Footpath No. 1
Distance: 1,300m. Direction: WSW- ENE
This farm track forms part of the ancient routeway between Gamlingay and Sandy, avoiding the village of Everton by cutting straight across Everton Heath. It starts at the T-junction of Potton Road with Everton Heath Road, opposite the ‘Lonesome Pine’ (TL 207508). It follows the field boundaries southwestwards with the Christian-Allen pig farm on Home Sandfield and Sandfied Close to the west and Mr Pym’s tenants’ market gardening crops on Potton Closes to the east.
In 1864 there were 200 market gardens in Bedfordshire. Thirty years later there were over 7,000. The railway at nearby Sandy and Potton allowed the gardeners to apply cartloads of horse manure brought up free of freight costs from the streets of London.
Even today, fields on the Hasells estate supply fresh vegetables to the London market. Typical crops grown on this light, well-drained sandy soil includes cabbage, cauliflower, sprouts, pumpkins, leeks, carrots, wallflowers, linseed and turf.
The arrival of the Great Northern Railway to Sandy in 1845 led to significant changes in this area. The main one was economic. Only being a mile or so from Sandy, local farmers were able to use a horse or donkey to pull a cart loaded with vegetables to the station within an hour or so of being picked. This meant that, within a few hours, fresh Everton vegetables could be on sale on market stalls not just in London but also the Midlands and the North. This stimulated market gardening on a large scale, as there was an enormous demand for fresh vegetables in the growing cities.
Not only did the market gardening trade take off but also it allowed more people into the "big smoke" for work. In time it led to new blood coming into the parish. Romances and marriages took place with people from outside the parish and as a result Everton became less provincial. Many families had links outside the area.
The most common employment for women was in the fields picking potatoes, "peasing" or "beaning." Some got additional income by taking in washing, knitting, making lace at home or straw plaiting in a room above the Thornton Alms. A number of girls found employment "below stairs" in Hasell's Hall, Woodbury Hall and Tetworth Hall or even in some of the big London houses. Interesting gossip was brought back about the goings on "above stairs." Edward, Prince of Wales, was said to be always getting drunk. He used to arrange for two people to come and collect him from some houses he visited to carry him back home to Buckingham Palace!
When the landowners had had enough of their country house they would go off to a Scottish estate, stay in European resorts or return to their town house in London or other major city. During these times a whole wing of these houses could be shut down and left closed until the next visit. The servants then had quite a job preparing it for the next group of visitors were to arrive. Apparently horses and carriages used to pass through Everton village preceded by the entourage of servants and belongings. The method of taking on servants was described in Fowler's "History of Gamlingay."
"The system of hiring servants was one of the great plague-spots of the times. Below the gentry, character was hardly ever enquired into, and servants were taken on their own showing. Michaelmas (September 29th) was the season for hiring, the engagement was for a year, and they left as a matter of course, unless they were asked by their master or mistress. The meetings held for the purpose were called "Statties," i.e., Statutes, which were first established for regulating wages. Those after Michaelmas were called "Mops," perhaps from the clearing off of those servants who had not got places at the more regular time. These gatherings were looked forward to by the young servants as the chief holidays in the year. Stalls for gingerbread and ribbons gave the meetings the appearance of a small fair, and the lads and lasses both came in their best attire. The men wore in their hats the emblem of their particular service; the plough-boy or carter had a piece of whipcord, the shepherd a lock of wool, the milk boy a tuft of cow hair. A century ago (1835) buckskin gloves and gold-laced hats used to be given for wrestling and single-stick, ladies and people of rank met at the Statutes to see the sports and shows, to raffle, and then adjourn to a ball at the chief inn. As late as 1822 we are told, "the neighbouring families of distinction breakfast in the tea booth, and mingle in the rustic holiday." These were times when old people remembered the coaches sticking in the ruts in the middle of the village, and the calling of the cottagers out of their beds."
(Fowler, E.J. "The History of Gamlingay and Neighbourhood, p.12)
All domestics, indentured and agricultural labourers were given the day off on Mothering Sunday, the fourth Sunday in Lent. Originally, everyone was expected to go back to their mother church for morning service. On the walk there, they picked up flowers and blossoms to decorate the church or give as poesies to their mother. Over time, it has changed to Mother’s Day. Another key date in the calendar was 21st December. This was known locally as "Gooding Day," when the local gentry would give out presents to the needy in the parish.
"... the widows and widowers of the village would call at the bigger houses and farms where they would be given Christmas tips or presents. At Tetworth Hall, the billiard table in the hall was always covered with packages containing either 2 oz tobacco or 4 oz yea for those who were eligible. It had been found necessary in the past to get a proper list from a Mr Sarll, of those people who were really eligible for this handout, as some of the more enterprising had called on more than one occasion, or collected parcels quite forgetting that they had a wife or husband at home, still very much in the land of the living."
(Gamlingay Reminiscences, p.4)
Alternative employment was available in these fields in the late-19th century. The Agricultural Depression of the late-1870s had left many unemployed but digging, washing, sorting and transporting coprolite provided valuable wages for those prepared to work in pits up to 8 metres deep. Coprolites were phosphate-rich fossils and nodules found between the Greensand and the Oxford Clay that were the raw material used to manufacture superphosphate – the world’s first artificial chemical manure. The pits extended from Deepdale across Sandy Heath towards Everton where two accidents were recorded in 1889. Here the bed of coprolites was found at increased depth and beneath a hard band of ironstone or iron pan which required blasting.
“POTTON. - During some blasting operations on Thursday at the Coprolite Works on Sandy Heath an accident of a very serious nature happened to a young man named Chinn belonging to this Town, who on looking over the borings to see that the charge had been placed right, received the full force of the explosion in his face and chest, and setting his clothes on fire. He was conveyed to Bedford Hospital. It is feared that his eyesight is completely destroyed and at present but little hopes are entertained of his recovery.”
(Royston Crow 12th July 1889)
Three months later a similar accident was reported in Everton. To the east of Sandy Road, Everton, opposite the drive of chestnut trees, is a shallow depression in what is locally called the “fossil field” or “Money Loser.” (TL 198504) This was the fossil pit where a Mr. Jiggle was in charge of the blasting work. As a result of an accident in the pits, he spent the rest of his life helping out in the village shop with a pension of £0.25 a week. This was about a third of a digger’s daily wage.
“ACCIDENT AT THE SANDY HEATH COPROLITE WORKS - Another accident of a more dangerous nature than the one to a man named Chinn, a short time since, took place at the above works on Saturday last. It appears that a man of the name of Jiggle was engaged in the process of blasting stones, when instead of using the proper wooden “rammer,” which was not handy at the time, the man took either a steel crowbar or a boring instrument to ram in the powder, &c. The steel striking on a stone of course produced sparks which exploded the powder, and blew up into the unfortunate man’s face and body, inflicting fearful injuries. The piece of iron or steel, whichever it was, was blown into the air, and in decending [sic] struck Jiggle in the face, cutting it open from the bridge of his nose downwards, making a horrible gash. He was at once taken to Bedford Infirmary, where he is progressing as well as can be expected, although it is feared that his eyesight is destroyed. We hope that this will be a warning to all those engaged in the process of blasting, not to use steel or iron instruments, but wooden ones for ramming in the powder, &c., and we think that whoever is in charge of the works ought to see that this is enforced, and not let the lives of the workers be endangered by the careless use of steel amongst the flint powder.”
( Potton Hist. Soc.Beds.Times? October 1889, Robarts Scrapbook,
Two Everton women, 32-year old Kate Giggle and 24-year old Kate Roberts, were recorded in the 1891 census as “coprolite pickers”. For more detailed information on this unusual industry read ‘The Dinosaurs on Sandy Heath’. It is out of print but can be obtained from the local libraries.
An Everton farmer got into The Times in 1956. He'd been to an auction and bought a stuffed tiger. It was told that his wife objected to having the creature in the house so he stood it up in the middle of one of his pea fields. Being close to the road it was clearly visible to passing motorists and many stopped to take photos. In fact, the number of visitors attracted to see the Everton Tiger did more damage to his crop than the birds it was meant to scare.
Although inflatable scarecrows have been seen on these fields the most economic, if noisiest method of bird scaring is the light sensitive gas guns. You might be able to see these in the fields and will probably hear them. These build up pressure until it is released with a loud bang and start firing every half-hour or so from dawn till dusk. Despite the occasional bang, there are periods of quiet in which you can hear the songs of skylarks, linnets and the odd pheasant.
Where a field has been left fallow or as set-aside, the yellow-flowered hawkweeds and hawkbits abound, looking like long-stalked, multi-headed Dandelions and creating a wonderful display of colour in early summer. The presence of Oak trees in the nearby woodland, and of Jays in that oak wood, is revealed by tiny seedling oak trees growing in the fields, produced from acorns hidden in a previous autumn by the Jays, in the same that squirrels will hide nuts in a time of plenty and recover them later when food is scarce. The fields are also filled with a whole range of grasses, their flowerheads creating a marvellous range of shapes and shades, mostly greenish and never garish, but ranging from emerald green to shiny bronze.
(Communication with Tim Sharrock)
After passing Cottage Field and Six Acres Sandfield the path then meets another farm track (TL 203505) which you have to follow northwest past Ten Acre Ground and Three Corner Close for a further 400 metres until you meet Sandy Road at TL 198508. According to the maps this footpath ought to continue south-westwards to meet the Everton Road in the corner of the field (TL 196503). It is opposite ‘Stone Lodge’, the thatched cottage at the entrance to Everton Park.