Chapter I: Settlement
Our interest in Chard [The Collins of Chard] revolves around its relationship with Tatworth Village - its sub-manor… a mere three miles down the road,… the distance walked by the population every Sunday - to attend it is nearest Church. The Devon Record’s Office of 1554, mentions Thatteworth as the land granted to William Petre… and goes on to describe it as: ‘the manor and park of Tatworthy’. Interestingly, in the early 1300s, the first warrant holder of the estate was a certain Adam Thatteworhe.
This estate was typical of the period - for the most part engaged in farming and weaving… remaining in the Petre family for almost two hundred and fifty years, until 1790… the first hundred years being ‘The first age of England’s Renaissance’, The hamlet remained roughly the same size, just a collection of cottages, only increasing in size much later - when the lace mills of Chard required labour, and then, later still, when Sparks & Co., were manufacturing net at Holyrood Mill, in Perry Street, Tatworth.
It is difficult to see the effects made by the battles and disturbances on Chard and it’s sub-manor during the Civil War. Land was taken away from some, divided by others, and sold on by widows and the bereaved. This part of England – the West Country, was a Parliamentary stronghold although naturally the high aristocracy sided with the king. What one can say is that things were never the same again, when the dust had died down… even though some of the holdings returned to their former owners, the population had been unsettled, and it took many years for the effects to be absorbed.
The workers of the land – the poor, were housed in cottages still owned by absentee landlords and by The Petre Estate. The destitute taken care of by The Church and local charities. All concerns provided by the Old Poor Law. Many of the poor were exempt from the Hearth Tax whilst receiving relief from charities. Couples preparing for marriage still had to seek permission from the rector of St Mary’s, Chard [Tatworth’s Parish Church] who in turn felt obliged to contacted Baron Petre, the main landowner. If the couple was likely to be homeless, they had to delay marriage, sometimes for years. The manor court could have undesirable couples shipped abroad to the colonies - as vagrants.
The Settlement Law of 1662 required all persons to have a settled [home] parish. This had enormous implications where people lived and the pressure the lord of the manor exerted. Anyone moving from that parish to another could be sent back within a forty-day period. This time scale was later relaxed if the parish of settlement accepted the newcomer. A hundred and thirty years later the decision of settlement relied upon ‘when the person was chargeable’ - to the poor rates of the parish. Most poor families continued to be housed in family units. As a rural economy, the fluctuations in the market and the advent of bad harvests had a great impact on the society.
The many problems of housing the rural poor were obvious well before the Restoration, but the Settlement Laws of 1662, defined the people’s rights more acutely. The poor could be pushed out altogether and never fully established to form the necessary ‘right’ of Settlement. Poor families could be housed by taking over disused accommodation [squatting], take over a portion of an existing property, building on somebody else’s large garden, or a property could be sub-divided. Small freeholders could build their own or re-site an existing timber framed house. Tatworth was just a scattering of simple cottages built on marginal land alongside existing tracks. New dwellings that were built erected further from the centre on outlying parts of the settlement where community control was less strict... Once erected the squatter became accepted and later gained legal rights.
Many new builds were randomly placed to take full measure of the profit from corner plots, unused ground and land unfit for cultivation. Manorial lords profited by allowing new cottages on manorial waste in return for fines and quit rents. Over time these new incomers demanded their so-called rights to the common waste… if these rights were given then the cottage occupiers gained settlement as of right. The lord and his bailiff recognised that some of these newcomers did not have relatives or persons who could vouch for them and there were those who could not pay the rent in advance. It was therefore in the interests of the lord to see that work was provided even if it were work on the estate to repair roads, hedges, ditches and banks. In the next county Devon a survey records 21 percent of the poor were occupying church houses and that over half of the parishes housed the poor.
Ever since the Religious Houses were established part of their inheritance was looking after the poor by providing church and poor houses. These then became a valuable parish resource, which allowed flexibility to a slowly changing society. The birth rate in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries increased the separation of rural families, particularly those from small farms and smallholdings… slowly the poor migrated away from the land to the town and the new factories. The parish officials recognised that the cottagers and farm labourers were totally dependant on their wage especially as the wasteland grew scarce and their gardens shrunk. Self sufficiency for the poor was essential… there were two Elizabethan Statutes that insisted on a certain size of land that should go with the dwelling, and another accepted that squatters could build their own homes or that homes could be constructed by landlords for rent… these were The 1558/9 Acts. The housing of the poor has always been a problem, the responsibility ended up being a parish matter with the help of charities. This became what is now called local authority housing. In the latter end of the seventeenth century, there was a proliferation of habitation orders authorising the erection of cottages for the poor - the provision of rented accommodation.
The problems of the poor are always wrapped up with their relationship with the land - any pressure exerted on their ability to grow food, feed animals and provide a dwelling immediately have a knock on effect. The Enclosure Act was one such event that affected the poor more than anyone else. The object of ‘enclosure’ was to link manorial strips, and common-land ‘waste’, into economic areas - which could be easily contained; stocked, manured, drained and worked… this was obviously beneficial if the object was economic efficiency. Cooperative fairness, reasonableness, and for all the public’s good, it was certainly not. This Act worked in favour of the landowners both large and small. It enabled the less well off and the bereaved to be bought out over a long period.
The almshouse built on the ‘Lands of the Blessed Mary’ in 1471 on the north side of the High Street, Chard, was renovated by the Corporation in 1647… built to house the community’s destitute and paupers. The Borough of Chard provided this group of terraced cottages. Thirteen years later The ‘Settlement and Removal’ Acts of the 1660s was designed to keep out anyone who was likely to be a burden on the rates. The Act tied men to their own parish for the next two centuries. Every parish had to list those who lived within the bounds. There were interminable arguments about the parish boundaries and those who were within and those without. Parish Officers did not have to make this list if they did not want to in fact it only affect any person who rented for under £10 per year and who was likely to be chargeable to their parish or to his parish of settlement – had come to inhabit. In the end, possession of a freehold or copyhold became a means of acquiring a settlement in the parish. Anyone applying for settlement had to live in it for forty days if he had a freehold or copyhold, rent for £10 per annum, serve in the parish office or pay taxes levied in the parish. In the end, it all became quite silly and the whole thing fizzled out mainly because no one could be bothered to go into all the various permutations. As long as people paid their taxes they could live in regulated accommodation [with planning permission] listed at the council offices.
In 1663 Richard Harvey who established a bequest, to the Borough of Chard, obtained premises. These properties were fitted out as a ‘Hospital’. All accomplished by 1698… included a farm for fresh produce and other lands called Chard Farm in Meldreth, Cambridgeshire. The second half of the eighteenth century saw the foundations laid for the country’s industrialization and the first agricultural revolution – a time of commercial activity organized to take note of the market place – concerning profit in a consumer society. Nearly fifty per-cent of the nation’s income was generated by agriculture. Enclosure was the destruction, leading to the disappearance, of an independent peasantry – the theft of ‘the people’s common rights’ affecting their fields, meadows and pastures. Enclosure led to evictions and oppression for the very poor, inarticulate, disabled and single parents over the centuries.
Towards the end of the eighteenth century, the result of enclosure became more apparent. The largest landowners who employed a land agent and farm manager were advantaged being able to increase their employer’s holdings… similarly, the farmer who owned more than fifty acres. The farsighted tenant farmers also increased their farm size by purchasing land for themselves. It was the small farmers with a large family who found themselves disadvantaged; they could not produce enough or buy new implements - to make the land profitable in bad times, as agriculture moved from subsistence to a commercial one.
The most substantial house in the parish is Parrocks Lodge built in the Regency neo-classical style at the time of George II, in 1801. Soon after it was built, John Deane moved in with his wife. Fifty years later the property was sold to Major John Churchill Landon. The Landon has had eleven children, which not only stimulated much energy to the hamlet and local aristocracy, although none married, keeping the family fortune well attended. The Langdon family stayed there for a hundred years eventually selling the place to the North family who took over a dilapidated estate.
Two paths, Parrocks Lane and Church Path [Chard Road], bisected the Tatworth Middle Field [one of the recorded open field systems]. In the centre lay William Drake’s Bean Land on Woodcock Gate, below which Parrocks House, Farmyard and Parkland sits. The present day Lodge and associated farm buildings are sited here. Over the parkland, boundary, and wall, were limekilns and pits owned by the original owners John Deane. When he died his partner Benjamin Coles took over the business and house. Carboniferous Limestone is dry at the surface, and sends out springs at the base; its local soil is thin. It was discovered that by spreading crushed limestone onto arable soil improves texture and fertility. Lime is used in the building trade - for making mortar, lime-putty, daub and lime wash, and in the leather industry - for soaking animal skins - to remove hair. When baked in a kiln lime produces a caustic solid of calcium, and some magnesium, oxide.
In the early to middle 1800s in Tatworth a large part of the male population worked on the land as farm workers – in times of need these worker turned their hand to all the other parts of the industry – hedging, ditching, horsemen, shepherds, stockmen, and foresters... the list is endless. There was a class division between these workers of the land and the tenant farmer, or smallholder. From a social point of view there was also a difference between the farm labourer who lived in Tatworth and a farmer who lived outside the parish – they were not considered part of the community. The business of farming is about working the land, which conferred a ridged social hierarchy. The people in the village knew who their gentry were, and who owned the land... They lived under, and worked within, their employer’s shadow.
Up to the time of The Great Exhibition in 1851, Tatworth had been considered a hamlet, this was prior to the chapel being built, about the same time the Langdon’s of Pattocks Lodge arrived in the now new village… to present an east and south window to the new chapel. Tatworth was raised to the status of ‘village’ when the chapel was built – and then higher still when the school was built twenty years later. Tatworth that year covered an area of 1552 acres and had a population of 852.
As with the rest of the country Tatworth went through many high and low employment cycles – these naturally conformed to average prosperity figures… National and civil wars, plagues and common ailments, clothing fashions and availability of natural resources, all contributed to population growth, economic and social wellbeing, and individual and group feel good factors. The Enclosure Act had a particular effect on rural life especially for the workers and those who lived off the land and forests. Before 1875, ‘High Farming’, was a term used to declare agricultural prosperity. It was at this time that rural emigration reached its peak. It is from that time that many hamlets and villages lost their viability – became deserted – the few who remained moved away.
At the turn of the century, the schoolchildren who knew each other viewed those from another district as suspect. There was a strong kinship between Tatworth villagers past and present, for as my mother explained, ‘what did they know or care how we lived and loved’. The happenings on the continent also influenced to a lesser or higher degree how manufacturing flourished, particularly those towns and villages within easy reach of the coast and trade routes. However, with all those influencing factors the two greatest disasters were the two world wars… the former, by loss of fathers and sons, the latter, the change wrought on the countryside and landowners – the breaking up of estates... this occurred during and just after: The Depression, The First World War, and later, by Government Legislation – Death Duties. Each changed Tatworth, radically.
Our story now moves on to the main characters. There was nothing outstanding about them as individuals. They were born in Chard, went to the church school, were formally introduced, as was the custom, courted, stocked their 'bottom drawer' and married. They set up house in Tatworth to be near the lace mill where Harry was to find work as a machine mechanic. When Harry and Rosa Collins took up residence in Rosalie Cottage, in 1891, Ivy Beviss moved in next door. This was a convenient arrangement for she was able to help-out when Rosa was confined the following year… and thereafter the family grew. As each year went by there was another mouth to feed. Ivy’s assistance became vital to the smooth running of the Collins’ household. There was never a lot of money in the household - things were tight. Clothing the children was always a problem. Either the eldest children’s clothes could not always be handed down because the next in line was not of the same sex, or they were still needed. To meet the problem there was a system of loans of necessary items from the 'lying-in' charity. These essential clothing items, including sheets and pillows, were kept by ‘lady-members, of the church for just such an instance, however, you had to apply for them and you had to be of good repute. Having to make this application put people off. Buying what was necessary at ‘the white elephant stall’ was judged a more acceptable way of coming by the needed item.
Harry Collins was a tall man, with regular features: a sloping forehead, fiery eyebrows and military moustache. Thinning grey-black hair swept back, gave him the looks of a firm schoolmaster, which his height reinforced. He was always dressed in black… a collar-less, thin striped-shirt under an open waistcoat… held together by his watch chain. His boots, which he was never seen without, were made of highly polished soft black leather. His weather beaten countenance friendly and warm. The wrinkled forehead suggested much thought and his eyes, with their canopy of shaggy-brows, gave a penetrating gaze to us small children. His voice and manner was gruff – a product of many years of smoking strong tobacco in his cob pipe.
Rosa was a good foot shorter than her husband, but not lacking in will, or authority… her grey hair always tightly twisted onto of her head was tightly pinned. She controlled and led the house and its occupants - never challenge, and played a ‘close’ hand at whist. I do not remember her without a pinny and her sleeves rolled up. Rosa’s voice was high pitched and brittle… using an even stronger local patois than her husband’s was. Rosa had been raised to follow Christian principles. As a child, she attended Chard Church three times on a Sunday as well as attending the Sunday School.
Rosalie Cottage had been built a few years before Harry rented the house for his new bride. It had been built as an add-on to the original two story semi-detached cottages - built at an earlier age. There were two rooms on the ground floor: the larger being the living room containing the cooking range, and the other, the parlour. Off a small hallway... stairs gave access to three bedrooms - off a tiny landing. Outside, a lean-to extension housed a workshop, kitchen and scullery. The lean-to greenhouse, used the extension as a back wall.
The house was accessed from Perry Street by a bow topped wooden gate set in a flint side wall, capped by large upright stones… beyond which… a brick path lead to the front door. The knapped-flint and brick cottages, nestle in their neat gardens, behind the garden wall, which runs around three sides of the plot… To the rear, the ground sloped up the hill and to the front runs St Margarets Lane. These three terraced cottages, were set upon a spot where the open down falls away to lush meadows, that lies in a combe, sheltering from the prevailing west wind.
The greater part of Tatworth had thatched roofed, timber-framed houses with lime washed walls over cob, [a mixture of soil, clay, straw and lime]… with tiny inserted windows. A cob wall was built up slowly… packed down, between boards or hurdles… each layer allowed to dry before the next built up before the boards removed – when the cob hardened. This was, in many circumstances, the method by which the enlargements of ancient hovels were built- randomly along the track… usually of two bedrooms that had to cater for the large families of the period. By building on additional dwelling space was provided… windows enlarged and roof spaces developed. None had main services until the water was piped to the village in the late thirties. Farm labourers were paid thirty shillings a week, and a carter with two horses to look after, received thirty-eight shillings.
1927 was a year of, continual rain. It was unceasing. The hay turned black from delayed raking in, trying to judge when it could be picked up. Even with hay drier, it was difficult. The farmers waited until October and still there were few days of continual sun. The year before prices had been bad and the farmers account was low. Now the poor harvest compounded to make the position worse. There was a great deal of unemployment and a movement away from the land into the towns and cities turned into a stream.
The pride of the home was the new wireless, with its fretted front panel, glowing valves, waveband squeak and trailing aerial – powered by accumulator charged up at the local garage. The announcers, pedantically annunciating The King’s English, and the style of music, that of Edward German or Albert Ketelby. Like the rest of society, the programs were refined, precise and structured. As children we still played with our ‘cat’s whisker’ and headphones, using a saucepan to improve the sound.
The main meetinghouse open to all was the Poppe Inn. Before 1927, it was named The County Inn, or Hotel. Initially, in 1564, it was a cottage called Culverhays owned by John Bowdyche. It had a straw thatched roof with chamfered first floor beams, [a mark of quality], and an inglenook fireplace. My grandad and his sons frequented its low beamed interior most nights, for at least a couple of hours. In the clubroom, they played skittles, dominoes or shove-halfpenny whilst drinking cider. Most of the men of the village joined them for at least one night of the week. The pub, with cider at 2d a pint, provided a venue for the working men to meet – to discuss their jobs, the weather and all those other things which control their lives. The women and children were banned in the taproom and even in the saloon bar; it was very unusual to find a woman. The pub was the preserves of men. Women for the most part met each other whilst passing the gate – to gossip over the garden wall – invite neighbours in for a cup of tea – to read the tealeaves. There was sewing parties and mother’s meetings. In the main women did not meet up in an organized fashion at a particular venue.
The men were social, using the pub to remove themselves from the sounds of children and the insistent wife, who always needed help. The pub kept them in touch with the latest gossip and created a sense of kindred spirit… where the topic of conversation was the state of their kitchen garden, the troublesome weather and the success or failure of the weekend football or cricket match. It was a matter of great concern how well the village was doing in both these games and even though not everyone played all were most keen to hear that their village was represented successfully. At some point in the evening someone would start singing some well known folk song which would be accompanied by others joining in with comb-and-paper, penny whistle, and on a good night, a piano player. On a dark and windy night, when the fire was blazing well, you could here the jollity going on down the street, as the door opened to let in yet another caroller… bathed in a stream of warm light… to cries of hallo!
1931 was another bad year for rain fell all through the summer. It was wet throughout which was depressing enough without the national economy being under considerable strain. The Lord Chancellor ordered o compulsory wage reduction on all salary and wage earners. For a fifty-hour week, the labourers earned three pounds. Grandma tried to make up the shortfall by selling some eggs.
The police house in the village was not looked on as somewhere out of bounds but one of refuge and help. There was no serious crime only petty poaching, chicken steeling, pub brawls and the occasional robbery. There was just one policeman who walked and rode on his bike to check the roads, shops and houses. It was a matter of long hours of tedious work making sure that each day all of the area covered at least once. He had to check that the public house closed on time and that there was no bad behaviour and noise - created by the last ones to leave. Every year the constable paid a visit to the school to talk to the children about not stealing or harming animals. It was a matter of showing his face and getting to know the children personally. The same applied to the sports field where he always strolled round to show support and interest. It was expected that he should put in an appearance at church at least once on Sundays. The village policeman found it was in his interest to meet as many village people as possible – to see then at work and in their home environment. It made his job easier to be on friendly terms especially with the leaders of the community.
Most of the workers in the village, if not directly associate with the land, had an interest in rural matters. Even those men working at the mill or dairy had relations who were agricultural labourers or knew someone connected with farm animals. It was a rural landscape and that would never change. To a man, they were all poorly paid even those who had authority or a skill had little more than their unskilled counterparts. There is a certain binding of spirits when the majority are in the same boat – scraping a living. Their houses were mostly badly built, cold, damp and rotting. To keep them clean and dry was an uphill battle fought by the women. Gradually this picture changed, until the First World War bought the improvements to a sudden end. Then the deterioration, which had been the position up to and during Victoria’s reign, continued.
Not long after WWI - during the thirties, the country's factories received more orders to rearm. This stimulated the economy allowing jobs and wages to increase. These affluent times allowed workers new rights - allowed more consideration. As their wages increased so did their horizons especially those who valued education… The population increased during the age of plenty. For towns and villages that had no local factory or business the young adults drifted away… there were only a few who were content to work in large houses or estates, the rest had to look elsewhere. The technical advances made to agricultural machines, created a knock-on affect... benefiting allied engineering component manufacturers; those who devised machine tools for mass production… There was a general interest in all matters technical. Every part of society felt the change - wished to take part in the ‘new society’.
This disruption to the old order and the mobility of the young, particularly those using the facilities presented by the new railway companies, allowed a migration away from the country. The young factory staff, construction workers, ship builders and domestic servants provided a stimulus to marriage and home building…, which in turn, caused an increase in the birth rate. At the beginning of the nineteenth century there were only fifteen towns with more than twenty thousand inhabitants… by the middle, there were sixty-three. At the turn of the century eighty per-cent of the population lived in urban districts with ten or more thousand. In the first quarter of the twentieth century only ten per-cent of the population owned their own home. By the late thirties, it was twenty-five per cent. These population statistics amply demonstrate the necessity to produce more housing and more food. These needs were felt in Tatworth.