Tuesday, 2 May 2017

In Well Hall in the April of 1851

History is messy and rarely fits with that neat simplistic model we were taught at school. 

So take for example that idea that people rarely travelled and that most of us would have lived our life in the same village amongst the same people in communities that pretty much stayed the same.

Well even before the 19th century I doubt that this was completely accurate, and certainly by the middle decades of that century people were on the move and Well Hall was no exception.

Had you walked Well Hall Lane in the spring of 1851 you would have heard accents from all over the south and east of England mixed with some from the far west and north as well as Ireland.

Look closely at the 1851 census and there is evidence that while a parent might have been born in Eltham the children were born elsewhere and only later did the family return.

One such couple were George and Francis Cooper.  In 1851 he was 42 and she was 36 and they had been in New York.

I don’t suppose we will get to know why they went to America or why they returned.  But the fact that they did is evidenced by their children two of whom were born in New York in 1839 and 1842.

Perhaps the clue is in the fact that George described himself as a servant so perhaps they crossed the Atlantic with an employer.  Either way they were back here in Greenwich by 1844 for the birth of their third child and there they still were in 1849.

They were both from Surrey and were part of the 30% of Well Hall residents who had not been born in Eltham.  Now most of this 30% were from Kent, but that still left others who were from as far away as Yorkshire and Ireland.

Part of the explanation was that those who employed domestic servants preferred not to use locals for no one wanted the secrets of the household to become the gossip of the neighbourhood which explains why none of the vicar’s six servants were from Eltham.

But in other ways Well Hall was typical of a small rural community.  Most of the workforce was engaged in agriculture either as labourers or in trades related to farming and these included four blacksmiths and two bailiffs.

And there is much more but that as they say is for another time.

Location;Well Hall, London

Pictures; Tudor Barn, Well Hall courtesy of Scott MacDonald, and data from the 1851 census, Enu 1b, Eltham Kent

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