Stawell in 1841

This article is the result of a few hours perusing the 1841 Census. This, along with all the censuses up to and including 1911, are available online or in Local History Libraries such as the one in Taunton. The United Kingdom Census of 1841 is the first modern census and recorded the occupants of every UK household on the night of 6 June, 1841. It was the first census to attempt to record every member of every household and, because it took place as a single event on one day, it avoided repetitions and omissions caused by people moving around during more extended record collecting.

In 1841 few questions were asked, no opportunity then to record your religion as Jedi! We can tell how many houses were surveyed, who was in residence, their approximate age, gender,their occupation and if they had been born in Somerset. Ages are approximate in that for adults over 15 the age is rounded down to the nearest 5 years. The oldest residents in Stawell are shown as age 70 but they could actually have been as old as 74.

About 35000 census Enumerators were appointed and given an area which it was felt they could each cover in a day. Forms were delivered to every household a few days before the day of the census. These were to be completed by the householder and collected by the enumerator on 7 June, the day after the census. The enumerator would help in the completion of the form if, for example, the householder was illiterate. The forms were then transcribed into the “Census Enumerator’s Book” and the original records destroyed.

The Stawell of 1841 was perhaps a little smaller village than it is now. 48 houses were recorded and the population was 220.  This is just for the Parish of Stawell and doesn’t include Sutton Mallet and Ford Lane was, and still is I believe, part of Bawdrip. Today our population is nearer 350 which I believe includes Sutton Mallet.

As you would expect family sizes are larger than we would regard as typical today.  William and Ann Cary have 8 children while Mary Talbot, described as being of independent means, has 10 children (but no husband at home when the census was taken). Most seem content with 3-5 children although older children may  have moved out. The youngest people with recorded occupations are fifteen years of age although compulsory schooling for all, and then just until 10 years of age did not become law until 1870. Unlike later censuses there are no records of a teacher living in the village

I am sure that it will come as no suprise to learn that the most common occupation was that of Agricultural Labourer, “Ag Lab” in census shorthand. I counted 33 such folk residing in the village in 1841; most were men but two women also described themselves as agricultural labourers. Suprisingly there are no Farmers in the village!  However there are a number of people who describe themselves as Yeomen. The term “Yeoman” has changed its usage over the years.  Originally it described someone serving in a noble household.  By the 16th Century it was also used to describe a non noble person who owned and farmed their land.  It was also a military rank, just below knights and their squires.  By 1841 the term was used to describe a farmer who owned some land, however small, rather than renting it. It therefore conveyed additional status above tenant farmers. From the 1841 census we learn nothing about how much land they owned although this changes in the 1851 census.  By cheating and looking ahead to that census we learn that some of these yeomen were owners of just a few, perhaps 20, acres each. In 1841 seven Yeomen are resident in the village.  Henry Brown is listed as a Grazier and, by the expedient of checking his entry in later censuses, we discover that he actually worked over 150 acres. Others may have also owned land; Joan Dawbin, at 70 – 75, one of the oldest village residents, is described as “Of Independent Means” but in 1851 she is still alive and recorded as 81 and now described as a “Landed Proprietor” so we can assume she owns land which is probably rented out to someone else to farm.

As well as those directly working in agriculture the village has a range of other trades. John Dyer is a shoemaker as is William Wilkins. William’s brother, John, is a carpenter while Henry Wilkins, living next door and probably the father of William and John, is a shopkeeper. John is by no means the only carpenter; three members of the Connock clan and George Talbot also follow this trade in the village.  James Wilkins is a Stonemason, George White is the village thatcher while William Pople fills the village blacksmith role. Samuel Perham is another shopkeeper in the village.  Yet another John Connock is a butcher as is William Talbot who is between 15 and 19 and so may be John’s apprentice.

Not everyone has limited access to education;  Caroline Shute is a governess who resides with the family of John Dawbin, his wife Susannah, four children and three female servants.  John is one of the village Yeomen so must be doing rather well for himself in 1841. Someone else who has had access to an education is William Ackland who is a 20 year old medical student.  He is residing with his parents, Edmund and Ann.  Edmund is another yeoman who can afford two servants as well as to educate his son.

Few women are recorded as having occupations.  Two are listed as agricultural labourers while another ten are listed as Female Servants (Shown as FS on the census).  These servants are sometimes village girls but some are from elsewhere. A few other young women are listed as dressmakers; I believe this was seen at the time as a respectable calling for young, single girls until they got married.

A couple of oddities are William Dawbin and Benjamin Sykes.  Their families live next to each other and on the census a hand different from the hand responsible for the rest of the village record has scribbled what seems to be “Army” or possibly “Away” next to their names.

The commonest names, and so those probably most well established at that time in the village include the Connocks, Dawbins, Maker and Wilkins. Yes, there is a Harding in residence – George Harding appears to be a single agricultural labourer, aged 45, and lodging with the family of Jeffrey Davis. Charles Fry is a Yeoman living alone in the village.

I imagine that the village I have described is pretty much what any of us living in Stawell would expect – a small village where the lives of most of its residents are centred around agriculture.  There will be a great deal that could be added to this brief account through additional research; perhaps some others in the village might be interested in forming a local history group which could publish its findings on the website.