Saturday, 14 April 2012

Hodskinson’s map of Suffolk

"Joseph Hodskinson’s map of Suffolk, published in 1783, was one of a large series of English County maps produced in the second half of the 18th century by entrepreneurial surveyors, engravers and cartographic publishers.

Printed usually at a scale of one inch to the mile, these maps were often the first serious attempt to record English topographical detail, using improved surveying techniques and instruments. Many of the maps are historically important in that they were surveyed just before Parliamentary Enclosure irrevocably changed the rural landscape. Hodskinson’s Suffolk map is particularly unusual in that it was awarded a coveted gold medal by what came to be known as the Royal Society of Arts."

In 2010 Andrew Macnair produced a digitally enhanced version of the original map:

Macnair version of Hodskinson’s map of Suffolk: extract centred on Felsham
I have used part of this digitally enhanced map, which covers Felsham and environs, on the cover of my booklet:

Farm labourers and their families in a Suffolk village
 ~ FELSHAM 1830-50 ~

I chose this 1793 map for the booklet cover because it highlights features that would have been very familiar to the farm labourers living in Felsham in the first half of the 19th century. The three farm labourers who get most mention in the booklet - William Osborn, Robert Kidby and Batley Seaman - would have been growing up during the 20s and 30s, and the road patterns, woodland, place names and commons and greens would have been very familiar to them. In many ways the map provides an impression of Felsham and the adjoining villages that was largely medieval in origin. During the life time of these three farm labourers this traditional pattern would have changed radically as the nineteenth century progressed with greater industrialization, accelerated population growth, and improved communications represented in particular by the arrival of the railway in Suffolk in 1846.

However, this is not to say that the map is a perfect representation of the landscape at the end of the 18th century. Although the Hodskinson map was a considerable improvement on previous maps it contains many anomalies and obvious misrepresentations. The reader familiar with Felsham will be struck by the blob of woodland shown on the map just south of the village centre. This is completely inaccurate. In fact, Hodskinson's biggest failure is his inability to show woodland shape very effectively and his seemingly rather casual attitude to positioning woodland is a serious fault in his approach.

The rather indistinct blob that perhaps is meant to represent Felsham wood on the southern boundary of the parish should, in fact be connected to Thorpe Wood, and should be positioned much further south. The First Edition of the OS Map (surveyed between 1820 and 1860) for the area is far more accurate in this respect:

David Dymond has provided an excellent introduction and overview of Hodskinson's map of Suffolk [See] where he discusses the value of the map to the historian. He points out that one of the strengths of the map is the way it shows the "tight, intricate road-pattern of Suffolk" that is typical of the county. He also points out that "many hedged lanes on the map have now entirely disappeared, or simply survive as rights of way across featureless ploughland." An example in Felsham is the road that begins at Oxes Green on the boundary with Brettenham and heads off towards Hightown Green in Rattlesden. The early OS Map shows an even more complex structure of lanes and paths in this area. The place name "Oxes Green" is something that appears to have disappeared completely from local usage. This emphasizes another important feature of the map: its value as a record of place names many of which have changed or become extinct.

David Dymond explains that the county was surveyed using a triangulation framework. Felsham lies within a triangle where the nodes are the church towers of Elmswell, Brettenham and Bradfield St George. Presumably, all these churches were visible from each other. Dymond points out that:
"In a comparatively gentle landscape like Suffolk's, and given clear atmospheric conditions, it is astonishing how far one can often see from towers 50 to 100 feet high."
The broken line that runs across the Felsham extract of the map, shown above, is Hodskinson's unsuccessful attempt to show the hundred boundary between Stow and Cosford and therefore between Felsham and Cockfield/Brettenham. Dymond decisively rejects the reliability of these boundary lines.
The greens, that are a feature of Felsham village centre, and the general pattern of settlement, including the houses at Mudlin End, are shown quite well on the map. Similarly, the main houses, such as the Rectory, Mausoleum House, and Felsham Hall are represented fairly accurately but there are obvious discrepancies. Where are Brook Hall and Maiden Hall, settlements that go back to medieval times? The Brook Hall omission could be explained by Dymond's comment: "Bearing in mind how eighteenth century surveyors relied on road-traverses, it is perhaps not surprising that a high number of isolated farms have been omitted."  There are other serious omissions, including Moore's farm and Poplar farm, as these farmsteads are called today.

The Rattlesden River and it contributing streams are fairly accurately represented. Relief is delineated on the original Hodskinson map as delicate shading and is particularly relevant to the way they emphasize valleys.

Dymond comments: "The darker end of the shading represents the higher end of the slope, as if the sun were falling on the uplands and casting deep shadows on the slopes."

Perhaps, the most striking feature of this 1793 map is how little common land there was in Felsham at this time. Apart from the small twin triangular greens at the village centre, there is a complete absence of the extensive greens to be found in villages like Drinkstone and Hessett.

Dymond comments:
"This map is the best record the economic historian has of the distribution of ancient common land in the county. Although much arable and meadow, particularly in High Suffolk, had been enclosed centuries before, and although local people had been converting bits of common land into private property since at least the thirteenth century, there was still a substantial acreage of greens, commons and heaths for Hodskinson to record in 1783."

The extensive common land at Drinkstone Green was eventually enclosed in the 1840s. The boundary of the old Green can still be traced by following the line of the older houses that surrounded the green. Many of the greens appear to stretch quite long distances along the edges of the highways. The map hints that the Great Green (or Broad Green) at Cockfield extended tentacle-like right up to the area occupied today by Capel Farm and Stone Farm at the western end of the parish of Felsham.

The farm labourers portrayed in my booklet would almost certainly have been aware of the sentiments of the working man towards the enclosure of land, even if, by the mid-nineteenth century it was beginning to fade into folk-lore. Perhaps the most famous out-pouring of feeling on this subject is represented by the Suffolk poet - Nathaniel Bloomfield - who wrote the "Elegy on the Enclosure of Honington Green". I print two verses from this elegy below:

Those fenc'd ways that so even are made,

The pedestrian traveller bemoans;

He no more the green carpet may tread,

But plod on, 'midst the gravel and stones:

And if he would rest with his load,

No green hillock presents him a seat,

But long, hard, tiresome sameness of road

Fatigues both the eye and the feet.

Sighs speak the poor Labourers' pain,

While the new mounds and fences they rear,

Intersecting their dear native plain,

To divide to each rich Man his share;

It cannot but grieve them to see,

Where so freely they rambled before,

What a bare narrow track is left free

To the foot of the unportion'd Poor.

Friday, 13 April 2012

New history booklet on Felsham in the early Victorian period

FELSHAM 1830-50

Christopher Bornett

This exciting new local history booklet from WalkingKit Publications explores the lives of Felsham farm labouring families in early Victorian times.

It is now available from the FELSHAM POST OFFICE STORES.  Price £3.50.
It is also available from the author for £4.50 [incl p&p].  To order click here.

Summary of content:

Farm labourers formed the largest occupational group in Felsham during the 19th century but they were never listed in the official directories of the time. This is fairly typical as the lives of the lowest strata of society, throughout history, are rarely recorded. The local historian who attempts to study the lives of early 19th century agricultural workers is severely hampered by the paucity of biographical material and has to rely fairly heavily on official records such as Census Returns and Parish records, including registers of births, deaths and marriages, as well as accounts kept by the overseers of the poor.

Nevertheless, great effort has been made to re-construct early Victorian village life as seen through the eyes of farm labourers and their wives and children – despite the fact that most of the time they just appear as statistics and names in rather dry and impersonal official documents.


Part One of the booklet addresses three questions. Who were the Felsham farm labourers? Where did they live? What did they look like? The focus is on 1838 and 1841 because these were the years in which the Felsham Tithe Map was drawn up and when a Census was taken. Information from Map and Census provides clues about people and places that enable us to build up a picture of village life at this time. To supplement these relatively well documented years of 1838 and 1841, evidence has been gathered from the ten years either side of 1840 to provide sufficient documentation to construct a snapshot of life over twenty years – a generation– to arrive at our chosen period of study: 1830-50. At the beginning of this period, parts of Suffolk witnessed the rural disturbances associated with the Swing riots when hayricks were burnt and machines smashed. The 1830s also witnessed decisive developments in the way the Poor Law was administered. The 1840s saw a revolution in communications with the introduction of the Penny Post at the beginning of the decade and then the arrival of the railway in Suffolk linking Bury St Edmunds, Stowmarket and Ipswich with London, during the second half of the decade.

Part TWO looks at the working life of the farm labourer, his wife, and his children. We explore questions of schooling, diet and the importance of allotments. We focus on one particular family – the Osborn family. This family was one of many in Felsham which rented an allotment provided through the local Charity. The renting of land within the village gave the labourer an important stake in society, raising his self-esteem, as well as providing essential food supplies. We focus on the paternalism of the Charity Trustees and the moral dimension of allotment rules.

In Part THREE the impact of the Poor Laws on the lives of the labourers is examined. This time we focus on a Felsham family – the Robert Kidby family – who fell on hard times and became paupers. This family certainly lived on the “bread line”, receiving help from the parish and experiencing extended periods of unemployment and illness. They spent some time in the village poorhouse and also the Union workhouse near Stowmarket. An attempt will be made to unravel the circumstances in 1846 which led to the family being removed from the neighbouring village of Cockfield and being returned to their “settlement” village of Felsham.

Part FOUR focuses on the issue of migration. Throughout the 19th century a growing number of Suffolk farm labourers were leaving their villages and heading for London or the newly industrialised towns of the north of England. Some departed these shores altogether and emigrated to Canada, Australia or New Zealand. We have documentary evidence of at least one Felsham family which emigrated to South Australia in 1849: the Seaman family. Why did this large family with nine children under the age of fifteen, leave Felsham and undertake a long and arduous sea voyage across the world to set up a new life in the Antipodes? How did they cope with the vicissitudes of life in “steerage class” on a sailing ship in the mid 19thcentury? What happened to the family after they walked down the ship’s gangplank to set up a new life in the young colony of Southern Australia?


The text is well supported throughout by maps, charts and illustrations.