The following details have been extracted from other histories of the village and we are grateful to the authors for their thorough research. The history of the village was depicted on the mosaic created as part of the Millenium celebrations which now commands a prominent position in the village and is pictured below:
There are two main theories as to how Billinghay got its name. The first supposes that it came from the Teutonic word “Bellan” a word for waves beating against a bank and the Saxon word “Hay” for an enclosure. The more accepted version is that it is the “hay” (stream or island) of the Billas (the tribe that settled in this area) and whose name is found in other local place names such as Billingborough and Horbling.
The Domesday Book records that the village belonged to the Archbishop of York. How long it remained in the possession of the Archbishops is unclear but it was at least two centuries. In the sixth year of the reign of Elizabeth I, Henry Standish possessed the manors of Billinghay and Walcott but the manor of Billinghay was owned by the Dymoke family of South Kyme who continued to hold it for some considerable time.
The first written information about Billinghay is found in the Domesday Book which states:
“Land of the Archbishop of York”
In Belingei, Swen has 12 carucates of land to the geld. There is land for four teams. Walchelin, the Archbishop’s man and two sons of Swen have two teams there and 3 villeins and 15 sokemen have 4 teams. There are 16 acres of meadows and 3 sites of fisheries.”
Billinghay was a gravel island and must have been very isolated in those days. The Roman Car Dyke is to the east of the village and the River Skirth to the south. Th village was almost surrounded by fenlands which were usually flooded in the winter. There cannot have been much room for arable farming and the inhabitants were more likely to be engaged in fishing and fowling. There was likely to have been a good deal of sheep and cattle grazing in the summer.
1190 to 1259
In 1190 the village was still known as Belingei but in 1202 the name was changed to Billingas. The most important event during this period was the founding of Catley Priory. This was founded in the reign of King Stephen and was headed by Peter de Billinghay. Full details about the Priory can be found in the specific section on this website.
1165 to 1730
Not everyone in the village was law abiding during the period as can be seen from these extracts from the Sleaford Quarter Sessions Minutes below:
1663 John Codd of Billinghay, three months imprisonment because he and those members of his family over the age of 16 years have not attended their Parish Church for the space of three Sundays, contrary to the form of the Statute.
1676 Thomas Thornton indicted because on the 21st day of September last at Billinghay the aforesaid in the fens at that place by force of arms he unjustly and illicitly took and carried off three bullocks of the goods and chattels of a certain John Jackson and on the same day by force of arms at Anwick in and against the aforesaid John Jackson and the Lord’s peace did cause insult and affray and cursed the aforesaid John Jackson, contrary to the peace, fined £20
In 1665 there were 79 houses in the village and in the early 1700s there were130 families of whom seven were said to be non-conformist and one Roman Catholic.
The figures for baptisms and burials do not show any considerable changes during the period 1665 to 1730. They do show, however, that there were two bad epidemics in the early part of the 18th century. In 1720, there were 40 burials against 25 the previous year and an average of 19 for the decade from 1711 to 1720. In 1727, there were 41 burials compared with 8 the previous year and an average of 17 for the decade from 1721 to 1730. As the number of baptisms for these years was 14 and 18 respectively, the population of the village would have decreased by 32 in 1720 and 23 in 1727 ignoring the possibility of other movements.
1700 to 1770
During the 18th century, Billinghay appears to have been both poor and backward. Lists of persons liable to jury service have survived for twelve years in that century. For two years there were two in Billinghay and for two other years there were just one. For eight years there were no persons liable for jury duty. Qualification was on a financial basis and Billinghay people were either poorer in those days than most places or better dodgers! In the years1760 to 1769 inclusive only 27% of the bridegrooms and 11% of the brides signed their name in the Marriage Register – the rest made a cross. However this corresponds with the records for similar communities at the time.
1777 Enclosure Act
The great development of the second half of the 18th century was the draining of the fens. Acts for improving the river Witham were passes in 1672, 1762 and 1812. These must certainly have made a great impact on Billinghay. The main change, however, was the enclosure of the Parish which was carried out by a Private Act of 1777. At the time of the enclosure, there were said to have been 1600 acres of common fields and open common meadow ground, 2400 acres of open common fen, 2000 acres of open common meadow land (called Billinghay Dales) and 126 acres of enclosed low land.
Land was allotted for:
- Land already owned
- As compensation for the extinction of common rights. The Lord of the Manor received 3164 acres under these headings plus 111 acres for his manorial rights and 826 acres for tithes.
- Tithes were abolished at the enclosure. The vicar received 224 acres in place of these. 52 other persons shared the rest of the land – allotments varied between 580 acres to Jervas Gibson and 29 perches to John Fox. The majority received between 10 and 70 acres.
As usual in the fens, land ownership was shared and was much more widely distributed than in most upland parishes. It is interesting to note that usually compensation was given to owners of houses to which common rights were attached or to the owners of toft steads – land on which such houses once stood. In Billinghay, the owners of toft steads only received half the compensation paid in connection with standing houses. Considerable drainage works were carried out with the enclosure and the Commissioners were empowered to borrow money for this purpose. Between October 1777 and August 1778 they borrowed£2600 from Lord Fitzwilliam.
An Act of Parliament passed in this year allowed local authorities to collect tolls from people using certain roads and bridges. Known as turnpikes they consisted of a gate or similar construction being placed on the road or bridge. In Billinghay, the Old Bridge was a turnpike and the charges were:
- Persons on foot 1d (Old penny)
- Horses, Mares, Geldings, Mules, Asses, Bull, Ox, Steer, Calf or Heifer 1d
- Carriage with four wheels drawn one or more horses or both 1 shilling
There were legal exceptions from paying the toll, such as:
- Vehicles carrying materials to repair the road
- Soldiers marching
- Vagrants who had legal passes
- Peoples attending funerals
The tolls were controlled by the Trustees and the money raised was used for the maintenance of the the bridge and road. The Trustees met regularly to discuss among other things non-payment or dodging the tolls. An extract from one of the meetings reads:
“Thomas Pynton of Dogdyke appeared in pursuance of an order made at the last meeting and claimed that he was taking his horse to Billinghay to be shod. It was later found that he did not go for this purpose and he was, therefore, unlawfully claiming exemption from the toll. He was fined 40 shillings for the offence”
1864 This was the year of the Great Fire which is set out in a separate section of this website.
1877 in this year there was severe flooding which again is fully covered in the section devoted to Floods.
Population: During the first half of the 19th Century the population of the village expanded rapidly from just under 600 in 1801 to about 1500 in 1851. The chart below shows population figures extracted from censuses and other relevant documents.