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A period of unrest leads to road improvements!

by | Jun 13, 2020 | At Work | 0 comments

Chalky Lane


Wheat 64s 3d per quarter.

A changeable summer. Accounts of the harvest vary, some recording a good harvest and some estimating it as less than average.

Blizzards in mid-January and severe frosts in February, March was fine, warm and excellent for sowing. July was very hot, but August and September were wet.

Sheep-rot very prevalent. In the winter of 1830/31 two million sheep are said to have died of it.

Machinery-smashing riots all over southern and eastern England, in protest against unemployment and the introduction of the threshing-machine.

About this date nitrate of soda began to be imported from Chile and Peru.

Agricultural Records A.D. 220-1977 J.M Stratton

The Agricultural Record quoted above records the bare facts for each farming year and while it makes an interesting read in itself, when you start to link it up with what was happening locally it really begins to come to life.

In 1830 Robert Brand was farming at Lower Farm in Building End. Not only was Mr Brand a staunch church-goer and involved in many organisations in the village but he was also, thankfully, an avid recorder of his life. He left behind numerous notebooks, farm accounts, diary extracts and the like which reach back through the generations to record happenings well before his time as well as his own life.

The son of William Brand, Robert was Great Grandfather to Walter W. Brand, who himself took on Lower Farm before moving into the village and ending his days at Mapletons in Crawley End, leaving the Brand Trust as his legacy.

Robert Brand relates the following story:

About the year 1830 [a] many men in Chrishall being out of employment the Surveyor employed the men to fetch chalk from the pit by the Redlands Road in barrows.

Seven were so set to work for some long time, there were eight for one or two days. They had their barrows numbered and kept their places as to the numbers and called “chalk O” as they went along and was heard by me when I was in the garden at Heydon which my father held of Sir Peter Soams.

The chalk was used to form a foundation for the road now called Chalky Lane, at other times they were employed in widening the roads.

The road now called the Hollow Road was widened in the winter by men not wanted on other farms – married men had 1/- per day (one shilling) and the single men 7d per day.

The men did not work very hard and sometimes kept one of their number as sentry to see when the surveyor or I was coming to see them. Sometimes they dug chalk (or gravel at Heydon and Elmdon) in readiness for carting away.

Vestry meeting 1834

On the 6th February 1834 a meeting was held at Chrishall Church to consider what might be done to employ the men to some profit.  Lord Dacre’s agent (Anthony Jackson) presided – and proposed that Lord Dacre should employ two men to dig gravel to make a road now called Common Lane and that John Wilkes Esquire should also employ one man and the farmers all to employ three men and two boys to the hundred acres of their farms.

About January 1855 Lord Dacre came to Building End with the late Nicholas Parry in Mr Parry’s carriage and complained of having to come along the brook (the only means) a long way and his Agent (Mr Henry Thurnall) requested my father (who was surveyor at the time) to make the new arch and new road beside the brook as now is on the way to Building End from Chrishall.

About the year 1856 the Rev John Collins of Rickling came to Building End and requested my father (who was surveyor) to improve the roads in the parish and we fetched gravel from beyond Barley and from Fowlmere to improve the roads.

About the year 1860 Lord Dacre’s agent (Mr H Thurnall) gave my father leave to look for and take gravel on Lord Dacre’s land. I went with my father and Daniel Drury to search for gravel. We tried in a little field on the south side of the road opposite the present gravel pit but could not find gravel. Then by the information from the ploughman we tried on the present ridge and had gravel there a many years (but the tenant never approved of it, though for 50 years an acre and a half had been occupied which was allotted for the use of the parish). When the award was looked at by the Rate Payers it was by them proposed to open a pit as awarded – but the site of Pit awarded has not been agreed upon yet – 18th November 1891.


As can be seen from the Agricultural Record in the introduction, the 1830s were a time of unrest with new machinery being brought into farming and much unemployment. I wonder whether the farmers were anxious to keep the men gainfully employed to reduce the risk of any trouble arising?

There was certainly trouble not too far away. At Shelford they had their own ‘Shelford Arsonist’ who was causing mayhem setting fire to stacks on the farms. You can read his full story here: We have an account of the trial of the Shelford arsonist in our own Archive. He was caught in the end because someone managed to pull out the bundle of rags that he had used to set the fire in the stack and a local dressmaker remembered using the material to make a dress for his wife!

The roads were obviously a continuous problem to maintain and were required to be maintained by the parish. Nicholas Parry’s complaint that they had to drive “along the brook” I think must mean along-side the brook, where the road is now as the map from 1825 does seem to show the road in the same position as today (although it looks to peter out into a track the other side of the Chiswick Hall turning). So perhaps the “new arch and new road” were actually more of an improvement on the existing road.

1825 map snippet

I also find it interesting that Robert could hear the men calling ‘chalk O’ in Heydon when they were taking their barrows from the top of Chrishall down to Chalky Lane. In recent times the Covid 19 lockdown removed much of our air and road traffic for a period and the countryside was much quieter. So with little mechanisation in 1830 and the valley between Chrishall and Heydon, it is likely that voices would have carried some way.  

1834 meeting

Back in Chrishall things generally seemed to settle down. As Robert said, on 6th February 1834 there was a meeting at the church between local farmers to agree how many men and boys they would take to work per hundred acres. And I have only one report of a stack being fired in the village at this time, although it seems that setting fire to something remained a means of protest:

Fires in 1850

But it does look like a time of unrest led to improvements in the village roads!


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