A Tale of Two Villages

Returning to the Bluestone Heath Road turn left and take the gradual climb out of South Ormsby with the grand hall and park with its many trees to your left. The road eventually levels briefly where a lane drops away steeply down to Campaign Farm. From the top of this lane the view reveals to the west the chalk escarpment, which the ridge way continues to follow, steadily increasing in height over a series of false summits until it finally reaches the tree lined dome of Tetford Hill just visible on the distant western horizon.

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Looking west to Tetford Hill.

In contrast looking straight downhill out over Campaign Farm the view is across a wide completely flat valley with no buildings or roads until reaching the large village of Tetford over two kilometres away. Until recent centuries this was an ill drained uncultivated area of land. Through its middle running north south is the boundary between the two parishes of South Ormsby and Tetford. Yet these parishes were so different it was like a boundary between two different worlds. Even the name given to this water logged plain is different either side of the boundary and gives a clue to the difference between the parishes. Tetford refers to it as a fen or a place from which to gather resources or use for summer grazing while across the border it is called the Moor implying much more a hunting domain.

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Campaign Farm below Dog Hill.

At the time of Tennyson’s death in White’s  gazetteer 1892 reveals that this difference was at its height. South Ormsby was the larger parish with 2325 acres but with a population of just 238 or one person for every ten acres. Tetford was 1736 acres with a population of 481 or one person for every 3.6 acres. However the real story lies in how people earned their living in each village. Tetford had two main landowners but also many small freeholders plus a few market gardeners. The rest of the population, including both men and women, had a whole list of businesses, jobs and skills making up quite a diverse and enterprising community. There were 3 pubs and a beerhouse, several grocer/drapers, plus other shopkeepers, and then a long list of artisans including tailors, bootmakers, bricklayers, joiners/wheelwrights, a miller/baker, a butcher, a maltster and even a surgeon. Then there was also Charles Berry who was listed as grocer, draper, ironmonger, boot dealer and postmaster. Obviously a man who wanted a piece of all the action!

Meanwhile to quote White’s gazetteer South Ormsby was “in a well wooded park and the seat of Charles Francis Massingberd-Mundy Esq. J.P. D.L. who is lord of the manor, patron of the benefice and chief owner of the soil.” Apart from five tenant farmers plus a head gamekeeper and head woodman, all part of the estate, there is listed a blacksmith, two wheelwright/joiners, a bootmaker, a shopkeeper, a miller and one pub. Together they provided the most basic needs of the community.

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Ormsby Hall set in parkland.

Both parishes had a church and rector as well as a school each with South Ormsby’s school described as “a handsome building”. Each had Wesleyan Chapels with the movement’s founder John Wesley’s father, Samuel, rector in South Ormsby (1690-94) before moving to Epworth. South Ormsby though was in every way dominated by the hall set in a large wooded park with a lake. Most of the building dates from the mid eighteenth century, built by James Paine, and the land has been in the Massingberd family for nearly 400 years until very recently it finally changed hands.

The HG website tell us that “The landscape around the Hall was enclosed between 1650 and 1651. A survey of the manor carried out for Burrell Massingberd in 1716 refers to a ‘House, gardens, orchard, nursery, motes, the garden, the paddock, walnut yards, stewponds, Garth and […] green”.

It goes on to say that the parkland is thought to have been initially laid out shortly prior to 1716, but largely redesigned to its current form in the mid 18th century alongside the rebuilding of Ormsby Hall in 1755 including wrought iron gates and screen which have scrolled iron gate piers surmounted by lions. All this remains largely intact today save for a few embellishments.

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Ormsby Hall from the south.

Although Mr & Mrs Thornes now run the estate, which now encompasses over 3,000 acres, and have plans to make the estate a viable going concern responding to meet the changes and needs of the 21st. century it is unlikely that outwardly the appearance of this beautifully tranquil corner of Lindsey will fundamentally alter. After all this is deepest rural Lincolnshire where change is always gradual. As for Tetford its entry in the Domesday Book mentions a high number of freemen in this and other neighbouring parishes. This set it up to continue as an open enterprising village for the next one thousand years while its neighbour parish to the east followed quite a different journey. It is this deep history that is still very close to the surface in Hill Wapentake which makes for such an interesting story.

Even through the twentieth century the South Ormsby estate managed to buck modern post war trends of removing footpaths and hedgerows, as happened in neighbouring Ketsby, and retains the oldest large area of woodland pasture with access in the Lincolnshire Wolds OANB. Although estate villages are a feature of this part of the Wolds stretching from Alford to Spilsby it is rare for such villages to have retained the full compliment of buildings and natural features that you would expect and hope to see as South Ormsby has done.

The hall still sits attractively in parkland half hidden by stands of mature trees and woodland separated from the road by the lake with the village set around the park. Beside the road the village pub and “handsome” schoolhouse remain although the latter currently acts as the village hall. On the edge of the village is the requisite picture postcard thatched cottage and on a hill, again half hidden by trees, stands the village church. With the park intact Lincoln Red cattle browse as they have done for centuries and two parallel footpaths cross it so walkers are also able to enjoy the park’s dappled shade. The tree lined lane of Ormsby Ring skirts the south side of the park, to which the more southerly path through the park links. This allows for a higher return route along the lane offering extensive views for only a modest climb. The more northern path meanwhile continues all the way to Tetford. An abundance of footpaths is one thing the two parishes share with those of Tetford mostly radiating out from its church.

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St. Leonard’s church, South Ormsby.

If the boundary between the two parishes is continued south through the whole wapentake then the difference observed between South Ormsby and Tetford continues,  but to a lesser degree, with a preponderance of parishes with large country houses to the east and more open villages to the west. Tennyson’s father’s ministry covered the twin parishes of Somersby and Bag Enderby  just to the west of this line. As a family they were relatively poor but well educated. A young Alfred would have found himself with a foot in both worlds. Equally drawn to the pubs and shops of nearby Tetford, where he would speak with a broad Lincolnshire dialect, as to the polite society of country house balls with fine elegant young ladies to whom he could show off his eloquence as a budding poet. (See Somersby & Bag Enderby blog.)

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The wide valley of Upper Lymndale looking towards Tetford.

Before the recent change in ownership of the South Ormsby estate most would have regarded Tetford as the more progressive of the two parishes, but not anymore. The opportunity afforded to the new owners of this unique estate, which crosses into several other parishes, which are if anything less developed than South Ormsby, is to create an estate that is in tune with the most progressive approaches to land management. By continuing to carefully manage the estate in a way that has been done for the last four hundred years but changing the emphasise from being inclusive instead of exclusive by providing facilities that will attract small businesses and ultimately create a vibrant community able to pursue their goals in a pleasant but stimulating work environment. Also there will be amenities which will benefit a wider range of people from craftsmen, artists and nature lovers to others with disturbed or just hectic life styles who are in need of contemplation and regeneration. This great estate could become a haven for both wildlife and those who want to or more importantly need to commune with it.

In a 2009 study subjects showed significant increases in NK cell activity in the week after a forest visit, and positive effects lasted a month following each weekend in the woods. This was due to essential oils, generally called phytoncides, found in wood, plants, and some fruit and vegetables, which trees emit to protect themselves from germs and insects. They found that forest air doesn’t just feel good; by breathing in phytoncides from trees it can actually improve the health of your immune system! – An extract from the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust Lapwings magazine.

In his thirties Tennyson had two brothers who were settled and married and two others in mental asylums suffering from depression. His father, who had died at the age of just 53, had suffered severely from violent mood swings in the last ten years of his life, which were exasperated by alcoholism. It is clear that writing poetry and long country walks were two cathartic exercises that helped Alfred cope with his own bouts of melancholia. Whether this need was a result of a young Tennyson wanting to escape his crowded turbulent household or just intuitive desire for open space it has been confirmed recently that time spent in green spaces especially among trees is rejuvenating for mind and body.

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Approaching Tetford from the east.

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