It is interesting to note that Armthorpe is one of the few Yorkshire villages in which there has been no resident squire or lord for at least seven centuries. A manor court seems to have survived until the end of the 19th century.
One of the most important elements in the life of an agricultural village has always been the church. Priests of Armthorpe are traceable by name from 1157 and the first to be called Rector was Adam in 1257 but as the living was poor many held the office for only short periods. Several of the rectors were pluralists. Matthew Buck who died in 1768 was rector of Armthorpe, vicar of Brodsworth, and curate of Marr. The Commonwealth Rector was one of about 1900 clergymen ejected in 1662 under the power of the Act of Uniformity of that year on grounds of conscience for refusing to affirm acceptance of the whole of the 39 Articles.
The ancient church was little altered until the 1880s when it was much enlarged. It was unusual in having no tower but it had two bells in an octagonal turret and a mass dial which was a sundial on the side of the building for telling the hours of church services. People in the nineteenth century did not like the appearance of the church and about 1800 it was described as a ‘small mean building’.
The parish registers of baptisms, marriages and burials start in 1653, the period of the Commonwealth. The parish was also unusual in having endowments for the parish clerk and the sexton (providing for a cottage each and a shared barn) and in possessing land, the rents of which were used for repairing or replacing the bell rope.
In 1785 it was felt necessary to have extra room in the church and a gallery was built. The seats were almost entirely privately owned until early in the nineteenth century over one hundred were purchased and made free. About the same time the rector’s income was increased by letting the tithes for £300 a year. The rector was able to employ a curate and by the end of the century he was so much of a gentleman as to be able to be non resident during the winter months.
As was usual in rural areas, there do not seem to have been many non conformists in Armthorpe until the nineteenth century when a Primitive Methodist chapel was opened in 1832.
Another two vital village institutions are the pub and the school. In both cases Armthorpe possesses foundations of considerable antiquity. In 1697 there was only one alehouse in the village kept by Widdow Shaw. In 1720 there were two ‘tippling houses’ but by 1821 only one called The Board. The public houses seem to have changed names considerably. In 1838 there was the Hart in Hand and in 1872 The Horse and Groom and also The Plough.
The village school may be mentioned as early as 1689 when money was left for teaching some children free of charge. This was a ‘township’ school of the type common in nearly every West Riding village. In 1743 the rector (an absentee) stated that there was then no ‘publick school’ but the school and schoolmaster are mentioned in an award eleven years later. Usually a master and a mistress were employed, the master teaching reading, writing and arithmetic to the boys and the mistress teaching reading and sewing to the girls.
Armthorpe School never seems to have taught Latin or Greek as did many ancient village schools.
By 1838 the master (Thomas Gibson) was receiving £6 annually from endowments for which he taught ten free scholars, making up the rest of his pay from school fees. The school and schoolhouse were usually provided by the inhabitants free of charge to the master who was appointed by them.
In the 1840s the ecclesiastical authorities began to take a heightened interest in the village school and in 1845 land was acquired for a new school. A grant was obtained from the National (Church of England) School Society and a simple brick building was erected.
About 1886 the ten free places were abolished in return for a reduction in the fees paid by the ‘children of the labouring poor’ and school fees were abolished altogether upon the adoption of the Elementary Education Act of 1891.
There is a description of the school buildings about 1903. It was a brick building, roughcast on the outside with a blue slate roof. Inside, the ceiling was underdrawn and the walls colourwashed above the level of simple dados and the school was lit by oil lamps. The teacher’s house consisted of two living rooms, a kitchen, pantry and three bedrooms.
The old commons and public wastes were enclosed into normal fields between about 1671 (Low Common) and 1774. In 1773 an Act for enclosing the remaining open lands was obtained, upon the assumption that the enclosed fields would ‘tend greatly to the better cultivation and improvement of the lands’. The land affected by this Act was the South Moor, the Lings, Holmwood, the Green, the Fores, and the Lanes. About 1800, the majority of the land in the parish was under the plough, and of a total 2800 acres 1300 were arable and 700 grass. A four year crop rotation was followed: 1) turnips, 2) barley 2/3 and oats 1/3, 3) clover, 4) wheat and fallow.
In the 1830s there were seventeen master farmers. There were also 27 owners and about 40 occupiers with annual rentals varying from £2 to £404. Ten years earlier a directory reflected the other occupations of a village which was in all essential productions self contained: a tailor, shoemaker, joiner, bricklayer, and a blacksmith.
Although Armthorpe was almost self contained, its inhabitants did trade with Doncaster. The village was responsible for the maintenance of its own roads and was one of the few West Riding townships which was never fined by Quarter Sessions for neglecting its roads. At the Inclosure some land was set out for ‘The Gravel Hole’, the produce of which was for the repair of the roads. This is now the open space at Rands Lane and Hatfield Lane.
A century later the consolidation of highway authorities began for Armthorpe when in 1863 the township was included in the Lower Strafforth and Tickhill Highway District. The village was never troubled with main roads, although in 1825 powers were obtained for making a toll road or turnpike of the road from Doncaster to Thorne which ran along the northern boundary of the township. Tolls ceased to be charged on this road in 1876.
It was not until 1903 that powers were obtained to construct the South Yorkshire Joint Railway which crosses the western tip of Armthorpe. This railway later served as an essential outlet for coal from Markham Main Colliery.
One of the most expensive essentials for any township until recent years was the payment of its poor rates and the maintenance of its poor persons. At the partial Inclosure of about 1671, 29 acres were set aside for the benefit of the poor of Armthorpe in lieu of the grazing and other rights which they then lost. Early in the nineteenth century this land was let for £11 a year which was distributed at a parish meeting at Christmas. The land known as the Poor Pieces is still controlled by the Poors Estate and in 1984 was producing an income of £1,600 per annum for use in relieving hardship and assisting local voluntary organisations concerned with helping in this work. The poor were later awarded five acres of common for gorse and fuel for their ovens or to be put to some other use for their benefit. About 1845 this land was set out as twenty gardens.
In fact, the poor of Armthorpe were quite well endowed and there never seems to have been need to start a township workhouse. There was none such in 1803 when 22 people were in receipt of ‘out relief’ and in 1837 local poor relief was abolished in this area on the establishment of the Doncaster Union with a central workhouse. The increase in parochial expenditure, particularly on the poor, which led eventually to the formation of Unions is well marked in Armthorpe. In 1776 the rate income was £38. In 1803 it was £187.
The population of Armthorpe from the start of the national Censuses in 1801 changed little until the twentieth century. In 1801 there were 273 inhabitants. The figure rose to 398 in 1871, dipped and only rose again to 381 in 1911. In the next ten years the population nearly doubled to 625 and between 1921 and 1931 when the colliery got to work and the pit houses were built the figure rose enormously to 6135. In 1811 there were 62 inhabited houses in the village with 65 families. In 1911 there were 86 houses. By 1930 Armthorpe had ceased to fill its ancient role of a completely agricultural village. It had become an important colliery village but still with a great deal of agriculture.
These brief notes are the work of John Goodchild during his service with the old W.R.C.C. and the first Curator of Cusworth Museum. We hope you find the notes and the map of interest and help. Further reading can be recommended by the Library. Published by Armthorpe Parish Council to encourage both a greater interest in the village and its history and a pride in our community.