In the 1841 census enumerator’s footsteps #1

What kind of place was Oldnall End in the years 1839, 1840 and 1841? That’s the question I’m looking at in the first phase of my One Place Study (OPS), drawing on the rich information provided by the Berkswell Tithe Apportionment (signed off on 10 April 1839) and the census of 6 June 1841. As I gather and analyse the tithe and census material, I’m also getting out and exploring the Oldnall End landscape for myself, walking the same lanes and footpaths as my predecessors and trying to understand something of their lives by getting my (now very muddy!) boots on the ground.

This morning I set out to follow the first chunk of the route the census enumerator took in June 1841 when he visited the households of Oldnall End to collect their completed census forms (if you click this link, it’s the red section). In some cases, of course, he must have ended up sitting with the occupants and helping them to fill in the forms, since we know from wills, marriage registers and other sources that a good proportion of Oldnall End residents were unable to write for themselves – hopefully he got plenty of cups of tea along the way!

The enumerator started his journey as I did, at Berkswell crossroads. He called first on Robert and Mary Brown, elderly unmarried siblings whose father and late brother had both been maltsters, although by 1841 Robert and Mary both described themselves as ‘independent’. They owned both the timber framed malthouse and the elegant brick Garden House, although they probably lived in the latter. Then he walked along Spencers Lane to another set of siblings, Elizabeth and Joseph Wilkinson who farmed at the Village farm before calling on Samuel Gould, an unmarried 75-year-old farmer at the homestead today called ‘The Priory’ (I forgot to photograph this one, argh!).

After collecting Samuel Gould’s census form, the enumerator headed back into the village, perhaps cutting across the fields to reach the five small cottages and gardens owned by Bridget Cattell, widow of Berkswell’s former Rector. Here he met tailor Charles Wagstaff, gardeners Edward Lapworth and Henry Reynolds, and agricultural labourers William Hall and James Mason, all aged between 55 and 75. Next door, at today’s Beehive Cottage, he visited the schoolmistress Ann Smith who presumably had no trouble filling the form in for herself. Then the enumerator struck out along the footpath behind the cottages to his next destination.

NOTE: The entry after Mrs Smith is for agricultural labourer William Watton and his wife Elizabeth. I can’t identify another property between Beehive Cottage and Ram Hall at the time, so perhaps the enumerator nipped across the road to fit in another visit (or maybe the Wattons were lodging with Mrs Smith or the Garners)…

The enumerator’s walk from Berkswell village will have taken him gently uphill through fields farmed in 1841 by the Wilkinsons; looking left across their croft he would have seen, as I did, the rear of their home at Village Farm, with the Whitehead family’s forge visible between the farm buildings. Passing from the Wilkinsons’ fields onto the Ram Hall estate, he will have been relieved to glimpse 16th-century Ram Hall rising ahead of him on the crest of the hill. Fortunately for him, he was visiting in June and so won’t have had to wade through all this wet red clay!

At Ram Hall, the enumerator met Samuel and Elizabeth Garner, who had taken over the lease twenty years earlier from Samuel’s father, another Samuel. They farmed a large estate of both arable and pasture land, as do today’s owners of Ram Hall, who also make the incredible Berkswell cheese (according to Wikipedia it ‘may be compared to a mature Pecorino’ – I wouldn’t disagree!). From Ram Hall, the enumerator followed Baulk Lane to Yew Tree Farm (today’s Yew Tree House) at the junction with Spencer’s Lane, home to 70-year-old John Smith, an unmarried gentleman farmer from a large local family. His household included his widowed sister Catherine Holbeche, two male servants and two female servants.

Unlike the enumerator, who continued along Spencer’s Lane to Carol Green, I followed a circular route back to Berkswell Village, with wet and muddy boots and a feeling of exhilaration. This corner of Oldnall End feels very little changed since 1841 – all the houses are still there, and very few new ones have been constructed. While I don’t know enough about farming history to know how much the fields are likely to have changed in the last 180 years, I do know that with every muddy footstep I took today, Oldnall End began to feel a little more tangible and a little less lost.


  1. brilliant concept, great photos too – I first came across the idea of following the enumerator in story form in a book about Strensall (North Yorkshire). Tricky if addresses are not included though in rural areas. Great blog post. I look forward to many more!


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