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Helmdon From Census Records

 
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an article by Val Moir

We have a wonderful aid to 19th-century research in the census records taken every ten years from 1801 until the present day. From 1801 to 1831, only numbers of population and some occupations were recorded and names did not appear until 1841. They may be seen at Northants Record Office where details of the early returns and microfilm copies of 1841 and subsequent years up to 1891 are available.

The census for 1801, 1811, 1821 and 1831 took place on the night of 10/11 March, 27/28 May, 28/29 May and 30/31 May respectively and record only the population in the area on that night, so would omit regular occupants away from home overnight and include visitors staying in the enumeration district. From 1801, returns gave the number of people in each parish, the inhabited and empty houses and a rough classification of occupations and handicrafts. In1831, males over twenty years were classed in seven occupational categories: Agricultural, Industrial, Labouring, Manufacturing, Professional, Retail Trades, Servants, and Others. The 1841 census took place on the night of 6/7 June. The names of inhabitants were recorded for the first time. For children up to the age of 14, ages to the nearest year were recorded, but those of older people are given in five-year groups indicated by the lower age in that group. Residents were asked if they were born in the county. Occupations were given in many cases.

Unfortunately, no addresses were given on the 1841 census but as Rowland Hill's introduction of the Penny Post came into operation in1840, there would be little point in numbering houses before this time. In the later census, road names are occasionally mentioned but many of these change from decade to decade. The Rectory, Stocking Farm, and the Grange are named in the returns after 1841. From 1851, the census records relationship to the head of the household and marital status, birthplaces are usually given by parish if in England or Wales but the country only if in Ireland or Scotland.

The population grew gradually until 1871 when the Blisworth to Banbury Railway was being built. At this time it reached 656, including 20 railway labourers and their wives. Records show a fairly even distribution between male and female. There is frequently a drop in numbers from the six to ten age group to the eleven to fifteen year but whether this was because young people moved away to work or early death is not clear. Certainly in the 1881 parish records, also available in Northants Record Office, of 14 deaths, 11 were children under the age of 15, but this is not typical of most years.

The following tables of statistics show comparisons between the 19thcentury census returns.

On average, during the 1841-1891 period, 64% of the inhabitants of Helmdon were born in the village. Of the rest, the majority were born within five miles with just three from other countries; one each from Canada, Ireland and Scotland.

The area covered by the census has varied from time to time. For example, Stockings Farm was added to Astwell and Falcutt in 1885.

The size of the household groups is interesting as it disproves the theory that 'every small cottage housed families of thirteen or more'. A large number of homes in most of the census years had only two occupants. The large group of 17 in 1841 was a school with 13 boarding pupils, run by Mr James Pool.

Although I have no forebears in the village, I have included a list of family names for those with roots in Helmdon. Throughout the period, some names have been spelt in various ways. For example, Watson was written as Wadson in 1841 and 1851; Winmill sometimes as Windmill. The Branson, Humphrey, Seckington, Turvey, Watson and Winmill families have been well represented on the census returns.

One hundred years ago there were more of both farmers and servants living in Helmdon. In general the farms were smaller that at present and of course employed many more farm workers. In addition most farmers employed servants in the house. It is interesting to see how young some of these girls were; 13,14 and 15 years of age being quite common.

The occupations are listed as the enumerator of the time recorded them. In the later years both 'Ag.Lab' (Agricultural Labourer) and 'Farm Labourer' appear but even the Public Record Office is unable to suggest a difference between the two. There is however a distinction between 'Farm Labourer'; and 'Farm Servant' in that a farm servant was hired on a yearly basis to work on the land and live with the farmer's family. In Helmdon the farm servants were aged between 13 and 21. Agricultural Labourers and Farm Labourers were usually married men employed on either a regular or a casual basis rather than hired for a year and they lived with their families. The 'Farm Boys' mentioned in the 1851 returns were from 6-13 years old and lived at home with their parents, often Agricultural Labourers. This is the same age group as the ploughboys of the 1861 census. Cordwainers and Shoemakers are recorded in 1861. An expert from Northampton Shoe Museum thought perhaps the cordwainer considered himself rather superior, as there was really no difference in the trades.

Also in that year, there is and example of the various stages a craftsman experienced before he could call himself a master of his craft. There are three Blacksmiths, an Apprentice Blacksmith and a Journeyman Blacksmith. The Journeyman would have completed his apprenticeship and was required to move away from home to gain experience before setting up as a master himself.

Among all the statistics I have found, one or two families and their changing fortunes come alive and create a real picture of past times. Although as far as I can trace the families are not related, both had the same surname, Farmer.

My attention was caught by the Filiation Order dated 16th July 1828. It read; "The overseers of the parish of Helmdon as upon oath of the said Sarah Farmer that she was delivered of a male child on the 18th June last past and that James Farmer of Helmdon a Chelsea Pensioner did beget the said bastard child. One shilling and sixpence to be paid by James Farmer to the churchwarden and overseer of the poor".

Neither Sarah nor James appears on the 1841 census but in 1851 James Farmer age 68 is recorded as Head of Household with Sarah as "Conqubine" age 55, daughter Ann, a lacemaker age 20 and a son George age 18 an Agricultural Labourer. I wonder why James and Sarah didn't marry. Were they related or was one already married? Where were they between 1828 and 1851? The problem with researching information is that there is always more to find.

The second Farmer family must at one time have been more prosperous than the first. I noticed them on the 1871 census when William John Farmer age 30 farmed 720 acres at Stockings Farm, employing 20 men and 10 boys. He was away from home in 1881 when the record was taken and died in 1889. In his will William Farmer left "£861.18.0 Gross, Nil.Net". He must have been very wealthy once. I wonder what happened. Northampton Library have a copy of the report of his funeral in the Northampton Mercury of the 3rd March 1889.

"Very recently death removed a well known and respected inhabitant of Helmdon in the person of Mr W Farmer aged 49. A Gentleman who always employed a large number of labourers. The funeral took place on Friday in the presence of many of the village who were present to pay their last respects. The floral tributes were exquisite and numerous."

The last mention I have of the Farmer family is in the 1891 census when Elizabeth, widow of William Farmer, is head of household and living on her own means. Their two daughters Gertrude and Florence age 19 and 17 are recorded as School Governesses, about the only occupation available to well educated girls having to earn their own living. In 1891 elementary education in England became virtually free.

These examples are a small indication of the rounded picture of the past available to us all from the careful records kept by our ancestors.

Valerie Moir

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