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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.

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