150 Years of Waterfurlong Gardeners
'If we imagine a man coming home after a day’s work in the fields eight centuries ago, in Easter week 1215, much would have been as it is in the Buck 1743 engraving, though the walls would have been wooden and the towers less prominent.' (1)
Dr Henry Summerson's (paraphrased) observation(1) conveys the sense of timelessness we often experience walking to and from our plots, through the same streets, hearing the same bell song, as our forebears.
On reaching the garden gate, it is tantalising to wonder who was opening it 50 years ago, 150 years ago, possibly even 250 years ago ... Who planted the old apple trees? Who trimmed the hedges and dug the vegetable patch? Who drank lemonade in the summerhouse and played on the swing?
The biographies on our site are a modest attempt to start answering these questions, beginning with a handful of our Victorian predecessors.
What started out as research into the land on which the gardens were created has grown into a fascinating social history project, and we're only at the beginning. Month by month we plan to add to this repository, which we hope will be of interest to Stamfordians in general and family historians in particular.
Any information about previous gardeners - whether from the 1870s or 1970s - any recollections of the gardens, and any photographs, would be warmly welcomed. Please do get in touch.
We estimate the gardens have been tended by somewhere in the region of 500 tenants over the years - some wealthier, some poorer; some handing on their plot from father to son down the generations, some working it for just a season; some gardening collectively, some on their own. Whatever their circumstances, our forebears' lives all interwove with one another, both inside and outside the gardens.
After researching just fifteen 19th century tenants and their families we are already beginning to build a picture of Waterfurlong life long before living memory.
Who Were The Victorian Tenants?
The Gardens were originally created with Stamford's middle classes in mind - those people whose town-houses and shop premises lacked the necessary outdoor space for cultivation and recreation, so we have been surprised to discover just how well-to-do some of the Victorian tenants were. There was William Mitton, who inherited two
Yorkshire estates and never needed to work a day in his life; Tom Sandall, whose father founded the Northamptonshire Banking Company and who paid for the building of what is now Lloyds in the High Street; and Major Herbert Hart, a protegé of Earl Brownlow and acquaintance of the Prince of Wales. These men lived in substantial properties in places like Barn Hill, High Street St Martins and Broad Street. Why would they have wanted allotment gardens? It seems there were two reasons: they needed the extra space for growing produce and they valued having somewhere for relaxation away from the increasing dirt, noise and disease of the town.
Even though their own properties had gardens, these were too small to generate the amount and variety of fruits and vegetables required not only for large families, but also for live-in servants, visitors and dinner guests. When Herbert Hart moved to elegant Barn Hill House he still retained two quarter-acre Waterfurlong gardens to supply the kitchen. We are starting to research what our gardeners grew on their plots and it is clear these were no mundane allotment strips confined to the cultivation of potatoes, cabbages and onions. Our gardeners were growing apricots, morello cherries, melons, indoor and outdoor grapes, figs, asparagus, red celery and globe artichokes, to name but a few varieties. These delicacies would have been difficult, if not impossible, to buy from the town's greengrocers and market stalls.
Whilst a few gardens were devoted solely to produce, the majority were also an oasis for the tenant's family. It is easy to forget how impoverished the town was for much of the Victorian era. Until the Stamford Enclosure Act came into force, chronic overcrowding and inadequate drains led to regular outbreaks of smallpox, typhoid and scarlet fever. Living cheek-by-jowl was noisy and dirty and there was an ever-present stench from the iron works and the breweries. Looking back on his Victorian childhood in Rutland Terrace, J H Philpot comments 'It
may be said without exaggeration that to pass through (St Peter's Gate) even a century ago was not unlike leaving a prison or a pesthouse for health and freedom ... Served by ancient cesspools (Stamford) was never free from typhoid fever, and faces all pitted with smallpox werefar from uncommon.'(3) Waterfurlong offered peace, quiet, fresher air and space for children to run around. We find references to summerhouses, gazebos, double-swings and ice-houses and in some plots even to tennis courts - the latter a feature still remembered by a few of today's older gardeners.
Not all the plots were this grand, especially the more recently-created ones on the west side of Waterfurlong. There you would have been as likely to find a pigeon house as an ice house, but whether his gardening style was grand or modest the tenant kept it in apple-pie order, some with the use of paid labour. Neatly-trimmed hedges and mown-and-edged paths were badges of honour and considered as important as prize-winning produce. The Stamford show even had a special category for best-kept allotment garden, Sergeant Harrison being a regular winner. Anyone who failed to uphold these standards was soon issued a warning, as was anyone who broke the rules by gardening on a Sunday, or growing animal fodder like mangel wurzels.
So who were the more modest gardeners? Some, like St John's Street tailor and outfitter, John Eayrs, were the backbone of respectable, lower-middle class Stamford, gardening their plots for decades. Some, like carver and gilder
were there for only a short while. There was Charles Evans, a small-scale poulterer and fruiterer, who almost certainly used the garden to grow apples for his shop, and quiet Matthew 'Matty' Lightfoot, who retired from the Stamford constabulary whilst still in his thirties to take up the position of keeper and caretaker of the Town Hall.
Where Did They Live?
Practically all the gardeners had two things in common - they were male and they lived to the south and west of the town, generally in All Saints and St John's parishes. None of the gardeners we have so far found was living in St George's Square, Maiden Lane or St Paul's Street, for instance*. Presumably, residents on the east side of town were more likely to rent one of the Corporation allotment gardens off Uffington Road, some of which were reserved for the mayor and the aldermen.
Over the course of their Waterfurlong tenancies most of our Victorian gardeners moved home at least once. These are the addresses we have so far compiled:
STREET HOUSE RESIDENT OCCUPATION
Austin Friars Lane 1 John Harrison Police Sergeant
Austin Street 12 Thomas Laxton Solicitor
Austin Street 29 Samuel Weddell Boarding school proprietor
Barn Hill Barn Hill House Major Herbert Hart Seed merchant
Barn Hill n/k William Haycock Independent means
Broad Street The Grey House Major Herbert Hart Seed merchant
Broad Street n/k John Swan Veterinary surgeon
Castle Street The Castle PH Austin Barnett Publican
Cheyne Lane 2 Charles Evans Fruiterer & poulterer
Church Street The Sun & Railway PH Austin Barnett Publican
Exeter Court n/k John Harrison Police Sergeant
Foundry Road 8 Matthew Lightfoot Police Sergeant
High Street 36 Charles Evans Fruiterer & poulterer
High Street n/k Samuel Hawes Gentlemen's outfitter
High Street n/k William Haycock Borough surveyor
High Street n/k Henry Johnson Bookseller & printer
High Street 65 Thomas Sandall Bank manager
High Street St Martin's n/k William Mitton Independent means
Horseshoe Lane 2 Charles Evans Fruiterer & poulterer
Ironmonger Street n/k Samuel Hawes Gentlemen's outfitter
Rock Terrace 6 Samuel Weddell Boarding school proprietor
Rutland Terrace 10 Henry Johnson Bookseller & printer
Rutland Terrace 14 Thomas Laxton Solicitor
Rutland Terrace n/k William Mitton Independent means
St John's Street 1-3 John Eayrs Tailor
St Mary's Hill n/k Henry Johnson Bookseller & printer
St Mary's Hill n/k Thomas Laxton Solicitor
St Mary's Place Town Hall quarters Matthew Lightfoot Town Hall keeper
St Mary's Street n/k Henry Johnson Bookseller & printer
St Mary's Street 20 Castle Buildings Edward Winterton Gilder
St Peter's Hill 2 Norton Terrace Austin Barnett Groomsman
St Peter's Hill n/k Edward Winterton Gilder
Wharf Road 15 John Swan Veterinary surgeon
Wothorpe Clare Lodge Major Herbert Hart Seed merchant
Tinwell Road Fairview Major Herbert Hart Seed merchant
* Tom Sandall moved to St Paul's Street on retirement, but it is unclear whether he still had his Waterfurlong garden
We also know where they originated. Six of the fifteen were born and bred in Stamford: Austin Barnett, John Eayrs, Herbert Hart, William Haycock, Henry Johnson and Edward Winterton. Thomas Laxton was born in Tinwell of an old Stamford family and moved to the town whilst an infant. Tom Sandall was born in Northampton, attended Stamford School and moved back to Stamford when an opening arose in his family's banking business. John Harrison was born in Walton, then a village (now a suburb) outside Peterborough and moved to Stamford when he joined the police force. Matthew Lightfoot was born in Nassington, near Oundle, and also moved to Stamford for employment.
Five individuals came from further afield: Charles Evans, Samuel Hawes, William Mitton, John Swan and Samuel Weddell. We know nothing of Charles Evans's early life other than that he was born in Shropshire and came to Stamford in his twenties to work as a baker. Samuel Hawes was originally from Ipswich and seems to have moved to Stamford to take up a master tailor's position with Messrs Brown, Barrow & Co. William Mitton was born in Snaith, Yorkshire and inherited his father's estates there at the age of twelve. William's life between that point and his arrival in Stamford with a young wife is a mystery. John Swan grew up in Edgware on the outskirts of London, studied at the London Veterinary College and chose Stamford as a good place to establish a practice - the coaching trade offered steady custom for equine vets. Samuel Weddell was also a Londoner; he studied art before moving to Nottinghamshire to work in the brewing industry, finally arriving in Stamford to found a small, private boarding school. Interestingly, only two of the men moved away from Stamford once established and neither by choice: Thomas Laxton following his public disgrace and Austin Barnett apparently so he could set up home with another woman. Then, as now, Stamford was evidently a hard place to bring oneself to leave.
Many of the gardeners were keen amateur horticulturalists and this crossed class divides. Chief magistrate and Rutland Terrace resident Henry Johnson regularly competed in the Stamford Floral and Horticultural Society Shows against John Swan, with his modest Wharf Road veterinary practice, and John Harrison, who grew up in one of the roughest areas of Peterborough. Henry Johnson's interest in horticulture was even commented on by the Corporation when his term as mayor came to an end.
The horticultural shows are one of the few lenses through which we can catch a glimpse of the women gardeners, though even there they are listed as appendages to their husbands. Sophia Johnson, always styled Mrs Henry Johnson, was as keen a horticulturalist as Henry, exhibiting
Sweet Williams and dishes of dessert cherries and competing for the coveted Lady Exeter floral arrangement prize. So far, we have found only one Victorian female tenant in her own right - Mary Ann Weddell took over the garden when her drawing master husband, Samuel, died in 1879.
Our Most Notable Gardener
It was an exciting moment when we discovered Thomas Laxton had at least one Waterfurlong plot. We know a bit about Thomas's garden - that he would stroll down there from his home in Austin Street or office on St Mary's Hill, that it was next door to Alderman Richard Healy's plot and that Thomas almost certainly used it for conducting some of his pea and strawberry trials, possibly writing them up in the summerhouse in which he kept a telescope, a gun and his pruning knives. Thomas swapped roses with fellow gardeners, negotiated business deals, complained about the parlous state of the Waterfurlong road and involved his eight children in the pleasures of gardening. Close friend of local nurseryman Richard Brown and of Burghley Head Gardener, Richard Gilbert, Thomas had an enviable circle of horticultural contacts and correspondents, including the great Charles Darwin, and it is a distinct possibility we have Thomas to thank for some of the rarest of the apple varieties still growing in the gardens.
Life Outside the Gardens
In the late 19th century the town's population was only about 7,500. Everyone knew everyone else and it is hardly surprising our gardeners' paths crossed regularly outside their Waterfurlong plots. Samuel Hawes bought the Laxtons' tailoring business and Thomas Laxton acted as trustee when Samuel later went bankrupt; although at different ends of the social spectrum, Herbert Hart and John Harrison were comrades in the local Rifle Volunteers; Sophia Johnson and Mary Hawes teamed up to organise catering for public celebrations; William Mitton and William Haycock discussed topics of the day at the Stamford Institute; Sergt John Harrison questioned Austin Barnett's father about potential involvement in the gruesome 'Murder in Saint Martin's' case; Henry Johnson and Herbert Hart both served as mayor and Herbert Hart and John Eayrs worshipped together at the new Barn Hill Methodist chapel. Whilst Thomas Laxton was corresponding with Charles Darwin about pea breeding, Herbert Hart's father-in-law, William Wilmer Pocock, was writing his treatise 'Darwin, a Fallacy'.
Involved in the lives of almost all our gardeners were the two police officers among them, John Harrison and Matthew 'Matty' Lightfoot. Matthew apprehended scrumpers raiding Mary Ann Weddell's garden and John intervened in the dispute between Charles Evans and Austin Barnett over an unburied carcass, was investigating officer in a manslaughter prosecution in which Samuel Weddell acted as foreman of the jury, and (most notably) arrested Thomas Laxton at Woodwalton, bringing him back to Stamford in the dead of night, first by train, then by coach and horses.
Weddell qualified in London and Paris before setting up a practice in Sheffield, where he died of 'pneumonia brought on by overwork' at 38. William's brother, Arthur, trained as a pharmaceutical chemist and moved to Colchester, whilst two of the Haycock girls married chemists and druggists, Sarah moving to Grantham and Marianne to Cheltenham. Thomas Laxton's youngest daughter, Mary, was one of the first women to obtain formal midwifery qualifications and practised in London for many years before retiring to Wiltshire. And while poor Eliza Mitton ended her days as a patient in a London lunatic asylum following fifteen years' confinement, Samuel Hawes junior ended his working as an attendant in one in Cornwall.
Some continued the family business or married into commerce. William and Edward Laxton founded the famous Laxton Brothers nurseries in Bedford, whilst Leonard and Norman Hart continued to build their family's business interests in Stamford, Hart's seed merchants only closing its doors in the 1950s. Leonard and Norman's sister, Eva Hart, married Ernest Blackstone of Stamford's prominent engineering family. Samuel Weddell junior became manager of a Retford foundry owned by his maternal relatives, Arthur Sandall continued his family's banking enterprise in Northampton, and Jack Eayrs stayed in Stamford, joining his father's tailoring business in St John's Street.
Some were drawn to the church, like old Stamfordians Cecil and Robert Sandall. Cecil attained a doctorate in divinity from Cambridge and worked as a priest in England and Rhodesia, eventually retiring to Hertfordshire, whilst Robert went in a different spiritual and geographical direction, emigrating to São Paulo in Brazil as a Salvation Army Officer, where a street is now named after him. Meanwhile, after excelling in her Cambridge University music exams, Mary Elizabeth Weddell became organist at St John's church, leaving eventually to marry a London vicar.
Whilst a few of the children remained in the Stamford area, most ventured further
afield. Richard Laxton joined the merchant navy and died in Calcutta, whilst his sister Emily emigrated to South Africa. Edith Lightfoot left home to work in a Liverpool department store and married a Chester brewery clerk. Ann Mitton also left for Liverpool, where her marriage collapsed in a scandalous divorce petition with the added intrigue of a rumoured Greek lover. Ann's brother William Henry Mitton frittered away most of his inherited fortune, whilst brother Robert ended up running a poultry farm in Rhyll. Sybil Eayrs also headed to Wales when she married Scottish insurance agent Frederick Swan and settled in Aberystwyth. Mary Elizabeth Winterton grew up with the assumed surname Clark and possibly never knew of her real father's existence. She married a widowed mechanical engineer and spent the rest of her days in Lancashire.
Almost all the children's lives were affected by the First World War. So far we have not found any who perished in the conflict, but several fought. Leonard and Norman Hart both attained the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, Edward Sandall served in the Royal Army Medical Corps and his brother, Cecil, in the chaplaincy, whilst Jack Eayrs was a Corporal in the Royal Engineers. Whilst they all came home, who knows what physical and psychological injuries they brought with them.
High Days and Holidays
Just as the gardeners and their families' lives involved sadness, hardship and tragedy, they also involved triumphs and celebrations, horticultural and otherwise. There were births, weddings, anniversaries, windfalls, promotions, parties, prizes and processions.
Though a small and socially disparate group, we find gardeners worshipping in the same churches and chapels, patronising the same shops, joining the same organisations (the Freemasons, the Oddfellows, the Volunteer Rifle Brigade, the Harriers Athletic Club and, of course, the Stamford Floral and Horticultural Society), meeting in the same venues - often the now defunct Stamford Hotel - and struggling with the same business and personal issues.
Although none of our Victorian gardeners seems to have fought in a war or entered the workhouse, three of the fifteen went bankrupt, three were either admitted to a lunatic asylum or saw a family member incarcerated and, astonishingly, three - Thomas Laxton, William Mitton and William Haycock - became the subject of separate national scandals. When marriages broke down divorce was rarely an option - Austin Barnett resorted to bigamy, whilst Edward Winterton left his daughter to be brought up in Scarborough by his wife and their former lodger, returning alone to Stamford.
Whatever their social status, most gardeners lost at least one child, either in infancy or in young adulthood. Samuel and Mary Ann Weddell lost their first two children as babies and their daughter, Eliza, died at boarding school in Leek aged 13. Samuel and Mary Hawes lost two baby sons (both christened John) in three years and Herbert Hart's 20 year old daughter, May, dropped dead in a London park. William Mitton outlived three of his eight children. William Haycock's daughter Sarah died in childbirth a year after marrying and Thomas Laxton's beloved eldest daughter, Annie, died a month before he did.
What Became of the Gardeners' Children?
Between them our fifteen gardeners had 57 children who survived beyond infancy, most of whom would have played in the gardens, many of whom would have known one-another. These were the children for whom swings were built and bottles of lemonade stashed in Tom Sandall's summerhouse. What became of them?
Several of the boys attended Stamford School, including all Thomas Sandall's sons and Samuel Hawes junior. Others from the more affluent families were sent to boarding school. Herbert Hart's sons attended the Leys Methodist School in Cambridge (although he himself was an Old Stamfordian) and William Mitton's boys were sent away to prep school when very young. It seems likely Thomas Laxton's sons were Old Stamfordians (although this needs researching). Thomas did not subscribe to the fashion of sending his children away and the three younger boys were enrolled as day pupils at the fee-paying Bedford Modern School when the family left Stamford. John Eayrs's elder boy, Jack, attended the new secondary school in St Paul's Street, where the Mercury regularly reported him winning prizes. The school provided education from 11 to 14, when its pupils generally went into apprenticeships.
Girls from wealthier families tended to be sent to small boarding schools, often in London, and then 'finished' on the Continent. The Hart daughters attended a private academy in Clapham before travelling in France, Germany and Switzerland and William Haycock's daughters 'rounded off their education in France' and were competent in French, music, drawing and the rudiments of Italian. A few girls were educated at the new High School; they included Thomas Sandall's daughter Sophie (who later spent time at a finishing school in Germany) and the Weddells' youngest daughter, Mary Elizabeth. The decision to educate Mary Elizabeth locally may well have resulted from her sister Eliza's tragic death so far from home. Although they might not have been pushed academically, artistic and musical talent was nurtured, with both Mary Ann Weddell and Sophie Sandall becoming highly competent organists.
Younger children of the wealthier gardeners were taught at home by governesses and many of the girls went on to work as governesses themselves. In 1875 Jane Laxton advertised for a governess for her children, stipulating the ability to teach the rudiments of Latin. Less affluent gardeners' children would have received an elementary education at somewhere like the Bluecoat school on St Peter's Hill.
Surprisingly few of our Victorian gardeners' children stayed in Stamford as adults - career, marriage, family breakdown and war was to take some to different parts of the UK and others to the farthest-flung reaches of the British Empire. Several followed medical or related careers: Thomas Lowe Laxton became a surgeon and died as a medical officer in the
Herbert and Lucy Hart took the unusual step of posting a notice in the Stamford Mercury marking their silver wedding anniversary. Samuel Weddell gave talks on his adventures in Australia. Henry Johnson excitedly reported the re-opening of the Stamford Theatre with its impressive new chandelier. Tom Sandall was proud to announce his eldest son's wedding. Matty Lightfoot was given a generous bonus for apprehending a particularly cunning thief. John Swan won prizes for his cucumbers, Sophia Johnson was awarded rosettes for her wild-flower arrangements and Sergeant Harrison triumphed with his 'best-kept allotment garden' accolades.
Once in a while the whole town came together for a huge celebration, one such occasion being festivities in May 1856 to mark the end of the Crimean War.
The minute detail in which the Stamford Mercury reported the event in those days before photography captured the roles several of our gardeners played in the day's activities. Henry Johnson was chairman of the Peace Celebration Committee, Sophia Johnson and Mary Hawes were in charge of the plum puddings, 'served up from Mrs Hawes' cuisine', the stewards included Samuel Hawes; Thomas Sandall's father, Robert; Samuel Weddell; Henry Johnson; Sophia Johnson's uncle, John Lowe; and Mr Peasgood of future Peasgood's Nonsuch fame. Bunting was festooned across the streets from Thomas Laxton's offices on St Mary's Hill, William Mitton's house at the top of St Martin's and Mr Peasgood's premises on High Street, whilst Henry Johnson's offices, close to Thomas Laxton's on St Mary's Hill, boasted a massive, patriotic floral display.
'END OF CRIMEAN WAR PEACE CELEBRATION STAMFORD. It is using no idle expression to say that the appearance of Stamford throughout the day of the 27th May, 1856, will be impressed on the memory of all who had opportunity of witnessing the demonstration made by the inhabitants to mark the cessation of war and the re-establishment of peace. Differencea of opinion, political and religious, seemed for the time to held abeyance; and the general anxiety to contribute to the success of the several undertakings detailed in the programme issued by the committee was so completely accomplished as to justify the assertion that in no provincial town in the kingdom has the celebration of peace been more cordially, rationally, and brilliantly observed than in the ancient borough of Stamford.
Preparations for the event had been for some days in progress. The huge marquee for the public dinner was erected in Broad-street on Saturday, and visited by hundreds of eager expectants on Sunday. On Monday morning the tables arrived from Leicester; and these and the seats, capable of accommodating more than 1000 men, were during the day fixed under the superintendence of Mr C Richardson, whose father and himself most liberally contributed the timber for the seats. The arrangements for the procession, the tea, and the rustic sports were in the meantime being perfected by the sub-committees, Mr Cook, of Leicester being the adviser in the tea department, and Mr Shelley the active organiser of the necessary plans for carrying out the sports. The weather, which had been changeable for several days, was on Monday the topic in everybody's mouth, and the barometer was consulted and touched by all who possess a "glass" with much more than the usual concern. The early dawn of Tuesday broke auspiciously; not a cloud obscured the sky; old Sol shed his rays through the pure atmosphere, and gradually pursued his upward course. There was every token of a "Queen's day:" He shone so benignly indeed that "No boding trembler dared to trace, A day's disaster in his morning face."
Few, If any, sluggards were found in Stamford on Tuesday: most people were voluntary early risers, and those who were not would obtain very little sleep after 7 o'clock, when the bells rung out their merry peals and cannonades, and the militia stationed in the town turned out and added to tbe growing excitement by several feax de joie. Flags, banners, and horticultural adornments rapidly made their appearance from house-tops, windows, and across the streets; union-jacks were hoisted on the towers of churches and on summits of the most prominent buildings; and by 9 o'clock the spectator, wherever he cast his eyes, would observe tbe streets bedecked with bright colored drapery gracefully waving before the gentle breeze, rendering the traditionally picturesque old town even more picturesque and gay than it had ever appeared before. An abundance of visitors, relatives, and "country cousins," had located themselves at the houses of their friends on the previous day; and as the morning advanced others flocked in, many of the villages sending forth the bulk of their population to participate in the festivity. A special railway train from Leicester brought 1500 passengers, and another from Peterboro' deposited an immense crowd at the railway station. By mid-day the streets were thronged with gaily-dressed spectators, on whose countenances surprise and gratification were plainly expressed.
Among the street decorations most worthy of note were a line of small flags à la marine extending from the house of Messrs Blott and Hollis to one of the pinnacles of St Michael's church; a looped device in horticulture between the houses of Mr F Dickinson and Mr Michelson in St Mary's-street, bearing medallion-shaped banners inscribed "Peace and Commerce," "Alma" and " Sebastopol"; a cordon of evergreens, with the motto "Peace," extending from Mr Dickinson's to Mr Nutting's in the same street; a line of banners from Mr T Laxton’s to the Town-hall; a line with a tri-colour banner across High-street from
Mr Tewson's to Mr Charge's house-tops; a double cordon of evergreens from the Mercury office to Mr Collins',
enclosing a laurel framed banner
inscribed "Peace in the safety, strength, and glory of a people," and "Peace flourishes where reason rules";a wreathed cordon from Messrs Blott and Hollis' to Mr Peasgood's; a cordon of evergreens from the top of Ironmonger-street from Mr Rogers' corner; a similar cordon at the top of St Martin's, from Mr Mitton's to Dr Hopkinson's; a line of flags from the Institution to Mr Desborough's; and a few others which had been hastily arranged. The predominant flags (of which there were hundreds in various parts of the town) were the tricolor, the royal atandard, and the union-jack. Among the more prominent was an immense royal standard at Mr Knight's. There was scarcely a house without a display of some kind — many with festoons of flowers and wreaths of evergreens in addition to flags. The shop windows of Mr H Johnson, the hon secretary of the committee, were filled up with a pictorial device on a many coloured ground, encircled with flowers and shrubs, the inscription being "Peace to the nation and plenty to the poor," & "Honour to the brave."
At 11 o'olock Wells' military band appeared in Red Lion-square and played English and French national airs. They were followed by the Foundry brass band, the members of which were clothed in new and elegant uniforms, and presented a most interesting appearance. At half past 11 the bands played to the theatre, where they were joined by the men of the militia and the special constables, and the whole (amounting to nearly 100) dined in that building. At half past 12 the 1,000 males of the industrial class who had received tickets for the dinner in the marquee began to assemble in Broad-street: they were admitted at the east end of the tent, and each person was directed to the table marked with the number on his ticket and the tables, each accommodating 16, were occupied without the least confusion, and the 60 gentlemen who acted as stewards took their places at tables running down the middle of the marquee, the carving tables being placed east and west, and the dining tables north and south. The two bands were stationed on the pavement on the south side of the route, which was blocked against the public, spectators being allowed only on the north side. The only gentlemen invited to the tent as spectators were the Mayor, his chaplain, the Magistrates, and the subscribers of £10 and upwards to the fund. These took a position at the west end, where they could obtain a view of tbe entire assembly.
Precisely at 1 o'clock the joint of meat, weighing in the aggregate 1500 lbs, and consisting of rounds and flanks of beef and roast legs of mutton, with baked and mashed potatoes, were placed on the table, and at bugle signal grace before meat was effectively sung by the members of the Musical Union, who were ranged round the president (Mr James Torkington) and the vice-president (Mr Paradise). At this moment the coup d'oeil was of the most striking and interesting character, and we believe a thrill of gratification pervaded the breast of every one present, the guests took their seats and the stewards commenced the operation of carving. There being a waiter assigned to every table — all volunteers from the drapers', druggists', and other respectable establishments — the guests were speedily supplied: within five minutes of the commencement, each plate was served and pint mug filled, and 1,000 men were simultaneously feasting without inconvenience. It is scarcely necessary to say that full justice was done to tbe provisions, though there was ample for all, and some to spare for conversion into soup. The organization for the supply of the meat seemed perfect: the committee had indeed given much attention to this point, and their wishes were efficiently carried out by Mr Gilbert, of Broad-street, (who, we believe, boiled ten rounds of beef in one copper,) by Mr Welding, Mr Black, and Mr H Wright.
Not less perfect was the arrangement for serving up the plum puddings, 64 of which were placed on the tables smoking hot, and in unimpeachable form: their manufacture was accomplished by the joint skill of Mrs H Johnson and Mrs Hawes, and they were served up from Mrs Hawes' cuisine. Each pudding was sufficient for 16 persons. The second course finished, grace after meat was sung by the amateurs, in which many of the men joined. The mugs were again filled with beer, and then the chairman, after congratulating the company on the order observed, and the success thus far of the labours of the committee, proposed tbe health of "the Queen." The toast was drunk with honours, and followed by the National Anthem, the Musical Union leading, and the whole assembly joining in the repetition. We may without fear of contradiction say the dinner arrangements were perfect. The stewards (who kept their places from the beginning to the end) were the president, Mr Wm Wing, Mr Lowe of Ryhall, Mr Knight, Mr Rogers, Mr Peasgood, Mr G Baker, Mr Tebbutt, Mr Hatfield of Baston, Mr Oswin, Mr Walker, Mr C J Young, Mr C E Young, Mr Fysh, jun, Mr Patterson, Mr Clapton, Mr Groves, Mr R Michelson, Mr M Browne, Mr Lumby, Mr F Lumby, Mr Weddell, Mr T Paradise, Mr F Jelley, Mr Horace Wright, Mr W Wright, Mr J Wright, Mr Tewson, Mr Dawson, Mr F Dickinson, Mr Handson, jun, Mr Lowe, jun, Mr Charge, Mr J Yeomans, Mr T English, Mr Sandall, Mr Jas Newcomb, Mr W Holmes, Mr R Oldham, Mr Bruin, Mr Hind, Mr Shelley, Mr Chapman, Mr Howes, Mr W Smith, Mr T K Parker, Mr Hollis, Mr Jos Wilson, Mr C Sharman of Horn, Mr Collins, Mr G Roberts, Mr D E Simpson, Mr March, Mr Hawes, Mr J Islip, Mr G Abbott, Mr Atton, Mr Norris, Mr King, Mr Hayes, and the vice-president. The superintendents of the dinner were Mr Johnson, Mr J Blott, Mr Desborough, and Mr H Michelson.
The time had now arrived for forming the procession. The members of the Roebuck club were first called from the tables, and marshalled off to the station assigned to them: next the members of the Foresters' club were called off, then the members of the Odd Fellows' society, afterwards the members of the Red Lion club, and lastly those guests who do not belong to clubs. They were arranged in prescribed order in Red Lion-square, the school children there joining them, and they passed on to the Town-hall, where Mayor, Magistrates, and members of the Town Council entered the procession, which moved up St Martin's with a "May Queen" sitting on her Floral Throne, The Town Crier, The Mace Bearers with their Maces, The Worshipful the Mayor and his Chaplain, The Magistrates and Aldermen, The Town Clerk, Town Councillors, and Magistrates' Clerk. The procession, as it passed over the bridge and up St Martin's, was one of real beauty and grandeur as viewed from St Mary's-hill. The gold and silver embroidered silk banners of the clubs, the gorgeous colours of the hundreds of flags of different sizes, shapes, and designs undulating in the breeze, the regalia of the Odd Fellows, the green and red sashes of the Foresters, the red coats of the military, and the Agricultural device surrounding the May queen, displaying hues as varied they were conspicuous and pleasing, and all heightened in colour by the dazzling rays of purely summer sunshine, contributed to produce a scene that no painter could compass — no photographist fix - a scene which the eye may view and the mind contemplate, but which cannot be adequately meted out in descriptive detail. Here again the labours of the committee were completely successful; and were rewarded with the oft-repeated expression that nothing approaching so grand a display was ever witnessed in Stamford before.
The inspiring strains of the bands heightened the general effect, which was still further increased by the gay appearance of the thousands who lined the pavements as spectators. The route of the procession was from St Martin's round Dr Hopkinson's corner, down Back-street to the New-road leading to the bridge, passing up St Mary's hill, along St Mary's street by the Theatre, across St George's street, down St Leonard's street, Brazennose-lane, down St Paul's street and High-street, across Red Lion square, up Peter-hill and round Rutland-terrace to Scotgate, down Scotgate, round All Saints' place to Red Lion-street, up Broad-street to Ironmonger street, where the children filed off and passed along to the Marquee to partake of tea. The procession then moved down Ironmonger-street, High-street, St John's-street, along St Mary's street, to the Town-hall, where the bands played " God save the Queen," the military fired three rounds, and after three hearty cheers the procession dispersed. It is calculated that the procession when in movement extended more than half a mile in length. The Rev D E Jones, Rector of St John's, the only clergyman who appeared in the procession, attended at the head of his children.
The modus operandi of serving out the tea was a novelty in Stamford. An immense urn was placed on the middle table, from which pipes ran the length of the marquee, and at equal distances were taps to draw off the beverage. This was under the management of Mr Cook. The tables were superintended by 130 ladies, who exerted themselves energetically to satisfy and gratify those under their charge. With the school children, of whom 1,200 sat down as the first party to be served, they were perfectly successful, and the juveniles left contented and grateful. This section of the entertainment was viewed by Lady Mary, Lady Victoria, and Lord H Cecil. The order hitherto observed was not so well maintained when the adults and the children not of schools were admitted. The rush was great, and as many got in who were not supplied with tickets, the marquee became
crowded. Many too were so clamorous for cake that some time elapsed before the whole were served, and the ladies found it a most arduous task to supply their customers as promptly as was desired. Eventually, however, each cried out "enough," and the large majority went away contented. For the tea 200 stones of cake were provided, and the whole was consumed or carried away. 500 gallons of tea were made and 100 gallons were left.
At the Union-house 46 men and 32 women were supplied with
beef and plum pudding at the expense of the peace celebration fund. At the time for commencing the rustic sports thick clouds rose in the
west, and for nearly an hour rain fell, which seemed to harbinger an unwelcome conclusion to the day's festivity. Fortunately the weather cleared up, and the masses then assembled in the meadows. The programme was, we are informed, as nearly as possible carried out, and various prizes spiritedly and fairly won. The crowd was so great that it was impossible for all to see what was going on. That which was most apparent was that some thousands were evidently enjoying themselves. "The mirthful sports that graced the joyous scene, Lived in each look and brightn'd all the green." Even some stalwart men who had engaged in foot steeplechase, and reached the goal dripping wet from their passage through a branch of the river, manifested no annoyance at the plight they exhibited. This part of tbe amusement seemed to excite considerable interest. The race was won by the assistant of a druggist, who entered the lists con amore, and proved his stamina by clearing all the dykes and fences in splendid style, and outstripping his competitors by several yards. Grinning through horse collars, running wheelbarrows blindfolded, climbing greasy poles for legs of mutton, footracing, bobbing for treacle rolls, women running for gown pieces, jingling matches, jumping in sacks, cum multis aliis, were the games introduced. The bands played quadrilles, polkas, & country dances, and many couples enjoyed themselves on "the light fantastic toe." The sports were continued till nearly 9 o'clock, and shortly after the hour the exhibition of fireworks commenced, and lasted till nearly 11. The concluding design, a temple dedicated to peace and concord, was a magnificent display of the pyrotechnic art, and elicited the warm applause of those who beheld it.
Thus concluded a day which, we repeat, will be a memorable one in the festal annals of Stamford, and which must impart a large share of satisfaction to those who so spiritedly contributed funds to celebrate with appropriate rejoicing the transition of the country from the cost and the havoc of war to the calm delights and the blessings of peace. The slight want of unanimity and marks of distrust which first had tendency to cloud the views of the promoters of a general holiday gradually disappeared; and the perfect order and sobriety which distinguished the proceedings of Tuesday will no doubt create a confidence in the demeanour of the working classes where it was not previously felt, it will assuredly tend to strengthen the confidence of those who relied upon the good sense and conduct of the artisans and labourers. Such certainly was the result of the peace celebration that may paraphrase Goldsmith's well-known line, and say, "Those who came to jibe remained to applaud." Not an accident occurred, nor was there an individual who so far forgot himself as to require confinement in the lock-up. It is due to the committee to state that success is as much owing to their foresight and minute arrangements as it is to the admirable behaviour of those for whose enjoyment they have so earnestly laboured. The trouble they have taken and the time they have consumed can be known only to those who have participated in the work, — which has been incessant upon the hon secretary,- but we believe they have the hearty thanks of all who witnessed the result of their efforts. "The grand floricultural device or May-pole, with the May Queen sitting on her floral throne," elicited commendations along the entire route. The canopy was enriched with a profusion of choice artificial flowers, surmounted with five red blue and white silk bannerets; the chair or throne was tastefully covered with red, white and blue cloth and gold, upon which also were silk and gold bannerets and a profusion of artificial flowers; and the "Queen of May's" attire consisted of the best materials. The whole of the labour was cheerfully given in this attractive feature of the procession by Misses Chambers, Boyall, and Tomlinson. The device was erected upon a carpeted stage, drawn by a pony, led by two youths attired in rustic costume. It had been arranged that when tea was concluded in the marquee one of the bands should accompany the May Queen to the meadows and proclaim the rustic sports, but in consequence of a shower of rain the erection of the may-pole on this occasion was abandoned. It is however said to be probable in the course of the present summer a rustic fête, to which those persons who have interested themselves in promoting the recent demonstration will be invited, will take place, when the may-pole will be erected on the greensward.'(2)
We recommend Christopher Davies's book 'Stamford Through Time', which contains more than 180 photographs documenting the last 150 years of the town's history.
SOURCES AND ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS:
(1) Stamford and Magna Carta © Dr Henry Summerson, 2015, www.stamfordlocalhistorysociety.org.uk
(2) The British Newspaper Archive © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. All Rights Reserved.
(3) The Seceders 1829 - 1869 , volumes I and II by J H Philpot, London, Farncombe, 1932.
Copyright © Karen Meadows 2018