19th and 20th centuries (Regency to Modern)
The 19th century saw the start of a new age of record keeping which has resulted in detailed information being available for the individual people living in Woodnewton rather than just the buildings and the exploits of the landed gentry. National censuses were started in 1801 and undertaken every 10 years ever since, except for 1941 due to the 2nd World War (although there was a Register compiled in 1939). The first national census only recorded the total number of people resident in the parish and shows that there were 269 people living here in 1801. It was not until the 1841 census that information on individuals started to be collected, with subsequent censuses collecting progressively more data on dates of birth, occupations, where people were born, etc. Coupled with this, from 1837 the Government required other records to be kept nationally rather than just being recorded in Parish Registers, most noticeable being the civic registration of all births, marriages and deaths.
The censuses from 1841 onwards list all the people in Woodnewton on census night by household. However, because the village basically comprised one street, many of the addresses of those households are just recorded as “Main Street”, or “Town Street” as it was call earlier. There are no house numbers – presumably the village was so small that everyone knew exactly where everyone else lived – but certain buildings, such as The Manor House, The Vicarage, School House and the Public Houses are named. The availability of accurate and detailed OS maps from the early 1800s onwards showing the locations and proximity of these named buildings together with information from the censuses allows links to be made between people and places/buildings that is not possible for other periods of this history.
As a result of this additional information much more is known about the development of the village from the mid-19th Century onwards. This enables more detail accounts to be prepared on individuals, buildings and events and these are presented in the main part of this website. Nevertheless, a brief summary is given here to complete the overall history of “Woodnewton Through Time”.
During the first half of the 19th Century, as in earlier times, the fortunes of Woodnewton and its residents were linked to those of the Apethorpe Estate and the Earls of Westmorland. Development along Main Street continued as new stone-built houses were constructed particularly westwards towards the Church. No doubt at the same time restructuring, with improvements and additions, was taking place to those houses built in earlier centuries.
The village continued to grow and a population of 529 was recorded in the 1861 census; nearly a 100% increase from the 269 recorded in 1801. Not only were new families coming into the village and increasing the population, those families were bringing in new occupations to widen the economic base of Woodnewton. The dependency on agriculture as a source of employment and on the benevolence of the Earls of Westminster were being loosened.
A Wesleyan Chapel was built and opened in 1840 and a national school opened in 1876. Both these buildings served the needs of the local population for over 100 years. A Vicarage was built opposite St Mary’s Church in 1875 on land donated by the Earl of Westmorland, and at one stage there were four places for residents to buy beer and socialise in the parish.
However, there was an agricultural depression in the second half of the 19th Century. Cheap wheat was available from North America following the opening-up of the prairielands in the “West” after the American Civil War and this impacted on home grown agricultural production. Coupled with this was a movement of people and industries from villages to the ever-growing urban settlements and markets created by the Industrial Revolution. The pace of growth and development in Woodnewton slowed due in part to these two factors but also to the declining fortunes of the Westmorlands. Their decline can be attributed to many factors which may include the division of the estate in 1762, the increasing costs of running an estate, the ending of the slave trade and hence a source of income in the early 1800s, and even to the continuing obsession with horse-racing that had afflicted the Earls of Westmorland since the Stuart era. So serious were the problems faced by the Earls of Westmorland that the 13th Earl tried to sell the Apethorpe Estate, including the manor of Woodnewton, in the 1890s and finally sold it to Lord Brassey in 1904.
By 1901 the population of the village had fallen even quicker than it had risen in the first half of the 19th Century (probably related to the mechanisation of farming , particularly the introduction of the steam plough), and the Census of that year records that only 271 people lived in Woodnewton. The decline in population continued throughout the 20th Century and reached its nadir in 1971 when it stood at only 232. Many of the stone buildings of the 17th, 18th and early 19th Centuries had fallen into disrepair and the village was in a poor structural state. The mill at Conegar fell into ruin and ceased grinding corn in 1906. The Wesleyan Chapel closed in 1989 and the School followed in 1990, the Vicarage was sold as a private residence and three of the four ale houses were closed by the mid-20th Century. With fewer horses used on farms, the artisan craftsmen, such as the blacksmith, wheelwright and the harness maker/saddler who met the local needs of the mainly agricultural community, together with the stone mason and the carpenter ceased trading or moved away. Other rural and agricultural occupations such as the gamekeeper and farm bailiff also disappeared from the village. The making of shoe was a noticeable occupation recorded in the 1861 census but by 1901 it is not recorded at all other than there was one person engaged in boot repairing. As the economic base of the village declined so did the population which in turn lead to the closure of the local shops and the post office, the bakers and the petrol filling station.
An exception to this overall picture of decline was the growth of market gardening as an occupation in Woodnewton from the 1860s onwards. The 1861 and 1901 censuses show many heads of households engaged in this activity on land running south from Main Street to the Willow Brook and north to Back Lane (Orchard Lane). It can be assumed that as the need for labourers on the Apethorpe Estate declined there was an increase in agricultural activity on the land attached to the labourers’ homes in the village. Access to the railway at Nassington gave a connection westward to the growing urban areas of the Midlands and much of the produce from the village went to Leicester market.
Subsequent, and albeit small scale, housing developments in Woodnewton along Back Lane (Orchard Lane) and off the Nassington Road since the late 1960s have halted this decline and given rise to a gradual increase in population in recent years, This, together with the refurbishment and redevelopment of dwellings from earlier periods, has resulted in a 2011 population of the village of 450. The movement of industry from Woodnewton has continued however and the village now comprises mainly residents who commute elsewhere to work or who are retired. It is not alone in this fate, but Woodnewton remains a vibrant and active community with well over 1000 years of history behind it.
Hopefully, as the Woodnewton History Group continues its research its “modesty” will be reduced but never totally lost.