Can you solve my 1871 census conundrum?
QI was wondering if you could help me solve the puzzle of my great grandfather, William James Bennett, who twice appears on the 1871 census.
William’s father, James Bennett, was in the Royal Navy and had signed up for ten years, but bought himself out after six – presumably when he met my great great grandmother Harriett Blackmore in Chudleigh, Devon. The couple married in 1866, with James’ address given as St Bride, London, and Harriet’s address as Chudleigh. In the occupation column, James is listed as a fireman.
On William’s birth certificate in 1867, his birthplace is recorded as Exeter Road, Chudleigh. His mother gave her address as London and his father again gave his occupation as fireman. The baptism also took place in Chudleigh.
William next appears on the 1871 census in two separate locations. As well as being listed with his mother and father at Tooley Street Fire Station, London, William is also recorded with his grandparents James and Susan Blackmore in Chudleigh. After this he appears on their census forms and doesn’t go back to live with his parents.
James and Harriet went on to have more children, all born and living in London. Why did William not return? Helen Marriott
AThere are a number of examples of individuals being recorded on a census at two separate addresses. Given transportation in 1871, William James could not have been in both Devon and London on the census night of Sunday 2 April. Although the census should have recorded the names of those at a given address on census night, families often misunderstood and believed it to be a record of all their children/family members. Thus, the name of an absent child could be listed in error.
Furthermore, the enumerators delivered the schedule a week before and collected it on Monday 3 April. If William had been present during the week, this could have caused confusion. The summary tables for the enumerators’ books on this census include males and females temporarily absent. Perhaps William was considered temporarily absent but recorded present by mistake.
Although William was not recorded on later census forms in London, he may still have spent time there. If he did remain in Devon, there may have been economic or health reasons for him staying with his grandparents. William’s parents were around 23 years of age when he was born, which is relatively young. James would have been fully occupied by his new job in an area with which (it seems) he and his wife were not familiar.
Tooley Street was a busy street in Southwark close to the River Thames – an area full of wharves, warehouses and the colourful characters that inhabited them. This may have intimidated the young Bennetts and they may have decided that William was safer with his agricultural labourer grandparents and his uncles.
If he or his mother had any health problems, it may have been easier for him to remain in Devon with a large family and wider community to support him. It may be worth investigating school admission registers (Findmypast for Devon and Ancestry for London), as this might reveal how much time he spent with his parents in this period. Emma Jolly
William recorded with grandparents in Devon (above) and with parents in London (below)
William James Bennett had roots in both Devon, the place of his birth, and London