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The Victorian Newton Regis Village from the 1881 Census
The returns of the national census of Newton Regis taken on the night of 3rd April, 1881 provide a very precise record of the inhabitants of the village at the height of the Victorian Age. This detailed and thorough household survey followed on from a series of ten-yearly censuses from 1841 that continued until the end of Victoria's long reign, on into the twentieth century. The completed returns for most of the towns and villages are kept in the National Archives in London, accessible online at

We can discover a great amount of information about the nineteenth-century inhabitants of midland parishes from these records, as the census enumerators visited every house, shop and working premise in each village, taking full particulars of those who lived there, their ages and places of birth, their marital status and their occupations. We can trace their circuit in Newton as they collected information about the occupants of each household, their age, occupations, family structure and social status. Starting at the centre of the village near the church the enumerators proceeded to systematically record these details from house to house, moving along Shuttington Road through Newton Field and down Sandy Lane towards Clifton, and on to Nomans Heath – the detached settlement at the meeting of the four counties - before returning to the centre.

Altogether the census enumerators visited 108 households and recorded 6 unoccupied dwellings, collecting information from some 485 residents, and overnight visitors. The householders’ occupations ranged from farmers to the traditional skilled artisans - blacksmiths, carpenters and wheelwrights - to shopkeepers, cottage craft workers, agricultural labourers and a couple of coalminers. Many of the male householders and young men described themselves simply as “farm labourers” or "field workers", an occupation that often meant working outdoors well into their 50s and 60s. Most of the women in the village were housewives or employed as live-in domestic servants. Others supported themselves as dressmakers, seamstresses, laundry women or stocking knitters. Some older women gave their occupation as “charwomen” while a few of the younger girls worked as school assistants in the village school. Few of the inhabitants were unemployed apart from those who were retired, incapacitated or too old to work, like William Cope who had “income from sick club” and James Orton, a 70 year old agricultural worker living near Nomans Heath “not at work” because of ill health. Among the out of work agricultural labourers, William Davis and his family were probably new arrivals waiting for work, while William Thompson advised that he was “not able to work now”. The enumerators started their survey at the centre of the village near the Church, with Miss Bowkes who provided lodgings for Mr Davidson, a Scottish surgeon, counted in the census as a household servant. Living at the nearby rectory was Mr Fleche the rector and his wife, with three household servants, a housekeeper, a cook and a groom. There is no mention of the lord of the manor or any local gentry apart from the local farmers. However there was another clergyman staying on the outskirts of the village, the Rev. Francis Jefferson of Nomans Heath who styled himself “incumbent of St Mary the Virgin in Shrewsbury”. An Oxford graduate and son of an organist he was apparently living in Wales in 1861, and serving as a vicar in Shrewsbury at the time of the 1891 census, so he may have been merely visiting his sister and elderly mother at the time of the 1881 survey.

Newton was primarily an agricultural village, made up mostly of farmers and farm labourers and people with jobs connected to farming. The two wealthiest landholders living in the village were Thomas Woolley who farmed 316 acres employing eight men and three boys, and Charles Swann with 342 acres employing 9 men and 3 boys, with four live-in servants including a groom. Henry Collins who inhabited a farm house in the village with two servants was described as a Farm Bailiff. John Averill who farmed a smallholding of 170 acres, providing work for three men and a boy, can be included among this group of small to medium-sized tenant farmers growing cash crops and fattening cattle and sheep for market. William Mellor, the 67 year old widower who farmed a 6 acre holding on Nomans Heath was probably retired. More than half of the working population of the village – some 80 to 90 of the residents - were employed as agricultural farm labourers or field workers. Some of the inhabitants were apparently recent arrivals, including Robert Bowman a cattle dealer from Appleby Magna and three shepherds - Francis Iliffe from Lutterworth, John Roulston from Nottinghamshire and Isaac Gilbert from Monmouthshire.

The traditional village trades were well represented by men like Thomas Riley in his Wheelwright Shop in the main street, working with his son Thomas as his apprentice, and Thomas Marshall who had a Blacksmith’s Shop or smithy next to the Queens Head public house. Henry Nichols, a Blacksmith, and William Russell, a “Shoeing Smith”, also provided services to the farmers repairing farm equipment, mending farm wagons and shoeing farm horses. Isaac Hudson described himself as both a wheelwright and a carpenter. On the outskirts of the village Thomas Grice worked as a Blacksmith near Nomans Heath. The building tradesmen included Charles Wood from Bradford in Yorkshire who called himself a “House Carpenter”, William Hames and his two sons (all carpenters), William Glassey, a sawyer, and William Lees who worked as a carpenter and joiner. John Webster and Charles Bircher both had work as bricklayers. The village also provided home for a few retired professional folk, including Thomas Woolley who declared “income from houses and land” and the very elderly, Sarah Haywood and her daughter Theodosia who also had “income from rents”. We might include among these retirees a professional consultant, Reuben Thomason, who described himself as an “Irrigator and Land Drainer”.

The 1881 census records several craft workshops and provision stores along the main street and a village Post Office, Daniel Harrison the postmaster working as a part-time tailor. William Cope and his son, and Thomas Liggins are also identified as tailors, Liggins as a tailor’s apprentice. George Shaw was a plumber. Thomas Riley and James Glover were both shoemakers. Among the women, Elizabeth Briscoe worked as a “stocking knitter”, and Mary Cope, Harriet Nichols and Elizabeth Shakespeare (on Nomans Heath) all earned extra income as dressmakers. Elizabeth Frisby and Hannah Orton were both “field workers” while Harriet Redfern gave her occupation as “charwoman and field work”. Lucy Glassey and Mary Smith both worked as laundresses. Sarah Gilbert worked as a seamstress. Jane Wood, the house carpenter’s daughter, was a "basket maker".

A handful of shops in the village provided the inhabitants with basic foodstuffs and essentials. Martha Bates an elderly shopkeeper sold groceries. Samuel Shakespeare was a “butcher and general dealer” and John Shakespeare ran a bakery and a grocery shop. The Queens Head pub managed by William Groak and his wife Annie who gave their occupation as “Licenced Victuallers” seems to have been the only Public House open in the village in 1881, although Joseph Smith at Sandy Lane on the outskirts of the village volunteered his occupation as a brewer.

Many of the school-aged children described as “scholars” would probably have attended the village school. One of the residents in the village was William Groom, describing himself as a “National Schoolmaster”, who was probably the senior teacher there. Among those identified as schoolmistresses or school assistants were Mary Riley, the wheelwright's daughter, Ann Frisby and Fanny Cope, both daughters of local farm labourers, and 21 year old Susanna Glassy who describes herself as the "governess" at the village school. John A. Wooley, a 55 year-old retired schoolmaster is also recorded as a resident in the village.

The 1881 census yields a great deal of useful information about the Victorian village which was evidently quite populous and bustling. Even more fascinating information about farming innovations, the new “industrial” occupations and social changes during the reign of Queen Victoria can be gleaned from a comparative study of each of the various censuses from 1841 to the close of the Victorian era in 1901.

Alan Roberts, October, 2013