THURLBY – 1912

A century ago, Thurlby was very different from the modern village we know today. Most of the community was involved in agriculture. Thurlby was truly self-supporting, with farmers, butchers, bakers, a dairy, grocery shops, pubs and blacksmiths. There was a Post Office from which, after sorting, the mail was delivered.

The Railway Station provided a passenger and goods service; as did carriers by road.

There was a Board School – and St. Firmin’s Church and two Methodist Chapels provided places of worship for villagers.

In 1911, the Wesleyan Methodist congregation decided that a new chapel was needed. The building contract was awarded to Mr Frederick Charles Brutnell of Thurlby. The Wesleyan Chapel, built in 1912, remains as a place of worship and village landmark to this day.

The Brutnell family were well-known farmers and builders, with their home and farm on Thurlby High Street. A unique record of village life, Fred Brutnell’s work and business diary, from 1912, has passed down to the present generation.

During the next year, a selection of entries from the diary, recalling work through the seasons/ on the farm, in the Fen and around the village, will appear  on Thurlby Village. We thank Joyce Stevenson for editing these and the Brutnell family for allowing them to be posted.

Brutnell’s Diary – January 1912

Monday, January 1. Tom (Brutnell) & 2 horses ploughing at Smiths. C.Brown & 2 horses carting manure onto Short Drove field. One load from home.” Various 6 to 15 foot lengths of timber and “4 buckets, to Rural Council for cleaning out Carrdyke”. This was followed by an entry on the 5th for more timber, buckets and “1 pair yokes for Carrdyke”. The wooden yoke across the shoulders would be used to carry two buckets when clearing the dyke.

Carting and spreading manure, and ploughing, mainly on their own fields in the Fen, continued throughout the month, with an additional entry (29th): “Tom & C.Brown & 2 horses – 2 loads manure Golden Well for W.Corten“.

Pig killing took place at the farm (6th) and mangolds were carted home (9th) ensuring that the family had meat and their animals had food during the winter months.

Tom & C.Brown and 4 horses spent several days carting granite to Wytham, Toft & Toft main roads; and “Slag onto Fen Droves”. Straw was carted from the station for Mr.Sneath; mangolds to T.Holland and two loads of faggots (bundles of sticks) for Mr Griffin.

On the 22nd Fred supplied pipes to repair the drain in Water Lane; and on the 23rd he noted: “T.Rds. (T.Rhodes) rep. and fixing copper at Mr.Hollands“.

During January John (Brutnell) also completed a variety of jobs which included fencing trees in the Fen, repairing doors, ploughing and carting soil. With Fred he made a gate which he hung the following day at the entrance to a field in Short Drove.

On the 5th, 6th and 24th Fred recorded that the weather was “Very snowy & wet”, and on the 29th & 30th of the month, it was “Very sharp”. In spite of the snow and hard frost, work continued as usual with the exception of Sundays. Other than tending the animals there was no work on Sunday – this was the day when all the family was expected to attend Chapel

February 1912

Thursday, February 1. “Tom & 2 horses moving machine for Mr.Osborn. 1 load mangolds to T.Holland. Part day carting slag to own yard.  Fixing iron tie through barn for Mr.Sneath. Holland’s pony to Ringham’s field.”

Another load of mangolds was delivered to village butcher Mr.Holland, on the 17th of the month.

Tom Brutnell, horseman on the farm, and C.Brown, spent much of February carting manure from the “Beast Shed” to the manure heap and potato land in Short Drove.

Tuesday, February 13. Tom, C.Brown & 4 horses carting granite Main Road. Self taking load 8.9 inch pipes to Baston Hedge Drove from Green. Fetch 6 Street-Frames & Grates from Bourne to Northorpe – 2 to Roadman Smith.”

Wednesday February 14. Tom, C.Brown & 4 horses carting granite Main Road.  7.9 inch pipes to Baston Hedge Drove. T.Rds (Tom Rhodes) taking off old wood Frames, rep. cesspools, fix new Street Frames in cement & paving round with blue pavors in cement. 88 bricks, 1 1/4d each (a penny-farthing each).l bag cement,5/6 (five shillings & sixpence). Sand, 2/- (two shillings). Pony, 2/-.”

Granite carting to Toft & Thurlby Main Roads continued throughout the month. On February 21st there was a record of “1 man & horse & cart moving roadstone from near Kate’s Bridge Cottages to Cross Roads”, and on the 26th: “C. Brown & 2 horses finish stone carting, Main Road”.

Following an entry on 22ndt “Self at Mr Sneaths Tennis Ground”, Fred Brutnell spent several days working at Mr.Sneaths.

The month ended “Threshing Oats & Barley. Cutting Chaff etc” (28th & 29th).  The arrival of the Threshing Machine marked one of the most important activities of the farming year.  The stacks of harvested sheaves were threshed to seperate the grain, chaff (grain husks) and straw. Following the threshing various deliveries of straw, chaff, oats and barley were made to Mr.Sneath, T.Holland, Jno. Needham, J.Chambers & S.Harvey

March 1912

Friday, March 1st  “Tom, C Brown & 4 horses ploughing, Short Drove. 2 horse loads manure from home. Self & pony & Joe putting-on & spreading manure, potato land. 5 quarters oats to C. R. Horn at 25/-”. (25 shillings)

Throughout the month farmland was being cleared and prepared for the new season’s crops. This included manuring, ploughing and duckfooting, followed by chain-harrowing grassland in the Fen, and harrowing and rolling grassland at the farm. Another task was the loading, carting and delivery of straw.

Fred Brutnell worked on the land but also attended several farm sales including ‘Ringhams’, where he noted an interest in some harrows. On the 14th he bought a “Duckfoot at halves with Mr. Osborn, 30/-”. They each paid 15 shillings for the Duckfoot harrow.

Thursday 7th, Fred and Tom Brutnell , with 2 horses and a Trolly, were moving Freeman’s furniture from P’boro. 

8th March: “Tom & 2 horses taking Freeman’s goods to Northorpe”. At the end of the month, Fred spent 2 days “taking goods to Oundle”.

C. Brown & T. Rhodes were also kept busy and an entry on the 18th gives some idea of their work. “C. Brown & 1 horse, Steam Roller, Main Road. Tom, Joe & self sundries at home. Rather wet day. 24 cwt straw  to S. Harvey at 55/-. T. Rhodes rep. ceilings & barn roof at T. Holland’s.  Distempering ceiling at Miss Cappitt’s.”

On the 19th & 20th, Mr Rhodes spent 2 days digging John George Wade’s garden. 23rd March. “Tom & 2 horses harrowing Oat land, Fen Drove. C.Brown, steam roller. Joe fetch 2 tons King Edward seed potatoes from Baston – £5. 10s. 10d. T. Rhodes and Leonard (Brutnell) fix copper, old fireplace, etc. at Tupholmes, Bourne Fen.”

26th March. “C. Brown steam rolling. Tom & 2 horses duckfooting at Smith’s Barley land. Leonard and 1 horse fetch ton potatoes from Dyke. Joe, C. Kemp, N. Glenn, T. Rhodes, riddling potatoes.”

April 1912

Monday April 1st. “Tom & 2 horses, C Brown & 2 horses, duckfooting at Short Drove.  T Rhodes, clean, distemper diary at Mr Peasgood’s – time & stuff 3/6.  Joe in paddock & c.  Rhodes rep. walls, floors &c Seth’s cottage, 3 1/2 hours.  Sand 9d.  Cement 1/6.  Pony to Sandall to Bourne for manger.  4qtrs barley to Mr Cragg and 2 ½ qtrs oats.  4qtrs barley on rail to Mr Sneath.  2qtrs oats to King, Swinstead”.

Until 15th April Mr Rhodes worked most days at Mr Seth’s cottage; he also spent three days building a chimney for Mr Holland.  16th April notes:  “T Rhodes at his own potatoes”.

During March Fred Brutnell had attended farm sales at Ringhams, Rawlinsons, Picks and also Andrews sale at Lound.  April was no different, Fred went to a sale at Deeping, and he had a very successful day at Atkinson’s sale where the bought:  “cart £8.15.0. saddle 1/-.  saddle 7/-.  Ties 1/3 (total £9.4s.3d).  Corn 9/- and a 3rd share in a drill for £8.8.0”.

In addition to his farmwork Joe also attended a sale on the 10th and, as the diary notes on the 15th:  “Joe at Stamford with beast”, 25th : “Joe at market”, and 27th :“Joe at Lincoln”.

April was one of the busiest times manuring and working the land.  Drilling and rolling oats, rolling barley, ridgeing potatoes and harrowing wheat, bean and mangold fields.

The 17th of April was a typically full day.  “John & 2 horses part day drilling & harrow Fen Gardens.  Part day at potatoes.  Tom & 2 horses, Joe, Mrs Brown & C Brown & 4 boys, planting potatoes, King Edwards.  T Rhodes part day at Hollands, part day in yard.  17cwt Ware potatoes on rail T Pick.  1 cwt seed to Rhodes”.  22nd April included:  “Joe & 1 horse, hoeing & hand-hoeing beans”.

On Tuesday 30th April:  Tom, Joe, Chambers drilling mangolds Smiths.  C Brown hoeing beans, Fen Bar.  T Rhodes rep. plaster on walls at Inkleys, mortar, cement & lime.  Rhodes at Mr Robt. Wades.  Self visit lake re: sheepwash”.

May 1912

Wed 1st May: “Tom carting granite – village.  Joe & C Brown barrow-wheeling  mangolds. T Rhodes at Robert Wade’s 3/6, mortar 1/-, 5 ridges 1/3.  Self at sheepwash with Lake.”  May 2nd:  “T Rhodes carting manure to Smiths, tarring at home & sundries.  Tom carting granite to Obthorpe.  C Brown hoeing beans”.  The activities of these two days set a pattern for the seasonal routine work.  Things were quieter on the land, with only one day chain harrowing and another drilling mangolds, but there was still plenty of work to do.

On 4th May:  “Tom & 2 horses cart gravel, slipe to churchyard”, this followed on 6th with “T Rhodes & C Brown getting-up hedge & c. at churchyard”.  Mr Rhodes and Mr Brown spent eight days building the churchyard wall, finishing on 17th May.

“T Rhodes & C Brown at churchyard wall.  Bill for churchyard £5.10s.6d.  Joe part day in fen, weeding.  Tom moving 3 loads stones from churchyard.  Self at Stamford re chapel.

Fred Brutnell and his uncle, William Cragg of Corby Glen, had been awarded the contract to build the new Wesleyan Chapel on High Street.  On 8th May, Fred went to Stamford to see William Hinson, the designer.

Although farm work continued normally, mid-month work started in earnest at the chapel site.  The record for 18th explains:  “T Rhodes, C Brown & Joe & 2 horses carting surface soil from new chapel.  Tom & 2 horses drilling seeds in Fen Bar, about 6.5 acres.  7 stones clover.  5 stones evergreen ryegrass.  Atkinson’s Drill.”

Additional workers were taken on as required to work the chapel site, and on 23rd Fred noted:  “Slating let today to H Porter”, and on 25th, “T Rhodes & N Glenn at Chapel, foundations & carting bricks”.

30th May:  “W Lumb, Rhodes & C Brown, 8 hrs chapel & 2 hrs Mr Sneaths.  John Glenn, W Wright at chapel.  1 load lime, 3 loads sand to Mr Sneaths.  Joe soil carting part day.  Tom & Brothwell hoeing & skerrying in fen. Harveys horses carting to chapel”.

June 1912

June was in many respects a month of two halves.  Until mid-month there was little farm work as everyone was needed at the chapel site.  On Monday 3rd, Joe Brutnell with one horse, fetched materials from Stamford to the chapel.  The following day he was loading bricks at Thurlby station.  Five of the men were working up to ten hours daily at the site.  There were several June days which Fred Brutnell noted as being ‘very wet’ including Wednesday 12th, the day of the stone laying, when he noted: “self, John (Brutnell), Tilley, Rhodes, Uncle (William Cragg) about all day preparing for stone laying.  Wright & C Brown about quarter day”.

Under the heading:  ‘Stone laying of Wesleyan chapel at Thurlby’ the Stamford Mercury reported the “rain only ceased for a short interval just before the ceremony commenced, there was a large attendance.”  Among eight principal stone layers was “Mr Jos. Bryan, who is the oldest local preacher in the Bourne Wesleyan circuit.  Nearly 50 stones were laid by a number of friends connected with the Wesleyan cause at Thurlby and in the circuit”.  Among them was Mr F C Brutnell.  Also, “Mr Wright on behalf of the workmen employed in the building”.

For the remainder of June, work reverted to normal seasonal activity.  Hoeing and horse hoeing potatoes and mangolds in the fen; skerrying & hilling potatoes and singling mangolds21st June was typical of the variety of work.  “Lumb, Rhodes, Wright & C Brown plastering etc at Mr Sneaths’s cottage.  Tom & 2 horses ploughing Tilleys.  T Tilley & John topping hedges in fen.  N Glenn & Burgess in mangolds.  Joe, self & horse & pony carting pipes to Wytham on the Hill”.  The following day Tom Brutnell began cutting hay.

 25th June was “very wet & stormy”,  26th June was also a wet day.  This bad weather appears to be reflected in the weekly wages paid by Fred Brutnell.  On Saturday 22nd, the wages total for eight men was six pounds, two shillings and three pence.  On the 29th wages dropped to four pounds, seventeen shillings and one penny.  Those working indoors at Mr Sneath’s were unaffected by the weather, but Burgess and Leonard Brutnell each received just two shillings in wages that week.

Towards the end of the month, preparations were being made for the next stage of  building  the chapel.  27th June notes:  “Tilley & C Brown loading & unloading materials at chapel”.  On 29th:  “Tom & Tilley cart poles & boards. Chapel”.

July 1912

Through July and August there were builders and labourers at the chapel & at Mr Sneath’s cottage, they often worked 10 hour days.  3rd July:  “Lumb, T Rhodes & Wright at Sneath’s, 10hrs.  Tom in fen, sundries.  C Brown, John & Joe & 2 horses, carting granite & loading bricks etc.  T Tilley getting-up hedge, churchyard (1 day).  C Brown, churchyard  ¼ day”.   Tom Tilley & C Brown worked a further day clearing the churchyard hedge and on the 8th they moved and erected wire fencing.

9 July:  “Lumb, Wright, Rhodes & John, chapel 10hrs.  Tom & horde fetching window frames.  Tilley, Joe & C Brown, hoeing mangolds.  Self, drive Miss Barlow; Thurlby station, Thurlby, Obthorpe, Baston & fen, Greatford & Barholm, Braceboro’ & back station & home. 10 till 4.  seven shillings & sixpence.  Fred Brutnell recorded that the 2nd was a wet day; the 22nd was very wet and on 23rd, there was a terrible storm, much wet & floods.  The next day was also wet.  Apart from a few days hoeing mangold, early in the month, little farming took place.  However, on most days granite was being carted to local villages, and this included carting granite from Bytham to Wytham.

August 1912

During August building work continues, but the weather caused further disruption, primarily with land-work.  The 3rd notes: “Tom getting binder & sundries”.  There followed a very stormy day and yet another wet day, and it wasn’t until Friday  9th, that “Tom got binder ready”.  Sat 10th August:  “Lumb, Campain, Wright & Tilley at chapel, 6 ½ hrs.  Scotney 6 hrs. John, Tom, Joe & 2 Stevenson’s horses & E Stevenson, binding wheat, Fen bar.  Bad Day.  Leonard & horse, tar spraying”.

Leonard continued tar spraying throughout August, but due to the wet conditions, cutting wheat and barley with the horse-drawn binder was limited.  Mid-month there were several wet days and on 23rd, 24th & 26th no-one was able to work, not even the builders.  By the 27th, the river Glen had overflowed and Thurlby Fen was flooded. From mid-month, when they were unable to get on the land with the horses and binder, the wheat and barley crops were mowed with a scythe.  As one man scythed the corn, another gathered it in his arms to prevent it falling into the floodwater.  It was then hand tied into a sheaf and carried away from the flooded field to set up into stooks.

September 1912

Following periods of heavy rainfall in June and July, and the storms and floods of August, work on the new Methodist chapel and harvesting the crops became urgent priorities in September.

Monday 2nd September: “Rhodes & Wright (10hrs), Scotneys (9hrs), Campain (8hrs), Lumb (51/2hrs) at chapel. Tom, John, Joe, Tilley & Leonard in oats”.

3rd September: “Lumb & Scotneys, chapel. John, Tom, Joe, Tilley, Wright, Rhodes & Leonard in fen corn”. The next day, carts were in such demand for the corn harvest, that the carts of Bryan, Rowe’s & Sneath were used to cart slates and building materials for the chapel.

By 7th September, “Tom, John, Joe, Tilley, Campain, Rhodes, self (Fred Brutnell), Leon & Dick“, were all harvesting and carting barley. This was followed by the wheat and oats; and on 13th -14th, with five men working at the chapel, everyone else was carting and thrashing the corn.

The following week, the remaining corn stacks were thatched to make them weatherproof, and tares beans were harvested. Until the 23rd – when the village school reopened after the harvest (summer) holidays – a gang of boys picked potatoes with the men.

Towards the end of the month, the corn and beans had been gathered-in and potato picking was coming to an end. Apart from Joe, who was horse-raking, and Tom, with two horses skimming /ploughing to prepare for winter wheat; most of the work force returned to the chapel. This included Leonard with one horse, spending several days carting soil from the chapel to the fen.

On Saturday 28th, the gang of boys returned to help with potato picking; but on the following Monday, there was no record of any work on farm or fen. Eight men were at the chapel, and Campain & H Scotney were taking up the old floor, concreting and laying a new stable floor at Mr Peasgood’s.

One hundred years ago, as today, food production was governed by the unpredictability of the climate.


  1. Stuart Taylor says:

    Leonard Brutnell, mentioned above, was killed in the First World War in 1917. He was my Grandma’s (Florence Lena Brutnell) brother, and we are very proud of him.

    • stfirmin says:

      Lovely to hear from you Stuart and you should be proud, it was sad that he was, at 19 years old, the youngest man from Thurlby to die in WW1. As you will see from the tab of The Men Who Didn’t Return- WW1, we had a very special Remembrance Service this year to bring to life, in our minds, those brave men who were lost, Leonard Brutnell was one of the men featured. All the men, in turn,will be included in our Remembrance Services 2014-2018, the hundredth anniversary years. We hope over the next four years to add to the information we have of them.

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