The History of Cotton End and The Poor’s Land

Cotton End Park’s history has been shaped by its steep slope, its heathland character and its heavy clay soil from the earliest times to the present day. Because its slope made it impossible to plough, it was common land, used by the poor to graze their livestock, while later providing bricks for Victorian builders.

Medieval Period

In the Middle Ages, most of the Midlands was farmed under the open field system. Good farming land was given over to large open fields for crops like wheat, barley and legumes, which were farmed cooperatively using teams of oxen for ploughing the heavy soils.

A four-ox team plough, c. 1330. A team could plough about 1 acre per day

 

The fields were divided into long strips for ploughing because ox-ploughs were hard to turn, and a group of parallel strips was called a ‘furlong’, from ‘furrow-long’ – the length of a furrow. The plough would always throw the soil towards the centre of the strip, so it became mounded into a ridge, becoming ‘ridge and furrow’.

The rest of the land, including the ‘Common’ and the heathland, was used for grazing livestock.

Ridge and furrow in Gloucestershire, showing furlongs.

The Growth of Cotton End and Long Buckby

 Many of the villagers who used the Common lived in a separate settlement which became known as ‘Coten’, meaning ‘The Cottages’. It was on the edge of the Common near a water spring called ‘Rodwell’. Coten is first mentioned in documents dated 1324. The first time the name ‘Cotton End’ appears is some 200 years later by which time it had become joined to the main village. The name has nothing to do with cotton fabric.

The Ridge and Furrow Layout before 1765. This map is part of a reconstruction of the parish ridge and furrow system by a landscape archaeologist, David Hall, in 1977.

 

By 1700, most of Long Buckby Parish was covered by ridge and furrow farmland (see map below). Some of these ridges and furrows can still be seen. Each of the strips in a furlong was usually farmed by someone in the village. A furlong could consist of strips owned by different people and one person could own strips dotted around the Parish.

The poorer villagers did not own land and many of them kept animals on the ‘Common’ and the ‘Heath’, which stretched from what is now the A428 road down to the eastern end of the village.

Cotton End and the further end of East Street became a small community in itself. There were three pubs and a few small shops. People at that part of the village were known as ‘top enders’. Among the children, there was a great rivalry and even the occasional football match with the ‘bottom enders’ from the main village.

 

Enclosure of the fields

In 1765 all the furlongs and common land in the parish were swept away and the land was allocated to individuals based on the value of the strips they previously owned. The poor who owned no land also lost their commons grazing rights. To help them, a number of village charities were set up. One of them was given an area of common land (about 9 acres) near Cotton End. This became known as the ‘Poor Land’ or ‘Poor’s Land’. It is virtually the same land that we have as our park to-day. Other charities helped provide financial support for the poor and education for their children.

 

Enclosed fields off Brington Road, Long Buckby. Some fields have always been grazed by sheep and still show ridge and furrow. The darker field has been ploughed. [Google Maps]

Roadside Allotments

When the fields were enclosed in 1765 the roads were improved and the main ones were made 70 feet wide to allow for droving sheep. At that time Long Buckby was home to a thriving wool combing and weaving industry but this collapsed after 1800. As fewer sheep were kept, the wide roads were not needed and land at the side was used by villagers to grow vegetables. This explains the roadside allotments which can still be seen along the Northampton Road at Cotton End, one of which is now included within the Park.

The 19th and 20th Centuries

At first, The Poor’s Land was probably used by the poor as pasture but eventually, it was rented out to farmers and the income used to assist poor villagers. Many of these lived at Cotton End in houses owned by the Parish or in a small workhouse which was there until the 1820s. The lane on the south side of Cotton End is still known by a few older villagers as Workhouse Lane.

The Brickworks

The land at the park is largely based on clay and this has allowed us to create the ponds without liners in Cotton End Park. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, there was a brickyard at Cotton End near the south-east corner of the park. It was run first by the Foulds family from Leicestershire. Soon after 1870, Willian Deacon ran the business. Many houses at Cotton End today were built of these bricks. When the works closed, the pit was used as a refuse tip until the early 1930s. 

19th Century Brick made in Long Buckby

 

19th Century Brickmakers in Bedfordshire

Long Buckby United Charities and the Long Buckby Parish Council (PC)

In 1918 all the village charities were combined to form the Long Buckby United Charities Trust, who used the rent from The Poor’s Land to distribute to the elderly. Collecting enough rent became harder, and in 2009 they decided to try to sell the land to raise funds. Nick Roberts had already identified the need for more public space in an ever-growing village several years before and approached the PC with a proposal to create a park on the site. He formed Long Buckby Green Spaces as a group to take on the creation and development of the park and persuaded the PC with help from councillors Phil Davis and Alan Webb, to rent the land from the United Charities Trust for this purpose. The villagers were consulted on what they would want to be included and a constitution was agreed. The annual rent enables the Charity to continue to distribute its funds each Christmas.

Long Buckby Green Spaces and Cotton End Park

Long Buckby Green Spaces was formed to create a public amenity from The Poor’s Land. The newly created park was called Cotton End Park and was to provide a safe, open green place for people to enjoy the countryside. It was to include recreational facilities (particularly for schools, the uniformed youth organisations and young people), and an opportunity to experience wildlife and the natural environment. Since then our volunteers have worked constantly on a number of projects.

– The creating and demarcation of the various project areas.

– Parking and toilet facilities. Adding fencing, gates, signage, and access paths.

– Building an information shelter using traditional materials such as cob and thatch.

– Planting two community sponsored Orchards with local heritage fruit trees.

– Creating wildlife habitats such as ponds, wetland and wildflower areas.

– Planting native trees and hedges, and learning countryside management skills.

– Installing recreation equipment, zip-wires and picnic benches.

– Running a flock of sheep and bee-hives.

– Building a bird hide and a pond-dipping platform.

– Creating a venue for groups and organisations to hold events.