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The Eve of this century
Census, Population and Education

By Peter Kingsford

The nearest we can get for a detailed picture of the parish at the start of this century is 1891 because the census reports for that year are the last ones available. They tell us much about the people of the parish and the kind of community, on the eve of this century.


The parish numbered 1387 souls, continuing a gradual increase from 1075 a generation earlier. As earlier, and later, females exceeded males by 100. Men and women did not have to go outside the parish for a partner, though many of them did. One aspect of those partnerships was the number of wives who were older than their husbands, 65 of them, nearly a third.

This was, in fact, no new thing. One explanation suggested is that many men waited until their future brides had saved enough to set up house. Whatever the truth of that there were plenty of children.

The average number of children per family, living at home, was 3.5. That number conceals a wide range from 1 to 9 children. If a large family may be defined for those years, as one with more than four children, there were 37 large families, most of them among the poorer people. But, of course, "living at home" is no real guide to the actual size of families, since at the census, many older children would have left home.


Among the children were 191 described as "scholars". Sixty-two of them, who lived in Little Heath, had their parochial mixed school housed in the mission room in Thornton Road under the master John Appleyard and the infants mistress Miss Louisa Luck. Its accommodation was criticised severely by Her Majesty’s Inspector.

The other 129 scholars attended the parochial boys school in Welham Green ruled by Benjamin Mallet and the school for girls and infants at Water End under Mrs Letitia Hanes.

Many of the children had to walk several miles to school, but by the 1890s, school was a more pleasant place than before. The worst effects of the Payment By Results system of the 1860s, by which a school’s grant depended on the number of passes in the three Rs, had disappeared.

School Attendance

Attendance continued to be a problem for the teachers, since farmers could, and did, employ children aged 12 if they had reached a given standard at school.

Parents had been made responsible for sending their children to school by an Act of 1880 which made attendance compulsory.

But in 1891, they were all relieved from paying fees so that the labourers no longer had to pay their twopence a week, the gardeners, gamekeepers and artisans their threepence, and others their sixpence. The labourer with six scholars and a wage of 12 shillings did not now have to pay a shilling a week.

By Peter Kingsford

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