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Barrowby in the nineteenth century

So much happened – and was recorded – in the nineteenth century that for many local historians it is as if history starts about the time the Napoleonic Wars ended. Or that there is too much information to summarise. I hope this web site shows that there is plenty of 'local' history before about 1800. And that at least some of the later history can indeed be summarised.

Nationally the nineteenth century was a period of profound social, economic and technological change. The people of Barrowby, like most rural residents, would have largely ignored the steady succession of monarchs, overseas military conflicts, continuing colonial conquests, debates over slavery and the sort of things which generally 'headline' historical accounts.

However the massive expansion of Britain's industrial power and the trade with its empire would have influenced life at least indirectly.

Let's look briefly at the developments which would have been discussed at length in Barrowby by the men (in the public houses, smithies and cobbler's workshops) and by the women (around the village pumps).

    Just a 'for instance'. Margaret Thatcher's grandfather came from Asfordby, to the west of Melton Mowbray. He was a village cobbler in the early twentieth century. And his workshop was renowned as a place where the men of the village gathered 'to put the world to rights'. (Worley 1993) Blacksmith's workshops were similarly a place where the 'issues of the day' were fully and frankly discussed.

Agricultural problems and averted uprisings

One topic of endless debate early in the nineteenth century was ongoing problems with the agricultural economy. Enclosure had led to a shift from the self-sufficient community farming of open fields to tenant farmers employing labourers.

Hiring was on a casual basis and no payment was given if no work was done. Harvesting, hedging, ditching, threshing and such like were the main tasks. Typically labourers were paid by the day or week or by results. The farmers avoided year-long agreements so the labourers could not claim Poor Relief.

'Living in' with the farmer's household disappeared so rent had to be paid – often for occupying what was little more than a draughty, leaking hovel.

A romanticised depiction of nineteenth century workers harvesting corn (not in Barrowby).

Worse still, the end of the Napoleonic Wars led to an influx of demobilised soldiers. Pay declined because of the surplus of labour. Low pay discouraged labourers from working hard.

All this evolved into a crisis when the boom in agricultural production turned into an acute and prolonged recession. One way farmers in the Midlands found to make money was by setting themselves up as 'graziers'. In practice this entailed buying cattle from breeders in more upland areas and letting them feed on rich grass or hay for a few months to fatten them up. They were then sent to London to help meet the almost-insatiable demand for roast beef. Graziers first appear in records during the eighteenth century. Grantham and surrounding villages were well-situated for this trade being 'only' just over a hundred miles from Smithfield Market in the capital. Before the railways cattle would be 'droved' or 'drifted' along the Great North Road (now the A1). There is a second droving route, which joins the Great North Road in Rutland, on the western edge of Barrowby parish.

L.R. Cryer seemingly only mentions one grazier. John Askew Brewster was mentioned in a document dated 1882 as a 'grazier'. (Cryer 1979 p28)

A series of statutes enacted between 1815 and 1846 known as the Corn Laws kept corn prices at a high level. This measure was intended to protect English farmers from cheap foreign imports of grain. But it meant that labourers had to pay high prices for bread, their main food.

In 1819 there was a protest in Manchester against the Corn Laws which was brutal dispersed by cavalry, resulting in the deaths of eighteen protestors. This was the Peterloo Massacre.

In 1830 by agricultural workers in southern and eastern England rioted in protest at mechanised threshing and harsh working conditions. These were known collectively as the Swing Riots.

Early attempts to form a 'trade union' were dealt with especially harshly – in 1834 six agricultural labourers from the village of Tolpuddle in Dorset, England, were convicted of swearing a secret oath as members of the Friendly Society of Agricultural Labourers and sentenced to be transported to Australia (though they were subsequently pardoned). They were the Tolpuddle Martyrs.

Agricultural labourers Lincolnshire and the East Midlands generally seem to have been less keen to protest. Were the farmers and land owners a little more considerate towards them? Did the advent of framework knitting in Leicestershire and lacemaking around Nottingham provide at least some of the rural poor with alternative incomes, reducing the excess of labour available for agriculture? No doubt there was a combination of factors, but nevertheless the situation in and around Barrowby was probably far from ideal.

The Corn Laws were repealed in 1846 by the Prime Minister, Sir Robert Peel. He was remembered by the working classes as the Prime Minister who gave them cheaper bread. The pioneering police forces Peel had established in 1840 specifically to be called on in the event of more riots never had to be deployed for that purpose.

A succession of electoral and parliamentary reforms in 1832, 1867 and 1884 gave many more men the right to vote – and to do so secretly, without fear of intimidation or retribution.

But this was not what resolved the problems in rural England. It was the towns which solved the problem, specifically the increasing industrialisation of manufacturing. While Grantham was not initially at the forefront, it gathered momentum as a centre for ironworking, making the machinery which increasingly powered the farms and factories. We will never know how many young men left Barrowby to learn a skilled trade in Grantham. But it would have been a significant number.

A continual series of colonial wars around the world – such as the Crimean War (1853–56), the Second Anglo-Afghan War (1878–80) and the Boer War (1899–1902) – meant there was always a need for soldiers and sailors to enlist, although the names of men from Barrowby who served are difficult to discover before the First World War.

L.R. Cryer compiled a comprehensive list of the names of nineteenth century farmers in Barrowby and Casthorpe (Cryer 1979 p19–22).

Barrowby's tradesmen

By 1812 Barrowby had a shoemaker (recorded as a 'cordwainer'), wheelwright, butcher, a resident cabinetmaker and a boatmaker at Stenwith.

Richard Seaman was operating his smithy on Casthorpe Lane by 1810 (and was later to form a partnership with Richard Hornsby). L.R. Cryer lists Seaman's successors (many of which were wheelwrights as well as smiths – indeed several are known to have been making farming machinery) and provides details of other tradesmen operating in Barrowby, such as bakers, tailors and shoemakers Cryer 1979 p62–4).

Education was transformed

Education changes during the mid-nineteenth century from being something only for the comparatively wealthy to something that was mandatory – and secular. It is difficult to conceive of the 'great and the good' in early nineteenth century wanting to keep the 'humbler sorts' illiterate in case they read anything 'subversive'. In reality the movement towards literacy was driven by the Non-Conformist chapels who believed that everyone should be able to read the Bible for themselves, so established Sunday Schools. Considering this was only about two hundred years ago it gives a clear indication of just how modern minds – and the unquestioned assumptions contained within – have evolved.

State education started in 1833 when funds were provided for schools run by parish churches. Previously the teaching of boys in villages had usually been provided, for a fee, by the vicar.

In 1862 education funding becomes linked to pupils' success at basic tests in reading, writing and arithmetic. This was followed in 1870 by further legislation permitting new secular school boards to be set up where existing education provision in 'voluntary schools', controlled by the churches, was inadequate. This had little impact on rural areas. Indeed, as with many villages, the name of Barrowby's primary school still confirms its links with the Church of England.

Only in 1880 did education become compulsory for children between five and ten. School log books had become mandatory in 1876. Where they have survived they reveal that rural schools would have been almost empty at key times in the agricultural calendar – including taking one or two days off in the spring to pick such plants as primroses (the flowers were made into toiletries, perhaps by a chemist or 'druggist' in the village).

More details of Barrowby's school here.

The church and chapel

When the Houses of Parliament burnt down in 1834 no one would have predicted that as a consequence twenty years later nearly every parish church in England had been restored in the Gothic Revival style, or was soon to be restored in that manner. Although the medieval Gothic style had been disparaged by seventeenth and eighteenth century Classicists (the word 'Gothic' was an insult) the gist of a longer story is that 'If the Gothic Revival style is good enough for the rebuilt Houses of Parliament then it's good enough for our parish church.'

In reality it was not simply the adoption of a style of architecture, but part of a movement to reintroduce a protestant version of medieval liturgy into the Church of England. The clergy of Georgian England were good at giving over-long sermons. But the congregations had long-since got tired of preachers too fond of their own pontifications. While the 'smells and bells' of Anglo-Catholicism were a step too far, a widely-accepted compromise was reached. More details of how All Saints at Barrowby was restored here.

While the Church of England was re-inventing itself the Non-Conformist denominations were gaining strength, especially the Wesleyan Methodists (usually the better off), the Primitive Methodists (usually towards the bottom of the social scale) and Baptists. A United Methodist Free chapel was built in Barrowby in 1853. I suspect people in Barrowby who were Baptists simply travelled into Grantham – or moved there.

The number of chapels in a village of course correlates with the number of Non-Conformists. But Non-Conformists were not uniformly distributed! They tended to move to 'open' villages. These were villages where there were few controls over who moved in, almost always because there was no resident lord of the manor. In 'closed' villages the 'squire' and rector were likely to be inhospitable towards those who did not attend the parish church. Barrowby was more of a closed village than an open one as by the nineteenth century much of the land and property was owned by the Dukes of Devonshire who were certainly not resident.


In common with most villages Barrowby had several long-established charities to provide financial aid to the poor. These were supervised by a 'Guardian of the Poor' who had an Overseer and Assistant Overseer. The Charitable Trusts Act of 1853 led to various reforms, most often the amalgamation of disparate small charities.

L.R. Cryer gives details of some of Barrowby Guardians' activties in 1842, 1858, 1866 and 1885 (Cryer 1979 p58).


Records confirm there was a Parish Constable in Barrowby in 1666. Only in 1880 did Barrowby get uniformed Constables – and they were more like modern PCSOs.

L.R. Cryer gives more details and a list of some of the offences committed by Barrowby residents between 1849 and 1866 (Cryer 1979 p59–60).


To get goods to and from Grantham in 1856 one could use Ann Ireland's cart. Well, if it was a Wednesday or a Saturday.

Such carriers working to a rudimentary timetable were by then commonplace, providing an essential service for people in villages to transport produce to the nearest market town.

Between 1869 and 1885 there seem to have been two carriers providing a service between Barrowby and Grantham. In 1885 a third carrier is mentioned, who continued until 1904. In the first three decades of the twentieth century there is an increased number, with one of the carriers continuing onwards from Barrowby to Harlaxton.

Horsedrawn carts seemed to have continued until 1939, even though from 1922 onwards a regular bus service was instigated.

L.R. Cryer gives details of Barrowby's carriers (Cryer 1979 p61).

Post Office

Although we take a relaible postal service for granted, this was not the case before 1840. The impact of the revamped service was especially helpful in rural areas, even more so as the national rail network expanded, enabling speedy correspondence and parcel deliveries.

L.R. Cryer compiled a list of the names of the people who ran Barrowby's Post Office (Cryer 1979 p56).


The train line from Grantham to London would have had numerous benefits for residents of Barrowby, especialy for farmers sending livestock and produce to London, and for coal merchants bringing in their stock from the Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire mines. And for the first time it was possible to make a day trip to the capital – of great benefit to businessmen.

The earliest locomotives on the Great Northern Railway through Grantham included examples of the 'Jenny Lind' class of 2-2-2.
(This drawing does not show the GNR livery however.)

I just wonder how many villagers made their first journey by train to visit the Great Exhibition at the Crystal Palace in Hyde Park, London, in 1851. It attrracted almost six million visitors during the five summer months it was open. Many ordinary people travelled to London for the first time on cheap-rate excursion trains.

Parish councils

As the nineteenth century drew to a close, the 1894 Local Government Act required all parishes with a population over 300 to elect parish councils. And women could vote in parish council elections! So far as I am aware the early parish council records for Barrowby have not been researched (presumably they still survive in Lincolnshire Archives).

The lack of outwork

What is missing from nineteenth century accounts of Barrowby and nearby settlements is any indications of 'outwork'. Close to Nottingham there were lacemakers. In most of Leicestershire there were framework knitters producing hosiery and, at least in villages closer to Leicester, by the 1860s footwear was produced by outworkers in their own homes. By the late nineteenth century such homeworking in the hosiery and footwear trades had ceased because production relocated to factories.

The trade directories suggest that Barrowby was an entirely agricultural community. The only people not directly involved in farming were the 'support team' of sadlers, blacksmiths and millers. One of the smiths went on to be famous. And, of course, there were several bakers, butchers and providers of 'general goods'.

The clear indication of wealth

For its size Barrowby has a surprising number of historic buildings. The survival of well-built cottages and high-status 'villas', especially along Church Street and around The Grange on Low Road, is a clear indication of wealth in the nineteenth century.

If you think I've got something wrong – or can add additional information or photographs – then please email me:– bobtrubs@indigogroup.co.uk.

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what's new?

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Barrowby's location and geology

summary of prehistoric Barrowby

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Seventeenth and eighteenth centuries

Nineteenth century

nineteenth and twentieth century population

Twentieth century

guided walks in and around Barrowby

there's more could be said...


index of surnames in Cryer 1979

Articles and web links for nearby places

rare seventeenth fonts at Muston, Bottesford and Orston from Project Gargoyle Newsletter 2020

Ironstone quarries of Leicestershire
YouTube video

Wyville's wells

Harston's Anglo-Saxon carvings

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Harlaxton History Society

Bottesford History Group

Grantham Civic Society

Grantham Museum

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