The Village of Betley 1911-20

The Village of Betley 1911-20

Life in the village had not changed much for centuries. It had been a closed community, as had most villages, for generations. Transport in and out of the village was by horse and cart, although Betley Road Station had provided a link to Crewe since 1875. The Crosville bus, enabling easy travel to Newcastle and Crewe, did not commence until 1921.

1911 Census – Employment

It is by looking at the employment figures from the 1911 census that you get a good idea how dramatically Betley has changed to the present day. Numbers employed can be summarised as:

  • 200 in the Agricultural or Horticultural industry (including men aged 78+ still working as agricultural labourers)
  • 119 in Mining
  • 109 as indoor or outdoor servants
  • 33 in Retail, mainly serving in the 12 shops
  • 46 in various trades, mainly joinery and bricklaying
  • 20 classed as professional
  • 17 classed as retired,

The Trade Directory of 1916

This shows a total of 12 shops, and 6 public houses. Johnson Brothers of Wrinehill operated a patent medicine business, trading throughout the UK. It must be assumed that their products left via Betley Road Station.

Betley Hall and Betley Court employed a coachman, and Betley had its own fire and police station.

Population Trend and Changing Times

There was a slow decline in population over the period 1911-1920, possibly due to miners moving to Audley, Madeley and Silverdale to be closer to their work. When the Census of 1921 is released there will be an opportunity to examine events more closely.

It was from this mainly working class community that men went to serve in the war. Life in the village would not have been easy, wages were low, work was hard and the state of some of the cottages was dire. The war brought some relief when in 1917 a minimum wage for farm workers was set at twenty-five shillings per week, part of an effort to increase food production. However to some who volunteered it would be seen as a chance to get away from the hard working hum- drum of village life. (If only they knew!).

It was from this environment that some 58 men from the area went to war between 1914 and 1918. The environment they returned to after the war was changing. Sir Robert Boughey (Bart), who had been vicar since 1876 died in 1921, breaking the link between the squirarchy and the church. Following the disaster at the Minnie Pit in 1918 mining was starting to run down.  For example Tom Brassington, born 1910 into a mining family, went down the pit on leaving school, but by 1926 he was working for Betley Court.

Agriculture was heading for turbulent times. Of the three local estates, that of Earl Wilton in Wrinehill was sold off in 1918, Betley Hall Estate would start to be broken up in 1925. Only Betley Court held out for a little longer, though the family moved out in 1940. The nearby Delves Broughton Estate was sold in 1913.

During the war the demand for increased food production became critical. In Betley some agricultural workers went to war, but the work still had to be done and women were increasingly required to take on men’s work. The government introduced the Women’s Land Army about 20,000 strong. In addition Prisoners of War were put to work in the fields. We know both of these sources of workers were used in Betley during the Second World War, and it is likely that they would have been employed also during the First World War.

Those Who Went to War

It is difficult to obtain an exact number of Betley area men who went to war, as all the sources list men who had Betley connections but had since moved away. At a best guess some 58 men from the area left for the front. They were a mixed bunch and included miners, railway workers and farm workers. It is the farms that would have been the most affected; there was control over the number of miners released, but no such control over farm workers.

We know of six Betley residents who did not return. These were not all labourers; one included Frederick Holdsworth, a Betley schoolmaster.

One of the worst affected families was the Ginders of Pear Tree Lake Farm Balterley. The head of the family, Thomas, died in 1912 aged 60. One son died at Gallipoli and another died whilst home on leave of meningitis, almost certainly caught in the trenches.