Dani's Niche

Family history. A novel idea.

The Setting: Notes and Photographs

In America 100 years is a long time; in England 100 miles is a long way.

Note: The surnames Stone and Tindall are pseudonyms.

On the edge of the marshlands, Viking settlers established places with names like Saleby and Anderby alongside existing Anglian settlements. A river, wide and deep at places, made its way through this countryside. Traders and other travelers converged at a crossing of this river where they could ford the shallow waters. This “ancient ford over a stream” or “alford” became a place to sell produce, supply travelers with food and drink or help the flocks and herds cross the water. Creek-at-Alford-copy

In time, the people who settled here built thatched roof houses that clustered around a stone church. The marketplace in Alford town became the axis from which radiated three roads in a medieval street pattern. On the road east one mile, at the foot of the forested uplands known as the wolds, the village of Bilsby had its own church in a landscape of peat-rich soil, pasture, and meadows. Two and a half miles farther down the road on the edge of the flat salt marsh, the hamlet of Cumberworth also had a church and tiny population. A few more miles eastward, the North Sea and the world beyond beckoned all who dared to dream.

Prior to enclosure, the open field system allowed landowners and villagers to share the land. Commoners could graze their livestock when crops or hay were not grown or use the unproductive areas. A series of Parliamentary Acts, mostly passed between 1750 and 1860, closed this common land to the peasantry. It was taken into private ownership and hedged, forcing the landless to become agricultural laborers working for others. “Trimmed hedges, part of an old enclosure, marked the straight boundaries of the Tindall farm.” (Stone’s Hope) When parliamentary enclosure finally reached Cumberworth in 1822, the small plots and strips were merged into larger units and control of of the arable land, open pastures, meadows and marginal waste land transferred from the community to private landowners.

field with hedges

bridge_over_ditch Edward Tindall made a claim, paid his share of the cost, and was awarded his ancestral land of six acre strips on the west side of the land as well as seven more acres on the east side. A revised map of the village showed new enclosures, boundaries, paths and roads and listed Edward Tindall as owner-occupier of one of the smaller farms.
In spite of claims that enclosure hurt the landless laborers, the farmer argued it actually gave more opportunities for employment. Like his neighbors, he needed workers to build fences, dig ditches, and work in the fields plowing, sowing, and harvesting. Ditches, drains, dykes and hundreds of windmills helped keep salt water from the marshland. Nowadays, small bridges make walking across the fields much easier.

The Farm
Farmhouse-in-rapeseed-west-of-Alford-copy Much of the work was done by day or seasonal labor, but the farmer needed reliable help for everyday maintenance and tending the garden, and so Richard Stone came to work on the farm for one year as agreed at the hiring fair. The farm was located at the end of Marsh Lane (shown below). Richard often found his way down this road to the nearest beershop or the Red Lion, a 350 year old pub in Mumby where we enjoyed the region’s specialty, Lincolnshire sausage. The Tindall farmhouse backed up to fields which produced wheat, peas, beans, barley and oats. Today the farmland is covered with brilliant yellow rapeseed (in U.S. we know the oil as Canola). The pig shed, horse stable, cows and sheep in a fenced paddock and poultry in low pens were all located within sight, sound and smell of the house. Behind it, the vegetable plot produced a variety of market crops. The kitchen garden supplied culinary and medicinal herbs, and the orchard produced plums and in later years apples in season.


Marsh Lane Cumberworth Teesdale's farm copy

Mud and Stud Houses
Construction using mud and stud is unique to Lincolnshire. It is similar to wattle and daub but the mud is supported by upright oak posts or studs nailed to cross rails. The whole framework is covered with a daub (dirt with chopped straw and water).The cottages were painted with white lime-wash mixed with animal fat for weatherproofing. Lime-wash would have to be reapplied at least bi-annually. Roofs were of thatch Most were built one and a half stories high with a central hearth. The upper rooms were accessible by ladder.


mud-&-stud-wallMud and stud houses are also found in Jamestown, Virginia. John Smith took a few men from Alford to found the first permanent English settlement in America. They brought their tools and their particular way of constructing houses with them.


Muffins at Cumberworth copy After two hundred years, the hamlet of Cumberworth still has less than two hundred residents, so we were delighted to discover Muffins Bed and Breakfast,located at a bend in the road marked on a very old map as The Poplars. The 17th century cottage, of mud and stud covered with brick, is typical of cottages where agricultural laborers lived in the 1800’s. The interior has been modernized but still has the original central hearth. From our upstairs room we enjoyed views of the lovely garden and the neighbors’ sheep.

view from Muffins window

Churches and Chapels

St. Helen’s Church in Cumberworth is where all of Edward and Rebecca’s children were baptised. Today it is surrounded with overgrown shrubs and delicate wildflowers peaking out of tall grass. Sadly, many centuries old stone churches are too expensive for small congregations to maintain, and with modern transportation, many congregations have consolidated and the buildings sold as vacation homes. After searching through many graveyards and finding headstones stacked or with faces completely obliterated, we were stunned to discover a large well preserved one prominently placed directly behind the church. The names on it were Edward and Rebecca, my great great great grandparents! We had already seen a hand-drawn sheepskin map showing the location of their farm at the archives in Lincoln. Now we stood at their final resting place. It was an emotional moment for me. Did you know that the bluebell, profuse in Spring, is a symbol of humility, gratitude and everlasting love?

Bilsby-church-and-graves-copy Holy Trinity Church (left) in the hamlet of Bilsby remains a functioning church with a well-kept graveyard. “Elizabeth waited next to the ruins of a medieval cross and mused that, after four centuries, only the base and the shaft of the stone cross stood in the midst of worn and leaning grave markers.”(Stone’s Hope) Elizabeth was married herein 1832. Like other churches we visited on the marshland, it is located on a mound built up intentionally to protect the graves. Otherwise, it might have been difficult to keep the bodies in their graves!

St. Wilfrid’s Church (below) “At the town’s high point, Richard passed St. Wilfrid’s, a medieval church of green sandstone with arched windows that pointed heavenward like praying hands. Did the large bells in the tower sound when Papa and Mama vowed their love at the altar?”
(Stone’s Hope)

St Wilfrids Church Alford copy

In contrast, the Wesleyan Chapels are unpretentious. Many of them have also been converted to houses. The two Wesleyan chapels shown are in Saleby (below left) and in Alford (below right).The building on Chapel Street became too small to accommodate the growing Sunday School classes by the 1860’s and a large chapel was built on West Street in 1864.

Saleby-Wesleyan-church Wesleyan-Chapel-Alford-copy

Alford, Market Town
Alford and Rigsby Wood copy

windmill-in-Alford This is the view looking toward Alford from Miles Cross Hill where the Plague Stone was once located. Can you spot the steeple of St. Wilfrid’s and the 5-sails of the windmill. To the left is Rigsby Wood where we threaded our way through the trees and carpet of clustered bluebells and other May flowers. The 5-sailed windmill built in 1837 by millwright John Oxley, still grinds flour and attracts visitors to its tea room.

I hope you’ve enjoyed these photographs which we took in May 2010. We are grateful to the people of the Alford area who patiently answered our many questions, told us their stories, showed us maps and served us endless cups of tea.

Jim & Dani

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