Bassingbourn-cum­-Kneesworth

Bassingbourn-cum-Kneesworth in the 1800s

By the early 1800's there was hardship all over the country, the wars with France had cost a great deal, grain was expensive and to make it worse there were many bad harvests. Enclosure had removed the working man’s common rights and they now needed to earn wages to support themselves. Many local people chose to emigrate and make a better life elsewhere.


 Church against Chapel seems to have been the order of the day and in 1840 there was the case of the "unburied child". Dissenters were by then allowed to baptise their own but not yet to bury them. This poor unfortunate child had been baptised at the Meeting House, and because of this the vicar at the church refused to bury her. The controversy and litigation went on for five years, with the body taken to the churchyard five times before she was finally buried, by the Whaddon vicar, early in 1845.


 Resentment and ill-feeling was so great that farms at the Limes, near the Hoops, at Clear Farm and elsewhere, all suffered arson attacks. The man prosecuted for some of these fires and later transported, was William Smith alias Broggie who lived in the oldest part of 40 High Street.


 The 1860's brought the Coprolite industry and prosperity for the village, although not without problems as the diggers were not known for their gentility! New families came to the village to trade and many improvements followed - a gas works and splendid new cemetery with two chapels and a lodge for a cemetery keeper. The legacy of the church/chapel divide lived on however, because the chapels, although identical, were sectarian, the one on the west unconsecrated for chapel use, the one on the east, consecrated, for church use.
A better example of community spirit seems to have come in the shape of an outsider, a William Ten Broeke Crole, farm manager at the Grange in Kneesworth. In 1858, he established a choir of fifty labourers, many of whom were “disreputable” coprolite workers. It lasted twenty years and received many glowing reports in the local newspaper. Mr Crole was obviously an upstanding member of the community as he married the widow of the vicar of Bassingbourn, and was later chairman of the Kneesworth parish meeting.

 
Bassingbourn Parish Council was formed in 1894 and the Local History Society published a book A Chronicle of Two Villages in 1994 to mark the centenary.


 The 19th Century rather ended in decline, the coprolite boom over, the gas works bankrupt, and another period of emigration before and after WW1.