Environment 1851

Workers with a water pump
Workers with a water pump
Burcher’s Electricity Works, Stowmarket.
The industrial revolution was reaching its height in the 1850s. New technology was appearing all over the country and influencing all areas of life. Railways cut across fields, trains connected cities, towns and villages for the first time. Steam powered machinery rattled and hissed in the new factories. Thrashing drums and chaff cutters, perhaps powered by the new Ipswich made Ransome’s Steam Engine, clattered in the countryside. Britain had become a nation powered by coal and steam.

The 1850s also saw the start of an agricultural depression – partly caused by the mechanisation of farming which made many workers redundant. Farm workers moved from the countryside into towns looking for work. In the 1850s Stowmarket was awakening to industry, there were maltings, corn merchants, a world famous brewery (Stevens & Company) and a gas works. This expansion created jobs for people living in the Stowupland parish. These new industries caused pollution and there was little or no legislation over the disposal of waste products so chemicals and pollutants were dumped in rivers and streams. At this time the impact of these actions on the environment was not realised.

A Changing Landscape

Stowupland Green – the village green in the Nineteenth century
Stowupland Village Green
in the Nineteenth century
The landscape in the parish changed as new buildings appeared and land returned to scrub as there was no profit in working it. Mixed farming predominated, referred to locally as ‘Pail and Flail’. In Stowupland hops were grown, quite an unusual crop for the Suffolk area. The hop growing history of the area was reflected in the name of a local pub – The Hop-Pole. Mixed land use was ideal for wildlife and the preservation of fertility within the soil. Chemical fertilisers were not in use at this time and many traditional methods of farming continued, but with improvements to make them more efficient.

Natural pollutants such as human and animal waste mean the Stowupland of 1851 was smellier than it is today. There were no sewers in the village and the majority of the homes had a privy over a cesspit or a ‘bucket an’ chuck it’. All of this manure, however, would not have been wasted. For centuries it had been used to fertilise the land.

This exhibition is part of a wider sustainability project delivered through the Rural Museums East Partnership. It is funded by Renaissance East of England.

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