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4 - A Working Village 

O let us love our occupations,

Bless the squire and his relations,

Live upon our daily rations,

And always know our proper stations.

 (Dickens, The Chimes)

Before the availability of fast, economical transport, most villages had to be largely self sufficient.  So it was with Stillington, but this has changed over the last 170 years or so.  According to Kelly's Directory of 1879, Stillington was a 'large pleasant village standing on sandy, clayey soil growing chiefly potatoes and corn with excellent grazing'.  As a farming community, many of the trades pursued in the village were those supporting agriculture, like blacksmith, miller, joiner and bricklayer.  Obviously other needs of the villagers had to be met and in 1823, for a village of 698 souls there were at least four pubs, two butchers, six shoemakers, four tailors, six joiners and two brewers as well as a grocer and draper, candle maker, plumber and glazier, cooper, schoolmaster, and, unusually, a surgeon.  The 'big house',  - Stillington Hall - would have provided employment for maids, cooks, garden boys and stable lads, running the house and grounds.  Finally there was the Church with a vicar, at this time a member of the Croft family, and a curate, possibly the man who did the work.  It is fascinating to see the changes over the years and discover when new trades entered the village.

In 1823 there is mention of a riding post passing through the village and dropping off the mail at 7.0 am on the way from York to Helmsley and doing the same on the return journey, arriving at 4.0 pm. The post man at the time was one William Garret. In 1840 the mail was delivered to 'Anne Robinson's house' at 8.0 am, by 1857 arriving at 6.30 am from York and delivered to her at the 'Post Office' - the first time it is mentioned by name.   What ever time did the carrier leave York, 10 miles away, with at least one village in between?  By 1872 there was a new post master, Thomas Sowray, and not only did the letters now come from Easingwold but the post office had become a money order office and savings bank as well. In 1925 it was a Telephonic Express Delivery Office, under the capable management of the sub-postmistress, Miss Thirza Gibson. 

In the same year as the post office was first recorded (1857) there is mention of one William Barnett, Insurance agent, of the Provincial (Welsh) Insurance. From then on insurance agencies flourished. In 1872 Stephen Cattley was agent for four companies, one of which was the London Guaranteed Manure Co. and in 1901 the Annuity and Insurance Office was combined with the Post Office under Mrs Annie Gibson, sub-postmistress. 

In 1823 the surgeon in the village was William Dennis, and throughout the records either a surgeon or a doctor is mentioned. Stillington, I suspect, has been very fortunate to have a doctor so close at hand. There is still this facility today, with a surgery run by Doctors Peter Jones and Barbara McPherson, who care for patients in the village and from a large area of the surrounding countryside. Now, of course, the term General Practitioner or G.P. is self explanatory but in earlier records doctors skills were spelled out in detail, for example in 1901 Dr. Gramshaw was a physician and surgeon as well as being medical officer and public vaccinator.   A related appointment was that of registrar of births and deaths. This post was held by various people over the years. The first mention of it is in 1857 with the Insurance agent William Barnett holding the appointment. In 1879 William Sowray the post master was registrar and at the end of the century the miller William Gibson held the post. By the end of the 1930s the post had disappeared, presumably now there was a central office in York or Easingwold. 

Throughout recorded history of English villages there is mention of pubs and ale houses, Stillington is no different. What may be unusual in a village this size is the number. Even today for a population of about 800 there are three pubs, the Bay Horse, the White Bear and the White Dog, all of which appear at the beginning of the period. Other pubs have come and gone but these three have stood the test of time. The Bay Horse, from 1840 to 1937 had only three families recorded as publican whereas the other two had many licensees. In some cases it proved a lucrative employment. One, Noah Wynn, who held the licence of the White Bear from before 1823 until about 1860 later appears in the records as the second largest land owner after the Croft family at Stillington Hall. Of course a pub was the meeting place for villagers. However, in the case of the White Bear it was also the meeting place, from its formation in 1768 to its expiry in 1881, of the trustees of the Oswaldkirk Bank Turnpike Trust. The turnpike York to Oswaldkirk must have made the life of the poor old mail carrier easier!   

Today the three pubs thrive but not necessarily as our ancestors would recognise them. The White Dog is a flourishing Indian restaurant and take away and the Bay Horse is an Italian restaurant and pizza take away - how times change. The White Bear is still the meeting place it always was holding a village lunch on a monthly basis. 

On the subject of food, it is interesting to note that whilst there have always been butchers in the village, and at one time an abattoir and a candle maker, unlike the nursery rhyme there have never been any recorded bakers. Whereas in towns a baker was a valued member of the community, not least because he often allowed people to cook meat in his oven after baking, in Stillington, apparently, all women baked their own bread. However it is possible that there were those who baked for sale. Certainly in living memory the wife of the blacksmith cooked meat pies for sale. One resident, who came from Marton to school in the village in the 1930s, remembers being given 2d twice a week to buy her lunch from the pie lady.  Also recollecting that the gravy was kept hot on the stove until the last minute and poured in through the hole in the top of the pie so that it was piping hot. Now we know why pies have a pastry rose on the top - it is a gravy plug. 

Rather as the Bay Horse was run by a surprisingly few families over a hundred and seventy years so it was with blacksmiths in the village. Although occasionally two were in business at the same time throughout the period only three names are recorded. Jonathan Slater already working in 1823 and last mentioned in 1879. Thomas Richardson appears in 1872 and continues until at least 1913 and Eustace Burnett who is recorded in 1901. His wife is mentioned in 1937 as the blacksmith although present members of the village maintain that she was just the owner. In 1913 Eustace Burnett junior is recorded as being a cycle agent - modern man, modern machine maybe? 

In 1823 there are 6 shoemakers recorded and one name,that of Thomas Lowther, continues until it is last mentioned in 1901. Other names slowly die out.  It must have been a profitable trade as earlier in the 19th Century the cordwainer (or shoemaker) was one of only 5 men in the village recorded as 40 shilling freeholders and therefore qualified to vote in council elections. Others it might appear turn to different trades. One of the shoemakers mentioned in the early records was John Hodgson but he also appears as the proprietor of a beer house. By 1857, when last mentioned as a shoemaker, the Boot and Shoe Inn is first recorded under his name. Could he have found a more congenial occupation?  

Despite being largely self supporting the village did have contact with the outside world apart from the mail deliveries. In the 1820s there was a carrier recorded who left for York on a Saturday morning at 4.0 am and returned the same day. By 1857 there were two carriers and the journey was undertaken twice a week, on Thursday and Saturday. In the 1880s an omnibus service was serving the villagers on Saturdays and on alternate Thursdays from the White Dog for the fortnightly fair days in York. Just before the Second World War there was a daily bus service and a haulage firm carrying throughout the country. Today there is a regular bus service, something to be treasured in the present climate of poor rural public transport. The village could, until recently, boast its own bus company.  

There have been many trades in the village, all necessary for the smooth running of a community largely isolated from the outside.  As new inventions appeared and other services were required, so they found their place in the lives of those in Stillington.  In the 1879 records, a threshing machine proprietor is mentioned.  The present century saw a nursing home and a home for old men run by Catholic fathers.  By the end of the 19th Century not only was there a doctor but a vet as well.  

Within living memory there have been many businesses, some of them quite surprising.  For many years between the two World Wars a travelling fair had its winter quarters in the village and in spring the refurbished rides were enjoyed by the villagers on the green.  At the same time a hawker and rabbit skin seller was plying his trade.  Fish and chip shops have been popular and at one time there were three.  Today this number is down to one but a very popular facility it is.  As in many villages the joiner also doubled as undertaker and in Stillington he was a wheelwright as well.  There have been three forges over the years, one in the mill, and with the advent of motor vehicles a garage.  As might be expected in a farming community horse dealers were part of village life.  Some properties had different businesses in them over the years.  One, for example, was a butchers and abattoir before the First World War but after the Second it was a drapers and wool shop.  Another that had been a candle makers in the 19th Century later became a sweet shop, happily remembered by present senior citizens of the village. 

No history of village trades would be complete without mention of the mills.  Stillington had one recorded in the Domesday Book and there is still one on the site today dating from the 18th Century.  There have been two other mills in living memory, both upstream on the River Foss and within a mile of the remaining one.  With changes in farming needs these became redundant and in the case of one of them changed use to become a barn, the other has vanished.  During the period under review there have been three names associated with the mill and of those the longest standing is that of Gibson.  Thomas Gibson is first mentioned in 1879 and his descendants still live in the village today.  The mill ceased to grind in the 1960s and since then it has been a craft shop and hairdressers as well as winning architectural awards when it was converted into a home.  It is now run for bed and breakfast guests.  The millers' house is no longer standing and the mill pond is greatly reduced but the mill building itself is a prominent feature of the area.  People can still remember in drought years fetching water for the wash tub from the constant supply in the mill pond.  Also there are the remnants of a pump by the mill that used to supply water to Stillington Hall 500 yards away. 

Trades have come and gone over the period.  Some were never recorded, such as those women who took in washing or the lady that ran a cafe, or the piano teacher.  Neither is the grandmother of a present senior inhabitant who was the village midwife.  It is interesting that in a village with a doctor, a midwife was still an important member of the community. 

At the end of the 20th Century the numbers and varieties of trades and businesses have changed to reflect the rest of the country.  No longer is there a forge or cycle shop but there is still a garage.  The post office still continues to be the centre of village communications and the shop included in it is a life line for many.  Stillington remains an agricultural village but the services required to maintain the farms come from further afield.  Many of the inhabitants travel to work in York, Leeds, London and even, at one time, Oslo.  With the advent of computers it is possible to run national and sometimes international businesses from within the village.  At the present, working from home is a venture capitalist, a management consultant as well as a poet and broadcaster, an upholsterer and an antiques business.  Until recently the village included an artist and a sculptor. All trades that could be related to those of an earlier era.  The missing figure today is a vicar.  No longer is there a resident priest and certainly no curate, as with many rural communities today Stillington is part of a benefice of four parishes.  The numbers of souls has varied over the last hundred and seventy years but only increased from 698 in 1823 to about 800 today.  Throughout that time some trades have endured but many have vanished to be replaced with a modern equivalent. Stillington trades continue to adapt to change maintaining a strong and viable community at the beginning of a new millennium.