Bk. 2: Isaac Gaskarth: Charles Proby: John Watson: William de Pipe Belcher: Alfred J. Sandilands: Percival R. R. Sandilands: Edward Sandford: Edward A. Sandford: William O. Leadbitter: Andrew C. Neely: Charles W. Cotes. VICARS OF DENFORD CUM RINGSTEAD. (Also some curates including Robert Morgan Vane: Thomas Brownrigg: Thomas Symonds: Benjamin Clay: Charles Chalklen: Edward Bowman: John G. Rogers.

Bk. 2: Isaac Gaskarth: Charles Proby: John Watson: William de Pipe Belcher: Alfred John Sandilands: Percival Richard Renorden Sandilands: Edward Sandford: Edward Armitage Sandford: William Oram Leadbitter: Andrew Cavendish Neely: Charles William Cotes. VICARS OF DENFORD CUM RINGSTEAD. (Also some curates including Robert Morgan Vane: Thomas Brownrigg: Harrrison Packard: Thomas Martin Symonds: Benjamin Clay: Charles William Chalklen: Edward Bowman: John Gurney Rogers: Edward Kitson.)


It may come as some surprise that the smaller village of Denford had for centuries been the senior church of the Denford cum Ringstead Parish joint parish. The two ‘vicarages’ were linked from before 1535 and Ringstead was described as a chapelry which means that weddings could not be solemnized there. Nevertheless the Ringstead Marriage Register starts on November 26th1569. The relationship between the two churches is therefore somewhat unclear but we do know that the incumbent always seemed to have lived in a vicarage in Denford. John Glassbrook, an eighteenth century vicar, wrote a Memorandum in the Denford Parish Registers in 1763:

When I was first Vicar I found the two Parishes contesting about Ecclesiastical Superiority. I happen'd this year to meet accidentally with Brown Willis Esq. (one of the most eminent Antiquarians this Day in England) who answer'd me upon good Grounds that Denford was the Mother Church and that Ringstead originally was no more than a Chapel of Ease. This information is able to support itself but what in my opinion adds weight and strength to it is This, That the Parish of Ringstead is oblig'd to repair some Part of the Wall belonging to the Churchyard of Denford and I am credibly inform'd that it can be proved at this time by living Witnesses that it has been so repaired.

There was also a vicarage in Ringstead in first part of the nineteenth century but it may be that this was always the residence of the curate.

Certainly the same ‘incumbent’ had always had charge of both churches until recent times and these are recorded as far back as Peter of Chester in 1237. Of course, originally these priests would have been Roman Catholic. Starting with Henry VIII’s break with Rome the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries were a time of religious turmoil when the church was splintered high and low. In 1662, after the restoration of Charles II to the throne after Cromwell’s Commonwealth, an Act of Uniformity was introduced. This laid down that all clergy and Government officials should take an oath to follow the rites and prayers prescribed in a new Book of Common Prayer. Over two thousand clergymen refused and were expelled from the Church of England. Henry Raymond, the curate at Ringstead was one of these ‘Two Thousand Worthies’. Another of these ’Worthies’ from Desborough set up a church at Rowell (Rothwell). The local nonconformists made the long trek there until in 1714 forty-three people broke off from Rothwell and set up the Baptist Church in Ringstead. The division and occasional bitterness of this break from the Church of England smouldered in Ringstead throughout the nineteenth century, erupting into rows over education in the 1890s.


Isaac Gaskarth (1752 -1811) VICAR 1777 - 1811

We are looking at the nineteenth century in these lives so our first vicar is Isaac Gaskarth who was appointed the vicar of Denford cum Ringstead on 18th July 1777. These ‘livings’ were owned by wealthy patrons who would install their chosen man, although their choice had to be affirmed by the Bishop. In Isaac’s case his patron was the local Lord of the Manor, Leonard Burton.

Isaac had been born in Crosthwaite in Cumberland and was christened there on 26thNovember 1752. The exact sequence of Isaac’s career is a little unclear but we do know that he was ordained as a deacon at the Bishop of Durham’s Chapel within the Castle at Bishop Auckland. Two years later, on 13th July 1777, he was ordained by the Bishop of Durham as a priest and five days later was appointed to the vacant vicarage at Denford cum Ringstead

The Gaskarths of north-west England were linked to the aristocracy but if there was any connection it was a distant one. We know that Isaac was admitted as a ‘Sizar’ to St John’s College, Cambridge. A Sizar would have had a grant probably in the form of free meals or lower lodging costs. In return he would, perhaps, have had to do menial jobs for the better-off, full fee-paying students. Exactly how and when he gained a degree, M.A. and Bachelor of Divinity is again not clear. It seems that his B.D was obtained as a ‘Ten Year Man’ at Easter 1790. Isaac would have matriculated (enrolled) at St John’s College on July 7th 1779 and then, as long as he was over twenty-four years of age, he could qualify after ten years had passed without having been tested in any way. As the Cambridge M.A. could then be obtained, again merely by the passage of time, it appears that his studying was not a great hardship for Isaac. Is it possible that he spent some of the term in Cambridge and much of his parochial work was done by a curate? This ‘Ten Year’ practice was not often used and was abolished in the middle of the nineteenth century

One of Isaac’s earliest actions after he was appointed vicar was to apply, in 1778, for a Gamekeeper’s Licence. This may seem a little odd for the local vicar. Was he moonlighting for extra income? The reason for his application can be explained by the laws of the ‘game’ at this date which would soon be challenged and mainly swept away.

E.V. Bovill explains, in English Country Life 1780- 1830, how the system worked:

Under an Act of 1671 the killing of game was prohibited, in general terms, to all except owners of land worth £100 a year, lessees of land worth £150 a year, the eldest sons of esquires or of persons of higher degree and the owners of franchises. A curious anomaly was that if an esquire or a person of higher degree had not the necessary qualifications to kill game, his eldest son was not debarred from doing so. Another was that although a lord of the manor might grant the right to kill game to his gamekeeper he might not do so to his younger sons. This led to younger sons sometimes engaging themselves as keepers in order to secure the right to shoot. The owners of only a few acres could not enjoy the game their fields harboured, and which destroyed their crops, unless they could persuade a qualified neighbour to shoot it for them.

It seems that Isaac was obtaining a Gamekeeper’s Licence so that he could shoot and fish on his patron, Leonard Burton’s land and also, perhaps, some of his neighbours.

The living must have suited Isaac  for he stayed thirty-four years in his post. We see, in the Northampton Mercury of 7thApril 1804, that he was supplementing his income by taking paying students into Denford Vicarage. He advertises for ‘four young gentlemen’ to be given lessons in ’the Rudiments of the Greek and Latin Languages preparatory to their Entrance into any of the public schools’. It is from this advertisement that we know that he has an M.A. but whether obtained through hard study is unclear. We will briefly refer to this advertisement again.

In 1806 Isaac also took over as rector of Islip, a living with a value of £275 a year. It was still possible to hold more than one living with the permission of the Bishop. Of course today, with smaller congregations and difficult economic times the Church of England has again been forced to gather parishes together under one vicar or rector. At this time it was often a way fo gaining extra income without doing anything for it. It appears that at this point a clergyman called Daniel Crofts was appointed as curate of Ringstead. We can see this from the Parish Registers. From July 1796 until December 1808 all the christenings and until January 28th 1809 all the burials are performed by Isaac but from then until Isaac’s death they are all registered by the curate, Daniel Crofts.

Daniel came from a family of clergymen in Lewes in Sussex where Croft memorials still line the walls of the church. He had attended Kimbolton School and then Christ's College, Cambridge where he gained his B.A. in 1809 (or possibly late 1808). His first post was as curate of Ringstead and he then moved on to become Rector of Shelton in Bedfordshire where he continued until his death in 1866. Once appointed, barring gross misconduct, a vicar had a job for life whereas a curate had no security of tenure and could be removed at a whim.

Returning to Isaac Gaskarth, it has ofen proved more difficult to fill in the details of the clergymen's families than for most of their congregation. They may be at best only a brief footnote in Burke's Peerage but, as with many of the upper classes, their social lives often covered a wide geographical area and few. if any, were baptised, married and had children near Denford or Ringstead. Isaac Gaskarth was no exception. As we have said, he came from Cumberland and in his Will he mentions his sister, Sarah, and a Thomas Gaskarth, who is almost certainly his brother. We are sure, therefore, that he was the son of John and Sarah Gaskarth and had, besides Sarah and Thomas, at least two other brothers, John and James.

Unfortunately for us, there are a number of Isaac Gaskarths in Cumberland. We know that there was an Isaac who agreed to a bond of £200 for a licence to marry Elizabeth Coward on 29th December 1766 in the parish of Windermere. This couple had at least four children of whom two were called Isaac, the first named having died at just four years of age. Another Isaac Gaskarth married Jane Porter at Crosthwaite in 1791 and had three children. Our Isaac would have been very young for the first marriage and for the second would have been living in the Ringstead area. There was also the ambiguous evidence of the advertisement in the Northampton Mercury on 7th April 1804 for "four young gentlemen" to study the "Rudiments of the Greek and Latin Languages". The place for the teaching is "eight miles from Wellingborough and four from Thrapston" so it is certainly Ringstead or Great Addington rather than Denford but there are four clergymen to whom applicants can apply so we cannot be completely certain that the "Married Clergyman" who is to do the teaching is Isaac. There is also no sign of the burial of a wife of Isaac after this time.

All we can say is that there is a possibility that Isaac had been married. We do know that he did marry by licence to Rebecca West on 9th August 1810. His wife was a twenty-seven year old "spinster" and Isaac, some thirty years her senior, is described as a "bachelor". If this was his first marriage he would not be the last Ringstead clergyman to marry late in life.

Isaac made a Will later that same year, on 12th October 1810, and he died just over a year later on 2nd December 1811. He was fifty-eight years old. One of his first recorded acts in the Parish had been to take out a Gamekeeper’s Licence most probably so that he could fish on the Nene. One of his last was to bequeath to Lord of the Manor, Leonard Burton:

. . . his fishing-rods, fishing lines, hooks, nets and whatever belongs to the amusement of angling

Ringstead had, and still has, a name for its fishing and Isaac would not be the last incumbent to be a field sportsman. He was also something of a craftsman it seems for he left to:

. . . Thomas Porter, son of John Porter [his long-serving Parish Clerk] his Turning Lathe and all my tools belonging to the Art of Turning. Also I give and bequeath all other Tools, Instruments and Goods in my Workshop to my godson William Geary of Denford Lodge. Also I give and bequeath to the said William Geary the sum of Ten Pounds.

He left similar amounts to Jane, the daughter of Ann Geary and to his Parish Clerk, John Porter as well as to Thomas Gaskarth, of Bridge End near Keswick, for the maintenance of Isaac's sister Sarah.

After these few bequests he left the residue of his estate, including a house in Great Addington, to his new wife, Rebecca. In the Poll Book of 1806 Isaac is shown as having a vote at Denford but his residence is at Ringstead so it may be that the Vicarage for the joint Parish was in Ringstead at this time. It was in  Ringstead churchyard that he was buried on December 9th 1811.


Charles Proby (c1765 – 1822) VICAR 1812 - 1822

The next vicar appointed was Charles Proby who was born on 20th January 1765. He was the eldest son of Captain Charles Proby who was the Commissioner of the Naval Dockyard at Chatham. Once again he was on the fringes of the aristocracy. The Proby family seat was Elton Hall in Huntingdonshire. Charles married twice, firstly, in 1791, to Susan Cherry whose father was Chairman of the Victualling Board and secondly, on 6thJanuary 1796 to his cousin Catherine Proby who was the second daughter of Baptist Proby, the Dean of Lichfield.

In 1781, at the age of sixteen, he had matriculated at St John’s College, Cambridge, as many of the Denford cum Ringstead vicars of this period had, He gained his B.A. in 1785 and his M.A. in 1789. Charles then entered the Inner Temple in 1789 but seems never to have pursued a legal career. For many of his class the choice was the military, the law or the clergy. It was the latter that he chose for he was ordained as a deacon at Winchester, in 1790, and as a priest by the Bishop of Peterborough on 29thJune, 1792. His path was set and he became a curate at Tansor in the same year. A year later he was appointed the Rector of Stanwick. He also seems to have acquired the parish of Slawston in Leicestershire in 1802. In 1808 he was ‘collated’ by the Bishop of Lincoln to the Prebend of Lafford or New Sleaford. This was by this time just an honorary title, usually given to senior clergymen for good service and meant he could sit in the prebendal stalls, which were behind the choir, when attending a service.

On the 12th March 1812, following the death of Isaac Gaskarth, Charles was appointed to Denford with the chapelry of Ringstead. Except at his appointment and death he always seems to be referred to as the Rector of Stanwick and it would seem that most of the work of the joint parish fell to his younger curates. In 1812 the curate was Robert Morgan Vane who again was connected to the aristocracy. He was born 4thOctober 1785, the eldest son of Morgan Vane of Bilby Hall in Nottinghamshire. Unusually for the local clergy at this time, he went in 1804 to Emmanuel College in Cambridge gaining his B.A. in 1808 and his M.A. in 1811. He was ordained as a priest in 1812 and became curate of Denford and Ringstead in the same year. He moved on to become Rector of Lowick and Islip in 1816 which he held until 1842, a post that he combined with being chaplain to the Duke of Dorset.

Robert Morgan Vane’s successor as curate was Thomas Brownrigg. He had been the curate at Rushden and on the 6thJuly 1816 was appointed to Denford cum Ringstead. He was there for just two years, which was often about the length of time that curates served in a small parish before moving on to another curacy or vicarage.

It was during Thomas’s time as curate that the frame for the bells was repaired. On Saturday February 8th 1817 the Northampton Mercury had an advertisement for:

Any competent Person who wishes to engage in putting the FRAMES of the BELLS in complete repair , are requested to inspect the same and give in their respective Estimate to JOSEPH BETTS and WM GEARY. Churchwardens of the Parish of Ringstead, Northamptonshire

Ringstead January 29th 1817

The church fabric was perhaps beginning to show the signs of rot and decay that would leave it in a ruinous state some forty years later.

We know little more of what he did apart from officiating at 35 baptisms, 10 weddings and 15 burials, but we do have some idea of how his house was furnished. The Northampton Mercury for 28thFebruary 1818 has an advertisement for the sale of the household furniture and other effects of the Reverend Mr. Brownrigg of Ringstead who was ‘removing to Yorkshire’. The fact that he is said to be ‘of Ringstead’ implies that he was living in the vicarage there. The sale is of:

Handsome mahogany dining, Pembroke and other Tables; modern mahogany Chairs (horse-hair Seats);Scotch Carpets, hearth Rugs, mahogany writing Desk, ditto dinner Tray, tea Trays, Caddie &c; Bath Stove, Grates, Fenders and fire Irons, four-post and other Bedsteads, in cotton and check Furniture; well seasoned feather and flock Beds, Blankets and Counterpanes; bed-side Carpets; dressing Tables and Glasses, oak dining and other Tables, oak Bureau; deal painted Bookcase, with Drawers; Rumford Roaster, complete; two kitchen Grates and kitchen Requisites in general, in Copper, Brass, Iron, Tin &c., Glass and Earthenware and various other Articles, which are expressed in Catalogues to be had at the White Hart Inn, Thrapston, Green Dragon, Higham Ferrers, at the Place of Sale; and of the Auctioneers, Irthlingborough.

Thomas moved to Bramham in Yorkshire and in 1841 we see him there aged 76 as a “Clerk in Orders”. Looking after him is a female servant called Ann Winterburn. Would it be a lonely, solitary decline into his grave? Not quite. On 26th September 1844, aged 79 he married thirty-six year old Ann. It seems to have been a happy marriage for Thomas, when he died some four years later, left an annuity of £50 as well as:

All my furniture plate linen china pictures wearing apparel and such of my books as she shall select and other household effects of which I shall die possessed unto my dear wife Ann.

In 1818, at about the time that Thomas Brownrigg was leaving, the Government had set up a Select Committee which was asking every parish to make returns on what educational facilities were available for the poor. The returns for Stanwick, Denford and Ringstead were signed by Charles Proby but it looks as if the information for the latter two parishes was produced by a curate called ‘H. Packarde’ and countersigned by Charles as the vicar. This curate is not on the Church of England clergymen online database but we know that it was Harrison Packard . The return for Stanwick is interesting in that we see a little of Charles Proby’s attitude. He observes

There are a few of the poor who cannot afford something towards the education of their children but they put them to the lace pillow as soon as they can use their fingers; and when strong enough the boys are employed in husbandry.

The return for Ringstead reveals that there is a Sunday School, supported by voluntary contributions in which about 40 boys and girls are taught. There are also two day schools kept by women in which about 24 children are taught at their parents’ expense. At Denford we see there is also a Sunday School and 'a lace school kept by a woman, the parents paying for the education of their children.’ It is in the final column where the entry for Stanwick given above had been made and in this column the entry for Ringstead has a different tone.

The generality of the poor cannot afford the means of education for their children and would be glad to possess them.

Harrison Packard(e) was not long in the parish and from May 12th 1818 until December 7th of the same year he conducted sixteen baptisms. It may be that after the resignation of Thomas Brownrigg a temporary curate had to be drafted in. He was the son of a Suffolk Rector and had been born in his father's parish of Middleton in 1873. He had gained his B.A. and M.A. at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge. Apart form the short stay at Ringstead he spent all his career in Suffolk, finally taking over the Rectorship of Fordley with Middleton and the Vicarage of Westleton, on his father's death in November 1819. There is a memorial  in Holy Trinity Church, Middleton to his father and also to Harrison and his wife Esther who died just two months before him in 1860.

Thomas Martin Symonds replaced Harrison Packard as curate on the 7th June 1819. He followed a well-trodden path. He had been born in Bury St. Edmunds on 13th April 1796 and after school in his home town he went to St John’s College, where he gained a B.A. in 1818 and an M.A. in 1819. He was ordained a deacon at Salisbury on June 6th1819 and was appointed the curate at Denford cum Ringstead in 1819 and the following year ordained as a priest. Without delving too deeply into his pedigree he had apparent links, as many of the Ringstead clergy did, with the Irish gentry. In fact the Carysfoot title was a late ennoblement of the Proby family to which the Vicar was closely related, who lived just down the Nene at Elton Hall. In 1822 Thomas collected, with the help of the churchwardens, the sum of £10 11s. 9d. in aid of the Fund for the Relief of the Distressed Irish.

As later reports indicate, Thomas would have found Ringstead an appealing place to serve his curacy. An advertisement for a cottage with distant views of Ringstead in the Northampton Mercury on 17th July 1819, enthuses:

To a Sportsman, this Situation is truly desirable, as the River abounds with Fish and the Country with Game; and as a Hunting Box it is particularly adapted, being within a convenient Distance of three or four Packs of Fox Hounds.

Thomas went on to become the curate at Elton where he lodged for many years with Valentine Jelly and his family in Dial House. Valentine was a farmer and former miller. He had a daughter, Ann, who Thomas married on 23rd April 1840. After their marriage they moved into the Rectory, for the incumbent, Dr Fisher had been appointed to be Master of the Charterhouse, and from then on spent little time in the Elton parish. It may seem unusual that Thomas remained a curate for over twenty years. Alan G. Clarke, who has written a detailed history of Elton gives a clear reason why he stayed so long. He tells us, that according to some villagers at the time, he was:

. . . less than adequate in  his parish duties and more addicted to the pursuit of field sports than the well-being of his parishioners.

Throughout the nineteenth century hunting, and to a lesser extent, fishing were criticised as cruel sports and in particuloar, the hunting clergyman was condemned and ridiculed. Writing just before the start of the century William Gilpin remembered:

. . . hearing a story of a clergyman who was not remarkable for neglecting, at least the outward part of his duty; but once unhappily forgot it through his love of hunting. He was eagerly engaged in a fox-chase, when the fox took to earth, as they call it: on which he cried out, "Gentlemen, I must leave you: This puts me in mind that I have a corpse to bury at four o'clock this evening; and I fear I shall be an hour too late."

By 1865, when Anthony Trollope published his Hunting Sketches in the Pall Mall Gazette, the criticism of the "Hunting Parson" was getting more vociferous. Trollope defended the clergy from this constant condemnation of them indulging in almost any pastime believing that, "it has a very strong tendency to keep out of the Church that very class, the younger sons of country gentlemen, whom all Churchmen would wish to enter it". He adds, however:

But not the less is the general feeling very strong against the hunting parson and not the less will it remain so in spite of anything that I may say. Under these circumstances our friend the hunting parson usually rides as though he were more or less under a cloud. . . He is never natural in his self-talk as is any other man. He either flies at his own cloth at once, making some false apology for his presence, telling you that he is there just to see the hounds, and hinting to you his own knowledge that he has no business to ride after them; or else he drops his profession altogether, and speaks to you in a tone which makes you feel that you dare not speak to him about his parish. You can talk to the banker about his banking, the brewer about his brewing, the farmer about his barley, or the landlord about his land; but to a hunting parson of this latter calss, you may not say a word about the church.

Nevertheless, it is a pleasure to read Thomas's clear neat hand in the Registers and he officiated at some 73 baptisms, 12 marriages and 30 burials during his time in Ringstead and is very rarely replaced by a "locum".

We will see that Thomas Symonds was not the last Denford and Ringstead clergyman to enjoy the chase but by the end of the century when Oscar Wilde famously described fox-hunting as , "the unspeakable in full pursuit of the uneatable", the time of the hunting parson had passed, although there were a few who still rode to hounds until the 1960s.

On July 3rd1822 Charles Proby died. He was always a shadowy figure in the background and we do not know how much his presence was known in Ringstead. John Wade wrote ,”The Black Book or Corruption Unmasked” between 1820 and 1823 which was a popular book at the time. In it he listed the ways that the Establishment gave public monies to their friends, supporters and relatives. In the case of the Church of England he shows how charges such as “Surplice Fees” once intended for the poor, were now taken as part of a clergyman’s income. He also told about the illegal but continuing practice of the selling of preferment (putting someone in a living subject to the bishop’s approval) and railed against the pluralists who had a number of livings or paid posts at the same time. He adds:

We hardly need remark that, those who are in possession of the greater number and most valuable benefices are connected by marriage, politics, or in some other way with those who have the disposal of them. Indeed, it is impossible to peruse the list of dignitaries and highly beneficed clergymen, without remarking that most of them are “honourable lumber”, who have been handed over to the Church, from inability to succeed in the more arduous professions of the law, the Army, or Navy.

John Wade then gives us a “Peep at the Pluralists” by listing all the clergymen with more than one living, usually with a poorly paid curate to do the work. Among them is Charles Proby whom he lists as having the following livings:

                Waddeson, Stanwick, Ringstead with Denford, Slawston, Tachbrook and Twickenham.

He also adds that Charles is Canon of Windsor and Prebend of Lincoln.

We know, however, that Charles’s life was not always an easy one and that a number of his children had predeceased him and that his faith would have been tested by his children’s deaths. His infant son, Granville Leveson Proby, (his exact namesakes were 3rd and 4thEarls of Carysfoot) died on 3rd March 1811: on 12th November 1817 Charles, his second son, died in his seventeenth year; on 6th June 1818 his daughter Mary-Catherine died aged twenty; on 3rd October 1818 his daughter Susan Mary died aged twenty-three years and on 2ndFebruary 1821, his daughter Georgiana aged twenty-four also died at Ham Common. These deaths of his family in the prime of their lives, does make one wonder if there was a genetic problem, caused by the in-breeding of the aristocracy. Their effect,  one young death after another, may have hastened his own end.


John Watson (c.1782 - 1851)       VICAR 1822 - 1851

John Watson seems to have come from somewhat humbler roots than his predecessors. He had been born in Great Yarmouth and baptised there on 1stFebruary 1782. His patron was Thomas Burton who now lived in Great Yarmouth and it may be that the two men were linked by marriage. He was ordained as a stipendiary curate of Hemblington, a small village between Norwich and Yarmouth, on 9th July 1815. An Act had been brought in, in 1806, which allowed the Bishop to take one fifth of a non-resident incumbent’s income to pay for a stipendiary curate to do the work of the parish in his absence. His annual stipend was fifty pounds. John would have been about thirty-two at this time so it may be that he had gained his Doctor of Divinity and other qualifications before this time, although he is only shown with this qualification when he is instituted, on 23rdAugust 1822, as vicar of Denford cum Ringstead. I have not yet found what he was doing in the intervening years. It is possible that he was the John Watson who married Ann Carr on 13thOctober 1808 in Great Yarmouth.

A few months after his appointment to Hemblington he was appointed as ‘priest’ of Acle some five miles to the east which had a:

                Salary £60 & the surplice fees with the parsonage house and 6 acres of glebe land.

An advertisement in the Norfolk Chronicle shows that John was also, like many other clergymen, supplementing his income by taking in pupils to prepare them for public school but, in his case, it may be there was also instruction at a higher level, perhaps for university entrance:

                                                                                                Acle Parsonage 28th June 1821

                                                                The Vacation for the pupils under the tuition of

                                                                The Rev’ Dr. WATSON will terminate the 22nd July


Above 16 years of age   50 Guineas

Under   do                           40   do.

Entrance Two Guineas

Two Vacancies


As we have said, John then became the vicar of Denford-cum Ringstead in 1822. Thomas Symonds had vacated the curacy around the time of John Watson’s arrival. He went on to become one of the domestic chaplains to the Countess of Carysfoot in 1828 and ten years later Rector of Broomswell in Suffolk and finally to Adwick-le-Street in Yorkshire. He gained this last appointment on the hunting field when he became friendly with the patron of the living, Earl Fitwilliam, after Thomas had lent him his gloves on a cold day. Adwick le Street, north of Doncaster, was part of the Earl's Wentworth Estate. Thomas Symonds died on 23rd April 1859 aged sixty-four.

Thomas had been replaced as curate by Benjamin Clay. Benjamin was the second son of the Reverend Benjamin Clay, who was Rector of East Worlington in Devon. As was the almost invariable rule for Denford and Ringstead clergymen for a time he had gained his degree at St John’s College, Cambridge. He was ordained as a deacon by the Bishop in Exeter Cathedral on Sunday 31st August 1817 and as a priest on 3rd September the following year. It is also worth noting that the Exeter Flying Post for 11thSeptember 1817 records that, ‘Clay, Benjamin, jun., gent, East Worlington’ had obtained a General Game Certificate for the year.

When he had moved to the Ringstead Vicarage we know that he kept at least one spaniel, almost certainly as a gun dog. It is likely that his sister also lived with them. We know little about him except that at about eight o’clock one June evening in 1826 he, and his sister, decided to take the spaniel for a walk along the banks of the Nene. The dog went into the water, perhaps after ducks or moorhens and became entangled in the weeds. The story was reported almost verbatim across the local newspapers of the nation.

Mr. Clay fearing the animal would be drowned, requested his sister to go forward while he took off part of his clothes, and went into the river to get out the dog; she accordingly did so, but had not proceeded far before she heard a loud shriek, and in a few seconds she ascertained that her unfortunate brother (who was no swimmer) in attempting to reach the dog, had got out of his depth and sunk to the bottom. Several men were near the spot at the time; but the body was not got out for three quarters of an hour afterwards, when means were used to restore animation, but without success. The little dog, for whose sake the unfortunate gentleman thus lost his life, swam ashore without the assistance of anyone.

Much of the story is told on a marble plaque in the Ringstead Church tower which adds:

And by the last act of his life gave painful proof of that kindness of heart, which had endeared him to all who knew him.

Benjamin Clay was replaced temporarily by Thomas Woodcock Brown. Once again he had come via St John’s College. His stay was brief and he went on to become vicar of Horninghold in Leicestershire. He remained in post there until his death at nearby Blaston on 24th October 1850, ‘after a lingering illness borne with Christian resignation’.

It was Charles William Chalklen (1803 – 1846) who was Benjamin Clay’s more permanent replacement. He had been born in Deptford, in 1803, and educated at St Paul’s School in London. He gained an "Exhibition" of £100 for three years from the Mercers’ Company who were the patrons of the school which enabled him to go to Clare College and gain his B.A. before ‘migrating’ to Trinity College for his Master’s degree. He had been ordained as a deacon on 21st December 1826 and as a priest a year later.

His first appointment as a curate was at Higham Ferrers, on the day of his appointment as a deacon, and then as curate of Ringstead with Denford, (is the changed order of the villages significant?), on 11th August, a few months before his ordination as a priest.

Charles William Chalklen was a curate with literary aspirations and one wonders whether there was friendship and fellow feeling with the older Leonard Abington who was appointed Pastor at the local Particular Baptist Church just three years later. Both published poetry with biblical themes. Charles was a contributor to the Westminster Review, Blackwood’s Magazine and Christian Monthly Magazine. He also had written Babylon: A Poem(1821), and The Hebrew, A Sketch in the Nineteenth Century: with the Dream of Saint Kenya which was self published just after Charles had moved to Ringstead. He had sent it to William Blackwood who had not acknowledged that he had received it. Charles wrote a letter about this to Blackwood, from Ringstead Vicarage which may show that his sister actually may have been the author, but it is unclear, and we must assume that it is his own work. Blackwood had asked a David Macbeth Moir to read it for him and perhaps it is as well that Charles did not see the review that the reader had sent the publisher. He wrote:

"The Hebrew" is characterised by that eloquence and redundant imagery so prominent in all the productions of your writer, but I am sorry to add deformed by that extravagance of tone and peurility of feeling which would to a dead certainty prevent it as a tale of human interest from ever taking hold on public attention. . . I regret much to see talent of such fine description absolutely murdered from a defect of taste - for certainly no living writer would select such subjects for embellishment as this clever but unfortunate Charles Chalklands [sic].

He married Elizabeth Leman of Huntingdon and moved away to become the headmaster of Bletchingly Grammar School in Surrey in 1831. For whatever reason he left this post in 1832 to go to Louth and, on 21stJanuary 1834, once more became a curate, at Northborough, near Peterborough. This was to be his last appointment and the 1841 Census shows him there, aged 37 with his wife Eliza. There are also two pupils and a female servant.

It is almost certain that Charles would have know that John Clare, the "Ploughman Poet" was living at Northborough at this time. Clare had moved there from his beloved Helpston and this move had become a metaphor for his sense of a lost Eden. In 1827 Clare had published The Shepherd's Calendar and in 1835, a year after Charles Chalklen had arrived, Clare's Rural Muse collection came out. On 5th May 1837 Clare wrote from Northborough to his publisher, John Taylor, in London. He ended his brief letter:

The curate here draws well and has made many sketches from the poems God bless you

Yours Ever

John Clare

We see that Charles Chalklen and John Clare were well acquainted and we can imagine them talking of poetry and the natural world. Charles was to see the last years of John Clare's freedom. His mental iillness was worsening and it was in 1837 that Clare entered High Beech in Epping. He "escaped" from Epping in 1841 and made the long, hard walk home but later the same year he was taken to the Northampton Asylum, his final home, where he died in 1864.

In early 1846 Charles went to London to see his stepmother who was dying. While there, he had a tumour removed from his head. The preface to his last book states:

The operation was not a dangerous one, and he was rapidly recovering from its effects; unfortunately, in his anxiety to prosecute some antiquarian researches at the British Museum, he left the house too soon: the day being damp, he took cold; erysipelas came on, and after a few days of intense suffering, on 28th of January he died.

He was buried on 1st February in the churchyard of Islington St. Mary. He was forty-two.

The Westminster Review mourned his death and reported on the posthumous publishing of Semiramis, an historical morality and other poems in 1857 by W. Pickering. It has a mixture of the natural, the classical, the antiquarian and the religious. It was published in two volumes, the second being taken up by Semiramisa (probably unstageable) blank verse drama about an Assyrian Queen who, like King Arthur, had been mythologized into a fictional character. The first volume included some of his earlier poems and it may be surprising that a young clergyman should write an elegy to the notorious Lord Byron: 


Many master minds with fragrant song

Have chapleted thy fair front, England strong:

Princely, lovely country; fear'd and loved;

Full many of thy sinewy sons have moved


The world with the firm lever of their verse.

None though tower'd 'mong those Titan spirits,

None 'mong those our sad land yet inherits,

Mightier than he who filled this day a hearse.


The book had been published under the patronage of the Duke of Rutland, Earl Fitzwilliam, the Bishop of Peterborough and many others. The Westminster Review also reported that Charles had left a ‘destitute widow’. I have tried to find out what happened to Eliza Chalklen but without success. Semiramis is still available a a new 'print on demand' book via the internet

We now will return to John Watson, the vicar, based at Denford under who these curates, based in Ringstead, worked. He was to remain the vicar until his death in 1851 and we know that he did live in the Denford vicarage and spent some time in the parishes. We also know, however, that he also lived elsewhere. He was appointed the vicar of Doddington in 1838 and, more significantly the curate of St. Vedast in Foster Lane, Brompton in the district of Kensington.

These facts emerge from the death of his first wife, Ann, who died on 17th July 1832, aged forty-eight years. When we look at the St Vedast alias Foster Parish Burial Register we find that Ann was buried on July 20th in the Chancel. The service was conducted by John Howard Rice who was probably the husband of John's daughter, Mary Ann. All the other burials at that time, stretching from February 24th 1832 to 19th September 1833, were conducted by John Watson. There are only sixteen burials on the double page of the Register so the burials were an occasional occurrence. Ann died of cholera which was a new disease to England and had swept through Europe from Asia. It arrived here first in Sunderland in 1831 and was probably brought to London on the colliery boats in 1831/32. St Vedast alias Fosterwas originally a Wrenn church standing only a few hundred yards north-east of St. Paul's Cathedral. This London cholera outbreak had a final death toll of 6,536 people. Cholera was a product of the terrible housing conditions but for many years was believed to be caused by ‘miasmas’ or foul air. It was only the work of John Snow, who established that it was spread by the pollution of the drinking water, and the building of an efficient sewerage system under Sir Joseph Bazalgette and others that finally eliminated the disease from Britain.

John Watson may also have been conducting some marriages there for he officiated at the marriage of his daughter Jacoba to George Horsley on November 1st of the same year as his wife’s death. He was also a Lecturer at St. Mildred’s in the Poultry, in the City of London, which meant that he would have been required to give some ‘lectures’ or sermons there.

Looking at the Registers for both Parishes we can see that in the first part of his incumbency he mainly or entirely lived away from Denford and Ringstead and his curate performed the duties of the two parishes. We know that in July 1832 his curate was Edward Lawson Bowman, born in Carlisle in about 1791. He had been come from Cotterstock, north of Oundle and near Southwick Hall. He had also established the usual sideline of tutoring young men. He ‘received into his House six Young Gentlemen, to educate in the usual Branches of Classical and Commercial Learning’.

Edward Bowman and his wife, Elizabeth had children before they moved to Ringstead but a daughter, Christiana, was born there in about 1834. We know that at this time that a solitary cello was used to accompany the singing in Ringstead. Could it have been one of Edward Bowman's relatives? In the first part of the century there would have been instrumental accompaniment, sometimes in a Gallery or at the back of the nave, rather than an organ in most village churches. Thomas Hardy, in Under the Greenwood Tree gives a touching account of the last days of one such set of players being replaced by the organ. In many churches the old metrical psalm singing would have been the only music with sometimes the clerk reading out each line ("lining out") before it was sung. The Wesleyans introduced hymns and at first they were opposed as being too personal but they gradually took over and a flood of hymnals were published.

Edward Bowman moved on to become the Rector of Croglin near Carlisle where he had purchased the patronage. By 1837 he had opened a school at Seacombe in Cheshire, across the Mersey from Liverpool. On March 25th of that year he advertised in the Manchester Guardian that:

Young men are INSTRUCTED on the most approved systems in all the various branches of a classical and commercial education, liberally treated, so as to associate the comfort of home with scholastic pursuits, have the use of a good library, the advantage of sea bathing, and every attention paid to their morals and improvement. - Seacombe is seated on the Cheshire side of the Mersey, and is the nearest ferry from Liverpool, the steamers plying every half hour from the Prince's Dock Parade. - The situation cannot be surpassed for beauty and purity of air, and possesses every requisite the most desirable for a boarding-school establishment.

Among the references that he quotes  are the Duke of Dorset from Drayton House near Thrapston, the Rector of Woodford and John Watson.

The nineteenth century was a period of reform in the church. The tithe system was changing with a money rent replacing the old payment in kind and the Ringstead Enclosure largely separated the landowners from the villagers. Also the nonconformists continued to attract many of the local people away from the parish church. There was also an increasing outcry in the press about pluralism and the other uses of privilege within the Church of England. With the national secular certification of births deaths and marriages the church battled to keep its central position in the village. There is no sign of a curate in the 1841 and 1851 Ringstead Censuses and at some point Ringstead Vicarage is sold. In 1841 it appears to be lived in by Thomas Lee, the baker but this is not clear. These pressures could have forced John Watson back to his home parishes although there is no sign of him in either parish in 1841. The Parish Registers reveal to us, however that around May 1836 John, after having officiated at almost no baptisms, marriages and burials suddenly started performing at amost all of them until iill health intervened towards the end of his life.


Ringstead Vicarage June 21st 1847.

A rough sketch by George Clarke.

With the kind permission of Northampton Record Office  (GCPS Bk13 p20)

The state of affairs can be seen from an incident reported across England, and the Empire, which we have described in a previous biography (Book 1) but is worth repeating briefly here. Thomas Stains had fixed a wedding day for October 12th1842 when he was to marry Mary Roberts in Ringstead Parish Church. At this time only the church had a licence for weddings in the parish. On the morning of the wedding, John Watson sent for Thomas and finding, as his parents were Baptists, that he had not been christened, and even though Mary Roberts and her family were members of the church, he refused to marry the young couple. The report continues:

The disappointment was great; yet as the wedding-dinner was prepared and the invited guests assembled, they kept the day as pleasantly as they could, under the circumstances. The young man went to Dr. Watson to have his money returned; for it seems in that parish they demand the whole of the fees when the banns are put in. “Well,” said the Doctor, “If Thomas Messer (the clerk) will give you his share (half-a-crown), then I will return you my part of the fees.” The honest clerk instantly refunded his portion. Stains returns to the poor parson, saying, “I am come for my money, Sir.” “What!” says he, “did Messer give you up his?” “Yes Sir, he behaved like a gentleman.” The poor Clerical Doctor, on examining his treasury, found it reduced to a solitary half-crown. This sum he gave to Stains, with a note written by him to the clerk, begging him to pay the remaining 3s. 6d. for him. But what now was to be done? The parties must be married somehow, and that legally too; their characters were irreproachable. The whole parish cried shame on the Vicar. The Dissenters in the village, with several staunch church people, immediately raised the 3l. [£3] requisite for licensing the Baptist Meeting at Ringstead as a place for marriage, which was instantly applied for and obtained; and on the expiration of the 21 days notice required by law, Thomas Stains and Mary Roberts will be the first couple married there.

This led to the Particular Baptist Chapel being licensed for weddings.

The Wesleyan Methodists do not appear to have ever had a burial ground in the village. We see that John becomes exasperated with the Methodists who were not baptised in the church but wanted to be buried in the churchyard. We see his comments on infant deaths in the Burial Register:              

7th July 1844 Elizabeth Rawson otp aged 2 years and upwards. So called by what is termed a Wesleyan naming but not an acknowledged baptism.

There are other shorter but similar entries which continue until 1849 when we know John’s sight was failing.

At this time the sonof the local "gentry" gave a helping hand. Thomas Wilkins was a landed proprietor who lived in Ringstead House. He was also alocal Justice of the Peace. His son, Thomas Hodsoll Wilkins had been born in Wisbech in 1824 and gained his B.A. at Emmanuel College, Cambridge in 1846. He was ordained a priest in 1849 and became a curate at nearby Slipton in the same year. It was also at this time that he acted as the Ringstead curate and performed some 47 baptisms, 9 weddings and 18 burials in the few years before the arrival of the new vicar. To have the son of the local "gentry" as curate may have appealed to some parishioners but others would havebeen grateful that the confessional box had disappeared from the Anglican Chuch many years earlier.

After his brief stint in Ringstead he continued at Slipton and also became the Chaplain of Thrapston Union Workhouse form 1852 until 1860. At about this time his father moved away to Leamington and Thomas became an Anglican Chaplain at Damstadt in Germany from 1861 to 1867. He may have married there before he returned home to be with his widowed. eighty-four-year-old. father in Denbury in Devon. He is now a "clergyman without care of souls". The 1871 Census shows them there with other family and servants and it is here that Thomas junior is shown as married. I have not found any sign of his wife or children but there may be good reasons for this. Crockford's last has sight of him was at Ipplepen, near Newton Abbot but he died in Kensington in 1879. 

Returning to John Watson, we know that he married his second wife, Martha before 1851 as they are together in the Denford Vicarage then but so far I have not found her maiden name or the marriage. She was born in St Marylebone, Middlesex and is some fourteen years his junior. John is now sixty-eight and there is a note at the side of his entry in the Census form which tells us that he is blind. He died on the 23rdOctober 1851 in the old Denford Vicarage.

There is a marble plaque in the Ringstead Church to John and he is buried in Denford Churchyard beneath a slab outside the Chancel window.

Thomas Burton, the patron of the living had died in Great Yarmouth in 1841 and George Capron had taken over much of his former ‘manor’. The connection between the Burtons and the parishes may have been severed, at least temporarily, and, while John Watson was still living, on 7th April 1849, the Norwich Mercury carried the following advertisement



To be Sold by Private Contract

The next presentation to the united Vicarage of Denford and Ringstead in Northamptonshire. The present incumbent is in his 67thyear. The Preferment consists of the Vicarial tithes of Ringstead committed at £145 per annum, a cottage and about 84 acres of land in Denford, Ringstead and Raunds let at £77 per annum. A railway runs through the parishes and there is a station at Ringstead.

The price and further particulars apply to Messrs Fishes Lucas and Steward, Great Yarmouth



William de Pipe Belcher (1808 - 1891) Vicar 1852 - 1854

The new vicar was William de Pipe Belcher whose name may have attracted a few jokes in the Swan and the Black Horse. He had been born in 1808 in Ashbourne in Derbyshire, the son of a vicar. His father, Paul, had been to St John’ College but William went to Magdalen Hall in Oxford on 20thJune 1827. He gained his B.A, in 1832 and became a deacon in 1833 in Lichfield Cathedral. In 1835 he was made a priest at Buckden Parish Church in Huntingdonshire (Buckden Palace was until 1842 the residence of the Bishop of Lincoln) and became a stipendiary curate (filling in for a non-resident vicar) at Croft in Leicestershire. We know that he enjoyed his fishing there because in June 1848 he charged six frame-knitters from nearby Earl Shilton with using nets to take fish in Croft Brook without the permission of the owner or of William who had the fishing rights. All were fined sums ranging from four shillings to two pounds.

He was appointed to Denford cum Ringstead on the 26th January 1852. One would have thought it would be a good place for William to enjoy his sport. He had also been married, on 5thMay 1852 to Sarah Emma Allsopp, a widow, at Newton Solney, not far from Burton-on Trent.

In August of that year the Northampton Mercury reported that:

The rector and parishioners of Croft, Leicestershire have presented the Rev. W. De Pipe Belcher, vicar of Denford and Ringstead, in this county, with a handsome memorial of their affection and esteem for him as their pastor over a period of fifteen years. The testimonial consists of an elegant silver inkstand, a chaste silver pocket communion service, a handsome silk gown and hood. We are informed that this is the second testimonial received by Mr. Belcher from the parishioners of Croft during his ministry among them.

This does seem possibly a piece of news provided by William himself and if so, was he trying to impress a sceptical new congregation of his worth? Whatever the reason, his stay in Ringstead was short. He resigned and seems to have moved to South Darley in Derbyshire and then, in 1864 to the perpetual curacy of Thurlby in Lincolnshire. In the 1881 Census he was a widower living in ‘The Rookery’ South Darley and was a ‘clergyman without care of souls’. It looks as if he was set for a quiet retirement? Surprisingly, (and how regularly I use that word), he married Harriett Susannah Wilton, nearly half his age, in 1882. William died in March 1891 and the Census a weeks later shows his widow living on independent means with her sisters in Cheltenham. With her is her six-year-old daughter, Pauline de Pipe Belcher, born in Darley Dale.

A curate named J. G. Rogers was the named minister at 10 baptisms, 9 marriages and 6 burials between 27th March 1853 and 14th November 1854. This is almost certainly John Gurney Rogers who seems something of a mystery but whose life we can only briefly mention here. He had been born the son of a Royal Navy captain at Antron Lodge in the parish of Sithney near Helston in Cornwall and was baptised in St Allen’s church on 24th May 1814. He married young, on 10th August 1831 to Frances Franklin Cove who was some three years his senior. John matriculated at Jesus College, Cambridge where he gained his B.A. in 1839 and was ordained a priest in 1841.

By 1841 the couple are living in Dallington Vicarage in Sussex with two children and two servants. They had further children but by 1851 John is a visitor, staying with George Taylor, a farmer, and his family in Stanton in Suffolk, He is described as, “Clergyman. No care of souls”. As we have seen, shortly after this he moved to the Ringstead area to act as the curate before moving to Oundle where he is lodging with a cabinet maker and upholsterer. Here, and in every subsequent Census, he is referred to a “Clergyman without care of souls”. By 1871 he had moved to the Tything of Whistons near Worcester where he was in a lodging house, now with his thirty-five year-old unmarried daughter, Frances Georgiana. The 1881 Census shows the sixty-eight year old John at 17 Bridge Street, Worcester, still with his daughter Frances. He was for a time the Chaplain of the Droitwich Union. He died at Worcester and was buried there on 3rd May 1886.

Meanwhile, his wife Frances had been an “Annuitant” with her younger children, in Chiswick in Middlesex in 1851. By 1881 she had moved to Hulme in Manchester where her married daughter, Esther Bolton and unmarried son, Charles, are shown living with her. Charles is an “Engine Fitter”. She died at Chorlton-upon-Medlock in 1880.

After John and Frances parted what happened to the two of them? Did John wander, a poor clergyman, from place to place looking for work or did he have a good source of unearned income which enabled him to live his life without the necessity of work. Was Frances struggling on a small annuity, bringing up the younger children by herself or living a life of ease? We do know that by 1911 the eldest son John Antron Rogers was living in wealthy Lytham. He is now 69 years old and he describes himself as “No occupation Gentleman” and both his wife and unmarried daughter as “No occupation Lady”. In 1881, aged thirty-nine he had put for his occupation “Retired shopkeeper”. Obviously money had come through the generations at least to the eldest son and his wife.

What really happened must be left for someone else to tell. John Gurney Rogers, like the Baptist Minister John Collett, is one of those people who briefly left their mark on Ringstead but whose lives were largely lived elsewhere.


Ringstead Church from the south-east in 1847 by George Clarke

The church looks neat and tidy here but was soon to be in an almost ruinous state

With the kind permission of Northamptonshire Record  Office (Ref NAS 51)



Alfred John Sandilands (c1803 -1862) Vicar 1854 - 1862

On 26thAugust 1854 Alfred John Sandilands was instituted as the new vicar of Denford-with-Ringstead. The newspaper notice states that it is on the presentment of Thomas Burton Esquire of Great Yarmouth but, as I have said, I am not sure if this is correct. Interestingly he was previously at St Mary’s Church, Cross Green, South Darley, Derbyshire so he and William Belcher seem to have done something of a swap.

He had been a pupil at Westminster School and had then gone to Trinity College where he had gained his degree as a ‘Ten Year Man’, by the mere passage of time. He had been ordained and become a stipendiary curate at Haydon Bridge Chapel before moving on to a similar post at Bishopwearmouth in County Durham two years later. In the 1841 Census he is living alone in Bishopwearmouth with a female servant and a  fourteen-yearold boy as his man servant. In 1845 he moved to Cross Green, Darley in Derbyshire. He had spent his earlier career in mining areas and he had the confidence to take on the challenge of Denford and Ringstead. Alfred and his nephew Percival brought energy and a certain arrogance to the task.

He had married a widow, Ann Maria Leggatt, on 11thApril 1850 in Brighton and they came to Denford four years later. It is unclear how much they lived in the area because a London Directory of 1860 lists: 

Sandilands, Rev. Alfred John, 17 Park square east, Regent’s park, NW – Cross Green hall, Darley near Matlock – Woodford Cottage, Thrapstone.

We can see that he did not even live in the Denford vicarage. Nevertheless he set about his task and, in the case of Ringstead Church it was a large one. The Northampton Herald in March 1862 described the state to which it had been reduced:

The church is rapidly going to ruin. Two years since it could have been put in complete repair for about £200, but in two years hence it will require not less than £900 or £1000 to effect efficient reparation. It has been closed for some time, and the services are conducted at Denford, about one mile distant. The gates of the churchyard have had all the rails taken from them, the churchyard wall is falling into the street, and the yard itself is the resort of all the idle and mischievous urchins of the place who commit every act of violence and ill-usage on the sacred edifice. There is scarcely a whole pane of glass in the entire edifice, whilst in many places the window-frames have been taken out and flung into the interior of the church, so that the mischievously-disposed have not the least trouble in procuring admission into the body of the church and committing acts of sacrilege. The interior presents a most deplorable spectacle. The pavement is strewn with broken glass, remnants of the window-frames, stones, brickbats, dust &c. The stoves remain intact, but all the iron piping has gone. The dust-covered pulpit wears an air of utter desolation, and all round is exposed to the effects of wind and rain. The spire exhibits signs of decay, and the walls require repairs in many places.

It appears that there had been no services for some years in Ringstead Church and the village had been abandoned to the Nonconformists. This article may have been prompted by Alfred and he was aggressively trying to remedy the situation. He wrote a letter to the local newspaper and the controversy exploded onto the letter page of the Northampton Mercury as to whose fault the delay in the repairs was. First W.B Stopford replied in a letter to the Mercury on 10th May 1862 to which he added the correspondence between the vicar and Mr. Slater, the architect which he felt would explain the reason for the delay. These letters showed that Alfred was not prepared to let the repairs go ahead until he had seen all the plans and was happy with them.

Alfred then replied with a letter to the Northampton Herald on May 12th in which he states: 

Sir, - As Mr. Stopford, of Drayton House, took upon himself last week to send you a copy of a letter addressed to me by Mr. Slater, the architect for the intended repairs of Ringstead Church, as well as my reply to that gentleman, I beg to enclose you my correspondence with the Bishop of Peterborough upon the subject, which will throw a different light upon the matter to that which Mr. Stopford wishes to convey in his letter to yourself of the 7th instant.

He then goes on to give the full text of his letters to the Bishop of Peterborough:

                                                                                                             Woodford, Thrapston, April 1 1862

My Lord, - I beg to inform your lordship that, by the request of Mr. Stopford and Mr. Capron, Mr. Slater, the architect employed by them for the restoration of Ringstead Church met me and Mr. Allen, the churchwarden, yesterday, to submit his plans and to consult on the subject. After carefully examining them, as well as the specification, I felt greatly mortified and disappointed to find that so little was proposed to be done. Repairing the roof and taking down the chancel arch, together with reglazing the windows appear to be the chief part of the work, leaving the interior in its present melancholy, deplorable, and disgraceful state. I expressed to Mr. Slater my regret that he should be called upon to undertake such partial repairs, which would neither do credit to himself, nor the parties that employed him, and that I would certainly acquaint your lordship by the next post what was intended to be done, having promised you sixteen months ago that I would report from time to time what was done in the matter. I have requested Mr. Slater to forward to your lordship the pans and specification in the hope that your lordship’s kind influence with Messrs. Capron and Stopford may alter their determination and cause them and their tenants to repair the church in a more efficient and respectable manner. The specification goes no farther than to leave the church like the inside of a barn. There is not a pew fit to sit in, and the flagging throughout the church is broken to pieces. There are only two wrecks of pews in the chancel and the whole in a most dilapidated state. To make the church anything like decent, all the broken pews should be swept away, and replaced by open seats or benches. Had Messrs. Capron and Stopford followed out the plan recommended by Mr. Law the former architect they employed, I think great satisfaction would have been given, and the estimate he made would not be so much more in proportion as the present contractor, Mr. Parker, - claiming £570 for the work to be done. For myself, I would most willingly contribute handsomely if I could afford it. Having given largely to various improvements in Denford Church and the heavy expenses I have to encounter in building the house in at Denford preclude the possibility of my rendering any assistance to Ringstead Church. I should indeed hesitate to reinstate the fine organ I purchased expressly for the church until the interior was thoroughly restored. Hoping your lordship will excuse me expressing myself so strongly in the matter which I have so greatly at heart.

                                I have the honour to remain,

                                                My Lord with the greatest respect,

                                                                Your Lordships’ truly obliged servant,

                                                                                ALFRED J. SANDILANDS.

 In a second letter to the Bishop Alfred remarks tartly:

Considering Mr. Stopford receives a commuted tithe of nearly £400 a year in right of his wife, and possesses a large farm in the parish, and that Mr. Capron owns by far the greatest portion of the parish, I hope your lordship will acquiesce in my determination to oppose as far as lies in my power, anything being committed until the whole is finally arranged to be completed in a decent and becoming manner 

W.B Stopford once more replies in the Northampton Mercury on 20th May [mistakenly printed as March but corrected in the next issue]

 Sir, - It is not my wish or intention to enter into a controversy in the newspapers respecting the lamentable state of Ringstead Church, but as the vicar, in his letter to the Bishop of the 3rdinst (published in the Herald last week), broadly insinuates that Mr. Capron, as the principal landowner in the parish, and I, as the proprietor of the great tithes, have not done as much as was our duty towards the restoration of the church, I hope that you will enclose the two letters I enclose. The first is from myself to Mr. Sandilands, dated April 1860, to which I have never received a reply: the second is a letter from me to the Archdeacon in answer to a private enquiry he had made to me as to the causes which had led to the present state of the church.

I may add that since my letter to Mr. Sandilands was written he has purchased the advowson of Ringstead and is, therefore, now patron of the living as well as the vicar.

I will not add one word to the contents of these letters, but will allow the public to form their own conclusions from them.

                                                                                                I remain, &c.,

                                                                                                                W. B. STOPFORD. 

The letter which he had written to Alfred was attached included the paragraph:

I will not conceal from you that we labour under very great disadvantages by the little support we receive from you. Your absence yesterday [with Mr. Capron] was most unfortunate. The parishioners imagine you are lukewarm in the matter; and the absence of any subscription on your part, however small in amount, produces a very bad effect, which we have hard work to combat in a parish composed principally of Dissenters.

                                                                                I am, Rev. Sir.

                                                                                                                W.B. STOPFORD.

The other letter was one to the Archdeacon telling him that they could not establish a Church Rate and so had tried a system of voluntary subscriptions but had only collected £120, and that the lowest estimate for repairs being £440, he and Mr. Capron had made up the shortfall in proportion to their property in the parish.

We see that the reason that Alfred and his family had been living at Woodford was because the new vicarage at Denford was being built. Unfortunately Alfred did not live to see either the renovation of Ringstead Church completed or the new Rectory (now the Old Vicarage)  finished in 1863. He died suddenly at his home in Woodford on 22ndSeptember 1862. There is a memorial to him in the tower of Denford Church which quotes, ‘the last words of his sermon spoken by him in this church twenty-six hours before his death’:              

He that hath taken up the shroud and fought the good fight for a season, at the last day, when the books shall be opened, and the hearts of all men shall be known, the sword of his warfare shall be taken from him, and a crown of everlasting glory placed upon his head. 

Alfred had married late (although it could have been his second marriage) and may have had no children of his own but his wife, Ann Marie had been the daughter of George Maximillian Bethune and had previously married Horatio Leggatt by whom she had had three sons and two daughters before his early death in 1838. Alfred left an estate of less than £3000 (a considerable amount of money) and among his bequests was the advowson for the parish to pass to one of his stepdaughters (probably Georgiana). The “vicarage" was offered in October 1862 with a value of £320 including the ‘residence’ which was obviously nearing completion.

There is one small mystery that may just be a result of not having the evidence available. In 1851 when Alfred was at South Darley with his wife Anna and daughter Georgiana there is also a twenty-nine year old "Housekeeper" called Jane L Watson who was born in Rothbury in Northumberland. In 1862 Jane, now living at Park Square in Middlesex, along with his brother, the Reverend Richard Samuel Butler Sandilands, were the Executors of his Will. They had some sort of disagreement over the wording of the bequests and Jane went to the Court of Chancery. I have not found her definitively in the next two Censuses but in 1881, aged a surprising 55, she is living at 65 Blackett Street in Newcastle upon Tyne and living "from her property and dividends". With her is her "half sister", Georgiana Leggatt who is an "Annuitant", aged 52 and born in Crawley Sussex. Now, although there are some discrepancies, there are too many coincidences for it not to be the same two people. So who were the parents of Jane Louisa Watson? She is always spoken of as a spinster or unmarried so if this is true and Alfred was the father then she was probably illegitimate. Of course the description of Jane and Georgiana's relationship in the 1881 Census could be wrong and there may be other explanations.

Alfred came from a typical nineteenth century clergyman's family with links to the church and the landed gentry. His brother, George Percival Sandilands had died in 1836 and it was his son, who was the next incumbent under the patronage of Alfred’s stepdaughter, Georgiana Leggatt.


Percival Richard Renorden Sandilands (1826 – 1890) Vicar 1863 - 1874

Percival Richard Renorden Sandilands was the eldest son of Alfred’s brother. Like his uncle he seems to have been a formidable personality who achieved an amazing amount in his comparatively short stay in the joint parish.

He had attended Tonbridge School where he became head boy in 1843. He gained a Judd Exhibition Scholarship and was a Rustat. Exhibitioner at Jesus College, Cambridge. He was awarded a B.A. there in 1848 and an M.A. in 1851. 

In 1849 he had been ordained as a deacon while, from 1848 to 1850 he had been an Assistant Master at Crewkerne Grammar School. He seems to have combined this work with his duties at the curate at Chaffcombe in Somerset from 1849 -50. He then moved on to become curate of nearby Seavington St. Mary from 1851-3 before becoming Classics Master at Cheltenham College, a post that he held for ten years.

It was probably the sudden death of his uncle, Alfred, that decided him to make a change from school teaching and to become the new vicar of Denford cum Ringstead. He had married Sophia Anne de Brett at Clifton in Gloucestershire on 3rdJuly 1851 where the service had been conducted by Alfred, whilst he was still the vicar of South Darley. The couple had a large family, mainly born while Percival was the Housemaster of Beaufort House in Cheltenham School. 

They moved into the new Denford Vicarage and Percival began a period when the church and villages of Ringstead and Denford were transformed by his hard work.  The Sandilands had a following wind for their work on the church. In 1839 Dr. John Mason Neal and Benjamin Webb had founded the Camden (later the Ecclesiological) Society. It had a journal on church architecture which promoted the returning of parish churches ot a re-created medieva, purity with the "Decorated Period" of Gothic Architecture being the ideal. Many new churches were built in this style and most parish churches were "restored". The old box pews, as at Ringstead, were ripped out and replaced with open pews facing the altar. Under the influence of the "High Church" Oxford Movement rictual and the altar became the focus of the church rather than the pulpit. Few churches were left untouched and then, and today, some rued the loss of much of the interior furnishings, but along with the improvements came renovation and the repair of the crumbling fabric.

Alfred would have lived to see the repair work begun. The chancel arch and part of the south wall and buttress of the chancel and north wall of the aisles was rebuilt. The tracery of the East and parts of the South windows were taken out, reset and partially restored. The roofs throughout the church were renewed with deal and were covered in lead. The clerestory windows were opened and portions of the walls were restored and the parapet reset. Also drains were formed around the whole perimeter of the church.

Nevertheless, as Alfred had fought for, a second contract was taken out, for the full restoration of the church. The Northampton Mercury of 31st October 1863 listed what had been done:

The spire, which was in a very bad state, was taken down to the levels of the sills of the upper lights and rebuilt with a new vane executed by Mr. Potter of South Moulton-street. The tower walls were made good and underpinned and new floors of deal inserted. The septum walls of chancel and chantry, the internal stonework &c., was cleaned and restored, and the walls were replastered. The whole of the old pews and gallery were cleared away and the church has been re-seated with simple open seats of deal, the children being placed in the north chantry. The font has been replaced in its old position on a new step and the passages of the nave and aisles relaid with red and black Staffordshire tiles. There were remaining in the chancel in the chancel some of the old stall ends and fronts, these have been restored and replaced, and the new fronts &c., made to correspond with them, and of oak. The chancel has been paved with Minton’s encaustic tiles in patterns. The pulpit is of stone and stands on the south-west side of the chancel arch: red stone is introduced in the shaft, angles and patterns in circles.

The contracts for the whole of these works, including pulpit and chancel seats (the carving of which was executed by Mr. S. Poole, of London) were taken by Mr. Parker of Thrapston, and the whole of the restorations have been carried out by him from the designs of the architect, Mr. William Slater of 4, Carlton Chambers, Regent-street, London. 

It was not until October 1863 that the church was finally re-opened by Percival Sandilands at which time the Churchwarden's Minute Book indicates that the church had been closed for three years. The number of christenings and marriage ceremonies fell during those three years (burials cannot be deferred), followed by a large increase, especially in christenings of older children. Were the few ceremonies during this closure held in one of the porches?


Wooden notice in North Porch of Ringstead Church recording that a grant of £80 had been given for the reseating of the church in 1863.

It appears to be a standard notice with the local numbers inserted later. The old bought box pews had gone but the new open "free" pews were still "allocated", one suspects, along class lines.

Author’s own photograph

Alfred had the last laugh, even if it was from the grave for, in the Churchwardens' Accounts we see that the initial cost of the renovations came ot £1,500 and there is also notice of a £500 loan taken out on behalf of the Parishioners. It seems that the final bill was a little under £3000 instead of the £440 that W. B. Stopford originally envisaged. He had also given the new oak stalls in the Chancel as a gift to the Parish and the new pulpit was presented by a relation of Percival called French. His uncle gave the Corona, font cover and service book. Percival also emphasised that the curtain, Communion Cloth, linen for the Holy Table, flagon and plate and a small harmonium were given by his friends and relatives.

The local landowners may have thought, with a sigh of relief that they were rid of this ‘turbulent priest’, but Percival first restored Denford Church in 1864 with a voluntary subscription of £1600 and then set his sights on educating the young people of the two parishes – and that was going to cost money!

We have detailed in a chapter on the schoolmasters, in Book 1, that Percival may have seemed to have a poor opinion of the Ringstead, ‘labouring classes’, but he was relentless in his pursuit of their moral and educational improvement by the provision of a ‘National’ (Church of England) School. In the story of the schoolmaster we told of the two reasons that Percival cited for the need for a school:

1         The extreme ignorance and low moral tone of the population, particularly of the inhabitants of     Ringstead.

2         The absence of any resident Gentry to exert a healthy influence on the lower orders.

We can see this as a slur on the Ringstead working people but we can see now that it was also a criticism of ‘Lords of the Manor’ and landowners who were not resident.

He did not believe in the provision of a one education system for all and he continued to advertise for six pupils to be prepared for the public schools by him, aided by the Reverend E. Kitson, a ‘Double Honour Man and Bell University Scholar’. Edward Bredin Blake Kitson was born in Malta on the 9th June 1842, the son of Ann Jane and the Reverend Edward Kitson. His father, a Royal Navy chaplain, had gone to Malta on HMS Princess Charlotte and had married there to Ann, on 30th March 1841. She was the daughter of Colonel Bredin and had been born in Portugal. After service abroad, his father had become the chaplain of the Royal Greenwich Hospital and Edward is with his parents in Greenwich in the 1851 and 1861 Censuses although by the latter one he was a student at Christ's College, Cambridge.

In August 1866 he was appointed to the Curacy of Denford-cum-Ringstead where he assisted Percival in the work of the parishes as well as his teaching. By 1871 he had left t he had left the post and had follwed his father to become a "Chaplain to Her Majesty's Forces" based at the Herbert Hospital, Shooter's Hill, Kidbrooke and is living there with his unmarried sister Francis and his younger brother Thomas. This hospital was the first purpose-built reflect the beliefs of Florence Nightingale (the architect was her nephew) with wards at right angles to a main corridor to maximise fresh air and daylight. Of course Florence believed in the passage of diseases by miasmas or foul air. Edward was posted to Canada and on 4th November 1875 he married Katherine Ann Allison from St John's, New Brunswick. The wedding was ar Halifax, Nova Scotia. The couple did not have any children and after returning home Edward worked first at Aldershot before becoming the vicar of Northaw near Potters Bar in Middlesex. He died, aged seventy-six in 1918.

After Edward Kitson had left, Percival advertised, in 1870, for just two pupils to be educated alongside his own sons

Nevertheless he was determined to give the children of working people in the parishes a proper education and he harangued and pleaded with all the local landowners so that, in spite of the costs borne by many of them in the recent renovation of the two churches, they subscribed again at a rate, according to their Poor Rate contributions. George Capron gave £50 and the Reverend G. Capron £75; W.B. Stopford also gave £50 and the Trustees of Ringstead Charity, £47; and so on down to Miss Beeby who gave £1. Percival was willing to practise what he preached and gave £70. It must also be remembered that George Capron gave the land on a lease so long that it was the same as freehold.

We will not go over the details of the building of the school which was covered in the previous book or the celebration of its opening in a chilly, if renovated, church on 13thNovember 1867. Percival Sandilands was a tireless worker who had given time and money to the erection of the school. He was also a stickler for discipline. At the Northampton Assizes, a Charles Blencowe was brought to court for ‘embezzling suet’ from him on 2nd January 1869. Charles was acquitted.

It was found that the children from Denford, especially the infants, tended to forego the slog up the hill and then down again into Ringstead when the weather was bad. Percival set about overseeing the building of an Infants School in Denford which opened in 1872.

Percival had also taken time to inspect Wellingborough Upper Grammar School in June 1868. The results were announced at a Prize Day and the class-stratified education that was envisaged was clear from the speeches. First, the headmaster, the Reverend T. Auden, opened with a few remarks on the objects of the school:

To make the school as useful as it could be made for the town and neighbourhood – to make it, in fact, what the “Schools’ Inquiry Blue Book” defined as a school of the 2nd class – that is, one which should afford a sound and useful education for the sons of professional men, farmers and upper trades-people.

Percival then detailed his favourable ‘examination of the school and stated that:

He felt, in fact that this grammar school offered a complete solution of that problem about which so much had been said and written, and for which new schools had often been thought necessary, viz., the providing an education of immediate utility for boys intended soon to enter business or agriculture without, at the same time, neglecting the classics, which formed the best basis of education.

All this work was done while Percival obviously continued with the sports of a country gentleman. The Northampton Mercury on the 8th January 1870 reported that:

We regret to hear that a very serious accident occurred on the 1stinstant to the Rev. Percival Sandilands incumbent of the parishes of Denford cum Ringstead near Thrapston. It appeared that the rev. Gentleman was engaged in hunting, and that whilst following the hounds near the village of Coppingford, his horse slipped after a leap and fell over its rider, breaking his arm in two places, and inflicting injury upon the spinal column near its junction with the head. He was removed to a house nearby, and although for some time he was considered to be in a precarious condition, it is now hoped that, with due care, recovery will ensue.

He had taken the baton from his Uncle and accelerated. During this time he had also taken on the post of Chaplain to the Thrapston Union Workhouse, a post that he held from 1866 until 1870. His work done, he moved on to become the vicar of Chudleigh Knighton in 1875. He still retained his interest in school and discipline. Besides being the perpetual curate at Chudleigh Knighton he ran a small private school at his house called Lyvedenin Wolborough, Newton Abbot.  He wrote from there to a friend on 26th September 1874:

I must not continue a member of the Northamptonshire Architectural Society though if I live and prosper three or four years longer I shall try to get back to the Diocese but away from the banks of the Nene.

His school had, in 1881, fourteen boarders, aged between 9 and 13 years.  There was a staff, besides Percival, of: Tutor, Matron, Cook and three maids. On 12th July 1883, the Exeter Gazettereported that Percival, acting in his capacity as a school manager, was charged with ill-treating a schoolboy, eight years old, who was causing a schoolmistress some trouble. He was found not guilty but the report felt that as a clergyman he should not lay himself “open the accusations of malicious parties”. It seems from the report that this is at the Chudleigh Church of England School rather than his own private school. For whatever reason, Percival’s school ran into financial difficulties and the London Gazette of March 4th listed him as those seeking a first meeting, “in the matter of liquidation by arrangement or composition” with his creditors under the 1869 Bankruptcy Act. 

It seems that Percival did not prosper and he died on 6thOctober 1890 in Chudleigh Knighton. Whatever his faults the people of Ringstead and Denford had much to be grateful to him for his tireless work.

As an aside it is interesting to note, particularly in view of his successor’s son’s cricketing prowess that Percival and his wife had a son and daughter born at Denford besides older ones born elsewhere. The boy was Rupert Renorden Sandilands who played football for Old Westminsters and between the 5th March 1892 and 16th March 1896 also played five times for England at outside left, scoring three goals. Rupert, described as the "brilliant Old Westminster sprinter", who was on the staff of the Bank of England, played in a match against Wales on 18th March 1895. It was watched by 13,000 fans at Queen's Club in West Kensington. He scored a goal in the 74th minute which secured a draw for England. This was a historic match for it was the last time that England fielded an all amateur side. The Football Association had legalised professionalism in 1885 and now it began to take over the national side.

Edward Sandford (1818 - 1879) Vicar 1874 - 1879

After the frantic time of the Sandilands the new incumbent put his energies into managing the schools and churches as they settle in. He was the son of the Reverend Humphrey Sandford and was born in 1818 in Shrewsbury, in the county of Shropshire where the family had been “since the Conquest”.

He had been educated at Shrewsbury School and St John's College, Cambridge, and had originally been intended for the legal profession. The 1841 Census finds him, aged 20 years old, as an “Attorney” lodging with a cabinet maker and his wife at 8 Lower Wharton Street in Clerkenwell. It appears that he was a solicitor of the Court of Chancery and an attorney of the Court of the Queen's Bench but he decided that the legal profession was not for him and he became a student at St Bees Theological College. St Bees was a coastal village in Cumberland and the College was established in 1816 and took in its first students a year later. It was the first Theological College opened by the Church of England and was established by Bishop Law who needed clergymen for the exploding population of industrial Lancashire. What had been a ruined Abbey was repaired and rebuilt to become the college buildings with the local vicar acting as the Principal. Prior to this all curates had all been from Oxbridge or, occasionally, had been privately educated by a clergymman. St Bees was also a milestone in the introduction to the clergy of young men from the professional and middle classes rather than the gentry. The students lodged in private houses in the village and its intention was to " supply a good and economical education for candidates for Holy Orders". It concentrated on producing good parish priests rather than bishops. Soon other colleges, attached to universities, emerged and in 1895 St Bees closed.

Edward was ordained as a curate at Trinity Church, Coleham, Shrewsbury. In 1847 he moved to a tougher area when he became the curate of St John the Baptist, the parish church of Halifax. On 20th September 1848 he married Mary, the daughter of Joseph Armitage Esq. of Milnsbridge House, Huddersfield. He was briefly the vicar at the family living of Bicton but moved on to Elland, south of Halifax in 1853 as the perpetual curate and, later, Rector.

It was at Elland that he had his most obvious achievements of his career and perhaps where his heart seemed to remain. The church had many alterations, the Rectory House was built, Greetland Church erected, the National Schools enlarged and the cemetery consecrated. Elland was a small industrial town, originally based on the woollen cloth trade, but also with other small manufacturing industries, using first the canal and then the railway.

With middle age, Edward decided, in 1872, to move to the more comfortable parish of Grandborough, near Rugby, in Warwickshire but he did not settle and moved to Denford with Ringstead in July 1874. We know that Edward and his son Edward Armitage Sandford took and almost daily interest in the new school at Ringstead, checking on the children’s progress and giving regular religious instruction. There are also records in the School Log Book of his wife and daughter visiting the school to inspect the needlework. The school helped to bring the whole of the vicar’s families into the community.

His time in the joint parishes was not to be long for, after a period of very severe weather, he died in Denford Vicarage on 18thDecember 1879, aged 61 years. He was buried in the family vault in Elland churchyard. A muffled peal of bells was rung at Ringstead on the evening of his funeral.

There are no entries in the Ringstead Burial Register in the last six months of Edward’s life but that does not mean that there was no work for the grave digger in the churchyard. This surprising fact is brought to light by an article in the Northampton Mercury of 9th August 1879 written, it seems, by the Ringstead Church Weathercock. From its lofty perch the Weathercock writes to the newspaper:



Ringstead Weathercock 2012

Authors own photograph


While taking an outlook on Tuesday evening, I saw what turned out to be a funeral procession, wending its way to a spot at the base of my support in God’s Acre. It is not the first procession by many that I have witnessed, but, generally, I am accustomed to see an official in white, and to hear him repeat, for the consolation of the mourners, a form of service rich in comfort. This time I looked in vain for the white-robed comforter, and I ascertained that his services had not been requested, as the bereaved friends belonged to the uncompromising Baptist persuasion. The body, that of a young man of 21, and unbaptised, was lowered into the grave right beneath my eye, and though, unless my sight deceived me, I saw the resident Baptist minister of the village present, not a word was said. When I first saw this minister I concluded that he was going to hold a service, and yet he did not begin. I thought if he were the minister of a Gospel worthy of the name, surely this was the time for him to address some of its consolations to the sorrowing company around the grave, but, to my surprise, from first to last, he was as one dumb. I could not understand such conduct, and wondered why the silence was maintained. But after the mourners had departed a strange sort of explanation was given. I was told that the law would not allow any other than the comforter in white to dispense consolation to mourners within the sacred enclosure, though they call it God’s Acre, and that the Baptist minister did not speak because the law would not let him. I was curious to know what law! All I could ascertain was, that it was not the law of God, nor of His Gospel but some misconceived or misconstrued Parliamentary enactment. When I hear this I wished my voice was as good as that of the ancient cock in Scripture for then I would have administered a rebuke to Englishmen as telling as that which caused St. Peter to weep so bitterly. I had heard that civilisation had been making rapid strides of late, that the people had become very enlightened and that the Victorian era eclipsed all its predecessors, but such scenes as these, which I hear are of frequent occurrence in the country, make me doubt whether civilisation has advanced much since the stones which support me were first laid; and I have been wondering whether silent funeral are necessary to the safety of the church for, if they are, I shall soon wish that I could spread my wings and fly away from a church needing such heartless safeguards as these.


This was a common practice and the weathercock would not have been disturbed by the tolling of the funeral knell for bells were also not allowed for nonconformist burials in the churchyard. I do think, however that the burial would usually be entered in the Register and it may be that Edward was ill and this was an oversight.

The name of the dead man was Thomas Ralph Mayes, a shoemaker, and the son of Daniel and Charlotte Mayes. As we would expect he does not appear in the Ringstead Baptisms Register but it may be something of a surprise to discover that, although buried in the churchyard, his name is not in the Burial Register. How many others are so unrecorded? Of course the Northampton Mercury supported the Nonconformist cause and one wonders if the “Weathercock” was a staff reporter. 

Edward Armitage Sandford (c1852 - 1921) Vicar 1880 - 1885 

Edward Armitage Sandford was probably the second son of Edward and Mary (née Armitage). It is difficult to be certain about the children of the gentry without sight of the Parish Registers because, in the boys’ cases, they are rarely at home after infancy. He was born in the Isle of Up Rossall, Bicton, near Shrewsbury in 1851 and by 1861 Edward, aged 9 and his younger brother, Henry Rossall Sandford, are at a small prep school in Lytham St Annes in Lancashire. Ten years later and Henry is 18 and at Clifton School, near York, and Edward is 19 and finishing his time at Shrewsbury School.

We know that Edward was a keen cricketer, although the two sets of statistics that I have found on the internet may not do him justice. He played in a two-day match for Shrewsbury School against Malvern College on the 27th and 28th June 1871. Edward was bowled for 6 in his first innings and 8 in his second. He bowled one over in Malvern’s first innings and four overs for 3 runs in their second. He had an even greater honour later, in a three-day match, on the 6th – 8thJune 1878, for Elland, his father’s parish, against the touring Australians. The Australians fielded 11 players and Elland 18, but even so the home side could only muster 29 runs, to which total Edward, coming in sixteenth, added nothing, (it was a popular score). The Australian, Boyle, took seven wickets in two overs with Edward being part of a hat trick. In the match Boyle took 11 wickets but his colleague Spofforth took 16: figures that are unlikely to be repeated. In the second innings Edward scored one run out of 66, and he did not bowl in the match. The Australians only managed 90 and 85 although, with eighteen fielders, fours must have been difficult to come by. It would have been a great honour for Edward to play but perhaps he would have preferred the details to have disappeared by now.

After Shrewsbury School he had matriculated at Christchurch College, Oxford on the 14thOctober 1871, aged twenty. He gained his B.A. four years later and his M.A., in 1881, after his clerical career was well under way. He had been ordained by the Lord Bishop of Ripon in the Cathedral Church on 14thMarch 1876 as a deacon at Rastrick of Brighouse and Rastrick Brass Band fame.

After his father’s death in December 1879 Edward Armitage Sandford took over both the vicarage at Denford cum Ringstead. The 1885 Crockford Directory tells us that the living had 75 acres of glebe land and there was a gross income of £350 and a house. One of his earliest duties was to perform a double “fashionable marriage” for the Dearlove sisters in Ringstead Church, not something that was a regular occurrence. The Northampton Mercury of the 14th August 1880 described the scene:

The young ladies are both daughters of the late Mr. Joseph Dearlove, of Ringstead House. The family have so long resided in the village, and have been so generally respected and esteemed, that every one was anxious to vie with each other in manifestations of goodwill and congratulations. Quite early in the morning arches of evergreens and flowers were erected over the gateways to Ringstead House and churchyard. . . .

As the bridal party left the church, flowers were strewn in the path and quantities of rice thrown over them. After the wedding dejeuner, the newly-married couples went amid hearty demonstrations and the enlivening strains of the Ringstead band to the station, en route for Blackpool and Scarborough.  

It was during Edward Armitage Sandfors's time that the Ringstead churchyeard was declared full and unusable. There were some Ringstead people buried in Denford churchyard but there was an outcry and a new "secular" Cemetery was opened a little further out of the village. The first person to be buried was Thomas Stains on the 14th March 1881. Nearly forty years earlier he was the young man who was refused a marriage because, as a Baptist, he had not been christened by the church. This was still a problem and Edward did not sign the Burial Register and "Unbaptized" was written in that colum, seemingly by another, shaky, hand.

Edward married Mira Isabella Rodwell on January 3rd1882, at High Laver in Essex, where her father was the Rector, and the couple settled in the Vicarage in Denford.

We saw in the chapter on schoolmasters in Book 1 how both Edward and his father took a keen daily interest in Ringstead School. The times were changing and the schools also brought the vicar in greater contact with the children and the families of the village. On 9thMarch 1881, for example, he is part of an “entertainment” that the choir and church members gave in the schoolroom. There were songs by Edward and his sister as well as by the headmaster John Bannister, and his wife. He was also, not surprisingly, the captain of the new Ringstead Cricket Club and, in 1882, presided over their first annual meeting when John Bannister was presented with a “purse” of £8 3s. 6d. collected by the members of the club and friends, as “a small token of their esteem, and as an expression of their sympathy with him in the serious loss [of an eye] that he had sustained by an accident in the cricket field on September 13th". The cricket pitch might be as dangerous as the hunting field but it was played with local people from many backgrounds.

There was still much animosity in the area between the Nonconformists and the Church of England which would erupt near the end of the century over the religious service in the school at the start of the day and we get a hint of it in a report of a meeting of the Bible Society which Edward attended on 20th May 1882.

The attendance, although not large, was larger than the previous year, and, considering the malevolent opposition the society had to encounter in the town and neighbourhood, it is satisfactory to find that it hols its own amidst such conflicting elements.

Edward also had encouraged the local bellringers and had asked in 1884 that seven of them from Ringstead should be admitted into the Raunds, Wellingborough and District Society of Church Bellringers.  

The Church of England has been described as the Conservative Party at prayer, so it is no surprise to find Edward and many of the local clergymen at a banquet on 30th December 1885, given by the party to celebrate Lord Burghley’s return to Parliament at the last election.

Edward Armitage Sandford was not to stay long in Denford and Ringstead but as patron of the living, appointed the Reverend William Oram Leadbitter to succeed him in January 1886. He had many years left to live and at first he seems to have taken a “sabbatical” for in 1891 he and Mira, his wife, at living at Avon Lodge in Malmesbury in Wiltshire. He became the curate of the parish in 1890 but describes himself in the Census as “late vicar”: he is only thirty-nine years old.

He is recorded as the curate of Henbury in 1892 but by 1901 he is living in Bath and is now a clergyman with two female servants to look after him. His wife, meanwhile, is a visitor living on her own means at No. 1 Marlborough Place in Sidmouth. It may be she was “taking the cure” for in 1909 she dies and in 1911 Edward is at Pembroke House, 18 Hallam Road, Clevedon in Somerset. It appears that he remarried to Margaret C Teuton (or Teulon) in 1913 at Long Ashton in Somerset and it there that he died in1921, aged sixty-nine.


William Oram Leadbitter (1861 - 1920) Vicar 1886 - 1894

William Leadbitter came from a very different background than all the previous curates and vicars of the joint parishes and as a result we find him with his parents through his childhood years. He was born a month before the 1861 Census, the son of George Leadbitter and his wife, Margaret. George is a “house and commission agent” aged twenty-four and the family are living at 7 Pearson’s Yard in Newcastle upon Tyne. Lodging with them is Isaac Patterson, aged eighteen, who is a Joiner and Cabinet-maker. Around them is a mixture of craftsmen and labourers, a number born in Ireland.

By 1871, George is an accountant living with Margaret and their three children at West Kyo in County Durham. It appears that his first wife, Margaret, died in 1863 and he married Mary McGuire in 1864 so she is William’s stepmother. Another ten years and George is still an accountant, living next door to the Miners Arms in Kylance Head in Tanfield. Most of his neighbours are coalminers. All the couple’s children seem to have been encouraged to look to the professions for work. William is not at home but his brother, James, at sixteen, is a law student and we know that thirteen-year-old George goes on to become a teacher.

I have not been able to find William in the 1881 Census he was almost certainly at University College, Durham, studying for his degree. On 6th June 1885 he was ordained as a deacon at Peterborough Cathedral, and, at the same ceremony, as a licensed curate at St Marks in Peterborough.

Confusingly, he was already acting as a curate in Finedon on 16thNovember 1884. We know this because he had been preaching at Islip and, on his way back to Finedon, disaster struck. The Northampton Mercury reported that he:

. . . returned home in a pony and trap, in company with Mr. W. Turner, who was driving. On ascending the hill near Finedon Poplars they were run into with great force by a trap, containing about half a dozen persons, coming in an opposite direction. Both Mr. Leadbitter and Mr. Turner were very violently thrown out of the trap, Mr. Leadbitter being injured on the head and various parts of the body. Mr. Turner was injured in the arm. The shaft of the trap was broken off and the harness damaged, but the pony was apparently unhurt. The pony and trap belonged to Mr. Thomas Leach of the Bell Inn. The occupants of the other trap, we understand hailed from Woodford and were returning home. Several of them were thrown out, and one, a woman complained of being hurt.

The report clearly shows who it considered was at fault and where one’s sympathies should lie.

In January 1886 he became the Vicar of Denford and Ringstead with Edward Armitage Sandford still the patron of the living. While at Finedon he had obviously noticed Lillian Gertrude, the young daughter of the vicar, George Paul for they were married in 1887

William was a different kind of minister than the rather patrician ones that had preceded him. He was not connected to the landed gentry but that does not mean that he was always welcomed by all the people of the two villages.

We see hints of William’s different approach in the brief articles that appeared in the Northampton Mercury. On 19thJune 1887 there was a flower service and “an appropriate sermon” was preached by William to the children. In January of the following year there was a “Grand Concert” featuring Ringstead Brass band and comic and sentimental songs. William “presided” over the show and the proceeds of “over £2” were to be devoted to “the purchase of a magic lantern [early type of projector] for the new Working-men’s Guild”. A little over a year later, the Mercury reported that in Denford: 

The Rev. W. O. Leadbitter has this week opened a new reading-room at the Vicarage free of charge, for men for each Wednesday evening. Newspapers and games will be provided, and smoking will be allowed.

At the same time, however, he began to upset some of the middle classes on whom his position in the community still largely depended. He accused Mr. Bird, the Medical Officer of the Thrapston Union of neglecting his duty. His complaint was heard by the Board of Guardians and dismissed. William was not cowed and wrote again to the Board of Guardians giving a detailed account of how Susan Gunn, who Mr. Bird claimed to have visited, had not in fact been visited. He also claimed: 

. . . Indeed, so poor has been the treatment which the woman [Susan Gunn] has received that she has been compelled to go as an out-patient to the Northampton General Infirmary. She has been an out-patient since April 7th and although she has a certificate from the Infirmary doctor to say that she is unable to work, she is, by the petty spite of the Union doctor, prevented from receiving the extra sick allowance granted by the Guardians.

The Board agreed that William did not understand the duties of a medical officer and Mr Peach believed that Susan Gunn was a “bad woman” to let Mr. Leadbitter act as he had. We need not judge who was right or wrong but we can see that William was trying to defend his poor parishioners even if it brought him in conflict with the authorities. 

Throughout the century thre was a clear identification of the Church of England with the Tory Party and the Nonconformists with the Whigs and, later, the Independant Labour Party. Affluence, however, was beginning to blur the edges and this could lead ot increased animosity. J. R. Wilkinson, preaching at the opening of the new Ringstead Baptist Sunday Schools in 1887, stated:

It is a matter of regret that the descendants of many wealthy Nonconformists left them because society gives them the cold shoulder unless they attend church. We respect persons who honestly differ from us, but we despise those who have not the manliness to remain members of the humble Congregational or Baptist churches, and become Churchmmen as a short cut to gentility.

This was summed up by the saying that, "a carrriage never goes to a meeting house for three generations".

It was at this time, in June 1889, that William’s brother, George, was drowned. He had become an assistant master at Exmouth House in Devonport. With some friend he had hired a boat and gone to Barnpool. George had dived off the boat and swum towards the shore. Suddenly he disappeared and after a frantic search his body was found face downwards in six feet of water. It was assumed by the way he was curled up that he had been seized with a sudden attack of cramp.

We saw in an earlier episode that William had hired a horse and trap to get around his work. It may be that he also used the bicycle to get around his parishes. Perhaps we can deduce this from an article that was published in the Northampton Mercury which listed new inventions that had been recently patented. Included in the list was: 

An adjustable revolving bicycle jack and stand – W.O. Leadbitter, Denford Vicarage, Thrapston, Northampton.

The 1891 Census finds William and Lillian and their young family at the Denford Vicarage. With them is a daughter Margaret aged two and a baby son (later named Geoffrey) just one day old. There is, however, plenty of help at hand for Lillian’s sister is staying with them and there is also a nurse and three female servants. A sixteen-year-old young man is also there who is a “cow boy” so presumably William kept some cows on the glebe land.

It was in April 1892 that William received his worst publicity when under a heading, “A Perverse Parson”, the Mercury published the following brief report. 

The annual vestry meeting was held in the Schoolroom on Monday morning. The usual time was at five in the afternoon, but at the last vestry meeting a resolution was passed unanimously that seven o’clock in the evening would be a more favourable time for working men to attend. The chairman was instructed to notify the same to the vicar, the Rev. W.O. Leadbitter, who instead of complying with the very reasonable wish of the vestry, called the meeting at ten in the morning. When questioned as to his proceeding his replay was that he had a perfect right to call it when he thought well, and refused to put it to the meeting for an adjournment. Ultimately the proposer, the Rev. R.A. Selby put it to the meeting himself and it was carried by about 40 to 6. The 40 then left the meeting, the vicar and a certain local preacher giving them a hearty clap of the hands.

When we consider William’s defence of a poor woman his behaviour here seems a little odd. If we discover that the Reverend Selby was the local Baptist Minister we realize that this was part of a sectarian power struggle centred particularly on the school. There had also been anger at the way that the charity allotments had been run and a Vestry Meeting three years earlier, in 1889, had been the potential focus of this dissatisfaction. There had been an unusually large attendance but the meeting had passed off without incident. Nevertheless, whatever the history, William does not seem to have handled the situation well.

We see through the second half of the nineteenth century that the Vestry and Parish Meetings became a place where the increasing franchise coupled with the larger number of duties being delegated to it caused constant friction. The parish constables are still elected annually but we also see discussion about the state of the footpaths, the lighting of the streets and the collection of sewage and the burial of the dead. The vicar still often chaired the meetings but others also took this role and in 1894 the Local Government Act made the new secular Parish Councils take over most of these duties.

In 1890 William had proposed, it appears unsuccessfully, that the Parish did not adopt the 1833 Lighting Act. Nevertheless the new Parish Council adopted the Lighting and Watching Act on 24th January 1895. We may look at the Vestry meetings at another time but it is enough to say here that we see an increasingly political and secularised view on parish matters as the new electors began to exert their influence.

William had another difficult situation to deal with at Ringstead School when the long serving John Bannister was replaced by Albert Crew as headmaster. The first chaotic five months of 1893 have been detailed in the story of the schoolmasters in Book 1 but it involved William in meetings and letter writing and much local animosity

In the following year William Oram Leadbitter moved on from Ringstead. The report in the Mercury of his leaving shows a rather patronising attitude to him but also reveals a certain respect:

A good many people in East and North Northamptonshire will be pleased to hear of the preferment of the Rev. W.O. Leadbitter, vicar of Denford cum Ringstead to the important parish of St. Luke’s, Leicester. Whilst at Finedon as curate (where he married a daughter of the Rev. G.W. Paul and sister of Mr. Herbert Paul, M.P.), he gained many friends, and in the quiet Denford district he was highly esteemed for his energetic work for his Church, although his zeal in that direction has sometimes brought him into collision with a section of the parishioners. A good preacher and an energetic worker, his proper sphere is in a town parish, where there is room for his energies; and I shall expect to hear a good report of his labours in Leicester.

That many people in Denford and Ringstead had a respect for William, and that he had an affection for them can be seen by the fact that still, in 1900, he came back to preach at the harvest festival service. Also there is a grave in Denford Churchyard for William’s father, George who died on 29th September 1897 and perhaps had come to stay with him in his old age. The grave also remembers his brother George who was drowned in 1889.

William remained as vicar of St Luke’s before, in 1906, he became the vicar of West Walton, north of Wisbech in the Norfolk fens. His daughter Margaret married an important Hebrew scholar called Alfred Guillaume. His son, Geoffrey was killed at Gaza in the First World War and is commemorated on the war memorial there. William died a few years later on 2ndJune 1920. He left £1946 12s. 7d to his widow, Lilian.


Andrew Cavendish Neely (1860 - 1937) Vicar 1894 - 1898 

Andrew Cavendish Neely who became the vicar after William was once again someone whose roots led back to the Anglo-Irish landed gentry. His father, also Andrew, had been born in Ireland in 1809. He married late and Andrew was his fourth child. Andrew senior had become the vicar of Ashton in Northamptonshire in 1853 but before that had run, with his brother, Lisburn Academy, a private school in the north of Ireland. 

All the children were born in Ashton and Andrew Cavendish Neely was christened there on 14thOctober 1860 and spent his early childhood at the Rectory. The 1881 Census records him, aged 20, at the Rectory but notes that he is “an undergraduate – was Oxford”. It seems that he transferred to London for when he is ordained as a deacon in December 1883 it states that he has come from London University. He became a curate of Market Harborough (1883-4) and then St Saviour, Leicester (1884-6). He was appointed his father’s curate at Ashton from 1887 to 1894, possibly as he was getting too old to run his parish by himself, and combined this with being curate-in-chief with Hartwell from 1891 to 1893.

It was in November 1894 that he was appointed the vicar of Denford cum Ringstead, now under the patronage of Mr. S. G. Stopford-Sackville. His father came to live with him in at Denford when he resigned as vicar of Ashton in 1895. It seems likely that his two older, spinster sisters, Agnes and Julia, also came to stay with Andrew for the 1901 Census has them with him after he had moved on to Islip.

The vicars kept up the visiting and management of the Ringstead and Denford Schools. On July 23rd1897 Andrew commented unfavourably on the work of Miss Standen and Miss March, the two assistant mistresses which seemed to lead to both leaving the school within the month. On March 31st1898, he wrote in a letter to Mr Capron at Southwick Hall, mainly trying to get a subscription towards oak benches and book desks for the choirboys in the Chancel, to harmonize with the men’s seats at a cost of £7 12s 0d. He also wrote:

I also hope the school may be maintained as Voluntary School. I hear, however, that the New Code is likely to make the carrying on of Voluntary Schools more difficult than ever. 

Those last four words emphasise the extra workload, as well as opportunities that the schools placed on the vicars and sometimes the strain showed. How did the Vicars cope with the two churches' services each Sunday? A Preachers' Book has surviced which notes the services (and texts) as well as the collection totals from 1886 until 1907. We see that the pattern seems to have been:

10.30 am Matins and sermon

6.00 pm  Evensong and sermon

      and the following week:

8.00 am Holy Communion

2.30 pm Evensong and sermon

We cannot be sure but it may be that the reason for this fortnightly pattern was that the reverse pattern was happening in Denford Church, allowing the Vicar to be at all the four services. There were some guest preachers and other variations and Andrew Neely also introduced a Litany on Friday mornngs.

Andrew Neely’s time at Denford and Ringstead was not long but the independent shoemakers of the area seem to have made a deep impression on him that he carried with him for the rest of his life. In 1929 the Northampton County Magazinepublished a poem written by him about a supposed meeting in a railway carriage and a shoemaker’s “shop” between an undercover reporter and a Ringstead shoemaker. It is set in 1896 but it is not clear exactly when the poem was written:

                Of course you’ve heard of Ringstead in the valley of the Nene?

                Well that’s the place I come from, where nearly all the men

                Their wives and boys and girls as well, are employed in making shoes,

Yes! I thought you’d know about it; most folks do, but they confuse

Our work with other sorts, you know, that’s done in our towns

Like Leicester and Northampton where they call us rustic “clowns”.

Those folks can’t make shoes sir – not as I want to boast

But they know no more of shoe work than they know the coast

Of the South Pacific Ocean or of China or Japan;

They can’t make shoes from start to finish; us chaps at Ringstead can!

 Then, later, the man goes to the workshop where the shoemaker tells him:

“Hard work?” Why, yes, of course it is. Just try to pull this thread.

Can’t manage it? I thought not. Try something else instead.

Hammer this bit of leather, on this iron, on your knee,

It don’t hurt me a blessed bit – but you just try and see!

“Don’t want much of that” you say? Ah! You haven’t learnt the trick,

I’ll tell you about it sometime. Can’t learn it all so quick.

You’re right, it is hard work, sir and more than that, it’s Art

To do it all yourself like, and fit in every part.

The missus sews the tops, of course, but then that’s not so tough,

But if you had a day at that, you’d say you’d had enough. 

These extracts show that Andrew Neely had much more respectful and sympathetic attitude to the working people of Ringstead that that shown by his predecessors, even those who worked hard to improve their parishioners’ lot. In 1898 Andrew moved down stream to Islip as Rector, where his father died, and in 1902 he married Edith Mary, Canon Hodgson’s daughter, at nearby Aldwincle. He became the organising secretary for the Society for the Propagation of theGospel in the archdeaconry of Oakham and then Northampton. He moved on to become rector of Milton Malsor in 1904 and Rural Dean of Preston in Northamptonshire in 1910 before retiring to Eastbourne, where he died in 1937.

 Reverend Neely (top right) and Mrs Neely (middle of 2nd row with large white collar).

Taken from photograph of Milton Malsor Church Choir 1916.

With the kind permission of Milton Malsor Historical Society (,uk).


Charles William Cotes (1861 – 1900) Vicar 1898 - 1900 

Charles William Cotes had been born in Highworth in Wiltshire. He was the eldest son of a Solicitor, also Charles, and his wife Lucy. His father died when Charles junior was still a small child. He was sent to Abingdon School and then on to Pembroke College in Oxford.

It seems that there was a strong Australian connection for, on the 23rdJuly 1876, his mother had remarried, to Joseph Guillaume, who was from the department of the “Honourable Chief Secretary, Melbourne, Victoria. The wedding notice also discloses that Lucy was the sister of the late Bishop of Grafton and Armidale in Australia. This brother was called William Collinson Sawyer who had become the first Bishop of this new diocese where he arrived in Grafton, after many months of travel on 13th March 1868. Two days later and, perhaps significantly, he and one of his sons were drowned when his boat was upset on the Clarence River on Sunday 15th March 1868.

With this Australian connection it is no surprise that after being ordained first as a deacon and then as a priest by the Bishop of Llandaff and then serving his curacy at nearby Roath that he too travelled to Australia and became the curate at Christ Church in the South Yarra diocese of Melbourne. In 1891 he moved on to New Zealand where he was the incumbent at St Mary Mornington with Green Island (the parish was split soon after his arrival) and finally became vicar of Wakatipu from 1894 to 1896. It was while he was in New Zealand that he married Brenda Marian Traill on 5th April 1894 at the Holy Innocents Church in Dunedin.

Charles seems to have had little home life as a child, being either at boarding school or staying with his widowed aunt and her elderly spinster sister at Purton, near Wootton Bassett. This lack of a home base may have given him a restlessness and it was perhaps this trait, or possibly illness, that brought the couple back to England in July 1897.

In 1898 he became the curate at Wellingborough Parish Church and a year later was offered the living at Denford cum Ringstead by the current patron, the local M.P., Mr Stopford-Sackville. For some reason he fell out with his church wardens so that they resigned although they still continued to attend the services. He seems to have been in poor health and was ain the habit of sitting up very late at night. The Evening Telegraph continued with what happened on that night of Saturday 3rd November 1900 and the following morning. His widow, Brenda, gave evidence at the inquest held at the Cock Innin Denford.

On Sunday morning she saw deceased about two o’clock. He came up to the bedroom and he said it was a nice fire she had. He came back in a quarter of an hour and witness asked if he was coming to bed. He replied, “Yes, in a minute or two,” and then went down again, and witness went to sleep. She missed him at seven, and as he had been to bed she went to see if he was in the study, but she did not find him there. Next she sent the maid to the church, and the answer that she brought back was that he was not there. Witness then sent the maid to the sexton, whilst the girl also found the boat was not in the boathouse. Witness saw their boat down the river empty. The man Groom went down the river and found the boat and oars. Deceased had not been well for twelve months, but she did not know that he was depressed at all. He never threatened to commit suicide, and she knew no reason why he should. He was in no financial difficulties. Deceased was in the habit of sitting up late, and often used to fall asleep on the sofa and come to bed when he woke at two or three o’clock in the morning. It was no unusual thing for him not to come to bed till two. It was not usual for him to go out in the boat at that time in the morning. Deceased was a very good swimmer. He had fainting fits lately and nearly fainted in church once or twice.

Although his body was not located at first, Groom confirmed that he later found William face down in the river, just over the side of the boat. Dr. J. W. Gainer of Thrapston stated that he knew that William had a weak heart.

The jury returned an open verdict of “Found Drowned” but it would seem likely that William was struggling with depression and had committed suicide. He was thirty-nine years old.

There was a large procession at William’s funeral at Denford on Monday 5th November 1900 led by the St. John Ambulance Corps and the local clergymen, but there is no gravestone or memorial in either church or churchyard. Is that because of his suspected suicide? His widow, Brenda, moved to Newcastle on Tyne and, probably, then on to Wales, where she had been born, so perhaps he is remembered elsewhere.

He was replaced by Francis N. Pickford who had also been in the Australian clergy before returning home but our century is up and we must leave the Anglican curates and vicars of Denford and Ringstead. As Percival Sandilands pointed out, there was not a resident “gentry” and for most Ringstead people the vicar or curate would have been their only contact with University graduates or the old aristocracy. For much of the century the vicar and his family would have looked outside the village for their social lives and spent much of their time away from the area. By the end of the century this was changing and the vicar and his family took an increasing part in village events. This was partly the changing times but the school had also been a catalyst in this greater integration in the community. It could have been a lonely life sometimes, of the village but yet set apart from it by position and education, and some of the clergy, like William Cotes, may have found this hard to cope with.

The local vicars and curates would have buried a number of men, women and children claimed by the waters of the Nene and two of their own also drowned in those quiet, dangerous waters.

Throughout these stories of the local clergymen we have seen an increasing undercurrent of animosity between the vicars and some sections of the village community, especially the Non-conformists.  We might believe that Ringstead was a particularly rough-and-ready place which, as Percival Sandilands remarked, had no resident landed gentry to set a proper example. However, recent research by Robert James Lee, focussed on Norfolk, has shown that the problems of Ringstead were mild compared to many rural places elsewhere. Henrietta Batson, the wife of a Berkshire vicar, wrote both novels and gardening and genealogical books. In an article in 1892 in the magazine, Nineteenth Century, she stated:

Our labourer hates his employer, he hates his squire, but above all he hates his parson. They are all richer than he is, and he has been told by social agitators that they have taken the money and lands which should be his . . . He hates them but he conceals his hatred as well as he can, so that he may still benefit from their kindness.

Others saw the animosity arising, not from misplaced envy, but from the part the parson played in the landowners’ and politicians’ attempts to keep him in his allotted place.  Whatever the interpretation of the reasons for these stresses, the fact is that they did exist.  Henrietta Batson’s bitterness was perhaps born out of the daily observation of her husband, a clergyman who suffered from severe depression. All the men we have looked at would have had different personalities, prejudices and work ethics but, in broad terms we see the change from the hunting and fishing vicars of the early years to the hard-working resident clergymen at the end of the century. The new workload of the management of the school, and the religious instruction there, together with an increased pastoral role within the community would have led to a very different lifestyle to that enjoyed by men like Charles Proby and John Watson. The vicars also began to come from different backgrounds and be educated at Anglican Colleges and the new redbrick universities. The world was changing and vicar’s son and labourer’s son both died in the terrible war that was soon to come.


View of church from south showing group of small children and a well trodden path to Raunds

Pre 1906 Postcard from Author’s collection

Comparison of Ceremonies performed by Vicars and Curates in Ringstead in the Nineteenth Century

The table below shows what proportion of ceremonies were conducted by vicars and curates. I had to make decisions about some entries so it is important not to see small differences in comparison figures as significant. It might be argued for the less active vicars that they were looking after Denford while the curates saw to the Ringstead flock. However, if we look at the first half of the century at the Denford Registers we see a very similar pattern of attendance for the clergymen. With Isaac Gaskarth, the curate, only seems to be doing most of the duties in Isaac’s last years. Charles Proby was accused of being a pluralist and the figures bear this out with him officiating at only 5% of christenings in Ringstead. John Watson began as a largely non-resident pluralist and his curates carried out almost all the ceremonies. There is a sudden change and from July 1837 he conducted most of the ceremonies sometimes helped by his son, also John, who became the curate at Doddington and other members of his family. It is only in the last year of his life, when his blindness and old age prevented him, that he conducts few ceremonies. Apart from the short incumbency of William de Pipe Belcher, for the rest of the century, the vicars ran both parishes and only called on curates or other clergymen in times of illness or for other temporary reasons.

One of the watershed moments for the church was the first half of the 1830s. The bishops of the Church of England were seen as key in the throwing out of the 1831 Reform Bill in the House of Lords. On November 5th 1831 effigies of bishops replaced Guy Fawkes on many bonfires. There was a cholera outbreak starting in 1831 (which claimed John Watson’s wife) and many saw it as a judgement of God upon the nation. King William ordered a national day of fasting and humiliation on 21st March 1832. Church of England clergymen were abused and even stoned in the streets of London and the new industrial cities. The abuses of its powers by the church with its control of the only two universities, and some of its clergymen getting very rich through influence led to a Commission which started to redistribute the church’s wealth among the clergy and to stamp out pluralist and non-resident clergymen. Added to the death of his wife, it may be that these were factors in the move of John Watson back to his country parishes













1777 – 1811

(figures from 1800 only)



11 (from 1800)

(24 total)








Daniel Crofts (C)















(approx no. per year)










Note: Isaac officiated at all baptisms up to 12th December 1808 and all burials until 24th January 1809. All Curates & Others after those dates. Similar for marriages although Isaac did take 2 marriages in later period.


1812 - 1822











R. Morgan Vane (C)







Thomas Brownrigg (C)







Harrison Packard (C)







Thomas Symonds (C)















(approx no. per year)













1822 - 1851











Thomas Symonds (C)







Benjamin Clay (C)







Thomas W. Brown (C)







Charles W Chalklen (C)







Edward Bowman (C)







T. H. Wilkins (C)















(approx no. per year)










Note: John Watson’s tenure was in 3 distinct phases: 1822 - 1836 he officiated at 1 baptism. 1836 – 1848 he was at almost all baptisms and from then until his death his blindness meant the curate took over most duties. A similar story for marriages (I have not included 3 marriages between death of John and the appointment of W Belcher.) T. H. Wilkins acted as a “locum” and is in “Others” before he became an “Assistant Curate”. Burials are broadly similar. (6 burials between death of John and appointment of William not included.)


1852 - 1854











J. G. Rogers (C)















(approx no. per year)












1854 - 1862











No Curates
















(approx no. per year)










Note: I have not included 5 ‘others’ who officiated at Baptisms and 2 others at marriages between death of Alfred Sandilands and institution of Percival Sandilands. John Bywater officiated at 9 burials between death of Alfred and 30 May 1863











1863 - 1874











No Curates















(approx no. per year)










Note: 1 “Other” baptism and 4 burials between Percival Sandilands and Edward Sandford not included. Percival employed a curate (E. Kitson) but he seems to have acted as schoolteacher. Percival had a hunting accident on 1st January 1870 which accounts for most of the “Others”.



(1874 -1879)











No long-term Curates








(incl. 12 E. A. Sandford)








(approx no. per year)










2 marriages  and 2 burials between death of Edward Sandford and his son taking over are not included


Edward Armitage Sandford

(1880 – 1885)











No Curates















(approx no. per year)









1 marriage and 4 burials for “Others” between E. A. Sandford and W. O. Leadbitter not included.


William O.


(1886 – 1894)











No Curates















(approx no. per year)










2 marriages and 4 burials between W.O. Leadbitter and A.C. Neely not included. From burial of Thomas Stains on 14th March 1881 all burials in new “secular” Cemetery.

Andrew C. Neely

(1894 – 1898)










No Curates















(approx no. per year)









Burials not included from now on as now in new Cemetery and many “certified” people officiating


William Charles Cotes

(1898 – 1900)










No Curates















(approx no. per year)









2 marriages after his death not included. Burials as for Andrew C. Neely*.





Various censuses ( ).

England & Wales Free BMD ( ).

Ringstead and Denford Parish Registers (NRO). . .

Clergy List 1915 (Crockford) (NRO).

Northamptonshire and Rutland Clergy from 1500. Rev. Henry Isham Langden M.A. (Archer & Goodman 1940) (NR0). .

Cambridge University Alumni 1261-1900. ( ).

Oxford Alumni, 1500 – 1886 ( ).

London Directory 1860 ( ).

London, England, Baptisms, Marriages and Burial, 1538 -1812 ( )

London, England, Deaths and Burials 1813 -1980. ( ). .

Bath Chronicle, Bedford & Peterborough Gazette, Bucks Herald, Bury & Norwich Post, Cambridge Chronicle, Chelmsford Chronicle, Cheltenham Chronicle, Cheltenham Looker-On, Derby Mercury, Evening Telegraph, Exeter Flying Post, Hampshire Advertiser, Huddersfield Chronicle, Huntingdon, ,  Kentish Gazette, Leeds Intelligencer, Leicester Chronicle, Leicestershire Mercury, London Standard, Morning Chronicle, Norfolk Chronicle, Northampton Mercury, Northampton Herald, Oxford Journal Reading Mercury, Stamford Mercury, Yorkshire Gazette, and other newspapers. ).

Manchester Guardian 25th March 1837 . (Quest Historical Newspapers via Cambridgeshire Libraries online).

A Village on the Nene. Alan G. Clarke (Spiegl Press 2007).

Three Dialogues on the Amusements of Clergymen. William Gilpin (B. & J. White 1796).

Hunting Sketches. Anthony Trollope.(1865).

Notes made by Janice Morris on Ringstead Re-opening in Northampton Herald 31st October 1863 which she has kindly copied to me.

Letter from Percival Sandilands 26thSeptember 1874 (NAS26 NRO). .

A Digest of Parochial Returns made to the Select Committee of Education of the Poor etc. 1818 ( ).

The Black Book or Corruption Unmasked. John Wade (ohn Fairburn New Edn. 1828) ( )

The Gentleman’s Magazine June 1812 vol. LXXXll ( ).

Ecclesiastical Gazette 1839 ( ).

No Compromise: Nonconformity and Politics 1893 - 1914. W.C.R. Hancock. (The Baptist Quarterly April 1995)

Ringstead Churchwardens Account Book (NRO 280P/16)

Ringstead Parish Preachers Book 1886 - 1907. (NRO 280P/13)

Ringstead School Log book.

The Victorian Church Part 1. Owen Chadwick. (Adam and Charles Black 1966)

The Clergy List for 1841. C. Cox ( ).

The Church of the Holy Trinity, Denford. Stephen Swailes (Denford 1990:2003).

Church of the Nativity of the blessed Virgin Mary, Ringstead. K.M. Watson (Ringstead 1880).

Memorial Inscriptions at the Church of the Holy Trinity Denford. (NFHS 2003).

Memorial Inscriptions at the Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Shared Church Ringstead. (NFHS 2005).

Ringstead Minute Book with Parish Minutes 1865 – 1909 (280P/103. NRO).

Letters re Charles Chaklen and "The Hebrew" ( ). . .

http://en.wikipedia.orgSt. Mildred, Poultry: Collinson Sawyer. . .

Semiramis and Other Poems. Rev. Charles William Chalklen A.M. (William Pickering 1847). . . .

Andrew Neely letter (Southwick Hall Archive) .

Northampton County Magazine Volume 2 Jan. – Dec 1929. . .

Rural Society and the Anglican Clergy 1815 - 1914. Robert Lee (Boydell & Brewer 2006).


Bk2: Henry Atley, Louisa Tomlin (Cobley), Jane Weekley, Elizabeth Figgis, Maud Burgin: SOME WORKHOUSE LIVES.


I have decided to tell a few stories of the Ringstead people who found themselves in Thrapston Union Workhouse in the Nineteenth Century. I have given a brief introduction to the Thrapston Union Workhouse and the Ringsteead Gift Charity as I do not think that there has been a history of them yet written.

Thrapston Union Workhouse.

Sketch by George Clarke June 23rd 1847

With the kind permission of Northampton Record Office


The Thrapston Union Workhouse

At the beginning of the Nineteenth Century many villages and towns had their own parish workhouse, sometimes just an ordinary cottage set aside for the purpose. The Parliamentary Report of 1777 recorded workhouses in Denford, Raunds and Thrapston so that it seems that that there was not a workhouse in the village of Ringstead itself.

From 1601 a Parish Overseer was appointed annually who could levy a poor rate to look after the sick and old, often in their own homes, and provide work for the able-bodied. Increasingly this latter group were touted around the parish for work on the local farms, their wages subsidised from the poor rate.

This system became a subsidy for the farmers and tended to depress wages for ordinary labourers or make it more difficult for them to find work. It also became increasingly expensive, especially in the agricultural depression following the end of the Napoleonic Wars. A Government Commission was set up and all the parishes in the country were consulted, perhaps for the first time. Unfortunately the Commission’s recommendations came out before much of this evidence had been received back.

The Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834 was the result. Poor Law Commissioners were appointed to combine the more than 13,000 parishes into 573 ‘Unions’ and new workhouses were built to serve them.

The Thrapston Poor Law Union came into being on 30th November 1835 with 26 constituent parishes. By 1836 the Union Workhouse site was agreed on the Denford Road. The architect, William J. Donthorn designed many workhouses in the area based on the model cruciform plan published by the Commissioners. Ringstead’s contribution to the cost was £227 from the ‘liquidation of a debt incurred before the passing of the Poor Law Amendment Act’.

On 14th June 1836 there was an advertisement in The Times inviting builders to tender by 9 o’clock on the 28th June and be ‘prepared to enter upon the work forthwith’.

Less than a year later, on May 6th 1837 there was an advertisement for a married couple as MASTER and MATRON of the workhouse. It was not a job to suit everyone.

They must be without children resident with them, from 35 to 45 years of age, of good health and unquestionable character. They will be required to reside constantly in the workhouse where they will be provided with rations and lodgings and have a salary of £60 per annum. The master must write a good hand and be conversant with accounts.

By 1871, when another advertisement for Master and Matron was placed the age range had widened to 30 to 50 years but the salary was still £60 a year, £40 for the Master and £20 for the Matron. The Master also had to provide:

. . . security, with two sureties in the sum of £300, for the due performance of the duties of both offices.

In general the Matron had responsibility for the female inmates, as well as children under seven of both sexes. Simon Fowler in his book, Workhouse, also records the speech of John Wyld, Master of Bishop Auckland Workhouse, which details the couple’s duties and states that the Matron should also:

. . . ‘pay particular attention to the moral conduct and orderly behaviour of the female paupers and children; to see that they are clean and decent in their dress and persons and to train them up in such employments as will best fit them for service.’

Fowler also adds that:

Practical housekeeping issues, such as ensuring that bed linen was changed monthly also fell into her domain.

The Master always had overall charge but it was an extremely demanding, poorly paid, post for both Master and Matron and it is little wonder that Unions often had difficulty in appointing and then retaining them and that many fell beneath the standard expected.

On June 15th 1837 there was a further advertisement inviting tenders for clothes:

Viz: black felt hats at per doz; boys leather caps at per doz; men’s coats, waistcoats and trousers of dark gray woollen cloth at per suit; mans and boys linen shirts at per doz; strong gray worsted stockings at per doz; cotton handkerchiefs at per doz; men’s house shoes at per pair; men’s strong shoes at per pair; coarse straw bonnets at per doz; brown stuff gowns and frocks at per garment; stays at per doz; flannel at per yard; coloured twilled cotton at per yard; linen shifts at per doz; blue checked linen for aprons at per yard; black worsted hose at per doz; coloured cotton handkerchiefs and shawls at per doz; women’s and girls’ shoes at per doz..

On the 6th July, one month after Mr. And Mrs. Thompson had been voted as the best candidates for the new positions of Master and Matron, the Board of Guardians met to approve the clothes tender from Mr. Edward Hodson. Much was the same as in the advertisement but the males’ suits (Men’s £1. 3s. 0d; Youths’ 15s. 0d; Boys’ 14s. 0d) were of beavertreen rather than ‘dark gray woollen cloth’. Beavertreen is to beavers what moleskin is to moles and is a fustian made of coarse twilled cotton and garments are still made from it in England today.

We can get some picture of what those first workhouse inmates would have looked like. The men dressed in, to the modern eye, rather lumpy heavy brown suits with heavy boots. The women in long gowns of coarse brown ‘stuff’ over flannel petticoats with checked aprons and sometimes straw bonnets.

It would have been a recognizable, humiliating uniform, coarse, often ill-fitting, and hot in summer. Nevertheless for those who had lived in poverty for some time, and who had no other access to clothing charities, it would often have been better than the clothes that they had had to take off when they had entered the institution. If and when they left the institution (which they could do at any time with short notice) they would have had to don once more their own washed clothes.  Of course for those who suddenly had to enter the workhouse because of the death or ruin of a breadwinner, the change in clothing would have been harder to bear.

The regime of the workhouse was designed to be harsh and unpleasant. It was set up as a deterrent to reduce the cost to the ratepayers so that each person who entered the Union Workhouse was deemed to be a failure of the system. Edwin Chadwick, the architect of the new Union Workhouse system, had advocated that the inmates, on entering should be divided into seven groups based on sex and age, who should, at all times be kept separate. Often there were only four groups but the insane and the mentally ill would usually have shared the same dormitories as the rest of their age and sex.

The workhouse day would also have been strictly ordered with early rising (5 a.m. in the original rules) and bed times (8 p.m.).  Those able to would also have put in ten hours work each day within the timetable of meals and prayers. Again this would not have been such a shock to the system as to people today in those times when daylight governed the working day for many. What they would have found hard would have been the compulsion. Many Ringstead men and women, who were used to running their own lives by home work, whether shoemaking or lacemaking would have found this lack of freedom intolerable.

In some workhouses the paupers never saw the outside world. Even the work, which would often have been similar to that in the prisons, but without the treadmill, would have been within the walls of the union. At Thrapston, however, there were, at times, work parties to local quarries where the men broke stones. It was miserable, rough work but many used to the open fields would have been glad to leave the claustrophobic conditions of the workhouse. As we shall see, the inmates also worked at producing firewood during some of the century. The women were expected to work in the kitchens and laundry as well as keeping the Workhouse clean.

At Andover in 1845 a scandal was uncovered when it was found that the inmates were so starved that they tried to eat the marrow from the rotting bones that they were breaking up. This caused a national scandal and many, such as Charles Dickens, were against the whole workhouse system. What it also showed is that as with many institutions, and as we are finding even now, it is the humanity and integrity of those running and managing a residential institution which largely determine how good or bad such places are.

There were never such horrific conditions such as at Andover or the harsh dehumanised norm of the large urban Workhouses but there was at least one scandal at Thrapston. It was linked to a Master and Matron who had been in post for some sixteen years. The Northampton Mercury of the 16th July 1887 had an article headed, “Shocking Revelations”. Underneath was a report of the Board of Guardians meeting on the previous Tuesday. The Workhouse Inspector, W. A. Peel, had reported that on his last visit he had found the House in a “discreditable condition”. He had discovered:

On the male side of the House the beds were either unmade, or had been used since being made. Some of the bolsters in the dormitories were without straw. On the Master’s attention being called to this he had stated that he had asked the guardians for straw but they had not let him have any. On being further questioned, however, he could not say which guardians he had asked. The earth closets were in an offensive state. The Inspector found also that the inmates and casuals were employed together in cutting wood, contrary to the regulations. The male and female reception areas were in a filthy state and littered with feathers. The infections ward was foul and in a disgraceful state. The washerwomen complained that their beer had been withheld. The mortuary was in a disgraceful state and in it was a dead body, not properly attended to. In the hospital a lad was lying on a bed without sheets. The nurse said that she had asked for these sheets but could not get any. The inmates said the soup and beef-tea that they were supplied with were not fit to drink but (and the Chairman said he wished to call especial attention to this) and told the Inspector they would suffer for it. [By withdrawing food.]

The Guardians seemed even more concerned by the fact that the Master had sometimes been absent from the House without leave. They had also found over some four years that the maintenance costs were 2s. to 2. 6d. per head above the cost of other unions. There had been several inconclusive investigations to discover why this was the case but all they could say was that it could only be down to “bad management”.

The Master and Matron were asked to resign which they did with a letter ending:

                Trusting we may leave the House as clean and in good order as we found it 16 years ago.

This, however, was not the end of the matter and “bad management” was perhaps a euphemism for fraud. On the 30th August 1887 Richard P. Wakefield was charged with embezzling ten sums of money of 19s 6d. amounting in all to £9 15s. We discover that Thrapston Workhouse like many others provided employment for the able-bodied male paupers by wood sawing and billet making. These billets were used in the Workhouse as firewood but were also sold to local customers as far as Higham Ferrers. Some of the inmates took this wood out on a donkey cart and were paid by the customers. They gave this money to the Master.

Richard Wakefield was charged with keeping some of this money himself. The Magistrates made it clear that the Guardians had been very slip-shod in managing the accounts and, as a result, although “there was a cause of very grave suspicion against the defendant” nevertheless they did not feel there was clear proof of his wrongdoing. The case was dismissed and, perhaps surprisingly, Richard Wakefield stayed in Thrapston with his family and by 1891 had become the local Registrar of Marriages.

As you can imagine, food was a constant source of complaint among the inmates and none would have grown strong on the diet. It would have been very dull with a minimum of meat and a maximum of filling carbohydrate. On 5th April 1856 the Guardians’ Minute Book records the “Dietaries for Children, which gives some indication of the uniform dullness of the fare and the exact way in which it was calculated,

Table A. Children from 2 to 5





















Rice Pudding

















































































Suet Pudding = 9½oz flour and 1½oz suet to pound. Rice Pudding = 5½oz Rice to a pound

In Table B for the children from 5 to 9 the fare was identical except they received an extra 2oz of suet and rice puddings and ¾ oz of cheese instead of the ¼oz of butter.

(Thrapston Board of Guardians Minute Books NRO PL10)

 The numbers of paupers from Ringstead living in Thrapston Union Workhouse were never large and were mainly the old and infirm and unmarried women entering the workhouse to have a baby, as the table below shows.


Thrapston Union Workhouse Births 1839 – 1910 and Deaths 1837 – 1910

Registers of Births: Ringstead People only

Date of Birth


Name of Parent(s)

Legitimate or Illegitimate

When Baptized and Name

(or death)

01 Mar 1839


Jane Weekley



28 Apr 1843


Jane Weekley


Died 29 Apr -

10 Mar 1846


Lydia Atly



04 Feb 1848


Elizabeth Ann Smith



02 Mar 1849


Mary Ann Warren



14 Apr 1851


Elizabeth Major



09 Sep 1852


Jane Weekley



04 Mar 1861


Louisa Tomlin



02 Feb 1873


Hepzibah Major


02 Mar 1873 Joseph

09 Jan 1887


Mary Ann Brown



14 Aug 1896


Maud Emma Burgiss



24 Mar 1899





29 June 1905


Jane Elizabeth Nash



25 Aug 1906


Maud Carter



07 Apr 1907


Jane Smith




Register of Deaths: Ringstead People only

Date of Death



Where Buried

21 May 1839

Mary Saddington



29 Apr 1843

Thomas Weekly

Infant 1 day


23 Dec 1843

William Rawson



19 May 1851

Thomas Major

5 weeks


13 June 1857

Lot Magor (Major)



17 Sep 1859

Jane Fairy



02 Mar 1862

John Roberts



01 Apr 1863

Alice Roberts



03 Feb 1866

Morris Knowles



12 Dec 1868

William Roughton



14 Dec 1871

Anna Hardwick



10 Feb 1874

James Whiteman



05 Jun 1875

William Walker



30 Nov 1875

Sarah Andrews



24 Dec 1878

Hill Greene



19 Apr 1881

Timothy Chandler



16 Apr 1882

George Mundin



08 Feb 1884

Samuel Rowlett



19 Dec 1885

Rebecca Manning



19 Sep 1888

Sarah Abbott



18 Jun 1889

Rebecca Warren



14 Jun 1890

George Warren


Ringstead  (fr)

14 May 1891

George Smith



04 Jun 1893

Elizabeth Wadsworth


Woodford (fr)

25 Jun 1896

Richard Wadsworth


Ringstead  (fr)

09 Dec 1896

James Figgis



02 Apr 1899

William Munding


Ringstead (fr)

28 Dec 1899

Thomas Hilson



11 Feb 1901

William Allen



19 Nov 1902

Elizabeth Warren


Ringstead (?)

05 May 1903

William Phillips



24 Sep 1904

Henry Phillips



09 Apr 1907

William Smith



15 May 1908

Samuel York



11 Sep 1908

William Dick



06 Dec 1908

Eliza Fox



11 Jan 1909

William Manning



18 Mar 1910

Sarah Colbert



(fr) Friends or family have taken to bury

Few of the people in these lists would have stayed long in the workhouse. Some would have gone in to give birth to a child and others to die. George Mundin, for example is shown as dying there on 14th May 1882 but we know from a report in the Wellingborough News that this was an even sadder case than most workhouse deaths.

SUICIDE OF AN ELDERLY MAN – Mr. J. T. Parker held an inquest at Thrapston Workhouse on Monday on the body of George Mundin, labourer, of Ringstead, aged 64 years. Deceased had of late suffered from bronchitis, and this had prevented him from going to work. On the 8th inst. He went to bed at 9.30 in his usual spirits and the next morning his daughter found him with his throat cut and a knife beside him. He was removed to Thrapston Workhouse, but he succumbed to his injuries on the 16th inst. The jury returned a verdict that the deceased committed suicide while temporarily insane.

A report of the suicide in the Northampton Mercury included significant extra information:

The deceased had for some time been in a depressed state of mind, owing to family troubles and he had dreaded having to go into the Union.

We see that many workhouses gradually became local hospitals, often with separate infirmaries being built to replace the old sick wards but most elderly people still dreaded going into them, because of their past associations, for much of the Twentieth Century.

If we look at the Censuses for Thrapston Workhouse from 1841 to 1891 we see a similar picture with comparatively few people from Ringstead and those almost entirely mothers and their children, or expectant single mothers or the infirm elderly.

Censuses for Thrapston Union Workhouse: Ringstead Born and Families














Resident Staff  3



Harry Atly





Elizabeth Major







Resident Staff  3



Louisa Tomlin


Ag Lab’s Wife



Rebecca Tilley





Isaac Tilley





Mary Tilley


Ag Lab’s Wife b. Stanwick



Eliza Tilley


b. Stanwick



Sarah E Tomlin


b. Thrapston

I mth




Resident Staff  3



Clara Sutton





Fanny Coggins


Wife of Shoemaker



Louisa Tomlin


Wife of Ag Lab



James Whiteman





Sarah Tomlin


Scholar b. Raunds



Martha Tomlin


b. Sheffield, Yorks.



Elizabeth Sutton


Dom. Servant b. Little Addington



Elizabeth Coggins


b. Raunds



Alice Coggins


b. Raunds



Margaret Coggins


b. Raunds



John Coggins


b. Raunds

2 mths




Resident Staff  4



Timothy Chandler





Elizabeth Figgis







Resident Staff  4










Resident Staff  4



Mary Mundin





Harry Mundin





Percy Mundin





Alexander Mundin





William Phillips


Ordinary agricultural labourer



Henry Phillips


Horsekeeper on farm



William Manning


Ordinary agricultural labourer



Sarah Phillips


(wife of Henry :  born Raunds)



Bertram Burgin


Illegit. son of Maud b. Thrapston



Maud Burgin


Illegit. daughter of Maud b. Raunds





[Maud (mother) born in Ringstead]





Resident Staff  4



In the 1841 Census there were no Ringstead born children in the Thrapston Workhouse; in 1851 there were just two; in 1861 three (although there were five other linked family members); four in 1871 (with five other family members); two in 1881, none in 1891 and 7 in 1901. Of course this is only a snapshot on one day every ten years and is based only on those born in Ringstead but it does indicate that numbers of people from Ringstead in the workhouse were low and it tended to be used by people in times of crisis rather than poverty, although all would have been poor. The resident staffing moves away from education to nursing, as the Workhouse increasingly becomes the local hospital for the poor, especially for childbirth, mental illness and ‘senile decay’.

As I am writing this in the last week before Christmas 2012 I thought I ought to finish on a more positive note. The other side of the Dickensian world. On 27th December 1900, in the last few weeks of Victorian England, there was an article in the Northants Evening Telegraph, headed, CHRISTMAS DAY AT THE WORKHOUSE:

As in former years, the Guardians of the Thrapston Union have this year done everything possible for those under their care. The large dining hall, thanks to the efforts of the master and matron (Mr. And Mrs. Cook) had been tastefully adorned with the orthodox Christmas decorations of holly and ivy, these forming a frame for the many pictures which adorned the walls. The chapel was also nicely decorated with evergreens, the service which was held being conducted by the Rev. A.C. Neely of Islip. The dinner was naturally the great event of the day and a capital fare was provided, consisting of roast beef, fowls and plum pudding, to which, needless to add, full justice was done. The company numbered about 170. In the evening an entertainment arranged by the officers of the House was given, several of the musical inmates contributed to the programme. With kindly forethought Mrs. Buckley of Thrapston had sent a number of toys for the children, whilst Dr. Masters (the former medical officer) gave each man an ounce of tobacco, and two ounces of tea and half-a-pound of sugar to the women, besides oranges and sweets for the children. The master also received a parcel of books and pictures from the office of the “Review of Books”, for which he desires to express his thanks as well as to the other donors.



Workhouse buildings on a frosty morning 13th December 2012

(Now East Northamptonshire District Council Offices.)

The perimeter wall and gates have gone but otherwise looks very similar to George Clarke’s 1847 sketch. Now, however, surrounded by a housing estate.


Thrapston Poor Law Union Ref. PL10 (Northampton Record Office).

Northampton Mercury, Northants Evening Telegraph. ( ).

The Times ( via Cambridgeshire Libraries online).

Thrapston Guardian Minutes. (NRO PL10).

Censuses for Ringstead and Thrapston. .

Thrapston Poor Law Union and Workhouse ( .

Workhouse Tales. Eric Jenkins (Cordelia 1998).

Thrapston Union. Workhouse Births and Deaths (The Eureka Partnership 2011 and NRO).

Workhouse. Simon Fowler. (The National Archives2007).

The Victorian Workhouse. Trevor May (Shire Publications Ist pub. 1997)


Ringstead Gift Charity


The poor of Ringstead, as in many other parishes could look to a local charity for help before they were forced into looking to the Poor Law and the Workhouse. At the time of the Ringstead Enclosure (1839 – 41) Thomas Wilkins, considered the principal resident at the time, tried to discover the history of the Ringstead Charity Estate for George Capron who had bought up much of the land of the old Ringstead Open Fields.

He found that, in 1824, Thomas Burton, the non-resident Lord of the Manor, and Oliver Cox who was a resident land owner, had been the only remaining trustees and it was the latter who effectively managed the operation of the fund. At that time, John Porter, then an old man of 78, who had been the Parish Clerk for many years, confirmed that the origin of the charity was lost but at some point a bequest of strips of land among the Ringstead Open Fields had been made, the rent from which were to be given to the deserving poor, mainly in the form of clothing and bedding. Other aged inhabitants confirmed his account. A charity had begun in 1617 when John Wells left a bequest of sixteen shillings to be paid yearly and administered by the minister and churchwardens. They were to use it to help the sixteen poorest households in Ringstead. How and when it changed into the Ringstead Charity which was based on the rental money from land that the Charity owned is unclear.

 The entries in the Charity's small cash book are difficult to decipher but include in November 1835:

Widow Whiteman 5 yds Flannel 1/=. 3 yds blanket 9/=

Widow Major          Ditto

John Fairey & wife  2 sheets @ 2/11 & 4 yds D[?] 11/=

Daniel Ball 1 Blanket 5/= & 2 sheets 5/10

[note 1/= is one shilling and there were 20 to the pound (£): 2/11 is 2 shillings and 11 pence with 12 pence making one shilling]

In 1836 Oliver Cox died and Thomas Wilkins took over as the other trustee. Then, with the enclosure of the Open Fields George Capron became the major landowner and he, with Thomas Wilkins, took over the running of the charity.  It was probably also be at this time that the strips were consolidated into twenty-seven acres of land on the Denford Road.The granting of aid seems to have been run previously according to the judgement of the trustees but Capron wanted the charity to have clear rules. In 1847 these rules were agreed and a handbill was produced and distributed throughout the parish.

This listed the ‘legally settled inhabitants’ who were entitled to claim. These included:

                Married Couples, Widows, and Widowers, having at least, one Child under twelve years of age.

                Married Couples whose united ages amount to ninety.

                Women above the age of forty.

                Men above the age of fifty.

                Orphan Children and Persons who, from sickness or infirmity, are unable to gain their own living

They also had to have lived in Ringstead for at least a year, not follow any business on their own account or occupy premises above the yearly value of £5. Of course, they also had to be judged to be in need.



Ringstead Charity Handbill

Southwick Hall Archive

(With the kind permission of Christopher Capron)

In 1863, the newly appointed vicar, Percival Sandilands, was asked to become a trustee but would only accept if part of the funds were applied to the maintenance of the school. The Reverend Sandilands was successfully driving through a scheme to establish a school in the village at this time. He was asked by the trustees to submit a scheme to the Charity Commissioners. This he duly did and in 1864 the Ringstead Gift Charity was registered and three quarters of the income from the rents was to be applied:             

. . . towards the benefit and support of a school or schools for the instruction and education of the children of labourers and those persons of the poorer class residing in the said Parish of Ringstead including the industrial education of the female children or of any limited number of such children to be selected by the trustees, so long as such school or schools shall be efficiently and properly conducted and there shall not be any rule or practice in the management thereof which shall exclude any children from admission thereto upon the sole ground of their particular religion, creed and persuasion.

This only left a quarter of the rents for the poorest of the parish or, to be more exact, ‘the deserving and necessitous’. The Gift Charity was to provide them with ‘clothes, bedding and fuel, medical or other aid in sickness, or other articles in kind’.

We see a year later that the allotment holders were being instructed to gather stones from their plots and to place them in a heap near the road. They would be paid a maximum of 8d. a load and the stones would be used to improve the allotments’ cart road. On December 26th 1868 the Minutes clearly reiterate that the allotments are:               

. . . intended to help the deserving poor; that if a man is in a position to open a shop he no longer requires the aid of an allotment; and that in the case of any holder of an allotment so embarking be made he shall, if the Trustees think fit, be called upon to quit his allotment.

In December 1870 it is resolved that no man will be eligible for an allotment until he has lived in the parish for a year. It seems likely that some of these rules were created to exclude certain individual claimants. We see a constant list of people who are told to give up their allotments either because of non-payment of rent or because their circumstances had changed and they were not now considered deserving enough. The allotments become known as 'Mr. Capron’s Gardens' and a 1898 Agreement between the Rev. G. Capron and John Pearson for Garden No. 9 clearly sets out the rules of occupation which include the condition: 

That he will cultivate the Garden well and keep it free from weeds and that he will not in any year sow more than 20 poles with potatoes, nor more than half the Garden with white straw corn, and will sow the remainder with root crops, vegetables or beans.

The charge for the allotments is set as 2s 2d. per rood per quarter on 1st January 1897 and by the time of John Pearson’s agreement, in October 1898 it is set as £2 10s. 0d per acre per year. At the start of the nineteenth century measurements could be slippery concepts with many local variations but we can assume, by this time, that four roods were equal to one acre and the rental had increased by over forty percent.  This seems excessive so there may have been other factors.

By the 1890s the aid distributed was mainly given in the form of money instead of clothes and bedding with, in 1895, a single person receiving six shillings and a couple nine shillings. The allotments and the small weekly sums would perhaps have helped the very poor survive outside the workhouse, especially if they had a family to help them.

The Ringstead Charity would have helped generations of poor Ringstead people. If we look at the cash book for 1879/80 we see a typical list of payments:


                Widow Abbott                  6s.

                James Attlay                      6s.

                William Bates                     6s.

                Thomas Ball                        6s.

                Widow Bull                         6s.

                Widow Burnham              6s.

                Widow Coottingham      6s.

                Widow Dix                          6s.

                Henry Dix                            6s.

                Widow Fox                         6s.

                Noah Green & Wife        9s.

Noah Green and his wife had been the Post Master and Mistress so we see that once their working lives were finished many elderly people, not just the poorest, became dependant on charity.

Even as late as 1968 the trustees of the charity were being reprimanded by the Charity Commissioners for spending too much of the income on the poor rather than using three quarters for educational purposes. This educational part of the charity became a separate charity called Ringstead Educational Foundation.

Like the Poor Law, the Gift Charity was very Victorian in its fear of giving to the undeserving. Increasingly the income designated for those in need was used for the relief of the poor elderly, before the national old age pensions came into being early in the next century. Nevertheless many would have been grateful to the small handouts which would have made their lives a little easier even if it was not always enough to save them from the Workhouse.



Various Ringstead Gift Charity Documents (Southwick Hall). My thanks to Greg Bucknill for making my research at Southwick Hall possible.

Various uncatalogued Ringstead Gift Charity Minutes and Cash Book. (Northampton Record Office).




Henry Atley (1846 -1896)


In the life story of William Weekley Ball we told of the disappearance and probable death, by his hand, of his heavily pregnant mistress, Lydia Atley [sometimes Atly or Attley] on a warm July evening in 1850.

We can see in the Parish Registers that she had a child, called Sarah Ann Atley, probably named after her sister, who was born in 1848, baptised in the parish church on 9th June 1849 and buried in the churchyard, aged six months, just ten days later. Sarah Ann Dix, her sister, gave evidence at the trial of Lydia’s alleged murderer in 1864 where she states:

                I cannot say if Lydia Attley kept company with Wilkinson before the birth of her first child.

We learn that James Wilkinson, a journeyman baker, was alleged to be the father of Lydia’s first child. I had thought that this was taking the child whom she was carrying at the time of her disappearance as her second child. What I had not found out at the time of writing that biography was that Lydia had had a child in the Thrapston Union Workhouse some two years earlier.  For all its harsh regime it was often the best place for a poor woman, especially a single one, to have a child as there was at least basic food and medical care.  

Henry was born in the Thrapston Workhouse on 10th March 1846, the illegitimate son of Lydia and, possibly, James Wilkinson. We do not hear of Henry in the accounts of Lydia’s last day at William Ball’s trial so perhaps he remained in the workhouse. Certainly he is there in 1851 aged four years old. He is shown in the Census list next to the nineteen-year-old Elizabeth Major also from Ringstead. The Census was conducted on 30th March and Elizabeth gave birth to her illegitimate son Thomas on 14th April who died just 5 weeks later.  Was Elizabeth able to give some comfort to Henry?

By 1861 he is working as a ‘milk boy’ for Thomas Freeman, a Ringstead farmer of 350 acres employing 12 men and 2 boys. Henry is living with Thomas and his wife Lucy and a ‘maid-of-all-work’ Elizabeth Bluff, so perhaps they had taken him under their wing. In her evidence at the trial Sarah Ann Dix had told of Lydia’s last day when she had sent her to take dinner to her husband who had been working in ‘Mr Freeman’s field’. Perhaps the Freemans, who had been wealthy yeoman farmers in the parish for many years, felt an obligation to help this orphaned boy.

When we next find Henry, in the 1871 Census there is one of those unexpected and yet far from uncommon moves into a totally different environment. He is a twenty-five year old mechanic boarding with George Smith, a miner and his wife Jane at 20 Church Street, Wednesbury in Staffordshire. Henry was to make the West Midlands his home. Could it be, with the trial of William Weekley Ball in 1864 that it was thought that he would be better away from Ringstead, in a place where he could leave his past behind?

In 1872 Henry married Emma Partridge, the daughter of James Partridge, a screw forger who lived in nearby Darlaston. The couple had a daughter, Harriet Emma, born on the 16th June 1874 at their home in 90 Old Park Road, Wednesbury. Sadly, Emma died in childbirth and, understandably, it was another six months until the child’s birth was registered. At the time of the registration, on 14th December 1874, Henry was a ‘Stock taker in an Iron Works’.

In the 1881 Census he is a thirty-five year old widower, once again boarding, but this time with Elder Cooper, a moulder, and his family at 30 Hill Street, Wednesbury. His daughter, Harriet is staying with her grandparents, James and Ann Partridge and their grown-up children at 107 Cobden Street, Wednesbury.

Henry was now a ‘Time Keeper’. It would seem likely that he was working in one of the local factories checking that workers arrived and left on time. He had moved from being a worker to being someone who worked for the company checking on workers. Depending on the personal qualities of the person employed it could be an unpopular job as lateness could be punished with large deductions from wages.

In 1886 Henry married again, this time to Mary West and by 1891 the couple have three children, Nellie, Edith E and Dorothy. That Henry was moving into management can be seen from the 1991 Census for he is now the ‘Manager of a Nut and Bolt Works’. The family are living at 1 Bills Street in Darlaston.

This was an area with houses and small workshops cheek by jowl. Many of these were gradually taken over and the work moved into large purpose-built factories in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. We can see in the streets around them, a boiler tender and a file cutter, a breaker down (sheet mills) and an iron straightener, a blacksmith and a blacksmith’s blower. There are also a number directly involved with the nuts and bolt industry: bolt screwers, forgers and machinists, an orders clerk and stock taker.

In 1892 he is probably the, “H. Atler, Bills Street, Darlaston, Clerk”, who is given in the local newspaper as one of the signatories in the Memorandum of Association to change James Simpson & Sons from a partnership to a limited company. The company were iron founders and manufactured iron and steel, bolts, nuts and tools. The firm was based at the Acorn Works, Bills Street, Darlaston so Henry was very close to his work. With mostly coal-fired, steam driven machinery it would have been a noisy, smoky environment in the factory and also in the area around.

It is quite a remarkable journey that Henry has made from being the ‘bastard child’ of a poor murdered woman in Northamptonshire to the manager of a works in the West Midlands. Unfortunately Henry died some five years later in 1896 aged just fifty years old. His widow, Mary, lived another thirty-two years 


Censuses for Ringstead, Wednesbury and Darlaston. ( ).

Ringstead Parish Registers (NRO and ).

England & Wales FreeBMD Marriage Index 1837 – 1915. ( ).

England & Wales FreeBMD Death Index 1837 – 1915 ( ).



Louisa Cobley [also Tomlin, Norris and Elliott] (1839 - 1913)

Louisa was one of the few young women that entered Thrapston Workhouse to have a child who were already married. She was the daughter of William and Elizabeth Cobley and was baptised in Ringstead Parish Church on the 10th February 1839. She was a twin but her brother, David, died just three weeks later. Her father was a carman and, in the 1841 Ringstead Census, we see Louisa, aged two, with her older brother Samuel and her parents. A carman was someone who drove a horse-drawn cart of some kind. It may be that he was taking coal around the village.

Living next door was Lydia Atlee (Attley), a widow, with her teenaged daughter whose disappearance was to cause such concern some nine years later. Lydia, the mother was a pauper, as was her neighbour Rose Manning. We cannot be sure but it seems likely that they were all living in London End, the small group of poor cottages where Back Lane joined the Denford Road. Certainly, Lydia was living there at the time of her disappearance in 1850.

William and Elizabeth had seven children between 1831 and 1849 but three died in the first two years of life. William died too in early October 1848 aged just forty-four years old leaving Elizabeth with four surviving children. The death of the main breadwinner would often have led to the workhouse for a poor widow and her family but Elizabeth, in an action which her daughter seems to have noted, married quickly, on 17th June 1850, and perhaps was financially better off than before as a result. Her new husband was Lovell Warren, a coal dealer, some sixteen years her junior. One can only wonder if he was the employer of William as a carman. These quick remarriages will only seem cynical to those who have not endured grinding poverty.

The 1851 Census has Elizabeth with Lovell, together with Louisa aged 12 together with her siblings, Samuel, Joseph and Martha. Louisa married John Tomlin, a young brickmaker from Raunds on 13th February 1859. The Marriage Certificate gives Louisa’s father as William Cobley but gives his occupation as coal merchant which may refer to her stepfather Lovell Warren. Neither bride nor groom were able or willing to sign their names. The honeymoon period was short because by the 1861 Census she was an inmate in Thrapston Union Workhouse. With her is her daughter Sarah E Tomlin who was born in the workhouse a month earlier on 4th March 1861.

Where is her husband John in 1861? From other evidence it seems that the couple spent some time in Derbyshire and Yorkshire. Could he be the S, T or J Tomlin in Sheffield Union Workhouse? He is a stone mason who is said to come from Ireland. Perhaps he did not want to be sent back to his home parish. It is possible but it is unlikely. Sarah Elizabeth was baptised in Raunds Parish Church on June 30th, just a few months after her birth. John is shown as a labourer.

The truth about the often ‘lost’ years between Censuses can be filled in because of a shocking sequence of events which brought Louisa to court. It is from this case that we discover that John Tomlin deserted Louisa in September 1863 at about the time of the birth of their son, Alfred. This forced her back into the Workhouse where she remained for some years. On 22nd November 1866 a shoemaker from Raunds called Edwin Goldsborough (or Goldsboro) came into the Workhouse.  At 9 am on 25th February 1867 Edwin Goldsborough left the Workhouse and two hours later Louisa with the two children left, too, with another woman called Elston and her child. The Workhouse Master, Robert Bray, delayed letting out Louisa because he had heard of her intentions of going with Goldsborough and of leaving the children somewhere.

Two days later Sarah, who would be nearly seven years old, was brought back to the Workhouse by Louisa’s brother’s wife but whether she was abandoned, ran away or was left with the brother's family we do not know. Edwin and Louisa, with four-year-old Alfred continued walking north to Deeping St James in Lincolnshire where they stayed for a couple of weeks. Edwin managed to get work as a shoemaker with a Mr. Fowler in Market Deeping, which was about two miles away. Louisa sometimes went, with her young son, to the ‘shop’ to help him. After some ten days Edwin left and Fowler, the employer, advised her to beg her way back to Thrapston rather than stay with such an idle man.

Goldsborough made it clear on many occasions that he was not prepared to work for another man’s child and told her if she did not get rid of Alfred he would leave her. On 14th March Louisa went to the Bourne Union Workhouse, some nine miles further north, and asked them to take Alfred in. She told them that Alfred was the son of her sister, Mary Winterton and had been born in Bourne Workhouse. The Relieving Officer could not find the birth but said that he would take them both in but not the child on his own. All Unions were worried about being left with the expense of looking after deserted children. She also went before the Board of Guardians but they again refused unless she too entered the Workhouse. She hurried out of the room saying, “I shall do something different to that”.

They left Deeping St James and walked the further nine miles west to Stamford. Edwin stayed in a lodging house while, carrying Alfred, Louisa walked around the town. It was a cold moonlit evening with snow on the ground. She was seen at times around the town wearily trudging along with Alfred a heavy burden in her arms. She was passed, by a witness, on her own at the George Bridge and she made no mention of a missing child. At 9.40 pm the couple reported the loss at the police station. Louisa told the police that she had been very tired and had sat down on the footbridge and put Alfred down beside her. He had “slipped through the rails and got drowned”.

The George Bridge aound 1870/1880 showing the bars under which Alfred rolled to his death.

The cross bars were later replaced by large diamond lattice work

By kind permission of Lincolnshire Library & Heritage Services

We find all this information from the several court cases that followed over the next months when the couple had to answer to a charge of wilful murder. From the start the police were suspicious and took them immediately into custody. Edwin immediately became violent and it took four police officers to drag him to his cell. At the various Petty Sessions they were both remanded until the Summer Assizes in Lincoln Castle in July 1867.

Alfred’s body was not found until 5th May about 200 yards downstream from the George Bridge and the cause of death was established as drowning. He was found still in the hood, dress and shoes that he had left the Thrapston Workhouse dressed in, the body protected by the thick mud.  Edwin’s lawyer submitted that his client had no case to answer and he was discharged. He also claimed that the “uniform kind treatment of her child by the prisoner negative the theory of the prosecution that she had thrown her child into the river on purpose”. The jury was out for forty minutes and returned a not guilty verdict on Louisa.

At first it seemed likely that the couple moved north to the Sheffield area for Louisa had a child there in about 1870 and then returned south to Thrapston Workhouse where we find her back with her ten-year-old daughter Sarah (who may never have left the Workhouse) and her new child, Martha who is one years old. There is no sign of Edwin Goldsborough in the Workhouse with her. Here the picture becomes confused for further research reveals that he was in the Thrapston Workhouse on 12th January 1868 because he was sent to prison for six weeks for assaulting three other inmates after a dispute over his interference with the fire in the room. In February 1871 he was once again sent to prison for a month for, ‘misconduct in the Union Workhouse’. This is the reason he is not in the Workhouse in the 1871 Census. His behaviour always volatile seems to have worsened for the Northampton Mercury of the 8th April 1871 reports:

One male convict has been removed to Pentonville prison. Edwin Goldsborough was brought into prison on 10th February for misconduct in the Thrapston Union Workhouse, was certified as being insane by two medical gentlemen on the following day, and removed on 16th February to the Northampton Lunatic Asylum by an order from the Secretary of State.

There we will leave him.

On April 2nd 1871, while Louisa was in Thrapston Workhouse, and Edwin Goldsborough was probably in Northampton Lunatic Asylum, her husband may be the John Tomlin who is a labourer born in Northamptonshire, lodging in Ilkeston in Derbyshire. It seems unlikely that he was the father of any her children after Alfred and it is also not clear, as he was in Thrapston Workhouse in 1868 and 1871, if Edwin Goldsborough was the father either, although it is possible. In the 1871 Census Louisa is shown as a widow. Of course few working class people could afford to divorce in the nineteenth century and this may not be true. We have not yet found the death of John Tomlin but there may be a number of other reasons for this.

By the 1881 Census Louisa is shown as thirty-seven years old, although actually a few years older, and is living in Marshalls Lane in Raunds. With her is her ten year old daughter, Martha, (who we would expect to be at least eleven). There is also a boarder called Caleb Norris, a shoemaker born in Irchester. He is thirty-eight years old which may explain the reduction in Louisa’s age. In the Raunds High Street is a man called George Elliott living with his wife Hannah and their family. We will meet him again a little later.

A few months after the Census Louisa married Caleb Norris. She must have felt, for once, secure from the workhouse but Caleb, died just two years later, only forty years old, in August 1883. Life would once again have been very difficult and in 1891she is a charwoman lodging with a sixty-six year old bachelor called Thomas Nobles in Hargrave Road, Raunds. Also in the house is a young visitor called Nellie Elliott who is just eleven years old.

George Elliott’s wife, Hannah had died on 27th December 1886 in Northampton Infirmary which would explain in part why Nellie was staying with Louisa at the time of the 1891 Census. A few months later, in July-Sept 1891 Louisa married Nellie’s father, George Elliott who was just two years her junior. They are together with George’s daughter, Ellen Elizabeth, who is twenty-one years old and probably the Nellie of the last Census. They are living in Scalley Lodge in Marshalls Road, Raunds and George is a horsekeeper on a farm. A year later, in April-June 1902 George died aged 60.

By 1911 Louisa Elliott is a seventy-one year old widow living on her own in Baker Street Irthlingborough.  It seems almost certain that she is the Louisa Elliott from Irthlingborough who died in the Wellingborough Workhouse Infirmary on 5th January 1913 The name of her deceased husband is unknown and her age is given as eighty-four, ten years older than her real age. Her cause of death was entered as senile decay which could explain this mistake.  She may have been unable to give her correct age.

In the end she could not escape the workhouse. How we look on her life depends on our view as to her guilt over the death of her son and her various, “marriages”.  Was she a vulnerable woman who had the misfortune to attract men who treated her badly or was she an evil, scheming liar who would do anything to get by? As usual, the truth may be somewhere in the middle.

And what of Louisa’s children? How did their troubled lives affect them? In 1911, while probably suffering from ‘senile decay’, Louisa said that she had had seven children of which three were still living. If this is true who is the third (or possibly fourth) child? Sarah Elizabeth married John Ablett, a shoe finisher from Irthlingborough in 1879 and is there in the 1881 Census. Then she disappears and in the 1891 Census John, now 32, is shown married to Rhoda who is 24 and born in Kettering. Rhoda is possibly Rhoda Olney (or Onley), a shoe liner, who in 1871 and 1881 is seen living with her grandparents in Gold Street, Wellingborough.  I find no further sign of Sarah after 1881 nor of Rhoda after 1891. I cannot find the death of Sarah or her re-marriage or the death of Rhoda. John possibly re-married to Dinah Ekins in 1905. It seems likely that John and Sarah parted and found new partners outside marriage. There is more to be discovered but there we must leave her. Martha’s life is even more hidden and I have not yet found her after the 1891 Census where she is with her mother in Raunds.


Censuses ( ).

BMD Registers (NRO & ).

Lincolnshire Chronicle, Lloyd’s Weekly Paper, Stamford Mercury, Illustrated Police News, Louth & North Lincolnshire Advertiser, Grantham Journal. ( ).


Jane Weekley (1816 – 1877)

In the life of Louisa Cobley we saw how marriage and motherhood had put her in the Workhouse but also how she married twice more and so almost managed to live the rest of her life without the stigma of pauperism. Jane Weekley’s life followed an opposite and harsher, path.

She was baptised on October 27th 1816 to Elizabeth, the wife of labourer James Weekley. At the time, of her birth the young couple, who had married in Ringstead Parish Church on 11th December 1815, were living in Hargrave, some four miles to the south-east. They soon after moved back to Ringstead and had the usual list of regular births, and infant deaths, over the next two decades. The exact number of children is complicated by the probability that at least one of the ‘children’ in the Census was actually an illegitimate grandchild, adopted as their own: a not uncommon practice.

In the 1841 Census James and Elizabeth and their surviving children are back in Ringstead. The children are listed in chronological order except for the last two daughters. Mary, aged one, is above Eliza who is two years old. This could just be a mistake by the enumerator but, when we look at the list of births in Thrapston Union Workhouse we see a different possibility. On 1st March 1839 an illegitimate female child had been born to Jane Weekley who ‘belongs’ to the parish of Ringstead.

This first universal, detailed census does not give the relationships to the ‘Head of the House’ as subsequent ones do but the 1851 Census does show twelve-year-old Eliza Weekley as the daughter of James. She was born in Thrapston, however, and it seems certain that Eliza was actually the illegitimate daughter of Jane who has been adopted by her parents. Of course there is the possibility that James is still the father but we have no evidence to support this apart from the Census entry.


Eliza Weekley, daughter of Jane

With the kind permission of the Sylvia P. Weatherhogg (nee Cobley)

Jane had two further illegitimate children born in Thrapston Workhouse.  The second was a boy who was born on 28th April 1843 but who died the next day. A youthful Richard Jefferies, in 1874, wrote of the ‘Field-Faring Women’:

The overcrowding in cottages leads to what may be called an indifference to decency. It is not that in families decency is wantonly and of a set purpose disregarded, but stern necessity leads to a coarseness and indelicacy which hardens the mind and deadens the natural modesty even of the best girls. Then the low scandals of the village talked over from cottage to cottage, the rude jokes of the hayfield, the general looseness and indifference which prevail as to morality all prepare the girl for the too common fall. If she remains at home and works in the fields after the age of fifteen, unless uncommonly strong minded, it is an open question whether she will or will not succumb.

By 1851 James, still a shepherd, and his family had moved to Titty Ho in Raunds. His wife Elizabeth and daughters Jane, now thirty-four, Sophia and Eliza (Jane’s daughter) are all shown as stone gatherers.

Clearing the fields of stones was often miserable, hard work. It seems that Jane endured field work most of her life and she would have been weather-beaten and old before her time.  Richard Jefferies again, although writing of Wiltshire, gives some idea of the working life of a field-working woman:

At seven or eight years old the girl’s labour begins. Before that she has been set to mind the baby or watch the pot, and to scour about the hedges for sticks for the fire. Now she has not only to mind the baby, but to nurse it; she carries it with her in her arms; and really the infant looks almost as large as herself and its weight compels her to lean backwards. She is left at home all day in charge of the baby, the younger children and the cottage. Perhaps a little bread is left for them to eat, but they get nothing more until the mother returns about half-past four, when woe be to the girl if the fire is not lit, and the kettle on. . . A little older – at ten or eleven or twelve – still more skinny and bony now as a rule, she follows her mother to the fields and learns to pick up stones from the young mowing grass, and place them in heaps to be carted away to mend drinking places for cattle. She learns to beat clots and spread them with a small prong; she works in the hayfield and gleans at corn-harvest. Gleaning –poetical gleaning – is the most unpleasant and uncomfortable of labour, tedious, slow, back-aching work; picking up ear by ear the dropped wheat, searching among the prickly stubble.  . .

Growing plainer and plainer s years go by, the elder women are wrinkled and worn-looking, and have contracted a perpetual stoop.

Some eighteen months after the 1851 Census, on the 9th September, 1852 another son was born to Jane in Thrapston Workhouse. I have found no further sign of this child’s life or his death. Was he adopted at birth? There is no sign of him with Jane in 1861. She is still unmarried and living with her elderly parents. James is now seventy-two and Elizabeth some seven years younger. James is still a shepherd and Jane is a field worker, as are her younger sisters May Ann (21) and Sophia Cobley who, at twenty-nine is a young widow with a daughter, Charlotte. It seems that times were still hard for the family.

In his book, The Common People, J.F.C. Harrison reminds us that:

Women were an essential part of the harvest team. But their work was not limited to the special effort required at that time of year. Of the 2 million people employed full-time in agricultural occupations in 1851, 11.4 per cent were women and in 1901 the percentage was 5.9. Women worked in the fields at gleaning, potato gathering (“tatering”), turnip-pulling, hoeing, weeding, thinning, hop-binding and in all kinds of fruit and vegetable picking. In some jobs the children worked alongside their mothers.

I have not analysed the Censuses and, because the work was often seasonal, some women field workers would not be shown there but the impression one gets is that the percentages of field workers in Raunds and Ringstead was less than the ones given above. In general shoe work or lacemaking would be preferred by most women able to make the choice.

In 1862 Jane’s younger sister Sophia had an illegitimate son, Owen, with Joseph Smith named as the father. In 1863, 1867 and 1868 Sophia went to court to obtain weekly payments from Joseph who had paid 1s 6d for the first fifteen weeks after his son’s birth. Unfortunately Joseph Smith was also ‘indigent’ and so served a one month prison sentence in default.

In 1864 James Weekley died and five years later, Elizabeth followed him to the grave. Jane would now have been on her own but in the summer of 1863 her sister Mary Ann had married William Webb Braybrook and in 1871 Jane was living with them. They are living in Chapel Road, Ringstead.  By now, aged fifty-five, Jane is on Parish Relief Her hard life was almost certainly taking its toll. Six years later Jane died and was buried in the Raunds churchyard on 11th June 1877. No sign of her grave remains.


Censuses (

Ringstead Parish Registers ( and NRO)

Raunds Parish Registers (NRO)

Thrapston Union Workhouse Births (NRO PL 10/214 & PL 10/215)

Thrapston Union Workhouse: Deaths (NROPL10/217)

Field-Faring Women (Fraser’s Magazine 1874). Collected in: The Toilers of the Field. Richard Jefferies (Longmans Green & Co. 1892; Silver Library Edition 1893)

The Common People. J.F.C. Harrison. (Fontana 1984)

Northampton Mercury.7th Feb 1863; 26th Oct. 1867; 18th Jan 1868



Elizabeth Figgis (1864 – 1918) and her siblings

Samuel Figgis had been born in Bassingbourn in Cambridgeshire in 1820. Some time after 1841 he arrived in Ringstead and by 1851 was a carpenter’s apprentice lodging with George Smith. We do not know what drew him north but in 1852 he married local girl Maria Hill.

Maria was the daughter of James Hill, the landlord of the Black Horse and the Hills were related by marriage to the Greens who were the other major landlords in the village. It would have meant that Samuel would have quickly become part of the Ringstead social web. We have seen in the life story of Korah Dicks that Samuel had been appointed to the old parish post of constable which continued alongside the new professional constabulary. Unfortunately, in 1855, he allowed the rascally Korah to get drunk in Northampton on his way to the County Gaol for which he was taken to court and fined.

Samuel and Maria’s eldest son, Henry, was born in 1853 and there then followed seven more children until, in 1864, Elizabeth was the last. None of them were baptised in the Parish Church which probably means that they were nonconformists. Some time before 1869 Samuel became the landlord of the recently built New Inn, although he still kept on his carpentry work. The Northampton Mercury for the 17th February 1871 reports that he had been sued by a Mr Briggs, a farmer and brickmaker from Denford for £24 17s. 10d. for bricks (about £1200 today). He had paid off some of the debt and the case seems to have been amicably settled.

We find in 1871 Samuel and Maria with six of their children living in the New Inn with one lodger, Timothy Chandler. Life seems seemed set fair with the two businesses and the children soon beginning to contribute or leave home. In 1873, however, Samuel died, aged 62, and was buried in the local churchyard on May 1st. Three-and -a -half years later, on December 13th 1876, Maria was buried. Henry, the eldest son had returned to the village and taken over the running of the New Inn but the family exploded and we pick out the individual children as they try to reconstruct their lives. Some seem to have managed quite well but three had contact with the workhouse but in very different circumstances.

If we start with Henry, the eldest, who had become the new landlord at the New Inn, it seemed at first that he would find it easiest to make a new life after the death of his parents. He had left Ringstead to become a journeyman baker in Lady’s Lane, Northampton before returning to take over the pub. He had married Elizabeth Clarke from Brigstock in 1875 and in the 1881 Census we find the couple in the New Inn with their three children. Henry has simply described his occupation at ‘Inn Keeper’ but Elizabeth has had herself listed as a, ‘Licensed Victualler’s wife’. There seems a certain pride in their new life. They are listed in an 1885 Directory as still being in the New Inn but we know that the family left soon after.

For some reason it did not work out and Henry had to work for a time as a farm labourer at Ecton. The family are there when Eliza, his wife, died on 22nd September 1888. She cause of death was Phthisis which was a medical term for a wasting disease but usually referred to T.B., one of the great scourges of Victorian England. She had been ill for fiteen months and was just thirty-six years old when she died. The family's fortunes were rapidly falling apart.

In 1891 Henry was back in Northampton as a journeyman baker, boarding with his new employer, Edward Kightly at 51 Scarletwell Street.  Writing earlier, in 1869, Richard Rowe described this part of town:

. . . which is almost solely peopled by shoemakers and their purveyors. Neatly built, yet squalid, unfragrant, two-floored cottages; roadways splashed with slops and littered with garbage; dirty children quarrelling, grubbing in the dirt, racing, squealing, squatting on the kerbstone in rows; vixenish women and beery men, in and outside of the low ”publics”, are the salient features of this area.

His eldest son, George is an ‘aerated water van boy’ boarding just down the road from his widowed father. But where are his other children? We find Rose, Samuel, Margaret, John and Leonard all in Northampton Union Workhouse. It seems that poverty has ripped his children away from Henry but the truth is sadder. The children had been taken away to the Workhouse to protect them from their father. It was his nine-year-old daughter, Rose, who was the butt of his violence. He had accused her of selling bones and keeping the money and had told her to go upstairs. The Northampton Mercury for the 25th July 1890 continued:

Rose said that when he came up she ran under the bed and he told her to come out. She had no bruises before that beating. He had beaten her before but not many times.

The family were living at 9 Little Cross Street and Eliza Quick, the wife of a lamp-lighter from Number 2  had seen her with a bleeding shoulder which Henry claimed in court had come from her hiding under the iron bedstead. Other of his children testified against him and ‘Sammy’ told how he had chopped the stick up’ after his father had gone out. The Police Sergeant who went to the house found the children ‘insufficiently clothed and very dirty’. He added:

The house was also in a very dirty condition. In both bedrooms you could not put a pin anywhere for fleas, and the stench was dreadful.

Henry was sentenced to one month’s hard labour. We now see that his employer had taken him in as a lodger after his release. Some six months later, on 19th December 1891 he died in Northampton Union Workhouse of Phthisis, like his wife. He was thirty-nine years old. By 1901 Rose and her sister Margaret had become maids in Eastbourne. We can only hope that they had happy lives.

Fanny Figgis, Henry’s sister, had married Thomas Mitchell Chambers in 1873. He was a soldier who in 1871 had been a private in the 99th Foot in East Cowes Barracks.  When we next find Fanny she is living in Leeds with six of her children. We discover what has happened in the meantime as five of the children have been born in various parts of India and only the youngest has been born in Leeds. Thomas returns to civilian life and by 1901 is a boiler stoker in a tannery and two of his girls are ‘leather blackers’.

Thomas Figgis, in 1881, was a general labourer, lodging in Butchers Buildings in Irchester. By 1891 he has moved to West Ham with his wife Zillah (sometimes Lillah). The family then moved back to Wellingborough and in 1911 we still find Zillah in Melton Road but there is no sign of Thomas.  In fact Thomas was probably paving the way for their emigration for he and Zillah emigrated to Summerland in British Columbia and certainly Zillah, in 1929 moved on to Ohio in the United States.

Harriett Ann is something of a mystery and I have found neither her death nor other appearance in the records. Her younger brother James, however, seems to have reacted badly to the death of his parents and shows up in the local newspapers. In July 1879 he was fined for being drunk and disorderly in Denford and in 1880 he was again fined for the same offence in Thrapston. He remained in Ringstead as a lodger and worked as a farm labourer. It does not seem that he married and on 9th December 1896, aged just thirty-eight, he died in Thrapston Workhouse.

Arthur, like his brother, Thomas, moved to work in West Ham and then on to Maidstone in Kent, the birthplace of his wife Rose. By 1911 he is a widower there, living with his son, Sidney, and working as a labourer for the Maidstone Borough Council.

The family, of course, like others would have naturally spread as the children grew up but the comparatively early deaths of their parents and the sudden change of lifestyle,  caused great hardships to many of the children. In some ways, Elizabeth, the youngest child, seems to have initially suffered the worst of all the siblings.

By 1881 she was a pauper in Thrapston Union Workhouse and just eighteen years old. Normally that would have meant that she was pregnant but we have found no sign of that. When we look at the Census page, we see around her, Harriett Beeby, 53, imbecile; Abigail Clarke, 49, imbecile; Eliza Fairey, 81, blind and imbecile; Elizabeth Dix, 26, imbecile, Mary Ann Matthews, 39, imbecile and Elizabeth Richardson, 33, imbecile. It is likely that they were all in the women’s dormitory together. It must have been an unpleasant and, at times, frightening place for a young girl to live. It seems strange that she was not given a temporary home in the New Inn with her brother, Henry, and his young family, but perhaps we can now understand that there may have been good reasons why she preferred to go to the Overseer and present herself at the Porter’s Lodge of the Workhouse.

Like a number of women, marriage was a way of escaping from desperate poverty to bearable poverty. In early 1883 she married Thomas Mitchell who was some nine years her senior.

Thomas came from a large family in Raunds. His father, James, was an agricultural labourer and it would have been a hard life for them all. Thomas followed his father into farm work. Elizabeth and Thomas first lived in Raunds and their first child, Ernest Leonard Mitchell, was baptised there on 3rd May 1883, shortly after their marriage. Sadly, Ernest died a little later in the same year. Their second child, Edith, was baptised on 15th February 1885 in Raunds and she survived to have children of her own.  The next two children however died very young. Some time around 1890 the family moved to Chapel Lane, Stanwick and Thomas became a limestone digger at one of the local pits. A son, Fred, had been born in 1888 and baptised in Raunds on 19th February 1888 and another daughter, Florence Maud, had been baptised in June 1890 but she was buried in early 1892 and Fred, who seems to have been baptised again in 1992, followed soon after.

We cannot be sure why Thomas changed his work but a brief article in the Raunds section of the Northampton Mercury for 23rd January 1891 gives some insight into the seasonal, unreliable, nature of much farm work and the suffering that this could produce.

DISTRESS – In consequence of the prolonged frost the agricultural labourers and all those following outdoor employments have experienced a considerable amount of privation, if not actual distress, since Christmas. Soup and other necessaries have been distributed.

Elizabeth and Thomas stayed in Stanwick for at least five years but then moved to Knuston Farm Cottages in Knuston, near Irchester. They are there in 1901 and Thomas is now a horsekeeper on a farm. Only Percy (9) and Ellen (5) are till at home for Edith, at 16, is a domestic servant to Walter Woodward, a plumber, and his wife Alice and their young family at 55 Moor Road, Rushden. Such girls were very vulnerable and she gave birth to an illegitimate daughter, Georgina, a couple of years later.  Thomas may have had a cottage but it would have been tied to the job and it may be that they lost both for by 1911 they are back in Raunds at 4 Woodruff’s Yard off the High Street. Thomas is once again a farm labourer and Elizabeth is working as a charwoman. The two children are bringing some money to the household, Percy as a shoe riveter and Ellen by working half days as a domestic.

We are reminded by the 1911 Census that Elizabeth has had seven children, four of whom have died. The small, almost unnoticed, griefs of many families in the nineteenth century. Their daughter Edith had married Harry Marshall and was living in Rotton Row with a family of her own. 

Things seem settled but once again fate was against the family for in 1913 Thomas died and five years later in 1918 Elizabeth followed him to the grave. She had lived to see all her three remaining children married and her son Percy, return alive but wounded from the Western Front.




Raunds, Ringstead, Irchester, Northampton, Stanwick Censuses ( ).

FreeBMD ( ) .

Northampton Mercury ( ).

The Northampton Shoemaker. Richard Rowe. Good Words 1st November 1869 ( .

Death Certificate for Henry Figgis 1891.



Maud Emma Kate Burgin (1878 – 1897)

In this brief story of a brief life we can see the useful work that the Workhouse could do but also its limitations and bureaucratic heartlessness.

Maud was the daughter of Edward (or Edwin) Burgin who had been born in Wolverhampton of Irish parents. His wife Sarah Kettle was from Spittlegate near Grantham in Lincolnshire and the couple had married in the Grantham area in the spring of 1871. In 1861 Sarah had been staying in Ringstead with her much older sister, Mary, who was married to agricultural labourer, Thomas Wills. It was presumably this connection that brought the young couple to the village. Their first two children Mary Ann and Elizabeth were both born in Spittlegate so it seems likely that the couple moved south between 1875 and 1878 when Maud Emma Kate was born, followed by her sister Alice in 1880.

The family were in Carlow in 1881 and moved to London Road by 1891. At first Edward had been an ironstone labourer but by 1891 was a farm labourer, perhaps because of the closure of local pits. The children kept being born, and dying. We know from the 1911 Census that Sarah had fifteen children of which only five survived.

It is Maud Emma Kate with whom we are concerned with here. On 14th August 1896 she gave birth to an illegitimate son in Thrapston Workhouse. We know from a later newspaper report that it was a very difficult birth. The boy was called Bertram Leonard Burgin and it seems that he remains in the Workhouse for he is there in the 1901 Census aged five years old. In the November of the following year Maud was coming to the end of a pregnancy again. Once more she was having a very difficult time.

She gave birth to a female child on the Friday and was attended by Mary Mitchell, the midwife. On the following two days she complained of pains in her stomach and chest. She seemed comfortable on the Saturday night but then deteriorated and, on the Sunday afternoon, Mary Mitchell tried to get an order for a doctor as Sarah, her mother could not leave her daughter and the other children. Dr. Ramsay told her that he would not attend Maud without the money or an order. She went to a Mr Whitney and then to Mr Fisher who said he was the overseer but could not give her an order. He sent her to Mr O. Smith who also said that he could not give her one and in desperation to one of the Workhouse Guardians called Smith but he too could not help.  She told Edwin (Edward) that his daughter needed a doctor but he could not afford to pay for one.

Maud became very ill and, before eight o’clock on the Monday morning, her father went to Thrapston to see Mr. Parish, the Relieving Officer to get an order for a doctor but he said he could only give an order for her to come into the Workhouse.

Edwin pleaded that his daughter was dangerously ill and not fit to be moved but Parish still refused to give a doctor’s order. On returning home he found that his daughter was dead.

At the Inquest held on the following Tuesday, at the Barber’s Arms, Dr. Mackenzie said that Mrs Mitchell, the midwife, had come to see him (presumably when he was busy or out and Doctor Ramsay took the message). When she returned soon after, he told her she need to get an order from the parish but she again returned and said that she could not obtain one. The Mercury report continues:

. . . he told her to go to the Relieving Officer and also told her what to do with the patient. He gave her some pills and told her to poultice the patient; in fact he told her just the same as he should have done had he attended. . . [As a result of a post mortem examination] he found that the cause of death was puerperal peritonitis*. He did not think that he could have prevented this had he attended the confinement. He could not say if he had been called in sooner he could have saved her life. Deceased was a very unhealthy and bloodless woman. There was no sign of unskilful treatment by the midwife.

[*A not uncommon cause of death at this time, in mothers after childbirth, especially if there had been tissue damage during a difficult birth. The use of hands (or instruments), that had not been properly sterilised could also be a cause.]

The case naturally led to an outcry in Raunds and the Inquest jury asked the Coroner to pass the following resolution to the appropriate authorities:

That the jury has heard with consternation that the overseers of Raunds have received no instructions as to the granting of orders in cases of urgency and necessity:- That the jury strongly recommend the Thrapston Board of Guardians to appoint a resident Relieving Officer for the parish of Raunds.            

We see the inadequacies and bureaucratic callousness of the old system which would eventually lead people to call for a ‘free’ National Health Service.

The Thrapston Board of Guardians met on Tuesday 30th November and considered the criticism levelled at its officers and doctors. The members defended the actions taken and made it clear where they felt the fault lay.

The parents must long have known what state this poor girl was in, and it was possible for them to make preparations beforehand. Not only did the father earn 18s. a week, but the girl herself and another daughter and a son were earning money and with the income coming in they could not find fault with the Relieving Officer in refusing to give an order. If he had done so he would not have carried out his duty according to the interests of the Board, because they did not want to encourage parents to neglect their children or encourage people to get into these immoral ways. . . Mr Lovell pointed out that if the doctor had not put his foot down and get an order he would never get any fees at all.

The Board decided that:

. . . under the circumstances they would pay the expenses of burying and they also exonerated the doctor, the overseers and the Relieving Officer from blame, taking no steps regarding the recommendations to appoint a Relieving Officer for Raunds. – The matter then dropped.

When we look back through the newspaper reports we see part of the reason for the attitude of the Board to the Burgins. In 1885, while they lived in Ringstead, Edward was charged with leaving his wife and family chargeable to the Thrapston Union. In 1890 he was found guilty of not sending his daughters Alice and Maud to school. Perhaps most significantly, just two years before Maud’s death her mother’s fifteenth and last child was stillborn. The midwife went to the doctor to ask him to certify the cause of death but he refused without an order. There was not thought for the mother.

The Burgins were a “problem family” and they were clearly labelled as the “undeserving poor”. Maud suffered as a result.

The daughter, born just before her young mother’s death, did survive and was also called Maud in memory of her mother. By 1911 she was boarding with her brother ‘Bertie’ in Twywell with a widow called Elizabeth Percival. In the First World War Bertie enlisted with the Royal Sussex Regiment and died of his wounds on 26th April 1917. There appears to have been no correspondence about obtaining the medals due to him at the end of the war.


Ringstead, Raunds, Stanwick, Knuston and Thrapston Censuses. ( ).

Riingstead, Raunds and Thrapston BMD.

Northampton Mercury. ( ). 

UK Soldiers Died in Great War 1914-19 ( ).




Warren, William (c1781 - 1849) & Richard (1817 – 1900) Agricultural Labourers. Ringstead ENCLOSURE


Warren, William (c1781 - 1849) & Richard (1817 – 1900) Agricultural Labourers. Ringstead ENCLOSURE



At the trial of William Weekley Ball in 1864, for the murder of Lydia Attley, one of the witnesses was a farm labourer called Richard Warren. He was the man who found the bones in a ditch that were first thought to be the remains of Lydia. In his testimony he tell of his find but he also’ perhaps betrays a nostalgia for the times before Enclosure came to the parish.

 His testimony was recorded in the Northampton Mercury on 27th February 1864

I am a labourer at Ringstead and have lived there forty-seven years. I recollect the Ringstead fields before they were enclosed. I know the road leading from Mr Peach’s house towards Keyston. That was in an open field state long before the enclosures, with a hedge of the Denford side but none on the Ringstead side. For a long time after the enclosure was a very rough bad road. In the present month I was in the employ of Mr Peach. On Wednesday 3rd, I was set to digging out the ditch on Keystone Lane. I was digging the ditch on the Ringstead side, which, with the hedge, was made after the enclosure.

John Hill, another labourer who gave evidence, also recalls that the field was enclosed in 1840. It was obviously a change that was still an important event in their lives.

In some ways the changes to the world that the Ringstead villagers inhabited in the nineteenth century was even greater than in the following hundred years. Change, although not necessarily predictable became expected, as the way of the world in the years after Victoria. For those agricultural labourers who had grown up with the settled certainties of rural life the industrialisation of the English landscape came as a profound shock.

A young man, writing in 1820 some thirty miles downstream in the land between the Nene and the Welland bitterly wrote of the impact on the village life:


                       There once were lanes in nature’s freedom dropt,

                       There once were paths that every valley wound –

Inclosure came, and every path was stopt;

Each tyrant fix’d his sign where paths were found,

To hint a trespass now who cross’d the ground:

Justice is made to speak as they command;

The high road now must be each stinted bound:

- Inclosure, thou’rt a curse upon the land,

And tasteless was the wretch who thy existence plann’d

This attitude is important because it is the voice of one of those affected. It is a rare report from an agricultural labouring man, even if a very unusual one. He goes on to say, “And parish –slaves must live as parish-kings allow.” It is little wonder that John Clare’s rich patron preferred the descriptions of nature and found verses like this too radical.

Ringstead had originally been mooted for enclosure in the late eighteenth century but it was not until the middle of the nineteenth that it finally happened, although all around them had earlier succumbed.

One by one the parishes fell: Woodford 1764, Denford 1765, Raunds 1797, Great Addington 1803, Islip 1804, Little Addington 1830 (on map?). Of these the large parish of Raunds put up the most resistance and the smaller commoners and landowners counter-petitioned. When they were ignored there were riots led by the village women and shoemakers who pulled down fences and dismantled gates with which they made huge bonfires and celebrated long into the night. Nevertheless the enclosure went ahead and finally only Ringstead stood alone.

The Ringstead Commons came under the aegis of the Raunds Manor Court and Ringstead men railed against the orders and fines that were imposed upon them for overstocking or releasing their stock from the pound without paying the fine due. A recent study of Commoners, much of it based on Northamptonshire by J.M. Neeson has shown that right up to enclosure their was a sophisticated system of rights and obligations which affected most of the villagers. There were haywards and fieldsmen who tried to ensure that land was not overgrazed and that stock was kept healthy and also to ensure that ancient rights were protected. In the mid eighteenth century a number of Ringstead men were fined in the Raunds Court. Neelson records that James Weekley was regularly fined both for trespass and for pound breach and two Ringstead farmers were fined for neglecting and refusing to scour the watercourse running from Lubering Spring in Ringstead to Oak ditch in Raunds “to the very great detriment and damage of the Meadow ground belonging to the inhabitants of Raunds”. It was not a free-for-all and even the disputes were part of the fabric of village life. Enclosure supporters naturally tended to disparage the old agriculture. What even some of these supporters did allow was that enclosure brought many of those who depended on the commons into destitution and the workhouse.

We can only guess at what Richard and the other villagers would have made of all this. What was life like for agricultural labourers before enclosure? What changed in their lives as a result? The first thing to say is that it is sometimes alleged that it was the end of the peasant farmer in England. What the term peasant really meant was that paid employment was only one strand of the work that a “commoner” family did to keep from want and starvation. So the shoemakers and lacemakers might keep a cow on the common or have a small piece of the arable common land or a woman might collect firewood. Also men and women would take rabbits and birds as well as mushrooms and berries. Suddenly these “rights” were taken away and as Clare says the land was protected by the law by those who thought it was part of their birthright. This is why poachers were often supported by the villagers. They saw it as a man taking his due.

I see it rather like an old woman living in the house that she and her ancestors had lived in for generations. It is rather tumbledown and has few modern conveniences and she is cajoled or forced to leave it and go into a residential home. Now she is well fed and warm but she has lost her independence, the thing that gave her life meaning. This is only a partial analogy for, at enclosure, many lost not only their independence but their livelihoods as well.

These changes were imposed by the wealthy on the poor and, at the same time, they also brought in more and more terrible punishments for those who challenged the new order. Of course at the same time we have the steady mechanisation of farming, meaning fewer workers on the land. The lot of the agricultural labourer, never an easy one, became desperate.


An advertisement in Directory of Northamptonshire 1861 by Melville & Co.

Smith Brothers were a few miles down the Nene in Thrapston.

We see the increase in horse drawn implements and the coming of steam

(By kind permission of Northampton Record Office)

 As a result there was, throughout the century, migration to the large towns and cities, emigration to Australia, Canada and the United States and insurrection by agricultural labourers which reached their height in the Captain Swing riots of 1830. Northamptonshire, although not at the forefront of these riots, which were mainly along the south coast and as far north as Buckinghamshire, was affected by the unrest. A group of ten men from Finedon were brought to trial in 1831 for breaking up a farmer’s threshing machine. There were also isolated cases of rick burning and other damage throughout the early part of the century as the 1824 poster below, relating to an arson attack in Ringstead, illustrates.


The Thrapston Association was a group of, mainly wealthy, landowners who gave rewards and brought wrongdoers to court especially in the time before a modern police force was established

By kind permission of Northampton Record Office

It is a considerable sum of money that is being offered in reward. It would be the equivalent of some £2,500 today or the wages of a craftsman in 1824 for some eighteen months. It must be remembered that the French Revolution was not so long ago and risings throughout Europe were not so distant in the future. Many people in the establishment feared that England was on the brink of revolution.

Now let us return to Richard Warren who we left giving evidence at the trial of William Weekley Ball in 1864. He had been baptised in Ringstead Parish Church on 1st February 1817 the son of William and Ann. William was an agricultural labourer, born in about 1781, near the time when the first Ringstead enclosure was mooted.

As I have tried briefly to show it was a very different world from that after Enclosure, both in the look of the countryside and in the way the agricultural community went about its day-to-day business. It has been described by J.L. & Barbara Hammond in the following words:

The old village was under the shadow of the squire and the parson, and there were many ways in which these powers controlled and hampered its pleasures and habits: there were quarrels, too, between farmers and cottagers and there are many complaints that the farmers tried to take the lion’s shares of the commons but, whatever the pressure outside and whatever the bickering within, it remains true that the common field system formed a world in which the villagers lived their own lives and cultivated the soil on a basis of independence.

There had been Warrens in Ringstead in the early eighteenth century but they seem to disappear from the Parish records after 1723. I have not yet found William’s baptism or marriage but we know from the census that he married Anne, who was born in Irthlingborough. We also find Richard, born to William and Anne, and baptised on 1st February 1817 in Ringstead Parish Church. Other children followed and at each William is described as a labourer but at his daughter Mary Ann’s baptism on November 5th 1830 he has become “cowkeeper”. He was now approaching fifty years old and perhaps his experience had been rewarded or perhaps he was growing old and not up to the hard physical labour of arable farming. The cowkeeper is likely to have been employed as part of the commons system to look after the cows of the individual villagers who were entitled to use the common. The commons would usually consist of three types; the arable land (often divided into strips), the common meadowland and the common or waste. The “waste” might be woods or roadside verges or common in the sense we use it today.

William would collect the cows from the closes and fields of the villagers and herd them on to the common grazing for the day. At the end of the day he would bring them back. The routine would vary with the seasons but it was an important part of village life.

Enclosure was still hanging over Ringstead and some ten years later the inevitable happened. When we look at the Enclosure map of 1841 we see the names of the old fields. There are Ham Meadow Short Meadow and Great Meadow along the Nene. There are also Middle Field and Round Field where presumably the arable strips had been. The execution of the award was: 

Proclaimed on Sunday the seventh day of March one thousand eight hundred and forty one at the Outer Door of the Church of the said Parish of Ringstead immediately after Divine Service as required by the said Local Act by me

                                                            Jno Baker

                                                            Clerk to Mr Archbould

                                                            Solicitor Thrapston

The parish had some 1,982 acres and by 1841 some 1594 of these were owned by eight people. The Lord of the Manor of Ringstead, Thomas Burton had 122 acres 1 rood and 32 perches and Charles Sackville-Germain, 5th Duke of Dorset, who was soon to die without heirs, some 227 acres. The largest landowner however became George Capron a London solicitor who held 802 acres and 3 perches. He had bought the former holdings of Coy, Disbrave, Shuttleworth (Lord of Cotton Manor), Blake, Lady Booth, Coleman, Sheepshanks, Bland, and Ringstead Charity. He also bought Southwick Hall in 1841 and had acquired the manor of Stoke Doyle some ten years earlier.


Ringstead Inclosure Map

By kind permission of Northampton Record Office (Ref ML 1550)

The three arable fields (Middle Field, Round Field, Denford Field) can be seen with the meadows (Great, Short and Ham). No clear sign of common “waste”.

Can we see what effect that this had on William and the other villagers because, we must remember, it was not necessarily only those whose main work was on the land who would be affected. Other would also use the common fields for stock, firewood, wild food, including rabbits and other meat. They would also by custom glean the field after harvest picking up the lost ears and grains. It was said that some families could feed themselves until Christmas on the gleanings.

What many expected, including some supporters of the Enclosure movement, was increased poverty for some agricultural workers, an increase in those who became reliant on the Poor Law and a flight from the land. Unfortunately without further evidence it is not usually possibly to attribute any one event to Enclosure. Also far more detailed research would be needed although in general, throughout the country, historians agree that these things happened even though they may disagree on the degree of hardship and whether it was an essential change.

We have seen, in other biographies, that Daniel Ball was a shepherd with a large family, most of whom were connected to the land. We have also seen that the majority of them had either emigrated or left Ringstead forever over the next twenty years. It seems unlikely that they were the only ones. How far this was due to the natural movement of population or to the increased mechanisation of farming will be difficult to assess. Perhaps by the accumulation of separate individual events we may get some idea of the truth.

When we read in the Parish Register for May 20th 1840: the following burial:

Thomas Bates otp aged 61 Buried in the churchyard without any service – fallen by his own hand on Sunday 17th May by cutting his own throat in a most deliberate manner. Verdict unsound mind.

Do we see someone who sees little for himself when Enclosure takes away his livelihood or could it be that life had become intolerable for other reasons? We can only guess. A surer measure would be to look at infant mortality, a good indicator of poverty in the twenty years either side of 1841. I have done a quick count of those under 16 years old at burial I have set out the results in the table below:




(under 16yrs)


1820 -1829



1830 - 1839



1841 Enclosure



1840 - 1849



1850 - 1859







Does it show an increase in child mortality due to Enclosure? One would expect health to be generally improving during the century away from the industrial cities but 1852 had 13 deaths which really skews the results and that could be due to one of the epidemics that still carried away many children. All we can say is that it is possible that Enclosure had some effect but we cannot be sure, without further research.

William was buried on May 13 1849 aged 69 years and His wife, Anne, followed him on June 20th 1852 aged 63. Richard, his son had married Elizabeth Hilson on 16th October 1837 in Hargrave Church. Both are shown as twenty years old. Elizabeth was born in Stanwick where her father was a farm labourer. She was a lacemaker like many women in the local villages in the first half of the nineteenth century.

The 1841 census for Ringstead finds the young married couple in Ringstead with their young daughter, Ann, who is just eleven months old. Then as the decades pass the Censuses give no clue to any changes except that five children are born and leave their home in London End, Ringstead. The only time that Richard seems to have come into the public arena was when he gave evidence at the trial of William Weekley Ball in 1864.

In 1891 Richard is shown as a retired farm labourer aged 74. It is quite unusual for labourers to be shown as having retired so perhaps he was now incapable of work. He just saw the start of the new century for he died on 13th January 1900 and in 1901 his widow Elizabeth, aged 85, is living with her granddaughter Elizabeth Ellen at 10 London End. At some stage after this she was forced to go into the Thrapston Union Workhouse where she died on 20th November 1902.



Ringstead Censuses 1841, 1851, 1861, 1871, 1881, 1891, 1901

Ringstead Parish Registers

The Village Labourer. J.L. & Barbara Hammond (First published 1911)

The Opponents of Enclosure in Eighteenth Century Northamptonshire. J. M. Neeson. Past & Present. No. 105 November 1984

Commoners: Common Right, Enclosure and Social Change in England 1700 – 1820. J.M. Neeson (Cambridge University Press 1993 Paperback edition 1996)

Ringstead Inclosure. Act. Book of proceeding, orders, notices etc. ML777-80 (NRO)

Ringstead Inclosure Map (NRO ML 1550)

Directory of Northamptonshire 1861. Melville & Co.


150th Anniversary of Ringstead School

In honour of the 150th Anniversary of Ringstead School I have written a booklet on behalf of the Ringstead Heritage Group, It is A4 and 32 pages long with some b/w and colour images, commercially printed on good paper. The cost is £5 including uk p&p for one copy and £8 for two copies. The text of this is given below.

David Ball


Church of England School

150th Anniversary

The 150th Anniversary of the founding of Ringstead Church of England School will be celebrated on 10th & 11th November 2017. The story is partly about buildings but mainly about the vicars and teachers who brought the stones to life for generations of pupils. Much has had to be left out of this account but it would need a large book to include all that happened in this small school. 

Written by David Ball on behalf of Ringstead Heritage Group

with additional research and advice from John Abbott and the Group. 

The Ringstead Heritage Group would like to honour the memory of Evelyn Bull for giving the village the use of her wonderful collection of photographs. Our thanks too, to the family of Sydney Smith, for sharing his memories of the village entitled “The Tale of a Village Bumpkin” and various members of the Abbott family. We are also grateful to the former headteachers and teachers who have written for us of their time at the school. We hope that in some small way our work will keep their memories alive. 



  1.  Education in Ringstead before the School was built

The references to early schools or teaching in Ringstead are brief and scattered and it is probable that any places of learning were small and comparatively short lived. The first mention I have found of a possible school is in the description of two of the sons of local preacher, Henry Raymond’s sons, Henry and Thomas, born in the 1630s, who both became Church of England ministers. It is stated that they were educated at Ringstead. Was there a private school at Ringstead at this date or were they educated at home, perhaps by Henry himself or by a tutor?

According to the Clergy of the Church of England Database, on 28th July 1713, the Bishop of Peterborough appointed a schoolmaster called John Allison to Ringstead but I have not found any previous appointments. He is last mentioned in August 1720 and there does not appear to have been any replacements. Nevertheless, a John Allison married Elizabeth Fryer on July 16th 1729 in Ringstead Church and although I have not found his burial a John Allison, gentleman, had probate granted on his Will on 25th September 1766 and 23rd July 1770.  Was this the same man and did he continue as a schoolmaster in Ringstead?

During the Eighteenth Century, a number of charitable village schools were built and maintained across the country and it is perhaps surprising that a comparatively large village like Ringstead had no permanent school. White Kennett, who became Bishop of Peterborough in 1718 had described the charity schools as “Little Anglican garrisons against Popery” and Roman Catholics had never been the problem in Ringstead. This does not mean, however, that there was no schooling during this time. Much of this would have gone unrecorded and it is only in the early Nineteenth Century when the bureaucracy of state increased that we see glimpses of what teaching was available in Ringstead.

There was, however, at least one, probably short-lived, boarding school in Ringstead itself. In an advertisement in the Northampton Mercury for 15th July 1815:

Mr YOUNG respectfully informs his Friends and the Public that his SCHOOL will re-open on MONDAY 24th JULY 1815 at the moderate Terms for Board and Education of Eighteen Guineas per Annum and One Guinea Entrance; Washing 10s. 6d. per Quarter …….. he has made Convenience for the Reception of EIGHT or TEN more YOUNG GENTLEMEN as BOARDERS.

These fees amounted to about half of an agricultural labourer’s annual wage. A Select Committee on the Education of the Poor reported in 1818:

A Sunday school supported by voluntary contributions in which about 40 boys and girls are taught. Two day schools kept by women in which about 24 children are taught at their parents’ expense.

It is likely that these two Day Schools were what are usually known as “Dame Schools” and these varied in quality according to the person “teaching” (almost always a woman, hence the name) from poor quality child-minding to simple teaching of the basics of reading and writing and arithmetic. For many families the “school” allowed a wife, widow or widower to earn a living and support a family by having the children looked after for a few pence. Almost all these schools would have taken place in the women’s cottages. It is thought that Harriett Wilson, wife of Samuel, ran a small school in their house in Carlow Street in the years before the National School opened.

The Sunday School movement was started by Robert Raikes in the 1780s in the slums of Gloucester. The only textbook was the bible and moral instruction was the most important part of the curriculum. They were held on Sunday because most of the children had to work for the rest of the week. Of course, the French Revolution and the sporadic working-class risings made the ruling elite realise that if they did not educate the children they would learn from other, perhaps more dangerous, sources. Initially the Sunday Schools were aimed at the children of the urban poor but they quickly spread. In Ringstead, we know from a report in the Northampton Mercury of 29th June 1844, on the celebration of its 20th Anniversary, that the Ringstead Baptist Sunday School started in 1824. Schoolrooms were added to the Baptist Church in 1887 but they were built on the site of the first chapel, (which adjoined the new one), and had been used as a schoolroom but had fallen into disrepair.

Much of the early history of the Ringstead Wesleyan Methodist Church has been lost but it seems certain that they too had had a Sunday School for some time and new schoolrooms were added as part of improvements carried out in 1878. The 1851 Religious Census of Northamptonshire recorded that, on 30th March of that year, the Parish Church had 73 “Sunday Scholars”, the Wesleyans 27 and the Baptists 66.  This means that 166 children out of a total population of 727 had some limited, basic schooling.

At least some of these Sunday Schools certainly saw themselves as having an educative role beyond the mixture of social gathering and bible study that older readers may remember from their own youths. In the 1861 Census William Kitchen described himself as “Particular Baptist Minister and Schoolmaster” which implies something beyond this basic role.

It is also worth remembering that some children went out of the village for their education. A few of those from the richer families would have attended a major public school but also some of the local farmers and professional men’s sons would have attended less expensive, more local, boarding schools. We have seen the one at Ringstead which appears to have been short-lived but we know, for example, that Samuel Green, son of Noah, a farmer, attended a school called variously Thrapston Academy and Hill House School in Thrapston run by a Mr Wickes. Another pupil, Joseph Knight, wrote letters home from there in the period 1835 to 1837 and these are now held at the Northamptonshire Record Office. They are extremely stilted (and supervised) and give a glimpse of the education offered. Here is just a sentence from one of them:

Through this half year I have endeavoured to improve in the several departments of my scholastic business to the best of my ability and though I am conscious of my many delinquencies I hope that on the whole the result will be satisfactory to my dear parents and friends.

Other children would have gone to school in Raunds where a Church of England School had existed for many years. On his death in 1928 the obituary in the Northampton Mercury of 9th March recorded that:

A native of Ringstead, William Saddington entered Raunds School sixty-seven years ago and he recalls how he used to have to traverse the two miles to and from school each day along roads made up chiefly of limestone, terribly dusty in summer and churned to mud in winter.           

As for many of our institutions, the Nineteenth Century saw the expansion and centralisation of what had been a mixture of often small local philanthropic schemes to improve the lot of the people. In education the main drivers of this were two rival organisations, the British and Foreign School Society, (based on the Society for Promoting the Lancastrian System for the Education of the Poor) founded in 1808, for the Nonconformists and the National Society, founded in 1811, for the Church of England. Each built and funded schools, increasingly with Government financial assistance.


Original Plans for the School (Northampton Record Office). Architects; Wadmore & Baker

Notice the stepped floor, or “gallery”, for the desks to go on (and curtain to separate classes) in the main Schoolroom and the smaller Classroom: also the “soil pits” at the back of the school.

 2 The Building of the School

In Ringstead it was the Church of England that took on the role of school provider and that had much to do with two related Vicars of the joint parish of Denford with Ringstead. They were both prickly characters who were forceful and some would say bullying but with the personality to take on the local landed classes and squeeze money and backing from them.

The first was Alfred John Sandilands whose wife had left him soon after their marriage and just before his arrival in Ringstead from Derbyshire. She accused him of keeping her locked up and allegedly wrote her plea for help in blood on her handkerchief which she threw out of her bedroom window.

Whatever the truth of his domestic life, when he arrived in 1854, he found the Ringstead Church vandalised and in a state of total disrepair and set about its repair and improvement. He had begun this work when he died suddenly and was replaced by his nephew, Percival Richard Renorden Sandilands who among other posts had been a Classics Master at Cheltenham College for ten years. He and his wife and family moved into the new Denford Rectory built by his uncle. His first task was the completion of the church renovations but he then started on the project of the building of a new school. He seems to have worked tirelessly, sending out letters, holding meetings, and applying for a Government grant.

The grant application and the certificate of the completed work show that £543 18s 6d was raised by voluntary contributions, £27 3s 6d by collections at the chapel and church and £10 from the Diocesan Education Society. Along with other small amounts and the £186 5s government grant a total of £907 15s was raised. From this money raised, £721 10s went on the building plus £130 to the builder, £7 legal fees, £42 5s to the architects and £7 on other expenses.

The school was built of rough dressed “Raunds’ Stone”, a type of limestone found locally, with fair stone coigns, in the Gothic Style to mirror the church. The roof was of timber, stained and varnished and the partition walls were built of concrete, a modern, cheaper alternative to brick.

The land, part of Pound Close, was given by George Capron who lived at Southwick Hall but who had bought large parts of the Ringstead open fields in the period of Enclosure 1839 to 1841. The land given was leasehold, the term being 1000 years from the Feast of St Michael the Archangel (Michaelmas) 1620.

We see from the grant application that Percival Sandilands and the Committee were building the school for the labouring poor of Denford and Ringstead (and it was intended to call it “The Denford and Ringstead School” originally). The Reverend Sandilands gave the reasons for the need for a school which included:

1 The extreme ignorance and low moral tone of the population, particularly of the inhabitants of Ringstead.

2 The absence of any resident Gentry to exert a healthy influence on the lower orders.

The intention was to appoint a married man as headmaster with his wife to be employed to teach the girls “sewing and cutting out”.

The final part of the application showed how running costs were to be met. It was at this time that part of the Gift Charity was allocated for the school running costs. These were set out as:

            Annual Subs and Donations                £15

            Annual Collections                                 £4

            School pence                                          £26 [From what the parents would pay each week]

Annual produce of Endowment                   £40 [The terms of the Gift Charity were changed, at Percival’s insistence, to put part of the annual grants to go to the school costs]

 From other sources                                         £20

            Total                                                   £105


We see that school was not free, nor was it compulsory but most parents would have tried to get their younger children to attend school. The older boys and girls were often too useful, helping in the fields or at home, to be spared.


3. The Start of the School

The Reverend Percival Sandilands was eager to get the school up and running. The Temperance Hall had been built in the village in 1861, mainly to provide a social place for working men to go to which did not serve alcohol, but it was also pressed into service as a temporary day school. The first headmaster appointed was William Harding, a shoemaker’s son from Marlborough in Wiltshire. He had been a pupil teacher there when aged just fifteen. He became a Certificated Teacher, 4th Class and, not yet twenty years old, he started the Ringstead School in the Temperance Hall. The first day was September 18th 1865 and thirty-five children were present.

The shared accommodation did have some drawbacks. On March 19th 1867 he recorded in the School Log Book:

            Holiday given. Room wanted for tea party. 

The building of the school started in April 1866 and on Sunday 13th November 1867 was opened and William and his young wife moved into the new school house.  He also had a garden at the back of the school, the other side of the earth toilets. A fast build by Messrs Cosford of Northampton. but we must remember that there was no water, gas electricity, central heating, or sewerage. Even up to 1904 the site did not have a water supply of any kind and the headteacher had to go next door to collect a water for his house. 

An official opening by the Bishop of Peterborough took place on the following Wednesday, 16th November 1867, with a service in the church. He preached a sermon stating:

The interest of religion required that knowledge should be widely extended. Druids, priests and hierophants ruled only where ignorance existed.

One wonders if the congregation was confused as to what elephants had to do with it.

The reporter from the Northampton Mercury called it a marvellous occasion but . . .

. . . the only drawback was the coldness of the church which was in no way mitigated by the door being left open during the whole service.

The Reverend Sandilands reported that there were 85 children attending the new school. One problem from the start, however, had been the poor attendance of the children from Denford, especially the younger ones, in bad weather. The resourceful vicar set about finding a solution to the problem. He got the consent of the Bishop of Peterborough to grant a piece of land next to “The Old Vicarage” in Denford for the building of an Infants School and this was opened in 1872.

Original Plans for the School (Northampton Record Office). Architects; Wadmore & Baker.

On January 29th 1874 William Harding and his family left and were replaced by John Bannister from Keighley in Yorkshire. He was not married but he brought with him his older sister Martha, who had been a worsted weaver, to teach the girls needlework.

There were also two pupil teachers, Martha Cave and Beatrice Morris. [John and Martha Cave married soon after.] The school was also extended in 1874 to cope with the increasing numbers although the School Inspector expressed his view that the class run by Mrs Abbott in the Temperance Hall was adequate. It appears that this was an Infants Class but it is not clear if it was run as part of as a separate organisation. There is also a mention that “The Manse” (meaning the Baptist Minister) was willing to provide 15 extra places “to the school”. It seems this refers to the Baptist Schoolroom next to the Chapel.

Through all this, Sandilands, with the help of his curate, prepared boys for the “Public Schools etc.”, charging £120 for pupils under 14 years old. In 1874 after some astonishingly productive years Percival left, vowing never to return to the “banks of the Nene”.

In the School Log Book we see pupils’ absences which would not be allowed under the Government regime today:

April 30th 1875. Only a few children at school this morning because a menagerie through both villages. No school was kept.

May 21st 1875. The week being wild and wet many children at home – also of account of Whitsuntide many were absent all the week. Average low.

The grant to the school from the government was dependent on several factors including the numbers attending and the Inspector’s Report. On 22nd July 1876 the School received the unwelcome news that:

            The grant is reduced by one tenth for the defective instruction of the infants.

John Bannister continued as the headteacher but, on 13th September 1880, he was batting for the newly formed Ringstead Cricket Club when he was hit in the eye by a ball bowled with the now established “terrific style” of overarm bowling. He had to go to London to have his eye removed but returned to work after a week’s sickness leave and never mentioned his problems in the School Log Book again.

Compared to today’s school there would have been large classes, very few resources and much rote learning. In 1891 the poems to be recited were:


                                Standards l & ll                       The Beggar Man

                               Standard lll                              The Wreck of the Hesperus

                              Standard lV – Vll                     Richard l Shakespeare


Object lessons were a popular teaching method with an “object” being shown (not always in the flesh) and then the children would be instructed about it. In 1891 the list included:


                         Animals                          Vegetables                         Miscellaneous 

                         Camel                                  Flax                                        Candle 

                Ostrich                                 Mustard                                Looking-glass 

                 Cuckoo                                Rice                                       Sponge 

Whale                                  Wheat                                   Honey 

Hive-Bees                            Barley                                    Chalk 

Owl                                       Cocoa                                    Coal


Also there would be lessons on form and colour.

Attendance could still be irregular, often because girls were helping at home and boys with farm work, particularly at harvest times. Also flooding as well as influenza, scarlet fever and other epidemics were common. As we have said, attendance could affect government grants so schools tried to encourage regular attendance by carrot and stick. Around 1890 a token was introduced, for regular and punctual attendance during a week, which counted for a penny to set against the next week’s fees.

Token found by Roy Dickens in his garden

Photograph by Janice Morris

On September 21st 1891, however, there was a significant entry in the Log Book:

 School fees not taken. The first meeting since free Education Act came into force.

The 1870 Education Act is often seen as the start of schools for all children but it was not compulsory (for 5 to 10-year olds) until 1880 and, as we have seen, it was not free until 1891.  The school leaving age was raised to 11 in 1893 and 12 in 1899. It was the making of education compulsory together coupled with problems over religious differences that caused discord in Ringstead at the end of the Nineteenth and into the Twentieth Century and the local Nonconformist’s grievances were raised in Parliament. The core of this dispute was that the children not attending the Church of England morning assembly were being put to the bottom of the class, deemed to be late and therefore were marked as absent. This was important because, without attaining Standard 5, they could only leave school early, under what was unfairly nicknamed the “Dunces’ Certificate”, if they had had sufficient attendance in their last year (at least 250 days). Employers were liable to a penalty if they used children without this certificate. In protest, a few parents sent their children to the Wesleyan School in Raunds.


Earliest picture of the Schools (Infant and Junior) exterior, thought to be about 1890. It looks as if the children are dressed for a special day. The school has already had several extensions.

There were a disastrous few months with a young headmaster called Albert Crew. His problems started with snowballs being thrown into the school by some older boys and ended with him being charged with unlawful assault. Albert left with his sister to pursue his career elsewhere and a new head, Thomas William Johnson from Peterborough, was appointed on June 19th 1893. He was about 25 years old and came with his wife Frances to live in the school house.

Many of the wives, or other relatives, of the headteachers also taught in the school and later, helped as school secretaries. Most of the other teachers were local women who had started as monitors or pupil-teachers but this was not exclusively the case. Smith Bannister, brother of the headteacher had taught in the school. Also, a Miss Frances Belton, who taught the Infants Class for five years in the 1890s was often late because she had missed the train from Northampton.

The school was once again extended in 1894 partly because of the raising of the school leaving age but also the growth of the village which had roughly doubled in size during the century.

This is thought to be the oldest class photograph (1890s).

Thomas Johnson standing on the right.


4 The New Century

School Photograph 1901, with Thomas Johnson on the left. (Margaret Thatcher’s father is the blond boy at the top right.)

It is with Thomas we see, for the first time, the school photographs and we hear of him through the recollections and writings of grandparents passed down the generations.

The new century brought uncertainty to the school. In March 1904 a notice to build a new “Board School” for about 250 children at Ringstead was issued and the following year a public meeting was held to look at the options. In 1905 there were 159 on roll in the “Mixed Class” and 66 in the Infants (plus 42 infants at Denford). Ringstead was said to be greatly overcrowded. The Nonconformists in general favoured a new school and if improvements were not made funding was threatened to be withdrawn. The Managers agreed to extend and improve the school facilities and this was accepted by the Local Education Authority.

The School Managers’ Minute Book for this period is held at Northamptonshire Record Office. We see that much more time was devoted in their meetings to the basic practical issues at the school. These included, coke that would not burn, ordering of more disinfectant, requests for pay rises by assistant teachers. There seems to have been a very rapid turnover of these assistant teachers, mainly women.  The stepped gallery in the Infants classroom was also removed and dual desks requested from the LEA.  In April 1909 it was proposed to start swimming classes for the children on Tuesdays after 3 pm. Mrs Wyman had agreed that they could use the river bank in Branch Meadow. The official letter, however was from George Capron, presumably her landlord and this proposed an annual fee of fifty shillings. Previously, it had been used by the village children for free and the unexpected charge seems to have led to the proposal being quietly dropped. Later, during the 1940s former pupil, Michael Peacock remembered that in hot weather Mr Coates would march the children down to the river and teach them to swim.

The caretaker’s problems were also aired. All the classroom stoves needed lighting, cleaning and keeping-in and she was now at school from 6 am to 10 pm each day. Her pay was recommended to be increased to ten shillings a week.  She also struggled with other basic functions:

            April 31st 1915

The managers were informed the caretaker was in difficulties owing to a lack of ashes or other material to cover the contents of the pails from the latrines. The Chairman said that he had spoken to Mr Wittering about carting a load of soil to the top of the boys’ playground as a temporary measure and Mr Dolton undertook to look into the matter further. 

Also in 1915 a new classroom was built.

The First World War would have brought sad news of brothers, fathers, cousins and uncles killed and injured. At the end of the War the remaining 40% of men over 21 years old and, for the first time, some 40% of women were given the vote. In education, the Fisher Act raised the school leaving age to 14 (with some exemptions). Denford Infants School, despite strong opposition from parents, was closed in 1915 as a war economy measure and the children sent to Thrapston or Ringstead. After the war there was again a clamour for its re-opening but in 1923 the Board of Education refused to give permission. It did eventually re-open as a Primary School soon after and did not finally close until 1955.

Thomas Johnson was the headteacher for 34 years and 4 months and his last entry in the School Log Book was on 30th September 1927. The teachers and pupils presented him with a smoker’s table in mahogany and his wife, who had also taught at the school, a three-tier cake stand. The Young Men’s Institute, of which he had been President for many years, gave him a case of pipes.

 One former pupil wrote much later:

The school where I once learned to read

I stood outside a while

And thought of Daddy Johnson

Who seldom wore a smile


His cane was always near at hand

And often it would fly

If arms unfolded did become

Or one but blinked an eye.

Perhaps some exaggeration in the cause of rhyme but it is important to realise that most children would stay on at Ringstead school until the end of their full-time education. In 1921 the school leaving age had been raised to 14, without exception, and in 1936 to 15 (although allowing the children of poorer families to leave early). The task of coping with these older, sometimes reluctant, pupils with few resources was becoming more difficult and the Punishment Book records between 1 and 4 strokes for wrongdoers. This book continued into the 1960s.

Constantine James Mapley, who had been the headteacher at Earls Barton, took over on October 3rd 1927. This was only a temporary posting, however and Mapley moved on to the headship of Culworth C. of E. School in the west of the county where he saw out the remainder of his career, retiring in 1941. 


Ringstead pupils preparing for the May Day 1928 Procession and Celebrations

In 1928 Sidney Charles Robinson was appointed and we see a flurry of school activity, including a first “Open Day”, reported by the Northampton Mercury on 5th October 1928.

OPEN DAY. – The first “open day” at the Ringstead School was held on Thursday, when a large number of parents availed themselves of the opportunity to view the work of the children. Visitors were enabled to see instruction being given in handicraft, drawing, singing, reading, recitation and dramatization. The infants’ section, which showed a model of a farmyard and the conduct of a business in a provision store, was the cause of much interest.

Other changes came to the village. In 1927 the first electricity sub-station was built opposite Tithe Farm. During the next few years, house by house, people “went electric “. We know that the church did not have electricity until 1946 when it was paid for using a bequest from Elizabeth Ann Mawson. Ringstead also did not have a piped water supply and in September 1933 Dr. McInnes stated that, “the water from the four public wells and most of the private wells in the village were ‘grossly contaminated’. . . and one well in the village at present was only giving water for an hour a day.” In 1935 the village got its first supply of piped water from Woodford Water Tower. We also know that the outside earth closets at the school were still being used in the early 1950s. It is important to remember the difficulties that children, parents and teachers had in their daily lives. We see in the School Log, in the 1890s, boys being sent home or punished for dirty hands or uncombed hair but the wonder is that most children arrived at school in an acceptable state.

Ringstead School Football Team 1931. Mr Coates is on the right.

It was an energetic start by Sidney Robinson in 1928 but the following year he moved to a headship at St Andrew’s School in Northampton and was replaced by a new headteacher, Harold John Coates.

Local man, Sydney Smith, recalling his school days from the late 1930s remembered that he was known as “Hats, Jackets and Coats” by the children. He had been born in Tewkesbury in Gloucestershire and had become a teacher before the First World War intervened. He enlisted in the 9th Gloucestershire Regiment and became a Sergeant and in 1919 was made a Second Lieutenant.  His war over, he returned home and in 1922, aged 31, married Gertrude Hewlett. J.L. Carr wrote that he spoke as if he had never really taken to Ringstead but he was there until the mid-1950s, some 27 years.

School Magazine celebrating the Centenary of the School Buildings


5. Infants and Juniors Only

As early as 1905 the Managers of Ringstead School had stated that they had the land and resources to build a School at Ringstead to cater for the older pupils now attending but in 1938 the Manor School in Raunds was changed into a District Senior School. The following year extra workshops and other rooms were added. The Ringstead children now transferred to Raunds, at the end of the school year when they were eleven years old, and had to make the trek up the hill to Raunds. Unfortunately, the Raunds School was less than three miles away so no bus was provided. There was an outcry from many parents and public meetings were held about this dangerous journey by foot or bicycle and the lack of affordable transport. 

Mercury & Herald 22nd October 1938 (image from Jon Abbott)

 This was solved by the setting up of a temporary fund to help parents pay for the bus service, which had been specially extended, to the new school. On 23rd December 1938 the Northampton Mercury reported: 

. . . that the senior children who had been withheld by their parents from going to Raunds Council School instead of Ringstead Church of England School were now attending at Raunds

Ringstead School, now a Primary School only, would have had to continue through the war years once again with fathers and brothers in the war and some children being told of the death of one of their family. Sydney Smith wrote a fascinating account of his childhood in the village and he recalled that during the Second World War that, besides Mr Coates, the other teachers were, “Mr. Gaze, Miss Kendal, Mrs. Perry, Mrs. Pettit (infants) and, when the evacuees came, Mrs. Fairclough started as another teacher”. He also told of other memories of this time.

The “Church of England” children went to St. Mary’s Church one morning each week and sometimes two of the others who did not belong to the church would go with them to pump the bellows for the organ. 

Children were appointed as monitors with specific jobs to do. In the early years we would do things such as filling inkwells (ink Monitor) or give out pens and pencils and so on. In the last year one of the tasks was that of “milk monitor” whose job it was to take out the bottles of milk to each class. While I was one of the appointed milk monitors there was a shortage of milk bottles so the farmer, Mr. Wittering would bring some milk in a churn. We had to put 1/3 of a pint of milk (190ml) with a special ladle into bottles as they were emptied and, as monitors, we could help ourselves to extra milk if there was any left over.

Just before the end of the war the 1944 Education Act introduced the “Eleven Plus” examination for all pupils which decided whether children went to a Grammar School, Technical School or a Secondary Modern School. It also made compulsory the school leaving age of fifteen although it was not until 1947 that this came fully into force.

Ringstead, like most Church of England schools, opted for “Voluntary Controlled” (rather than Voluntary Aided) status which meant that the church retained ownership of the school and site but all the running costs were to be met by the County Council. It also meant that the school would be subject to most of the increasingly centralised bureaucracy.

We have a unique, if slightly jaundiced view, of Ringstead School from the middle of the Twentieth Century. Mr Coates suffered a heart attack and another headteacher, destined for a new Kettering school which was unfinished, was sent to Ringstead to fill the gap. His name was Joseph Carr but he always referred to himself as Jim. Until he got a place to live in Spencer Street Jim had to take a bus from Kettering to a stop just after Cranford where he kept a bicycle hidden in a barn. He biked the rest of the way through Addington to Ringstead. He wrote, with the dry sense of humour for which he became famous:

The little Victorian School had a staff of three. One was Mrs Pettit who had been a pupil there, then a pupil-teacher. My dismal room led directly from the playground. There was a great gap under the door and it never was less than fairly cold. I think the only equipment was usual stock, a worn-out blackboard and a piano. The infant class had slates on which fine sand was scattered for finger-drawing and some plasticine which had merged into a mournful colour.

Playtime at Ringstead School: February 1952 by J.L. Carr

©Ringstead Heritage Group (Now displayed in School Entrance). Photo by Jon Abbott

Mr Coates and his wife continued to live in the school house and, after he had left hospital and, looking “terribly ill and worn out”, he would visit Jim Carr in his office. Carr went off to his headship in Kettering but he left teaching in 1967 and, as J. L. Carr, he became a novelist, his most famous book being a Month in the Country which was made into a film by Kenneth Branagh. He was also publisher of quirky little books and enjoyed painting. One of his pictures was discovered in the village recently. It is a view of the children playing in the school playground and the village beyond and now hangs in the School Entrance.

Harold Coates recovered sufficiently to return to duty and Alan Mayes, writing in Rance Reviewed, remembered the Coronation celebrations in Ringstead in 1953:

The school children had been practising country and maypole dancing for weeks under the watchful eye of Mr Coates, the headmaster, and were in fine form although the sodden grass underfoot curtailed their enthusiasm somewhat!

It seems likely that Mollie Lawrence, a new young teacher at the school, would have had a hand in these celebrations for she tells how she took over the May Day traditions and trained the children in maypole dancing but also extended the occasion to include singing and dancing.

Ringstead School (probably in the mid-1950s) showing new outside (flush) toilet block

The headteacher and his family still lived in the school house in 1951, at a rental of seven shillings a week, which was said by Harold Coates to be one reason why he had stayed so long in Ringstead. A bemused J. L Carr tartly remarked:

One wall of this dwelling was attached to the school, a second wall overlooked the school coke-heap and a third, the earth closets. The fourth looked over a wall upon the church graveyard.

Harold Coates was still living there in 1955 when his wife, Gertrude, died and the following year he retired

Frederick D. Hodgson became the new headteacher in the school house. Mollie Lawrence (later Miles), who was a teacher at the school from 1952 until 1964 remembers him as a much younger man with modern ideas and a real sense if fun. His wife also taught at the school and it was at this time that the staff increased to four teachers. In 1960 Mr Hodgson left and was replaced by Lewis Mitchell who had previously been at a Higham Ferrers School but he was only in post for a few years, leaving in 1964.


Headteacher Austen Orchard with class in 1965 (not all pleased to be there!)

Then came Welshman Austen Miles Orchard from 1964 to 1971 who, according the local telephone directory continued to live in the School House (Raunds 2734). It was during Austen’s time that the school celebrated its centenary. Jon Abbott remembers him as a stern character with a quick hand with a ruler across your knuckles. The 1967 edition of the School magazine celebrated the 100 years and included the headteachers summary of the changes over that time. It also included many short pieces of writing from the children including one from a young girl who gives us an insight into the May Day celebrations from the Queen’s point of view.


Mrs Margaret Idle signed the termly school statistical report for the 1971 Autumn Term but it was only a temporary appointment until the next permanent headteacher arrived. Even so, she has the honour of being the first female headteacher of the school.

David Rockley became the headteacher in January 1972 and was in post until 1981 when he moved the few miles to Raunds St Peter’s School which he later took into its new premises by the Manor School. He remained there until his retirement in 2001. By this time headteachers were unwilling to live in a “tied cottage” next to their work (especially as J.L Carr described it!). It had been a condition of appointment that the headteacher lived there but David would not agree to this. To his surprise, he was still offered the post. He, and his wife, decided that they would move into the house for a short time until they found a home of their own. They sold their house in Buckden and moved into the school house in October 1971 and David commuted to Huntingdon to complete his contract there. David tells of, “a most enjoyable part of my teaching career which brings back fond memories”.

I took up my duties in January and my wife, like my predecessor's wife, joined me as the school secretary working seven hours a week collecting the dinner money and savings money and doing whatever jobs were necessary. Mr and Mrs Les Peacock looked after the buildings as caretaker and cleaner. The school consisted of a long room which was divided off to make a hall/dining room and a classroom. There was another small classroom off the hall and a school office opposite the boys’ toilets. Meals were made in Irthlingborough and delivered to the school in containers.

The school grew in size with the growth of the village, from 90 when I started, to 155 when I left. In 1975 the LEA decided to build a new school hall for games, P.E. and meals, which were still delivered, and to remodel the old school house and incorporate it into the school. The ground floor became a reading and small study area and the school office a library. The bedrooms became a headteacher's room, secretary's office and staff toilet. As the roll continued to rise mobile classrooms were added behind the school. About that time the elm trees were felled in the field behind the school because of Dutch Elm Disease.

The new hall had been built on the sloping ground where the boys had played football so then I took them to the Ringstead FC ground and Jane Hodgett took the girls for netball on the front playground. May Day celebrations were a big event and the May Queen and her attendants had dresses made for the occasion. All the village turned out to watch the maypole and country dances and, later, sword and Morris dances.

Being a full-time teaching head kept me very busy in the classroom. But one thing which gave me a lot of satisfaction was to take the children to Thrapston Swimming Pool, behind the secondary school, and teach them to swim. With the help of a swimming instructor and parents, who were a tremendous help in the changing rooms, all the children could swim by the time they moved on to Secondary School.


New School Hall being built (with kind permission of David Rockley)

It is also with David, in 1979, that the Sales Book ends. It recorded items made by the children and the amounts charged. These items included: tray cloths, felt dogs, half apron - gingham, bags, dressing table sets, tea cosies and knitted berets.

David Rockley was followed by Peter Davies (1981 – 1993) who still lives in the village and has happy memories of his time at the school. He recently wrote:

It was my delight in 1981 to move from my 6-year headship in Thrapston to be head in Ringstead where I could live, work and worship.  The school was thriving, then with some new building in the village and an extension to the travellers’ site the numbers in the school climbed to over 220 pupils, which I believe to be the largest it has ever been.  Two extra mobiles were eventually provided.  Whilst the village life was changing we tried to keep alive local traditions like May Day and to keep the school in the centre of village life.  Close ties were established with the village churches, so that Easter productions rotated between the Parish Church, Baptist and Methodist buildings. 

As well as giving the children a good basic education we were very proud of our music making and high level of gymnastics and athletics, and swimming.  The school had excellent results at the Oundle Festival for reading and recitation.  Much of the curriculum for the older children was based on frequent residential visits to London, Yorkshire and Shropshire.  In 1993 I decided to take early retirement and shortly afterwards to work for the Goodwill Children’s Homes, a charity caring for destitute children in South India which Ringstead School had supported for many years.

After Peter Davies, Valerie Machin was a temporary replacement until the next permanent headteacher, Mrs Julie Burgess arrived in April 1994. She writes:

I have many happy memories of my time, from April 1994 to August 2000, as headteacher at Ringstead. I felt so proud of the children and the team of staff supported by parents and the governors. It was a time of great change with the National Curriculum and tighter financial controls but we all approached it with dedication but also humour, still putting the individual child at the centre of our philosophy. We had two successful Ofsted Inspectors’ Reports which were the result of everyone’s hard work but also, perhaps, the home-made cakes and Rosie’s early morning teas for the Inspectors had a part to play. We also developed with the children the school’s “Children’s Charter” and the school logo competition that produced the lovely swan design.

There are many other things, however, that come back to me. The traditional May Day and later, June Rose celebrations where we had music and maypole and other dancing, come wind, rain or shine, but usually the former. I have a vivid picture of myself playing the piano accordion with my skirt billowing in the gusty wind.

Other traditional events were the sports days, team fun days, and school fetes where the headteacher always seemed to have to have buckets of ice-cold water thrown over her. The sports teams’ successes come to mind, particularly the netball team beating the staff and the football team playing in the county final in the Rushden and Diamonds’ stadium.

There were also the special events, services and Easter musicals held next door in St. Mary’s Church or at the Shared Church. Again, one called “Joseph” and another about Samson spring first to my mind. The children were amazing. Music was a strong tradition in the school and the choir always performed well at festivals and other events. No year would have been complete without the Nativity Plays for the younger little angels but there were also the specially written pantomimes and drama productions. I recall “East End of the Beanstalk” and “Sleeping Beauty” but there were so many! Nor must we forget the hilarious staff and governors’ pantomimes such as “Snow White and the Seven Surprises”.

So many memories crowd in, including the cycling proficiency training along the main roads of Ringstead and the Book Weeks with incredible costumes. I cannot forget Mrs Palmer as an amazing Worzel Gummidge nor a tiny four-year-old Humpty Dumpty!  I must mention the class educational visits both locally and to London as well as the whole school visits to Hunstanton and the Derngate Theatre. We also had the residentials such as those to Ironbridge and to the Frontier Centre in Irthlingborough.

Finally, there was the fundraising events and I can still see the lines of pennies across the playground. I could go on but I must finish by saying that they were memorable years and the Ringstead School community is never far from my heart.

After Julie Burgess left for a new post in the summer of 2000 she was replaced by Tracey Cunningham until 2004 when she moved to Weldon School. Steven Dadd came in as a temporary replacement until Annette Ray took up post in September 2005. Annette has written of her time in Ringstead.

The first year after I arrived was very busy and I had the chance to get to know lots of the school community. At that time the school building had a number of mobile classrooms on the back playground for the Year 3/4 class and 5/6 classes. There was another mobile building which was used by the afterschool club.

In July 2006, as the school finished for the year, we packed up the library and lots of other resources and put them into store as the long-awaited building project for two new classrooms to replace the mobiles was about to begin. The two classes moved into the school building one in the hall and the other into what had been the library space. It was a challenging time as the space was very limited and of course over the year the children grew as well.  We were all excited when finally, over the 2006 Easter holidays, we moved into the two new classrooms. It was a bit of a rush to be open in time but everyone worked hard to make sure things were unpacked from those boxes in time.

After all the excitement of the new buildings we settled down to work. The School Parents’ Association worked hard to raise more funds to help us refurbish the other classrooms in the old school building. Our next step was to look at the possibility of extending the amount of field space for the children to play upon. The ground at the back of Pound Close was rented on a short-term lease. It was used for curriculum activities and also one year to grow potatoes as a class project but it was not suitable for playtimes. The school started negotiations to buy the land, which took much longer than anyone imagined but, finally, we sorted things out and the extension to the playing field was available for the school to use.

In October 2013 the school received well deserved good grading form Ofsted and it was after this that I decided that it was time to move on to new challenges. I left the school in August 2014 after having spent 9 years working with some fantastic staff, parents and, of course, wonderful children.

The last decades of the Twentieth Century and the first of the Twenty-First had seen Primary Schools undergoing profound changes. As we have seen, women headteachers ceased to be a rarity. The “child-centred learning” of the 1970s was replaced by a nationally set curriculum and testing. In 1988 the National Curriculum was introduced with testing at the new “Key Stages” (SATS), in 1991 published “League Tables” were introduced and in 1992 Ofsted (Office for Standards in Education) was set up to inspect and grade schools. Also, disabled and “special needs” pupils were expected to be “included” in the main school system rather than being taught in separate establishments. Right from the beginning, in 1867, the school has been inspected and “paid by results” but the intense scrutiny of all schools has been a feature of the last thirty years.

The old employment patterns were also changing. Fewer people work at home or in the village and main meals are rarely cooked there in the middle of the day. As we have seen, school meals had been introduced, initially delivered from Irthlingborough. These, however, stopped and for a time the children only had packed lunches. It was during the early 2010s, as part of a government initiative to provide hot school meals, that kitchens were built in what had been the P.E. storage cupboard.

The school is now part of the Peterborough Diocese Education Trust which had, at the time of writing, some 23 Academy Schools working together in mutual support.

The present headteacher Laura Buckley, who had been appointed as a deputy headteacher in 2012 succeeded Annette Ray in 2014. She has summed up the school today in the following words:

Today at Ringstead, we believe that all children should be given the opportunity to learn, to grow and to develop in a safe, caring and happy environment. We have a dedicated staff team of teachers, teaching assistants and support staff who work hard to offer children a rich environment in a friendly village school with a Christian ethos and strong sense of belonging to the local community. We set high standards of teaching and learning and expect high standards of behaviour. We develop the potential of each child and ensure that our children are happy and confident. We work hard to ensure that the children are given the best possible in a community where learning is celebrated and children’s individual achievements are valued.

Many people who are, or were, connected with the school; teachers, assistants, caretakers, parents and pupils, will have their own memories and stories not covered by this brief history. Hopefully these can be shared in other ways.

The School in 1867 and 2017

 A rough plan of the school today with the original 1867 school plan superimposed.

The top square block of the original was the ground floor of the headteacher’s house.



Abington, Herbert (1847 – 1872)  DIARY

Abington, Herbert (1847 – 1872)  DIARY

For most people in these biographies we only catch glimpses of them, as through cracks in a fence, from the official records. A number of the Abington family have featured because they have left more of their lives behind than their neighbours. We see mainly a family of shopkeepers, tailors and craftsmen, usually with a strong non-conformist faith. The Abingtons, however, as the little ‘Memoirs’ of Leonard Joseph and his son Leonard James are at pains to emphasise, were from an old family of landed gentry from Cambridge, dating back to the Norman Conquest. The Abingtons had owned estates in Worcestershire, Shropshire and Herefordshire and suffered for their Catholic sympathies during the Tudor and early Stuart periods.

The estates eventually passed by bequest, on the death of Thomas Abington, to the Crompton family of Hartpury in Gloucestershire. The ancestors of the Abingtons of our story had become lawyers and musicians at the Georgian royal courts. Unmentioned in the Memoirs is Mrs Francis Abington who was briefly married to one of the Abingtons on her way from flower girl to famous actress and notorious celebrity before dying in relative poverty. It was into this line of musicians that Leonard Joseph was born but his father died when he was very young and, although he was also a musician he had to be apprenticed to a trade [see chapter on Leonard and Herbert senior]. He later came to Ringstead as the Baptist pastor and his son Herbert Joseph became the village tea dealer, grocer and chemist

We see the children of Leonard Joseph spread across England and beyond from London to the Potteries, London, Bristol and Northamptonshire. Their children, too, often looked beyond their home towns or villages for work. We have seen the sons and daughters of the village’s agricultural labourers emigrating across the world but the regular visiting and links across long distances was something unusual in Ringstead at this time. Of course they were helped by the new cheap national postal and railway networks. The diary of Herbert Abington junior reveals people visiting relatives in Ringstead from London and returning home within the course of a long day.

Herbert Joseph Abington had married Kezia Bull who was from a local family also with a strong Baptist tradition. Her mother and father had kept the Ringstead Paper Mill and after her husband's death his widow had continued for a time with the work [see biography of William Mitchell]. Both Herbert and Kezia came from large families and this web of uncles and aunts and cousins provided the network that the main characters moved along in this story.

Herbert was the couple’s sixth child, born in Ringstead on 28th July 1847. He followed Jedidah Louisa (1837), Leonard Joseph (1838), Ebenezer Edwin (1840) and Mary Jane (1843). A brother, Benjamin Edmund, had been born two years previously to Herbert and died when Herbert was some five years old. Another brother, Joshua James, was born two years later but died within a few months. His namesake was born in 1851 and finally the youngest child, Samuel Edmund was born in 1856. With cousins often having similar names it is a complex family tree in which a name like Jedidah stands out as a welcome certainty.

Herbert, like his brothers and sisters had to learn a trade and in 1861 he is recorded as a baker. His uncle, Andrew Bull, was the village baker so it is likely that Herbert was learning his trade with him. He is only thirteen and it is unclear how long he carried on with this work.

In September 1867 he took a small brown cashbook and on the second page he wrote his name, ‘Ringstead 1867’, and a short verse telling people to keep out


Frontispiece of Diary

With the kind permission of Muriel Pack

On the first double pages he carefully wrote ‘DIARY’ on another drawn scroll and beneath it the quotation, ‘Our Lives are made up of Trifles’. On the opposite page he wrote in bold lettering ‘1867 September 28. Saturday’ and underneath the first entry:


I returned to London with my brother J [Joshua] – my cousins Margaret and Emma [Edmonds] and Louisa [Bull]; after enjoying ourselves at the feast. We arrived at Euston a little before eleven A.M. from there we went in a cab to Aunt Edmonds where we dined, after that we rode in a bus to my brother Edwin’s. after tea I amused myself by reading the newspapers  


First Entry in Diary

With the kind permission of Muriel Pack

As we have said, Herbert’s mother, Kezia’s, maiden name was Bull and she had at least six brothers and sisters. As Baptists they believed in adult baptism which can allow siblings to be hidden from our view but the family included Sarah, Susannah, Kezia, Eneas (Enos), Eliza, William, Andrew and Samuel. Two sisters, besides Kezia, had stayed locally. Sarah had first married Thomas Cheney and, on his death, George Smith: Susannah had married Noah Abbott. However, a younger sister, Eliza, had moved to London where she had married John Edmonds in 1849. John was a carpenter who had been born in Willoughby in Warwickshire and the couple lived in Clerkenwell in London. They seem to have been a very welcoming family and from the start, aunts, nieces and nephews are staying with them. In 1861 Herbert’s brother, Leonard Joseph, a journeyman Butcher, is staying with his uncle and aunt and their daughters, Selina, Margaret and Emma.

At this time Ringstead was on the Blisworth -Thrapston (Bridge Street) - Peterborough line so villagers had many choices and could pick up trains going north or south to London at Northampton, Wellingborough or Peterborough. From Thrapston’s Midland Road station, via part of what is sometimes called the Varsity Line, they could get to the main lines at Huntingdon and Cambridge or go north through Kettering.


Entrance to Euston Station (now demolished)

© British Library Board (074019)

When the young people arrived for the first time at Euston Station it must have been something of the shock with the large classical style Great Hall some 126 feet (38m) long, 61ft wide (19m) and an incredible 64ft (20m) high. Outside, they would have left through the great Classical archway. We know that some of his companions would already have seen it but we are not sure if Herbert had already been in London. The phrase ‘I returned to London with my brother’ could be read either way. He was staying with his brother Edwin (Ebenezer) who had married Elizabeth Barringer and at this time was probably living in Riley Street, Bermondsey with their small daughter Louisa. Within the next two years he had acquired a tailoring business in Kimbolton, not far from Ringstead).

There were other relations in the area on whom Herbert could call. 'Ebey' (Ebenezer) Smith, the son of his mother’s eldest sister Sarah and her second husband George Smith, was living in the area. So Herbert had places to stay and people to see. It would have been an exciting if rather daunting experience for any young man with, close at hand, magnificent buildings and opulence but also the terrible poverty and dangers of Dickens’s London.

Two days after he arrived we see that there is a serious reason for his move to the capital.

            Sept. 30 Monday

Went to Brompton Hospital and got a supply of medicine and oil, commenced as an outpatient August 5. I rode there and back by steamboat. Edwin brought the harmonium home.


So Herbert had already been to London although whether he had been working or for treatment we cannot be sure.


Brompton Consumption Hospital

From Old and New London by Edward Walford (Cassell 1880)

With the kind permission of


Earlier in that same year of 1867, John Timbs, in Curiosities of London, tells us that Brompton Hospital,


. . . fronting the Fulham-road was commenced in 1844, June 11 when Prince Albert laid the first stone; the site was formerly a nursery garden and the genial moist air of Brompton has long been recommended for consumptive patients. 

The Hospital is in the Tudor style of red brick with stone finishings; Francis, architect; it was opened in 1846. In 1850 was attached an elegant memorial chapel and in 1852 was added the western wing of the Hospital. . . The Hospital is ventilated by machinery, worked by a steam engine and is warmed by water heated by two large Arnott stoves. In the kitchen steam is used for boiling caldrons of beef-tea, mutton-broth, arrow-root, coffee, chocolate etc; and the provisions are wound up a shaft to the respective wards. The patients take exercise in the well-ventilated passages: and the wards are tempered by warm fresh air which enters at the floor, and escapes by valves in the ceiling.


That Herbert was going to Brompton Hospital tells us that he was almost certainly suffering from Tuberculosis (TB), Phthisis pulmonalis or Consumption, one of the greatest killers of the Victorian age which could strike all classes. It was the equivalent of today’s Cocaine-chic with the loss of weight, pallid complexion and the slow death endowing it with a romantic, poetic aura that it did not deserve. Byron had said that it was his chosen way of death.

What we now see in the diary are visits to various chapels and churches, walks to the Elephant and Castle and Billingsgate but also visits to a show which was part of the great Victorian interest in the occult and the paranormal.


            October 1 Tuesday

Began to learn the harmonium, in the evening went to a Mesmeric entertainment, and saw a young lady in a clairvoyant state

Mesmerism had been particularly popular in the 1840s and was popularised by Franz Anton Mesmer who believed that an occult force, called ‘animal magnetism’, could be channelled to effect trance-like states and healing. It may be that Herbert was also hoping that it offered some relief for him and certainly it was used as a form of hypnotherapy to calm and ease the symptoms of patients. In this case it was probably more of a stage show but, as his cousin Samuel Abington reveals some years later the paranormal was taken very seriously even among some devout nonconformists. The scientists were producing a magical world of dinosaurs and electricity and suddenly everything seemed possible.

Herbert also reports that it is sometimes very cold and foggy which would not have helped his breathing. On October 10th he reports:

Leonard called early, had breakfast with us, then I went to the Elephant and Castle Station with him. In the evening I received my notice to go into hospital

On Monday October 14th he went into Brompton Hospital accompanied by his brother Joshua. Unusually he writes in detail both of the hospital and its routines and it is worth quoting his first few days there in full:

. . . I arrived there about 3 and found myself possessed of a comfortable little bed, a little cupboard called a locker, with a pink mug, a spittoon and butter dish. I ought to have taken a knife, fork and spoon, butter and sugar, but as my notice did not express that I went without and found to my grief when tea time came, there was no sugar in the coffee, or butter to the bread, so I did without. I could easily have borrowed what I wanted but being a stranger, I did not like to ask any of the patients, and none of them noticed me. After tea four of us had a game of dominoes and I got on better at supper time. I had half a pint of beef tea with what bread I liked, after supper we went to bed, but it was just beginning morning before I could get to sleep, hearing the strange noises so many people coughing and one young man in our ward sat propped up all night, he was too ill to sleep, but at length most of the noises were hushed, and I sank into the arms of Morpheus and slept until six in the morning.

There are four meals a day here, breakfast at half past eight, consisting of bacon or eggs and coffee or cocoa according to the doctor’s orders; Dinner at 1. Meat vegetables and pudding. Tea at 5, coffee or cocoa and bread and butter or marmalade. Supper at 8 beef tea or milk and after that barley water for those that like to drink in the night. Patients (that are able) have to rise at 8 in the morning in winter and half past seven in the summer, and be in bed by nine at night. There are [no] fires allowed in any of the wards, but the temperature is kept up to 65 degrees by pipes. Patients (that are able) have to take all their meals in the gallery, and each one has to take his own mug, knife, fork and spoon with him, and keep them clean. The hours for visiting are from 2 to 3 on Tuesdays and Fridays and from two to four on Sundays 

Cod liver oil is brought into the gallery on a tray, twice a day, and all have to go there

and take it together. Divine service is held in the chapel at 11 and half past six on Sundays and at 11 in the morning on Wednesday and Friday. 

Oct 15 Tuesday

I got up between six and seven, had a wash and went down in the grounds, to ask the gatekeeper to get me some butter and sugar, which he did. About 10 o’clock the clinical assistant (Mr Young) came to examine and sound me, and soon after that Mr Edwards the house doctor came to sound me again, and just as we were sitting down to tea Dr Thompson came and I had to strip again for another sounding. In the evening the nurse came and put me a blister on, which I kept on till morning. Slept pretty well.

Oct 16 Wednesday

After breakfast the nurse clipped my blister, and dressed it with ointment to keep it open. I saw Richard Adams for the first time. There was a service in the chapel at eleven this morning. It is Church of England doctrine and patients who are not members of the church are not obliged to go, if they are very old ill, they can have their own minister to see them. In the evening the chaplain gave a lecture on the ‘birth of Christ’

October 17 Thursday

Had my blister dressed again. It was our day for setting tables and clearing away. Bought some wool and began to make a mat.

The main breakthroughs, in the nineteenth century, in cutting TB deaths were the improvement in living conditions and the recognition in the 1890s that milk from infected cows was one of the major sources of infection. Nevertheless the new hospital at Brompton did help patients. As John Timbs reported in 1867:

The deaths in this new Hospital have never exceeded one in every five in-patients, whereas in the former Hospital they were one in four.

We know that statistics can be manipulated by clinical practice but Herbert was probably in the best hospital in England for treatment of tuberculosis. It had been founded by Philip Rose, a young solicitor, as many London hospitals, because of the long-lasting and frequently terminal nature of the disease, had rules specifically excluding consumption sufferers. Nevertheless, unlike Smallpox which had virtually disappeared by the end of the century, really effective treatment did not come until the middle of the twentieth century when certain antibiotics were discovered.

Even the best Victorian doctors could only use treatments that seemed to have some effect without really understanding the nature of the disease. The use of ‘blisters’ like those given to Herbert was really a left over from an earlier practice. From the early 1800s it was believed that the body could only contain one illness at a time: when a second illness entered the body, the first would be forced out. Hot plasters were put on the skin to burn it and form a blister which was then opened and drained. Any effectiveness seems to have stemmed from the pain of the blister focussing the mind away from the chest and so reduce coughing.

Herbert also ‘bought some wool and began to ‘make a mat’. My own brother was in hospitals and hospices much of his life and the making of plastic wicker trays and Readicut rugs were an important part of his keeping busy and passing of time. The mat is never mentioned again so perhaps Herbert quickly wearied of it.

On Monday October 21st he was weighed and was 8 stone 10½ pounds (we later discover that he was 5 feet 7½ inches which would have been an average height for a man). On the Friday of that week Jedidah, with her friend and landlady (and perhaps employer) Mrs. Elizabeth Spence had visited Herbert. Elizabeth Spence and Jedidah had been in service together with Carlos Chamberlin (or Chamberlain) in the wealthy Victoria Park area of Manchester (see separate biography of Jedidah). Elizabeth, a widow, opened a grocer’s shop in Rusholme in the 1860s and it seems that Jedidah may have worked for her (although in the Census she is not shown with a profession). Elizabeth and her daughter Mary Eleanor, usually put as M.E. in the diary, had become great friends Jedidah and, through her, of the Abington family.

Herbert was allowed to leave the hospital and stay with his brother Edwin and his family in Southwark for a few days. He went to Madam Tussauds with his two Manchester visitors and on the Sunday his brother Leonard, Aunt Edmonds and Margaret Edmonds all came to tea with him at Edwin’s house. On the Monday he bought a muffler for 2s 6d (12 and in the afternoon he returned to hospital. Away from his friends he dwells again on his illness.

            Oct 29 Tuesday

I read that it is computed that 78,000 persons are constantly suffering from consumption in England and that the deaths among those patients are as many as 39,000 within that year. In the last report of the Registrar general it is stated that in the metropolis the deaths annually from consumption are 7,500, the average number of sufferers from the disease being 15,000.

On most days he went to church in the Hospital (which may have been held, at the beginning of his stay, in the Committee Room during repairs), and had occasional visits from Jedidah, Leonard, Edwin, and Selina and Aunt Edmonds and Mr Kitchen. On Tuesday 5th November he wrote on the Gunpowder Plot. Did he know that an Abington had been involved?

The next day he reveals that he now weighs 8 st. (stone) 13 lbs (pounds) a gain of 2½ pounds. His thoughts, however, naturally still dwell on death. 

November 8th Friday

Milton died on Sunday 1674 in his 66th year and so tranquil was his departure that his attendants were unable to determine the hour of his death. 

November 9th Saturday

Patrick O’Shea the soldier that attempted to commit suicide by opening a vein in his arm about three months ago, died this morning.


The visitors are not quite so frequent now and when they do not come on a Sunday he admits to feeling, ‘rather dull’. We hear that the ward had a selection of books which were changed on a regular basis and that he enjoyed reading a volume of Sunday at Home. This was a weekly ‘Family Magazine for Sabbath Reading’ published by the Religious Tract Society which was often bound into annual volumes. It contained a miscellany of short stories, quizzes, coloured illustrations and short discussions of biblical texts. 

He reports that he has gained 1½ pounds and is now ‘8 St. 0 Then he has a relapse 

            Dec 6 Friday

Felt very poorly, had the headache very much. The assistant came to see me and gave me a draught of Mist Salic. Felt a little better in the evening. Dr Williams visited us.

Salicylic Acid was derived from willow bark and relieved headaches, although it could affect stomachs as a side effect. It was not until 1900 that it was further refined and patented as Aspirin by the German company Bayer. Herbert feels better the next day and begins to take an interest in the world again.

            Dec 13 Friday

Went to church. Jedidah came to see me. This afternoon about a quarter to four o’clock an attempt was made by the Fenians to rescue Burke and Casey who were confined in the House of Detention, Clerkenwell. By blowing down the outer wall with a barrel of gunpowder.

The late edition of the Globe newspaper that day had a headline ‘Twenty lives sacrificed’ and

reported that there had been:

 . . . great alarm in consequence of a terrible explosion taking place. Within a radius of half a mile all the windows were shattered into pieces and the greatest confusion prevailed at the time……Before the catastrophe, attention had been excited by the suspicious appearance of several Irish roughs – types of the class which represents Fenianism – loitering on the outskirts of the prison.

Soon, however the four walls around him take over

            Dec 14 Saturday

I was reading that the Hospital was founded in 1841 [on another site]; it accommodates 211 in-patients and constantly affords relief to some thousands of out-patients. There are besides 20 more patients in the experimental sanatorium at Madeira [I believe that this happened in 1864 and as the returning patients showed no improvement the experiment was discontinued] and 20 more are received at the ‘Home’ Manor House Chelsea.

 Dec 15 Sunday

        Went to church. Had no visitors. I had the hump

Then with sure knowledge of his own condition, he writes:

December 20 Friday

Jedidah came to see me. I was reading that Brompton is a neighbourhood where formerly more than now, consumptive invalids were wont to repair. Thither many a parent has conveyed his child as a last hope. Edmond Burke had a son he loved with his whole heart. Disease laid him low and the father took him to Crowell House at Brompton. Here he sunk and died. That blow nearly broke the great man’s heart. He never recovered from it.

Had Herbert’s father managed to get him into the hospital through his family connections? Was this at the back of his mind when he read this?

He had lost a little weight again but gets ‘leave of absence’ over Christmas

 December 25 Wednesday

This morning the yellow fog lay thick and dim o’er London city far and wide. Father, Jedidah, Edmund, Joshua, Edwin and Bessie [Edwin’s wife] and the children all came over to Aunts to spend a Merry Christmas


Dec 26 Thursday

Very thick fog all day. Father, Jedidah, Joshua, Edmond, and Edwin came to Aunt’s to tea.

Dec 27 Friday

Went over to Edwin’s in the morning, had dinner there and started back to the hospital. Father and Edmund [brother] accompanied me to the bus at London Bridge, arrived at the hospital a four p.m. My companions who spent their Christmas in the hospital told me they had Champagne with their dinner and some again in the evening, and Plum-cake, Biscuits and tea at the evening meal. The gallery was decorated with evergreens and artificial flowers. The Chapel adjoining the Hospital was opened on Christmas Day, it had been closed for some time undergoing repairs, so that service has been held in the committee room

Dec 29 Sunday

Went to Church twice. I entered the church (or Chapel as it is called) for the first time this morning. It is a comfortable place; the seats are all cushioned. The windows are very pretty, all of stained glass; there are two sun-lights hanging from the roof, each one has 29 jets of gas, so that the place is very light when the gas is lit up.

Father and Edmund came to see me in the afternoon


Chapel in Brompton Hospital (this is a special Confirmation by Bishop of London)

Illustrated London News January 3rd 1874


Dec 31 Tuesday

I weighed 9 stone lost 1 lb since last weighing. Heard the Chelsea Bells ringing the old year out and the New Year in.

1868    Wednesday Jan 1

We had quite a tragical commencement to the New Year here. A young man named Cavill committed suicide this morning about 8 o’clock. He went into the closet and cut his throat and was almost dead when one of the patients found him. The Doctor was immediately sent for, but it was too late. The poor fellow had done his work too well. We had noticed for about a week previous, how restless and fidgety he was, he appeared to have something on his mind, but he would not tell us what it was.

Jan 2 Thursday

Dr. Quain visited us. The Committee of the Hospital commenced to give us butter, each patient is to be allowed half a pound of butter weekly, from the hospital instead of having to buy it. And four daily newspapers to each Gallery

Jan 3 Friday

In the evening there was held in the Committee Room, the first of a series of Readings to be continued weekly throughout the season. The first gentleman read David Coombe, the Cobbler* and another piece of poetry. It was very interesting and amusing.

[*This may be a short moral tale in a booklet called Trapping Sunbeams by Floyd Foster Barnes].

There was also a lecture on electricity ‘with experiments which made it interesting and amusing’. Certainly we can see that it was a hospital where great attempts were made to make the patient’s stay as bearable as possible. On Wednesday 15th he left hospital for the last time. It is not said why he was discharged but it was the practice at Brompton to keep patients in for two months? It was presumably felt that they had done all that the hospital had done all it could, whether the patient was cured or not. To keep them longer would block the beds for new sufferers.

As always, he walked to places of interest and visited friends and relations He also sampled some of the entertainments of the capital city;

            Jan 23 Thursday

Had a walk in the morning. In the evening I went with Joshua and Emma to the Agricultural Hall to see the grand spectacle of “St. George and the Dragon” and the Egyptian State Procession etc. etc.

On the 26th he sees Aunt Winter, his father’s sister Letitia, who was the widow of shoemaker John Winter whose early death seems have put the family into very hard times. At about this time, his uncle, John Edmonds had become a beer retailer at the Red Lion, 41 Hoxton Street, Shoreditch (Herbert’s brother, Leonard, later marries  John’s daughter, Selina, and becomes a publican at the Mermaid Tavern, Mare Street, Hackney). Not far away, at 64 High Street, Hoxton, was McDonald’s Music Hall where comedians such as Arthur Lloyd, William Lingard and William Randall plied their trade. He writes:

            Jan 28 Tuesday

Went to Aunt Edmonds in the evening with Leonard, Selina and Emma to MacDonald’s Music hall

In some ways this is the most surprising visit of them all. The Tomahawk on September of the previous year had an article entitled, ‘An Opinion of Music Halls. It notes that the former operatic selections had largely disappeared and adds, acidly that they were anyway, ‘badly sung and vulgarly accompanied. It continues:

Nothing is listened to now-a-days but the so-called ‘comic songs’ and, in sober earnestness, we must express our astonishment that human beings, endowed with the ordinary gift of reason, should be found to go night after night in order to witness such humiliating exhibitions. It is quite impossible to name anything equal to the stupidity of these comic songs unless, indeed it is their vulgarity. A man appears on the platform, dressed in outlandish clothes, and ornamented with whiskers of ferocious length and hideous hue and proceeds to sing verse after verse of pointless twaddle interspersed with a blatant ‘chorus’ in which the audience is requested to join. The audience obligingly consents and each member of it contributes to the general harmony, a version of the tune which he happens to know best.

It all seems pretty harmless but it certainly would have been very raucous and probably not an entertainment that would have gone down well in Ringstead Baptist circles. He does not give his opinion of the evening and, two days later, he has returned home to Ringstead where he is met at the station by Edmund and Jedidah. Once home, it is not the Music Hall but the Temperance Hall which dominates his social round

Feb 11 Tuesday

A meeting of the Temperance Society was held consisting of singing and speaking and a collection was made on behalf of the poor in the East of London. £1. 1. 0.was collected

We also briefly meet, along with Herbert, some of his other aunts and uncles on his mother’s side. There are Uncle and Aunt Smith on February 9th, Uncle Andrew [Bull] on the 16th, Uncle William [Bull] on the 17th and Uncle Noah [Bull] on March 8th. He also is still interested in the world outside.

            March 3 Tuesday

Went to Thrapston to see a panorama of Captain Speke and Grant’s travels to the source of the Nile.

We have to remember that ‘darkest’ Africa was a source of excitement rather like the Moon in the 1960s and an altogether more interesting place. In 1859 John Hanning Speke had gone with Richard Burton to discover the source of the Nile. Burton had become ill and Speke had carried on to identify the source as Lake Victoria. Burton questioned Speke’s judgement and the two became bitter rivals. In 1862 Speke went with a new companion, Captain James Grant, where they discovered the outreach of the Nile from Victoria which they called Ripon Falls. In 1864 Speke was accidentally shot and killed. For Herbert, like many others the simple panorama in a village hall would have conjured up the mystery and danger of another world. There was little available to Ringstead villagers in 1868 to tell them of the great places and events of the world, No films or television, very few photographs and virtually nothing in colour. These travelling dioramas, panoramas and models were toured around the country and people would pay a small fee to see them. The panoramas would either be around the walls or more often on a large roll which slowly unrolled before the viewer. The dioramas tended to be semi-circular sets with a background and figures set in them.

On March 12th, his sister Jedidah returned to Manchester where she still lived, at least some of the time. On April 6th Herbert papered the parlour (a good Music Hall occupation). We hear nothing of his illness and when he weighs himself on April 18th he is 9st. 5 lbs. One wonders if his father Herbert had a set of scales in his Chemist shop as many did until late into the Twentieth Century.

On May 4th he went to Thrapstone (in the nineteenth century there was usually an ‘e’ on the end of the name) to the Petty Sessions. Joseph Ball, (son of the butcher John Ball who Jedidah was later to marry), was tried for shooting two tame ducks in mistake for wild ones. He was discharged. [We tells Joseph’s story in a separate biography].

The Baptist Sunday School Treat had been on April 15th and on Whit Monday, June 1st, the Annual Temperance Festival was held. Herbert describes the scene.

The Band played round the village at 5 o’clock in the morning. I beat the drum for them. I beat the drum for them. At 2pm the Band of Hope and Friends of the cause marched round the village in procession, stopping to sing at intervals, then the children went and had tea in Mr Ball’s orchard [John Ball]; after teas they went up to Mr Dearlove’s garden. A Public Tea was held in the Hall at 5o’clock. In the evening Thomas Whittaker delivered a lecture. He spoke from the direction a little girl gave him while seeking a Temperance meeting in S6t Giles. A little higher up on the right hand side through an iron gate, next door to the sweet shop. Cousin Samuel came to Miss Williamson’s

June 3 Wednesday

He [Cousin Samuel] gave a good lecture on tobacco and snuff and their effects on the human system


His ‘Cousin Samuel’ was a fascinating character who deserves a biography of his own. He was the son of Benjamin Abington and was born in about 1817 so he was a generation older than Herbert. In 1843 he worked in the Custom House in London but, perhaps as part of his duties, he went to live in Cape Town. It may be there that he met and married his wife, Catherine and certainly two of his children were born there. The family then went on to the United States in 1854 and in 1858 they are recorded as travelling from Venezuela to Philadelphia. Presumably he was a businessman and the 1858 Passenger List records him as a ‘planter’. He returned to England where his wife died and he quickly married again to Mary Ann Mills on 30th June 1859. She too died in 1865. He had become the ‘Secretary of a Philanthropic Institute’ according to the 1861 Census and judging from later censuses and Herbert’s diary, this was the British Anti-Tobacco Society which had been formed in 1853 by the Reverend Thomas Reynolds. This pressure group had originated in the United States where it had emerged from the Baptist Church and it is probable that, like the Temperance Movement, it was also closely linked to nonconformism. The Reverend George Trask, who founded the American Society in 1848, wrote, as his last publication, a tract to the Reverend Charles Spurgeon in which he said: 

The project of converting the world by the Gospel of Christ, by the power of the Holy Ghost, and by man’s free agency is not a humbug, but a natural, scriptural, glorious project eclipsing every other. The idea of converting the world whilst rum, opium, and tobacco are its masters, is a humbug

At the time that Herbert writes of Samuel he was some fifty-four years of age and Jane Williamson, the middle-aged daughter of a local farmer was soon to become his third wife.

On Thursday June 4th Herbert simply records: 

            Dear little Leonard was buried, he died on Friday night May 29th 

The death, at three years old, of the son of his brother Leonard and his wife Selina (daughter of Aunt Edmonds and also his cousin) would have hit him hard. Nevertheless he knew that he too probably had a short life to live and tried to stay active in spite of his illness.

            June 16 Tuesday

In the evening a small party of us went a boating 

June 22 Monday

Went to Warmington with the band; there were only eight of us; we marched through Oundle, arrived at Warmington half past eleven. It was very wet in the morning, but it cleared up after dinner, and was fine the remainder of the day. We arrived home at half past two the next morning 

July 9 Thursday

In the evening we went boating 

July 13 Monday

Edwin and I walked to Denford and Woodford in the morning. In the evening we went to Raunds

July 14 Tuesday

We had a fine pic-nic party; took tea at the bottom of Ham Lane 

July 21 Tuesday

Very hot. 92 deg at back of the house

July 22 Wednesday

I and Edmond went fishing from 4 in the morning until 4 in the afternoon; had a bath in the Scour

Then on the “8th July he notes

My 21st birthday. Received a present of Longfellow’s Poetical Works from M.E. Spence

Did he not receive other presents, was it just that it came from post or he had a particular affection for Mary Spence? Certainly on Friday July 31st he receives a letter from Jedidah informing him of a situation in Manchester. It seems a long way to go and Manchester would not have been a first choice for someone suffering from TB but perhaps it was just that his sister would be there.

August 3 Monday

Went to Manchester. Jedidah and M.E. Spence met me at the station and I went with them to Rusholme; stayed there the night

Aug 4 Tuesday

Entered J. Patterson’s service

 Unfortunately Herbert, as so often, does not give us enough detail. What was J Patterson’s first name? Where was the business? What did it do? Was he still a baker? There are two possible candidates with the surname Patterson or Paterson (Herbert uses both) in 1871. One is a letterpress printer living at 73 Marshall Street with a connecting shop at 34 Rochdale Road and there is also a J Paterson who is a linen draper at 37 Rochdale Road. Could it be father and son (or daughter or wife)?

He makes no mention of his work and during August, September and October 1868 he mainly gives his Sunday activities which comprise his attendance at various chapels including the Zion Chapel, Cavendish Street Chapel and Grosvenor Street Baptist Chapel and visit to Jedidah and the Spences. His cousin, Elizabeth Smith, who was in service locally visited them at Rusholme and they, ‘passed the afternoon very pleasantly singing together. Also Cousin Samuel, who was living in Manchester at the time, came to see him (CHECK).

On December 3rd Mrs Spence opened her new shop but whether this was a move or an additional one is not said. All we know is that sometime between 1861 and 1871 she moved from service with Carlos Chamberlin to her grocer’s shop in 45 Wilmslow Road, Rusholme

On the 24th his father came to Manchester and for the second year running spent Christmas away from his wife. Cousin Samuel seems to have been the life and soul of the party and on the 27th he writes

            Dec 27 Sunday

Went to Rusholme in the morning; Cousin Samuel came in the evening, and after supper he told us some of his adventures and hair-break escapes. I stayed there all night with Father; went to the station with him in the morning, and returned home in time to open shop 

He had to work on New Year’s Day, but records:

1869    Jan 1 Friday

Closed the shop at one; went to the Royal Institution; in the evening to the Free Trade Hall to hear Butterworth’s Christy’s Minstrels

We may now wince at the idea of white people ‘blacking up’ to perform in a bizarre parody of black performers but in the Victorian era it was very popular entertainment (and continued in various forms until the last quarter of the Twentieth Century). The Christy Minstrels were formed by Edwin Pearce Christy in Buffalo in 1843 and the name became synonymous with any ‘blackface’ group. Rather like aging rock groups the name became a matter for dispute: 

Soon four new companies were formed each claiming to be the original ‘Christy Minstrels because each boasted one or two members of the old troupe.

Herbert would have watched one of these travelling companies and we would be wrong to impose a retrospective morality on him. On March 3rd he went to see Professor Pepper’s Entertainment of which he records, ‘It was very good’.

John Henry Pepper was an unlikely showman. He was a Chemistry professor at London Polytechnic Institute who built the first full-size version of the illusion. The magic lantern shows had become popular in the 1860s and new gimmicks were used to bring in the crowds into the theatres (motion pictures later started in this way). The illusion was produced by a large sheet of glass place at an angle to the audience which could reflect a person or object to the audience. By clever use of lighting it produced an effect similar to that when one looks out of the window of a dimly lit room at dusk. The audience saw through the glass but also saw the refection of an object or person carefully placed out of sight. By the use of cabinets and ghostly story lines an entertaining show was put together and taken round the country. 

It seems likely that Cousin Samuel was in Manchester as part of his role in the ‘philanthropic institute’’ because on Herbert records: 

            May 12 Wednesday

Went to hear Cousin Samuel deliver a lecture on “Tobacco and its Physiological effects” in the Hulme Working Men’s Institute, City Road. Heard him state that he was the Representative of the North of England Anti-Tobacco Society 

A week later he writes: 

May 19 Wednesday Whit Week

I had leave from business after tea, so I went to have my Portrait taken

Throughout the diary we see various family friends and family having their ‘portrait taken’ as the new photography came into the reach of ordinary people even in small towns like Raunds. 

The entries in Manchester often have long gaps between them and it may be with his work he was finding too much to keep up his diary. He does report some highlights: 

            May 21 Friday

Half-day holiday. Went to the Flower Show at the Botanical Gardens. Old Trafford; met Jedidah, Mrs and Miss Spence there 

July 21 Wednesday

The day of the visit of their R.H. the Prince and Princess of Wales to the Royal Agricultural Show, Manchester. I had a good view of them as they passed along Stretford Road

On August 4th he received his ‘fourth quarter salary’ and then a calendar month later he states baldly: 

            Sep 4 Saturday

Left J. Patterson’s at 5 pm. Went to Town, called for my box as I returned and went to Rusholme

It is only later that we realise that he has finished his employment there but we get no clue as to the reason for his leaving. 

On September 7th he and Jedidah go to Ringstead by Midland Railway. He writes with some bitterness: 

            Arrived at Thrapston at 3.10 in the afternoon. No one to meet us.

Was it an oversight or was he in the doghouse? Edmund was at home and Joshua also returned. There is one curious entry for the 15th September:

            Sep 15 Wednesday

Leonard came home. We met him at Ringstead Station a little after ten. In the afternoon he and Uncle Andrew, Joshua and I walked to Chelveston. Met father there, came back to Ringstead and Leonard returned to London the same evening. 

This seems somewhat mysterious. Why did Leonard come from London just for the day? What was Herbert doing in Chelveston? Perhaps it is just Herbert’s brevity that creates the mystery.

Herbert seems well and he walks, goes boating and gathers blackberries. On the 24th he also went to Raunds to see the schoolmaster so it may be that the Abington children attended the Wesleyan School there although there was also a church school and various small private schools. On October 6th he visits Edwin’s family and unusually his mother accompanies them:

            Oct 6 Wednesday

Mother, Jedidah and I went to Kimbolton; left Ringstead at 7 a.m. Walked to Raunds Station, from there by train, arrived at Kimbolton a little before 10. Found Edwin and Bessie there with the children. Joshua and the goods had not arrived, so we all went for a walk round by the castle and through the park, by the chestnut ridings; came back and all dined at “The Bell”. Left Kimbolton a quarter before three; got a ride to the station and were only just in time for the train. On our way from Raunds Station we stayed and I took tea with S.A. Roberts [he or she may have been ill]. Reached home a little after six. Went to meeting and then to bid our friends “good bye” 

It may be that it was at this time that Edwin and his family finally moved to Kimbolton. His grandson, William Abington, later wrote that Edwin’s and his wife’s health were suffering from the fogs and pollution of London and his doctor advised him to seek relief in the ‘pure air of the countryside’. He also says that he had already established a ‘good class tailoring trade.’ It may be that the suffering of Herbert also had some effect. 

The following day he was back in Manchester: 

            Oct 7 Thursday

Came back to Manchester. Father and W.K. [William Kitchen] accompanied us to Thrapston Station; left there at 9 a.m. had a pleasant journey; I arrived at London Road 2.45. M.E. Spence and J. Fisher met us there; had a cab to Rusholme

He was obviously looking for work but he was still taking advantage of the chances to learn that the large cities offered. He went to a lecture on Sirius at the Birch [Chapel] schoolroom, to the free library and to Readings in Rusholme Public Hall. On October 12th he reports:

Went to Binyons and Co. (received a little encouragement) to Red Bank and Deansgate. In the evening we went to see “A Winter's Tale” a play of Shakespeare’s. It was excellent

Binyons and Co may refer to Binyons, Robinson and Co. who were tea and coffee merchants. Herbert’s father had been a tea dealer originally on a village scale and Jedidah’s former employer had some connections with the tea trade. He was not offered a job and went to Oldfield Road after an unnamed post. In brackets he puts ‘not good enough’. Was it Herbert or the post? Suddenly his old employer offers him a post:

Oct 22 Friday

Received a note from Mr. Patterson asking me to go back again 

Oct 23 Saturday

Entered his service again

Still we hear nothing of his employment and it seems to have been a means of earning a living and something which he did not find, for whatever reason, congenial. Just a few weeks after starting work he is again taken very ill.

Nov 21 Sunday

Felt unwell in the night; very restless, pain in sides and difficulty of breathing

Nov 22 Monday

Very ill; No appetite; dullness in head. Had Must. Plast. On right side and feet in hot water for 30 minutes at bed time

Nov 24 Wednesday

Worse; breathing very difficult; pain in left side; kept on work until evening; obliged to give up, and go to Mrs. Spence; had Must. Plast. On left side and feet in hot water again.

Nov 25 Thursday

Worse. Sent for Dr. Gregory; he pronounced it a slight attack of Inflammation and Bronchitis; ordered hot bran in flannel to my back continually until better, and to keep in bed

Nov 28 Sunday

Better, but much reduced; came downstairs to tea

He stays inside and seems to improve slowly. On Sunday December 12th he enjoys reading Adam Graeme a novel by Mrs. Oliphant. She was one of the most popular writers of her time, churning out books in order to maintain her family after the early death of her husband.

He begins to go out for short walks and on Monday 20th December he notes, ‘Resumed my occupation. On Christmas Eve he is awakened:


. . . by hearing a band of musicians strike up the old tune of “Christians awake”.

It was very sweet in the stillness of the night as

“The midnight moon serenely smiles

O’er natures soft repose

No low’ring cloud obscures the sky

No ruffling tempest blows” and t’was such a night as this

“That while they watched the shepherd swains

Heard angels strike to angel strains

The song of heavenly love

Blest harmony that far excels

All music else on earth that dwells

As e’er was tuned above

T’was while they watched the sages traced

The star that every star effaced

With new and nobler shine

They followed and it led the way

To where the infant Saviour lay

And gave them light divine”


After the brass band had passed out of hearing another vocal and instrumental came and sang Christians Awake to another tune, that was very nice; when that had gone I went again to sleep and did not awaken again until 10 o’clock. When the bells were pealing out merrily as a reminder that it was Xmas Day morning.

Dec 25

It was a nice morning, quite an unusual treat for us such an one as the poet described

“Sweet day, so calm, so bright”. As soon as I had dressed and breakfasted I bent my steps toward Rusholme. Had a very nice dinner, turkey etc. Spent the day very quietly, like a Sunday, no company there except Mr. Thornhill. I stayed there all night it being Sunday the day following.

Dec 31 Friday

Stayed up until New Year, listening to Holy Trinity Bells 

On New Year’s Day, however, he was back at work and on the 2nd Mrs Spence presented him with ‘a respirator’ On the Monday he writes: 

Jan 3 Monday

Kept open all day. Walked to St. Peter’s in the evening; met J. and M.E. coming from Royal Institute 

We see that, especially in progressive cities like Manchester, women were involved in (and being admitted!) to many educational opportunities which before had been largely denied to them. On February 20th he went to hear about something that was a trouble to all believers in the Bible as literal truth and one that his Uncle Leonard James had struggled with.

            Feb 20 Sunday

Went to chapel in morning. In the afternoon to hear a lecture on “The antiquity of the human race” by Dr. G. Sexton M.A. He stated in the course of his lecture, that there were records of the Chinese showing that they as a nation existed in a state of civilisation 300 years before the time of Abraham, and he also said there were Geological facts which led to the supposition that there were men living upon this earth 100,000 years ago. Went to Rusholme; arrived just in time for tea

The scientific discoveries in geology and archaeology were undermining the traditional view that all things were created at once and the Garden of Eden was in (FIND OUT). It is a debate that still divides the Christian community, especially in the United States. 

On March 9th he went to a diorama of the Holy Land. Such travelling exhibitions would often be visited by local schools. In Jude the Obscure, Thomas Hardy tells of schoolchildren being taken to see a model of the ancient city of Jerusalem and the showman pointing out the various places described in the Bible. Like this model of Jerusalem in the novel, we can guess that many owed a great deal to the imagination of the maker.

The model of the ancient city stood in the middle of the apartment, and the proprietor, with a fine religious philanthropy written on his features, walked round it with a pointer in his hand, showing the young people the various quarters and places known to them by name from reading their Bibles; Mount Moriah, the Valley of Jehoshaphat, the City of Zion, the walls and the gates outside one of which was a large mound like a tumulus, and on the mound a little white cross. The spot, he said, was Calvary.

‘I think,’ said Sue…..’that this model, elaborate as it is, is a very imaginary production.’

On Sunday March 3rd Cousin Samuel cam to tea and had been unwell with inflammation of the lungs for five or six weeks. The air of Manchester, thick with factory and house chimney smoke and often laced with other chemical and the fine fibres from the cotton industry was not good for anyone with respiratory problems. On Sunday May 8th he wrote 

Went to Rusholme in the morning (through the fields) as I was impatient to hear all the “good” news from home. Cousin S. came in the evening after chapel.

We do not learn what the ‘good news’ was but Herbert seems once more in good health and he writes one of his longest entries:

June 9 Whit-Thursday

Rose at 6 o’clock, opened shop, swept out and dusted, had my breakfast and went off for a day’s holiday. Strolled about town until 11. Met M.E. and Jed. (Jedidah) at London Road Station and went to Alderley Edge. We enjoyed it very much, scrambling up the hill, then pausing to view the delightful scenery on the grassy slopes at the bottom of the hill groups of children were at play, as happy as could be, and to make it still more enjoyable, a brass band was playing in the distance. We took tea in the cottage at the bottom of the hill, and returned to Manchester by the 7 train, when to finish the day, we went to see the Diorama of Ireland.

His employer’ wife died on June 11th and on July 18 Monday he writes:

We removed to the shop in Medlock Street

Presumably this refers to Patterson’s shop. There are no entries for August and on September 13th he writes

Jedidah and I came home by the L and M.W. Railway. Arrived at Ringstead Station at 12.40. Father was there to meet us with Austins van. Edwin and Jos. E, Smith and Benjamin took dinner with us. Ebe Smith returned to London the same evening

These early September seems to have been the time when the family got together for:

Sep 14 Wednesday

Went to Kimbolton, I and Josh, Jedidah and Margaret Edmonds. Leonard and uncle Edmonds came from London in the evening.

Sep 15 Thursday

We all returned to Ringstead by the first train in the morning; before we came home we went for an hour’s ride on the water at Denford. Leonard and uncle went back to London in the evening

On the 19th he returned to Manchester. From there he reports that his sister Mary Jane was married to Benjamin Lovell, a local .shoemaker. Perhaps this was the good news he referred to on May 8th. On October 21st he left Patterson’s for the second and final time and he had time to enjoy himself. On October 24 he went with Jedidah and Mrs Spence to see ‘the tragedy of Richard III’. On the morning of October 25th he went to the Assize Courts (as a spectator?) and saw the Aurora Borealis in the evening.

On November 8th 

I returned home again. Mrs. Spence accompanied me in a cab to London Road Station. Father met me at Ringstead Station

Soon afar, William Kitchen was taken ill with haemolysis and six days later he died. His uncle George Smith, the second husband of his mother’s sister Sarah preached at the funeral.

Nothing is said of Christmas and it appears that the New Year is spent at his brother’s house in Kimbolton:

            Dec 31 Saturday

Mr. G. Barritt called in at Edwin’s. At half past ten pm Jos and I went to the Moravian Chapel to the watch meeting. Had tea and bun. Commenced the New Year with singing. Stayed until half past twelve. Reverend C.H.Spurgeon farewell to the old year:

 He adds the rather sad and resigned verse: 

“Departed year what records dwell within thine hallowed scroll,

                        Of joyous hopes and golden dreams yet blighted at their goal

                        Of visions bright as morning dawn as vesper fragrance sweet

                        Fair idols shivered, shattered, all in fragments at thy feet.

                        So be it changeful year, farewell thy sunshine and thy shade,

                        Thy rainbow hues of loveliness, thy joys not doomed to fade

            Thine anguish and thy weariness bid all their deep woe fell

                        In saddened shrines of human heart departing year, farewell”.

On Tuesday February 28th

The Members of the Temperance Society gave an entertainment in the Hall consisting of singing a “piece” entitled the “Trials and Troubles of an aspiring publican” which was well represented and with respect to the singing, men of Harlech and The Red Cross Knight were heartily applauded. The Hall was crowded to excess and the amount taken for admission was £1.10s.1d After paying expenses, we had £1 left to give towards flooring for the hall with boards.

He also reports on the happiness and tragedy of village life:

March 2* Thursday

Bradley Weekly and Bessie Phillips were married

*Samuel Saddington{CHECK NAME} attempted suicide about 1 pm by cutting his throat in four places; he is expected to recover 

On March 28th there is another entertainment in the Temperance Hall and Herbert pasted a newspaper cutting into his diary: 

Ringstead – On Tuesday evening another entertainment was given in the Ringstead Hall, by members of the temperance Society. The programme was a follows: - Glee “Awake Æolian Lyre,” the company; song, “The Slave Ship,” Mr. J. Warren; song, “I’m lonely since my mother died”, Mr. W. Abbott; song, “You’ve been a friend to me”, Miss Knight; dialogue, “Troubles of a Publican”, duet, “The Minute Gun at Sea,” Messrs. Warren and Dyson; song, “Wrap the Flag around me, Boys,” Mr. T. Phillips: dialogue, “Buy your own Cherries;” song “The Death of Nelson,” Mr. J. Warren; reading, “Darby Doyle’s Voyage to Quebec,” Mr. Dyson; song, “Ring the Bell Watchman,” Miss E. Abbott; dialogue, “Breach of Promise;” song “One Faith, One Love,”, Miss Knight; song “Babylon is Falling,” Mr. Lockie; dialogue, “Next Morning,” song, “I am a Prussian,” Mr. W. Abbott; “God Save the Queen.” The attendance was very good, and the whole passed off very agreeably.

One gathers that it was a mixture of the patriotic, sentimental and the moralistic: our stereotype of the Victorian era. On Monday April 3rd 1871 he reports:   

            April 3 Monday

Census taken. Father, Mother and I at home. Will any of us three be living when it is taken next time?

We know that his father suffered from bad health and that his mother had dementia for the last years of her life but it was perhaps himself of whom he was most thinking. It is at this time that he starts using initials as a sort of code although the meaning of some are obvious.

March 20

Received P.K.’s P.OAT. X.L.N.T.

April 20

P.W.T.L.B.I.B: C.B. 

June 9

J.K. B.D. 18

On April 26th he went to another temperance lecture which, ‘abounded with humorous anecdotes and illustrations some of which were heartily cheered’. For the first time for a long time he writes that he has weighed himself. He is 8 st. 7 lbs. (On April 18th 1868 he was 9 st. 5 lbs.). No more is said and he seems to have struck up a greater friendship with J Knight and they visit his brothers in Kimbolton. The days and weeks pass with walks and visits to and from friends and relations:

May 16 Tuesday

Mrs. Spence came to Ringstead; arrived 12.30. Met her at Station with W. Bull’s horse and trap 

May 17 Wednesday

Had a walk down to the Mill in the morning; to Denford in the evening

May 19 Friday

Edwin came early; went home after dinner. Mrs Spence and I walked down Ham to the railway bridge in the evening 

May 20 Saturday

Went as far as Raunds turn in the morning. Joshua came in the evening

May 21 Sunday

Mr. Pates of Aldwinckle preached here all day. We all went to tea with Mary Jane. Joshua went home in the evening. J. Phillips and I accompanied him a little way

May 22 Monday

I went to Aldwinckle with Mr. Kitchen in the afternoon with pony and trap; enjoyed the ride very much; arrived in time for the sermon (by Mr. Islip of Brigstock). Public tea at half past four which was excellent. Address in the evening by Messrs Ackhurst, Kitchen, Islip, Smith and Bristow. Mr Pates in the chair. We went into Mr. Batson’s after meeting; they pressed us very much to take some refreshment so after a nice slice of leg of mutton and a cup of Iceland Moss cocoa, we went on our way rejoicing; got home soon after ten 

On June 15th, while out at J. Knight’s house he seems to have had a fainting fit (Syncope) but otherwise we hear nothing of his illness. A few days later he notes:         

            June 18 Sunday

Ebey’s wife, Uncle and Aunt Smith, Mary J and Benjamin came to tea with us. Our first acquaintance with Mrs. E. Smith. First impression very favourable.

His cousin Ebenezer Smith who he had seen often in London had recently married Sarah and I think the E in Mrs E Smith refers to ‘Ebey’ in a jokingly formal way. His mother had gone to Raunds with Mrs Spence to have her ‘portrait taken’ and on the 21st Herbert in true texting style pronounced it XLNT. We see sometimes the normal Ringsted life with glimpses off the outside world and sudden tragedy.

            June 27 Tuesday

Went down Ham for a stroll in the morning; met J. Knight down there with his gun and J. Groom the mole catcher; had a long chat with them. Patti came home. Baptist Missionary Service in the evening. Mr. Kitchen presided; after singing a hymn, Mr. Childs of Raunds offered up a short prayer. Mr. Bradfield (of Rushden) gave a short address, and Mr. Fuller a coloured man of the Cameroons, Western Africa gave some interesting facts in relation to his work in Africa, and to give us an idea of the native tongue, he repeated a text of scripture and sang several verses of well known hymns in their tongue with pleasing effect. Mr. Silverton concluded with prayer. 

Inquest held over the son of Alfred Mayes, aged one month, who died from the effects of an overdose of Syr. Poppies*. Verdict accidental death from overdosing 

[*Syrup of Poppies would have been a medicine containing opium and laudanum and similar opiates were used in many medicines including those for children. It is very likely that Herbert would have had such medicines to control his pain.] 

On Saturday July 1st he gives the statistics from the 1871 Census. Even in such dry figures one can sense his own mortality is in his mind. It is obvious that the family are worried about him. On the Sunday he tells of a simple enjoyable day:           

     July 9 Sunday

He [Joshua] went class with me in the morning and chapel. In the afternoon we went to tea with Patty Knight: S.A. Bull, J.Butt and Emma Edmonds were there. And with a few anecdotes we enjoyed our tea very much. Afterwards singing until chapel time.

The following Saturday, however, he goes to seek treatment:

July 15 Saturday

Father and I went to Peterborough y the 10.15 train from Ringstead Station, to see Dr. Pailey. He examined my chest with stethoscope. Pronounced right lung sound, but left diseased. Ordered cod-liver oil to be continued, Tinct. Quinine Co. to be taken twice a day and half glass of porter with dinner, plenty of milk and nourishing food, and to be in the air as much as possible without exertion. Fee for advice two shillings.

We went round and through the Cathedral, sitting to rest a few minutes, while we admired the beautiful stained windows. Returned home by the 5 train. It was a very hot day and I was very much fatigued with the journey


Immediately, the illness comes to the fore in the Diary: 

July 16 Sunday

Felt weak and low – did not go out until evening – (as it was very hot) and then sat in the vestry to hear the sermon. [Was this because of the heat or his coughing?]Uncle Smith preached. Text – “It is appointed unto all men once to die, but after death the judgement”. After meeting went up with Uncle Andrew; stayed supper with them. 

He again has to stay mainly in the house with little sorties for tea with people in the village. We hear that he takes a magazine which may be the source of the texts and poems that he starts to use.

July 18

Little better. Josh came unexpectedly with Mr. How; went Thrapston Market. Father with them and paid the half years magazine bill for me. Uncle Smith came home from market with them – stayed to tea with us. Father bought some shrimps which we enjoyed very much. Josh went home with Mr. How in the evening

July 21 Friday

S.A. Bull’s birthday. I took tea with them

July 27 Thursday

Received a small hamper from Mrs. Spence containing Bot. Carbon, Lobster, Bloaters etc.etc. Commenced antiseptic treatment 

On July 28th he celebrated his 24th birthday and on August 2nd, his sister, Mary Jane Lovell was safely delivered of a son named Herbert William. Was he named after Herbert or his father? Also Aunt Fairey (Emma Jane Abington who married a shoemaker, Samuel Fairey who had died in 1869), who was now a housekeeper in Irthlingborough, came to see him.

Suddenly Herbert became very ill again: 

Aug 8 Tuesday

Much worse. Pain in right side, difficulty of breathing – cough painful; very weak and low. Had two Must. Plasters on right side and feet in warm water at bedtime; breathing little easier; restless night

Aug 9 Wednesday

About the same; two Must. Plasters on back; rose about nine; felt little better. Received a letter from Mr. Feaver. Said he had no doubt if I continued Carbon treatment for six months, I should be alright. Time will show, if I live to prove it 

We see Herbert’s correct scepticism about his treatment. M E Spence (put names) came to visit and slowly through August he improved, although with some relapses. His father, who had been in Yarmouth on holiday, came home on September 2nd.

He knows, as he suspected, that the treatment is not working but still tries, weak as he is, to enjoy life:

            Sep 8 Friday

I wrote to Mr. Feaver. No better than when I commenced taking Carbon, if so well. Josh came in the evening; also Uncle Sam and Freddy and Louisa Knight

Sep 10 Sunday

Feast come. Went to meeting in the morning. Evening all gone to meeting but me. Feel a little better than I did last Sunday. Great many strangers parading the street

Sep 11 Monday

I walked down to the Feast with Benjamin in the evening. Called in at Mrs. Knight’s

Sep 12 Tuesday

Aunt Fairey came for the day. Leonard, Selina and Jedidah came by the 12.30 train. Had quite a large dinner party – eleven of us. All here but Edwin; he arrived in time for tea. Went up to Uncle Andrew’s in the evening; Mr. Abbott from Raunds, J. Patrick and uncle Sam there, besides several others. Had some singing, but made more noise than harmony

On October 1st

Cough and breathing very bad; could not get out to chapel at all. Jedidah stayed with me afternoon and evening

He is now mainly telling what others are doing while he stays at home.

            Oct 17 Tuesday

This evening, Mr. Kitchen gave a lecture in the Hall, on coal, coal mines, illustrated by a panorama of twenty coloured views of objects in nature and art. I was very sorry I could not be there; those who were, said it was exceedingly interesting

He still sometimes manages to get to the chapel but rarely moves from the house. When he tells us on October 31st that ‘Margaret and Selina took teas with us, and bade us goodbye’ there seems a greater emphasis on the ‘bade us goodbye’. It is not a phrase that he uses before this time. He still has retained his sense of humour, as he tells of his friends and brother’s attempts to help him.

           Nov 2

Received a letter from Manchester saying they had sent me a rocking chair. And one from Leonard in the afternoon to say he had sent me and easy chair. 

Nov 3

Received the one from London

Nov 4

Received the one from Manchester

On November 15th Joshua went to Thrapston and became, ‘a member of the Odd Fellows Society’ in which his father was locally a leading light. We also hear that Mr Meckley and a man started building a new room adjoining the back of the shop. On November 16th he simply puts J.K. Syn. Which seems to imply that it was J Knight who had the fainting fit although it maybe code for something else. A few days later he receives the sad news that so many Victorian households had to endure as urbanisation and increased mobility produced annual epidemics which ran ahead of the scientists and doctors’ advances

Nov 20 Monday

Edwin’s babe named Leonard James died. Aged nearly six months

“Sweet babe, why should we weep for thee?

 From sin and suffering, thou art free”

On November 22nd he states. ‘Went to a situation in Bradford, Yorkshire.’ This seems very unlikely that we must wonder if he referring to somebody else in the family; or should it read ‘Sent’ or ‘Went for’?

On November 25th Herbert’s father went to Philadelphus Jeyes [who invented Jeyes Fluid] in Northampton perhaps to get pharmaceutical supplies for his shop. Mr Spurgin called on Herbert and we discover what medicines he is taking:

Nov 25 Saturday

Father went to Northampton to Philadelphus Jeyes and Co. Mr. Spurgin called; sat down and took a glass of wine; asked me several questions respecting myself and what I was taking. Told him Oil., Tinct. Quinine, and Chloric ether. Said he did not know that I could take anything better

Nevertheless Herbert knows that the drugs are not working. He sometimes has a better day but he knows that worse ones are to follow: 

Dec 3 Sunday

Evening. I have had a comfortable day – not much cough. Joshua, Benjamin, George Bull and Robert Knight stayed with me this afternoon. I am quite alone this evening excepting Charlie, who is sleeping before the fire, which is blazing brightly, and as I sit writing, I can hear the bells chiming sweetly

Dec 12 Tuesday

Finished Feaver’s Carbon. I have been taking it for nearly 20 weeks, and as I am not any better, I shall now discontinue the use of that, and take Bragg’s for a time. 

He also puts in a piece to show that all were susceptible to the great killers of the age, Typhoid Fever, Cholera and TB

Dec 14 Thursday

It is ten years today since Prince Albert died of typhoid fever. And at this time the Prince of Wales is lying in a precarious state suffering from the same disease

On Christmas day we see the mix of Christianity and spiritualism that gripped many Victorian minds and once again Cousin Samuel held centre stage:

About 3 o’clock this morning the band played a tune called “Prince of Light” very harmoniously underneath my window; and another (“Sovereignty”) a short distance off. 

At 10 o’clock am Jabez Abbott and Anne Maria Bull were married; after the ceremony the Band preceded the bridal pair up the street.

Benjamin and Mary Jane came to spend the day with us, and Elizabeth and Eliza Abbott, Herbert Dodson and Eliza Smith to tea with us; whilst taking tea Cousin Samuel came in and entertained us for about an hour by talking of spiritualism, what he had seen, heard and felt at séances. His opinion of spiritualism is that it is the work of evil spirits. In answer to a question of mine as to whether these spirits could influence anyone who did not wish to be influenced by them, he said he would relate a fact of his own experience, which I will give as near as I can in his own words. “At a certain place where I used to attend the meetings regularly for the purposes of investigation, there was usually a spirit present known to us by the name of Estelle, who made communications through a medium named Miss Hart. So one evening I said to her, “Why do you always play upon Miss Hart? Why not influence someone else? Influence me”. She replied –“I will next time”. The next week I went to the meeting as usual, having forgotten the circumstance just mentioned. At the time and seating myself in an easy chair, waited patiently for the commencement. I had not been sitting many minutes before I felt a very strange sensation creeping over me, as though sensibility were being withdrawn. I endeavoured to rouse myself by opening and shutting my eyes, clenching my fists and sticking my nails into the palms of my hands. A person sitting near noticed me and asked if I felt ill. I replied that I felt very queer, at the same time rising from my chair and walking a few steps to and fro in the room. I then began to feel better and directly after Miss Hart began to communicate, then the thought of Estelle flashed into my mind, so drawing near, I said, “I thought you were going to influence me tonight”. She said, “Well, I did try. But you resisted me, and one cannot make a clock go with a watch spring”

On December 31st this year there are no parties or celebrations. His brother, Edwin stayed with him in the afternoon and his sister, Mary Jane in the evening. He then writes ‘End of 1871’.

He starts the New Year with a text as motto for the year:

 “Fear not” for I have redeemed thee; I have called thee by thy name, thou art mine. When thou passest through the waters I will be with thee, and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned, neither shall the flame kindle upon thee. For I am the Lord thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Saviour. I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee.

On January he has obviously been looking through his diary and sees his failings:

            Jan 20 Saturday

I have often thought I should like to be able to write something in my diary every day, but I appear to be so deficient of the faculty of language, that I cannot write of every day occurrences in an interesting manner: nevertheless from this time I will try to write something, though it be but a sentence, a thought or a text of scripture

This he tries to do so 1872 has many entries but most are texts rather than personal observations or thoughts. On January 23rd, however he does reveal himself and the thoughts that he has kept away from the diary for so long.

Dum spiro, spero. This is my Motto – “While I breathe, I hope”. I have been asked once or twice by friends whether I think I shall recover my health and strength. Now this is a question I scarcely like to ask myself, much less being asked by others, for if I reply, “I hope so” – I fancy they think to themselves, if they do not speak out, just these words – Ah poor fellow that is one of the symptoms of his disease, to flatter the poor victim to the last: although I am aware of all this, still I would wish to hope against hope, for ‘tis this that buoys the sprits up. “Though hope for me had smiled but to deceive; and disappointment still pursues her blandishments”

Evening. Mr Eady has just been in to see me and asked me the question I have been alluding to.

In his heart he knows that it is just a matter of time and, with good reason, he allows himself a little self-pity:

            Jan 26

Restless through the night, face much swollen this morning [he was suffering with a gumboil]. Joshua came to bid us goodbye. Going to Bristol in the morning: How I envy him, and then it makes me feel wretched. Oh that I were blessed with health and strength as my brothers are.

“Why am I so weak and weary?

Why to me is life so dreary?

While to others, all is fair”


Jan 27

Face a little better. Received Edmund’s indenture to be signed, binding him for 4½ years from this time, dated Jan 26/72

Of course, he was not to know that his brother (Samuel Edmund) would not live to complete his apprenticeship and would die on 8th April 1875, also of TB, aged just eighteen.

He is true to his word and most days puts in some text which look to the next world and his own salvation as a sinner.

            Jan 31

            ‘Sinning and suffering’.

            Feb 3

‘Hope on, tired heart, hope on

On the same day he received ‘Dr. Niblett’s treatise’ which was obviously was about a cure for TB for he wrote back to him and, on February 7th, he received, with faint hope a case of medicine. The good doctor sent a note with the medicine:

. . . “I have given your case my earnest consideration, and am satisfied that this balsam will be of great benefit to you, and if persevered with will I hope soon restore you to health and strength”. I hope so too. May the Divine blessing accompany it.

We know something of what the treatise that was first sent to Herbert by Dr. Niblett because of an editorial in the British Medical Journal on April 6 1878, following a spate of letters about the ‘cure’. It quotes from the pamphlet:

Treatment of Consumption. – In recommending the following treatment, I trust that I am actuated by an earnest desire to benefit those who cases it may serve to illustrate. My aim is to lessen human suffering and to prolong human life.

                        “Blessed art of healing, once again divine.”

The specific medicine which I have so successfully prepared for every form and variety of consumption, and all diseases of the lungs and air-passages, is called The Restorative Balsam. There is not a single symptom this balsam will not take hold of and eradicate. Its action is immediate; it will also remove chronic bronchitis, asthma, sharp pains in the chest, difficult expectoration, sore throats, coughs and colds, also general debility. It will nourish and strengthen the vital organs by purifying the blood and removing all nervousness; it will greatly assist the digestive organs and increase the appetite; it will itself nourish patients for weeks at a time.

The article finishes:

The profession will be interested to know whether the licensing bodies in question are disposed to allow this to pass unnoticed much longer.

We tend to laugh at the Victorian quack and patent medicines but the sellers were often preying on the weak and vulnerable and slowly the medical profession was beginning to demand the prosecution of the charlatans

Before this he wrote on Tuesday February 6th:

Eliza Abbott’s A of B.D. [Anniversary of Birth Day] 21. Mother went to her party. Mary Jane could not go as her little boy was poorly. I remember going 19 years ago to her birthday party, the day after Uncle Andrew’s wedding

Many days there is just a short text but he still sometimes tells of his problems amid the trivia of everyday life:

            Feb 13

“Bright days are often followed by dark ones”. Not quite so well; cough very bad. Headache and weariness. Father paid the Magazine bill. 

He does manage to write a long piece on a relative’s death

         Feb 18 Sunday

Uncle Eneas died suddenly. We learned from letters we received afterwards that Uncle S. Bull and his wife were with Uncle E. at his house, on Sunday evening from seven to quarter to nine. They then left him apparently well in health and cheerful in mind. He wished them to stay until his boys got home, but they wanted to get home to their family. When Uncle E’s two boys went home between nine to then, they found their father lying against the door unconscious. They immediately ran off to Uncle Edmund’s and he and Leonard went back with them. They at once procured a doctor and he pronounced life quite extinct. 

Uncle Eneas (Enos in Census) Bull was Kezia’s brother and the only one in the family who seems to have followed the parent’s trade of paper-making. He is at Ringstead Mill in 1841; a porter in 1851, lodging with his brother Samuel Bull in Southwark (who is a Police Constable like Herbert’s brother, Edwin, a little later): he married Sarah Ann Petty in 1854 and is a packer in a paper works in 1861 and living at 5 North Street, Spitalfields with his wife and three children.

Herbert struggles through March and even ventures out briefly:

            Mar 4

A beautiful day, mild and bright; I ventured out, after being a prisoner in the house for over three months; walked to the top of the garden; the sun was shining, trees budding, birds singing and violets coming into bloom, but I felt too weak to enjoy the pleasant prospect. 

March 5

“The darkest hour precedes the dawn

And the longest night must end in morn”

March 6 Wednesday

Wrote to Dr. Niblett for another case of medicine although I cannot say that it does me any good.

Mar 7

Went up the garden again, but did not feel any better for it; very weary after it; cough troublesome and head ached. Edwin came in evening

His cousin Samuel, who is about to depart for Nebraska and Vancouver, comes to see them and attend the wedding of’ J Phillips and E Roberts’. And as usual, ‘we enjoyed his company very much’. His father is also ill and on Sunday he ‘stayed with me all day, suffering together’. On the previous day when Mr Spurgeon came to see his father he had asked to go ‘on the club’ which seems to show that Herbert Joseph’s finances were not good.           

His friends and relations still came to see him. First Jedidah and then Elizabeth Spence come down from Manchester to visit. Herbert is in increasing pain and his cough, throws him, ‘into an indescribable agony of suffocation. On April 11 Mrs Spence took, in a telling phrase, ‘a last farewell’ of him. He does tell of the death of Mr Williamson, father of Jane who becomes (check date) Cousin Samuel’s third wife, at the great age of 93. On April 21st he writes:

            Apl 21 Sunday

I got down into the parlour after tea, after staying upstairs for ten days. Mr. J. Green and Uncle Noah came in to see me and at my request they with Father and Edward sang two or three hymns; whilst they were singing I thought “if with our own discordant voices we are able to make such harmony here on earth”,

“What must it be like to be there

Where angels strike to angel strains

The song of heavenly love” 

Edwin carried me upstairs in his arms

Through May he receives visitors and writes texts into his diary.

May 10

“The path of sorrow and that path alone

leads to the land where sorrow is unknown”

May 11

A home in heaven, as the sufferer lies

On his bed of pain and uplifts his eyes

To that bright world, what a joy is given

By the blessed thought of a home in heaven” 

On May 15th he records:

Services were held at Staughton for the ordination of Mr. C. Warren. Several friends went from Ringstead

By a strange twist, on the death of Charles Warren, his second wife, Ada, became Herbert’s brother Joshua’s second wife.

On May 27th he writes one of his last longer pieces:


 May 27 Monday

Father brought Mr. Farrer home with him to see me, and I enjoyed his company for nearly two hours. We sang with Father’s assistance.           

“When I can read my title clear

To mansions in the skies

I’ll bid farewell to every fear

And wipe my weeping eyes” 

And I think we all felt what we sang; then Mr. F. read and prayed, and they sang again. Mr. F. saying he could continue ‘till midnight his soul was so full of the love of God and joy unspeakable, that he could say with the psalmist “Bless the Lord, Oh my soul and all that is within me, bless his holy name”


On June 6th he writes his last daily piece: 

Anniversary services held. Mr. Anderson of Deptford preached two sermons. Very wet day. Edwin came and went home same evening. I felt very sad and dejected; breathing difficult all day.

“My flesh and my heart faileth” but O God, do thou be the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever. In Thee, O Lord do I put my trust; let me never be ashamed: deliver me in thy righteousness. Forsake me not O Lord, O my God be not far from me.

There is just one last entry which may have been written earlier and then, later, signed: 

Here endeth this miscellaneous collection of facts and scraps, and although it may not interest anyone else to read it, yet it hath well repaid me for the trouble of writing, by the pleasure it hath afforded at many times in looking over

It is my wish to leave this diary for the use of the family (as a small memento of myself) in Father’s possession, and at his death to pass to my brother Edwin if he is living. 

Herbert Abington

July 30th 1872

Herbert died, less than one week later, on 3rd August 1872. He was buried in the small Particular Baptist churchyard where the stone, now moved to the edge of the garden, records the deaths of his parents and of Herbert, and his brother Samuel Edmund, who was soon to follow him. We see also a family which is close-knit with many friends and sustained by its Baptist faith. We also soon realise that this faith is not a narrow one and Herbert attends churches and chapels of various denominations and faces up to the challenges to his faith that the new scientific discoveries were producing. It is very sad to see a young man interested in the great issues of the day and in the future, a future which he knows he will not share. 

I have omitted much of the coming and going of family and friends but, even so, we can see that there is a constant interaction between brothers and sisters, cousins, uncle and aunts and we see relatives being taken into family businesses.

He rarely gives the details of life and people in his diary that we would now want, partly because he was writing it for his family. There is much that is left undescribed, unmentioned and unsaid but for that reason the times when we do get a glimpse of Herbert are the more affecting.





I would like to give my grateful thanks to John and Ian Abington and Muriel Pack for allowing me to use the transcription of Herbert’s Diary and the three illustrations from it. My special thanks to John (who did the transcription), for sending me the copies of the pages from the diary and for carefully correcting my text: also for the detailed booklet of the Abington family history researched and written by Ian and John. Any errors remaining are, of course, my responsibility.


Herbert Abington's Diary 1867 – 1872 (transcription by John Abington; original owned by Muriel Pack)

The History of Our Ancestors 1668 – 1923. Ian and John Abington (May 2011)

Memoir of Leonard James Abington: Extract from Personal Recollections 1868. (Thomas M. Parker. Kimbolton. Printer). With thanks to Vivienne Marshall.

Memoir of Leonard Joseph Abington. Published by H.J. Abington Ibbs Typ Thrapston) (Northampton Central Library)

Ringstead BMD ( )

England & Wales Non-Conformist Record Indexes (

!841, 1851, 1861, 1871, 1881, 1891, 1901 Censuses (

Victorian Era Health & Medicine- Early Methods of Treatment (

An Opinion of Music Halls 1867 ( 

 ‘Many killed as fenians try to blow up prison’. (Cambridgeshire Libraries online).

Adventures in Cybersound John Henry Pepper, ‘Professor’; 1821-1900 (

Jude the Obscure. Thomas Hardy (First pub. 1896 p. 126 Macmillan 1974)