Who was living in Letchworth in 1901, before they started to build the Worlds First Garden City ?

Article created from entries in the 1901 census using the Find My Past website

By Viv Birch

The 1901 census was taken on the 31st of March of that year, and records the names, occupations, ages and places of birth of all those living in the houses of a particular community. Unlike today many of the houses did not have their own numbers and in Letchworth many of the properties (mainly rented by agricultural labourers and their families), were not situated on formally named roads. However the Hall, Rectory House and Rectory lodge are listed.

Before they started building the Garden City in 1903, Letchworth was just a tiny village situated on land around what is now Letchworth Lane and Letchworth Hall Hotel (see map below). Much research has been done recently on the every day lives of people living in earlier times, but there are still many questions that remain unanswered. 

In 1901 horses provided the main form of transport, though the railways also had an impact. The modern conveniences that we take for granted now had not yet been invented, so many poorer people worked on the land or as servants in wealthier houses. Here is a snap shot of the area geographically defined as "Letchworth" as it was in 1901, with some research and some hypothesising as to the situations of those listed as residents.

The biggest building by far is the Hall. Here are those recorded as living there.

  • Head of House is 76 year old Frederick Allwood, a retired farmer from Epping, living with 
  • His 60 year old wife Louisa.Their children are 
  • Fredric (28) 
  • Mary (24), 
  • Annie (21), and 
  • Lade (perhaps Adelaide ?) (19). 

All the children were born in Walsworth. The family have a visitor staying with them - a bank clerk born in Staffordshire. A cook and a housemaid are also recorded as living there.

Richard Walls,aged 46 a Church of England clergyman from Lincolnshire, lives at the Rectory House with his wife Mary (41) and children Kathleen (12)  Evelyn (7) and Frances (3). Also in residence that night are a cook, a nurse and a housemaid.The nurse was born in Cambridgeshire but the other servants were born locally, and the children in Letchworth itself.

Rectory Lodge is occupied by George Shepherd (39) a gardener and his 41 year old wife Mary.Their son Arthur aged 15 is a grocer. The other children Am (Amy?) Mabel and John are still at school, though Am will be leaving shortly and may need to find a job.

There is another "House" listed but without a name on the cesus. (probably the Manor House) It is occupied by Cary Bowerman, an Advertisement agent working for W.H Smith and Son in London. He is only 23 and was born in Camberwell, London. He lives with his 27 year old wife his wife Maud. They have a new baby called Grace who is not yet one. Cary is doing well in his new profession as he employs Mary a servant from Croydon and a Minnie a 16 year old nurse from Great Wymondley who both live with him. Driving home late on the evening of 18th September 1900  Mr Bowerman ran into some cows and smashed his trap into the old gate posts of Letchworth Park. He broke his wrist and the horse was injured, so Mr Bowerman sued Frederick Allwood the farmer at Letchworth Hall, for not fencing in the cattle. However three locals bore witness that there had never been a fence along the lane in living memory, so he lost the case. (Details taken from The Book of Letchworth by Kenneth Johnson)

None of the other 13 properties listed have house numbers on roads or names, but all will have been close to the Hall. Most of the inhabitants work on the land (both male and female), but things are changing. 

Charles South and Charles Walker are both recorded as being "Agricultural steam engine drivers", while Charle South's son Fredrick is a "Railway Engine Cleaner". 

Mrs Catherine Beeven aged 31 is kept extremely busy as she has Annie (9) William (8) Kate (6) Alice (3) and George (1) to look after in what is probably a very small house The cooking, cleaning and sewing must never have ended!

Walter Hooper (aged 18) is a carpenter.There is also a 12 year old male "boarder" listed as living at one of the properties. He comes from Luton. Two of the youngest agricultural labourers are Albert Andrews aged 15 and his brother Alfred who is only 13

Two other named residences are included as being in "Letchworth" - Burleigh Cottage and Burleigh Farm. However, they cannot be found on the map. This is because, although they were part of of the Letchworth Parish, they were, in fact, 8 miles away. "Detached" parts of parishes, districts, or even counties, were the result of quirks of history and land ownership and were not unusual until as late as the 1970s (when most outstanding geographic anomalies were tidied up). Burleigh (sometimes spelt "Burley") "moved" to Knebworth shortly after the creation of the Garden City.

Burleigh Cottage "Letchworth" is actually near to (and now in) Knebworth. In 1901 it was occupied by 33 year old horsekeeper Arthur, born in Stevenage, with his wife Mary who was born in Codicote as were her five still-living children including William (17), and Hilda. Mary had her first child when she was 15, her second son is called Arthur, and their are some large age gaps between the children so she may well have had other children who did not survive infancy.

Nearby Burleigh Farm was occupied by James Cullen,a shepherd from Nottingham, and his wife Rachel.Why has he travelled so far south down the country and how did he get here, by stage-coach or hitch-hiking, or did a more wealthy employer bring him when he relocated ?They have two children Christopher (12) and Florence (8) 

Two farms that we might expect to find on the Letchworth entry of Find MY past actually appear under Norton, but I have decided to list their residents anyway, as they are both quite full.

Wilbury Farm is occupied by Walter Collins a stockman aged 44 from Stevenage and his wife Anna 53 from Walkern. His son Charles aged 20 is also an agricultural worker, and daughter Alice (14) is also there with Daisy 10.Their 14 year old step daughter  Maud  Caitlin lives with them. Also at this farm we find John ( a horse keeper) aged 32 and  Lizzie Cobb his 27 year old wife. They also have a stepdaughter, Ethel Poulter aged 4  so both women seem to have been married before, and may be widows as divorce is very rare.

Standalone Farm is occupied by Fredrick Gardner, a Farmer and widower aged 61. He lives with his niece, Eliza Dyson, aged 10, from Rhyl in Wales. Martha Shepherd aged 54 is his housekeeper, William, 57 her husband is a horsekeeper. Florence Anderson a 15 year old servant is also resident.

When the census is taken again on 2nd April 1911 Letchworth is a much much bigger place as people from all over the country are attracted to work in an ever expanding Garden City. There are new roads, buildings, factories and residents. It is interesting to see where these people came from and what sort of skills they brought with them.

This article was compiled from details of the 1901 census, but there have been census taken since 1841 for towns and villages all over England. Census data is protected for 100 years, so the last census taken where we can actually see who is living in in an individual propery is the 1911 census. Your local Hertfordshire library provides free access to the Ancestry and Find my Past subscription websites if you are a library member.

To find out more about the creation of the Garden City, read Mervyn Miller's book, Letchworth: The First Garden City and Kenneth Johnson's  Book of Letchworth. Letchworth library has copies of both these books which can be borrowed. The First Garden City Heritage Museum has lots of original documents and photographs too.They kindly gave permission for photographs from their collection to be used in this article.

Photo:Letchworth in the 19th century

Letchworth in the 19th century

from "The Book of Letchworth" by Kenneth Johnson

Photo:Letchworth Hall, early 20th century

Letchworth Hall, early 20th century

First Garden City Heritage Museum

Photo:St Mary's Church, Letchworth

St Mary's Church, Letchworth

First Garden City Heritage Museum

Photo:St Mary's Church, Letchworth

St Mary's Church, Letchworth

First Garden City Heritage Museum

Photo:Letchworth Hall Hotel, 1930s

Letchworth Hall Hotel, 1930s

First Garden City Heritage Museum

Photo:Letchworth Hall Hotel, 1950s

Letchworth Hall Hotel, 1950s

First Garden City Heritage Museum

Photo:Old Rectory, Letchworth village

Old Rectory, Letchworth village

First Garden City Heritage Museum

Photo:Letchworth Hall, early 20th century

Letchworth Hall, early 20th century

First Garden City Heritage Museum

This page was added by Viv Birch on 22/09/2012.

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