Birchanger in the 1881 Census

By Eddie Gilbey

The 1881 Census was taken in the forty fourth year of Queen Victoria's reign. Her Prime minister, W E Gladstone led a minority Liberal government who were fighting the first Boer war. Agriculture was in decline, this was mainly due to increased grain imports from the USA. In general there was an ongoing migration from the country into the towns and cities that had been going on for thirty years. The UK population was 29.7 million 3.3 million of these lived in London.

In the wider world, 1881 was the year in which work on the Panama canal began. Alexander Fleming and PG Wodehouse were born. The Mahdi began his revolt in the Sudan. Wyatt Earp had his gunfight at the OK Corral and Billy the Kid was killed. It was also the year in which Conservative leader Benjamine Disraeli died.

Life in Birchanger had not changed significantly for forty years. The roads were still un-metalled and most of the population were living in cottages tied to the farms on which the occupants worked. There were three pubs The Three Willows, the Three Horseshoes and The Old Bell, which was still within Birchanger parish. There were five farms :- Forest Hall, Sion House, Birchanger Hall, Green Farm and Duck End Farm. Folly Farm was now renamed "The Mount" and "Blacklands" housed Mr James Watts and family. He is listed as a Farmer of 53 acres employing 8 men and 1 boy but it is not known which farm.

Apart from Mr Watts, the Gentry were present in their larger Houses The Harrisons in Birchanger place, The Spencers at Stansted road, the Chesters at Poplar Hall and the Nashs at Sion House. The Mount was occupied by the Church family and Birchanger Hall by Mr and Mrs Edward Sworder. The Rector was Mr F Rowden and the School teacher was Miss Emily Geake, assisted by her sister Amy. The School is described as National School Dow Boys and Girls.

There was still no Gas, Electricity, mains Water or Sewage supplied in the village.

There were 249 males 223 females giving a total of 472 inhabitants living in 100 properties. ( this is an increas of 24 properties and 103 inhabitants since the 1851 census)There were 72 married couples 10 widows, 6 widowers, 81 unmarried adults and 231 children, 110 of the children are described as Scholars so the remaining 121 children are infants.


Agricultural labourers are still the most numerous jobs in the village with 94 people engaged this way. There were 22 Domestic servants, 2 Shepherds, 2 coachmen and 2 Carpenters.

Five men are described as Gentlemen or Annuitants and twelve women described as Gentlewomen, with four men actually described as Farmers and one as a Farmer's Son. There were two Pig dealers, two Shepherds, one Manufacturer of patent malt cakes, one Maltster and one Corn Merchant. There was only one person listed as a Licensed Victualler but a further two as Brewers labourers despite there being three pubs.

In Birchanger Lane, James Smith is listed as a Brickmaker as is his son Albert. There are also two brothers James and Charles Vale who also have this occupation. It is reasonable to assume that the brickyard in Birchanger lane was in operation at this time.

At the Horseshoes John Bush is listed as a Blacksmith although he is known to be the landlord of Birchanger's second Pub. (In the 1851 census his father, also named John is listed as a Shoeing Smith at Birchanger Green). Did the Horseshoes have two functions?

There are two Millwrights and one Miller as well as two people employed on the railway. One Nurse, two Dressmakers and one intriguing entry Anna Hammond the house keeper at a convalescent home from London lived at Duck End as the head of the household. Although she was married and living with two step-daughters, there is no Husband listed.

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