Book three 1800-1900. Chapter one: The way of life

  • Posted on: 24 September 2009
  • By: David Thrale

The nineteenth century has far more in common with the century which preceded it than with the one that followed. If Jonathan Parsons, who died in 1768, had come back a hundred years later, he would have found village life much as it was in his own day. If, however, the school mistress of 1651 could see the Sandridge of today, she would scarcely recognise the parish as the one in which she lived, and would no doubt find our habits and outlook on life very strange. The changes which occurred in Sandridge, however, during the nineteenth century were by no means negligible; two of the most important were the foundation of the school in 1824 and the attempt in the middle of the century to relieve poverty by voluntary clubs augmented by the rich. The village school as part of the great national system is nowadays taken for granted, but like everything else it had a beginning. The work of those poorly paid teachers in the early days was really heroic and deserves more recognition than it usually receives. It was Kenneth Bayley, the curate, who took the initiative in founding Sandridge School, and aided by the Martens of Marshalswick and the leading farmers it met for the first time at the workhouse in January 1824, the meetings being on Saturdays and Sundays only. The first teacher was Mrs Ephgrave, but she resigned after six weeks and was followed by Mrs Mardlin who was paid eighteen pence a day. A school costing £200 was built in about three months, and meanwhile William Paul, the village joiner, was making eight long forms, four dozen cotton reels at half-penny each, a ruler for one and six, and what he called a "wrighting desk" seventeen feet long. When the children arrived at the new building in January 1825, they found a well built whitewashed room, and a floor of white paving bricks. The room was fourteen feet high, with oak doors in oak frames; the walls were nine inches thick, and the was a well-pitched slate roof. The one fireplace consumed six sacks of coal during the first year. As often happens with new work the windows and doors stuck a good deal, but Mr Paul only charged one and eight pence for half a day's work in putting them right. The teacher now was Miss Sawyer who received £45 a year, and it may reflect on her power of control that during her five years only eleven window-panes had to be mended. The school was financed by voluntary subscriptions, the sale of children's needlework, and the fees of a penny a week for five days instruction. There was an average attendance of fifty children out of a population of 820. Country folk As time went on the farmers ceased to support the school and it was only due to the gentry that it survived. A cheaper teacher was appointed called Mrs. Postern, and the bills for mending windows went up fivefold. When Queen Victoria came to the throne the salary was still further reduced to £25 and ten years later it was down to £20 with the use of the attached cottage. Then with the arrival of Reverend T.H. Winbolt and the death of William Paul both in 1847 the school took on a new lease of life. Paul's son William succeeded to the business and proceeded to erect a gallery in the school at a cost of ten guineas, presumably for a class room. The school cottage was decorated and the roof re-thatched and the new Head Mistress, Miss Hooker, received a bonus of five pounds. All this was possible because Mr. Winbolt persuaded the farmers once again to take a practical interest in the school which was doing so much for the children of their workers. He also started a school clothing club. When Miss Hooker married and departed, the managers tried the experiment of a joint headship of a husband and wife, but this was a failure so Miss Nicoll came for £25 plus half the children's fees, which made her salary about £34 a year. If the children were taught writing they paid a higher rate of two pence a week. Writing was not popular and not until about 1880 do we find that most of the Sandridge brides and bridegrooms were able to sign their names. When the fifth Earl Spencer inherited the Manor, he conveyed the school to the vicar and churchwardens and built a new school collage. Then a brick wall was erected round the playground, which caused trouble because boys preferred playing on the wall rather than on the ground. The following notes by the teacher show that human nature does not change much.

  1. 11th October. Frederick Kerrison pushed David Matthews off the wall. 15th October. David Matthews was able to return to school. The wound he received is progressing favourably. 1869. 4th November. Henry Aldrtdge is a very quarrelsome boy, Fred Allen cut his head with a slate. 8th November. Alfred Woolmer was fighting Alfred King who is much younger. The little boy's head was severely cut against the wall. 26th November. Edward Stater's nose bled for a long time after a fight with Fred Hedges and Joseph Wood. 1871. Henry Aldridge set a boy on to bite Fred Allen.

Some of the girls were not much better as we shall see later. As the century progressed the needlework was producing less income because the children's efforts could not compete with the machine made articles which were filling the shops. Also parents kept their girls at home to earn a few pence by straw-platting. In October children were withdrawn by their parents to gather acorns. There were many more oak-trees than there are now. Two wars have taken their toll of timber. Further difficulties followed the passing of Gladstone's Education Act in 1870. The Church had been maintaining such schools all over England because she believed that every child of God, however poor, had a right to be educated. Eventually it dawned on the State that this was a good idea and that it, with greater resources, could do better. So the State said in effect to Sandridge school managers.

Enlarge your school or we take it from you.

Mr. Winbolt, the curate, backed up by the Bishop of Rochester, sent an S.O.S. to Lord Spencer, who at the age of 33 had become Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland and was busy dealing with Fenian risings.1 In a long letter from Dublin he wrote in effect

You turned down my offer three years ago, if that is all you cared then the school might as well go to the State now. You can't expect me to pay for everything.

It was of course more politely worded. Mr. Winbolt was disappointed; after twenty-four years' experience he knew how hard it was to extract money from the farmers to keep the school going. But this time they rose to the occasion and agreed in Vestry that the money should be raised by voluntary subscription. Seventeen farmers from Bernards Heath to Bride Hall paid a voluntary rate of 6d. in the pound, which produced £135: the landlords subscribed £115, Lord Spencer heading the list with £40, and the curate gave two guineas. A classroom was built and furnished with thirty new desks; a new well was sunk in 1872 and the school remained a voluntary one for a few more years. But a voluntary society like the Church cannot compete with the State which extracts money from the people by force, so when financial troubles arose again this fine effort by the church and people of Sandridge came to an end. The School became a Board School and the first compulsory school rate was levied in the parish in 1880. The School Board did not look after the building well, and when Mr. C. W. Little was appointed Head Master in 1893, he found:

half the ceiling unboarded, with bits of dirty paper hanging from all parts. The birds of the air had previously and unanimously decided that the school was an admirable place to build in, and sometimes during that early spring the sparrows vied with each other in their twittering efforts to drown my modest-attempts to induce the young ideas to shoot".2

The village workhouse had pursued its unhappy course for fifty-four years but the leaders of the village were not satisfied with the manner in which it was being run. In 1832 notice was sent to the governor warning him that the parish

mean to take the house into their own hands at Lady Day next.

The sum of £200 was borrowed to carry out alterations and repairs, including the making of an outhouse "for the reception of any turbulent pauper". Repairs were also carried out on a row of six cottages on the east side of the High Street, which belonged to the parish. So great was the number of paupers, both in and out of the workhouse, that the parish found itself a further £188 in debt, over and above the £200 borrowed for the building repairs; thus the list of paupers was carefully examined to see if it could be reduced. The parish was up against it, but they granted plum pudding as an extra for the paupers on Christmas Day 1833. This same year a Poor Law was passed through Parliament which reorganised the workhouses, and the effect was to relieve the Sandridge ratepayers of an excessive burden. In 1838 the inmates were transferred to Oster House, St Albans, but the Sandridge House survived another hundred years as a collection of inconvenient dwelling houses, known as Spencer Buildings. The money for the poor relief was raised by the poor rate. The parish was divided into about twenty-eight farms stretching from Heath Farm to Bride Hail. John Kinder of Sandridgebury was assessed at £296, this being the highest assessment for any single farm, but the biggest local ratepayer was Thomas Kinder who held Pound Farm, Whitehouse Farm and the malthouse; he had a total assessment of £530. Lord Spencer had an equal assessment on the tithes. Thomas Oakley of Waterend was assessed at £264. The farmers were the chief ratepayers, but some of them were quite small. The waterworks on Bernard's Heath were first rated in 1835. Coming down the scale, one finds the Rose and Crown assessed at twelve pounds, the vicarage ten pounds and the Queen's Head six pounds. Then came the various shops. Two shoemakers, two grocers, a carpenter, a blacksmith, a baker, a wheelwright, and a beer shop: these were valued at five to three pounds. Lastly came all the labourers' cottages, which were mostly assessed at thirty or twenty shillings, the two worst at only ten shillings. By the middle of the century the majority of Sandridge people were still poverty stricken. Wages were slowly rising, but had not yet reached two shillings a day. Poverty and drink made a vicious circle; a man drank to forget the drabness of his home, and he became the poorer by it. Besides Queen's Head and the Rose and Crown there were three retail beer shops in the village. There was little money to spare for clothes and fuel. A hundredweight of coal cost nearly a day's pay, and education was not free. But the country had not forgotten the labourers' revolt of 1830, when starving men marched around, burning ricks, smashing machinery, and demanding a wage of half-a-crown a day. Neither was it forgotten how the revolt was put down by tearing 420 men from their families and transporting them to Australia as convicts. These troubles did not touch Hertfordshire, but they made all men realise the rotten state of our economy. In these days of want and degradation the elderly Mrs. Marten started the village clothing club for which she added threepence to every shilling subscribed. Ninety four members joined in the first year. Miss Marten's coal club was less efficient and less popular, and it was not till her brother Thomas came home from India that anything effective was done to keep the people warm. About twenty of the poorest got two hundred weight of coal free and another hundred or so got it at a reduced price. Mr. Winbolt undertook the unpleasant task of begging the money for this enterprise year after year. About six farmers provided horse and cart to collect the coal from the Abbey station St Albans, and some sixteen tons were taken around the parish. One cold winter seventeen guineas were spent on a village kitchen for free soup. There was also a sick benefit club which got into serious trouble by misappropriation of its funds. Earlier attempts at mutual help were the "Society of Good Fellowship" founded in 1807 and still going strong thirty years later, and a friendly society for women organised by the curate, Mr. Ryland, who collected and booked no less than £500 in threepences in five years. By 1872 the parish was no longer a self-contained unit. A profound change had come over the whole country during the previous forty years. The self -sufficient village had gradually ceased to be and the village shops became stocked with goods from towns or abroad. "One by one craftsmen disappeared, the harness maker, and the weaver"; the village carpenter kept going for some time, and in some places the blacksmith remains with us to this day, the sole survivor of the ancient country crafts. All this "made rural life duller and less self-sufficient in its mentality and native interests, a backwater of the national life instead of its main stream. The vitality of the village slowly declined, as the city in a hundred ways sucked away its blood and brains."3 The craftsmen in Sandridge were provided by families such as the Pauls, and it would be apt here to give a short account of such a representative family, which played a prominent part in the life of Sandridge. It was in 1781 that the Paul family came upon the stage of Sandridge history. The first William Paul was then twenty-five and is described in the militia lists of that year as a tailor. A year later he was married to Mary, daughter of William Laurence, the village joiner, who made the existing altar rails some time before he died in 1803. As a result of this marriage Sandridge had quantities of Pauls of all ages throughout the nineteenth century. The direct line may be traced thus:

William PAUL 1756-1831 m. 1782 Mary Laurence
William PAUL 1787-1847 m. 1814 Charlotte Allen
William PAUL 1821-1901 m. 1844 Mary Streeten
Matthew William PAUL Born 1844 m. Emma Munt:
Charles PAUL Born 1868 m. 1892 Mary AM Stapleton
Albert PAUL 1893-1925 m. 1913 Rose Bates
Charles William PAUL Born 1914

The first William Paul, besides being a tailor, was also the village carpenter as were his descendants after him. It was he who carried out those delicate operations on the church roof in 1786. The third William had eight children in twelve years, and one more later. His first child Matthew William met trouble by heaving a stone at the verger; his nickname was Captain and he went to St Albans School. Another child was Harry, who joined the army, but while home on leave was accidentally drowned in the gravel pits. The seventh child, born during the Crimean War, was named Alma after the British victory. The Paul family were the terror of the village, and the gang was known as:

Captain and Carry, Phil, Pete and Harry, Ann Selina4, Eugena5 And little Shallot.

The last three were all removed from the school for continually playing up the teacher. Ann Selina was the worst. The father of this family was a great character and it was he who more than anyone asserted the rights of the artisan class to a share in village government. He broke the tradition that only gentry and farmers should attend vestry meetings and he opposed the squire George Marten in the appointment of a rate-collector for the village. In 1875 he was the vicar's right hand man in founding the men's club, and in his old age he look a leading part in road management and street drainage, an ever present problem in Sandridge. Paul was one of the original members of the parish council which first met in 1894, and he served on it to within seven weeks of his death. He was present with his long white beard on a famous occasion when news came through that Pretoria, the Boer capital, had been captured. The five old councillors broke off their discussions and sang the National Anthem and gave three cheers. During his long life William Paul worked hard and put his savings into cottage property in the parish. One bakehouse and at least twenty-five cottages are mentioned in his will. In 1844 the four principal landowners of the parish were the Earl Spencer, Drake Garrard, Viscount Melbourne, and George R. Marten. The remaining acres consisted of the two commons of Bernards Heath and No Man's Land and a large number of small freeholdings.6 Of the four major landlords the only one who lived in the parish was George R. Marten of Marshalswick who inherited the estates in 1826 and lived there for fifty years as a bachelor. It appears that his half-sister Cecilia fell in love with William Holloway, the tenant of Marshalswick Farm; this house stands at the bottom of Kings Hill Avenue. The Marten family, however, did not approve of the match. Readers of the novels of Anthony Trollope will realise that a lady in the position of Cecilia might find obstacles put in her way if she wished to marry a tenant farmer; at the age of forty-eight she was still single, but she died in Welwyn in 1881 as Mrs. William Holloway. It was the freehold and tenant farmers who ruled the village and held in turn the offices of overseers, guardians and stonewardens. No one below this class; appears to have attended the Vestry meetings before 1870. Each year on Lady Day the vestry meeting appointed a guardian of the poor, two churchwardens, a number of overseers and two stonewardens, who were responsible for maintaining the fifteen miles of roads in the parish. The title stonewarden first appears in 1832, thirteen years after John Macadam had invented a new way of making roads with stones. Formerly the same officers were called surveyors of the highways. In 1846 the stonewardens were George Young of Nashs Farm and Ralph Thrale of No Mans Land, each taking an area. Mr. Young employed three roadmen. Certain work was paid for at piece rates, the price being sevenpence a yard for stone breaking, and sixpence a yard for digging gravel; Mr. Thrale employed a different gang at similar rates. When Lady Day came round again Mr. Young produced to the vestry his account for £52 and Mr. Thrale's was for £33. It was during this period that the Thrales left the parish they had lived in and worked for so long. The stonewarden just mentioned was the head of the last family to live in the parish. His son Ralph Norman gained local distinction by shooting a large panther which had escaped from a menagerie and which was loose around the parish worrying the sheep. The incident provided wonderful material for the local press.7 He and his brother William were also famed for their museum which used to be a favourite outing for the villagers during Easter. The museum contained, in the first part, almost every sort of indigenous vermin, from the field mouse up to the big dog fox; the second part consisted of every kind of flower and grass that the farm grew. One of the bachelor brothers was deadly accurate with a catapult, whilst the other was equally accurate with a bow and arrow both were crack shots with a rifle. Their father Ralph Thrale died in 1852, and the villagers gave him a wonderful burial. The family brick vault was opened, but William Archer the sexton only received four shillings for taking out the earth and clearing it away. The coffin was covered by the best pall. William Paul was the undertaker. The main items of the bill were the coffin, costing seven guineas, and the hire of hearse and coach, five pounds ten shillings. Among other items, Mr. Paul provided nineteen pairs of gloves varying in price from half-a-crown to one shilling a pair, and twenty black armbands. The entire bill came to £24, which in those days would have kept a labourer's family for seven months. Other members of the Thrale family continued to flourish in the adjoining parish of Wheathampstead, and in St Albans, where they still reside. The third class of people in Sandridge, after the gentry and farmers, were the artisans, publicans and shopkeepers. They were by no means wealthy, but they had some sort of position to keep up and they could, unlike the labourers, improve their condition by being careful and industrious. It was from this section of the community that the constables were chosen. On the whole, the Sandridge people were reasonably law abiding. The magistrates appointed two constables each year from those nominated. The position gave the men a standing in the village, but it was not well paid, and as these men had large families to support they would be able to spend little lime patrolling the parish. The system was unsatisfactory; the law abiding members of the village felt insecure; especially if they had anything to lose. The matter was brought to a head by the sudden death of Jesse Geeves, a man of thirty-five who left a widow and four young children. The verdict at the inquest was accidental death, but the curate, Mr. Winbolt, had his doubts about this. He at once wrote to the squire of Marshalswick to ask what could be done about a proper policeman for Sandridge. Sir Robert Peel's police force had been started in 1830, and by 1856 it was established in every county. Men were not plentiful, however, and if a parish required a policeman, good reasons had to be given. Thus the curate wrote an amazing letter to the Chief Constable of Hertfordshire. He stated the following five points as showing the necessity for a policeman for Sandridge:

  1. On the farms thefts of wool, sheep, and lambs have occurred without detection.
  2. The railway through Wheathampstead will be opened next year, so that our parish will be encompassed with railways, thus offering an easy access to the place, and a rapid escape to the plunderers, and a ready means of carrying their booty.
  3. There are now five public houses and beer shops in the village, an extra one having been opened this year. This, we think, calls for increased vigilance on the part of the police.
  4. A local policeman might have prevented the death of Jesse Geeves.
  5. Sandridge contributes to the police rates.

A policeman came the following year. It should, however, be noted that in 1859 it was possible to walk north-west from Sandridge for seventeen miles without crossing a railway line. But in 1660 the Great Northern Railway opened their branch to Luton, a mile and a half of which runs through the parish The Midland main line came seven years later with two tracks, and the company had the foresight to buy land for four tracks and to build the over bridges accordingly, though the actual widening of the line was not accomplished till 1894. As late as 1872 and 1873 the parish was still spending £900 a year on poor relief in a population of 820. At this period Joseph Arch, a Warwickshire farm worker of exceptional ability tried to improve the lot of his colleagues by forming them into trade unions. A branch of the Agricultural Labourers' Union was formed in Sandridge and shortly afterwards a strike was declared. The vicar, Dr. Griftth, was largely instrumental in settling this trouble by getting the farmers to see the point of view of the men, and vice-versa. Village life was enhanced by various sports on No Man's Land, where the gallows had been erected in the fifteenth century. Watford beat Hertfordshire in a cricket match by 104 runs in August 1824. In 1829 a race meeting was promoted by Thomas Coleman, a well-known trainer of horses, who lived at the Chequers Inn, St Albans. The King's horse won the Gorhambury Stakes, but the meeting was not a financial success. A two-day steeplechase meeting was held in the middle of May, 1833, and at the end of that month a dreadful fight took place in which Deaf Burke knocked out Simon Byrne, the champion of Ireland, in the ninety-ninth round. They were fighting for three hours and sixteen minutes. Mr. Byrne died four days later, so Mr. Burke and his seconds were tried for manslaughter, but they avoided any penalty as it could not be proved that death was caused by the injuries sustained in the fight. Such was the life of the Sandridge villagers in the nineteenth century.

Another pastime indulged in from time to time was walking round the edge of the parish. This is for some reason known as beating the bounds. It happened in 1720 and 1727 when quantities of beer were consumed at the expense of the rate-payers. In 1778 the Lord of the Manor paid six pounds towards the expenses. In 1899 they took two days to cover the seventeen miles; This was because William Paul, aged 78, insisted on joining the party and walking the whole way except for one mile. On this occasion the chairman of the Parish Council rode a horse. The Sandridge magazine commented:

May 1. The Parish Bounds were beaten; they were none the worse. The School children had a holiday; they were none the better.

An attempt to revive the custom in 1949 gained little support, but a few people walked round the much smaller civil parish.

Steam train

  • 1. [Dictionary of National Biography]9, Second Supplement, Vol.3, p.370A.
  • 2. Sandridge Magazine, Vol.2, p.566.
  • 3. [G.M. Trevelyan]18, English Social History.
  • 4. She died in 1949.
  • 5. Alma Eugenie.
  • 6. Tithe Commission Report.
  • 7. Herts. Reformer, 30th May 1836.


I came across your site whilst searching for STREETONs and variations. You have the marriage in 1844 of William Paul to Mary Streeten.

At the FreeBMD site, there is a Mary STREATON married in the 1st quarter of 1843 in St Albans to William PAUL. Do you know the parents of this lady?

In my family tree, there is a Mary Emma STREETON b 15th July 1821 in Harpenden to William STREETON b 30 Dec 1798 and Susan N. William was the son of John STREETON/STRETTON (a publican in Harpenden) and Elizabeth BARKER, one set of my great-great grandparents.

The offspring of this family include the Menloves of Utah, the Adelaide and Melbourne and Finnish Streetons.

Time and place are right? Have we a match?

Best regards and compliments on a pleasingly presented site.

Trevor Streeton
Copenhagen, Denmark

David Thrale's picture

Thank you for the kind comments about I'm afraid that I don't have any further information about the Streetens. Have you tried asking Chris Reynold. Chris runs the excellent Hertfordshire history website.

Good luck owner: David Thrale | My blog | Family motto: In cruce confido

I contacted you once before, about a reference at the marriage of William Paul and Mary Streeten in 1844 Sandridge.

You gave me the e-mail address of a gentleman who knew a great deal about the Pauls. My PC crashed and I lost that address. I've since ascertained - with reasonable certainty - that Mary Streeten was a niece of an ancestor. (Our family name has mutated through Stretton, Streaton, Streaden, Streeten, Streeton over the years).

Would you mind giving me that e-mail address once more?

Trevor Streeton
Copenhagen, Denmark

David Thrale's picture

Hi Trevor

My earlier reply (and your initial enquiry) are shown above. Interestingly Chris Reynold's excellent site also has a new page on the Paul family.

Reg Auckland has also written about the Paul family of Streatham.

Good luck. owner: David Thrale | My blog | Family motto: In cruce confido

Historic Sandridge by Edward Giles and Richard William Thrale, with sketches by R. Giles. Published 1952. Reproduced with the kind consent of the late Richard Thrale.