Lost Places: Stock Village

Not far from Bracewell sits Stock Village. Now it’s just a few farms and converted barns; once it was a thriving place. Its legacy is the bumps and humps in the fields nearby, earthwork remains of homes, smithies, stables and kilns. Why did this pleasant place cease to exist?

Local historian Stanley Graham found evidence of a reasonable population in the mid-nineteenth century, blaming the rise of Barnoldswick’s mills which offered better employment prospects than the farmsteads of Stock. The cottages’ stones were requisitioned for the walls and farms that survived. 

Alternatively, and more dramatically, it was a medieval plague village. The Black Death swept Europe in the fourteenth century, killing 75 to 200 million in the four years from 1347. Carried by fleas and the rats upon which they travelled, it wiped out entire villages and towns. Contemporary Italian writer Giovanni Boccaccio described the symptoms:

In men and women alike it first betrayed itself by the emergence of certain tumours in the groin or armpits, some of which grew as large as a common apple, others as an egg...From the two said parts of the body this deadly gavocciolo [lump or swelling] soon began to propagate and spread itself in all directions indifferently; after which the form of the malady began to change, black spots or livid making their appearance in many cases on the arm or the thigh or elsewhere, now few and large, now minute and numerous. As the gavocciolo had been and still was an infallible token of approaching death, such also were these spots on whomsoever they showed themselves.

The demise of a village is always melancholic, and I hope Graham’s explanation is the right one; moving away for better jobs is always preferable than being killed off by painful black tumours. Ironically, one of the consequences of the Black Death was a shortage of peasants to work the land. This led to a rise in wages and therefore higher standards of living for those lucky enough to survive. So powerful was labour’s bargaining hand, that the ruling classes used coercion to reduce it. In 1349, King Edward III passed the Ordinance of Labourers, fixing wages at pre-plague levels. The ordinance was reinforced by Parliament's passing of the Statute of Labourers in 1351. So a third theory regarding Stock’s expiry may be considered: its denizens moved away to find better paid work on other estates owing to the high demand for workers. 

I pray that the good folk of Stock who deserted their home did find better lives- in Barlick’s mills, other lords’ manors, or in eternity with the God of heaven. How many of those poor, pained victims of the Black Death cried out to their Creator to save them, we cannot tell. One day, the ruins of our civilisation will be examined, and the fate of our souls will be pondered.