Website of the Laceby History Group

Much Air of Comfort - Laceby in 1800

"Laceby is, I think, one of the prettiest villages
in the county, containing a great number of very
well-built houses, with much air of comfort, and
several of a more considerable appearance, and being
on a slope of country, and very well wooded, with a
fine clear stream through it, the aspect is on the
whole very pleasing."

Thus wrote Arthur Young in 1797. He was a government official (Secretary to the Board of Agriculture and Internal Improvement) who wrote reports on the state of agriculture in different counties in England. The words above come from his General View of the Agriculture of the County of Lincolnshire. Young gives an explanation of why Laceby was so prosperous.

"I inquired the cause and found it inhabited by
freeholders; each man lives on his own." (page 21)

These circumstances are unusual. Except in Laceby, most farmers in the area were tenants. Farm workers often had to live on the farms on which they worked, but in Laceby everybody had his own home.

We can guess from the information in Arthur Young's book that Laceby people felt reasonably well off. Certainly Mr Phillip Skipwith, on the Manor Farm in Aylesby, could not get enough people to hoe his beans :

"At Alesby, Mr Skipwith practises a singular course for
Lincolnshire : 1. turnip; 2. barley; 3. clover;
4. beans; 5. Wheat. The putting in beans upon
clover I have recommended to many farmers; but, till
now, I have not met an instance of it in the county: he
observes, that beans are always good on clover, he harrows
them (five bushels) in on one earth, and feeds with sheep
till near blossoming, wanting hands for hoeing, hence he
is forced to miss the wheat after, when the land is foul,
and take turnips; which, with a better bean culture,
would not be the case." (page 151)

Phillip Skipwith comes into Arthur Young's report quite often and is held up as a model farmer, so missing a wheat crop in the rotation system would be a serious matter. Perhaps the reason for the reluctance of people in Laceby and Aylesby to take on casual work such as hoeing, was that wages in the area were very high. Young says that wages in Lincolnshire were the highest of any county in England, and gives examples from villages all over Lincolnshire to show the variation in wages. The two nearest to Laceby are Humberston and Swinhope.

At Humberston, the wages were the highest in Lincolnshire (except for the ladies), which probably means the highest in England. Swinhope is not far behind, so it is likely that wages in Laceby would be similar. Of course twelve shillings a week did not make you rich, as these prices indicate (old pence per pound) :

Mutton and Beef   6d
Pork                     7d
Geese                   4d
Turkeys                6d
Cheese                 6d
Butter                   9d (1/- in winter)
Cod                      3d
Coal                     11 1/2d per hundredweight
Potatoes               3/- per sack

(page 451)

Some of the workers' income was in kind. Most would have a piece of land to grow wheat and vegetables, and keep a pig. They must also have had enough grazing, or access to grazing, to keep a cow:

"Mr Lloyd of Alesby has no labourers that have not

cows; and it is the same with those of Mr Skipworth

at Alesby. The system seems general through all

the country." (page 463)

Thomas Dixon at Riby employed William Barnard in 1797 as a shepherd (then the highest paid farm worker). He calculated total cost at £31 l8s 0d for the whole year:

                                                             £     s     d
To wages in money                              16   16    0
To keep two pigs in the cratch yard       1     1     0
To keep a cow of his own and to let
him have the milk of mine, but I am
to have the calf.                                   10    0      0
House yard and garden rent free -
and clear of all assessments.                 1   10     0
To give him a chaldron of coals
and leading.                                           1     5     0
To give him two loads of dead furz              10    0 
To give him a strike of wheat 5s 6d
Strike of malt 5s 6d                                      11    0
Fastening penny                                             5    0 

(Quoted from Lincolnshire Notes and Queries in Beastall page 112)

Not everybody wou1d be so well placed. Many people could obtain only casual work, and existed on a mixture of parish relief, the produce of their plots and Whatever rights they had to grazing, gathering and gleaning. These latter rights were fast disappearing as common land was enclosed and taken over by the landowners. The years around 1797 may well have been the best period for ordinary country people, as the war against Napoleon forced up prices and depressed wages, making more people dependent on parish relief. There will be a very different story to tell about the nineteenth century.

Arthur Young's book is more concerned with explaining how country prosperity had been brought about.

"Remembering, as I do, this county about forty years ago,
no circumstance in it surprised me more than the
astonishing change effected in respect to this crop.
At that time there was scarcely a turnip to be seen,
where now thousands of acres flourish ... This has been
a most meritorious progress." (page 162)

Nowadays enthusiasm for turnips is rare, but in Arthur Young's time turnips represented progress because they were a great improvement on the previous forms of animal feed, which was chiefly meadow and hill grass . The systematic growing of animal feed crops such as turnips and clover was developed in the eighteenth century, and enabled better stock to be raised in greater numbers . In 1728 the Allington family farm at Swinthorpe had 420 sheep worth £70. On the same amount of land in 1796 they had 1,460 sheep worth £1 ,000. (page 475). Careful breeding of animal stock also brought considerable improvement. At Alesby Philip Skipworth became one of the most famous breeders of the new Lincoln sheep, which was a cross between the old Lincolnshire long-wool sheep and the improved Leicester sheep. In 1797 he was experimenting with both breeds.

"Long-wools carried a valuable fleece, so heavy that
in the weeks before shearing shepherds and trained dogs
were made to stand by to turn the animals . which had a
tendency to 'rigwelt' or fall on their backs, unable
to right themselves owing to the weight of their wool. tI
(Beastall 135)

 

"Mr Skipwith, of Alesby, has been in the New Leicester
breed twelve or thirteen years; and had been a Lincoln
tup man sixteen years before: he prefers the New Leicester
greatly; they feed quicker, have lighter offals; less
wool per head of wethers and hogs; but the ewes equal to
Lincoln; and upon the whole, yield more per acre, as he
finds by his tod bill . The flock through, about 7 lb. on
an average; the Lincolns about 8 lb. In winter they do
not shrink like the Lincoln: the flesh is firmer, and
endures better, and this even on wet land and bad keep;
and they bear driving much better to market, to either
London or the Yorkshire markets. In point of time of
selling, his Lincolns went within three weeks of the same
age, but the Leicesters fatter: he runs them also t hicker
on the same land, keeping five instead of four.

He used to lose many Lincolns in lambing, from the size of
the head and legs, but the Leicesters come much easier.
He letts rams from five to fifty guineas. His drape ewes
he sells at Michaelmas, the lambs having been weaned at
Lammas; last year none under 4os.; of some he knocks out
the teeth, and puts them on turnips to eat the tops, and
all gone by Christmas. This custom is common, but not too
humane.

Inquiring into the support in spring, I find they depend on
turnips till the grasses are ready, and are consequently
often much distressed: Mr Skipwith observed that it is
necessary to give corn." ( pages 366/ 7)

If the sheep had a hard time, Phillip Skipwith did not. From being a tenant farmer he was able to send his son to Wadham College, Oxford and move on from Aylesby into the higher levels of Lincolnshire society, owning 5,000 acres at North Kelsey. (Olney) Skipwith was also involved in the development of the Lincoln Red breed of cattle. Tracing the history of the Lincoln Reds, Sir Robert Wright names one of the pioneers of the breed in 1800 as Mr Charles CoIling of Ketton. He hired out his bulls by the year and amongst the earliest hirers were Mr Skipwith of Aylesby, Mr Ostler of Aylesby and Mr W Brooks of Laceby. (Wright)

Besides improvements in animal feeds and breeding stock, there was one other major change in the countryside around Laceby by 1800, and that was the conversion of the Wolds from sheep-walks to arable land.

Arthur Young talks of

"the bleak wolds and heaths being almost all enclosed and
planted within twenty or thirty years. ft (page 7)
"At Alesby , Mr Skipwith has been ploughing down the old
high lands of the country for twenty years past." (page 1151

"Dubbut loook at the waaste; theer Warn't not feead for a cow;
Nowt at all but bracken an' fuzz, an loook at it now -
Warn't worth nowt a haacre, an' now theer's lots o' feead ,
Four scoor yows upon it an' some on it down i' seead"
(from Tennyson's dialect poems, quoted in Beastell) .

The old sheep-walks consisted of rough grass and gorse-bushes, and the wolds were considered fit for little else. Paring and burning was the technique used to clear the rough land.

"Paring and burning is very common on the wolds, about Brocklesby,
in taking up any old sheep-walk, or gorse-cover; and some
farmers will do it upon newer layers of ten or twelve years;
and the best farmers approve of it when the natural bad grasses
come after the sown ones wear out, and the surface is become
hide-bound, mossy and unproductive." (page 286)

Not everybody was keen, however, and gorse-lovers remained.

"Near Brocklesby etc there are large tracts of excellent
land under gorse; and at Caburn and Swallow I passed
through the same for miles. It is a beautiful plant to
a fox-hunter. Lord Yarborough keeps a pack of hounds; if
he has a fall, I hope it will be into a furze-bush; he is
too good to be hurt much; but a decent pricking might be
beneficial to the country." (page 255)

Laceby was a village of freeholders, so there were no new enclosures in the late eighteenth century, and they were free of Lord Yarborough's control. Thus people in Laceby would be well placed to take advantage of the developments in agriculture, and there is every reason to suppose that they prospered.

Historians used to think that the growth of population in England was caused by the Industrial Revolution. We now know that a rapid increase in population began after 1750, and that country areas far from industrial development shared in this population boom. Laceby's population in 1801 was 368 people. By 1851 it had grown to 1,001. But the basis for that growth lay in the prosperous years between 1750 and 1800 when all the above developments took place and transformed the countryside.

I would like to think that among all the improvements being made there was still room for the individualist. Laceby went to war with Grimsby in 1249 over a rabbit warren, and it would be nice to know that there was still a rabbit man or two in Laceby who might have taken skins and meat to Coney Court in Brigg market. There was certainly rabbitfarming around Caistor:

"From Louth to Caistor, eighteen miles, ten of it are
warrens, chiefly silvers; rent 2/- to 3/- an acre .
They plough a part every year for corn and turnips, and
laying down again with seeds, let down the fences for
the rabbits to enter. Warrens are reckoned profitable,
so that some fortunes have been made on them." (page 429)

Alas, we know of no rich rabbit-men in Laceby, but we can live in hope that somewhere there is a record of one.

References

Arthur Young            General View of the Agrigulture of the County of Lincolnshire (2nd ed. 1813)

R J Olney                   Rural Society and County Government in Nineteenth-Century Lincolnshire (1979)

Sir Robert P Wright    The Standard Cyclopadia of Modern Agriculture and Rural Economy (undated)

T W Beastall               Agricultural Revolution in Lincolnshire (1978)