Wednesday, 6 January 2016

That mysterious cottage in Chislehurst

The cottages in 1905
We are back with that mystery cottage on Perry Street and the firm who marketed the postcard.

It is a story that draws you in, presents endless avenues of research and still throws up dead ends.

Now the two cottages look as if they have been there on this twisting country lane for ever.

But when I engaged my new friend Jean who lives nearby in the search for the cottages it became clear that they were no more than a hundred years old.

I had asked Jean to identify them which with the help of another historian she was able to do.  They sit now behind a high brick wall on Perry Street as it snakes down to Chislehurst in Kent.

I was all the more confused because the postcard has the address of Sidcup on the front, but strictly speaking we are already in Chislehurst.

The cottages, date unknown
And independently of each other both of us began searching old maps to locate these cottages in the past.

I guess it’s the way the two of us look at the world.

Once you find a place it is automatic to track it back into the past.

But the search revealed that they were not there in 1874 and so the quest began.  Jean set off down the path of the census returns while I busied myself with the chap who had marketed the post cards.

Now the census records are a wonderful way of locating people and places, and while in the 1840s and 50s the enumerator did not always record properties in a logical sequence later in the century it is possible to follow him around a district and be confident that what is set down follows on house by house and street by street.

The lane north to Sidcup
So with that sorted Jean found the first reference to the cottages in 1891 and by 1911 they had been given the name "The Thatched Cottages".

It rather fitted Jean’s first thoughts that here were two houses which had been built to accommodate the families of farm labourers who might well have worked at the nearby Frogpool Farm.

The first reference to Frogpool Farm was in 1851 but earlier it had been known as Butts Farm.

Nor was this all for the same census returns identified the Adam’s family as living in one of the two cottages from 1891.  A decade earlier they had been in one of the cottages linked to a Sidcup farm.

So it all fitted.  The Adams had moved across to Perry Street sometime around 1891 and were to still be there when Daniel Brothers began marketing his postcard of the cottages in 1905.

Edwin Adams described himself variously as a farm labourer, agricultural labourer and cowman although this may have been the interpretation put on his return by the enumerator some of whom were not adverse to tidying up the responses given on the original forms.

An idlyic spot
But the 1911 census return is signed by Edwin Adams in a clear confident hand and so I think we can be sure that cowman at least was his occupation between 1901 and 1911.

And they were still there in the cottage in 1911 with its thatched roof, white walls and cottage garden.  Not that we should be fooled by this picturesque image on the postcard.

In 1891 there were just three rooms to their home which must have been a daily challenge given that there were six of them.

Along with Daniel and his wife Mary there were two girls aged between 15 and 9 and two boys aged five and two.  Later the records show that the cottage had four rooms which may mean an extra room was added or that they moved into the adjoining cottage which had been built with four rooms.

But back in 1891 this would have posed serious problems of how to fit all the children together under one roof.

Fifty years earlier official reports on rural accommodation highlighted the issue of overcrowding and reported on the various the strategies that were employed by parents in small cottages where there were large families of boys and girls.*

These often involved farming some out to relatives or coming to an arrangement with a neighbour which involved all the boys of the two families sleeping together in one house and all the girls in the other.  Failing this there was always the curtain strung across the room.

Caught by the camera
Having said this by 1911 the problem had resolved itself with only one of the sons still at home which in itself hides a tragedy, for Edwin and Mary had had six children of whom only three survived.

There is that temptation to delve deeper into their lives, and it is possible to identify at least one of their dead children but I rather think that is too intrude too deeply into their lives.

So for now I will just ponder on whether our man looking back at the camera from the door of the “Thatched Cottages” is Daniel Adams although judging from the appearance of the chap I think it may have been his 76 year old neighbour.

This was Charles Plail also a cowman who would be retired by 1911 and a man who the the simple skill of writing had passed him by.

And the evidence for that is his mark in place of his signature on the 1911 census which had been witnessed by J S Harries of 45 High Street Sidcup.

But then he was born in 1830 a full forty years before compulsory school attendance was introduced, would have grown up with access only to a National School if he was lucky and most certainly would have had his education interrupted by the seasonal demands of the farming year.

The mark of Charles Plail
Nor I suspect would his wife Mary have been literate, for she was a full ten years older.

This however is to stray into speculation which is never really good history although I do wonder why they married so late.  Charles had been fifty-six and his wife sixty-six and their marriage may have a second for them both, but that story is for another day as is the identity of our photographer.

*Report of the Special Assistant Poor Law Commissioners on the Employment of Women & Children in Agriculture in England, 1843

Pictures; the cottage on Perry Street, from a postcard owned by MARK FLYNN POSTCARDS http://www.markfynn.com/index.html and the R Tuck & Sons similar postcard courtesy of TuckDB, http://tuckdb.org/about

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