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Creation Of The Gardens

Whilst in physical terms the gardens' creation was simple, the process leading up to it was anything but, involving the intertwined threads of Stamford's ancient open field system, the paternalism of the Cecil family, the town's changing fortunes and the contentious Inclosures Acts. 

Stamford's Open Field System

stamford's open field system
Brownlow Cecil

Brownlow Cecil,

2nd Marquess of Exeter

Old maps give the impression of Stamford being surrounded by only four, very large fields: Ketton Dale Field, Pingle Field, New Close Field and Low Field. In reality, each of these medieval field names was an umbrella term for a mish-mash of arable strips, pasture, scrub, woodland, closes, paddocks and barns, governed by arcane rights, customs, penalties and access arrangements and managed by a ‘Court Baron’, which met annually under the presidency of the Marquess of Exeter's land agent. The fields covered1,700 acres, in an arc to the north of the river, most of them falling within All 

Saints' parish.

To the south and west lay a further 130 acres of open meadowland between the Welland and a series of man-made water courses, cut to drive the corn-mill below the Norman fortress. The eastern portion of this land was known as Castle Meadow; the portions to the west (which extended as far as Tinwell) as Bredcroft Meadow and Broadeng Meadow. Bull Meadow (so called after the notorious Stamford bull-run) seems to have been a parcel of Bredcroft Meadow close to the Waterfurlong bridge. 'Broadeng' was most likely derived from the old English 'brod' (broad) and 'hang' (hang), because this meadow was the broadest of the three, with banks so high they overhung the river. 


What was Enclosure?

and Police Sergeant John Harrison all had plots in the portion of Pingle Field known as Water Furlong East or Little Field well before the majority of the gardens were created. 


Enclosure was the fashionable process of combining small parcels of common land to create one larger farm. Once enclosed and fenced off the owner enjoyed exclusive use; 

townspeople and villagers could no longer graze animals there, hunt, fish or gather firewood. Fundamentally designed to make the wealthy wealthier by turning more land over to arable farming and to increase agricultural yields through greater efficiency, the country's rapid population growth led to another lucrative possibility - enclosing land in order to sell it for housing development. 


Sometimes enclosure was achieved by buying land through mutual agreement, but during the Georgian era the land-owning classes increasingly used legislation in the form of a series of Inclosures Acts to force through compulsory purchase.


In most parts of the country Enclosure was heavily resisted, with landowners’ determination to remove commoners' ancient rights leading to riot and bloodshed, but in Stamford the situation was almost the reverse.

Stamford in general, and the St Peter's area in particular, already had a long history of detached, walled gardens for wealthier residents. A survey of 1595 referred to several: 

- Thomas Cornewe has a garden near Castle Dyke and Petergate

- Jn Dyconsa (John Dickens) the younger has a garden place in the mylne (mill) in St Peter's 8d / annum

- Jn Symons is tenant-at-will for a little plot of grass ground adjoining to the mylne lane in St Peter's containing a rood and a garden plot with the same divided from the grass ground with a hedge 1/8d per annum

Speed's map of 1610 shows an area of gardens just outside the town walls and Knipe's map of 1833 shows gardens in the Castle grounds.

With particular thanks to Jean Orpin and Sue Lee for this information. 

In 1836 we find reference to the first of our Waterfurlong gardens. It was large and grand, being rented by John Stevenson of Austin Friars Lane from Lord Exeter for £13 a year (four times the rent of many nearby houses), and was presumably surrounded by fields and pasture. John Stevenson seems to have set a trend for walled pleasure gardens outside the congested town, for we soon start finding 

records of other garden tenancies by 'The Old Roman Road.' William Haycock, Thomas Laxton, William Mitton, Henry Johnson, Richard Healy

Why Was Stamford Different?

The town desperately needed to expand beyond its medieval boundaries and the only potential place for this expansion was into the surrounding fields, but far from leaping at the chance of selling off land for housing development, the major landowner, Brownlow Cecil, 2nd Marquess of Exeter, was dead-set against it. 


Ever-increasing coach traffic on the Great North Road had brought renewed prosperity to Stamford, and its population nearly doubled to over 9,000 between 1801 and 1851. But with no space for additional housing, conditions became increasingly overcrowded and insanitary and families were crammed into slum courts and multi-tenancy houses in back yards off the town’s main streets. St Michael’s School had to be started in a public house and the new Union Workhouse was built on the site of an old quarry bought from the Cecils, which cost a fortune to infill. Unsurprisingly, deadly outbreaks of typhoid and smallpox ravaged the town.

Despite this, Brownlow Cecil was obstinate that Stamford's historic appearance and character would not be ruined by the 'blight' of cheap housing. He used all means at his disposal to ensure the town remained hemmed in by his own extensive land-holdings and by the common fields on which no property development could take place. Any pocket of land that did become available outside the town walls was ringfenced for upper-middle class homes, such as Rutland Terrace.



The coming of the railways brought matters to crisis point. The Marquess successfully opposed plans to route the new Great Northern Railway line through Stamford and in 1844 Peterborough was chosen instead. As the railways expanded, the coaching trade collapsed and with it Stamford’s main source of income. Old coaching inns like the George and Angel in St Mary’s Street and the Coach and Horses in St Martin’s were forced to close. Canals were also hit hard; after years of neglect the Welland Canal was navigated for the last time in 1863 and, with its closure, Stamford once again lost access to the sea. Not only was the town afflicted by overcrowding, but Brownlow Cecil was even less willing to countenance industrial development to ease rising unemployment than he was to allow new housing. 

From the vantage point of the 21st century we owe much to Brownlow Cecil, as he undoubtedly did save the town’s character, roofscape and beauty. However, this came at enormous cost to our ancestors, with overcrowding, unemployment and disease forcing many Stamfordians to seek a life elsewhere.


Brownlow Cecil was deeply unpopular in the town; his coach was attacked in the street, the local press condemned him and threats were serious enough for armed guards to be stationed at Burghley House and cannons mounted on its roof. 

stage coach, the george stamford
Stage-coach outside The George

Forcing of the Cecils' Hand

Change came when Brownlow Cecil’s death in 1867 coincided with a period of electoral reform. Voter numbers in the town were increased and the introduction of the secret ballot made intimidation more difficult, thwarting one of the Cecils’ traditional means of control. The 1884 Franchise Act moved Stamford into the much larger South Lincolnshire constituency, where the family's influence was greatly diluted. The new Lord Exeter, William Alleyne Cecil, inherited huge debts and was forced to consider selling off some of the estate; as the Cecils owned 1,100 of the 1,700 acres circling Stamford this was a natural place to start.

Finally, after years of acrimonious debate, an Enclosure Act for Stamford was passed by Parliament in 1871 (coming into effect in 1875) and the various owners agreed to sell some of their land to developers and speculators. Local builder John Woolston laid out a red brick estate to the east of the new Recreation Ground, whilst in our corner of town middle-class villas went up along the Tinwell, Empingham and Casterton Roads. Meanwhile, it was agreed

Lord Exeter, Stamford
William Alleyne Cecil, Lord Exeter

the meadows would remain common land, with responsibility for their upkeep being apportioned between the Burghley Estate, the Freemen of Stamford and the Corporation.



                                WHO WERE THE LANDOWNERS?

At the time of the 1871 Stamford Enclosure Act the ownership of the open fields was as follows:

Lord Exeter - 1,100 acres              Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge  - 64 acres

The Torkington family - 176 acres      The Freemen of Stamford - 46 acres

Stamford Corporation - 83 acres        St John's College, Cambridge - 41 acres

All Saints' Church - 68 acres          Magdalen College, Oxford - 9 acres

Browne's Hospital - 66 acres           small local charities - approx 47 acres

In addition to their freehold land the Cecils were extensive leaseholders, sub-letting numerous parcels of land. Unlike most parts of the country, none of the freeholders and few of the tenants were full-time farmers. Of the 47 tenants on record only 13 gave their occupation as farmer and only five of those were local to Stamford. The remaining tenants were all tradesmen - innkeepers, butchers, builders, millers, tanners, slaters, timber merchants and a basket-weaver. None of these people was interested in large-scale cultivation and all wanted to hold on to their small plots. This added to the convoluted and protracted negotiations. 

Pleasure Gardens and Allotments

As part of the Enclosure settlement Lord Exeter wished to create a recreation ground for the town and whilst the concept was greeted warmly, the location proved troublesome. Lord Exeter disliked the Corporation’s suggestion of Waterfurlong, proposing instead a piece of ground called Hunt’s Close near the baptist chapel; the Corporation was concerned about the ‘low neighbourhood of the approaches’ to Hunt’s Close, but Lord Exeter got his way. The fact he already had ‘genteel’ tenants for a number of pleasure gardens in Waterfurlong may have been a factor and his offer to create an additional forty plots there for prosperous shop-keepers and professionals probably sweetened the pill. To this day, the quarter to half-acre gardens are rented out by the Burghley Estate and the Cecil Estate Family Trust. 

We know, both from Victorian newspaper snippets and from a few remaining buildings themselves, that many, if not most, of the gardens originally had elaborate summer-houses, and in some cases, ice-houses, fruit-drying houses and other specialist outbuildings. We are working to discover more about this important aspect of the gardens' heritage. 

The walls on either side of Waterfurlong pre-dated Enclosure - that to the east appearing to have been built in 1841 and to the west in about 1850. We learn of both from the Lincolnshire Chronicle's reports of Stamford Corporation meetings:

'Mr Newcomb complained of new encroachment on the freemen's rights by Lord Exeter: his lordship (he said) or his agents had recently pulled down a wall enclosing his (Lord E's) property at the outside of St Peters-hill, where a road branches off from the turnpike called the Water Furlong: the land was called, from an ancient custom, "Breadcroft", and his lordship, by the erection of his new wall, had extended it four feet westward along the whole length of the road down to the Mill-river, thereby adding a considerable portion of the freemen's property to his own. Mr N remarked upon other parties who were continually encroaching, and said, "Surely it is the duty of some of the bodies who are the guardians of the public rights to put a stop to these infamous practices." Mr  N was about making a motion, having for its object to put a stop to the present work, but was informed by the clerk that it was without their jurisdiction.' Lincolnshire Chronicle 3 December 1841(1)

Richard Newcomb was a wealthy local resident, editor of the Stamford Mercury and opponent of the Cecils. The reference to Waterfurlong being a turnpike is interesting, as this suggests it had a toll-gate.

The land on the west side seems to have been leased by Lord Exeter to a Mr R F Mitchell of Oakham:


'The Mayor said ...that he had that morning been waited upon by Mr R F Mitchell of Oakham, who told him that he had read in the newspapers the discussions of the Council referring to the corporation land. He was a tenant, jointly with another person at Nottingham, of a piece of land near Water Furlong; and as he saw there was a desire for garden allotments — a system adopted by himself some years ago — the course was one that he approved of, and he should be willing, in order to facilitate it, to give up the occupation, provided some arrangement, which he thought might be come to, could be made with his co-tenant. There had, however, been some expense in erecting a wall round the piece of land, and he (the Mayor) thought the Corporation would probably not object to an allowance on this account...It was stated that Mr Mitchell had occupied the land about ten years. During the whole of this time he has had the benefit this wall, which (Mr Paradise said) would cost about £21.It was stated that the land in question had been much improved.' Lincolnshire Chronicle 12 October 1860.(1) The identity of the co-tenant and request for an allowance both need further research.

​It seems the new plots were sometimes referred to as 'Breadcroft Gardens'. The Mercury reported on 24 May 1878: 'A pair of swans that have made their headquarters among the osiers at the bottom of Breadcroft gardens, have lately attracted the attention of pedestrians by sailing down the millstream freighted with three little cygnets.'(1) The osier-beds in question were cultivated by George Ratcliffe, a basket-maker who sold his wares in a small shop in Broad Street. 

Hill Close Gardens

The photo to the right is of a Victorian summer-house in Hill Close Gardens, in central Warwick. These beautifully-restored gardens share a very similar history to our own in Waterfurlong. 


(1) The British Newspaper Archive © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. All Rights Reserved.

Copyright © Karen Meadows 2018

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