Elsham Village History
The first mention of Elsham is as ‘Ellesham’ on the common seal of the fourth recorded prior, William de Barton, who died in 1303. ‘Elesham’ was recorded in the Domesday book of 1086, see https://opendomesday.org/place/TA0312/elsham/. The name is of Anglo-Saxon origin, in contrast to most of the surrounding villages, which were originally Danish settlements.
The first recorded habitation is a hospital for the poor that was built at the beginning of the 12th century by Beatrice d’Amundeville. Two hundred years later, by 1209, the building seems to have become a Priory and the hospital is no longer mentioned. There is a list of priors in Elsham Church tower, and they remained patrons of Elsham Church until the Priory was dissolved in 1536 by Henry the Eighth’s reforms. It is very likely that the priory was located in the vicinity of the current Elsham Hall. The estates of the prior of Elsham were extensive, and one of the main activities of the Priory was the rearing of sheep, which continues in the area today.
Taking a step back in history, excavations above the village in 1975/6 found evidence of Germanic mercenaries from the fifth century, brought over by the Romans to help stabilise the area after their withdrawal at the beginning of that century.
Population records indicate that the number of residents in the village (443) peaked in the 19th century, and that in 1590, 7% of the population died of a recurrence of the plague. The latest census figures from 2021 show a current population of 390.
There are several notable buildings in the village, including the Manor House. This is over 400 years old, and originally a rare, open hall, single story house. During the Second World War, it housed Italian prisoners of war. It is one of several listed buildings in the village, including Number One Church Street, dating from 1696, Elsham signal box, and ‘The Mount’ farmhouse. A great many of the farmhouses and farms in the village have disappeared and been replaced by private dwellings, but a number of the original estate cottages remain. The village post office building is located on Front Street and is now a private residence.
In and around Elsham, the main industrial activity has been quarrying for chalk and the production of lime. During WWII, Elsham quarry supplied 57,000 tons of stone for the foundations of the runways at RAF Elsham Wolds. The quarry stopped being active in 1965, but it was landscaped by Singleton Birch at the beginning of this century, and is now a nature reserve, offering a rare calciferous grassland habitat. See the separate tab for Elsham Nature Reserve and RAF Elsham Wolds for more information on these topics.
The parish council minute books from the very first meeting in 1896 onwards contain a number of representatives of well-known Elsham farming families who still live in the village, such as Ernest Dunn and George Brumby, declared as councillors in 1896, and Duncan Dodds, who joined in 1898. The early minute books show very few expenses other than the clerk’s salary of £1, election expenses, which seem to be six-monthly, and ‘Lights for Council Meeting’, presumably gas lights lit by a village lamplighter they cost just 1s 6d (one shilling and 6 pence). The main regular income is from the Overseer of the Poor – £10 was received by the parish council when they were established and then regular payments of £2 a month, presumably for the parish council to distribute to those in need in the village. One slightly unusual minute records that in accordance with the Rats Order in 1919, “Each occupier must notify the Parish Council of the number of rats killed during the week ending 5th of January”. Perhaps they were a particular problem that year!
The telephone kiosk in the village, which is now used as a feature of village planting, was installed in 1949, and street lighting came to the village in 1952/3. The school in Elsham, adjacent to the church, first opened its doors on the 3rd of June 1872, to welcome 32 boys and 37 girls. It sadly closed in 1960, when there were only 17 children registered, who were then transferred to the Church of England School in Barnetby. The school house remains as a private dwelling.
Alongside lime production and farming, villagers were well-known for their cricketing and horticultural prowess. The Elsham Flower Show was well established and an event that linked the village and Elsham Hall. It was inaugurated in 1870 and continued on a regular basis until July 1914 coincidentally, the last show was held on July 28th, 1914, the day that war was declared. The Agent of the Astley Corbett family, who owned Elsham Hall at the time, records: Throughout the month of July, 1914, the village were in special manner so concentrated in preparing for the great annual Flower Show … The Elsham Show had enjoyed a fame such as might be envied by many a County Show Committee, and the efforts of the villagers this year … actually brought some six to seven thousand people from all parts of the country to an event, which in the opinion of many, constituted the most enjoyable day throughout the whole of the year”. As well as the flower/fruit/vegetable show, there were sporting events, some for residents of the Estate, and some open to all. There were strict rules about who could enter different classes of the flower and produce show, and optimistically Class V was ‘Open to the World’ to show their plants, flowers, fruits and vegetables.
At the end of that last show, as news of war started to spread among the exhibitors and spectators, Sir Francis, the President of the show, addressed the audience “with a feeling of sadness” and urged everyone to stand shoulder to shoulder to pull the country through the most critical part of her history. That the men of Elsham did just that is attested by the War Memorial situated opposite the main door of the church
Sports also played a large role in the village in the form of cricket Elsham had a well-respected cricket team for most of the 20th century. The pitch was known as the most picturesque in the area (albeit with a short boundary!), situated in Elsham Park, surrounded all around by trees in the field that is just past the telephone box as you leave the village. The pitch was kept in good order, and there was even a small pavilion for the traditional afternoon tea.
Two Elsham residents to leave a long-standing legacy for the village are recorded on a tablet on the north wall inside the church tower. These were John Julian and George Stephenson. The Julian charity was established in 1663 to purchase “Six twopenny loaves to be distributed to the poor of the parish of Elsham every Lord’s day. And also the sum of fifty shillings per annum towards apprenticing out poor boys of the said parish for ever.” The Stephenson charity was established much later in 1803, with a deposit of £100 “to be distributed to the most indigent poor of the said parish on the 21st day of December in every year.” These charities were consolidated in 1981 into the Stevenson and Julian charity, which continues to support the young and elderly in the village, with the purchase of books, cost of training or education, Christmas parties etc.
Today, Elsham is a quiet and very well cared for village, with a good community spirit, The pride in horticulture persists as the village is home to many lovely gardens and a team of volunteers maintain public spaces to a high standard – Elsham won Best Kept Village in 2017 and 2022, with many second places in between. A recent addition has been a refurbished single furrow horse plough, which now takes pride of place in the centre of the village as reference to the village’s close link to farming.
The Parish Council is always looking for ideas and new projects that can enhance the environment for residents, so if you have any ideas, please do contact us or come along to a meeting to talk to us.
Sandra van Oosterhout, Chair
Acknowledgment: the main source of this brief history of All Saints Church is the booklet ‘Elsham Church & Parish, A Brief History with selected walks’ written by Nevison Boast, who lived in Elsham and was a church warden and parish councillor in Elsham in the period 1970-1990.