Recent History of Local Villages in Billington Area
May 22, 2010
|THE BROWNLOW ESTATE
( Some interesting history about The Brownlow Estate researched and written by Geoff Spencer)
In 1921 the third Earl Brownlow died. Lady Brownlow having previously died in 1917 and as there were no children the earldom was extinguished. And it also brought to an. end three hundred years of private family occupation of the Ashridge Estate. This had a significant effect on Dagnall.
From 1604 to 1849 the Ashridge Estate had been in the ownership of the Earls and Dukes of Bridgewater. With the death of 7th Earl Bridgewater, followed in 1848 by the death of his widow Countess of Bridgewater, the Bridgewater title died out.
Viscount Alford his great nephew and the son of the first Earl Brownlow inherited the estate. He died at a comparatively early age, so in 1853 John Egerturn, his son, found himself not only heir to the Bridgewater Estate but also the Belton Estate in Lincolnshire. And shortly afterwards when he was still only 12 years of age he became 2nd Earl Brownlow.
His mother Lady Marion Alford presided over the estate until be came of age. On his death at the age of 24 in 1867 the estate was inherited by his brother Adelbert, who became 3rd Earl Brownlow.
The nineteenth century had seen a great revival in the fortune of the estate. During this period it had been greatly enlarged, sometimes by rather dubious means, such as the enclosure of common land, a not uncommon practice at the time. It eventually encompassed large areas of Little Gaddesden, Great Gaddesden, Dagnall, Edlesborough, Northall, Totternhoe, Ivinghoe, Ivinghoe Aston, Long Marston, Marsworth, Slapton, Billington, Pitstone, Studham and Aldbury. And employed a workforce of over 700.
During the second half of the 19th century and into the 20th century the Brownlows had an increasing influence on the lives of the Dagnall people. They owned virtually all of the land and a large number of the dwellings. Some of the villagers worked directly for the estate, others on the rented farms. And a very large percentage lived in houses or cottages rented from the Brownlows.
It was the period of great landlords, many of whom took their paternal and social responsibilities very seriously. The Brownlows did a great deal of disinterested and enlightened work and although today it would no doubt appear very presumptuous, kept a watchful eye on both the physical and moral well being of their tenants.
They built new houses and cottages, and provided the village with a church and schoolroom and houses for the Rector and Schoolmaster. They were active in promoting or supporting various village organisations, such as the Clothing Club, Bedding Club and Girls Friendly Society. And attended various village functions, sometimes with "suitable and appropriate gifts of clothing and blankets". Older members of the village remember that everyone who lived in a Brownlow cottage received a joint of beef at Christmas. A Hearse was kept at Ashridge House for use of anyone who had a death in the family.
All the hedges along the roads through the village were maintained by the estate workers, as were the fences. The church and cottages were kept in good repair, and the appearance of the village in general cared for.
There were nevertheless rules both written and understood which everyone was expected to observe. For example, the tenancy agreement between the Ashridge Estate and their tenants included such clauses as:
‘Every room to be lime washed once a year, in May, at the expense of the tenant, the landlord delivering lime on the premises.’
‘All vegetable matter and refuse to be used or dug into the ground and not to accumulate in heaps or pits.’
‘The bedroom windows, unless in the case of illness, to be opened every morning from 8 o’clock until 12.’
‘The Agent or Inspector to look over the whole premises as often as he may consider it necessary.’
‘The tenancy commences on ........................ and can be terminated by either landlord or tenant at any time giving to the other one calendar month’s notice to quit.’
A published notice said parents whose children are found wandering in idleness or in the company or bad characters after due warning, may be fined five shillings.
It was understood that on Sundays, no washing would be hung out and no work would be done on allotments. At all times due respect was expected. Such. as doffing of caps and curtsying when Lord or Lady Brownlow passed.
To the majority who observed the rules a good deal of care and kindliness was shown. But those who transgressed or otherwise fell from grace were liable to have their tenancy terminated, although apparently they were usually offered alternative accommodation on the outskirts of the estate.
Under the terms of 3rd Earl Brownlow’s will the Belton Estate in Lincolnshire was to be kept but to meet death duties the Ashridge Estate was to be sold. So between 1923 and 1928 the whole of the estate was sold at various public auctions. The land, houses and cottages in Dagnall that belonged to the estate were sold to a variety of people.
This was a time of agricultural depression and land was very cheap. Although farming was financially in a poor state the tenant farmers managed to buy their farms as did a number of small holders and tenants of the cottages. The sitting tenants were all given the opportunity to buy their properties, at a figure appreciably lower than the market price, before they went to public auction. Those who worked on the Ashridge Estate were also given one years’ wages to assist them in their purchase.
A typical rent at the time for a brick built cottage with two rooms upstairs and a living room and scullery downstairs was £5 per annum, and they were sold at the auctions for around £80 - £100. Arable land was rented at little over £1 per acre.
The Brewery, which had been closed for some time, together with the associated cottages in Malting Lane had already been purchased by Mr Munn the Wheelwright. Additional land was now purchased from the Ashridge Estate. James Munn who for some time had combined his job as Wheelwright (which with the advent of rubber tyred vehicles was becoming a dying trade), with that of smallholder, now went into full time farming.
At this time Dagnall was still a comparatively isolated and scattered village with large meadows in the spaces between the dwellings. Its economy still overwhelmingly based on agriculture. A rural community of those either working on the land or servicing those working on the land. The village still had two Bakehouses, one run by the Gadsdens, the other by the Holmes. A shop and post office run by George Norman and another shop run by the Osbornes. There was William Collyer the village Blacksmith, James Munn the Wheelwright and two Public Houses. The dairy produce came from the local farms and travelling butchers came from adjacent villages, as did a travelling hardware shop. It was during this period the Green Brothers opened a Motor Garage.
Getting out of the village still meant either walking, cycling or perhaps getting a lift with someone who bad a horse and cart. Very few motor vehicles came through the village and there were only four motor cars in the village. These were owned by Nelsons at Colliers, Twidells at the Hollies, Henry Munn at the Farm and Greens at the Garage. The road traffic such as it was, was horse drawn, with the occasional steam wagon which invariably stopped at one of the village ponds to replenish it~ water supply.
Electricity had not yet come to the village. Lighting was by candles and paraffin oil lamps. Mrs Osborn recalls it was over an hours’ work every morning to clean and trim the seven oil lamps at the Golden Rule.
Drinking water came from the many wells and the toilets were in outhouses, usually at the bottom of the garden, there being no main sewer.
Fortunately farming was still very labour intensive, so although poorly paid, plenty of work was still available within the vicinity of the village. Most agricultural workers augmented their incomes by growing their own vegetables and perhaps keeping a few chickens. The Brownlow Cottages were provided with a brick built pig sty in the garden.
Throughout the twenties and thirties the farms tended to be mixed farms. Although Dagnall Farm was predominantly sheep, Cross Keys mainly Dairy and Dagnall Hill Farm mainly arable, the other farina and small holdings were a mixture of cows, pigs, free range chickens and some arable land growing vegetables, corn and bay.
The ploughing was done by horse drawn ploughs and the harvesting by horse drawn reaper and binder. Although Fordson and Trojan tractors were available they were too expensive for local farmers.
Mr Ashby of Dagnall Farm had the only Threshing machine in the village. This was steam driven. It was used not only on Dagnall Farm, but contracted out to other farms.
Threshing involved a labour force of 8 - 10 men. There was the engine driver, who looked after the engine and generally supervised the whole operation. Two men on the threshing machine itself - a feeder who dropped the corn down into the top of the machine at a suitable rate and a band cutter who cut through the band round the sheaves and passed them to the feeder. There were two men on the corn stack to pass the sheaves over to the machine and two or three men to deal with the result (one to remove the Backs of grain and the other two to cope with the straw, chaff, dust, etc. dropping out of the-bottom of the machine). A further one or two men were required to cart the corn away to where it was to be stored until sold.
Prior to this of course the corn had been harvested by a Reaper and Binder, the bound sheaves ‘stooked’ in rows in the field and left to dry for a week or two. Then they had been loaded into a cart by pitchfork and taken to the farm to be built into ricks and finally thatched to keep them dry.
Now of course the whole operation from harvesting to threshing is carried out in one operation by one man driving a Combine Harvester.
Ploughing of the larger fields was sometimes done by a steam plough from the Ashridge Estate. It was done with two very big steam engines beneath which was a drum and steel cable. The steam engines were stationed at opposite ends of the field and pulled a multi-bladed plough backwards and forwards across the field.