Remarks on Rural Economy of the past.
By Major T. W. Huskinson.
MR. Thomas Barnard, of Epperstone, who died about the year 1873, aged about ninety-three, was fond of recalling past memories. He and his brothers had realised a moderate fortune during the Great Wars, from two or three small country tan-yards in the neighbourhood, the vast woods around providing a large supply of oak bark. About 1820, they bought the old manor-house of the Odingselles, and other property in the village and neighbourhood. Old Mr. Thomas preferred the days of the past to the days of Victoria, and indeed regretted he had not lived one hundred years earlier. In spite of his great age he had never seen the sea. During the days of George III. and George IV., he would fill his pocket full of half-crowns and ride to Doncaster for the race week. Half-a-crown appeared to be the standard price for bed, dinner, or ostler. The village was noted for well-bred horses, and in 1833 the Derby was won by a colt born in a thatched hovel in the village.
During the whole period of the Great Wars of the French Revolution, which he well remembered, the seasons were bad for farmers, and the food problem a pressing one. A miller would be fined £30 for dressing wheat-flour; the farmers eat bread of which half was barley-flour, and cottagers' bread was all barley-flour. At the same time, an old woman asserted she could glean enough wheat to keep her household in bread for the winter, and enough barley to feed a pig.
Agriculture, however, was more human than at present, no compulsory education prevented children helping in due season, and harvest time was a festival. Tenants' pigs were turned into the woods in the summer, free of toll. After harvest came the nutting; and one farmer took a waggon load of nuts to Nottingham market each year. Acorns were gathered for winter use, but the wood-fed pigs were ready for killing in the late autumn.
All the cottagers kept cows and reared calves. The girls did the milking; the first girl at "the Rock" in the centre of the village, rattled her pail for the others to join her, and they proceeded to Parsons Park, a large pasture one mile north of the village, to milk. On the 29th of May, the milkmaids decorated themselves with oak, and proceeded to the milking with Bob Hopkin the fiddler; partners turned up, and they danced and drank posset, in what is still called the "posset hole."
Except hats, nearly all that was worn was produced and made in the village; the leather tanned, boots made, yarn spun and woven. Girls of good family could keep themselves by their spinning. The power mills afterwards destroyed the livelihood and independence of girls and women in the country.
Fresh meat was not common. At the beginning of winter, a well-to-do freeholder, Mr. Briggs, killed about twenty beasts, which were sold and salted. Cottagers would buy about half or a quarter beast and salt it down; but many would eat all their share, fresh, in the approaching feast week.
There was a school generally kept by a dame or "schollard," and education was general. Tom Helmsley, the road man, was a student of Confucius and astronomy. John Cartledge, the parish clerk, was also schoolmaster for a long period of the 18th century, and several successful men came from the village.
A pretty story can be told of the early 18th century. A little orphan boy, named Birch, running about in rags, was befriended by a Miss Briggs, educated, and ultimately became one of George II.'s court physicians. Contemporary memoirs refer to the charming Dr. Birch of Richmond. He had his portrait painted by the rising artist, Joshua Reynolds, and sent it to his benefactress. It now hangs in the dining-room of her representative, Mrs. Dufty, a lady ninety-three years of age, at Epperstone, whose husband inherited the Briggs and Barnard properties. In fact, there is a strong presumption that the Briggs' freehold, with the site of its ancient toftstead, has come in descent from before the Conquest.
The Wastes of the Parish appear to have been about 1,200 acres, and were enclosed or "approved" as far back as Edward II.'s reign, under the Statutes of Merton, which allowed lords to enclose their wastes, so long as sufficient grazing land was left for the freeholders. There were three Manor Lordships in Epperstone, and the opinions of lords and freeholders, as to what was "sufficient," often differed. One of the Epperstone lords, an Odingsells, got into trouble and lost his case to the freeholders. From the numerous disputes arising from these approvements, springs the agitators' fiction of the robbery of the the commons from the people; but the only claimants injured were the freeholders, in many cases.
The general enclosure of the arable fields and meadows of Epperstone took place under Act of Parliament, 1768 to 1770, every interest being jealously guarded. It was really an exchange of widely separated freehold strips.
The following are the awards to owners:—
|Rector, in lieu of tithe||225||3||I|
|Hon. W. Howe (Manorial propertyof the Fee of Limesi)|
|John Odingselles Leek (Ditto)||137||1||9|
|Elizabeth Tottie and Wm. Thorpe|
|(Manorial property fee of De Busli)||114||1||21|
From this list, it wopld appear that of the sixteen socmen or freeholders, mentioned in Domesday, some five or six such interests had survived.
The small acre pieces represent squatters, who had established a freehold cottage by prescription, and as such were held to have some claim on the forty or fifty acre Common Waste, still left not "approved" in 1768.