Elsdon : The 19th Century
The drovers and the ‘Scotch carriers’ mentioned by the Rev. Dodgson, who presumably used these routes and the Elsdon turnpike after it opened, may have brought a modest prosperity to Elsdon, or at any rate to its innkeepers.
In the 18th and 19th centuries a series of new routes were constructed as outlined above. Although these roads have undoubtedly improved Elsdon’s connections to the outside world, the eventual construction of the improved line for the Jedburgh Turnpike after 1829 resulted in most traffic bypassing the village, ensuring that Elsdon declined in importance relative to Otterburn. Already in 1827 Hodgson had described Otterburn as ‘the emporium of Redesdale . . neat and well-built; and has the appearance of industry, thrift and comfort about it’ (1827, 107). In the second half of the century Otterburn was to pull away decisively.
Elsdon’s ecclesiastical status as the parochial centre was no longer as significant as had once been the case, with additional Anglican churches and chapels being founded in the valley, firstly at Byrness in 1796, then Horsley (1844) and Otterburn (1858) in the mid 19th century. Initially these were built as chapels of ease within Elsdon parish, to provide for more convenient centres of worship for the valley’s population, but Horsley was promoted to the status of a separate parish in 1884. Furthermore much of the valley’s population was now worshipping in non-conformist (predominantly Presbyterian) churches and chapels. One such congregation used the Assembly Room attached to the north end of the Bacchus Inn, on the east side of the green.
The Rector’s School was founded by the Church of England in 1835. The small building was situated towards the north end of the green and there was a dwelling house attached for the schoolmaster. All the children, sometimes numbering up to 40 and ranging in age from 5 to 13 years, were taught in one classroom, whilst toilet provision was somewhat rudimentary with no urinals and only a few earth closets for the girls. As late as 1884, reports by School Board inspectors show that there were hardly any desks, none at all for the infants, and it was recommended that paper be used instead of slate (cf. Taylor n.d., 49-50).
The inspectors were appointed by the School Boards set up by the 1870 Education Act. Their reports were incorporated in the school log books, which are a mine of fascinating information on the conduct of education and many aspects of wider village life in the later 19th century. The problems of poor attendance during severe winter weather is often highlighted. Even as late as March ‘3 roads out of 4 out of Elsdon still blocked with snow’ could make it impossible for many pupils from outside the village to attend.
Conzen identified only seven buildings from the mid- and late Victorian era at Elsdon (1969, 79), and noted that the population of Elsdon township (later civil parish) fell substantially from 313 in 1851 to 192 in 1891. Not only were specific issues at work in Elsdon, relating to its sudden bypassing by the main routes through the valley, but also this period was one of widespread agricultural depression, leading to reduction of the number of people employed on the land. Local farming increasingly specialised in the rearing and summer feeding of hardy cattle and sheep. The Crown changed from being an inn to a farm and High Mote Farm was also established in this century.
Picture : Elsdon Old School
Picture : Elsdon School Date Stone