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Rushden Echo, 17th June 1927, transcribed by Kay Collins

Rushden District Before the ’Fifties

Foiling the Toll-Gate Keepers
Harsh Treatment of Children in Day of Poverty
Shilling a Week to Keep a Wife!

Rushden boot operatives nowadays do not learn their trade from the age of eight years, but this was done within living memory, as one elderly Rushden resident recalls. He was sent from his parents (who lived then at Newton Bromshold) to Rushden, where at eight years of age he began to “learn the shoe trade.” This consisted of carrying as many as six pairs of heavy Wellington boots on his shoulders over to Higham Ferrers, where the work was given out. He says he dared not put the load down, though it was so crushing, because he would never have been able to raise it again. When he had delivered the boots he had to bring back materials for making a similar lot of boots. Naturally this heavy work of lifting and carrying such great weights—from premises (now disappeared) near Mr Robinson’s shop ... ... ... of such tender years. He bravely stuck to the work until someone told his parents that their son’s health was suffering from the strain. The boy’s father, listening to the statements of the “tutor” that he “would not work,” gave the boy a serious warning that he “wouldn’t have anything to eat if he wouldn’t work.” Nevertheless the boy could not work, and he returned home. His mother studied his health a bit better.

Bullocks at Plough on Court Estate

Following the plough or leading the bullocks which pulled the plough was this Rushden resident’s next memory. He said that at the age of ten he used to get up early, carry his day’s food and walk to what is now known as the Court Estate, starting work at six o’clock in the morning and keeping on until six in the evening, with brief intervals for eating his food, his wages being 2s. a week. Ploughing with bullocks was done on “Fisher’s farm” on the Court Estate during the time Mr Fisher was the owner. (Mr Wyldes is now the owner of the farm.)

A toll-gate stood at the Bedford-road end of Higham-lane (now Avenue-road, Court Estate), but our informant says, to avoid paying toll the owner of the land at the corner cut his own road across the corner so as to get free access to the main road. Canon Barker, who came to be Rector of Rushden in 1868, had to adopt a similar method of avoiding what would have been a burdensome cost of driving to and from Rushden Rectory. A toll gate stood near the Vestry Hall across to old houses which were on the site now occupied by Mr Ward’s grocery store. Instead of passing that gate and going on up to Rectory-road, visitors to the Rectory were given an alternative road. A small field between the rectory and High-street (now the site of Mr A Sanders’ works and the block of buildings including Messrs J F Knight and Son’s and Messrs Webb Bros.’ shops) was bought by Canon Barker, who had a road cut through about where Messrs Webb Bros.’ shop is and on to the Rectory.

The Toll-Gate Keepers’ Gamble

Toll-gates, well remembered by this old Rushden resident, stood at the dividing line between Rushden and Higham Ferrers and at the Wellingborough-road entrance to Higham, and also on the road from Chelveston to Higham and the Irthlingborough end of the Higham boundary. The job of toll-gate keeping was let by auction, and the successful bidder would sometimes put in a man at the toll-gate house to take the tolls, himself taking the risk of whether he received enough money to recoup himself. Two-wheeled vehicles had to pay 6d., and four-wheelers 1s. Even cattle and sheep had to be paid for. Pedestrians walked through free.

Memories of Newton Bromshold were recalled of a serious shortage of wheat one winter, and even infants had to be reared on a sloppy mess of barley meal. Men used to get 10s. a week for farm work. If they were brave or foolhardy enough to get married, they had another 1s. a week! The wife must have been less expensive than the man’s motor-car to “run”! Strange to the modern idea, though there was such appalling poverty, families were always very large.

“However my mother was able to feed us so well on such a few shillings I can never understand,” the old Rushdenite told our reporter. “But at home I always got enough to eat. I don’t rmember ever having a real suit of clothes. I was given such clothing as would keep me warm, I remember.”

Generations of Cultivators

It is only to be expected that many an industrious man of those days—long before the 1850’s—had to supplement the family income from some other source if possible, and one way was to plant and cultivate patches of common land. One such piece of land is now in the occupation of the Rushdenite, and it was cultivated by his father and grandfather—and presumably by other ancestors more than 200 years ago.

Mr James Harris, farmer, did a good service to the community during the war when the country was threatened with a potato famine. He noticed that a number of such plots were not being used—probably because the people who had always claimed the ground were unable to cultivate the plots in the absence of the menfolk. Mr Harris thereupon bough the plots from the owners at agreed prices and ploughed up the ground and planted it. Further, Mr Harris gave the plots for the free use of his tenants when things became normal again.

The Rushden resident who related the above went from farm work to domestic work as a manservant. He was for a considerable time in the service of a Raunds clergyman who was known for his great wealth (being proved after his death at over £100,000). Now the Rushdenite, still an active man, though advanced in years, is regularly engaged in gardening, and light duties taking a great pride in the appearance of his handiwork.

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