Miss Mabel Motts’s memories of Thurgarton

Edwin Mott, farm worker, and his wife Margaret moved to Thurgarton sometime in the 1890s; they lived in Sunnycroft Cottage on Bleasby Road with three children – Mabel, Fred and Herbert.

Mabel, the oldest child, trained as a teacher and was the organist at St Peter’s church. Her memoirs of Thurgarton recall village life in the late Victorian and Edwardian eras; she was born in 1890 so much of her earlier account is derived from neighbours and village elders. Her memoirs were amongst documents left at The Priory after its sale by  Boot’s  in the 1990s. 

Part of her memoirs  appear in the article on Christmas in Thurgarton a Hundred Years Ago http://www.thurgartonhistory.co.uk/2009/12/christmas-in-thurgarton/.  What follows is an edited version of  the remainder of Miss Mabel Mott’s memoirs.

Miss Mabel Mott

A decisive factor in village life has always been The Priory.

Richard Milward, who lived at The Priory up to the 1870s, was a keen huntsman and also farmed what is now known as Priory Farm. He enlarged the stables there and kept a good many horses, most of which he bought in poor condition at a low figure but after treatment and training resold at high prices, some even becoming winners in classic races while others just sank back to their former state.

Richard Milward

During this time however the villagers were little more than serfs, for his behaviour towards them was that of a martinet. He had the habit of giving any lad whom he thought was not working hard enough a touch of the whip – once he thrashed an idle youth and then set him immediately to work in the stables. On another occasion when visiting a tenant’s house  he found a new hearth rug in front of the kitchen fire and promptly upped the rent. At this period the landlord had rights to everything, even the manure heap.

After Milward’s death the Barrows of Norwood Hall occupied the Priory for a time but they exercised no lordship rights over the people. Sir John Robinson then bought the estate for his son who was ill, but the son never took possession for he died in the meantime.

Eventually Dr Riddings took up residence at the Priory (1894) when he became the first Bishop of Southwell. His time at Thurgarton was one of the village’s most prosperous times.

Bishop Ridding and wife Laura

Although the Bishop had little to do with everyday life in Thurgarton he acted as a great benefactor, finding work for people and generously supporting every good cause. As head of the diocese he entertained many clergy, conferences and garden parties which were held on the Priory lawn. At times the villagers were also invited to lavish suppers in the Crypt while the children were entertained by conjurors in the coach house. On festive occasions such as the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the 1902 Coronation the bishop had a large marquee erected and paid for luncheon, tea and sports  which always ended with a tug of war.  After the death of Dr. Ridding (1904) the Priory became empty again. This was a sad period in the village which suffered in numerous ways including the burden of taxation.

The next tenant at the Priory was Mrs Upton with her daughter, son-in-law and their family (the Usbornes).

Mrs Upton

They took an active part in village life and church activities to the great benefit of the people. Mrs Usborne was head of the District Nursing Association and instituted a weekly Mother’s Union meeting at the Priory. Her husband helped with the musical life of Thurgarton and Hoveringham. Travel between the two villages was very awkward especially at night so he built a ‘caravan’ and jog-trot, jog-trot, to and fro along the bumpy roads went the members of the choral society to the rhythm of  carriage and horses’ hooves.  As they had in the Boer War the young men of Thurgarton enlisted in the 1914-18 war to fight for King and Country but many never returned. The Cross, generously erected by Mrs Upton, on the site of the dis-used pinfold bears witness and commemorates their sacrifice.

Rev Atwell Baylay

The Rev Atwell Baylay had arrived as vicar in the 1870s. He lived in the vicarage on Beck St. and it was here that he brought his young bride and here his seven children, three boys followed by four girls, were born and spent their childhood days. The house was large with many spacious rooms while outside was a stable and other buildings besides a high kitchen garden and lawns stretching out to a paddock known as the ‘Vicarage Lawn’. Round the garden alongside the road was a high wall over which nothing could be seen – it was a place of mystery to the village children for they knew that fig trees flourished on the other side of the wall and what other rarities might be found? Had they been able to peek they would probably have seen the vicar and his gardener, who also was his handyman and church sexton, busy digging, planting and hoeing or even on his knees weeding. The vicar was a great scholar. All the church services were well thought out and his carefully prepared sermons were delivered without any dramatic display. He was very musical and took all the choir practices either in his study or in the church.

Village Life

Occasional Whist Drives were held in the schoolroom. Everybody was packed in tightly but that didn’t matter so long as no one cheated. After Whist people danced, or tried to dance, on a floor far from smooth to the sound of the concertina, fiddle and piano until at last at cock-crow they had to go home.

Concerts by the school children were a regular event and received a great ovation for their shows were of a high standard. Plough-Boy Night was an exciting time for youngsters who stayed up late to see the drama enacted – the star performers being Beelzebub and the Doctor.

At Whitsuntide the village held its annual feast with family gatherings, a stall in the blacksmith’s shop for children and a cricket match in which married men played singles.

Thurgarton men had little interest in football but in cricket they excelled boasting many fine players and never short of a booking. When a home match was played tea was always served from the Priory.

Cricket tea at The Priory

In July the Sunday School children had their summer treat. They processed from the church with banners waving and singing hymns and ended at the Vicarage where they had tea and games on the vicarage lawn. The choir also had an annual trip usually to Cleethorpes.

At harvest time teams of Irishmen came to the village to hand reap the crops on the hill lands. Once the harvest was safely gathered the villagers flocked to the specially decorated church for thanksgiving.

There were two inns in the village namely The Coach and Horses and The Red Lion both of which brewed their own beer and provided a good fire and games, chiefly darts and dominoes, for the benefit of customers who met there for a drink, good company, to hear the news, spin the biggest yarns and possibly join in a sing-song.

In the course of time the small schoolroom was turned into a Reading Room for the benefit of the male population. Books and games were collected and judging by the density of the smoke from pipes, rendering visibility practically nil, the place was well patronised.

Thurgarton in those days was fortunate in having a railway station. Sheep, cattle, corn and other goods were sent by rail and on market days many villagers went to Nottingham (return fare one shilling) with large baskets to sell  butter, eggs, flowers, fruit and cheeses. When getting in and out of the railway carriages, however, a great struggle often took place, especially when bustles were in fashion. On one occasion a certain dame when endeavouring to get out backward was pushed back in and the door closed – she went on to Bleasby.

For many years the village boasted of a tailor, dressmaker, cobbler, butcher, joiner and blacksmith and what busy people they were for their services were in great demand.

As for the children they received a sound elementary education in the small C of E school paying 3d per week until the time came when all fees were abolished. Outside school hours they helped their parents or roamed the district gaining first hand knowledge of plant, animal and bird life. They had little money to spend but occasionally they would knock at the door of the little sweet shop on Beck St. where they looked long and hard before parting with their few coppers.

Wise Weather Sayings

The weather was important in agricultural villages such as Thurgarton and popular sayings were handed down from one generation to the next:-

-Rain from the east, wet two days at least

-Mackerel sky, twelve hours dry

-Wind in east, neither good for man nor beast

-Rain before seven, fine before eleven

-If enough ice in November to bear a duck, rest of winter, sludge and muck

-If sun shines through apple trees Christmas Day, good fruit is on the way.

These days have gone, never to return.

The old order changeth, yielding place to new,

And God fulfils Himself in many ways

Lest one good custom should corrupt the world      

  (Tennyson’s Morte D’Arthur)

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