The 18th century sees Brassington hit by a quadruple whammy: a declining wool industry, and lead mining; the Turnpike Act, and the enclosure of Brassington Moor. Half the villagers are now impoverished, but they still know how to enjoy themselves. Meanwhile, the limestone village of today takes shape.
Brassington became poorer during the 18th century due to decline in both its main sources of income, wool and, by mid-century, lead. “It was a workaday village, without squire or gentlefolk”.
The gentry families all left the village and Brassington “changed from a poor community with a few rich farmers and land owners to one which, while still poor, and having no wealthy families at all, had considerably more families who were enjoying a limited and modest prosperity” from the lead trade.
However, success in mining could be elusive and this prosperity was fragile - “during a three year period between 1741 and 1744 there were nineteen paupers in a total of thirty-eight burials” recorded in the parish register. Poor families who attempted to move to other villages were soon sent back. Most couples saw half their children die young and every pregnancy was hazardous.
Hard conditions bred a tough and philosophical attitude to life and death, often expressed on 18th century gravestones - “Short was my time/ Longer is my rest/ God called me hence/ He thought it best”.
“There was little schooling in the village for the boys and none for the girls”. Thurstan Dale, one of Brassington’s absentee landlords, left £10 in his will in 1742 to pay the salary of a schoolmaster and one of the earliest, John Johnson, earned a gravestone set up in the village churchyard by his former pupils - “A few of his pupils in grateful acknowledgment have erected this stone”. In spite of Johnson’s efforts half of the villagers who made wills during his time could not sign their names.
“For the first half of the 18th century the village’s farmers, miners and publicans kept the advantages arising from its position on the Derby-Manchester road. They were increased in 1720 by a Turnpike Act which improved the road from Derby.
Turnpiking was the 18th century attempt to solve the the ancient problem of maintaining a decent road network. Local trustees undertook to raise money by tolls and to use it to pay for regular maintenance. The 1720 Act provided for improvement to the “dangerous, narrow and at times impassable road” between Shardlow, where the London to Manchester road crossed the Trent, and Brassington, where it stopped.
The turnpike ended in Brassington because the route over the upland to the north of the village, the limestone plateau, was dry enough not to need maintenance.
Turnpiking was clearly not going to achieve Roman standards, and the road had not advanced beyond Brassington when Burdett published his map of Derbyshire in 1789. An alternative route to the north through Ashbourne was turnpiked by an Act of 1738, cutting Brassington’s advantage. A further turnpike in 1758, linking Oakerthorpe and Ashbourne, crossing the old road at Turnditch, must have redirected much northbound traffic westward to join the Manchester road at Ashbourne. By 1777 the trustees, while advertising in the Derby Mercury for December 5th that the annual incomes of the Osmaston and Markeaton gates were £279 and £115 respectively, were proposing to remove the Knockerdown gate. Clearly there was no longer enough traffic through Brassington to pay for the cost of the gate and its keeper. The role which the village had played since its founders had built their huts near the Roman Street was over.
Travellers had a choice of inns and alehouses, as in earlier centuries. Newspapers had stories mentioning the Wheatsheaf in 1757, the Red Lion, kept by John Prestwidge, in 1761, and the George in 1768. In 1759 the barmaster, Edward Ashton, advertised his inn in the Derby Mercury for letting. This was the New Inn, bought in 1754 from Job Marple. By 1777 the JPs of the Wirksworth wapentake were granting licenses to three Brassington innkeepers, a number which had risen to five by the turn of the century. The reference to the Wheatsheaf in the Derby Mercury in 1757 was an advertisement by a new landlord which, in addition to offering “good Accomodations, civil Usage, and the most grateful acknowledgements”, reminds us that the eighteenth century English knew their place. The inn’s services were offered to “Gentlemen, Ladyes, and others”.
The “good accomodations” at Job Marple’s Red Lion, the former “new Hall” built by Thomas Westerne, are amply set out in Marple’s inventory of 1755. There was good oak furniture in the “great parlour or dining room” and in the eighteenth century equivalent of the tap room. The dining room had decent crockery, including flowered china coffee cups, and was decorated with pictures and maps. There were six bedrooms, with ash feather beds, and the kitchens and cellars were well stocked with food and drink”.
“The building of today’s limestone village, started in the 17th century, continued through the 18th. By the time Brassington was surveyed and mapped in connection with the enclosure of the moors at the end of the century the village looked much as it did throughout the 1800s, before the building of the new school on Town Street in 1872 and the council houses near it in the 20th century.
On the east side of Town Street, Rakehouse Farm was built. A group of barns was added to Sycamore Farm, which itself dates from the previous century. The miner’s cottage behind Wash Hills Farm was built during the 18th century, as was the house on the east side of Town Street called The Green and the one on the west next to Green Cottage.
Brassington Hall, on the north side of Well Street, was built during the 17th century. Two more manor houses were added in the 18th, one on the south side of Church Street, opposite Ivybank, in 1774, and the other on the north side of West End, in 1793. Another farmhouse built in this century was Bucksleather House, whose ancient name was changed to Brookfield in the 20th century.
One of the village’s two remaining pubs, the Miners Arms, was built in the 1700s. A full description of it was given in the manor court book when it was sold in 1771- “all that messuage house cottage or tenement in Brasson aforesaid with a barn and a stable thereto belonging. And also so much of a garden (adjoining the said house) as extends to the middle part of the middle window in the said house… and also all that messuage house cottage or tenement adjoining to the northwest end of the aforesaid house commonly called Palmer’s House”.
The Miners Arms, like other buildings mentioned here, is a listed building and although the list gives its date as late-18th century, Robert Wayne, who sold it in 1771, had bought Thomas Palmer’s house in 1725. The pub is an amalgamation of a number of formerly separate buildings and at least one of its parts was clearly built early in the century.
Other 18th century additions to the village were Pleasant House, opposite the Miners Arms, and Church Gate Cottage, on the north side of Church Street. This house, like many more in the village, used to be two cottages. With the turnpike road came toll houses. There was one at Hipley which was demolished in the 20th century and one on the Aldwark Road which was for part of its life a cow shed.
In spite of poverty and hardship the villagers knew how to enjoy themselves. The Derby Mercury had a column of local news which over the years included the occasional item about Brassington. Three of these pieces describe the village celebrating big events. For the coronation of George III on October 22nd 1761 “a large Subscription was raised by the Gentlemen, Farmers, Tradesmen and Miners of the said Town, who bought a fat Cow, which was roasted for the Publick … a Band of Music, consisting of two Hautboys, and Bassoons, with First and Second Fiddles, by very good Hands, play’d before the People round the Town … the Evening concluded with the loudest Acclamations of Joy and Loyalty”.
The village celebrated the centenary of the Glorious Revolution of 1688 with a similar feast - “few places surpassed the Village of Brassington”. The fat cow for this day was given by the “principal Gentleman”, along with “many Hogsheads of Ale”. In March of the following year, 1789, the village took the king’s recovery from one of his periods of insanity for another feast day. There were bells ringing, a parade by the band and the church choir, who sang a new song specially composed for the occasion, a bonfire “which contained about five Tons of coals”, and two hundred gallons of free beer. Not surprisingly “the evening concluded with the greatest harmony”.
The villagers also amused themselves with the savage old sports of cock fighting and bull baiting, as well as such gentler past-times as bowling - they levelled a patch of ground on the western slopes to make a bowling green.
Life became harder for the villagers when the common wasteland of Brassington Moor was enclosed in 1808. There had been an earlier attempt which failed because of opposition from landowners in Elton, who had rights on Brassington’s common. However, in 1803 the landowners agreed on the terms of an Enclosure Act, passed by Parliament, and over the next five years the 2,479 acres of common land was parcelled out, largely in conformity with existing land holding. Many of the villagers were given small allotments, usually of less than an acre, but outside landowners, “three and a half percent of the total allotment holders, were granted 1,464 acres, or fifty-nine percent of the whole”.
Enclosure transformed the villagers’ landscape. The open moorland vanished, replaced by fields and barns. These new fields, unlike the hedged fields to the south, were bounded by limestone walls, creating what became the typical landscape of the White Peak.
The Enclosure Act also provided for “public carriage roads”, 30 feet wide, and “private carriage and drift roads”, 20 feet wide. The former remain the main roads into the village while most of the private roads were never built. Two which were are Lots Lane, then called Mere Road, and Wester Lane, called Sydes Pasture Road in the Enclosure award.