Thomas Bourn was a wheelwright with a keen business sense and an eye on the top of Station Road (before there was a station for the road to lead to.)
In 1750 he had approached John Walker (at Crystal House) and Dr Nicholas Heygate (at Laud’s Cottage) about an old barn and bit of orchard between their houses. He’d paid them £18 for it.
By 1776, he’d converted it into three cottages for village weavers, William Hipwell jun. (son of limping William Hipwell from the 1771 Militia List), John Barker and Thomas Naseby. At this point he put the property up for sale and Richard Harris, a tallow chandler (candle-maker) from Yelvertoft bought it – for £90.
The chandler gave the weavers their marching orders and took over the premises for his own use. But the purchase price had been a bit of a stretch and so a few months later he took out a mortgage for £50.
Bearing in mind the nature of his business, the lender advanced the money only on condition that Mr Harris insured the property with the Sun Fire Office, London ‘or other publick office of insurance’, a relatively novel idea in West Haddon at this time.
(The premises survived the hazards of candlemaking in the 18th century, only to burn down in the 19th century when the baker, then in residence in half of it, had an unfortunate mishap…)
But phoenix-like it rose again to supply baked goods to 20th century villagers!)
…there’s a glimpse into a life. Wills offer clues about family, property and financial arrangements and can also include small details that conjure up the character or attitudes of the individual.
In West Haddon, over the twenty years surrounding the Enclosure year, there were 323 burials – about 16 a year on average. 140 of them were children and 183 adults. Of those, 24 left wills.
So rather more than 10% of the adult population made wills before they died. Most of them were men. The three women in this sample were all widows. A wife had nothing to leave as the law recognised all her property as belonging to her husband, and it was rare for an unmarried woman to leave a will (though Joan Elmes did, at the beginning of the century).
Five of the men described themselves as yeomen – a status rather than an occupation – it signified a property owner. Four were labourers, three were tailors and then there was a shepherd and a fellmonger (a dealer in sheepskins – fell wool was a lower quality than wool that had been sheared from a living sheep, but it still had a market and the skins could be tanned for leather or made into parchment.) Then there was a woolcomber and a weaver, a carpenter, a grazier, and Thomas Clarke, who mentioned no occupation in his will and no other village records have yet thrown any light on what he did for a living.
Nicholas Heygate we have already met as an apothecary, doctor and Turnpike trustee, but by the time he came to write his will he was retired. His sons were mostly set up in promising careers and he probably felt quite comfortable in describing himself as ‘gentleman’.
John West called himself a shoemaker and his house, which we now know as the Crown, was still, at the time of his death, divided into two cottages with another shoemaker, John Lucas, in the other half. But when the parish clerk came to record his burial he put him down as ‘victualler’ or innkeeper, recognising his other occupation.
When William Page senior wrote his will in 1768 he left his farmhouse with the gardens and outbuildings etc to trustees ‘for the comfortable support and maintenance of my brother Edward for life, then to my brother Samuel for life then to my nephew William, eldest son of my brother Samuel, forever.’ Was his brother Edward disabled in some way? He also left bequests to his five sisters and directed his trustees to sell his newly enclosed farm to pay the bequests and also to repay his sister Elizabeth the money he owed her on a mortgage – thus distributing his share of the profits of Enclosure.
Mary Kirtland, on the other hand (whom we have already met, in her divided house) had no land to dispose of, but she left her niece £20, a blue silk quilted petticoat and a satin gown; and her nephew an oak bed with green curtains.
Ordered that William West, Surveyor of the Turnpike, do cause all the ruts and wheeltracks…to be beat down, thrown in and levelled… before 29th September 1754…
Even the worst potholes today have nothing on the state of the roads in the 18th century. With no tarmac or metalled surface, they were seas of mud in the winter, throwing up choking clouds of dust in summer. Each parish was responsible for maintaining the roads that ran through it, but this might consist only of throwing a few stones into the biggest ruts.
Then private enterprise took a hand and the idea of Turnpikes began to spread. These were toll roads, run by groups of investors who paid for improved road construction and maintenance and took the profits from the tolls as a return on their investment.
The road from Dunchurch to St James End, Northampton was designated a Turnpike by Act of Parliament in 1740, but progress, as can be seen from the note above, was slow. A number of local gentlemen had come forward to act as Commissioners and by 1762 the list of names included two from West Haddon: John Watkin (the Vicar) and Nicholas Heygate.
Two years later, in May 1764 a meeting was arranged with the surveyor ‘to lay out the road in West Haddon lordship’ and the following month it was recorded that there would be no charges for people in West Haddon using the turnpike for farming and other local use, but only upon condition that the Commissioners for inclosing the West Haddon fields shall not award a road on the backside of the town of West Haddon.
This was to prevent the building of a bypass (the village had to wait another couple of centuries for one of those), which might be used by travellers as a rat run to avoid paying the toll. The toll house was to be built, 19 feet by 12 [c. 6m x 4m] with a chamber over it, and a tollgate across the street about the middle of the town, near the elm tree with side gates across the road to Long Buckby. And Henry Goodman as tollgate keeper was to be paid 8 shillings [40p] a week.
Nicholas Heygate brought his family to live at West Haddon in the 1730s. They came from Husbands Bosworth, but what drew them here is unknown. Nicholas was an apothecary, or physician, and by 1750 he was living in this house in Station Road.
He had a large family, with one son, Charles, following him into medicine. Charles inherited his father’s journal, in
which he recorded patients and prescriptions. The journal survives and is held by the Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine in London.
Nicholas appears to have been an astute man of business. Besides buying a house and running a medical practice, he also invested in the Turnpike Trust (which was turning what we now know as the A428 into a toll road), and in addition, perhaps alerted by the controversy of the first attempt to enclose West Haddon in 1761, he began to take an interest in land.
His name does not appear on the Pro and Con document which followed that first attempt. He was paying Land Tax on a certain amount of land by 1759, but this may have been as a tenant, setting up one of his sons as a farmer. Did he perhaps begin buying up parcels of land that came up for sale as various small landowners died? (like Thomas Ford and Mary East (‘East’s widow who is not right in her senses’) who died during the smallpox epidemic.) The prospect of increased rents after Enclosure may have represented a good return on investment.
In any event, he owned enough in his own right by 1764 for the Enclosure Commissioners to award him a farm of 120 acres and another plot of land on which to build a new house.
In succeeding generations the family were to become the largest landowners in the village. The youngest son John, who lived to a great age, settled at West Haddon Grange and became a great philanthropist. When Robert Earl, the old schoolmaster, died in 1825, it was John who endowed a new school for the village.