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The History of Ilmington - Chapter 11


Village life in the later 19th century from three contemporary accounts

In the Economic Journal for March and June 1893, Joseph Ashby of Tysoe and Bolton King of Lighthorne published Statistics of some Midland Villages.  This survey covered 56 villages in 127,697 acres lying in a district to the northeast of Ilmington.

Both men were deeply concerned with the conditions of the agricultural laborer at that time.  The qualities of Joseph Ashby are well portrayed in the biography by his daughter entitled Joseph Ashby of Tysoe.  Bolton King in 1904 became the first county education officer later termed director of education for Warwickshire.  The value of this report today lies in the fact that Ashby had experienced the conditions of which he was reporting, and his survey would certainly include direct contact with the people of whom he was writing.  The original papers have been lost and no villages were named.  The relevance to Ilmington lies in the fact that the district is so close, the structure of the communities and the steep decline in population so similar to that found here.  There is however an important difference in that the district surveyed was well served by the Fenny Compton to Warwick, and the Fenny Compton to Stratford Railways.  Ilmington's transport was in the main the carrier's cart and the old tramway, and it may be significant that only the former has ever been mentioned in discussion with inhabitants.  It is also worth noting that this survey was carried out some twenty years later than Joseph Arch of Barford conducted his campaign for the Union of Agricultural Laborers.  This was instrumental in raising wages for a short time in the 1870s but the union was not maintained and conditions deteriorated again.

The survey is a vindication of the agricultural laborer and states that 'some generalisations as to village morality and intelligence are the grossest libels'.  The general conclusions were that allotments of one acre or more per family enabled the laborer to supplement his inadequate wage even to the point where small savings became possible, and by providing alternative employment prevented, in some cases at least, further depression of the wage.  It claims too that by restoring the laborers' self respect, crime and drunkenness had been reduced, stating of the latter that 'drunkenness in its more brutal forms, not uncommon ten years ago, hardly exists today'.

Illustrating the enterprise of the laborers, the survey quotes a village of 750 inhabitants which supported a Co-operative Society, a school with a night school, two non-conformist chapels, a reading room, two friendly societies, a political association, pig insurance society, flower show committee, hospital Sunday committee, football club, cricket club and a brass band.

Ilmington at this date was much the same size, it had two schools, but it must be admitted there is only reference to a night school at the National school for a very short period in the log books.  It also supported a non-conformist chapel, it had a reading room, and two friendly societies.  Though its brass band was of a later date there is evidence for an earlier drum and fife band.  It did not support a Co-operative society so far as is known, and no evidence of formal football or cricket clubs at this date has come to light.

The survey investigated the causes of migration from the villages, this being regarded as the chief reason for the steep decline of population.  The causes were found to be lack of work owing to agricultural depression and the increase of pasture at the expense of arable land.  Though higher wages were earned in the towns this was thought not to be a major factor because 'the love of home, and preference for a country life mitigates against this'. A second factor was the difficulty experienced by young people in obtaining satisfactory cottage accommodation.  In different villages from a third to nearly half the cottages were found to be 'below average', very few were owned by their occupants, gardens were inadequate or totally lacking and rents varied from £2.10 to £8 a year.

According to this survey, migration had begun from villages nearest to the railways about 1840, had been encouraged by the Agricultural Union from 1872-75 and had slowed down in some villages by 1890 so that the population was becoming stabilised.  It is probable that large scale migration from Ilmington began rather later and stabilisation did not occur till the early years of the 20th century.

It is against this background that three extracts from contemporary accounts of the 19th century should be read.  The first is taken from Memoir of C.M. Young with diary of J.C. Young (1).  He came to the parish in 1857 which is nearly forty years before the survey quoted above.  In this Journal a whole chapter is devoted to Ilmington.  He was succeeded by his son Rev C.J. Young in 1872.  The daughter of this rector wrote an account of her life in this village until she became Mrs Townsend in 1890.  The second set of extracts is taken from this.  The third set of extracts came from a privately printed pamphlet written by John Purser when he was an old man in New Zealand.  He was the fourth son of an agricultural laborer and himself worked on farms until he left the village about 1900.  He pays tribute both to the Rev C.J. Young and to Miss Young whose wedding in 1890 he remembers.


The rector's point of view - 1857 onwards:

"The attractions of the rectory house and grounds were considerably neutralised by the accounts which reached me from all quarters of the depraved condition of the parish.  I was told that the attendance of the people at church was deplorable; that hardly a week went by without summonses being issued by the neighbouring magistracy against some of the inhabitants for breaches of the law; that drunkeness, bastardy, and poaching were the normal characteristics of the village; that only a few years before there had been serious riots, in which no less than thirteen men were committed to Warwick Jail; that the rector, a gentleman of amiable and retiring disposition, had had his life threatened, and his nerves so shaken as to render residence elsewhere essential to his health and peace of mind; and that the spirit of lawlessness ran so high that no curate who had not undaunted courage and an inflexible will would be competent to cope with so turbulent a population."

Attempts were made to validate this criticism by examination of Petty (2) and Quarter sessions (1).  There had been a serious riot in 1830 against the employment of Irish labour.  There was a disturbance at the Methodist Circuit house in 1824.  There were a number of cases of theft, bastardy and poaching, the latter being savagely dealt with.  One man was fined £5 for the possession of a hare, another was fined for the possession of a greyhound, and another sent to prison for three months for snaring hares 'as he had not the wherewithal to pay'.  This examination did not seem to show Ilmington as much worse than other villages of comparable size.  The records available were a little earlier than the time of which the rector was speaking.

"On the first Sunday evening of my officiating in the church, when the services of the day were concluded, I told the congregation... I should esteem it a kindness done to me, if the next evening, when the labour of the day was over, they would meet me at 8 pm (in one of my meadows which I indicated to them) by the light of the harvest moon."

The community turned out in force and at his invitation sat on the grass in a horse-shoe shape before their new rector.  His address is given in full but is too long to quote here.  After deploring that the tie which should exist between pastor and people had been broken he appealed for their cooperation, and went on to say: "Your faults are attributable not to inferior natures, but to inferior opportunities; and for this I pity you.  You have never had a resident squire, nor, for some years, a resident rector, nor a well-organised school".  After further argument he made two promises.  "You shall have a good school, if you will promise to send your children to it, and the master shall have a good house to dwell in.  Your children shall have instruction by day and you shall have amusement by night, of a kind which ought to be more attractive than the public house, the beer shop, or the brothel... Now the recreation I propose to supply you with is the opportunity of hearing books read which shall instruct you and amuse you too.  Two nights in the week from 1st November till 1st of May will be devoted to familiar explanations of Scripture, enlivened by maps, pictures and descriptions of the manners, customs and productions of the East.  Two nights will be set apart for the reading of works of fiction with a moral purpose; and two nights will be free to those who like the opportunity of cultivating sacred and secular music."

The Rev J.C. Young was the son of an actor Maynard Young, well known in his day, and must have inherited some histrionic talent, for his readings became popular, not only in this village but famous throughout the district.  The chapter concludes as follows:-

"But to return to my parish.  Having told of its condition in 1857 in justice to it I would fain mention what it is in 1870.  The congregations instead of being very scanty are in winter large and in summer crowded, at both morning and evening services.

"The attendance at our school is large, and though our master is uncertificated our 'results' as shown by Sir Robert Hamilton's tabulated statement (published in the Parliamentary Blue Book) surpass those of several of the certificated masters in our rural deanery.

"Whereas there used to be so great a scarcity of water that infirm old women and young women with burdens of their own to bear, had to walk a quarter of a mile, with yokes on their shoulders and buckets in their hands to get it, there are now eight fountains so disposed as to bring the first necessary of life to every poor man's door.

"Although we have a considerable Roman Catholic population at the place, there has never been the slightest dissension between them and our Anglican Protestants; and though the priest and I, of course, held different opinions, they were never allowed to interfere with our affectionate discourse."

The arches of the fountains still stand, the one on the Upper Green being dated 1864.  Further accounts of the school, for which this rector must have been largely responsible, are given in chapter 13.

A national Religious Census was taken on March 30th 1851.  The results for Ilmington are summarised below. 

The Church of England.  This was completed by the curate who gave no Ilmington address.  There were free sittings for 200, other sittings for 100.  The congregation on March 30th was 150 in the morning and 200 in the afternoon.  Sunday school scholars numbered 50 in the morning and 30 in the afternoon.  The curate was unable to give the remainder of the information required.

Roman Catholic Chapel, Foxcote.  There were twenty free sittings and standing room for twenty.  The congregation on March 30th was 90 in the morning and 50 in the evening.  The average congregation was said to be 120.  The form was completed by Rev Father Lampfried, priest.  The chapel had been built in 1814 and the congregation was drawn from a number of villages in addition to Ilmington.  Easter communion lists from other sources suggest that there were about fifteen from Ilmington.

Methodist Chapel.  There were free sittings for 50 and others for 56.  Congregation on March 30th was 70 in the afternoon and 84 in the evening.  The form was completed by the Steward, Marsh Carter.  The chapel had been built in 1848 but other evidence shows that there had been a Circuit Meeting House at least as early as 1824.

Extract from Mrs Townsend's account, probably referring to dates 1880-90 (4):

"In the low ceiled village shop one could buy many useful articles for a farthing, tallow dips, churchwarden pipes, cheap sweets, liquorice sticks etc.  Delicious and wholesome dripping cakes were made by the village baker who kept this shop.  Then there was a curious little draper's shop in which one descended by three steps - a dark mysterious stuffy little place; yet the good lady, who kept it, could produce good flannel and serge and calico and prints.

"The costume chiefly worn by the women of the village was a dark linsey, woolsey dress, a large white apron and a big lilac or white sun bonnet in summer.  In winter a close-fitting black bonnet with a little white cap frill inside, and a grey or red wollen cross-over.  This applied more particularly to the older women...  Some of the old men wore smock frocks freshly washed and starched for Sundays...  There was much real poverty then and much hardship most bravely and uncomplainingly borne by the self-respecting poor.  On their miserably low wages one marvels how they managed to live and bring their children up so creditably."  Mrs Townsend goes on to describe the ordering of beef and mutton by the rector to make soup for the sick, also the making of milk puddings and bread puddings, for the poor with the largest families.  She states that consumption was rife and that there was no proper nursing for this outside the Work House Infirmary.

She describes the inside of a cottage kitchen, seen when visiting with her mother.

"On the whitewashed walls an old fashioned clock with a weight hanging and a big wagging pendulum.  A big oak chest, finely carved, standing against a wall served as a chest of drawers and store house to its owner.  The family Bible had a place of honour on top of it.  The decorations of the walls were mourning cards framed, and brightly coloured almanacks from the village shop, a text or two and a framed sampler.  The window seat held flowering plants.  Before the fire was a rag mat made from scraps of cloth, the prevailing colours red and black.  A round oak table and one or two wooden or rush bottomed chairs.  By the fireplace was a cupboard where crockery and pans were kept and a kettle hanging by an iron hook over the fire.  The floor was stone, bare but well scrubbed.

"In the church the quaint old custom of separation of the sexes was observed.  All the men sat on the lefthand side and the women on the right in the nave.  In the two aisles the people sat where they liked."

Mrs Townsend also described the higgler or carrier but the description which follows is taken from an unknown local newspaper of 1951 to which it was contributed by the late Sam Bennett.  It is preceeded by a photograph which is reproduced as a line drawing at the end of this chapter.  "The figure is a former Ilmington carrier Joseph Smith who was well known throughout a wide district.  Between 70 and 80 years of age, he used to make a round of the farms, collecting eggs and butter, and on Tuesday and Friday journeyed to Stratford, where he sold the produce on the street.  On Saturday he repeated the performance at Warwick."  Mr Bennett remarks that when his father was at Foxcote farm something like 80 years ago (about 1870) this higgler bought eggs at 30 for 1/- and butter at 8d. a lb.  While hens fetched a 1/-, fat ducks 2/- and dove cote pigeons 4d. each.  That was before auction sales were started and at a time when a Mr T. Hanson had a store at the bottom of Bridge Street, and did much business with farmers. Mr Bennett says that this man had as much as a ton of butter weekly from Ilmington, while, when he himself started as carrier more than 50 years ago (about 1900), he often had 4 cwt of butter.  For taking eggs to Stratford and bringing back empties the carrier's charge was 1d. per score.

In addition to produce Sam also carried up to 12 passengers, and we have his word for it that "when one old lady got market peart she didn't half talk and sing".  After sharing a journey with some of these Ilmington ladies Judge Evans (who bought Ilmington Manor House) insisted that in future the carrier's cart had to make a special journey to meet him.

John Purser's (5) great grandfather Samuel Purser appears in the 1851 census as a widower of 47 born in Ilmington (in 1804) and as a thatcher.  He had living with him his grandson James, a child of five.  This was John's father who married a Mary Spicer of Brailes, who appears in the 1871 census as a maid at Compton Scorpion.  James and Mary married at Brailes in 1872 and subsequently had five sons and two daughters.  They lived at different times in two cottages, one now demolished, on Campden Road.  All the sons and one daughter left the village, one son joined the army and died after service in India, three sons worked in collieries and on the railways, the youngest became a policeman.  One of the older sons emigrated to Canada and John to New Zealand with his wife and two sons in 1920.  John was able to revisit the village in 1950 and gave communion plate to the Methodist Chapel.  His father and mother died in Ilmington in the early years of the 20th century and are still remembered - his mother specially for her jam tarts.  His father and, before leaving, the sons worked on the Foxcote estate.

The agricultural laborer's point of view:

"At one time there were four of us to get off to work before seven in the morning.  Our parents would rise early to make the fire.  The kettle was boiled and our tea bottles filled for the day; bacon was cut from the flitch and fried for breakfast; then a heaped up plateful of bread dipped in fat was made up for our lunches.  Bible reading and prayer were never neglected.

"Leaving school in 1891, at thirteen years of age, I began work leading or driving horses, four in a team, with a carter or ploughman.  Three shillings a week!...  There were then three of us and Dad on regular work.  Dad earned ten shillings a week, my elder brother eight and we two younger ones three shillings each...  There was the quarterly house rent of twenty five shillings to be gathered and something must be set aside for the grocer when he came with his horse van from Shipston...

"With our corn from one and a half acres of allotment enabling us to get two weaner pigs to feed, kill and hang up in our chimney corner, we began to feel like small holders with enough to eat.  The allotment had to be cultivated and this we did chiefly at night, after our daily work, from 6.30 pm till near bedtime, 9 or 10 pm.  On this land we grew 35 to 40 bushels of wheat...  We grew barley, and half a ton of potatoes, besides small vegetables."

The size of allotment is one Ashby recommends.  The wheat yield is much as he gave but some of the crops are different.  Purser goes on to describe how the wheat was milled, the miller paid in money, not bran, as all this was used for their pigs.  The flour was either taken to the village baker who charged 1/2d. for each loaf baked, or at times the bread was baked in their own bread oven.  He states that 20 acres of land had been taken over for allotments by the village laborers, that the allotments provided work in case of temporary unemployment, and describes his father going to dig their own even when the snow was on the ground.

"In village homes, one large room opened straight from the street or garden, with perhaps a small pantry where food and cooking utensils were kept...  There was no water supply to the village houses... we were lucky, we had a well but in most cases water had to be carried a long distance... washing was done on a bench outside in a large zinc vessel.  All heating of water was done in a big iron pot.  Even when empty it was as heavy as a woman could lift.

"The one or two bedrooms of the thatched cottages were in the roof, and were often open to the rafters, which were branches cut straight from a tree.  The only light and ventilation was from one small window, two foot by two foot six."

After describing the pig stye, he goes on "we fed our pig well, with barley meal, bran, bran meal and potatoes all from the allotment.  Potatoes were washed and boiled in someone else's copper, two or three hundred weight the same day, and stored in a cask...  The pigs were the laborers' greatest asset, only those who had allotments could keep them profitably...  Some might have a hive or two of bees or a few fowls".  He goes on to describe lying in bed on Sunday morning and recognising the crows of the different cocks, and the brays of the donkeys from their sheds.

Quoits, football 'of a sort' and occasionally a properly organised cricket match were played in light evenings until harvest began, after which there was no more leisure.  In winter evenings the occasional concert organised by the schoolmaster was welcomed as were the 'few magasines for those who could afford to buy them".  He states that there was not much drunkenness, the men going for company rather than to drink, and that he was allowed at the Red Lion only once to pay the allotment rent in a room far removed from the bar.  He pays tribute to the work done by Miss Young (later Mrs Townsend) in her Bible class and to the Methodist Chapel Sunday School where for a short time they had small book prizes "owing to the kindness of a farmer.  After he moved to another farm, as was usual in the tenant farming community, prizes were too much for the laborer teachers to afford".

He describes Miss Young's wedding:- "She had the greatest wedding the village had seen.  The Rector used only a pony and trap but there were many carriages in the village that day.  The schoolmaster paraded the children as little guards, and all brought flowers to strew the path from the church...  We were given a holiday and marched to the great house to view the presents...  The Rector was a truly great man...  He would attend the school every Monday morning, to give Bible lessons to the top class...  In 1890 I was happy to receive a large Family Bible for being the best in religious knowledge."  He describes their generosity to the poor and the school treats given at the Rectory where the fare "was such as they were not used to; fresh bread and butter... and two sorts of cake...

"The Rector and his wife left us by the quietest road they could (in 1896) not going through the village to be applauded and not having any public farewell."

He paid tribute too to the kindness of the Squire, Mr Philip Howard, and to his careful management of the Foxcote estate.  His father worked for a time as quarryman on this estate and he described the loneliness of the job of stone breaking for the roads, also an accident in which a man lost his life when stone was being brought down the steep hill to the village.  He also described the miserable job of swede cleaning when the clamps were opened "one poor woman I knew did it for two or three winters.  She was deaf and lived alone.  She would wrap her legs in some sort of leggings for protection from cold and wet, and stand there for hours, with a swede in one hand and a knife in the other, cleaning ready for the mill" but he completes his description "when we descended the hill at night to the sheltered village our faces were all aglow and finger tips and toes tingled so that we had no need to sit by the fire."


"Dibbers were used for planting the corn... an experienced man would use two and walking backwards would make the holes two at a time.  Then came the women, with little calico bags tied round their waists to drop in the corn.  It was tiring work done in the wintry weather for which they might get 1/- a day."  Ashby refers to this method of corn planting.  It was more economical of seed than the drill.  It is still remembered in Ilmington, a man being hired to plant a field, and often the same man to reap the corn.  The illustration at the end of a previous chapter shows the introduction of this method in the early 17th century.

He described hay making and harvest but this is common to most villages so has been omitted save for:- "It was a weary tramp home at night but there was a feeling of happiness as the families called to one another across the widening distance."

Though threshing machines had existed in Ilmington for some time and Ashby describes allotment holders combining to get their corn threshed, the flail was still in use for this in Ilmington in the 1890s.  "It was a winter job when outside work could not be done."

By 1897 "Employment was not good so our allotment had to suffice.  It provided plenty of food, but no money for groceries, clothing and rent.  Dad's quarry had closed down, as by this time stone could be bought already broken.  Though he was a skilled farm-worker, hedger, mower, rick-builder and thatcher, the farmers pleaded bad prices as the reason for offering no work.

"It was then the young men from the village went to the manufacturing towns, thus relieving the village of its unemployed.  If there had been any prospect of better things some would readily have stayed, to the advantage of the older people.  If Dad had only had a donkey I would have stayed...  I had a complete change of new clothing, carefully made by hand by my mother.  With seven and six in my pocket, enough for my fare and a little more I left my mother at the gate and set out."

It is likely he 'set out' from what was until recently the 'Cottage of Content' on Campden Hill, of which an illustration from an old photograph taken when it was still thatched is given.

The pamphlet concludes with a rather moving postscript describing his joy when he heard the Ilmington bells (in New Zealand) in the Christmas Broadcast of 1934.

Were it not for this pamphlet and subsequent search in registers and census forms the Purser family might have remained almost unknown, yet they were Ilmington people for over a hundred years and many more families must have completely disappeared in a similar way in the years of depopulation from 1851 until the second world war. 

Ashby mentions the increase of pasture as one of the causes of agricultural unemployment.  A land Utilisation Survey was made in 1931 (6) and the change in Ilmington from 1781 to 1931 is startling.  In 1781 ridge and furrow and therefore presumably arable land covered approximately 66% of the parish.  On a four-field system this might mean a little over 45% under crops but the fallow would be ploughed at least once.  By 1931 a very rough estimate shows under 10% of arable.  The estimate is a rough one as the only available maps now are photostats of photostats kindly supplied by the London School of Economics, and only proportions could be estimated as the exact scale was difficult to determine.  But as with some other estimates in this book the difference far outweighs inaccuracies.  How far this pasturisation had gone by the 1890s is unknown but Sam Bennett's estimate of a ton of butter a week going to a Stratford store by one carrier may be indicative.  Since this was written a report of a land survey taken in 1801 has been obtained for the parish of Ilmington from the P.R.O. (7)

It is as follows:-


This is more than 1000 acres and is around 55% of the acreage of the Enclosure Award.

The pamphlet from which these extracts have been taken has much more to say of village life than has been quoted.  Even so, it gives a very limited picture of the village, and of the tradesmen mentions only the Shipston grocer, the baker and the blacksmith.  No doubt the laborers were too poor to have much contact with others.

It reinforces Ashby's finding that men would much have preferred their country life to the higher wages of the towns.  It is outstanding in showing the cheerful acceptance of a very hard life and is entirely without bitterness.

The Carrier

The Purser family lived for a time in the righthand cottage of these two on Campden Hill. Drawn from an old photograph when they were still thatched

  1. Out of print. Lent by Mr Charles Morgan.

  2. Shakespeare Birthplace Trust ER 10/1-3.

  3. Shakespeare Birthplace Trust ER 10/2.

  4. Stratford Herald December 1934.

  5. Warwick Record Office.

  6. London School of Economics, Geography Department.

  7. P.R.O. Acreage Returns 1801 - H.O. 67.

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