Friday, 13 April 2012

New history booklet on Felsham in the early Victorian period

FELSHAM 1830-50

Christopher Bornett

This exciting new local history booklet from WalkingKit Publications explores the lives of Felsham farm labouring families in early Victorian times.

It is now available from the FELSHAM POST OFFICE STORES.  Price £3.50.
It is also available from the author for £4.50 [incl p&p].  To order click here.

Summary of content:

Farm labourers formed the largest occupational group in Felsham during the 19th century but they were never listed in the official directories of the time. This is fairly typical as the lives of the lowest strata of society, throughout history, are rarely recorded. The local historian who attempts to study the lives of early 19th century agricultural workers is severely hampered by the paucity of biographical material and has to rely fairly heavily on official records such as Census Returns and Parish records, including registers of births, deaths and marriages, as well as accounts kept by the overseers of the poor.

Nevertheless, great effort has been made to re-construct early Victorian village life as seen through the eyes of farm labourers and their wives and children – despite the fact that most of the time they just appear as statistics and names in rather dry and impersonal official documents.


Part One of the booklet addresses three questions. Who were the Felsham farm labourers? Where did they live? What did they look like? The focus is on 1838 and 1841 because these were the years in which the Felsham Tithe Map was drawn up and when a Census was taken. Information from Map and Census provides clues about people and places that enable us to build up a picture of village life at this time. To supplement these relatively well documented years of 1838 and 1841, evidence has been gathered from the ten years either side of 1840 to provide sufficient documentation to construct a snapshot of life over twenty years – a generation– to arrive at our chosen period of study: 1830-50. At the beginning of this period, parts of Suffolk witnessed the rural disturbances associated with the Swing riots when hayricks were burnt and machines smashed. The 1830s also witnessed decisive developments in the way the Poor Law was administered. The 1840s saw a revolution in communications with the introduction of the Penny Post at the beginning of the decade and then the arrival of the railway in Suffolk linking Bury St Edmunds, Stowmarket and Ipswich with London, during the second half of the decade.

Part TWO looks at the working life of the farm labourer, his wife, and his children. We explore questions of schooling, diet and the importance of allotments. We focus on one particular family – the Osborn family. This family was one of many in Felsham which rented an allotment provided through the local Charity. The renting of land within the village gave the labourer an important stake in society, raising his self-esteem, as well as providing essential food supplies. We focus on the paternalism of the Charity Trustees and the moral dimension of allotment rules.

In Part THREE the impact of the Poor Laws on the lives of the labourers is examined. This time we focus on a Felsham family – the Robert Kidby family – who fell on hard times and became paupers. This family certainly lived on the “bread line”, receiving help from the parish and experiencing extended periods of unemployment and illness. They spent some time in the village poorhouse and also the Union workhouse near Stowmarket. An attempt will be made to unravel the circumstances in 1846 which led to the family being removed from the neighbouring village of Cockfield and being returned to their “settlement” village of Felsham.

Part FOUR focuses on the issue of migration. Throughout the 19th century a growing number of Suffolk farm labourers were leaving their villages and heading for London or the newly industrialised towns of the north of England. Some departed these shores altogether and emigrated to Canada, Australia or New Zealand. We have documentary evidence of at least one Felsham family which emigrated to South Australia in 1849: the Seaman family. Why did this large family with nine children under the age of fifteen, leave Felsham and undertake a long and arduous sea voyage across the world to set up a new life in the Antipodes? How did they cope with the vicissitudes of life in “steerage class” on a sailing ship in the mid 19thcentury? What happened to the family after they walked down the ship’s gangplank to set up a new life in the young colony of Southern Australia?


The text is well supported throughout by maps, charts and illustrations.

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