Thomas Hall – Leaving Barby

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July 20, 2014 by auntkatefirmin

Modern view of St Mary's church in Barby. Courtesy of Dave Kelly via geograph

Modern view of St Mary’s church in Barby. Courtesy of Dave Kelly via geograph, creative commons license.

Barby and nearby Kilsby village are closely related. According to the Kilsby website, St Faith in Kilsby and St Mary in Barby have often shared a parish priest. When Thomas Hall was young, the area of Kilsby in particular had an economy based on cottage weavers.

Perhaps it’s not surprising that Thomas Hall left Barby to seek his fortune some time around 1810. Apparently he was one of the fortunate few with both the tangible assets required for a new start and whatever intangible traits or circumstances that allowed him to imagine leaving to start his own business at a time when others were in more desperate straits:

1801: “People can scarce live here. The young ones go for soldiers and the old ones starve at home.”   Read family papers, Kilsby

This most simplistic view of his parish around 1810 (when he was about 20) is rather grim:
-the industrial revolution was adversely affecting the local craftsmen – people like weavers and shoemakers.
-wages were low and jobs were scarce.
– the Napoleonic wars had caused various taxes and local “rates” to increase to support England’s military ventures.
-the enclosure movement impoverished an unknown number individuals whose customary privileges on the “common” were lost or whose occupation was no longer relevant. For Thomas this happened in his parent’s lifetime.
-the prices of “corn,” that is grain in general, increased during the war years until about 1815 when the corn laws went into effect and kept the prices at an artificially high price to aid the farming industry (as opposed to small farmers).

Many of theses changes have been the topic of shelves of books and I am not an expert on any of these topics – while I may have oversimplified, the general picture was not rosy in Barby. How the interlocking factors played out for Thomas would have been affected in part by what privileges his extended family had prior to the enclosure of the common lands around 1778 in Barby – with similar dates in the the nearby villages. Some types of privileges, like gathering fuel or stones, were tied to custom and did not survive the legal transformation. Many privileges (as well as the resulting responsibilities after enclosure) were dependent on the size of the property the family was entitled to work and whether the family owned, leased or were tenants at will.

Without going into the stated objectives of the enclosure movement, and regardless of the Hall family’s individual circumstances, the general economy of the area and the fabric of relationships created by the use of the land in common were completely transformed by enclosure. Whether in Northamptonshire or elsewhere, this rarely benefited the small artisan or landowner. After enclosure, ordinary individuals were less tied to a local system of exchange, seasonal gathering and mutual support. A certain sensibility of “belonging” to a shared place was changing.

Together with the emphasis on larger farms and industries, and the enclosure movement, the smaller tenants and farm owners were in a real bind. If Thomas was part of a rising class of richer individuals, while he may not have felt the effects in such a personal way as those displaced by the tides of change, he may have felt that opportunities for the future were too limited for him to remain near Barby and raise a family.

There is a great deal of marvelous documentation out there for the Barby-Kilsby-Braunston region. In particular a large number of wills (for the period up to 1700) were transcribed so that I know that, for example, in 1687 a wealthy individual named Samuel Hall made a will that included land, cash and cattle. In the 1674 hearth tax there were two Halls listed: Samuel and Thomas. What I have not been able to confirm so far is the relationship, if any, between these Halls of Barby and Thomas Hall, cow keeper, of John’s Row. As Hall is such a common name, and Barby was not far from major roads, it’s hard to be confident that he is related to individuals who died a century before his birth. Certainly if he was a descendant of one of the earlier Halls wealthy enough to leave a will, the family was able to maintain their wealth over the decades between about 1690 and 1810 and the source of Thomas’ capital is largely family derived. Much research still needs to be done!

Based on his later choice of occupation, I assume that Thomas worked with dairy cows. Given that in Northamptonshire in general, a large part of the population earned their livings in dealings related to sheep and wool products, cows and dairy work may not have been his or his family’s primary source of income. Again, I hope to find out more in time.

I don’t need specific evidence on the source of his capital support my strong suspicion that Thomas had most of what he needed to be successful in London before he left, both in skills and capital. The odds were strongly stacked against individuals with no resources leaving for London to make their fortune. The harsh reality was that people leaving must either have had the means to support themselves (and perhaps their families) on a journey, some form of connection to opportunity or a truly outstanding imagination to break out of their customary place and thought patterns and thrive, or all three. As seen from the excerpt above, the most impoverished were likely to lack either the will or the opportunity to change or travel, or both.

Thomas clearly felt that the opportunities were better in London and that he had enough resources and skills to reach London and prosper there, and it looks like he won that wager, living to age 76 and seeing at least two daughters raise families.

Still there are always more questions such as: What was the roughly 80 mile journey to London like around 1810?

Which of the Hall family members stayed in Barby, Braunston, Kilsby area?

I also hope to take a look at Harriet’s situation to see how her circumstances were similar and where she might have had different factors that influenced her choices.

A few related resources:

Distress in the period 1812-1822:

Drove roads in Northamptonshire

Barby Local History Group

A big thank you to Gren Hatton for all the work he has made available at the Kilsby Village site and elsewhere.




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