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Woodborough’s Heritage

Woodborough, a Sherwood Forest Village, recorded in Domesday




Nottinghamshire Carriers in 19th Century - By Susan Cracknell



Country carrying in the late 19th century was a humble and often part-time occupation. Most carriers operated on market days and had a ‘station’, usually an inn near the market place, within the town. They set out with horse and cart from their own village, perhaps passing through neighbouring villages en route to the local market town. This was usually not more than fifteen miles distant, and the return journey was made the same day. Known also as ‘village carriers’ and ‘carriers from the inns’, the country carriers were distinct from the long distance carriers who moved goods between towns. This latter group declined rapidly after the mid-19th century when their role was taken over by the railways. The country carrier fulfilled several functions for the village or villages he served. First, he acted both as a shopping agent for the villagers, and also carried some of them as passengers to town. Second, he delivered goods on behalf of the railways companies and shopkeepers. Finally, he took the agricultural produce of smaller farmers and cottagers to market. The country carriers provided a vital link between English market towns and their hinterlands, but they have often been overlooked by 19th century historians in favour of the more dramatic phenomenon of railway transport. The aim of this article is to redress this balance by examining the role played by country carriers in Nottinghamshire during the second half of the 19th century. From commercial directories for 1853 and 1894 it is possible to draw conclusions about the relative significance of the different centres in the county, and the importance of their market in creating a hierarchy, as well as revealing the kind of routes and services operated by Nottinghamshire carriers and the days on which they operated (see note below). The 1894 evidence can also be employed to examine changes which had taken place over the 40 year period, and to assess the challenge posed to the country carrier by the arrival of new forms of transport.


Note: White’s Nottinghamshire Directory, 1853 and 1894 are the prime sources for the study of country carrying. The census returns are less useful because of confusion arising from dual occupation amongst the carriers. Once internal inaccuracies have been removed by comparison of town and village references to the carriers, the directories appear to be relatively reliable. In addition, by 1853 the construction of the East Midlands Railway network was well advanced, bringing about a rapid demise of the long-distance carriers and the minimising the possibility of confusion with them. References to Nottinghamshire carriers under the market centres have been cross-checked with information under their villages of origin. However, due to the arrangement of the directory evidence under counties it has not been possible to cross-check references to carriers from outside the county in the same way. Thus, although they are included in tables 1 and 2 dealing with the number of settlements connected to each Nottinghamshire centre, the study concentrates on carriers working within the county.


The Carriers’ Centres


Nottinghamshire in 1853 had six centres which attracted carriers both from within and from outside the county. These were Nottingham, Newark and Mansfield in the southern half of the country and Retford, Worksop and Tuxford in the north. Occasionally the carrier visited more minor settlements such as Ollerton, Southwell and Farnsfield, but since none was visited by more than two carriers they have been omitted from this study. Nottinghamshire carriers also went to centres outside the county if situated near the border. These included Chesterfield, Rotherham, Sheffield, Doncaster, Gainsborough, Lincoln, Melton Mowbray, Loughborough, Alfreton and Derby. Nonetheless, no one external centre appears to have attracted Nottinghamshire carriers in the same way that Nottingham itself attracted them from Derbyshire in the earlier part of the period. Nottingham was the largest centre in population terms and also had the prestige of being the county town. Its situation, close to the border of an elongated county, allowed scope for others to develop in the north. Of the three northern market towns Tuxford, although important in 1853, declined steadily in the later 19th century and failed to attract carriers by 1894. Table 1 below shows the relative importance of the Nottinghamshire carriers’ centres in terms of the number of villages linked to each other in 1853.

Table 1

NUMBER OF SETTLEMENTS CONNECTED TO EACH CENTRE IN 1853



(a)

Total

(b)

Nos. from within

Nottinghamshire

(c)

Nos. from outside

Nottinghamshire


(d)

Ns. connected only

to this centre

(e)

(d) as % of

 (a)   



(b)

Nottingham

116

81

15

40

34

49

Newark

70

48

22

10

14

21

Mansfield

30

22

8

3

10

14

Retford

29

28

1

7

24

25

Worksop

15

11

4

4

27

36

Tuxford

9

9

0

0

0

0

Nottingham’s dominant position is clear. In addition to being the county town (which gave it administrative as well as commercial importance) it also had two market days. Many of the carriers attracted from outside the county came from Derbyshire, reflecting both the lesser importance of Derby as a carriers’ centre, and also the close proximity of some Derbyshire settlements to the Nottinghamshire border. Of the settlements connected by carrier solely to Nottingham, many were from what are now suburbs, including Lenton, Basford and Beeston. The high total of 49 percent of the villages within the county that were connected only to Nottingham may be explained by the fact that Nottingham’s size ensured that it could fulfil all the villagers’ requirements in a way that other centres could not. The northern centres of Retford and Worksop show a higher percentage of villages to them alone that either Newark or Mansfield due to their distance from Nottingham, which exceeded the limit of approximately 15 miles that the average country carriers was prepared to travel to town. With Nottingham beyond reasonable reach the northern villages appear to have depended on their nearest centre, although the spheres of influence of these towns in terms of numbers of linked villages appears small in comparison with the southern centres. Retford and Tuxford, placed well inside the county boundaries, attracted almost all their carriers from within the county. Table 2 below shows how the situation had changed by 1894.

Table 2

NUMBER OF SETTLEMENTS CONNECTED TO EACH CENTRE IN 1894


(a)

Total

(b)

Nos from within

Nottinghamshire

(c)

Nos from outside

Nottinghamshire

(d)

Nos connected

only to this centre

(e)

(d) as % of

(a)



(b)

Nottingham

143

113

30

61

45

54

Newark

136

101

35

46

34

46

Mansfield

38

27

11

4

11

15

Retford

46

46

0

12

26

26

Worksop

33

21

12

5

15

24

Tuxford

0

0

0

0

0

0

One immediately obvious change shown by this table is the decline of Tuxford. In 1853 its market was described as ‘a good weekly market, on Monday’ but in 1894 the Directory noted that ‘the Market is held on Monday but it is now of very little importance’. Also apparent is the general increase in the number of settlements linked to each town, both by services from villages not previously served by a carrier and by increasing overlap of expanding hinterlands. This general expansion will be discussed later; however the individual cases of Nottingham and Newark are important. Nottingham increased it connections between 1853 and 1894 by approximately 25 percent (from 116 to 143 settlements) and this increase was limited to settlements within the county since the number of carriers from outside actually fell from 35 to 30. This decline may have reflected the increasing importance of Derby as an administrative centre, a focus of the regional railway network and perhaps also as a market town. A combination of these factors would help to encourage carriers on the border to go there, rather than Nottingham, in increasing numbers. White’s Derbyshire Directory of 1857 lists only 59 settlements as linked to Derby, yet Kelly’s 1881 Directory lists 109. Although the figures must be treated with great care since they have not been cross-checked with the village entries and also come from different directories, they nonetheless suggest a considerable rise in Derby’s popularity in only 22 years. Everitt’s figures for villages served by carriers to centres in the rest of the country suggest that Nottingham’s figure of 143 by 1894 place it in the upper ranks of carriers’ centres nationally, although centres such as Leicester (serving 220 villages) and Norwich (serving 363) had the advantage of large hinterlands and relatively little challenge from secondary centres in their areas. Others, such as Hull, must also have attracted carriers by their port function.


Markets


The 19th century saw the final stages of a process of centralisation of market activity in the larger market towns, which contrasted with the medieval model of markets in most villages. The final stage of this process may be seen in the decline of Tuxford’s market and consequently its diminishing importance to the carriers. This centralisation of markets also contributed to the rise of the concept of the ‘provincial capital’ often a county town such as Nottingham. The directories give information on the day of a town’s market and also an indication of the type of goods sold. From this it is possible to work out the percentage of carriers’ visits to each centre which took place on market day and these are shown in table 3.

Even with the inclusion of the doubtful examples the total of carriers linking another village besides their own to Nottingham is only fifteen from a total of 137. The predominant 1853 pattern therefore seems to have been of men going directly from their own village to town, shopping on behalf of neighbours. Also table 5 shows that routes were more complex by 1894 with two carriers linking five centres to Nottingham on their journey and 22 calling at two villages.

This suggests that the carriers were becoming more business-like by the end of the century and were maximising profit by extending their services. This was presumably the easiest for those with the shortest distances to travel since those coming from further afield could not afford to spend much time touring villages on their way.


The Carriers


For the majority of men and women for whom carrying provided an income it was only a part-time occupation. Amongst carriers to Nottingham a two-day-week was most popular, normally coinciding with market days although the figures include trips made to other centres. Those who worked a full week as carriers, as shown in the first column, were often in the suburbs and villages just outside Nottingham. It is interesting that the proportion of full-time carriers had risen slightly by 1894, which suggests that country carrying was a prosperous business. The carriers clearly avoided carrying for five days per week since this would not have given time to pursue another occupation. It is also for this reason that a two-day carrying week was popular since it provided a useful subsidiary, rather than dominant, occupation.


Some information is available about carriers’ other occupations. This can often be deduced from the directories on the grounds that a man is listed as a carrier under a town but in another occupation under his village. Some occupations were commonly linked to carrying, for example those involving a carriers’ cart in other ways such as a coal merchant, shopkeeper or wheelwright. Also common was beerhouse-keeping, presumably as it could be left to another member of the family in the carrier’s absence, and farming, although usually only a small scale as a cottager. Shopkeeping must have extended itself into carrying as a logical extension of a shopkeeper’s trip to town to fetch supplies, and farmers often took up carrying during slack periods such as before or after harvest, and when money was short. Nonetheless, almost any occupation appears to have been compatible with carrying and the Nottinghamshire directories show that amongst those engaged in it were shoemakers, bricklayers, joiners, butchers and blacksmiths. Anthony Nicholson of Bingham was also a coal merchant and dyer’s agent. Carrying was not an exclusively male preserve.


Amongst the carriers to Nottingham were three women in 1853 and five in 1894. Like the men, some had alternative occupations, for example in 1894 Mrs Anne Bellamy of Burton Joyce ran a service to Nottingham on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and was also a coal dealer. At Blidworth in 1853 George Pogson was a wheelwright whilst Rebecca Pogson ran the carriers’ service to Nottingham on Saturdays and to Mansfield on Thursdays. The hours for a carrier could be very long and the journey hard on poor roads and in bad weather, yet it was not uncommon for women to do the job. An analysis of the distances travelled by the Nottingham carriers show that some 45 percent came from within a five-mile radius and all those travelling on four or more days per week were within this radius. The rest were almost all from within a ten-mile radius. There appears to be a natural breaking point eight miles from Nottingham and almost all the carriers came from within this limit. It is, however, important to remember that these were direct distances: the actual road might be considerably longer, especially if a village was not situated on one of the main, relatively straight and continuous roads into Nottingham. Carriers’ vehicles from Bingham (10 miles by road) and Plungar in the Vale of Belvoir (16 miles by road).


It is hard to assess how efficient the carriers were, given the lack of more personal evidence than that of the directory lists. One example, entered by the Sandiacre Board School head teacher in the school logbook, suggests that delivery was not always prompt: ‘Ordered Registers on June 27th, went to Nottingham on Saturday June 30th, was told by our stationer they were sent on by carrier, did not receive them until 9 o’clock on Monday morning’. Nonetheless, although not always punctual, the carriers undeniably provided a unique and flexible link between village and market town.


Nottinghamshire Carriers in 1894


It is clear that a general expansion took place in Nottinghamshire country carrying between 1853 and 1894. With the exception of Tuxford the total number of villages linked to each centre rose and although the figures for the intervening years have not been cross-checked, the ‘raw’ town figures suggest the trend of expansion (Table 6 below). Although the figures must be treated with care they do suggest a trend of growth, albeit one which varied according to the circumstances of each town. Thus, whereas Nottingham experienced steady growth, Newark was table until the 1870’s or 1880’s when a rapid increase began; Retford experienced a decline in the 1860’s – followed by an increase – and Mansfield and Worksop both attracted carriers from more villages in the middle of the period, followed by a later decline. Although the centres failed to follow a single trend they all experienced expansion at some time and with the exceptions of Worksop and Tuxford they were all growing in 1894. This expanding trend in country carrying is backed up by a tendency towards more complex routes and a greater number of full-time carriers. Together these developments suggest that the activity was becoming both better organised and more prosperous. The coming of the railways is often assumed to have damaged the carriers; yet it is important to distinguish between long-distance carriers whom the railway undercut and the country carriers whom they fostered. Country carriers were clearly important for transporting goods, and to a lesser extent passengers, between the railheads and their ultimate destinations in the villages, most of which were without stations. The line from Nottingham to Derby opened in 1839; Leicester was linked to Nottingham in 1840 and Lincoln in 1846; finally in 1850 a connection between Nottingham and Grantham was made via Colwick. Almost certainly this played a major part in fostering the expansion of country carrying in late 19th century Nottinghamshire.


Finally one other new trend in 1894 must be mentioned: the arrival of the horse-drawn omnibus. In 1894 one George Kirk of Arnold was listed under Nottingham as a carrier, yet under the Arnold entry it became clear that he ran an omnibus rather than a carriers’ service and travelled to and fro to Nottingham five times a day. Similarly William Leivers of Eastwood was listed as a carrier but he was also a ‘cab and ‘bus proprietor’ and was in charge of the Midland Parcels Receiving Office at Eastwood. There was effectively very little difference between the two transport forms as shown by their confusion in the directories and both had advantages: ‘bus services were more frequent and they offered more shelter from the weather but their drivers would not accept shopping commissions in the same way as the carriers.

The day of the market was naturally an important consideration to a village carrier as it provided him with a place to buy or sell fresh fruit, vegetables and dairy produce, as well as generally widening the range of goods for sale. Since he often had another occupation to pursue during the rest of the week, and since it was frequently an arduous journey to town, it made sense to travel on the day when returns were likely to be highest. Only Tuxford had less than 50 percent of its services on market day, which usually was on a Monday. This must have created supply difficulties for stall holders and may have been a factor in its decline. Nottingham with two market days naturally attracted a high proportion of carriers on at least one of these days. Mansfield and Newark provide the exception to the generally increased concentration on market days by 1894. Nonetheless they both maintained their importance as carriers’ centres suggesting a wider appeal: both were railheads and as already discussed, Newark benefited from a combination of factors. Although some market days clashed, such as Newark’s and Nottingham’s second market day on a Wednesday, generally they complimented one another. Hence in the south Nottingham’s main market was on a Saturday, Newark’s on Wednesday and Mansfield’s Thursday; in the north Retford had a Saturday market, Worksop had one on Wednesday and Tuxford on Monday. This fact became increasingly significant as more carriers turned their work into a full-time occupation, visiting a number of different centres during the week. One such example was John Wood of Farnsfield who in 1853 visited Nottingham on Saturday, Mansfield on Thursday, Newark on Wednesday and Retford on Monday and Friday. This was only possible if a carrier lived in the middle of the county and some of those close to the borders visited centres outside. Richard Copley of Hickling, for example, went in 1853 to Nottingham on Saturdays and Melton Mowbray on Tuesdays.


Services


Alan Everitt’s study of country carriers in Leicestershire revealed that most passed through two or three villages on their way to town, but this does not seem to have been the case in Nottinghamshire. By isolating carriers to Nottingham of a particular surname and comparing the village of origin, the inn used and the days of operation it was possible to match up entries showing an individual passing through more than once village on his way to town. By this method it was possible to calculate which carriers visited more than one village, and a further group who may have made multiple calls but of whom not all information for the separate villages agreed. The results for 1853 are shown in Table 4 below.

Table 3

PERCENTAGE OF CARRIERS' VISITS TAKING PLACE ON A MARKET DAY

Year

1853

1894

Nottingham (1) Wednesdays & Saturdays

44

46

Nottingham (2) at least one of these

72

77

Newark (Wednesdays)

81

62

Mansfield (Thursdays)

64

56

Retford (Saturdays)

79

87

Worksop (Wednesday)

56

90

Tuxford (Mondays)

44

0

Table 6

SETTLEMENTS CONNECTED TO EACH CENTRE AS GIVEN IN TOWN ENTRIES OF WHITE'S NOTTINGHAMSHIRE DIRECTORIES


1853

1864

1885

1894

Nottingham

107

126

0

129

Newark

66

66

96

127

Mansfield

24

37

30

32

Retford

17

7

29

41

Worksop

21

31

37

28

Tuxford

5

9

0

0

Table 4

CARRIERS LINKING MORE THAN ONE SETTLEMENT TO NOTTINGHAM IN 1853


Linking 3 places

Linking 2 places

Total

Definite

2

8

10

Possible

0

5

5

Total

2

13

10

Table 5

CARRIERS LINKING MORE THAN ONE SETTLEMENT TO NOTTINGHAM IN 1894


Linking 5 places

Linking 4 places

Linking 3 places

Linking 2 places

Total

Definite

2

2

4

22

30

Possible

0

2

0

7

9

Totals

2

4

4

29

39

Left: Horse drawn tram on Long Row Nottingham circa 1890.

This image also shows a variety of horse drawn carts of the era.                  

Right: Open top cart in Church Cottage yard on Lingwood Lane.

Woodborough, Nottingham. Circa 1935.

Nonetheless, the influence of the horse ‘bus spread steadily. The first ran in 1848, by the 1870’s horse trams had also appeared in the town and horse ‘buses were spreading to the surrounding villages. Although the horse ‘bus was not a serious threat to the carriers in 1894, it developed in the 20th century into a definite challenge and the introduction of motorised buses after 1918 finally sealed the fate of the carriers.



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