Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Analysing the Chartist Land Company registers

In his second guest blog post, Peter Cox explores the occupations and locations of Chartist Land Company subscribers uncovered by a U3A project to transcribe the identities of Londoners and women found in the original documents held at the National Archives.

I have already explained what led to a group of seventy-somethings trekking to Kew on and off for three months. We were transcribing all the Londoners and women who subscribed to the Chartist Land Company, which meant painstakingly combing through three massive volumes containing thousands of lines of name, address and occupation.

Now we’ve completed the job, we’ve been able to analyse what we found.

The first thing to say is that there weren’t about 70,000 named subscribers, but more like 42,000-43,000. The first had been a rough estimate, but we calculated the latter figure by counting complete full pages, which each contained a fixed number of entries, and adding the names on the part-filled pages, roughly one in 20. The assessment was made trickier by the discovery of several completely duplicated pages, sometimes in the same clerk’s hand, and, moreover, occasional individual duplicates that emerged later when we sorted the resulting extracted data by name.

The extracted files gave us very nearly 1,800 subscribers from London (including what are now outer London suburbs) and virtually the same number of women countrywide, of whom 111 were from London. Intriguingly, there were also 103 British subscribers resident in France, largely in Calais, Boulogne, Rouen, and St Germain-de-Sant. Sorting the data by location and occupation gave us an insight into where the Chartist subscribers came from, and what they did. Here are some of the findings.

"Interior of a power-loom factory". Women weavers at work.
A somewhat idealised and sanitised view from the
Illustrated London News, 18 May 1844
Women by Occupation
Of the nearly 1,800 women from all over the country, mostly those counties north of the Trent:

  • 44% had no paid occupation. That comprised 22% with explicitly no trade, 12% defined by their marital status (widow, spinster, minor), and 9% calling themselves housewives, housekeepers, or ‘domestics’;
  • 23% were employed in trades creating fabric. Half were weavers, the other half a variety of trades – there are 13 trades associated with lace alone;
  • 12% were employed in making or mending clothing. Of those 8% were sempstresses, dressmakers or milliners, while the remainder were specialists such as straw bonnet, mantua or stay makers;
  • 10% were domestic servants;
  • Over 5% were in retail in one form or another, from keeping pubs and lodging houses, to fishmongers, confectioners, grocers and ginger beer manufacturers.  Perhaps they were carrying on the trade after a husband’s death;
  • Over 2% were in solo manufacturing, often in trades usually carried out by men, such as nailmaking, sailmaking, spade making and chainmaking. There’s evidence these were family businesses;
  • 2% were involved in various aspects of shoemaking, such as shoebinding for a husband who was a shoemaker; and
  • A further 1% were washerwomen or laundresses, and a little less in what may be described as middle class occupations such as governess and schoolmistress.

Women by Location
Without the opportunity to confirm by analysing all the male subscribers countrywide, it seems probable that the percentage of women subscribers in each county is a good reflection of the whole. The only surprise to me was the high figure from Devon. This is how it panned out:

  • 22% (388 individuals) came from Lancashire including Manchester;
  • 10-11% each from both Nottinghamshire and Devon;
  • 6-8% each from Yorkshire, London and Cheshire;
  • 2.5-3.5% each from Warwickshire, Worcestershire, Leicestershire and Scotland;
  • 1-2% each from Kent, Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire, Wiltshire, Northumberland, Norfolk, Durham and Somerset;
  • 0.5-1% each from Sussex, Derbyshire, Northamptonshire, Suffolk, Wales, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, France, Cumberland, Dorset and Hampshire; and
  • 0-0.5% each from Cambridgeshire, Herefordshire, Lincolnshire, Hertfordshire, Cornwall, Essex, ‘No Fixed Abode’, Surrey, Shropshire – and the USA.

Clearly the industrial centres of the North and Midlands account for the majority, some two thirds of the total. Devon is certainly something of a surprise. Analysing the Devon data, it’s striking, if hardly surprising, that there’s only one person of 180 working in fabric making. Some 60% - as against 44% for the whole country – were not earning; double the national percentage were retailers; and 15%, compared with 10%, were servants.

Looking at where the subscribers lived, although the major conurbations of Plymouth/Devonport and Exeter had a substantial number, a disproportionate percentage came from Newton Abbot and Torquay. This is clearly a subject for further study.

Transcribing the Chartist Land Company registers: first blog post in the series.

In his third and final guest blog post, Peter Cox will look in more detail at some of the individuals found in the Land Company records.

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