The Census is coming


Will you be prepared for the census on 21st March? Doing your bit for posterity. Some readers will already have explored the world of our social history and enrich their lives thanks to the stimulating series of "Who do you think you are" broadcast by the BBC. For those interested in local history - perhaps that should be all of us - all accessible records open up interesting insights into life in the past. We can discover who was living, where and their ages and occupations.

With the next Census looming I thought it would be illuminating to take a local example. Space limits my foray into the world of public records and so I focus on 1881 and restrict myself to answering the oft quoted outburst, "We'll all finish up in the workhouse!" National workhouses were set up in the early part of the nineteenth century to benefit those falling on hard times. By 1881 they had become part of the social landscape. The local institution at Pulham served the area known as Depwade - now part of South Norfolk. The large edifice - just off the main road and now private apartments - accommodated 200 inmates - referred to as "paupers" in the census. These were mainly children and old folk.

Well, you may ask, "Were there Forncett folk there". Indeed there were. Their ages ranged from babes in arms to those in their nineties. There were five individuals born in Forncett: siblings named FROST, George (5) and Elizabet (7), an ex-silk weaver, Amelia KEMP (87) born in 1794 and two ex-agricultural labourers, John SMITH (75) and Richard WARD (68). The rest of the inmates came from a wide-ranging geographical area but mainly from Depwade, serving some fifty parishes. The Master, William Hardwick, and his wife were in charge; he was 32! There were also a Schoolmaster and Schoolmistress. 

There was another Union workhouse at Gressenhall (now Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse Museum). In the meantime you can "visit" any workhouse by exploring online and searching for the census returns information for your chosen year.

John Webster