The Whites - moving from the village to the city

In 1856, my great grandmother, Harriet White, was born in the small Huntingdonshire village of Woodhurst. Her family had lived in that area for generations. The ancestry records that can be traced, going right back to her great-great-grandparents, all show birthplaces as being either Woodhurst, neighbouring Bluntisham, or one of the other nearby villages. The furthest away any of her ancestors can be traced is to Elton, only about 20 miles away from Woodhurst.

Yet, by the age of 22, Harriet was married in London and living amongst the hustle and bustle of the capital city. She spent the rest of her life bringing up a family in Lewisham, Islington, Peckham and Fulham. Over the same decades, many of her other relatives also left Huntingdonshire to try and make new lives for themselves in the growing towns and cities of Victorian England. Many went south, to London, but others also moved north and west - to Nottingham, the Potteries or even as far as Barrow-in-Furness.

This post tries to summarise some of that family history and, in doing so, hopefully also illustrates the kind of internal migration that was taking place, from countryside to city, right across Britain at this time.

Tracing the early generations in Huntingdonshire

Thanks to the surviving records of christenings, marriages and deaths, as well as the census records starting from 1841, the family history of most of the four generations preceding Harriet can be traced with a good degree of certainty:

A first foray to London

As can be seen above, Harriet's father William White, and three previous generations of Whites, can be traced in the Bluntisham records, going right back to the eighteenth century.  Harriet's mother, Jane Cox, came from the neighbouring village of Woodhurst, with previous generations living in other Huntingdonshire villages. Harriet was born in Woodhurst too, although christened at the age of ten in the neighbouring village of Wyton. 

1899 map of the villages outside Huntingdon and St.Ives

It is only after 1850 that the records show Harriet's parents, William and Jane, making an initial foray out of the area, and into the capital city. This was soon after the events that led to the transportation of William's brother, Gifford, to Australia, events that must have affected the family and the village as a whole. 

In the 1851 census, William is recorded as a 'visitor' at the address of his older brother, Thomas, at 51 Market Street, Paddington. Thomas and his wife Harriett, William and another 'visitor' from the neighbouring village of Colne, are all recorded as working as "porters" possibly "in terminus". Certainly the street was right next to both Paddington station and the canal basin.

A Paddington street map for 1869

Although Jane is recorded as living with her parents in Woodhurst on March 30 1851, the date of the census, it seems likely that William and Jane were married in London later that year. Certainly, their first two children, Martha (b.1852) and Thomas (b.1854), were born there. However, by the birth of their next child, Harriet (b.1856), they had returned to Woodhurst, and stayed there until William died, from cancer, in 1871. (At some point, presumably, also hearing from Gifford White on one of his two return visits from Australia).

Internal Migration

This initial attempt by William and Jane to break from the generations-long custom of never moving too far from your parish of birth, is just a small example of the growth of internal migration within Britain during this period of the nineteenth century. 

As this summary of the processes states, "it was net movement from the countryside to Britain's fast-growing urban areas that was one of the most important demographic features of this period. Indeed, it has been estimated that 40 percent of the demographic growth of urban Britain during the nineteenth century was due to this movement; there was also an absolute decline in the population of Britain's agricultural areas during the second half of the nineteenth century, losing more than four million people between 1841 and 1911 through internal migration". 

It continues, "when choosing to move to an urban area, most rural migrants simply moved to the nearest town. However, some moved to a number of heavy industrial areas and large towns (usually choosing the closest one), with London, Liverpool, Leeds, Birmingham, Manchester, Glasgow and the coalfields having substantial net gains. London was the most popular destination, gaining 1.25 million migrants (net of returns) between 1841 and 1911. Offering the greatest range of employment opportunities, it attracted migrants from all over Britain and was the only city that played a major role in the national migration system". 

In the rest of this post I will look at the extent to which such migration influenced this, Huntingdonshire-based, part of my family tree. However, first, I should also mention another apparent influence upon it - that of the Baptist Church:

The Baptists in Bluntisham

The records of the White family include a number that are taken from the registers of the Bluntisham Baptist Church. 

Thomas White, and his sons William and Daniel, in the family tree

The 1816 burial of Thomas White, Harriet's great-grandfather, is shown in the Baptist Church records as having being registered in Bluntisham by "Coxe Feary, Protestant Dissenting Minister". 

The 1790 birth of one of Thomas' sons, William, is also registered in the name of the same Minister, the registration (perhaps accompanying the baptism into the church?) taking place in 1805:

Coxe Feary is a historical figure in his own right, with several accounts posted online about how he became a Baptist and built his congregation in his village of Bluntisham, as well as surrounding villages, notably Woodhurst. 

A book published in 1887, called '
A Century of Village Nonconformity at Bluntisham, Hunts.' gives a detailed account of how his congregation grew from an initial prayer meeting in a barn in 1786, where Coxe Feary and twenty-five other believers from the local villages had "united themselves together in Christian fellowship". The surnames of some of those original believers include a "White", a "Shanks", and a "Gifford", all names that also appear in the Huntingdonshire section of the family tree.

The 1887 book also describes how "Daniel White, a very amiable youth, son of Thos. White of Bluntisham, Dairyman" became a Baptist preacher, moving to a post at a Baptist Church in Cirencester, Gloucestershire. The ancestry records of Daniel, the brother of William, whose birth is recorded above, confirm that this is indeed the same individual:

Having apparently built the church in Bluntisham and its surrounding villages to over 800 members, Coxe Feary was succeeded as 'Pastor of the Bluntisham Nonconformist Congregation' by Samuel Green in 1818, and then by J. Edmund Simmons in 1830. It is Simmons' name that appears as the registrar in the birth and baptism document for the next generation of Whites:

This document is evidence of all seven of the children of Henry White and Mary (nee Watts) being registered in the same ceremony at Bluntisham Baptist Church on 21 December 1836. One of these, Gifford White, will, just eight years later, be transported to Australia. His younger brother, William White, becomes Harriet's father.

What became of the seven baptised "White" siblings ?

As the post above explains, Harriet's father, William, had moved to London with his wife Jane for a short period in the 1850s but had then returned to Woodhurst. Gifford, of course, had suffered forced migration to Australia. As also set out above,  Thomas and his wife Harriett had also moved to London at a similar time to William and Jane. But how long did they stay in the city, and what migration decisions were taken by the other four siblings, Daniel, Ann, Harry and Phebe?

The table below summarises the known census and other family history records for the seven siblings:

The table shows that the oldest brother, Daniel, moved to a nearby small town (shown in orange in table). Gifford, thanks to his sentence of transportation, was forced to move overseas (shown in blue in the table), although he returned twice to Bluntisham from Tasmania. 

Ann stayed in Bluntisham with her husband John, a carpenter, then became a publican, probably of the "Engine and Tender" pub, after his death in 1867. In the last years of her life, she chose to move away from the village, joining some of her children who had already moved to Nottingham, as explained in more detail below.

Picture (from the 20th century) from the Bluntisham History Project

The records for the other three brothers who survived to the 1850s, Thomas, William and Harry, show that they all moved to London in that decade (shown in yellow in the table), possibly working together as porters in the Paddington area, as indicated above. However, only Thomas decides to remain in the city, the other two brothers returning with their families to Bluntisham and Woodhurst. The ancestry records show that it waited for the next generation - their children - to significantly increase the extent of internal migration from countryside to city.

1) Daniel's children

Daniel, the oldest of the seven White siblings, died soon after his two children were born. As is seen as common practice in the ancestry records, probably out of economic necessity, it appears that his wife, Ann, remarried fairly soon after Daniel's death, probably in 1847. As will also appear as a common trend, the historical records for Mary, the child who remained in Huntingdonshire, soon come to an end. 

As a general rule, although there are some exceptions, it seems that the children who moved away from the countryside were more likely to have survived and prospered into adulthood. In this case, Daniel (the son of Daniel) opted to become a soldier, marrying in Edinburgh, before being posted to in India. While there are gaps in the historical record, he appears to have been living in Newcastle upon Tyne (other cities outside London being shown in green in the tables), before his death there in 1912.

2) Ann's children

The growing tendency towards migration to the cities is clear in the records for Ann White's ten children:

All of the children are born, and brought up, in Bluntisham. However three of the ten children, John, Thomas and Edward, appear not to have lived long enough to move away from the village. Certainly Edward, listed in the 1861 census as a 14 year-old "Engine Driver, Threshing Machinery", living with his family at "The Horse Shoe", Wood End, Bluntisham, is recorded as having died in March 1865.

Migration to Nottingham

The oldest child, Martha, is listed in the 1861 census as a 22 year-old "housemaid", working as a servant to a family in the well-to-do "Park" district of Nottingham. The head of the household, Thomas Ashwell, is a "Manufacturer of Hosiery" but his wife, Nancy, is listed as having been born in Bluntisham, Hunts. Also listed at the address is her mother, Mary Ann Tebbutt.

The Tebbutt name provides a clear link back to Bluntisham, the local history records showing that it was the name of one of the wealthier local families. The Tebbutts are also Baptists, with Nancy's birth registration appearing in the Bluntisham records for December 1836 (just a week after the registrations of the seven White siblings). In the 1851 census for the village, Mary Ann Tebbutt is listed as an "annuitant", living next door to Isaac Ilett, the farmer who was a witness in the trial of Gifford White. However, while Ilett farms only 16 acres, Mary Ann Tebutt's son farms 260 acres:

This connection must have been the route by which Martha first left Bluntisham to work in Nottingham. However, as the table above shows, this was a route then followed by her four youngest siblings, William, Phebe, Annie Elizabeth and Frederic. The five siblings all brought up families in the city, working in a range of trades. Martha married a tailor; William was a shoe and bootmaker, later a leather merchant; Phebe, a dressmaker, married another bootmaker who then worked in life assurance; Frederic also became an assurance agent, before returning to work as a grocer's assistant; Annie, who had originally migrated to London (see below), then settled in Nottingham with her husband, a painter and decorator. In 1881, their mother Ann is also recorded as living in Nottingham, and is buried in Basford cemetery when she dies in the city in 1885.

The 1891 census shows the five families living in similar parts of the city, Phebe and Martha in fact living just two doors away from each other. The larger scale inset of the Sneinton area shows the high density of silk, lace and hosiery works, an industry that was such an important part of the Nottingham economy:

1891 census records positioned on 1895 map of Nottingham

Migration to London

Two of the sons, Robert and Gifford, took a different route out of Bluntisham, migrating south to London.

The 1861 census shows that Robert has taken up his father's profession and is working as a "carpenter and joiner", lodging in another carpenter's home in Upper Terrace (now on Upper Street), Islington. He marries later that year in the nearby Holy Trinity church. His wife's father's profession is listed as a "gentleman", although the Lincolnshire 1861 census records list him as just an agricultural labourer! Robert's uncle Thomas White, and his son Daniel, who have also moved to London (see below), are witnesses to the marriage:

Robert and his family clearly put down firm roots in Islington as he is recorded as living there, as a carpenter and joiner, through successive census records up until his death in 1912. He is buried in Islington Cemetery.

Gifford's initial way out of Bluntisham was to become a soldier, in the 31st (Huntingdonshire) Foot Regiment. The 1861 census lists him as a private, stationed in an "unknown barracks" but registered at Newport, Isle of Wight. However, by 1867, he is recorded as being married in Islington to Maria, a woman who has always lived in the Marylebone area.

In the 1871 census, Gifford and Maria are living in Marylebone. Maria dies in 1879 but Gifford remains living in the area until his death in 1899. His profession is listed in 1881 as a rag dealer, in 1891 as a furniture dealer. But the most intriguing description of his trade, listed in both the 1871 census and in an 1885 London Post Office Directory for Henry St. (near the Lords Cricket Ground), is as a "marine store dealer". This was the term then used for a scrap dealer, someone who traded in old ropes, rags, metal, wood and other waste materials.  

Annie Elizabeth also moved to London, after marrying William, a 'mason's labourer', originally from Shrewsbury, in 1876, in St.Ives. In 1881 the couple are listed as living in Islington but, by the 1891 census, the family have moved to Nottingham (see above).

3) Thomas's children

Thomas had been the only one of the seven White siblings, baptised together in Bluntisham in 1836, that had made a life for himself in London. Thomas, and his wife Harriett, from the nearby Huntingdonshire parish of Hilton, had married in 1843 and their only son, Daniel, had been born in Norfolk in 1845. After moving to London, all three of them are listed as working as porters in Paddington in the 1851 census. While Thomas is then described, up until his death in 1891, as a "warehouseman", Daniel's trade became metalworking, as the table shows below:

Daniel married Jessie Grist, the daughter of a 'music engraver', born in Soho, and, according to the 1861 census, she was a 15-year old 'pupil teacher', providing a small glimpse into the Victorian classrooms of the time. 

Daniel and Jessie brought up a family in the Kentish Town area of North London, and are both buried in Highgate cemetery. Their family gravestone also gives a glimpse of the wartime losses to be suffered by the next generation, with their son, Thomas Benjamin White "Killed in Action (Bullecourt)" in November 1917. 

4) Gifford's children

Gifford's story following "transportation for life" has been explained in other posts on this blog. Although, thanks to his two return visits to England, two of his children were born in Bluntisham, they all built their lives in Tasmania. It's worth noting that two of the daughters married the sons of Irish immigrants, a reminder that external emigration, as well as internal migration, also contributed to population changes during the nineteenth century:

5) William's children

Although William White and his wife Jane had made an initial foray to London, their children were all brought up in Woodhurst. Once again, as with Anne's children, those children that survived into adulthood all chose to leave their village. Two headed south to London, but three others migrated to another city, in this case Stoke-on-Trent.

Migration to London

By the 1871 census, the two oldest surviving children, Martha and my great grandmother Harriet, had already left Woodhurst to become servants. Martha appears to be living with her uncle Thomas in London, although there is no further record of her life that I have been able to trace. Harriett is recorded as a 'domestic servant' working for a 'visitor to the poor', in her home in Bishop's Stortford, Hertfordshire. 

As told to me by my aunt, Harriet became a good cook and came south to London, becoming employed in the kitchens in some of the big Mayfair hotels. There she met her husband, Edward, a butcher's assistant and they were married in Lewisham in 1878. Harriet raised a large family with Edward eventually moving away from his family trade as a butcher, his final listed profession being "timekeeper' in a printing warehouse, shortly before he dies in Fulham in 1911.

Harriet, Edward and family

Migration to Stoke-on-Trent - and then to Barrow

The three youngest surviving sons of William and Jane - Harry, Edward and William - all headed to 'the Potteries' to build their lives. The oldest, Harry, appears to have led the way, marrying a Staffordshire woman, Ann, the daughter of a railway 'plate layer', in 1884. Their address on the marriage licence is given as 7 Havelock Street (now Masterson Street), Stoke-on-Trent.

In the 1891 and 1901 censuses, all three brothers are living in the Stoke area, Harry is in the grocery trade; Edward as a railway signalman married to Emily, a 'potter's paintress'; William, an ironworker, married to Christiana, also a 'potter's paintress'. The map shows where the families were living around 1890:

Just as the widowed Ann White moved to Nottingham, the 1891 census records show that the widowed Jane White is living with her son Edward, and daughter-in-law Emily, in Stoke. In the 1901 census she has moved to Fulham to live with her daughter
 Harriet and son-in-law Edward.

While the last records for Harry and Edward are in Stoke, William and his wife move all the way to Barrow-in-Furness, where, in the 1911 census, he is listed as a 'blacksmith's striker' working in the loco department of the Furness Railway Company.

This census record provided some corroborating evidence for a story told me by my aunt who had said that an "Uncle Tom" had visited them in Fulham from Barrow. While the name doesn't match - but then a number of the male relatives in her family were known by different names to those on their birth certificate - the Great Uncle, Harriet's brother, clearly was a genuine person. His last known address from that 1911 census, 59 Smeaton Street, still stands in a street of terraced housing in the town:
Smeaton Street in 2021

William - or perhaps 'Uncle Tom' - died in 1947 and is buried in Barrow cemetery:

6) Harry's children

As the youngest of the seven 'baptised siblings', Phebe, died without children, the mapping of the migration can end with the children of Harry White:

Staying in the village

Almost uniquely amongst this generation, the youngest of Harry's surviving sons, another Harry White, did not leave the village for the city, or, to be more accurate, he only did so for a temporary period, just as his father had done before him. 

The 1881 census lists him as a sixteen-year-old "porter to upholsterer" living in the home of his eldest sister, Phebe, in St-Giles-in-the-Fields, today's 'Fitzrovia'. However, five years later he is back in Bluntisham, marrying Esther, a young woman who had moved to Bluntisham cum Earith from nearby Haddenham to be a domestic servant. The family live in Bluntisham for two decades, with Harry working as a cattle drover and stockman. In the 1911 census the family have moved, but only to nearby Needingworth. Both Harry's (1911) and Esther's (1934) deaths are recorded as being in the St. Ives registration district that covers these villages.

His sister, Martha, also returns from working in London to marry in Huntingdonshire in 1880. The only other traced record, in the 1901 census, shows Martha and her husband, John Watson, a 'leather dresser in hides', living in Eynesbury, near St.Neots.

Migration to London

By 1871, the eldest two children, Martha and Phebe, have already joined some of the other cousins in London. Martha is working as a servant in a house near Regent's Park. Phoebe marries, John Harrup, himself an agricultural labourer from Bluntisham, in Marylebone. Martha is one of the witnesses:

By 1878, their brother, William Gifford, has also moved to London. He is registered as marrying Emily Marchan in St.Giles, a young woman who has moved to London from Oxfordshire. The 1881 census shows the couple living in St. Pancras, with William employed as a 'carman'. Phebe's husband, John Harrup, is listed as a "market foreman (fruit)". By 1888, Mary Ann has also left Bluntisham for the capital city, as she is recorded as marrying Joseph Field, a bricklayer from Potters Bar, with their address then being in Stanhope Street, near Euston station.

William Gifford - in Islington - and Mary Ann - in Potters Bar - both appear to live settled lives with their families, with both husbands appearing to be in stable trades. Joseph remains a bricklayer and William Gifford a market porter, specifically at least in the 1911 census, a Covent Garden market porter. However, John Harrup, Phebe's husband does not seem to have been so lucky.

Mixed Fortunes for the Harrups

In the 1880s and 1890s, the records show that John Harrup is a fruit porter or fruit salesman and, in the 1901 census, again, specifically, a 'Covent Garden porter'. Phebe, John and their five children are listed as living in "model dwellings" at 173 Drummond Street, Euston. 

Wikipedia explains that "model dwellings companies (MDCs) were a group of private companies in Victorian Britain that sought to improve the housing conditions of the working classes by building new homes for them, at the same time receiving a competitive rate of return on any investment. The principle of philanthropic intention with capitalist return was given the label 'five per cent philanthropy' ". 

Unfortunately for Phebe and John, for some reason it seems they were unable to pay their way, because, for 1902-6, he is listed as having been admitted to the St.Pancras Workhouse, and his trade recorded simply as "sack-repairer". He died soon after in 1909.

It seems that the story had a happier ending for Phebe, however. While it's not clear where Phebe and her children were during this period, by the 1911 census she has been housed, with one of her sons, in the Peabody Trust buildings at Ebury Bridge, Pimlico. Then, with many women given the right to vote for the first time, if not yet universally
, Phebe is listed on the electoral roll for the 1918 election. Her address is in Bayham Street, Camden and her qualification to vote through "occupation".

Phebe lives on until 1942, dying at the age of 93 in Wandsworth - which brings this part of my family history story, one that took place through such a period of huge change, to an end.


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