Yeomen, Wives and Workers
The oak tree in the front meadow was already in its prime. With its branches cut back or ‘pollarded’ well above the ground, cattle were unable to eat the new growth and the timber could be used on the farm. This process was common, it could be repeated about every 15 years and may have continued for centuries. In 1706 the lord of the manor commissioned a survey of all his oak trees. Oaks had many uses, especially in the construction of wooden battleships, so it was important to know how many there were.
Tottergill prospered over the next 150 years and by the time Thomas Hodgson, ‘yeoman’, died in 1827 the estate was valued at around £300. In the surrounding area the quarries, coalmines and limekilns were busy. The tracks on the hillsides behind the farm were used by the workers in their daily journeys. Lime, made by burning limestone and coal in the farm’s limekiln, would have been used to improve the fertility of the land, part of the wave of agricultural improvements, which had swept through the country. Proximity to these deposits would have increased the value of the farm at that time.
Other great changes were afoot, the railways were coming, revolutionising transport and taking coal to the new industrial centres. Coal heavers and pitmen lived in the village below and soon workers on the local railway would join them. Industry was bringing prosperity to Castle Carrock and a wave of new building began, using a hard ‘white’ local sandstone in preference to the traditional softer ‘red’ variety.
Tottergill had been home not only to generations of Hodgsons, but records also show a succession of others who lived and worked on the farm - Joshua Dixon, husbandman, William Beeton, labourer, and Thomas Wilson, a poor man. Their wives - Marys, Elizabeths, Tabithas and Rachels are mentioned too. The Hodgson women lost their infants to early deaths in the same way as the workers’ wives. The farm by now, although still owned by Thomas Hodgson, was tenanted out of the family and when Thomas died in 1848 he left no sons. An imposing and poignant memorial tablet in Castle Carrock church is dedicated to the memory of Thomas, his wife Mary and daughter Mary Jane, upon whose death the farm passed to her surviving sister, Ann.
At this time married women were unable to own property in their own right, so a trust was formed to hold the farm, some 260 acres, for Ann, who was married to William Watson. The Watsons were a force to be reckoned with in Castle Carrock. They were the chief landowners and benefactors in the village and many local buildings are attributable to them.
The new range of imposing farm buildings at Tottergill reflected the growing affluence of the times. Constructed of regular squared sandstone with crow stepped gables, they included a tall central tower with dovecote openings, stables, cartsheds and pigstyes, even a built-in hen coop. At the back, the high, double doorway enabled direct access for carts bringing hay into the loft. The buildings were for mixed farming, keeping animals and growing a variety of crops to feed them. This was practised throughout the area and was to continue for another century, but the view from the farm was changing for ever.