The Victorian History of Hertfordshire published in 1908 described the village as “decreasing in population”, and as “this somewhat desolate hamlet”. Much is written that supports this view, but analysis of the Census records for 1901 provide very good evidence to confirm these observations.
In 1841 the population of Wilstone is recorded as 407, in 1861 as 455, and in 1881 as 563 [Dick Gomm’s History and other sources]. Its population today is about 500. However the census records for 1901 list just 261 people in the village of Wilstone itself and the occupations recorded in the census returns indicate a very poor farming community. It is known that many such communities declined in the late 19 th century as farming suffered a number of problems and urban areas offered better paid employment.
I have recently had the opportunity to look at the records for Wilstone from the 1901 census, and have been able to analyse them in some detail. The statistical breakdown which follows is for the village itself. Little Tring, Gubblecote and a few outlying places which were included with Wilstone in the census but later transferred to Long Marston (in 1910) have been excluded.
The records provide the surnames and forenames of everybody living in the village, in each household, together with their age, marital status, relationship to the head of the household, place of birth and occupation. Analysis of this information provides some interesting results.
The population of Wilstone of 261 included four listed as Visitor, 115 (44%) were male and 146 were female. There were 66 households – 80 properties are listed but 14 were uninhabited. The number of children (aged 12 and under) was 86, just under a third of the population.
The average age of adults (taken as 13 and above) was 39, the oldest person in the village was 81, indeed just two people were over 80, both men, and five were over 70, all women. There were seven single households and 46 in which children were living with their parents. A number of adult children still lived with their parents, and in a some cases also the grandchildren.
In 26 households there was no married partner. There was one married woman whose husband was absent, 8 men and 12 women were widowed, and there were four single women and one single man. In most of these households there were still children or other family members living with them, but in a couple of cases there was another unrelated adult listed.
Perhaps unsurprisingly the majority of children were born in Wilstone, if not there was usually an obvious reason – often because their place of birth was that of one of the parents indicating that the family moved to Wilstone after the children were born. In 23 families at least one of the parents was born in Wilstone, and in all but two of the others at least one was born locally – within a few miles, in most cases in other parts of Tring Rural or just outside. In only two cases were both from a distance. The publican of the Half Moon came from Barnsley, his wife came from London – his name, Poppleton, is perhaps a little unusual in this area! The other was the Police Constable who came from St Albans. It would seem, therefore, that in 1901 most of the inhabitants of the village had grown up in the immediate area or married into it.
However, it is the occupational details that provide the greatest insight into the circumstances of the village at the time. In over half the households the head of the household worked on a farm, three were farmers. Others were in trades such as wheelwrights and bricklayers. Women’s occupations were typically needle workers, housekeepers, and straw-plait workers. Many of the working family members had similar occupations. Those of the wives and young girls were often not listed, but they may well have undertaken similar types of work to supplement the family income. Children under twelve were mostly listed as scholars. A small number of men worked as traders, and a number of women ran or worked in the shops. There were two publicans – at the Half Moon and the Buckingham Arms, the only two pubs listed. There was a Police Constable and two school teachers – one living at the Schoolhouse. One man and a teenage boy worked on the canals.
By John Painter