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Bozeat, Northamptonshire, England

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An Ancient Village

Bozeat village sign

In his Preface to Philip Bligh's Bozeat 2000: The Story of a Northamptonshire Village Tom Partridge-Underwood writes, “If you thought Bozeat was a sleepy little village in the middle of England with no tale to tell, then you would be very wrong, for within the pages of this excellent book you will find accounts of murder and intrigue. You will read of the rise and fall of the British shoe industry, matters of national, cultural, religious and social history and much more.”[1]

Bozeat is a very old village. We know it existed in 1086 because it has three entries in the Domesday Book, the record of the great survey carried out on William the Conqueror's authority in that year. The survey covered nearly all of England and part of Wales, and its main purpose was to find out who held what. At that time there were 14 households in Bozeat.

However, remains of a Roman villa, as well as coins and remnants of a burial ground from the Anglo-Saxon period—which began when the Romans left Britain in 410 AD—have been found, so it's likely that Bozeat dates back even further. The present-day parish church was established in 1130, and it was probably built on the site of an earlier one.

Recorded spelling of the name has changed over the centuries, from Boseyate in 1154, through Bosiete (in the Domesday Book 1066, possibly changed to sound more French), Bose Gate (1150-60), Bosgieta (1180's), Bosegate (1200's), and Bosyate (1255), to Bosgate (1350). The origin is not clear, but “an early spelling of Bozeat was Bosgate suggesting Bozeat may have meant Bosa(s) gate. Bosa was a common Saxon name and a Saxon Earl named Bosa held land near here.”[2] Old English geat/gaet, and Middle English yatt/zett all mean gate, opening, or entrance to woods or land. Every spelling of Bozeat includes both Bosa and gate in some form, so “Bosa's Gate” looks promising. Given the different spelling and the changes in spoken English over the centuries, however, it is unlikely that Bozeat is still pronounced as it was originally.[3]

A Topographical Dictionary of England, published in 1848, describes Bozeat in rather cryptic terms:

BOZEAT (St. Mary), a parish, in the union of Wellingborough, hundred of Higham-Ferrers, N. division of the county of Northampton, 5¾ miles (N.) from Olney; containing 845 inhabitants. This parish is situated on the border of Bedfordshire, and comprises 2537a. 3r. 8p., of which above 120 acres are woodland; the surface is in some parts hilly, especially at the north end, and in others level; the soil is a cold clay. Limestone is quarried. The road from Wellingborough to Olney passes through the village. The living is a discharged vicarage, with the rectory of Strixton consolidated, valued in the king's books at £8; net income, £183; patron, Earl Spencer; impropriators, the representatives of the late Dr. Laurence, Archbishop of Cashel: the glebe comprises 120 acres. Land and annual money payments were assigned in 1798, in lieu of tithes. There is a place of worship for Wesleyans. [4]

Much more eloquently, A History of the County of Northampton provides a verbal picture of Bozeat in 1937:

Bozeat is on the borders of Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire, a stone at Shirewood about 2 miles southeast of the village marking the boundary between the three counties. The London road from Wellingborough to Olney runs through the parish from north to south. The village lies mainly along two roads branching east from the London road, the lower one being called the High Street.
St Mary's Church, looking along Church Lane (geograph.org.uk - 140818)
St. Mary's Church, with the vicarage to the west of it, lies at the eastern side of the village. To the south of it, across the road, are Manor Farm and Church Farm, the Independent Methodist chapel built in 1892, and the Baptist chapel built in 1844. There is a cemetery of about an acre formed in 1903, with a mortuary chapel. A public elementary school was built in 1873, and enlarged in 1892. A working men's club founded in 1894 has a club house, built in 1897; and an obelisk of Weldon stone was erected in 1920 to the memory of 39 men of the parish who fell in the Great War.[5] There are disused brickworks north-west of the village; and about a quarter of a mile to the south of the village, down the London road, are Bozeat mill and windmill, the last surviving post mill in the county.
The parish lies mostly at a height of about 300 ft., and while the surface is level in some districts, in the north it is hilly. It has an area of 2,605 acres. The soil is a stiff loam; the subsoil limestone. The chief crops grown are cereals. Shoemaking employs a considerable number of hands...The population in 1931 was 1,157.[6]

Much has happened in Bozeat during its lifetime. I guess many of those events are the small details that make up the life of a village, but there have been numerous highlights.

Fire, Changes, Wars

Over the space of a few hours in 1729 the Great Fire of Bozeat, fanned by a strong wind, destroyed many houses, farm crops and buildings. Widow Keech, who lived in a row of cottages by the churchyard, is said to have caused the fire when she left her baking unattended to gossip with her neighbours. The church survived but the fire destroyed the vicarage and with it the parish registers, making it difficult for family historians to find records relating to the hundreds of years before the fire.

Thanks to its rural setting, Bozeat people have always been involved in agriculture, especially in cropping and dairying. However, over the centuries they've also been employed in other occupations. In the 1400s there was a thriving weaving industry, later there were lace workshops, and still later the boot and shoe trade. There were also many independent tradesmen and shopkeepers, and Bozeat was quite self-sufficient. By the beginning of the twentieth century, Bozeat had at least twenty shops, a school, five public houses and four churches. That century also brought modern utilities to Bozeat—mains electricity (in 1925), water (1949), sewerage (1950) and gas (1990).

During the Great War of 1914-18 many young British men who joined the services were shod with boots made in Bozeat. Many young locals enlisted, including one of Dad's older brothers, my Uncle John, who was killed in action. Dad also joined the army (by raising his age!) but the war ended before he saw active service.

World War Two brought a couple of notable incidents. In October 1940 a kind of citizen's arrest was made (at the point of a pitchfork) when an Easton Maudit farmer found a man acting suspiciously. He was taken to the Bozeat police constable and it turned out that he was a German, parachuted in to radio weather reports back home. He took the police to where he had hidden his radio and clothing, and was then taken away, presumably to be tried as a spy. The full story, as told by the son of the policeman, can be read on the Bozeat village website.

Another young man became a local hero. U.S. Army Air Corps pilot, Lt John Ahern, aged 22, lost his own life but saved many others. On December 16, 1944, Ahern and his crew left Kimbolton on a bombing mission to Germany. Soon after take-off the plane developed engine trouble and Lt Ahern ordered his crew to bail out, saying he would follow. He never did. He managed to steer the fully armed aircraft away from the village but apparently wasn't able to parachute out before the plane crashed in a field, exploding on impact. Lt Ahern's actions averted a major disaster; the result, had the bombs exploded in the village, doesn't bear thinking about. Bozeat acknowledges his sacrifice every year on remembrance day. Dennis Ahern has compiled a tribute to Jack Ahern, including photos and contemporary official and newspaper reports.

The Artist and His Subjects

Charles Spencelayh's Much noise, little music, for which Bozeat resident Tom C ("Rocker") Drage was the model

In 1941 Charles Spencelayh (1865-1958), an English artist in the Academic style, moved to Bozeat with his wife after their home near London was bombed. They remained there for the rest of their lives. Spencelayh, an important artist of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1892, and did so regularly until his death. He became a much-loved character around the village, and Philip Bligh devotes a whole chapter to him, recounting many anecdotes by people who knew the artist. In 1957, the critic of The Manchester Guardian remarked of his paintings, “Most of them depict old codgers...in junk-crammed interiors that will be of considerable interest to the social historian of the future”.[7] Some of those “old codgers” were men of Bozeat, immortalised in oils as they sat for Spencelayh in his studio. And not only old codgers—women and young people, too, modelled for the artist. Those paintings are now very valuable; today a Spencelayh can bring tens of thousands of pounds. In 2009 one of his paintings, The Old Dealer, sold at auction for more than £345,000. Five works hang in the Tate Gallery in London.

Modern Times

In 1989 a bypass road was built to the west of the village, taking the ever-increasing through traffic away from London Road and out of the village. Eleven years later, following a number of accidents, a new roundabout at the north end of Bozeat made entering and leaving the village much safer.

Three private housing estates were built during the 1960s and 1970s and 2004 saw the demolition of an old factory and a dozen or so more families settled into village life.

Today Bozeat is a strong caring community—a united, lively, and modern commuter village, and home to about 2000 people. There is an assortment of retail outlets, a post office, bus service, several industrial and commercial businesses, and thriving clubs, associations and youth organisations.

Further Reading

  • Geograph, for more than 1200 photos taken within 10 km of Bozeat. View as thumbnails or as a slideshow.
  • "Parishes: Bozeat" in A History of the County of Northampton, British History Online, for a detailed history of Bozeat.
  • Bozeat Village website, for information about Bozeat.
  • Bozeat in Wikipedia, for a brief overview of Bozeat.
  • Wikimapia, for a satellite image of Bozeat, with labels. The view can be changed using the Map type menu (default is Google hybrid).

References

  1. Bligh, Philip. 2003. Bozeat 2000: The Story of a Northamptonshire Village, Wellingborough, Northamptonshire, W. D. Wharton, p6.
  2. Marlow, Rev J H. 1936. The History of Bozeat Village, quoted in Bozeat Northamptonshire, England, http://www.bozeat.info/html/our_village.html, accessed 10 June 2012.
  3. The present-day pronunciation is ˈboʊʒət, with the emphasis on the first syllable. The boʊ sounds like the bo in bone, the ʒ like the s in pleasure, and the ə like the a in comma.
  4. Lewis, Samuel (editor). 1848. "Boxworth - Brackley" in A Topographical Dictionary of England, p323-326. British History Online, http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=50818, accessed 10 June 2012.
  5. The obelisk stands at the front of the Parish Council cemetery off Easton Lane. The names of fifteen village men who lost their lives in the second world war have been added. Both groups are also commemorated in St Mary's church (although the 1914-18 lists are slightly different).
  6. Salzman, L. F. (editor). 1937. "Parishes: Bozeat" in A History of the County of Northampton, Volume 4 pp. 3-7. British History Online, http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=66304, accessed: 10 June 2012.
  7. Noakes, Aubrey. 1978. Charles Spencelayh and his Paintings, London, Jupiter Books Limited, p53.

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