Ancestral Acres: The Belvoir Estate

By James Arnott

Introduction

The Belvoir Estate is situated between Melton Mowbray and Grantham and comprises just under 15,000 acres. The Estate is divided down the middle by the Belvoir Escarpment which separates the ironstone loam on the Heath from the basically clay soil types in the Vale. The distinction between the two halves of the estate is reflected in the different farming patterns and woodland landscape.

Let Farms

Approximately 9,000 acres are let to tenant farmers. The farms range in size from 900 acres down to 100 acres. It has been Estate policy for some time to amalgamate farms into more viable units when possible. Four farms that have fallen vacant have been let to two new tenants in the last four years. The Estate is anxious to preserve a balanced mixture of “in hand” farms and farms let on A.H.A.* tenancies in order to maintain and enlarge the Landlord/Tenant system.

*Agricultural Holdings Act

Tenanted Properties

There are approximately 300 cottages and houses spread over six villages. Three of the villages are “conservation” villages, and there are 52 listed buildings. Many of these cottages house Estate employees and their families. The remainder are to let. A regular programme of cottage Improvement Schemes are carried out every year. Virtually all, new cottage lettings are “shorthold” for periods of 1- 5 years.

The Estate Office

The Estate Office is the co-ordinating centre of the estate. It houses the Agent and Assistant Agent, Head Clerk, Wages Clerk, and Secretaries. An ICL Computer handles all the wages and rentals. It is also the Registered Office of Rutland Developments Ltd., the Duke’s Hotel Company of which the Agent is Managing Director, and the Head Clerk, Company Secretary.

From the Estate Office several different enterprises are managed as follows; The Home Farm and the Building (or Repairs) Department, plus the Game and Woods Department and of course, the Castle itself about all of which I will devote some more notes later.

Villages

There are, surprisingly perhaps, a couple of dozen villages on the Belvoir Estate, most of which are of modest size and in some cases the population is small. As a matter of interest I have listed these villages in alphabetical order as follows:

Barkestone le Vale, Barrowby Stainwith,  Belvoir,  Bescaby,  Bottesford, Branston, Croxton Kerrial,  Easthorpe, Eastwell, Eaton,  Goadby Marwood,  Harby,  Harston,  Knipton, Muston, Plungar,  Redmile,  Saltby,  Scalford,  Sedgebrook,  Sproxton,  Stathern, Waltham on the Wolds, and Woolsthorpe by Belvoir.

Belvoir itself may be considered the most important if only because it is here that the whole Estate is managed and administered and where, of course, the Duke and his family live.

There is another village of some historical interest a few miles from Belvoir, and that is the village of Harby, where on the 28th November 1290, Eleanor of Castile, who was married to Edward 1 of England, died at the age of forty five. [The Harby in question is the village in Nottinghamshire, north of Newark, not the Harby in the Vale of Belvoir - ed.] Edward and Eleanor were married at the age of fifteen and had thirteen children, but only six, five daughters and a son, survived their mother. In what now seems a macabre practice, some of Eleanor’s’ internal organs were taken to Lincoln for burial in the Cathedral. Later, her heart was buried in an Abbey and her body was taken on the long journey to London, where it was buried in Westminster Abbey. On the way the cortege stopped at various places were crosses were erected, the first in Lincoln, the last one in London. There are only three crosses left in the country to serve as a reminder of the Queen to whom King Edward was most devoted, and whose death caused him great distress.

The Land Agent

The guest speaker at an Annual Dinner of the Land Agent’s Society had this to say,

“The great landed estates of this country are one of our proudest possessions. In your hands to a very large extent lies the task of preserving the essential qualities of that land through the various vicissitudes of political and other changes”.

The owners of large estates will normally employ a Land Agent, a suitably qualified person who at one time would have passed the professional exams of the Land Agents Society or nowadays, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors. In my time at Belvoir the Resident Land Agent was Mr John Frederick Croome who succeeded Auckland William Wollaston Groome (who died on the 27th March, 1954). At one time Mr Croome was Chairman of the Melton Rural District Council, and later when the rural and Borough Councils were amalgamated, he was the first Mayor of the Borough of Melton. When the Duke returned to Belvoir after war service, he was in some doubt as to whether he would be able to carry on living at Belvoir Castle, but with the help, advice and encouragement of his Agent he was able to do that, and the Estate which for many years had been merely ticking over, began once more to flourish.

Not all owners and Agents were so well suited. In 1873 a retired British Army Captain became Agent for a number of Estates in County Mayo. In 1880 he became the victim of the Irish Land League agitators who insured that he was economically and socially ostracised. His name was Charles Cunningham Boycott.

The Estate Office

The stables at Belvoir date back to the time of Charles II (1668) and form three sides of a square with a riding ring in the middle - this being used to exercise horses in frosty or inclement weather.

Originally all the buildings were used to accommodate horses and the grooms, and their families were housed in the two storeys above the stables. Now one wing of the stable block is used as the Estate Office which is on the first floor of the building and consists, at the top of the stairs, of four to five rooms to the right, and along the corridor, to the left an office for the Ledger/Wages clerk, next door to which is the Head Clerk’s office, and beyond, the Agent’s Office.

Originally there was only one large office on the right at the top of the stairs, which had a counter just inside the door. This office was occupied by just two young ladies; the Receptionist/Telephone Operator, who also typed the Agent’s letters, and at the far end of this large office, the Ledger Clerk. In time I managed to have this decidedly large space partitioned off to form three separate offices, which, was more comfortable and afforded a certain amount of privacy. A special and much appreciated feature of my own office was that it had a grate with an open fire so that it was particularly pleasant, warm and welcoming to arrive on a cold and frosty morning to find a fire blazing away there in the hearth.

In addition to overseeing the general management of the office, my main responsibility was keeping all the accounts relating to the various Estate enterprises; The Home Farm and Dairy, Kitchen Gardens, Rutland Stud, and the Belvoir Castle Opening Account. But the major account was the Estate account, which included at least a dozen subsidiary accounts. In addition there was always lots of bills to be paid, and I was fortunate in being allowed to sign all cheques, except those relating to the Duke’s household account, which was quite separate from the Estate accounts. I was also responsible for all the Insurance’s relating to the Estate: i.e. the Castle and its contents, all the Estate cottages, houses and other properties, and all the Estate vehicles of which there were quite a number. In addition there was Personal Accident, Third Party and Public and Employer’s Liability, Cash in Transit and other insurance’s, which I have now forgotten.

On the Estate Account the main source of income came from rents, from the sale of timber from the Sawmill, from the sale of game and fishing. From time to time there might be the sale of standing timber or occasionally the sale of property (but this was not very often).

Collection of Rents

A  major operation twice a year was the collection of rents. At one time the Estate Office was in the Castle but when the Estate Office was moved down the hill to the stables, tenants came there to pay their rents. They would be recompensed for their journeys by means of tickets which had a value of sixpence, a shilling or three shillings, which they could then take to the Peacock Inn, opposite the main entrance to the Castle grounds and exchange for a drink to help them on their way back home.

That arrangement has long since been changed. Today the Head Clerk and his assistant will visit various villages on appointed days and at specified times, which will have been notified to the tenant on his rent demand notice. Hopefully he will turn up at the appointed place at the right time and with the full amount of his rent. He will then be given sixpence, a shilling or three shillings. There have been occasions when forgetting to hand a man the appropriate coin, he has held his hand out, not because he is short of a shilling but merely to ensure the continuation of an old custom.

In recent years a local government Rent Officer, with the agreement of the Landlord and Tenant, has determined cottage rents.  The Agent reviews farm rents every three years, generally. If the Farm tenant thinks an increase in his Rent is excessive or not acceptable he is free to go to arbitration, but such a thing seldom happened.

Here I should say I was fortunate in having the help and support of a young man who having started his career on the Haddon Estate, came to work in the Estate Office at Belvoir. His name was Bob Webster and he was a most conscientious and hard-working member of staff. It was unfortunate that after two or three years at Belvoir he was transferred back to Haddon Hall, at which time I was, of course, sorry to see him go. In due course he virtually became resident Agent at Haddon Hall to which he was devoted, and ran the place in a highly professional fashion.

Legislation

This is something in which all governments indulge. During my term of office as Head Clerk a large number of new laws or Acts were introduced, at which moment I had to read, mark and inwardly digest the contents or provisions of those Acts and then ensure that all the terms and conditions were suitably implemented. Here I should mention that for help and advice I could always turn to the Duke’s solicitors, who also acted for the Estate, Dawson & Co. 2 New Square, Lincoln’s Inn, London of which Mr R. W. H. Elsden was the partner I generally communicated with. Every year of course, the Chancellor of the Exchequer introduced his Budget after which the relevant Finance Act had to be studied closely. Fortunately the Estate Accountants, Saffery Champness of Fairfax House, Fulwood Place, London would provide a detailed summary of the changes taking place. Michael Dawson and Andrew Arnott (no relation) were the two partners I could readily consult, and who were always most helpful.

As an example of the sort of thing I had to contend with were the following Acts introduced over a number of years; Industrial Injuries Act 1953, Disabled Persons (Employment) Act 1958, Rural Water Supplies & Sewerage Act 1965, The Countryside Act 1968 - to enlarge the functions of the Commission established under the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949, and the Contracts of Employment Act 1972. This last created a lot of work because every employee on the Estate had to have his or her own contract of employment. There was, of course a large variety of employees; farm workers, gardeners, grooms, game-keepers, office staff, tradesmen in the Estate Repairs department, woodmen, domestic staff at the Castle and those employed with the Castle opening. All of them tended to have different rates of pay, different working hours and holiday entitlement, all which had to be suitably defined on each individual contract, including the procedure to be followed if an employee had cause for complaint. A major operation, but of some benefit to all employees.

The introduction of value added tax in April 1973 was undoubtedly a major event and one that caused a great deal of discussion on how to meet a situation which wasn’t without its complications in relation to all the activities that took place on the Estate.

Food from the farm it was soon acknowledged was zero-rated. But other goods and services were subject to VAT, and it was a matter of some concern as to how to suitably record a wide range of transactions to ensure that the receipt and payment of VAT was properly recorded. In due course these initial problems were suitably resolved.

The Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons (Amended) Act 1976 brought about the provision of access and parking facilities for disabled persons and an improvement in employment opportunities.

The Art of Copying Letters

I remember being a little surprised at seeing a girl - the typist - who appeared to be hanging out the washing on a line rigged up in the corner of the general office. What she was in fact doing was to hang up some letters she had typed for the Agent and which, in a process I shall explain, had got a little damp.

There was perhaps something a little Dickensian in some of the office routines at that time, although that is perhaps an unkind comment. Having typed a letter, it was necessary to make a copy, and this was done by means of the letter book which consisted of innumerable thin sheets of yellow copy paper, between the leaves of which the letter to be copied was first placed. A damp linen cloth was then placed on top of the first yellow page and another damp cloth beneath the second page or sheet of copy paper. This process could be repeated with as many letters as the typist had produced, although perhaps half a dozen was a reasonable number to cope with at once.

When all the letters had been carefully placed in the letter book, with the appropriate number of damp linen cloths between, the letter book was placed in a press, which had a large handle with brass knobs at each end and by turning the handle the top of the press was lowered onto the book. After 30 seconds, say, the pressure would be released and the book removed from the press. What was on the typed letter now appeared on the yellow pages of the letter book, but the original letter remained readable, if slightly damp - hence the need to hang the letters out to dry!

I couldn’t help thinking what people thought when they received from the Belvoir Estate Office a crumpled and crinkly letter. Fortunately we discovered the use of carbon paper about that time.

Harold Fentem Jaggard

My predecessor at Belvoir was a man named Harold Fentem Jaggard who, on leaving school at the age of fifteen went to work at the Estate Office on the Duke of Rutland’s Estate at Ilkeston.

A major source of income on the Estate at that time came from a coal mine owned by the Duke. Many years ago I remember seeing coal trucks on railway sidings boldly emblazoned with the words “Manners Colliery” but did not know then that they belonged to the Duke of Rutland.  D.H.Lawrence in his novel “The Rainbow” had this to say, “The most moral duke in England makes two hundred thousand a year out of these pits”. Where Lawrence got his figures from I do not know but certainly such a figure was a very considerable amount in those days some years before the First World War. In 1920 the Ilkeston Estate was sold (along with some 13,000 acres of the Belvoir Castle Estate), and young Jaggard went to Bakewell where, in the centre of the town, the Haddon Hall Estate Office is conveniently situated. The Agent there, Mr A P Payne-Gallwey, was some years later promoted to Belvoir and after some months invited Mr Jaggard to join him at Belvoir, which he did.

When he retired in 1953, after 50 years of service, H.F.J. as I came to know him had served under three Dukes; the present Duke who is the 10th, his father, the 9th Duke and the 8th Duke, always referred to as “Grandfather Duke”. That is a record of which a man may be proud. I have to admit that when I arrived at Belvoir in 1952 I knew little about the Duke of Rutland and his family but I was soon enlightened. Not surprisingly H.F.J. would on occasion “step back in Time” and I will now briefly do the same.

The Mantle of Charity

This term was used by Henry Clay (1777-1852), American lawyer and statesman, when as a Senator he addressed the U.S. House of Representatives.

It was the custom from time to time for Trustees of the Earl of Rutland and Dr.Fleming’s Hospital Trusts to meet at the Estate Office in order to ensure that the residents were being well looked after and that the financial situation was satisfactory. The chairman on such occasions would be His Grace the Duke of Rutland with his Agent in attendance, plus three or four other Trustees, and the Trusts’ Secretary who kept the minutes of such meetings and produced the accounts as and when necessary.

The history of the Earl of Rutland’s Hospital Trust and that of Dr Fleming’s Hospital I have recorded on the following pages.

The Earl of Rutland's Hospital Trust

Roger, 5th Earl of Rutland, by his will dated 18th May, 1612, directed his brother Francis and his executor who succeeded him as 6th Earl to finish a Hospital in Bottesford, which had been begun by his mother, Elizabeth, Countess of the 4th Earl, for six persons to be chosen out of the servants at Belvoir and to assign forever, for their support all his freehold land in Muston which he, the said Roger, had formerly bought off William Persey and it was further found that the said Francis by deed dated the 20th November 1630 conveyed the said Hospital with its appurtenances in Bottesford to accommodate at least six servants from Belvoir.

Successive Earls and Dukes of Rutland have augmented the charity, and the number of almsmen increased from time to time. In the same way, over the years, successive Earls and Dukes have conveyed land in various Parishes such as Ab Kettleby, Bottesford, Clawson, Muston, and Sproxton, (a total of some 475 acres), the rent of which has helped to maintain the Hospital and to provide some form of income to each of the fourteen poor men in the Hospital.

Such payments were undoubtedly varied. For instance, each man would receive ten shillings and eight pence monthly. Six pence at Easter and Whitsuntide, ten pence in December in lieu of capon money, six pence in February and in August for salt, ten pence in September for candles, and thirty shillings in April for a suit of clothes, and in addition to provide for each a good cloth gown on the left sleeve of which was affixed a silver badge with a peacock and Duke’s coronet. At one time all inmates were required to attend the services in Church, suitably attired in their gowns but that has long since ceased to be the custom.

Originally the Hospital itself was a stone building containing fourteen bedrooms with a pantry to each, one common room and a kitchen, with a matron in charge.

Some years ago the building was transformed and made into four flats, with two bungalows in the grounds. For many years the Warden was Miss Margaret Wardby, who looked after the residents most conscientiously.

Fleming's Hospital

Dr Samuel Fleming, Rector of Bottesford from 1581 to 1620, devised certain lands and tenements (after the death of his sister Hestor Davenport) to found a hospital for widows belonging to the parish of Bottesford. The said Hestor Davenport by a deed dated 19th (?) November 1620 or 1621, conveyed to one John Knowles, Rector of Bottesford, Anthony Fairholme of Orston, Edward Gross of Gotham, Jerome Potter of Waltham, William Vincent of Easthorpe and William Calcrafte of Bottesford as trustees, two tenements and all appurtenances and reversions belonging to them as well as the five oxgangs of land situated in the Debdales in the parish of Bottesford and certain rights and quit-rents in lands and open fields in Muston, Barkestone, Plungar, Normanton, and Redmile, for the purpose of more effectually carrying out the benevolent intentions of her brother, Dr Samuel Fleming. The two cottages were originally the property and site of the charities of St Peter and the Virgin Mary, which were dissolved in the reign of King Henry VIII. The above named trustees were to hold and enjoy the said lands and houses and employ the rents arising from them and their appurtenances to the use of the said Hestor Davenport and John Knowles for their lives and after their decease to the sole use of four impotent and aged widows to be chosen by the said trustees or the survivors of them, from the inhabitants of and belonging to the Parish of Bottesford. These widows were to be nominated to inhabit the said houses or tenements during their widowhood, a second marriage causing their forfeiture of all interest in the charity. It was further provided that, as often as the number of feoffers or trustees should be reduced to a less number than six, the survivors should from time to time, enfeoff so many other honest and sufficient persons of the said premises as should make up that number; with a proviso that all differences arising between the said feoffers touching the said premises, the trustees should be referred to the Earl of Rutland for the time being.

The charity was increased by a legacy of £50 bequeathed in November 1763 by Mrs Mary Griffin, widow of Lewis Griffin, late Rector of this Parish and by £10 left by Mrs Clifford, both upon the same trusts and with the same limitations as the former bequests.

A Bridge or Two

The river Devon passes through the village of Bottesford and wends its way along the side of the churchyard of the Parish Church of St Mary’s, and in so doing passes under the bridge we all know as Dr Fleming’s Bridge which was built at the instigation of Dr Fleming whilst Rector of Bottesford from 1581 - 1620.

Occasionally, as the result of a heavy downpour of rain the river has risen dramatically, but without any danger or damage to the bridge, although there was an occasion when the brick wall bordering the west end of the churchyard was demolished as the result of a considerable increase in the volume of water in the river. Over the years literally thousands of people must have crossed the bridge on their way to church, or coming into the village from a housing estate off Station Road, but the bridge remains in position, a positive reminder of a man who served the Church and Parish so admirably for so many years. I am reminded of another bridge, a long way from Bottesford, in fact in Peru in South America. This bridge was on the high road between Lima and Cuzco and was in fact, the Bridge of San Luis Rey. At noon on Friday July 20th 1714 five people were crossing the bridge when it collapsed and those five people fell to their deaths in the valley below.

There was one witness to this terrible tragedy, a Franciscan monk by the name of Brother Juniper who, appalled at what he saw, determined to discover why the lives of these five persons had been so tragically terminated. And he spent the next six years seeking out the relatives’ families and friends of those who had died in such an appalling way. As a result he wrote a large book cataloguing all sorts of details and information relating to their lives. Unhappily the book was declared heretical by some judges and was ordered to be publicly burned, along with its author. But Brother Juniper, having called twice upon St Francis and with consummate courage died with a smile on his lips.

It is fortunate that all the parishioners at Bottesford can go to church by way of Dr Fleming’s Bridge and thank God that no such tragedy has ever happened here.

A Number of Other Charities

All mankind’s concern is charity’ - Alexander Pope

Bishop White’s Charity : As churchwarden for some five or six years at the Parish Church of St Mary’s in Bottesford there came a time when I found myself Trustee and Treasurer of eight local charities. The first of these was Bishop White’s Charity. Thomas White was Rector of Bottesford in 1679 and later became Bishop of Peterborough. In 1690 he gave £240 to buy land, the annual rent of which was to be used in the following ways; £10 of the rent should be distributed on the 14th December by the churchwardens and overseers, in the church porch, to twenty poor persons upwards of 40 years of age, who could repeat the Lord’s prayer, Apostle’s Creed, and the Ten Commandments, without changing a word or making a mistake. The Rector has the sole management of this charity and after paying £10 a year for distribution among the poop, he retains the surplus for his own use (which amounts nowadays to £1600 a year). Bishop White was one of seven bishops who resisted the Romanising tendencies of King James 11 and refused to read or allow their clergy to read a declaration of indulgences in their cathedrals or churches. They petitioned the King against so illegal a measure and were committed to the Tower for contumacy. They were tried, but honourably acquitted on June 30th 1688.

The Ravell-Ligonier Trust : Abel Ligonier, Rector of Bottesford in 1697, by will dated 14th November 1711, gave £100 to the Rector of Bottesford and his successors, which money and the interest was to be used in putting ten poor children to school and having taught them to read the Bible, Prayers and Catechism of the Church of England. Anthony Ravell, by will dated 1726 gave £140 for the same purpose. In due course a schoolhouse was erected on land given to the Parish by the 5th Duke of Rutland at a cost of £900.

Bean’s Charity : Thomas Bean, Baker of Bottesford, in his will dated 26th September 1734, gave and bequeathed to ten of the poorer families of the Parish of Bottesford, twenty shillings yearly, that is, two shillings to each poor family on every 26th December, such a sum coming from an oxgang of land he owned.

Ann Bend’s Gift : In her will dated 19th March 1822 gave to the minister, church wardens and overseers of the poor, the interest on the money she received on the security of the tolls of the road leading from Grantham to Nottingham. Specifically, she decreed that bread be distributed among poor persons and single women of sixty years and upwards, such distributions to be made on the first Sunday in the months of January, February and March.

Eleanor Hough’s Charity : In her will dated 4th November 1848, Eleanor Hough left £100 to the Rector and Churchwardens of the Parish of Bottesford, such a sum to be appropriated for the benefit of the deserving poor of Bottesford, the interest to be given annually in coals by the Rector, Churchwardens and overseers of the poor.

William Twinberry’s Charity : In his will dated 25th August 1851, William Twinberry left £200 to be invested in Government or other securities, the interest to be used on the 21st December each year for the benefit of eight poor widows of good character and of the age of fifty years and upwards.

The Norman Charity : a brass plaque on the wall of the Church of St Mary the Virgin, Bottesford, just north of the pulpit, records the bequest as follows; by the will of the Reverend Canon Norman, Rector of Bottesford, in the year 1889, the sum of £200 was bequeathed to the Rector and Churchwardens for the time being, to be called the Frederic and Adeliza Norman Charity, the principal to be invested in Government Securities and the interest to be given yearly to increase the funds of the Clothing Club and the distribution of coals to the poor at Christmas.

The George Hand’s Charity Trust : A stone tablet bearing the following bequest was placed in the centre of the cottages in June 1891 by Mr George Hand; These six houses with gardens and other appurtenances are the gift of Mr George Hand, a native of this village, now living at Lawrence Lane in the city of London and Highbury: In memory of his father and mother; to be held in trust for the benefit of the most deserving poor in the Parish of Bottesford, for ever.

Speo Mea in Deo 1891; About 66 years after being built the cottages were in a bad state of repair and became subject to a compulsory purchase order. There is, surprisingly, no reference to the amount received for the compulsory purchase of the cottages but it appears the money was invested by the official Custodian of Charities. Nowadays, modern bungalows, in Hand’s Walk, just off the village High Street, have replaced the original dwellings

There came a time when, in accordance with the Programme of Divestment, under the terms of the Charities Act 1992, the Official Custodian of Charities was empowered to dispose of the assets of various charities and this, after a long-winded and tedious process, finally took place, the assets of the following charities being disposed of; Thomas Bean, Ann Bend, Eleanor Hough, William Twinberry and the Norman Charity. The value of these five charities amounted in total, to £225.36, this being transferred to the George Hand’s charity.

On the 24th June 1997 the above five charities were removed from the Central Register of Charities.

There were obviously a few people in Bottesford who were concerned at the plight of the poverty stricken in their midst. It seems most unfortunate that all they got was a few lumps of coal and a loaf of bread. But there were throughout the country men who never had to beg or borrow a crust of bread. These I have referred to on the following pages under the heading “ The Lands of the Landed Gentry”.

The Lands of the Landed Gentry

I should perhaps start these notes by attempting to recognise the aristocracy, the gentry and the nobility. According to Sir Anthony Wagner K.C.V.O., Garter King of Arms, nobility in the English Legal system has not existed since the Norman Conquest.

According to Burke’s Peerage, Baronetage and Knightage, which is the Genealogical and Heraldic history of the Peerage, and was founded in 1826 by John Burke and Sir Bernard Burke C.B. (Ulster King of Arms 1853-1892) there are some 2986 pages recording the history of the innumerable members of the Peerage. “Knightage” begins on page 2655 with Abayomi, Sir Koto (Adenkunle Kt. Bach 1951 and ends on page 2948 with Zuckerman, Sir Solly, Kt. Bach 1956. Sometime towards the end of the last century, from about 1880 to 1920, country landowners were obliged to produce what became known as the “Landowners Return”, in which they were required to record the acreage of all the land they owned which might be spread across a number of different counties.

Her I should say that in the course of time the acreage originally recorded may well have been reduced. The reason for that being, to quote a particular instance, in 1920 His Grace the Duke of Rutland was obliged to dispose of his Ilkeston Estate and also some 13,000 acres of his Belvoir Castle Estate, to meet Death duties. In 1949 the 6th Marquis of Bath sold some 13,100 acres to meet Death duties of £700,000. The Estate of the 11th Duke of Devonshire shrank, through the sale of land, from 120,000 acres to 72,000.

However I have produced a list of fifteen landowners, showing the amount of land they owned when records were required 1880- 1920. In total, these fourteen landowners, aristocrats, gentry and men of noble birth, between them, owned more than a million acres.

 

FAMILY NAME

TITLE

DATE TITLE
CONFIRMED

ANCESTRAL
HOME

ESTATE
ACREAGE

Bentincks

Duke of Portland

1716

Welbeck Abbey

153,163

Cavendish

Duke of Devonshire

1694

Chatsworth House

220,385

Churchill

Duke of Marlborough

1733

Blenheim Palace

26,233

Grosvenor

Duke of Westminster

1874

Eaton Hall

19,437

Howards

Duke of Norfolk

1483

Arundel Castle

43,868

Manners

Duke of Rutland

1703

Belvoir Castle

69,021

The Percies

Northumberland

1766

Alnwick Castle

185,379

The Russells

Duke of Bedford

1694

Woburn Abbey

83,051

The Seymours

Marquis of Hertford

1793

Ragley Hall

73,546

The Spencers

Earl Spencer

1765

Althorp

24,254

Thynne

Marquis of Bath

1789

Longleat House

55,425

Tollemache (1)

Earl of Dysart

 

 

26,445

The Wards

Dudley

1860

Dudley Castle

25,554

Woodhouse

Kimberley

1797

 

10,800

Bathurst (2)

 

1772

 

13,312

 

(1) The 9th Earl of Dysart died on the 22nd November 1935 when the Earldom passed to his niece Wenefryde Agatha Greaves.

(2) Sir Benjamin seemingly was the real founder of the family. According to an ancient record I came across, he left three sons, the youngest of whom was the father of 22 children by his first wife - and 14 by his second!

 

Railway Lines

In 1821 the Stockton to Darlington railway was built followed by the Liverpool and Manchester railway in 1829/30. By 1851 there was a national rail network of 6,226 miles in Britain and great enthusiasm to invest in the railway companies coming into existence at a fast rate.

It was a quaker family by the name of Pease who were responsible for promoting the Stockton to Darlington line and the Liverpool and Manchester railway had as its engineer George Stephenson. The opening of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway line took place, with due ceremony on September 15th 1830. Among those present were the Duke of Wellington and William Huskisson, one time President of the Board of Trade. Unfortunately, Huskisson was knocked down by an engine and died from his injuries. He was the world’s first railway casualty.

Not all companies had the capital to buy land outright, so landowners over whose land railway companies wished to build a line were often obliged to accept to accept a rent instead or more particularly a perpetual rent in payment for the land used. This happened to the Duke’s estate at Ilkeston, Haddon and at Belvoir.

In due course, following the nationalisation of the railways the rents continued to be paid by British Rail. These rents seem to be absurdly low ; at Woolsthorpe the London North Eastern Railway Company paid £17.10s.8d a half year, at Eastwell the same company paid £4.16s while at Muston £2.14s.4d was received in payment of one years rent. Only at Ilkeston was a reasonable amount received, and that was £217.19s.6d for the year.

Isambard Kingdom Brunel was a highly skilled engineer but when he built the Great Western Railway sometime after 1835 his insistence upon a 7 foot gauge was disastrous since it was clear that railways in the rest of the country would run on a standard gauge of 4ft 812”. Many years after the broad gauge line had been completed it was torn up to make way for the standard gauge, an expensive operation which did not please the shareholders.

During the First World War my father served in the 7th Battalion of the Royal Scots. In the early hours of Saturday the 22nd May 1915, a troop train carrying half a Battalion of the 7th Royal Scots from Lambert in Stirlingshire was on route to Liverpool, where they were due to embark for Gallipoli. About the same time another train was steaming north towards Carlisle. It was the midnight express from Euston to Glasgow.  Another southbound train was running ahead of the troop train. It was an empty Welsh coal train on its way back to Wales having delivered its load of coal to one of many Scottish naval bases. At Quintinshall, near Gretna Green this train was diverted to a siding to allow the troop train to pass. Ahead of the express train on the same line was a much slower local passenger train. At Quintinshall signal box this train was crossed over onto the southbound rail to allow the express to pass. It was still there when at 6.49 in the morning of Saturday 22nd May 1915 the fast moving troop train crashed into it outside the signal box at Quintinshall. The next moment the gas-lit midnight express from Euston to Glasgow ploughed into the wreckage. In the ensuing holocaust 227 soldiers and passengers were killed and 246 injured. Of the 485 officers and men of the 7th Battalion the Royal Scots, 214 were killed and well over a hundred lost in the burning wreckage unaccounted for. Although seriously injured, I do not remember my father referring to what remains the worst disaster in the history of British Railways.

Ironstone Mining

Another form of income was derived from ironstone mining. As long ago as 1881 James Oakes and Co., The Eastwell Iron Ore Co., and Staveley Coal & Iron Company leased land from which to extract Ironstone. At that time a royalty of 712d per ton was paid to the Duke, out of which an Ironstone Restoration Fund levy of 114d (a penny farthing) was paid by the royalty owner and a similar amount by the government.

In Bedfordshire, apparently as a result of the extraction of clay for the brickmaking industry a lot of land had become derelict, the owners having collected large sums of money from the brick-making companies, were not disposed to restore the land. Fortunately in due course, legislation was passed to ensure land was suitably restored and a fund set up to provide the means to do so.

Leases appear to have been long-term without any provision for a reassessment of the royalty paid to the estate owner so that there came a time when the value of the income was much reduced. But at least all the land from which the ironstone had been extracted was properly restored without any additional cost to the landowners, and today the only sign of the mining operations that took place is that some fields are lower than others. The slump in the steel industry put an end to all ironstone mining on the Estate.

Belvoir Castle Opening

When the Castle was opened to the public on the 1st April, 1955, not too many people were expected to come to Belvoir, a few hundred people perhaps, but in fact something like five thousand turned up and they were expected to walk from the car park up a path along the Castle slopes to the main drive on a day following some very heavy rains. The path soon became decidedly muddy and slippery - not a propitious start to an operation the Duke had embarked on after much thought and consideration. The land now used for the car park was at one time known as the Donkey Ground, the reason being that some old men, former employees on the estate, in their old age were provided with donkeys, so that they could travel from their various villages up to Belvoir and having parked their donkeys, or should I say, tethered them, made their way up to the Castle Kitchen to receive a bowl of soup.

In earlier times hospitality was on a more generous scale. The Castle Steward’s accounts for the period December 1839 to April 1840, about eighteen weeks, records the consumption during that short period, of something like 3,500 gallons of ale, 200 dozen bottles of wine, 3,300 loaves of bread, 22,963lb of meat and 2589 head of game.

During this period 1,997 persons dined at the Duke’s table, 2,241 in the Stewards room and 11,312 in the Servant’s Hall, Nursery and Kitchen departments.

Presumably, in later years with such a reputation for generosity, there was no difficulty in providing a few poor pensioners with a bowl of soup, which no doubt, they appreciated. “Meals on Wheels”, of course, has long since replaced what might be termed the “Dinner on a Donkey” or “Soup in the Saddle” service.

I began by referring to the Duke’s deliberation whether or not to open the Castle to the public and no doubt he consulted his solicitor and accountant and, of course, his Agent. It is inevitable that to a man in the Duke’s position the tax position has to be carefully considered. You can invest a lot of money in some enterprise which if not successful can result in the loss of much money. If, however, the enterprise is successful and large profits result, you can still lose money - to the tax man. If the top tax rate is 80% as it was, then the amount retained might look rather small.

The Duke decided he would open the Castle which had belonged to his family since Norman times. The planning necessary to do this was quite considerable and involved many departments on the Estate. In 1955, the first year the Castle was open, between the 1st April and 30th October, 66,264 adults and 13,129 children visited the Castle. At that time adults paid two shillings and sixpence and children one shilling. Thirty years later the charge is £4.25 for adults and £2.65 for children aged 5 to 16 years.

I could not end these notes without a reference to Jimmy Durrands who, as a boy, began his career at Belvoir when, at the weekend he used to come round to the car-park to help those visiting the Castle to park their cars. When, later , he left school he was employed by International Stores, the grocery firm, but in due course he became assistant to the Castle Controller, at the time, Mr A R Meek, in which capacity he travelled the country calling on coach companies persuading them to bring coach loads of customers to Belvoir Castle. At the end of 1981 when Mr Meek decided to return to Yorkshire, Jimmy Durrands was appointed Castle Controller in which capacity he soon became well known to the general public. He was a tall man , over twenty stones in weight and made an impressive figure to greet the visitors on their arrival at the Castle. Unhappily he died on 7th July 1989 while at home, aged 44. Without him the Castle was never quite the same again.

The Home Farm

One of the major enterprises on the Estate, of course, was farming and here I should say something about the Home Farm. When I came to Belvoir in 1952, the Home Farm consisted of a few hundred acres in the Parish of Woolsthorpe by Belvoir. There was in addition a Dairy at Belvoir consisting of a handful of British Friesians.

For a time I lived at Belvoir and I remember one evening answering the doorbell to find the Head Cowman standing there with a rope in one hand attached to a massive bull. I forget what he called about but he stood there talking as though it was quite the custom to call on someone wit a bull in tow. Fortunately the beast wasn’t pawing the ground.

There came a time when the Duke decide it might be more profitable to farm some of his own land himself rather than let most of it to tenant farmers. So when land became available, and that was when a tenant died, retired or gave up farming, the vacant land was added to that of the Home Farm. It was of course essential that the Duke’s farming operations be at least as good as that of his tenants and preferably much better. The newly appointed Farm Manager was fortunate in that he had the resources available, the capital for investment, the money to buy fertilisers required to produce a good crop and all the weed killers, insecticides, fungicides and pesticides he needed. In addition he was well supplied with farm machinery, tractors, trailers, lorries and combine harvesters, as well as a grass dryer so that the moisture content of his corn could be reduced to an acceptable level, and as a result get a better price for his crops. Subsidies and grants too were received in generous amounts. There comes to mind at this point the phrase, common at one time, “feather-bedded farmers”, but I must ignore that.

As a result the Home Farm flourished as did the Home Farm Manager, so much so in fact, that I remember him telling me that the Duke had suggested to him, he would end up a millionaire.

I don’t think he quite reached that figure, but after a few years he went on holiday with his wife to New York and the on a luxury cruise aboard the QE2.

I have to admit it is probably sour grapes which prompts me to mention all this. At that time, with a wife and three children I seldom got further than Chapel St Leonards ...... a small result on the East Coast about 70 miles from Belvoir.

At the last count the Home Farm consisted of 3750 acres, managed by a Farm Manager - Stuart Ward, son of the former Home Farm Manager, an Assistant Farm Manager, one Foreman and 15 men. Cropping consists of potatoes, 120 acres; Sugar Beet, 150 acres; 2000 acres of cereals, vining peas, and beans. The arable rotation is broken with grass leys which support beef - 170 sucking cows and 300 fattening stores and sheep - 1100 breeding theaves and ewes.

The Farm Worker

If today the farm worker is reasonably well paid and his terms of employment are reasonable, that certainly has not always been the case in times past. Indeed throughout the ages the agricultural labourer has had to struggle to exist.

In the winter of 1830 the starving field labourer of the counties South of the Thames marched about in a riotous manner demanding a wage of half a crown a day. The revenge taken by the judiciary was terrible - three of the rioters were hanged and four hundred and twenty were torn from their families and transported to Australia as convicts. Four years later, in 1834, six agricultural workers living in Dorset were sentenced to transportation for the crime of demanding a wage increase. These men, in time, became known as the Tolpuddle Martyrs.

At times, as in Cambridgeshire, the revolt of the rural poor was so intense that the army had to be used to suppress them.

Up to 1776, it had been the custom to depot prisoners to America, but in that year the North American colonies declared themselves independent, so after that date they were sent to Australia, Captain Cook having conveniently landed in Botany Bay in 1770.

Between 1788 and 1840 some 110,000 men and women were transported to New South Wales, of which 1200 came from Lincolnshire. But these, I should emphasise were not necessarily farm workers, they came from all walks of life.

In 1843 S. Ridge, printer of High Street, Grantham, published a book entitled, “cottage Economy and Cookery” which was based on essays submitted to the Royal English Agricultural Society and contains:

“Hints to the labourer which have no other object but the improvement to their comfort and happiness and to enable them to prepare wholesome, nutritive and palatable food in the most economical and easy manner”.

Here is one very nice dish known as “toad in the hole” which although somewhat expensive, yet serves well for a Sunday’s dinner as, being sent to the baker, it will not prevent the wife from going to church. The cost is as follows;

1lb of flour                          2d
1 pint of milk                       1/2d (one hapenny)
2 eggs                                1d
Meat                                  7d
Baking                                11/2d (one and a hapenny)

Total                                  1s.0d

The great merit of this dish it would appear lies in the fact that it allows the wife to go to church.

There is a high moral tone about the book as illustrated in the following paragraph:

“ In short, close economy is the very life and existence of a poor man’s comforts. Without it he will run into arrears with everyone with whom he deals; starvation will stare him in the face; the wretchedness of his wife and children will drive him to despair to the beer shop: and that finally, as a drunkard, a pilferer, and a poacher, to the workhouse; whereas, if on a Saturday night he finds that by good management he has made both ends meet, without running into debt, he will have the heart-felt satisfaction of providing bread for his children and perhaps for a worn out parent who fed him while he was himself yet more helpless; he will shun the profligate associates of the pot-house; he will cling to his humble home, and look forward with satisfaction to his evening meal; his family will be happy and himself respected in his station; and if at close of the week he can lay by a sixpence, he will, by pursuing the same plan, acquire habits of careful industry, which will at length

surely render him to a certain degree independent. It can, however, only be done by his having in hand a week’s wages to the fore, so as to enable his wife to buy everything for ready money, without having a score at the chandler’s shop”.

This is the final paragraph:

“ The foregoing instructions are, however, chiefly addressed to the housewife; for it be the husbands’ business to bring home money, and it is hers to see that none of his earnings go foolishly out of it. To attach a man to his house it is necessary that home should have attractions; and if his wife is a slattern, everything will go wrong; but if she is industrious, thrifty and good tempered, cleanly in person and her cottage, all will then go right. She will forego tea and gossip; she will put everything in the neatest order, her little fire trimmed and her hearth swept up for the reception of her husband on his return from labour. Whatever may have been her cares during the day, she will meet him with the smile of welcome; the family meal will close the night in social enjoyment, and he will find as cheerful and as happy a home as if he were the lord of the manor”.

If an improvement in the working conditions of the farm worker came slowly, there  was in due course, a dramatic improvement in the living standards and social circumstances of many a farming family, summed up by these lines which date back to 1843:

OLD STYLE                                                  NEW STYLE

Man, to the plough;                                      Man, tally Ho;

Wife, to the cow;                                         Miss, piano;

Girl, to the yarn;                                          Wife, silk and satin;

Boy, to the barn;                                          Boy, Greek and Latin.

 

William Cobbett (1762—1839)

In the month of June in the year 1777, a 14 year old boy left his home at Farnham in Surrey to walk to the newly established gardens at Kew, where the Scots gardener gave him a job and where he worked happily until his father came to take him home. That boy was William Cobbett, the son of a farmer who also kept a pub, the Jolly Farmer:

For some months he worked in a lawyer’s office in London, then, in 1784 he joined the Army to serve with the 54th Foot in Nova Scotia where, the following year, he became Regimental Sergeant Major having, in the meantime, taught himself to read and write (as a Private soldier on 6d a day).

Six years later, in 1791, he returned to England and was discharged from the Army. But soon after he was in trouble for exposing corruption on the part of Army Officers under whom he had served, accusing them of perculations (embezzlement).

As a result he was obliged to flee to France, from where, in October 1792, he moved to Philadelphia, in America, taking with him the girl he had recently married. She was Ann Reid, a sergeant Major’s daughter Cobbett had first met when he was 21 and she was only 13. Together they stayed in America during which time Cobbett began his career as a political journalist and pamphleteer, writing under the name of Peter Porcupine.

In 1800 he returned with his wife to England and soon he was offered Government patronage, which subsidised him to start his famous weekly periodical: “The Political Register”, which was to make Cobbett the greatest English journalist since Defoe. At the same time, in 1802, he began “Cobbett’s Parliamentary Debates”, which, in due course, was taken over by Luke Hansard.

In 1810 Cobbett was sentenced to 2 years imprisonment for sedition and fined £1000.

The year before, five soldiers had been sentenced to 500 lashes, the punishment being administered by German mercenaries. Cobbett had been outraged and published his views in an article in the Register, which was viewed as seditious. Fortunately his friends helped to pay the fine and Cobbett himself only spent 8 months in prison.

In 1817 the suspension of Habeas Corpus – making agitation liable to imprisonment without trial – prompted Cobbett to flee once more to America, where for a couple of years he set up as a farmer on Long Island, but continued to edit the Register by remote control.

No sooner was Cobbett back in England than he became bankrupt, partly as a result of stamp duty imposed on periodicals.

In Cobbett’s time the country was suffering the effects of the war with France, which lasted from 1793 to 1815. It was the time of the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution and also of a succession of Enclosure Acts, where land in common ownership was taken over by estate owners. In 1821, a Government Commission on agriculture was appointed. Cobbett was distrustful of the Commission’s findings and set out in October 1821, nearing 60 years of age and travelling on horseback, to see things in the countryside for himself, covering, initially, the whole of southern England. Later he toured the whole of England and parts of Scotland and Ireland too. His periodic reports on his tours of inspection were later to appear in book form under the title: “Rural Rides 1821—1832”, which is now recognised as an important   work of literature, an acknowledged classic.

Here are some of the places he visited and what he had to say:

6th November 1821 – Marlborough; “Labourers seem very poor indeed. A group of women labourers presented such an assemblage of rags as I never before saw.”

7th November 1821 – Cirencester; “The labourers here seem miserably poor, the dwellings are little better than pig beds and their looks indicate that their food is not nearly equal to that of a pig.”

4th September 1823 – Margate; “ The labourers’ houses beggarly in the extreme, the poor dirty, poor looking, ragged.”

3oth August 1826 – Salisbury; “In taking my leave of this beautiful vale, I have to express my deep shame as an Englishman at beholding the general extreme poverty of those who cause this vale to produce such quantities of food and raiment. This is, I verily believe, the worst used labouring people upon the face of the earth.”

On his travels around the country, William Cobbett took every opportunity to address meetings at which he boldly expressed his radical views – not always popular – but nevertheless, in the course of time he became well known and, indeed, loved, for his compassion towards the rural poor and also for his strong sense of justice.

It was then that Cobbett became the natural leader of a national movement for parliamentary reform, convinced that the government was dedicated to the ruin of the country. William Cobbett has been described as a man who rode round the country seething with indignation, impulsive and intolerant, who loved the land and hated landowners with equal passion. The voice of the working class, a man of unrestrained prejudices with a devastating power of denunciation, Cobbett expressed his opinions in no uncertain fashion.

On his travels, Cobbett visited Lincoln, the Cathedral he thought the finest building in the whole world. He also went to Newark and visited Grantham, Melton Mowbray and Leicester.

On a Monday morning, the 2nd April 1830, Cobbett stood on the hill at Knighton, not far from Leicester and saw three ancient, lofty and beautiful spires rising up at Leicester; he saw the river wind down through a broad bed of the most beautiful meadows that man ever set his eyes on; he saw the bright verdue covering all the land, even to the tops of the hills with here and there a little wood as if made by God to give variety to the beauty of the scene.

Undoubtedly, William Cobbett loved the countryside and certainly he had the ability to suitably express, with considerable poetic power, the beauty of the land in which he lived. But then, from the hill at Knighton, Cobbett went down into the villages round about and was appalled at what he saw of the miserable sheds in which the labourers lived, hovels made of mud and straw, bits of old windows without frames or hinges. The furniture consisting of pieces of board tacked together for a table and rough wood for chairs and stools. And the floors of these buildings were of pebbles or broken brick, or in some cases bare earth. The inhabitants themselves were clad in rags. Cobbett was greatly concerned at the dreadful conditions so many rural workers lived in. He was not content, merely to voice his outrage at the miserable circumstances in which so many of them were obliged to exist. In 1832, he was elected Member of Parliament for Oldham, which enabled him to work for the relief of the farm worker and to seek to improve their living conditions. He died on the 18th June 1835 at Normandy Farm in Sussex and was buried at Farnham.

The Factory Worker

If the living conditions of the farm worker left much to be desired, the factory worker of the Industrial Revolution fared little better.

On the 2nd July 1835, a Frenchman, Count Alexis de Tocqueville, visited Manchester and wrote a graphic account of what he saw there.

Alexis Charles Henri de Tocqueville met an English girl, Mary Motley, in Versailles in 1828, where he had been a judge, and married her in 1836. In the meantime he was sent on a mission to the USA in 1831, to study American penitentiaries and with Gustave de Beaumont, wrote their joint work on “The Penitentiary System in the United States”. Later he became famous as author of “Democracy in America”. He travelled extensively in England in 1833, 1835 and again in 1857 to study the social and economic and political problems of England. He also wrote “Journeys to England and Ireland” (translated by George Lawrence and E P Mayer) from which the above account is taken.

Landlord and Tenant

On a large agricultural estate, a matter of some importance is the so called Landlord-Tenant relationship. There are perhaps some landlords who remain aloof, are not often seen and not readily approachable, but this is not the case at Belvoir.

 A farm tenant with a request or complaint, who is in need of help or advice, will in the first instance, approach the Agent. If the Agent is unable to respond to the tenant’s satisfaction then he can see his landlord – The Duke. But I’m bound to say I don’t remember that happening very often, if at all.

At one time, many years ago, the Estate Office was actually in the Castle, and there is a room, off the pre-guard room, which is today still known as the “Speak-a-word” room, for it was there that tenants could have a word with the Duke if they so wished.

But the fact is apart from the weather and the rent a farm tenant had little to grumble about as far as his landlord was concerned. But then I should say that farm rents on the Belvoir Estate compared favourably with the rents on other estates in the neighbourhood – and most tenants were aware of that fact.

All tenants, of course, were expected to farm their land in accordance with the rules of good husbandry. As part of the Landlord-Tenant relationship it was the custom of the Duke to have, every other year, a Tenant’s lunch or supper, which I used to help  organise. Originally it was held at the George Hotel in Grantham at lunchtime, but one or two farmers seemingly found difficulty in getting home after a good lunch. So it was then held at the Chequers Inn in Woolsthorpe, which was a little more convenient in that the tenant did not have quite so far to travel.

For a year or two we went to the George Hotel in Nottingham (then owned by the Duke) and more recently it has been held at the Castle in the Grand Dining Room which was a splendid setting for such an occasion, and was attended by tenants from the Haddon Estate, too.

A year or two after coming to Belvoir, I went to a Haddon Tenants Lunch at the Rutland Hotel in Bakewell. The farmers were in their best suits, but quite a number of them, I noticed, wore no collars or ties. Their shirts appeared to be of flannelette with a cloth button on the collar band. I came away with the impression that the Haddon farmers were not quite as well of as those at Belvoir.

It was the custom, after the Loyal Toast, for a senior tenant to propose the health of the Duke, and the Duke would then reply with a speech in which he commented on the agricultural scene as it appeared to him, and never forgetting to mention that he would be putting the farm rents up. As he repeated this at each successive supper, not too much notice was taken.

In any case, it was the custom to review rents every three years. If dissatisfied with the new rent, the tenant farmer could seek arbitration. But that seldom happened. The Duke would finish his speech with a joke, which might surprise some. The fact that as often as not the Duchess was present – the only lady to be there – did not inhibit him.

Children's Party

It was the custom at Christmas to entertain the children of all estate employees, for which purpose, a list would be drawn up with the names of the children, and in particular the age of each child. Her Grace would then find suitable  presents for each of the children herself, which must have been quite a task. On Boxing Day the children would be collected from the various villages in which they lived and, on arrival at the Castle, would have tea. After tea they would all go round to the Guard Room where a large Christmas tree, well decorated and lit with real candles, and with a large pile of parcels, awaited them. The presents were distributed, one by one to each child by name, and the children were then entertained to a film show – Mickey Mouse or Laurel and Hardy, perhaps.

 After some years it was realised that not so many children wanted to come to the party, the reason being that by then most families had their own TV sets and children required something a little more sophisticated than Donald Duck, say.

So, her Grace decided to take the children to the Pantomime in Nottingham, an operation, which required some organisation. After the show the children went to the George Hotel in the centre of the city, where they all had a slap up tea, which they thoroughly enjoyed, before returning by coach, back home.

The Estate Building Department

The Building and Repairs departments nowadays (1985) consists of 5 bricklayers, 5 joiners, 2 painters, 1 plumber, 1 JCB (bulldozer) driver, 3 semi-skilled labourers plus a foreman – a total of 18 men, managed by a qualified land agent.

With at least 300 cottages and houses on the Estate the building staff are kept busy carrying out all repairs to cottages and houses, to farm buildings etc., on the Estate as well as farm and cottage improvement schemes and – a major operation – maintaining the fabric of the Castle.

Barn conversions have recently been successfully carried out by the repairs department staff, for letting, for residential accommodation.

I was a little surprised to find that none of the villages on the Estate, or in neighbouring villages, had any sort of sewage system. Going to the loo entailed a visit to the backyard or a walk down the garden path to a rather inconvenient and primitive convenience.

A number of larger properties had a septic tank for the collection of sewage, and this would periodically be emptied by the local council, which would also arrange the collection of what was known as “night soil” from down the garden path.

It was not until about 1960, that sewage pipes were installed throughout the Estate and surrounding villages. As a result a major programme was drawn up to improve Estate cottages by providing toilet facilities with all mod cons.

The Foreman of the Estate Repairs Department was for many years Mr Ernest Braisby who retired on 27th February 1975, having started work on the Estate as an apprentice in 1923.

There is a narrow gauge railway line from Woolsthorpe Wharf up to the Castle, which was used for transporting coal by horse drawn wagons.

On arrival at the Castle the horses were unhitched, the wagons were unloaded and then, given a push, they went careering down the hill, across the road by what was once the Peacock Inn, but is now a private residence – Belvoir Lodge – and across the fields heading back towards the Wharf. In due course they would come to a halt when the horses which had followed the trucks back towards Woolsthorpe, would be hitched up again and continue the journey back home.

As a boy, Ernest Braisby, with one or two friends, would follow the trucks up to the Castle and, once emptied, they would stow away aboard the trucks and get carried down the hill at a fast rate on what must have been a decidedly hair raising journey.

Today, the coal is delivered direct from the colliery to the Castle. It has a rather fancy name: Gedling hazel washed singles.

The Viking Way

The Viking Way runs from the South bank of the Humber River heading south and passing through Bigby, Walesby, Donnington, on Bain, Woodhall Spa, Lincoln, Byards Leap and Woolsthorpe by Belvoir to arrive finally at Oakham in Rutland. It is not easy to think of Viking warriors wandering around Woolsthorpe, yet that apparently is what they once did.

They would be wearing chain mail and armed with double edged swords, spears, javelins or lances and carrying a shield and an axe and wearing on their heads a helmet with two horns.

On the Belvoir Estate the Viking Way starts at Barrowby Stainwith beyond Breeder Hills Farm and follows for a short distance the towpath of the Grantham Canal and passed the Rutland Arms – known locally as “The Dirty Duck”, an inn at one time frequented by bargees. After the canal bridge by the Rutland Arms you  pass under the railway bridge and continue along the track until you turn right into Longmoor Lane which takes you up to Brewers Grave which is situated at the top of Cliff Wood just outside the village of Woolsthorpe by Belvoir. Brewers Grave takes its name from an employee at Belvoir Castle who drowned in a vat of beer he was brewing.

From Brewers Grave, the route passes between the villages of Harston and Denton towards Croxton Kerrial, where it passes Blackwell Lodge on the right and Hill Top Farm on the left, having crossed the Saltby to Wyville road to reach the now disused Saltby Airfield and Sproxton Lodge on the edge of the Estate.

The long sandy beaches of Lindisfarne on Holy Island provided a perfect landing for Viking long ships and on the 8th June 793, they raided and destroyed the Church of St Cuthbert killing many monks or priests in the process. In due course further raids took place in the North and Western Isles of Scotland, in Ireland and the Isle of Man, in Cumbria, Lancashire and Scotland too. The 830’s saw an increase in the number of raids in England. In 835, “heathen men ravaged Sheppey”’ an island in the Thames. Further raids followed from Somerset and Dorset to Lindsey and Northumbria. In 865 the first payment of Danegeld – a sort of tax to political bribe – was made. Later, attacks were made on Southampton, Cornwall and Cheshire – and London was burned. Offa, King of the Mercians (757 – 790) was kept busy arranging the defence of Kent against heathen seamen and Beorhtric, King of Wessex from 796 to 802 was also repulsing the crews of invading ships which put ashore at Portland on the south coast.

Finally in 886, the Treaty of Alfred with Guthrun, the Danish King gave the Scandinavians the right to settle in an area known as the Danelaw, in the North of England, and an area soon to be known as the Five Boroughs: that is: Nottingham, Lincoln, Stamford, Derby and Leicester.

The period known as The Viking Age extended throughout Europe from the 8th to the 11th century. During that time Britain came under the control of various Vikings such as:

Godfrey, King of Denmark who had two sons, Fleming and Horlik.

Erik Bloodaxe who was the last Viking King of York and was expelled by the Anglo Saxons in 954 during the reign of Alfred’s grandson Eadred.

Harald Bluetooth, King of Denmark and Norway.

Svein Forkbeard, King of Denmark.

Gorm the Old - another King of Denmark.

Harald Finehair, King of Norway.

Cnut Svensson (the Great) King of Denmark, England and Norway too.

Harthcnut, King of Denmark and England.

According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle: King Harthacnut passed away at Lambeth on 8th June 1042 and he is buried in the old Minster at Winchester with King Cnut his father.

There were seemingly six Kings of Denmark, two of whom were also Kings of England who bore the name Cnut, Knutknud or Canute.

One of them became well known for his attempts to turn the tide – from which one might assume he was a bit of a Cnutter.

Finally there was Harald Sigurdson, later to be nicknamed Hardrada – the Hard-ruler – who was King of Norway from 1047 to 1066.

Magnus Magnusson, in his book “Vikings” refers to one of the most picturesquely named Vikings of all time – Ragnar Hairy-Breeks. His wife it seems made a special pair of trousers for him out of extra thick fur, boiled in pitch and rolled in sand as a non-flammable protection against the fiery breath of a dragon he was supposed to slay.

In a royal cemetery at Borre on the western shore of Oslo Fjord there lies buried a legendary King of Vestfold whose name I hesitate to mention – it was in fact King Eystein Fart. A vulgar lot those Vikings….

It was after a victory, over Norwegian invaders at Stamford Bridge on Humberside in 1066 when Harald, King of Norway, was killed, that Harold, King of England was obliged to dash south to meet another invasion, that of William, Duke of Normandy and where, at the Battle of Hastings, King Harold was killed.

It was not long before a party of victorious Normans arrived at Belvoir, led by Robert de Todeni.

By 1085 the Viking Age was over. In Woolsthorpe by Belvoir they left no rune stones recording their activities.

But the activities of an attractive young lady, comes to mind: she is in a theatre cavorting round the stage and singing what might have been an odd Danish ditty:

King Canute.Y had a beauty

I’m King Canute.y’s little beauty

Ain’t I cute.y?

In strolling down the Viking Way, so to speak, I would mention that I came across the Great North Road (the A1). Ermine Street, the Jurassic Way, Sewstern Lane, the Salt (or Salters) Way and the Jubilee Way.

The A1 is a highway with which most people, of course, will be familiar, Ermine Street was built by the Romans and starts in Herefordshire from where it heads north, passing Lincoln and carrying on towards the banks of the Humber river.

The Jurassic Way was used by Bronze Age or even Neolithic man as part of a trade route between the prehistoric centres of culture in the Yorkshire Wolds and Salisbury Plain, along the relatively well- drained Oolithic limestone ridge. I can’t imagine what cultural activities went on in the Wolds or could possibly take place on Salisbury Plain – in those days. And the Salt Way had its origin in the Bronze Age, starting with the Salt Pans at Ingoldmells on the East Coast and going from there by way of Croxton Kerrial and Goadby Marwood to Six Hills (on the Fosse Way to Leicester).

At Brewers Grave there are way marks for the jubilee Way, a sixteen mile walk through the woods and farm land to Melton Mowbray.

If in describing the Viking invasion of the British Isles I have suggested that they were undoubtedly vicious and barbarous, then I have to say there came a time when they became a little more civilized.

Under Viking rule, York doubled in size and became the largest trading city in Britain with a population of some 30,000.

In the Isle of Man they established a system of government so that today, the Manx Parliament bears a name which has its origin in the language of the Vikings: The Tynewald.

The National Coal Board

When, in 1978, the NCB announced its intention to apply for planning permission for three coalmines in the Vale of Belvoir, the whole countryside was up in arms.

Prominent among the protestors was the Duke of Rutland who was widely quoted as saying he would lie down in front of the first bulldozer when it arrived.

In the weeks following this “Declaration of Intent”, it was noticed that quite a number of young ladies were going around wearing badges proclaiming: “I’ll lie down with the Duke of Rutland”.

There was a huge number of people who took exception to the idea of mining in the Vale of Belvoir, private individuals as well as various organisations, local and county councils all registered their protest of which the following are but a few examples:

1.      Derbyshire CC was concerned about the recruitment of miners from within the county.

2.      Bedfordshire was interested in the remote disposal of mine dirt.

3.      The Director of Education, Leicestershire CC anticipated the need to provide additional primary school places if there was a significant development around Melton Mowbray.

4.      The Director of Museums and Art Galleries in Leicester wondered about the effect of subsidence on sites of special scientific interest and Ancient Monuments.

5.      The Director of Social Services thought it would be necessary to review social consequences in due course.

6.      The Ministry of Agriculture and Food anticipated the loss of agricultural production.

7.      The Severn Trent Water Authroity formally objected.

8.      The Department of the Environment sought conformation regarding the transportation of coal by rail, which crosses the A52 at Bottesford.

9.      The Central Electricity Generating Board which currently accepted trains of 44 wagons would require significant capital expenditure to accept the suggested 60 wagons.

10.    East Midlands Gas objected on the grounds that mains equipment had been laid to the highest standards and mining activity could cause risks of damage to persons and property.

More modest organisations: Rambling Associations; Friends of the Earth; Notts. Nature Trust; The Federation of Colliery Opposition Groups; Melton Hunt Club – all gave support to the official opposition and as a result the Vale of Belvoir Protection Group was formed. A Fighting Fund too became necessary – originally a figure of £100,000 was considered suitable, but that in due course had to be increased to £140,000. Much money was donated by private individuals and fund raising events were organised throughout the Vale: endless cheese and wine parties, coffee mornings, dances, auctions and a Save the Vale Lottery all helped to raise the money required.

Inevitably, so great was the opposition to the Coal Board’s proposal that a Public Enquiry had to be held and this took place at Stoke Rochford and lasted six months.

In the meantime the bills were coming in:

A firm of Consulting Engineers submitted four accounts totalling £2,483.86 for advising on Noise and Pollution problems.

A London firm submitted a bill for £767.19 for advising on Transportation Aspects.

The bill from a firm of Nottingham solicitors, for services rendered, came to £2,920.54.

A Statement of the fees payable, to eleven firms and individuals – consultants, solicitors and brief fees payable to counsel amounted to £113,705.69!

Naturally, the Duke’s agent was much involved in all the work and setting up the Vale of Belvoir Protest Group, and in due course attending many of the sessions of the Public Enquiry.

During this time the files of correspondence, reports, minutes of meetings, financial statements and other records in the Estate Office grew at a great pace. But finally the Enquiry was over, and in due course of time, the National Coal Board was allowed to have – not three mines or collieries – but one at Asfordby on the outskirts of Melton Mowbray.

In the villages around Belvoir, so long it seemed under threat, there was much relief, but in the village of Asfordby there was great disappointment. There the villagers had to organise a protest to express their disapproval, all of which took time and effort – but all to no avail.

The National Coal Board was able to create a colliery at Asfordby:  it took time but in due course it was producing coal.

And then, on 1st January 1995, the whole colliery with some other mines in the Midlands was handed over to R.J.B. Mining (UK) Ltd for a sum which originally was £900 million, but then reduced to £800 million.

It is not easy to understand the logic of all this…

On the 18th August 1997, due to geological difficulties, R.J.B. Mining closed the colliery at Asfordby!

The Rutland Stud

The Duke’s first wife (Anne Cumming Bell) went in for breeding horses – Palamino’s – but that I think  was just a hobby. The Duke’s second wife went in for breeding Arabs – Arab horses that is but on a more commercial basis.

I suppose having some good stables, paddocks and pastures to hand it was a good thing to take advantage of such amenities. The Ducherss certainly showed a great interest in her horses, the number of which increased and she employed a Stud manager and two girls to look after them.

But when a mare was due for a visit from the stallio she herself would hold the mare whilst the Stud manager brought in the stallion. I remember reading what seemed a rather odd idea which was that if a girl groom  led the stallion to the mare the sperm count of the stallion was increased. Who arrived at this conclusion and how I have forgotton. But at the time it was obviously an idea not known to the Duchess, and I was not the man to tell her.

That the reputation of the Rutland Stud had spread well beyond Belvoir became obvious when her Grace sold a horse to a Middle Eastern gentleman. True, he was a Jewish gentleman living in Israel, but presumably he could have managed to get a suitable horse nearer home.

I, of course, had to deal with the export of the animal and I soon discovered that two Veterinary Certificates were required within in 24 hours of the horse leaving the country. One certificate was available from the Ministry of Agriculture and Foof at Guildford, and the other certificate from another establishment somewhere in Surrey. I also had to ensure that the purchase money was received before the horse was handed over – and not in shekels. As far as I can remember I managed all that, but just how I have now forgotton.

S.S.S.I’s or Sites of Special Scientific Interest

There are nine S.S.S.I’s comprising over 400 acres on the Estate, including a Natural Nature Reserve. Management Agreements have been negotiated with the Nature Conservancy on all of the sites. I remember receiving a letter from a couple of botany students who wanted to visit a site at Croxton Kerrial to pursue their interest in mosses and lichens. The idea was to locate these mosses and lichens and to examine them most carefully and, if possible, to identify them and to record each variety of moss and lichen with an exact and detailed description of each. I couldn’t help but think that you must be highly motivated and indeed dedicated to get on ones  hands and knees and grovel in the mud to examine what surely must be the lowest and most humble variety of plant life. Linnaeus, the Swedish botanist, called lichens, “the poor trash of vegetation”, which is perhaps a little surprising as lichens are of use in medicine, (acids extracted from lichen are used in the treatment of skin complaints), perfumery, dyeing, and embalming  However, the students did in due course write a letter of thanks in which they said they had come across some mosses and lichens of which they were aware, but had not previously seen. These Sites of Special Scientific Interest undoubtedly serve a useful purpose and are a source of much interest to many people.

King Lud's Entrenchments

This is a site of some historic interest situated on Saltby Heath in the Parish of Croxton Kerrial. It consists of a line of entrenchments some 3050 feet long made up of fosses and vellums, that is, of ditches, trenches and canals – and ramparts. Presumably it was all part, originally, of some defence system but not to be compared with Hadrian’s Wall or Offa’s Dyke on the Welsh border.

There is some doubt, as to whom, King Lud was. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle refers to a King of Mercia named Ludeca but in the Mabinogion, which is a collection of Welsh tales made in 1838-39 by Lady Charlotte Guest, there is a reference to Lludd and Llevelys. The legendary King Ludd, as mentioned in the Mabinogion, was also reputed to be the grandfather of the ancient British King Leir (or Lear).

South of the eastern extremity of King Lud’s Entrenchments is “The Tent”, a deep pear-shaped excavation which may have been a house or guard room. The King of Mercia called Ludacea (or Ludeca) was killed in battle in 827AD, and “The Tent” is presumed to be the site where he was buried.

Just outside the village of Croxton Kerrial, on the West of “Old Wood” there are the remains of a Premonstratensian Abbey, so called because in 1119 at Premontre, an order of regular canons was founded, the members of which presumably built the abbey. There was too a corresponding order of nuns. Such a piece of information should, I feel, conclude with some esoteric comment, but all I can say is that today the original fish pond is well stocked with carp!

Game and Fisheries

Fishing takes place on the Upper and Lower Lakes at Belvoir and at Knipton Reservoir. It is course fishing, the fish being Roach, Bream, Tench, Perch and Pike. Some years ago a 39lb Pike was landed at Knipton Reservoir – the English record is 41lb. At one time a days permit would cost ten shillings or 50p. Now, a day’s ticket costs £4.50.

I have been fortunate in having had the opportunity to try my hand at fly-fishing on the Haddon Estate where there are three rivers: The Wye, the Derwent and the Lathkill. And a very pleasant experience it was too in such surroundings. There have been recent reports of pollution on the Derwent, and cyanide was put in the water at the fish farm on the Haddon Estate, destroying thousands of young fish. But my recollection of the Lathkill where the Duke himself fishes is of a river so clear and clean and fresh that it was a delight just to look at it.

The rearing of game has always been a major activity on the Estate, the Duke having always had a keen interest in shooting. At present, four keepers and one rabbit-catcher are employed, plus the Head Keeper - Ron Wells.

When the Duke is shooting there may be eight guns with twenty beaters, plus five men with dogs to pick-up. During the shooting season, that is from the 1st October to 31st January there may be sixteen private shoots, the cost of which is high.

The rearing programme follows a fixed routine as follows:

In mid-February you catch adult pheasants and pen them, 8 hens to 1 cock. Hens lay in April and the eggs are put in incubators in batches weekly. It normally takes 24 days for eggs to hatch. The day after the eggs are hatched, the young birds – poults – are placed in heated sheds in buildings with a temperature of 90 degrees Fahrenheit. There, they are carefully looked after for six and a half weeks, the heat being gradually reduced till not required. They are fed and watered every day and carefully cared for.

At six and a half weeks they are placed in release pens in woodlands. During the next three weeks they are released gradually – but still fed and watered by the keepers. The birds reach maturity in sixteen weeks.

In the Estate Office there are two books in which are recorded the details of every days shoot, going back to the 1880’s.

Along the top of each page are columns with the names of various types of game: viz Pheasant, partridge, wild fowl etc. Down the left hand side of each page are the names of the guns each day and a record of birds shot by each.

The record was kept by the head keeper – but the Duke himself would add a comment in his own hand at the foot of the page.— I remember coming across a note which read, “Shooting did not start till November this year as Parliament was sitting late”.

Another note, dated December 26th 1911 had this to say, “A good day of shooting but owing presumably to the effects of Christmas, the aims of the sportsmen was curiously inaccurate all day”.

In 1910 the total bag for the year was made up as follows:

Pheasant                      3302                Hares                           538

Partridge                        503                Rabbits                        458

Woodcock                        39                Wild Duck                      30

Snipe                              12                Various                         49

                                                         Total                          4931   

Church and Chapel

Most villages on the Estate have a church and some in addition, a chapel. The church is, of course, Church of England, and the chapel mainly Methodist. There is one particular Methodist Chapel I would like to mention and that is in the village of Sproxton. If you travel on the A607 from Grantham to Melton Mowbray you pass through Waltham on the Wolds, three miles to the East of which is the village of Sproxton. It was here, in 1924, that a young lady joined the chapel congregation and in due course became organist. Her name was Hilda Sentence and over a period of more than sixty years she witnessed the succession of weddings, baptisms, and funerals that took place there, in particular she recalls the occasion when Margaret Thatcher’s father gave a sermon (he was a visiting lay preacher from Grantham) and came to tea afterwards. By the time the chapel was obliged to close because of low attendances, in 1988, Mrs Sentence had been organist for 64 years and this was an occasion of great sorrow for her, but then something akin to a miracle happened. An American University took an interest in the abandoned chapel and moved the whole building, stone, beams and tiles to the plains of Kansas, where it was rebuilt and restored. It is now the Little Prayer House on the Prairie, the centrepiece of Baker University, a Methodist affiliated college in Baldwin City (pop.2961) outside Kansas City.

Some years ago Lady Thatcher, with a number of villagers from Sproxton, flew the Atlantic to attend the re-dedication of the old chapel. And a few years ago, at the age of 94, Hilda Sentence was the oldest surviving parishioner of the Methodist chapel in the Leicestershire village of Sproxton. How splendid to think that part of the Belvoir Estate, the Methodist Chapel from Sproxton, is “born again” in Kansas, Missouri, USA.



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