Oct 2011
Edition 79
Jerrems Family Newsletter
Back to the Motherland
Dear Donald,
Last weekend of the month means time for another Jerrems Journal.

This edition takes you back in time to Willingham: about 100 years after William Shakespeare's days; he was born nearby in Stratford-upon-Avon about 150 miles away.


Ray Jerrems, Our Genealogist, Historian   Introduction 
In the first Part of this article (published in the Journal of July 2011) I explained the correct name of the town, its location and early history, and outlined the Jerrems families who lived there. Then I described the modern town.

In this Part I will now: (a) give a general picture of life in Willingham in the 1700s and 1800s, and (b) describe the town as it stood in 1851 (when some of the Jerrems family still lived there).

General picture of life in Willingham in the 1700s and 1800s
I have chosen this topic first because it paints a picture of life in rural areas in the time that Jerrems families lived in Willingham and Wappenham, giving our readers a backdrop for the lives of their ancestors. It also serves as a reminder that life in those days was vastly different to life in these modern times.

(a) Social stratification. I mention this first because it permeated life in England (and to possibly a lesser degree in the USA and later in Australia), particularly in the 1700s and early 1800s. It is not brought out in the romanticised novels written about this period and it tends to be overlooked. Basically, people accepted that they had a "lot in life" which they did not (and for the most part could not), break out of. This applied particularly to the poorer categories of rural workers like general labourers, farm labourers and crofters (people who had a small piece of enclosed ground which they could till or use for pasture).

(b) Barter system. In contrast with our modern "cash" economy, much of the local economy rested on the barter system, where many goods and services were exchanged by swapping. For instance a person with a cow might supply milk to neighbours in exchange for periodic supplies of vegetables or eggs.

(c) Health. Maintenance of health was an ongoing problem. Medical knowledge was rudimentary by modern standards, a classic example being the practice of using leeches to bleed people, which was not questioned until the second half of the 19th Century. Pharmaceutical knowledge was even more primitive until the 1860s. Most "remedies" did not work. Prior to the landmark discovery of the existence of germs in the 1860s, hygiene which we now take for granted was unknown. Prior to the discovery of carbolic acid as an antiseptic in the early 1870s, one third of hospital patients who had been operated on died from infection and two thirds of the amputees died. Infant mortality rates were high (in the 1850s one quarter of children died by the age of five). What we would class as flu could (particularly in winter) could soon develop into pneumonia and result in death.

(d) Life expectancy. As a corollary to my observations regarding health, life expectancy was far lower in the 1700s and 1800s compared with modern expectancy rates, which for our readers are now in the vicinity of 80 years. Figures for the 1700s and 1800s are guesswork, and are distorted by infant mortality rates. Interestingly, life expectancy in small towns (as high as 55 years) was far higher than in the large cities, whereas in slum areas the life expectancy fell to the thirties. New epidemics were stalking the cities - cholera and typhoid were carried by polluted water, typhus was spread by lice, and 'summer diarrhoea' was caused by swarms of flies feeding on horse manure and human waste lying in the streets. It would definitely have been healthier to live in Willingham, which (amongst other things) would have had clean drinking water!

(e) Education. This is a big topic. Perhaps I should define "education" as being primarily literacy and numeracy. The poor classes did not have the knowledge to teach their children, they could not afford financially to have their children educated in whatever schools (if any) existed in the area, or (more commonly) by educated people teaching from their homes. In any case the children were needed to help at home (or on the farm), or go out and work, a pattern which had existed since time immemorial.
However there is the fundamental question of motivation. Particularly in a rural setting, what, tangibly, was to be gained from literacy and anything more than very basic numeracy? Subsistence farmers like crofters, most tradesmen and indeed some shopkeepers did not need to be literate and only needed very basic numeracy. This resulted in a cycle whereby the parents' lack of education committed them, and their children, to occupations where education was not required. Attendance at schools was not compulsory in England until the Elementary Education Act 1880 specified compulsory attendance from the ages of 5-10 years.

(f) Insularity. I mention this because we have grown up in an environment of mass media, and we expect to have access to world news etc. In the 1700s and much of the 1800s the people (particularly those who were illiterate) in small towns had a rather cocoon-like existence, going about their daily affairs with little knowledge of (or indeed interest in) what was happening elsewhere, or of technological changes. Although there had been a postal system established in 1660 by King Charles II this was hampered by poor roads in rural areas, and it was not until 1840 that postage stamps were used. As late as 1876 Willingham had only one mail clearance per week for Gainsborough and for Lincoln, delivered by a Willingham carrier.

Similarly, although newspapers were published in the 19th Century in cities and major towns, they would only have filtered down to small towns via the mail carrier or when people from those towns went to the major towns (for instance on market days) and brought back a newspaper.

But once again I go back to the fundamental question of motivation. The vast majority of the rural population were only interested in things directly affected them, particularly matters affecting their hip pockets They were not interested at all in what the national Government was doing or in international affairs.

(g) Winters. Like other northern towns, Willingham has cold winters, with occasional falls of snow. Without access to refrigeration, householders would have needed to stock up on preserved fruits, preserved or pickled vegetables, cured, corned or potted meats, and vegetables which did not require preserving like pumpkins, potatoes and turnips. The diet of poor people unable to obtain sufficient quantities of specialised preserved food would have been very restricted in winter.

The role of churches up to the 1700s and 1800s.
I have chosen this as a separate topic due to its significance.

In towns like Willingham town life from medieval times up to the 1700s and 1800s revolved largely around the local church, which we would now call "Anglican". In addition to the pastoral duties of the staff, the Church Council organised picnics and other social events, and parishioners would have had fund-raising groups such as sewing and cooking bees. There were no specific groups like Scouts, Brownies, or Womens Institute, and until the mid 1850s there were no sporting clubs because the sports did not exist (the exception was that there was a cricket club in Willingham in the 1850s). The churches were also the only large public buildings in the towns.

The picnic activities (traditionally held on a town's village green) would have included running races and novelty events, and possibly parishioners from nearby towns would have been invited.

Particularly before 1837 (when the Poor Laws were introduced to the Willingham region) the poor would have been assisted through the money collected in the Church "poor box", and the poor would have been provided with supplementary food and warm winter clothing etc.

From a financial viewpoint most of the annual cost of staffing the Church would have been met by the "living" provided annually by a series of private benefactors (Lords of the Manor) or (by default) the local Diocese (for Willingham this was the Diocese of Lincoln). However there would have been other expenses (including maintenance) which the townspeople would have had to meet.

In Willingham St Helen's Church was by far the biggest church, there being also two small Wesleyan Methodist and Primitive Methodist chapels which were built in the 1800s.

Willingham in 1851

The 1851 Census of the Parish of Willingham, the first major Census, gives an interesting insight into the town. Before I had examined the Census I had assumed that Willingham was a backwater which Big Bill had vacated in about 1802 or 1803 to find greener pastures in Gainsborough, a large town 10 kilometres to the north which I described in the Journal of June 2006. The reasons I had assumed that Willingham would have been a backwater were:

(a) Much of the "commons" land in Willingham would have been sold off to large landholders after 1797 under specific lands closure legislation applying to Willingham. In England this type of legislation resulted in the closing of most of the commons (totalling about one third of the land in England) which had previously been used by the less affluent rural population for subsistence farming (growing small crops, grazing stock etc) for small charges. The small charges payable to the Crown were replaced by higher rents payable to the new landowners, causing hardship.
(b) In the 1800s the rural economies became depressed.
(c) The Industrial Revolution was drawing rural people to the cities.

Willingham was in quite good shape
Contrary to my expectations, in 1851 Willingham seems to have been in quite good shape, with

(1) Four dressmakers, an amazing total of four shoemakers and two cordonniers (shoe repairers) for the heavy-footed locals, two tailors, two grocers, one butcher,
(2) Fifteen farmers, one brickmaker, two bricklayers, two carpenters, two blacksmiths (plus apprentice), two publicans, two gardeners and a groundkeeper, two grooms.
(3) A rector, a school teacher (with 19 pupils, compared with 135 children in the village aged 14 and under), a surgeon.
(4) Only five paupers, aged between 65 and 79 (there was no Poor House).
(5) A total number of 112 houses in the parish, with only 3 shown as being vacant
(6) A doubling of population since 1801, partly due to an influx of residents from other villages and towns (most of them only a short distance away) over a period of time, as shown by their places of birth set out in the Census.

Willingham's modest economy and future prospects

On the other hand, the Willingham economy and its future prospects were still modest:

(a) As an indicator of wealth, few people had servants (eg cooks, housemaids, housekeepers, labourers, gardeners). For instance, the main employers of servants were the rector (four servants), the surgeon (two servants and a groom), a farmer with 94 acres had 4 labourers (a small number for such a large area). With a farm area of 120 acres (one of the largest farms where the area was specified in the Census) the widowed Jane Jerrems employed only two farm labourers.

(b) One pub had a labourer/publican, the other had a publican and a house servant. These were clearly very modest pubs with little or no capacity for accommodating travellers. There was no pharmacist to support the surgeon or (strangely) a baker or produce merchant.

I suspect that readers will now feel that they have been back at school having a history lesson.

However, this article has been based on observations I have made over a period of years in my research on the Jerrems families and other families, my objective being to find out why things happened, in addition to the usual genealogical questions of what happened.

Sequel to this article
In the next Part I will attempt to describe

(a) the town in 1801, which is about the time that "Big Bill" Jerrems (my great great great grandfather) moved to the nearby town (as it then was) of Gainsborough,

(b) the village in 1720, when the first known Jerrems ancestors lived there, and I will tell you about the Bingham family (descendants of the Jerrems family) who I have established still live in Willingham.

Letter from the Olde Country
Donald Jerrems
Webmaster and Publisher
  Regarding Branch of the Family Tree
On October 11, I received a 3-page street mail letter from:

Adam Marshall
88 Wendowver Road
Chidham Park Havant
Hants PD9 1Dw

It concerned genealogy for his family name, the Sandilands and Alexander Nicoll Jerrems dating back to the 1800's.

After digital scanning it into Word, I sent to Ray and prepared a reply to Mr. Marshall, which starts off:

Dear Mr. Marshall

I received your note dated October 7th in the postal mail late last night when I got home from a meeting. Thank you for taking the time to find my mailing address and for the inquiry regarding the Jerrems family.

By way of background, Ray Jerrems is my third cousin; he lives in Sydney Australia. We "met" in June 2005 when he sent me an email, which he obtained by search. Although we have never talked to each other we exchange several emails every month in preparation of the Jerrems Journal (JJ).

Ray is the main driver of the Jerrems genealogy and historical research. I am the JJ webmaster and publisher via email to our subscribers. We have published once a month since June 2005. Our next edition will be #79. Our editions cover family history from the UK (Gainsborough), Australia and the US. We have 45 subscribers, of which 28 are named Jerrems, as follows: Australia 12, US 15, France 1. We publish historical based factoids and anecdotes of interest to our small scattered family.

We will keep you posted on the thread of correspondence in later editions.


Past Editions of the Jerrems Journal

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