William Fisher’s Diary
William Fisher was born in Barrow Village in 1775 and died in 1861; he was a Low Furness yeoman farmer i.e. a wealthy worker of the land.
From 1811 – 1859 he kept a diary of local events: births, marriages and deaths. He also recorded seed and harvest times, catastrophes and commonplace events. The diary is important because it gives us interesting glimpses of how the villagers of this small farming community used to live during a vibrant period of the area’s history.
The 1842 Tithe map shows that William Fisher’s farm consisted of slightly more than 85 acres. His arable crops were grown on land near the Town Hall and Schneider Square area. His orchards, gardens and cow sheds were sited on land now occupied by the doctor’s surgery, Alfred Barrow School and the car park opposite.
The Diary of William Fisher of Barrow 1811 – 1859 is owned by the Rowlandson family from Ulverston. The manuscript is on permanent loan to Cumbria Record Office, Ramsden Square.
The diary was published by the Centre for North-West Regional Studies, University of Lancaster as an Occasional Paper No. 15 in 1986, edited by the late Dr W Rollinson and former archivist, Brett Harrison.
Agriculture in Furness
In 1772, Thomas Pennant, an 18th century traveller and author of several guide books, wrote: “the inhabitants of these parts have but recently applied themselves to husbandry. Among the manures, sea-sand and live mussels are frequently used, but till within these twenty years the use of dung was scarcely known to them.”
Pennant also noted that beans were grown for export to Liverpool “for the food of the poor enslaved negroes in the Guinea trade.”
By the late 18th century Low Furness had become one of the main wheat producing areas of Lancashire. Most of the fields had been enclosed in the villages of Low Furness and were divided by hedges.
By 1811, the year William Fisher has begun his diary, a pattern of mixed farming had been established. Wheat, barley and oats were sown and the seed grass was mown in the month of June. A hay crop was taken from the meadow in July. From about 1822, potatoes became a common crop and beans and peas were grown. Dairy cattle were kept and butter and cheese were made.
From 1850 onwards there were improvements in communications in Lancashire, and this had a favourable effect on agriculture in the whole of the county. In his book “Furness and the Industrial Revolution,” Dr. J.D. Marshall stressed that the establishment of a regular steamship service from Roa and Barrow to Fleetwood enabled the produce of Furness farms to reach the industrial markets of Preston and South Lancashire. After the completion of the Ulverston- Lancaster branch of the railway in 1857, the same produce could be transported by rail.
Dalton Hiring Fairs
The annual Dalton Hiring Fairs for reapers were described by William Fleming of Pennington (writing in 1806) as follows:
“It has been the Custom from Time immemorial for Reapers to offer themselves in the Market Place at Dalton in Furness Every Sunday Morning during Harvest, to be hired by the Farmers not only in the Neighbourhood but by those from Cumberland who constantly repair thither for that purpose. This day (August 17), being the first of the season, great Numbers of Irish came over to reap, who caused the Prices to be lower than usual . . .”
Barrow villagers used to grow their own vegetables, but they went to a local farmer to buy corn; this was ground into flour by the miller at Roose Corn Mill. People would then carry bags of flour on their backs, or in horse drawn carts to their homes; if they were too poor to own an oven they were allowed to use a breadmaking oven, which was often built in the wash-house of a cottage. This kind of oven was like a large cupboard with iron doors, lined with bricks and going far back into the wall. Faggots of wood were lighted inside the oven and the doors closed until the oven was well heated. Then the ashes were swept out and baking tins with joints of beef, mutton, potatoes, bread, “wigs*, and herb puddings were left to bake. But what happened if the harvest failed as it did in 1799, 1800 and 1816? (* Wigs were buns or teacakes flavoured with caraway seed).
Did the resourceful inhabitants of Barrow Village make turnip bread? The following recipe was recorded in the diary of William Fleming of Pennington, whose diary provides an excellent record of life in the area in the 19th Century:
“Take off the skin from your turnips and boil them till soft; bruise them well and press out the juice; add an equal weight of wheat flour and knead them up with a sufficient quantity of salt and bake them”.
The slaughter of animals took place every autumn at Martinmas. To preserve the meat, one of the following methods was used:-
1. The carcases were hung in the smoke of a peat fire.
2. They were pickled in brine.
3. They were covered in lard.
Our word larder originates from this custom. Butter and cheeses were made to eat and sell.
Barrow Village had two draw wells and one pump. Each farmer had a well sunk in his own garden. In the early 1960s the road surface in Duke Street, opposite Alfred Barrow School, caved in on the site of one of these old wells. When Craven House was being built an old well was discovered. It had bricked sides and was three feet in diameter. This was probably one of the old watering places for horses to stop while carting iron ore to Barrow.
An ancient well in Well Meadow, which was built by the monks of Furness Abbey (four hundred yards from Barrow Village, in Salthouse Village), never ran dry . . hence its name, Boon Well, (situated in Well Lane). Boonwell Drive in this area is a reminder of this medieval well.
Home brewed ale was drunk with every meal. Ale possets were made for special occasions such as weddings or parties. This drink was usually served in basins. It was brewed by boiling ale and rum, seasoned with sugar and nutmeg.