- The villages around Bourne, Lincolnshire, England -


Photographed in 2000

THE LOW BATTLEMENTED 15th century tower of the village church at Dowsby can be clearly seen as you drive north on the B1177, six miles from Bourne. This is a small village on the very edge of the fen with an Elizabethan hall, a few cottages and red-tiled farm buildings to keep company with the church largely Early English and Decorated styles but extensively restored in 1863-4 at a cost of 1,100. The solid stone western tower is elegant although its pinnacles have been decapitated. Four stones with cable moulding built into the last wall of an aisle reflect the church's Norman origins while the nave, with a big pointed tower arch at one end and a wide chancel arch at the other, also looks venerable though both of its own arcades have been rebuilt. while in a recess is a 14th century stone life-sized and recumbent effigy of Etheldreda Rigdon in a long, tight-waisted gown.

The church has a chancel with chantry, nave, aisles, south porch and three bells in the tower and a clock erected as a First World War memorial. The carved oak pulpit is modern while the belfry screen and choir stalls were added by parishioners in 1923. There is an ancient font, placed in 1876 upon an octagonal stone base and there are several inscribed tablets including one recording the men of Dowsby who fell in the 1914-18 war. The church registers date from 1670 and there was an interesting charity in the village during the last century when 100 invested in government bonds at 2% was left in 1844 by James Hurst of Stamford, the income to be used to buy meat annually for distribution to the poor.

Nearby is the stone built Dowsby Hall, a picturesque Jacobean mansion with tall, fanciful gables and pinnacles and a row of nine chimneys and blind windows in the dormers. It was probably designed by John Thorpe for Richard Burrell whose family are remembered by six brasses in the chancel, including Redmayne Burrell who died in 1682 and others who passed on between then and 1763, and by the 20th century it was owned by Trinity College, Cambridge, and is today home to a farming family.

Dowsby was originally Duesby, Dusi's farmstead or village, an old Danish name, but at the time of the Domesday survey in 1086, this had become Dusebi and the passage of the years eventually gave us the Dowsby that we know today. It stands near to the Car Dyke and was therefore known to the Romans.

The village had a duck decoy in the 18th century, one of 40 decoys that once operated in Lincolnshire, this one taking over 13,000 birds in a good season. Teal, widgeon, mallard and pochard were among the wildfowl killed between October and April with lesser numbers of shovellers, tufted duck and pintail, all without a shot being fired. Some were sold locally but most were sent to the London markets to supply the tables of the wealthy. The birds from these decoys often included huge numbers of winter migrants and one observer wrote in 1761: "I have often seen wagons drawn by ten or twelve horses apiece, so heavy were they laden." In the early 19th century, it was recorded that 31,200 ducks from ten South Lincolnshire decoys were sent for sale in the capital.

The Dowsby Decoy operated from 1763 to 1783 when the number of birds taken annually varied greatly and although substantial profits were made for the first 15 years, the last five seasons showed a loss. When the decoy closed, the wood in which it was situated was put up for sale but only part of it was purchased and the remainder was cleared for use as farmland. A depression in the fields by a clump of trees is all that remains today of the Dowsby Decoy and its pond. Decoyman Robert Michelson and his wife Isabella lie beneath a pair of fine slate headstones in the churchyard outside the south porch. Born in 1735, Robert was 28 when he started to work at the decoy and he died in 1819 at the age of 84.

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