This excellent snapshot of life in Abberley in 1911 was researched and written for our Open Meeting by Jo Roche.
“The past is a foreign country” according to the opening line of L. P. Hartley’s novel “The Go-Between.” Somewhere we like to visit but would rather not stay, different from our day to day lives, vaguely familiar but slightly incongruous. However, by going there it is important to write down impressions, gather the photographs and collect the souvenirs and mementos as memories fade. It doesn’t have to be a long haul either into the dim distant past it could be a week end break to just a decade ago.
The ‘Abberley Lives’ project is on such a journey but we needed somewhere to start from and the 1911 census provided us with a snap shot of the people and the place that made up Abberley at that time.
On Sunday 2nd April every household in the country was obliged to complete the census return form which the local enumerator had dropped off. They were required to enter details about the occupants including their names and ages, how old they were, whether they were married, widowed or single, the total number of children that had been born to the marriage and the number of those still living, occupations, where born and if anyone suffered from any infirmities i.e. deaf or dumb, blind, lunatic, imbecile or just feebleminded.
The Haycox family with their lodger lived near the village square between the blacksmith’s and ‘Jaylands’.
Charlotte’s day would have been very much cut out with very few surprises. Water would need to be brought in from either the well, spring or public pump for washing, cooking and cleaning. Cooking was carried out on the range heated probably by coal and the lamps needed filling with paraffin oil. Any rubbish was down to the family to dispose of, however, waste food either went to the chickens, pig or the compost heap and bottles and cans were either buried or made into garden features.
The men in the family worked in a variety of occupations, however, the majority of the villagers worked in agriculture which was just beginning to emerge from a period of depression dating back to the 1870s. This had resulted in many leaving for the towns to look for employment; in fact, the village population was in decline and had fallen by over 25% over the past fifty years.
Those not working on the land were involved in crafts and trades more or less directly connected with agriculture or serving the needs of the local community. There were blacksmiths, wheelwrights, carpenters and joiners and those who worked at Pool House Colliery. The women of the village shopped at Town Farm for their meat and Billingham’s in the square for their groceries and bread or, if they were at the other end of the village, there was ‘Manchester House’, aka the top shop; where as well as the essentials there were items of domestic hardware such as buckets and scrubbing boards, hobnails and heels plus a young man could pop in and get measured for a new suit. The shop smelled of a potent mix of loose tea, boiled sweets, paraffin oil, rubber, paper, soap and hessian sacks. On The Common a tailor plied his trade and his wife offered dressmaking services whilst just two doors down there was the boot maker.
The shops, pubs, namely ‘The Manor Arms’ and ‘The Royal George’, and the Parish church and Wesleyan chapel knitted a widespread community into a structured society where every one knew their place and were cared for by the Parish Council and Mr Jackson, the village bobby.
Then the richest 1% of the population held around 70% of the nation’s wealth. Old families of landed gentry with country pedigrees dating back generations had been bought out by men who had made their money in commerce and industry. These men did not have an inborn sense of the rhythms of agricultural and village life, however, many had vision and were philanthropic enough to benefit the communities into which they came to live.
At Abberley, the Squire or Lord of the Manor lived at Abberley Hall. The Moilliets were the first of the new generation of land owners, wealthy bankers and merchants from Birmingham, and they built St Mary’s Church and the village school whilst the Jones’s, who arrived in 1867, constructed houses and The Bell at Pensax, the working men’s club with a room for games such as bagatelle and a reading room and installed a network of pipes delivering water to homes.
They arranged concerts for the servants and tenants, reduced rents by up to 20 % when the economy became depressed and seasons were poor. There was the annual gift of beef to the tenants and the poor of the parish. The wives of these men were particularly involved with the poor, sick, elderly and arranged treats for the children of the village and monitored their work at school.
This established hierarchy had stood for centuries with the Squire and the Rector at the top of the tree, with the professionals; doctors, army officers, merchants and yeomen farmers next in the pecking order followed by the village tradesmen and then the labourers and servants making up the majority at the bottom. However, locally, there had been a subtle change to the dynamics of the village. Frederick William Jones had died on 4th June 1910 after a long battle with cancer. He had been the squire for just eight years and the Abberley Hall estate fell into the possession of Mr James Arthur Jones, his brother, of The Old Parsonage, Ombersley, and well known master of the Worcestershire Hunt. Instead of making the Hall his main residence Arthur Jones chose to remain at Ombersley and rent out the property and in so doing created a power vacuum at the top.
Across the country, the status quo was being challenged. It had been a year of industrial unrest with several strikes in key industries such as mining, shipping and railways with the newly formed trade unions beginning to flex their muscles. There was political unrest with the power struggle between the Liberals and Conservatives over Asquith’s programme of social reform and added to this, the movement for women’s suffrage was gaining momentum.
On the international stage politics were becoming increasingly turbulent as relatively young nations such as Germany and America underwent rapid industrialisation and Japan’s economic power was growing which all posed a threat to Britain’s economic superiority.
These distant affairs probably had very little, if any, impact on the good folk of Abberley; however, they were about to be dragged into a war over which they had no control which would result in the entire class structure changing and people’s attitudes, aspirations and way of life being radically altered.
It is at this moment that the ‘Abberley Lives’ project picks up the threads that will become the Abberley Lives in the twentieth century.