penned with hurdles over the turnip fields.

November
With autumn sowing completed, the farmer’s attention turns to spring crops. Large heaps of manure cleared from cattle sheds during the previous year, which have been left to heat up and rot down, are loaded on to muck carts and taken to the fields.

Once unloaded into a number of heaps, the labourers can then use their four tined forks to spread an even layer across the land ready to be ploughed in. Robins frequently appear alongside the labourers, their bright eyes scanning eagerly for worms. Autumn fogs and frosts can create an eerie atmosphere to this task with steaming manure and the misty breath of men and horses rising up into the air.

This month also sees the harvesting of swedes for sheep fodder and carrots for human consumption. Maintenance jobs are undertaken. Road repairs, field drainage operations and the important winter occupations, hedge laying to maintain stockproof hedges and ditch clearing to ensure the free flow of field drains.

December
The month for winter ploughing. Although the use of individual strips to denote ownership is no longer required due to the recent enclosures, the time honoured practise of maintaining the ridge and furrow system is still continued. Ridge and furrow aids surface drainage and ensures at least a reasonable crop on the ridges in a wet season and the furrows in a dry season.

The ploughman will position his ploughteam, probably horses but oxen may still be used, on the field headland in line with the first ridge. The first plough furrow will be cut along the top of the ridge, the share making the horizontal cut about five inches below the surface while the coulter makes the vertical side cut and the mould board turns the furrow slice over to the right hand side of the plough.

The ploughteam proceeds around the ridge in a clockwise direction ensuring the soil is turned uphill to maintain the ridge. The ploughman needs to keep a firm grip to steady the plough against the thrust of the soil which will tend to force the plough sideways downhill.

When the ploughing on this ridge is completed and the furrow opened, the ploughman will commence on the top of the next ridge. The headlands will be ploughed last to complete the field. An acre a day will be the ploughman’s aim in which time he will walk about ten miles.

During ploughing rooks may perform their only deed of assistance to the farmers. Following closely behind the ploughman, they will consume from each furrow, quantities of wireworms and other insect grubs and larvae which would otherwise remain active in the soil and cause damage to the spring crop. Hopefully the ensuing months will bring some frost and snow to break down the soil to a fine tilth to form the seedbed for the spring corn.

Throughout the winter, cows, calves and fattening cattle will be kept in stalls and yards, their foodstuffs carried to them at regular times during the day. They will also need to be provided with a supply of water and bedding straw.

January
With land work possibly held in abeyance by the weather, threshing the last season’s crop is the main occupation for the agricultural labourers in the large threshing barns. A sheaf of wheat is spread out on the threshing floor and two men working to a rhythm alternately beat the ears of corn with flails, to knock out the grains. Certainly not an easy task and one that requires a large amount of elbow grease.

Once the ears are empty, the straw is collected and stacked and the grain is shovelled up ready for winnowing. The high wide doorways not only give access to horses and waggons but create a good through draught which is part of the winnowing process. Shovels of corn are thrown up into the air so that the draught will blow the dust and chaff away from the grains.

Threshing and winnowing are hard monotonous tasks lasting several months but necessary to acquire the new seed to sow, animal feed and grain for sale.An alternative job during drier spells is the spreading of very short well-rotted manure on pasture land to aid early spring growth of grass.

February
Fills the dyke, either black or white. Often the month causing the most awkward and difficult conditions for man and beast. Frost plays havoc with water supplies when it is essential to satisfy the thirst of all farm animals. For some obscure reason cattle especially seem to drink more in frosty weather. Frozen mangold clamps cause problems with sheep fodder. Eggs crack in the nestboxes of hens. And any delayed land work can be impossible to pursue, especially when temperatures remain constantly below freezing.

Snow causes problems with movement of animals and other goods and roads may become impassable or slippery. It may be necessary for the horses to be fitted with snowshoes – a type of horseshoe with protruding nails that gives a horse some measure of grip in snow and ice.

This month may well be an extremely busy time for blacksmiths since the shoes will need to be changed as required, depending on the variations of the weather.

March
The busiest time of year for shepherds and a fickle month for weather – cold, wet, windy or all three. Time to build a lambing pen, constructed of hurdles, windproofed with straw cladding and well-littered with bedding straw. The more protection provided for the new-born lambs, the greater the number that will survive and as shepherds are often paid per lamb, a successful lambing season is important for both shepherd and farmer.

Shepherding is a lonely job with little sleep during the peak of the season, the shepherd continually patrolling his flock using only the soft glow of his horn lantern to avoid scaring the ewes. Odd moments are spent in his hut or shelter where a drop of whisky and warmth will possibly revive the shepherd as well as poorly lambs.

March is also the month for spring sowing when all types of crops are sown including oats for horse feed, barley and carrots for humans and grass, clover and vetches for hay.

April
When many crops are beginning to germinate in the fields, the blight of the farmers’ lives is crows, rooks and jackdaws. With young birds in their nests to feed, a continual shuttle service is carried out by the parent birds which in a large flock can decimate a corn crop in a matter of days.

The prime deterrent is a crow scarer, preferably human, a young lad with a rattle and a loud voice. Not a pleasant job by any means, cold, tiring and monotonous and very poorly paid, but an extremely necessary addition to the farming structure.

Another type of aid comes in the form of peewits (lapwings or plovers), the farmers’ friend. Peewits nests with eggs will be left carefully undisturbed amongst the emerging crops because of the parent birds’ determined protection of their young.

At the sight of an approaching marauder (rook or crow) they will soar into the air and fearlessly dive at the predator until it retreats. A field with two or three peewits’ nests can be left to the birds to defend.

With the remaining crops of potatoes and mangolds safely planted, attention turns to livestock. The larger cattle will be turned out into the pastures and horses and carts will transfer the manure from pens and sheds to the expanding heap in the field.

May
With a fresh growth of spring grass and herbs in the pastures, the young calves can be turned out. Here they can exhibit the natural exuberance of the young and free, by all means of exercise, racing, jumping and kicking up their heels with pure pleasure before settling down to experience the new sensation of eating fresh young grass. With bulging sides and tired limbs they can, at the end of the day, retreat to their resting shelters and chew their cuds, enjoying the grass for the second time.

But farm labourers are less fortunate at this time since a major monotonous occupation is the elimination of weeds in the crops. It is performed mostly by hand, hoeing through long hours of daylight, although some horsehoes may be used in the root crops. Some consolation is the rippling song of numerous skylarks rising and falling overhead.

June
The hoeing of crops continues and turnips are sown for autumn feed for sheep. But now is the time for shearing the sheep when the rise in the wool indicates the natural time to shed the fleece. Washing the sheep in the wash pools ensures a clean fleece which fetches a higher price.

But whether the loss of dirt will reduce the weight sufficiently to negate the extra value is debatable. Washing which involves rubbing and squeezing to rid the fleece of as much dirt as possible occurs several days before shearing and both processes are accompanied by a tremendous amount of bleating from lambs who are temporarily separated from their mothers, to keep them out of harm’s way while their mothers are attended to. Hand-shears are used, a skilled man can shear four sheep in an hour.

Occasionally a cut will occur which is instantly treated with Stockholm tar to cauterize the wound. The fleeces are rolled and tied and packed into woolsacks ready for dispatch to the buyers.

July
If the weather is favourable, haymaking will begin towards the end of June, but is in full swing throughout July. The grass is mown by scythes. The labourers work in line cutting a swathe of grass which is left behind each of them as they work across the field. Now women and children take over.

The swathes are spread thinly over the ground to ensure maximum exposure to sun and wind. Later the grass is raked into smaller rows called wallies which are frequently turned to allow the moisture to evaporate until the crop becomes a sweet smelling, rustling hay. Throughout this process the fields are alive with several varieties of butterflies seeking pollen and nectar from the wild flowers and herbs growing amongst the grass whilst swallows and swifts fly overhead.

The hay is raked and built into rows of cocks – small stacks of hay as much as a man can lift on a seven foot pitchfork up to the waggon. The horse and waggon are then led between two rows, a pitcher goes to each row and one man on the waggon to build te load. No one leads the horse. His or her name is the command to move forward and whoa is the word to stop. When the load is completed and roped, the horse and waggon are led to the rickyard where the hay is built into ricks.

The amount of time required for haymaking depending on the quality and age of the grass and hopefully dry weather varies from three to seven days. Spells of rain can double the making time.

August
Like haymaking, harvesting is an extremely busy season. All hours of daylight are used, sometimes under extreme pressure. The weather can suddenly turn into the enemy.

When conditions are right with both corn and weather, scythes are once more to the fore. A bow (similar to a chair back) is fitted to the scythe for harvesting. This carries the cut corn round to form the swathe instead of allowing it to fall over the handle. Barley is normally left loose and carried similarly to hay. But wheat and oats are tied into sheaves by women and children with straw bonds made from the crop, then stood into stooks by the men, each stook of six sheaves supporting each other. These are then left to get thoroughly dry.

Oats should have the church bells rung on them at least three Sundays. Finally the sheaves are carried to the rickyard whilst opportunist kestrels hover above the newly cleared fields seeking the now less protected mice. The ricks are built with all the butt ends to the outside beginning by working round the stack from the middle with a deeper layer in the middle to cause a natural slope to the outside.

Once the crop has been carried, the fields are opened to the gleaners – the poor people of the district who are free to take part. Every loose ear is a bonus – free food for hens and pigs or it can be threshed to be ground into flour.

September
Harvest complete, it is important to maintain the quality of the corn by thatching the ricks as unthatched grain will quickly sprout under wet conditions. The yealmer shakes ready-threshed straw into a heap and dampens it for strength. A number of handfuls are pulled out and using his fingers he combs the straw to form a yealm – a thatching unit. The yealms are laid in alternate directions in the angle of a forked stick – a jack. When full the jack is carried on the yealmer’s shoulder to the rick, where the thatcher carries it up the ladder to the top. He begins at the eaves and tucks the thinner end of the yealm into the roof. Then the next yealm is put in with the big end, the thinner end overlapping the first yealm. He continues to lay the yealms up the roof until he reaches the very top.

Now starting from the top and working downhill, he combs the thatch out straight with a hand rake and fastens it down with a bond or twine held into place with sprays (rick pegs) three feet long made from split ash or ha el. Up to a dozen lines of twine and sprays will be arranged across the roof. A good overhang at the eaves and gable ends will give better protection from the weather.

In preparation for the next sowing season, the clover land is manured and ploughed to enable it to settle before wheat planting takes place.

And so the farmers’ year is complete. Twelve months of wind, rain, snow, frost, hail and sun, wet days and dry spells have passed. Another sowing, another harvesting and a new crop of calves and lambs to tend. Long days, and nights of hard earned sleep, and now the next year of unknown fortune lies ahead.

Reference:
Pamela Horn, Labouring Life in the Victorian Countryside.