While much was happening on the international and national stages Caldecote saw little change in this period. While the many wars Britain was involved with helped to create the demand which kick started the industrial revolution Caldecote was not greatly affected. The agricultural revolution did have some impact. However, as the village was very late in being enclosed the change was limited.
That is not to say that there was no change. This is the period when James Butler lived. He moved into the Manor house and became a major landowner during his life, gaining land in the surrounding area. Road improvements took place and what is the Old St Neots Road became a stage road. The toll house stood near to where the island is now at the top of Highfields Road. The income from the toll was intended to pay for the improvement and upkeep of that part of the road.
Living conditions of the average villager did not change greatly. The poor of the village did gain something though. When the Rev Thomas Sitwell died he left £20 in his will for the deserving poor of the parish. Along with being a fellow of Christ’s College he had been the vicar of Caldecote. This money, which was only a small proportion of his estate, was left for the Master and Fellows of the college to invest. It was put into the South Sea Annuities and raised some 16 shillings a year. Today both sums seem ludicrously small. At the time £20 was rather like £30,000 or so today. The 16 shillings works out at 4%. The annual income therefore in today’s values is about £1200. Not a lot but there was another local source of money.
This was a group of properties known as the Town Lands. In a report to the Charities Commission in 1837 they were described as parcels of freehold land scattered about the parish which had been common property of the village since time immemorial. At the time they were let to a Benjamin Prior at an annual rent of three pounds eleven shillings. At this time the income from the Sitwell investment was topped up by Christ’s College to a pound. Combining this income with an annual donation from the curate, the minister and the church wardens who were tasked in paying out the money had ten pounds a year to spend on the deserving poor. Coal was bought.
The local farmers provided the carriage and instead of charging 17 old pence per hundredweight with the additional cost of 4 old pence half penny for carriage they were charged 8 old pence per hundredweight in total. As there were 240 old pence in the pound the beneficiaries of the charity were being charged the equivalent of 3 1/3 modern pence. However with local wages being around 50p a week the real cost in today’s money is equivalent to around £27 per hundredweight. (Around 50 kilograms). As this was the reduced price it is clear that coal was an expensive if necessary commodity. In 1837 coal was used not only for heating but more importantly for cooking. Along with wood this had also been the case in the 18th century Caldecote home. In fact the fire used for cooking would have been the only source of heat in the home of the average farm worker. With regard to the Sitwell charity it must be remembered that the organisers of the South Sea company created a major scandal with the investment opportunity known as the South sea bubble. It was one of the first situations where the public was encouraged to over invest by announcing expected profits which were far higher than could ever be realised. The demand for shares put the price up to an unrealistic value. When the truth came out the share price fell dramatically and many lost considerable sums of money. We have seen other occasions when this happened. One of the more recent was the Dot Com bubble when investors spent large sums buying shares into new companies about to trade on the then new internet. This pushed their share prices high before they had even started to trade. When reality kicked in many of these companies failed to deliver and many lost money. However, in the 20th century these investors were not only individuals but organisations as well.
One benefit of the industrial revolution which would eventually affect the village would be the fact that the cost of clothing the family would drop. In the 18th century fashion changed quite dramatically. Wigs changed shape and ladies wigs especially reached crazy proportions, although by the end of the century gentlemen had begun to stop wearing them, wearing their own hair long instead.
Men of all classes wore hats. This was usually what was known as a tricorn hat. This continued to be worn by poorer men after different hats became fashionable. By the end of the century we would have seen the beaver worn in fashionable areas. This became what is now known as the top hat. Not all though were that tall and being made from beaver fur, not black.
Ladies fashion varied enormously as the century progressed. Hoops of various dimensions were worn to exaggerate hips. By the end of the century though what was known as the empire look was the thing. While it harped back to ancient Rome the look was a much simpler and more practical form which to our eyes looks much more modern. High-waisted, many of the dresses used cotton fabric. However for the average Caldecote villager of either sex clothing would have been much simpler and plainer that that worn by the fashionable.
Below: 18th century man and a milkmaid
Below; two images of 18th century women’s clothing. In the right picture we can see the use of hoops. These are not suitable outfits for the rich and fashionable going out and about in society. They would be worn by poorer women or wealthier women about the home as less formal wear. Caldecote women would have worn similar garments.
Below; two images of 18th century women’s clothing. In the right picture we can see the use of hoops. These are not suitable outfits for the rich and fashionable going out and about in society. They would be worn by poorer women or wealthier women about the home as less formal wear. Caldecote women would have worn similar garments.by