River to Railway – Sam Taylor’s ‘Riccall : A Village History’

Sam Taylor in his book “Riccall: a Village History” looks at the 1901 Census to illustrate the impact of the coming of the railway on village life.

Chapter 26 ‘Edwardian Riccall’, page 160

Farming remained un-mechnaized, heavily dependent on the horse for most operations, though the steam driven threshing machine that moved from farm to farm was now a familiar feature in the landscape at harvest time (note that the list of village occupations the next page includes that of horse-breaking.) A motorcar was a rare sight, the privilege of the rich, as photographs of the village streets attest, innocent of all traffic apart from the occasional pony and trap. After farming, domestic service was still an important employer; so, increasingly, was the railway. In 1901, 17 men in Riccall were railway employees, from the stationmaster to plate-layers, signalmen, gatekeepers (Riccall had two level crossings), clerks and porters. Most of them lived in tied houses, like the terrace of five (originally three) at Mount Pleasant, which survives, as do the stationmaster’s house and the two gatekeepers houses (now one) at the junction of York Road with the A19. The village end of Common Lane was now re-christened Station Road.

Farmers were increasingly dependent on the railway for obtaining foodstuffs and fertiliser and for transporting their produce to market in York and Selby. Frank Outhwaite of Turnhead Farm, interviewed in 2014 at the age of 97, recalled how important the railway had become to farmers: There was “shoddy from Bradford to put on the land… seed potatoes… Irish cattle which were walked home along the A19.” Heavy commodities like coal and building materials – bricks, cement, sand – would now use the railway rather than the rivers. Railway sidings, sheds and the goods yard took up a sizeable area of what had been part of Riccall’s East Field. The first Riccall commuters were born – the handful of inhabitants like the bank clerk the insurance agent listed in the 1901 Census whose work took them to York or Selby.

Nevertheless, the village remain very largely self-sufficient, as it had been for centuries. The 1901 Census is a reminder of the remarkable range of occupations still practised in the village barely over a hundred years ago. Here is what you would find (note that there were several practitioners of some trades like blacksmith, shoemaker, gardener; the single largest occupation was, unsurprisingly agricultural labourer).

agricultural labourer         baker                  bank clerk                         basket maker

blacksmith                        bricklayer            brick-maker                      butcher

charwoman                      clergyman           drainer                              dressmaker

estate office clerk             farmer                 gardener                           gamekeeper

grocer                               horse breaker     innkeeper                          insurance agent

Joiner                                newsagent         nurse                                 pig and cattle dealer

police constable                postmaster         potato merchant                railway worker

road mender                     school master/mistress                                shoemaker

shopkeeper                       tailor                   timber merchant                wheelwright


The river was no longer important to the economy of the village, the railway had usurped its major functions so the wharfingers had disappeared from the census, as had the fisherman.


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Railway, River
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