Stamford, Lincolnshire

1801 - 1900



From ca. 9/2004


The nineteenth century began with a direct offensive against the traditional paternalist system whereby tenants and employees were subjugated to the interests of great landowners, typified by the Cecil estate. It was a situation born out of economic frustration and the increasing desire for equality and electoral reform, of personal improvement and capitalist development. At this time, Stamford's only substantial industry was malting and brewing and in order to compete with towns like Newark on the River Trent, it was vital that Stamford be linked into the Midlands and so the national canal network, contrary to the interests of the Cecils.


In 1809, a London merchant, Joshua Jepson Oddy, offered his services as a Whig candidate in the Parliamentary election in opposition to the Tory/Cecil status quo. Oddy's arguments were based on the economic issues (he supported the proposed Stamford to Oakham Canal) and they highlighted the differing interests of the landowner and of those who lived by trade and manufacture. At the election the Tory candidates won with ease, but Cecil invincibility was shaken.


The Whig opposition began to organise itself for the next battle at the 1812 election. John Drakard's radical newspaper, the Stamford News, lambasted the Cecils and their interference in the town and the Whigs highlighted corruption. Free education for poor children had become a rarity, as revenues from the Bluecoat School and Grammar School were scandalously embezzled by burgesses and masters; Thomas Blore's investigation into Stamford's charities, published in 1813, fully revealed the extent of deceit and fraud. Whig hopes were dashed, though, when Oddy was found to be a former bankrupt and he was forced to stand down before the election which was then lost. The Cecils had weathered the storm and while the rapidly industrialising towns of the north moved towards reform, the south remained the dominion of the Tory landowner.


However, the death of George IV in 1830 at last gave the reforming Whigs the opportunity to take office and at the reform election of 1831, Charles Tennyson secured a brief but historic victory becoming the first Whig MP for Stamford; it was the first time that the Cecils had had to share Stamford's representation in over 100 years. However, the 1832 Reform Act did little to alter the overall balance of power and the great landowners maintained their influence for at least another 50 years. The Municipal Corporations Act of 1835 did remove many of the old corrupt practices but by 1839 little had changed, for the Tithe Commissioner was able to conclude that the Marquess of Exeter's sovereignty over Stamford is 'a state of barbarous intervention and blindness, which resembles more an African dominion than an English and wholesome interference'.


Cecil fears of the radical effects of industrialisation produced stubborn resistance to measures to improve the town's economic viability; Stamford was never linked into the Midlands canal and river system. However, for the first half of the nineteenth century the town continued to prosper. As in the eighteenth century, income was created by the coaching trade and the town's markets. By 1830 the coaching trade was at its peak, due to improved roads and coach design, and traffic through Stamford was so heavy that a bypass was mooted. Shops, inns and service industries thrived on the vigorous bustle generated by one of England's busiest roads. The town's markets remained popular: in 1819 the corn market in Broad Street was the fourth largest outside London.


With money coming into the town the population soared. In the first half of the century Stamford's population grew by about 70-80%: in 1801 there were about 5,000 people on both sides of the river; by 1851 there were just over 9,000. Part of the expansion was industrial. The malting trade had diversified into brewing, and the other growth industry in early 19th-century Stamford was also rooted in the past: silk-spinning employed up to 500 women and children, but it remained a co-ordinated cottage industry with only small mills operating in the town. Other pre-1850 industry, such as iron-founding and agricultural engineering, was all small scale.


Private patronage, middle-class prosperity and a growing population resulted in civic and building improvements. In 1808, a grand portico was built in High Street as an entrance to a new combined market. In 1839 the corn market moved into a new arcaded hall in front of Browne's Hospital. When St Michael's Church on High Street collapsed during alterations in 1832, there was sufficient money in the town to finance a completely new church. And it was built on a grand scale, in the Early English Gothic style, and was proudly described in the Stamford Mercury as 'one of the most beautiful buildings in the Kingdom'. It was a symbol of a self-respecting community.


Other improvements were more directly practical. In 1824-5 a gas works was built by public subscription on the old tenter meadows off Wharf Road, so that streets, houses and mills became properly lit for the first time. The threat of typhoid and cholera prompted health measures. In 1828, a generous bequest by Henry Fryer, a wealthy surgeon, resulted in the construction of a Tudor-Gothic style hospital on the site of the Greyfriary. Nine years later the Cecils opened a new waterworks at Wothorpe. But most of these improvements only benefited those who could afford it; all too often the new water-closets of middle-class houses emptied into the working class's water supply.


The poor did see some improvement. Money from Fryer's bequest allowed for the rebuilding of Snowden's Hospital in Scotgate in 1823 and in 1832 for the foundation of a new almshouse on Kettering Road for six poor widows. Truesdale's Hospital was lavishly rebuilt in the Tudor-Gothic style in 1832 to designs by George Basevi, but the massive cost (said to be 3,300) produced accommodation for only four more men. In 1815, the National Society education programme built a school for girls on Wharf Road and in 1833 the Grammar School on St Paul's Street was doubled in size by the addition of a new room. In 1821, a new Gaol and House of Correction was built behind the Town Hall, but this proved insanitary and had to be rebuilt in 1842. Finally, under the directive of the unpopular Poor Law Union Act of 1834, a workhouse was erected on Barnack Road which also catered for paupers from the surrounding area.


Another symbol of the progress of improvement was the suppression of the bull-running, a violent working-class festival which was deemed to be unacceptable to a new generation of middle-class moral reformers. In fact, it was the financial burden of policing the 1839 bull-running which finally extinguished this ancient custom.


Much of this improvement, though, was only skin deep. The main problem Stamford had to face was the lack of available land for expansion, an enclosure issue engineered by the Cecils. Whilst open fields to the north of the town could not be built on, poor people were crammed into insanitary slum courts and multi-tenancy houses in back yards off the town's main streets. When any land became available outside the line of the old medieval town walls, it was allocated for middle-class housing. Space was so tight that the new Union Workhouse was erected on an old quarry site bought from the Cecils which cost a fortune to infill, while the Baptist Chapel of 1834-5 encroached into the unenclosed northern fields. St Michael's School had to be started in a public house. Industry also suffocated. There was hardly enough space for housing, let alone for factories; any business that did develop was severely restricted.


What compounded the problem was the transport issue. The birth of the railways meant that the end of the coaching trade, the lifeline of Stamford's prosperity, was inevitable. But the projected Great Northern Railway line through Stamford was not actively supported by the Marquess of Exeter, perhaps fearful of the associated industrialisation and pace of reform which the railway would bring, and so Peterborough got the main line in August 1844. Stamford was compensated with a Midland Railway branch route which ultimately connected Peterborough with Leicester. The main Great Northern line through Peterborough and Grantham opened in 1852 and, with the threat of large-scale industrialisation removed, the Marquess actively supported a connecting line to it at Essendine, four miles north-east of Stamford.


Stamford's immediate fortunes were bleak. The coaching trade, the backbone of the town's economy for more than 150 years, collapsed; service industries were forced to close. Old coaching inns, like the George and Angel in St Mary's Street and the Coach and Horses in St Martin's, shut down. Like other canals, the Welland Navigation was hit hard. It was last navigated in 1863, following years of neglect, and with its closure Stamford lost its river access to the sea. Building projects failed. The Brownlows' estate on the Blackfriars was abandoned and Richard Newcomb's death in 1851 meant that his grand terraced street from the top of St Mary's Hill to High Street never got beyond the first two shops. In 1871, the theatre on St Mary's Street closed, followed two years later by the racecourse on Wittering Heath; both were the victim of competition from bigger theatres and racecourses, now easily accessible by train.


Although Stamford never got the railway it wanted, the Midland and Essendine lines did open up opportunities for industry most of which served the agricultural market. Despite this, these new industries, hampered by lack of space and of immediate access to a main rail line, could not make up for the loss of trade brought about by the death of the coaching business.


Population began to drop; some migrated to the thriving commercial towns of the north. In December 1866 the Stamford Mercury reported that over 40 people had left Stamford that month for work in the cotton mill towns. By 1861, there were 8,344 people in the town and this had dropped to 8,193 by 1871. Stagnation in the town is emphasised by the growth of Peterborough. In 1774, the Gentleman's Magazine described Peterborough as 'the smallest city in England and but indifferently built'; by 1851 its population had grown to 8,763, an increase roughly in line with Stamford. But then the railway arrived: by 1871 Peterborough's population had soared to 17,429 and by 1901 it stood at 30,872. Even the Stamford Mercury was under threat with its monopoly in the East Midlands being gradually eroded by the foundation of new newspapers and its role, like the town, was becoming increasingly provincial. But things were about to change.


The death of Brownlow Cecil, the second Marquess of Exeter, coincided with the second Reform Act of 1867 which radically changed the political situation in Stamford. It reduced the number of MPs representing the town from two to one, while increasing the number of voters from around 850 to over 1,000. Its effects were emphasised with the introduction of the secret ballot in 1872; this made intimidation much more difficult and threatened the Cecils' means of control. The election two years later was the first to be contested since 1847 and although the Liberal candidate, M. C. Buszard, lost he was successful in the next election of 1880, a historic victory and perhaps ironic that Stamford's last MP was a Liberal. The 1884 Franchise Act removed Stamford's remaining seat and put the town into a larger South Lincolnshire constituency where the Cecils had less influence.


At last agreement was reached over enclosure. Much of this initiative came from the new Marquess who was in financial difficulty, accentuated by an extravagant lifestyle. The estate was in need of income and as the Cecils now owned 1,000 of the total 1,598 acres to be enclosed, enclosure was a lucrative proposition. An Enclosure Act was put through Parliament in 1871 and became effective in 1875. Houses and factories could now be built on the old open fields north of the town and from then until the early 1980s virtually all new buildings in the town were put up outside the old town walls. Land was sold to developers and speculators, although the Marquess insisted on the provision of a public park or Recreation Ground on Hunt's Close beyond the Baptist Chapel. John Woolston, a local builder, laid out a red brick estate to the east of the Recreation Ground while larger, middle-class housing lined the Tinwell, Empingham and Casterton Roads and the east end of St Paul's Street. Industry was finally able to expand which was enough to boost the town's population but enclosure came too late to make any large impact.


The late nineteenth century saw the first steps towards greater equality in society. Governments finally recognised the appalling poverty and insanitary living conditions of the working class, while scientific and technological developments stimulated progress towards their solution. Stamford responded to national initiatives. Outbreaks of typhoid in 1868 and 1869 prompted a sanitary report and isolation wards were built at the hospital in 1879 in line with government recommendations. The town's drainage, sewerage and water systems were renewed. The Education Act of 1870 stipulated that modern schools should provide basic education, which became compulsory in 1877. In Stamford, revenue from Browne's Hospital and the Grammar School was used to establish an elementary school (Browne's School in All Saints' Street) and two senior schools, one for boys, based around the old Grammar School on St Paul's Street, opened in 1875, and one for girls, High School in St Martin's, which opened in 1877.


In 1889, County Councils were created and Stamford was put under Kesteven County Council; the influence of the town council waned as responsibility for decisions moved outside the town. The Stamford police service was disbanded. In 1894, a Technical Instruction School was opened in Broad Street by the Kesteven authority for education in 'art, science, hygiene and the principles of agriculture'. The cattle market was moved out of Broad Street in 1896 to a new home, away from houses, south of the river. Finally, the old workhouse was replaced in 1902, by a new building on Ryhall Road, and other improvements included the arrival of telephones in 1889 and a large new Post Office was opened in 1896.


The last years of the nineteenth century also saw a sharp fall in prices which greatly increased the real wages of the working class. Between 1875 and 1900 prices plummeted by 40%. Birth control measures, perhaps prompted by rising material expectations, meant that families got smaller. Working hours were cut: in 1890 workers at Blackstones gained a reduction in the working week, although they still worked from 6am to 5pm Monday to Friday and 6am to 1pm on Saturday; early closing for shops in Stamford began in 1893 at 2pm on Thursdays. All this meant that the working class had more leisure time and more spending power.