Thursday, November 24, 2016

Using census info to create personalities for the local population

Although the Peckforton Light Railway never existed in reality, it is set in a real location and time period (see A short history of the line and its location and The hypothetical line). This has enabled me to use real names for the locations and to model some of the local geography (though with considerable artistic and modellers' licence). For a while, I have thought that the figures who populate my railway could be given real identities, based on those who would have lived in the locality at the time (early 1930s) and so, when my wife started investigating her family history and took out a subscription to, the opportunity arose for me to explore the census returns for the area in which my railway is set.

Accessing the records

Findmypast gives access to a range of records but I decided that my starting point would be the National Census. In the UK, the census has been conducted every ten years since 1841 and the returns are made available for the public after 100 years has past. So, the most recent census data available at the time of writing (2016) is the census for 1911. Although this is twenty years before the time in which my railway is set, I felt it would give me an insight into what life was like in this part of rural Cheshire in the first half of the twentieth century.

My railway supposedly served four communities in rural Cheshire; Peckforton, Bickerton, Bulkeley and Beeston - and so, the first task was to search for the 1911 census returns for these four localities. As I was searching for addresses rather than people, I needed to change the search criteria

 This then enabled me to specify the County for my search (ie Cheshire)

The next stage was a little tedious, as I then had to scroll through the results for Cheshire until I reached one of the localities I was seeking - ie in this case Beeston:

However, once here, I could click on the 'Address' button and start exploring the records.

 For each address in the section I could access the transcription for each household:

and copy the details on to a spreadsheet:

I then accessed the image of the actual household return and was able to scan for any additional details, such as the number of rooms in the home and any other details which might have been omitted from the transcription.

Armed with this info, I could then interrogate the data and start extracting some interesting facts about the locality and its inhabitants.

Interpreteing the records

 Firstly, the size of the recorded population in each of the communities served by the railway:
Beeston       = 291
Bickerton    = 227
Bulkeley     = 146
Peckforton  = 183
Total           = 847
As you can see, not exactly bursting with life, but sufficient to make the railway worthwhile.

Next, I checked the number of households in each community:
Beeston       =   58
Bickerton    =   54
Bulkeley     =   36
Peckforton  =   43
Total           = 191

and the average size of each house (ie the number of rooms):
Beeston       = 6
Bickerton    = 6
Bulkeley     = 5.75
Peckforton  = 4.8
although, this actually masks the fact that the sizes ranged from 2 roomed dwellings to large farmhouses with 16 rooms. Peckforton Castle (with a population of 20 (four family and 16 staff)) did not return how many rooms it had and so this may account for the lower average in Peckforton.

Next, I was very interested in the occupations of the inhabitants. Initially, I categorised the jobs into; domestic (eg servants, housekeeping etc), agricultural (eg farmers, farm workers/labourers), professional (eg clergy, teachers, accountants, etc), service (eg carters, shopkeepers, etc).

Occupation Beeston Bickerton Bulkeley Peckforton
Farmer 10 12 8 4
Farm Worker 49 38 31 25
Agriculture (other) 6 1 2 5
Labourer 4 3 0 5
Domestic (Household work) 35 23 17 28
Domestic (Gardener etc) 7 4 2 7
Professional 6 3 1 3
Builder / Stonemason etc 7 2 3 9
Miller / Carter etc 2 2 5 4
Coachbuilder / Smith etc 5 3 8 2
Seamstress / Bootmaker / Shopkeeper 7 8 5 7
Road / Railway Worker 5 1 2 0
Hotel / Catering / Publican 7 1 0 0
Housewife 40 28 25 33
Private Means 1 4 0 3
Retired 6 6 2 3
Unemployed 15 5 10 8
School pupil 34 19 9 13
Child (non school) 34 56 15 20

Of course, these categories disguise some much more interesting details. For example,in Peckforton James Sandars was a 'Stationary Engineman' who presumably tended to a steam engine at the Grist Mill in Bulkeley. There was also an automobile engineer (Joseph Wilcock) living in the lodge for Peckforton Castle (presumably tending to Lord Tollemache's motor car). In Bickerton, amongst those with Private Means was an artist (George Paise) and a professional cricketer (Thes Rowley).  In Beeston, one of the labourers (Thomas Guest) worked in a 'Bone glue and size works' whilst Eli Hopkins was a 'Walksman on Vynery Aqueduct' (presumably the Vyrnwy Aqueduct which runs from Lake Vyrnwy to Liverpool, passing through Bulkeley, Peckforton and Beeston). In Bulkeley, Thomas Stockton was recorded as being a 'Stearer on a traction engine' whilst in Bickerton, Joseph Thomas was a traction engine driver for the Grist Mill. There were several railway employees, including a platelayer (George Bateman), the stationmaster at Beeston and Tarporley Station (Samuel Bostock) and two clerks (Arthur Lawton and William Pritchard).

What is useful from the point of view of the Peckforton Light Railway, is to know names for businesses which could be served by the railway. For example:
  • Timber Merchant - John Naylor at Beeston Towers
  • Coal Merchant - John France at Beeston
  • Grist Miller - Joseph Neild at Bulkeley Mill
  • Building Contractor in Beeston - Charles Parker
  •  General Carter in Peckforton - Arthur Lowe (not aka Captain Mainwaring!)
  • General Carter in Bulkeley - John Evans
  • General Carter in Bickerton - RD Harding
  • Carter for Peckforton Castle - Arthur Chesters
  • Builder and Undertaker in Peckforton - Reginald Fleet
  • Coach Builder in Bulkeley - Edwin Bebbington
  • Publican and Shopkeeper in Bickerton - Mary Ann Nixon
  • Hotel Keeper at the Beeston Hotel (opposite the station) - Edward Williamson
  • Cheshire Cheese Buyer in Bulkeley - Thomas Howell
  • Wheelwright in Bulkeley - George Henry Hall
  • Wheelwright in Beeston (by the Castle) - George Henry Winward
  • Wheelwright in Bulkeley - George Wilkinson (All wheelwrights seem to be called George!)
  • Wheelwright in Beeston - John Dodd (maybe not all)
  • Blacksmith in Beeston - John Pinnington
  • Stonemason in Peckforton - Allen Watson
  • Stonemason in Peckforton - Thomas Dutton
  • Stonemason in Peckforton - Thomas Brooks
  • Stonemason in Peckforton - George Watson
  • Stonemason in Peckforton - Herbert Dodd
  • Stonemason in Bulkeley - John Brooks
These names could be useful when adding lettering to vehicles or for when I get around to constructing some lineside industries.

In addition, there were some names which I could associate with particular figures which might be identified by their distinctive attire:
  • George Buchanan - Gamekeeper at Peckforton Castle
  • Charles McKee - Clerk in Holy Orders at Bickerton Vicarage 
  • Eleanor Parsons - Nurse at Peckforton Castle
  • Arthur Jones - Postman from Beeston
  • Herbert Harold Roberts - Postboy in Peckforton
  • James Lever - Chauffeur from Bickerton
  • Joseph Brookes - Insurance Agent from Beeston
Having accumulated this information, I next considered how to allocate names and personalities to the figures which presently adorn my railway.

Naming the figures on my railway

 I wondered whether to try and extrapolate from the 1911 census material to the period when my railway is set, around twenty years later, but decided this would be overly complicated. Not only would the population have changed, but the First World War would have intervened. I decided to use some artistic/modellers' licence and apply the information directly to the characters on my railway. I could have re-set the time period for the railway, but that would then compromise other aspects such as the explanation for the use of former Southwold and Leek & Manifold Railway stock (supposedly acquired when these railways closed down). Maybe in fourteen years' time, when the 1931 census returns are made available, I will reconsider, but for now I am more than happy to live with the anomaly of having characters from a previous generation populating my railway.

So far, I have identified twenty passengers or tradesmen who will be seen at stations on the Peckforton Light Railway.

Figure Name Info
Jeanne Brunell 30, Lady's Maid at Peckforton
Castle (French)
John Boote 36, Foreman at sandstone quarry
on Bickerton Hill
Samuel Winward 48, farmer at Castle Side Farm
Thomas Howell 51, Cheshire Cheese buyer from
Yew Tree House in Bulkeley
Joseph Neild 42, Grist Miller and Corn Dealer from
Bulkeley Mill
Minnie Neild 39, wife of Joseph Neild (Corn Dealer)
AD Woolley 41, Grocer in Bulkeley
Sarah Twiss 29, Housekeeper from Bulkeley
John France 48, Coal Merchant at Beeston
Anne Kirby 28, Cook at Bulkeley Hall
Margaret Edge 54, widow with private means from
John Pinnington 66, blacksmith and shoeing smith from
William Mathews 58, cowman on farm in Bickerton
George Walley 39, Farmer at Bickerton Hill Farm
Joseph Dodd 40, General farm labourer
Frank Hodkinson 38, waggoner at Grist Mill in Bulkeley

Mary Hodskinson 32, General domestic servant from
Peckforton Gate
Edward Roden 64, labourer in timber yard
Istram Jarmay 27, Gentleman farmer from Bulkeley Hall

As time progresses, I shall identify and name more of the populace. I have realised I need far more 'common folk' as, at present, a large proportion of my figures seem to be from the upper or middle classes of society. Furthermore, having now taken closeup photos of my figures, I can see that several are in need of refurbishment - another job for the to do list.


James Prior said...

Truly a labour of love Rik. How to bring your railway to life! It's wonderful to think of the characters on the PLR being based on the real people of the times. Good on you sir :-)

Ge Rik said...

Thanks jim. Just part my efforts in trying to bring the railway to life.