Merrybower Cottages first appear in a recognisable form in the OS map from 1882. However, there are maps on that same page indicating buildings in approximately the same location. Other than Merrybower Farm, these are the only buildings south of the Trent and Mersey canal, but maps back to 1791 show three buildings existing at Merrybower.
We do know that the cottages were built no earlier than 1844, and no later than 1861. The red bricks used in the build are stamped with the initials IHC – a rather archaic representation of the initials JHC. In turn, this indicates the bricks were made in the time that Sir John Harpur Crewe ran the Harpur Crewe Estate, in which Arleston and Merrybower fell. He inherited the estate in 1844, and the bricks would have changed initials then. He died in 1886, and perhaps the stock of bricks could have been used after this date, but the 1861 census shows three dwellings at Merrybower, which would be a good indication that the cottages existed by that date.
There is also circumstantial evidence in the form of artefacts dug from the three middens that each cottage has. located behind their respective outbuilding (coal sheds and thunderboxes). Many date from the early Victorian to Edwardian periods, such as the good example of an ointment pot labelled ‘Beach & Barnicott, Poor Man’s Friend’ (1860-1885) below, the Symington & Co Chicory and Coffee Essence bottle (possible late 1800s) and the sherd of an A1 Hygienic Feeder (1865-1899) which would originally have looked like the example on a red background.
There are also examples of the work-wear typical of the agricultural background, such as this small Victorian thimble. Contrary to popular belief, it would not have been used for sewing. Rather, it was made for a child’s fingers, to protect them whilst picking teezles, which were then used in cloth manufacturing to pull the wool apart. (ref. ‘A Provincial Glossary, with a Colllection of Local Proverbs and Popular Superstitions’, by Francis Grose Esq. 1811)
However, evidence of earlier occupation at the cottages is evident from the various finds in the near vicinity. These range from a clay pipe section dating from the mid 1700s, through to a 17th century Stafforshire/Bristol slipware body sherd with the more recent finds. Under a lavander bush near the front door of No.3 a Medieval strap handle was found, possible remnants of the old medieval Arleston village further up the hill. There is also a piece of worked sandstone dug from the ground behind the cottages, which does not seem to match anything at Merrybower, and the very worn sandstone door step at the porch of No.2 was discovered under the front garden when the new cobble drive was laid, and reinterred as a door step. Pushing us further back in time, and serving as reminders that the stretch of the Trent valley running through the parish has long been populated, we have found several mesolithic and paleolithic flints.
The map below shows various finds from Merrybower. If you zoom out then you will see other finds and monuments from the pastscape.org website for the entire parish. Clicking on any of the markers will lead to more information.
View Merrybower Findspots in a larger map