(A look at the occupational side of the 19th Century census records) 

by Roy Wood

Editor's Note: I hope in due course to research and add some more appropriate images to accompany this article.  If anyone has pictures/clipart which is relevant and would like to send them to me then contact me c/o Roy Wood.  Thankyou - Barbara Chapman

 While working through the census records while working on my Inns and Public Houses of Hemel Hempstead project, I realised that I was intermittently breaking into laughter, or muttering ‘really?’ under my breath.

What, you may ask, caused such mirth and inquisitiveness? The answer is the given occupations of people who were at these premises all those years ago, those who ran the establishments and their customers, both managed to provide food for thought, and even some humorous contribution.

It soon became quite obvious that before me was the ideal opportunity to share some of the more interesting, confusing and humorous of them.

All occupations mentioned in the following paragraphs were being undertaken, in some form, in Hemel Hempstead. The people mentioned were, in most cases, staying at premises which would be charging them for the privilege. This, I am quite sure, will add to the intrigue of just how things were in those days.

Many general tradesmen identified were what were known as ‘Journeymen’. These were generally day labourers who had completed their apprenticeships, but had not, up unto the time, set up as ‘Masters’ in their respective trades. These people would often train others as they went about their business, hence there are many occupations in the census prefixed ‘Apprentice’.

It is a well-known fact that a many Landlords, Beer Sellers and Beer House Keepers of the nineteenth century, and earlier, were ‘Part time’, and therefore were reduced to taking on extra work, supplementing their income by having another trade to fall back on, or run alongside their responsibilities. Perhaps one of the most unlikely occupations found at an Inn in Hemel Hempstead was that of William Fuller who was Innkeeper of The Bell in The High Street in the17th Century, he was listed in census records as ‘Innkeeper & Surgeon’! This is not as surprising as one might think as anaesthetic was not readily available in those days, and it was alcohol that was used instead. The only surprising thing is that he was believed to have even carried out surgery in the Inn cellar!

There were basically three kinds of drinking establishment, Ale or Beer Houses, which just sold beer. Secondly Taverns, which would be much the same with the possible additional provision of food. Finally of course were the Inns, which provided ale, food and overnight accommodation. This prompted the hire at many such premises of a ‘Waiter’ or ‘Waitress’ both of which showed quite often in the returns. Most Inns also had stabling for the customer’s horses. In many cases Inns also provided the services of a blacksmith, and would have had a ‘smithy’s’ premises attached to the business.

‘Blacksmith’, ‘Smith’, and ‘Smithy’ are probably the most predictable occupations to be found around the Inns, and one would naturally expect to find people described as ‘Ostlers’, ‘Horse Trainers’,  Coachman, ‘Saddler’, ‘Farrier’,  and, perhaps not so expected, there was even a H William Hart, listed as a ‘Lodger and Vetinary Surgeon’ listed at The White Hart in The High Street. ‘Grooms’, sometimes referred to as ‘Horse Keepers’ and even ‘Jockeys’ also came to light quite regularly.

Lesser known occupations usually to be found in the Inns were ‘Wheelright’, a person who repaired wheels, usually those found on a cart or coaches damaged by the road conditions. While speaking of coaches, there were also ‘Coachmen’ mentioned fairly often as well.

One or two of the much lesser known occupations in this area were a ‘Bridle Cutter’, who literally cut, shaped and decorated bridles. One Joseph H. Boreham stayed at The Oddfellows Arms in Apsley, and was listed in the 1890 census as a ‘Boarder & Bridle Cutter’, he had arrived from Walsall.

Two most peculiar sounding occupations were a ‘Fly Master’ or ‘Fly Dresser’. Given that A 'Fly' was the name for a single horse carriage in the nineteenth century, things become very much clearer!

There are also other people whose skills would have been called upon at all these types of establishment. These included a ‘Cooper’, sometimes referred to as a ‘Hoopmaker’. The terms ‘Cooper & Victualler’ or ‘Landlord & Cooper’ were common in census records. There is a reference to a person listed as a ‘boots’, an exceptionally general term. The writer believes this may have been a person who helped carriage drivers or riders to remove their boots, and who would, very likely, have cleaned them ready for the journey.

The licensing trade in general provides quite more occupations ‘Landlord’, ‘Victualler’, ‘Licensed victualler’, ‘Innkeeper’, ‘Beer Seller’, ‘Beerhouse Keeper’, Hotel & Innkeeper’ and ‘Hotel Keeper’ were all common. ‘Brewer’ and ‘Brewer ‘ s Agent’ were also very much to the fore.

Other, far less common, listed occupations were ‘Bricklayer & Licensed Victualler’, ‘Beer Retailer & Mineral Water Manufacturer’, and ‘Tap Boy’ who was a person employed to look after the barrels on the premises.

A straw plait market was held regularly in what we know today as Austins Place, and this provided more occupational references, such as a ‘Straw Hat Sewer’, a self-explanatory term associated in the letter part of the trade, also ‘Straw Plaiter’, one who plaited the straw, and ‘A Boarder and Straw Worker’, and ‘A Hay and Straw Dealer’. There were also the usual licensee connections, such as ‘Beer Shop Keeper and Dealer in Straw Plaits’, ‘Beer Shop Keeper and Straw Plait Trader’, ‘Lodger and Basket Maker’ and a ‘Publican and Straw Trader’.

Hemel Hempstead in the nineteenth century was still predominantly undeveloped, and this is reflected in the number of occupations that fall under the general headings of farming and gardening, indeed George Channells of The Cock & Bottle in Great Gaddesden was listed as ‘Victualler & Farmer’ in the 1851 census.

Other related terms seen have included ‘Farm Labourer’, ‘Pig & Poultry Keeper’, ‘Publican & Cattle Dealer’, ‘Lodger & Agricultural Labourer’, ’Lodger & Shepherd’, Lodger & Farm Labourer’, ‘Son & Farm Servant’, ‘Hay Binder’, ‘Drover’ and ‘Thresher Machine Driver’. Frederick Greenhill was listed in 1861 as ‘Hay Carter and Beer House Keeper’ at The Crown in Piccotts End. A Carter was quite literally a person who transported goods on a cart. There was also another name, not an occupation, which was that of a ‘Poacher’. The Brewers Arms in The High Street, had such a reputation for this kind of customer that it became known by the nickname ‘The Poachers Retreat’. The term ‘Poacher’ of course did not appear on the census returns, but the term ‘General Labourer’ was rife in their returns.  

Where gardening was concerned Charles Chapman was shown as being a ‘Publican and Gardeners Labourer’ in the 1881 census. Other occupational titles included ‘Lodger & Gardener’, ‘Jobbing Gardener’ and even a ‘Gentleman’s Gardener’.

Brickmaking in the area was a prominent industry during the 19th century, and was fairly well known in what is now Bennetts End and Leverstock Green as well as up in Bovingdon.

This brought other people to the town, many of which had found themselves living in the local hostelries. Appropriately, at The Brickmakers Arms between 1891 and 1902, lived William Fountain who was described as a ‘Beer Retailer and Brickmaker’, as indeed was his Son, who was also called William. Also listed, elsewhere, was a person described as a ‘Bricklayers Labourer’.

Of course, these trades led to others as buildings began to take shape, such as ‘Plumber’ and ‘A Builders Plasterer’. Also Carpentry brought even more titles, for example John Henry Jackson of The Partridge in Piccotts End was listed, between 1890 and 1891, as ‘Beer Retailer, Carpenter and Publican’. Other carpentry related titles were ‘Wood Turner’, ‘Carpenter & Inn Keeper’, which once again showed the need for an extra trade to boost income, and a ‘Carpenters apprentice’, possibly another example of the training given by ‘Journeymen’ of the time. Lastly A ‘Sawyer’ who was simply a person who sawed wood.

Quite naturally, on completion of building works, the art of decorating would have been required, giving us more trade titles. ‘Painter’ was a commonplace name as one would expect, ‘Beer Retailer and Decorator’ and ‘Boarder & Journeyman Painter’ all show in the census returns.

Domestic Service also drew people to the town in search of employment, and such titles as ‘Waiter’ and ‘Waitress’ were as commonplace in this area as they were in the licensing trade. Other jobs involved were ‘Domestic Servant’, ‘General Servant’, ‘House keeper’, ‘Cook’, ‘Kitchen Maid’ and ‘Laundress’ were all very well known. However, even in this field there were one or two unexpected titles ‘Servant & Washerwoman’, and ‘Landlord & Butler’, yet another example of the multi-tasking of the times! There may have also been a need for a ‘Nursemaid’ or ‘Nurse’ which again showed quite often in the returns.

Here we can look at what could be described as the associate trades that would have been responsible for the supplies for the local houses. Here we find such trades as a ‘Butcher’, ‘Jobbing Butcher’,  ‘Baker’, ‘Bakers Assistant’, ‘Grocer’, ‘Fishmonger’, ‘Coal Merchant’, and ‘Florist’.

Dress making also played a much larger part in life style in these times, and such titles as ‘Dressmaker’, and ‘Apprentice Dressmaker’ both showed regularly. Also, quite naturally a good bonnet would be needed to complete the outfit, and so along came a ‘Milliner’, ‘Bonnet Maker’, a ‘Bonnet Sewer’ or what was known as a ‘Bonnet Blocker’. A Bonnet Blocker was the person who actually put the bonnet together (similar to a bonnet sewer), and in order to do so they used a wooden block on which to support the bonnet as they worked, hence the name. From the male point of view a ‘Tailor’ was always on hand. Also listed was ‘An Assistant in the Trimmings Trade’. This may well have applied to the Straw Plait Making Trade as well as clothing manufacture. ’Trimmings’ were, as one might imagine, the intricate silk or lace edging applied to hats or garments, or the patterned designs applied to them.

Naturally, alongside these trades, Education played a major part in life, and the titles ‘Private Tutor’, ‘Elementary Teacher’, ‘Pupil Teacher’ and ‘Infants school Teacher’ and just ‘Teacher’ all showed in census returns on a regular basis.

Moving once again to the industrial and manufacturing side of things, most people will know that probably the most prolific employers at this time would have been the respective paper mills, and especially John Dickinson’s Apsley & Nash Mills. The mill in Apsley was also, as is so well known, a major source of stationery production. As one would imagine this kind of workplace was responsible for attracting many people from outside the area, and as a result a plethora of occupation titles!

The term ‘Millwright’ is one that shows up on a regular basis. This was a person who was responsible for and maintained mill machinery. Similar titles for the same type of work were ‘Engineer’, ‘Engine Fitter’ and ‘Mechanical Engineer’. A ‘Mill Operator’ would have been a person working on mill machinery. Another profession given was an ‘Engineer Smith’s Apprentice’ who would have carried out similar tasks to that of a ‘Smithy’ but in the mill environment.

Purely in the paper manufacturing establishments such terms as ‘Paper Mill Hand’, ‘Paper Mill Hand’ and ‘Paper Mill Labourer’ would have referred to general labour hired to carry out the trivial tasks required around the factory. A ‘Paper Packer’ is self-explanatory, while the term ‘Paper Mill Sorter’ was employed to sort the sheets paper, removing any with tears or blemishes which were thrown into a wheeled bin and taken for re-pulping.

There is one other title that may have been applicable to the paper trade, which was a ‘Colour Maker’. This was predominantly used in the textile industry, but would have been just as appropriate in the manufacture of coloured papers.

On the stationery factory side of things a ‘Mill Hand’ was again employed to carry out the menial tasks round the factory. An ‘Envelope Maker’ is another self-explanatory title, as is an ‘Envelope Folder’. The term ‘Book Folder and Sewer’ was another title which was totally self-explanatory.

However, maybe not such a well-known or obvious term is an ‘Envelope Black Borderer’. When someone passed away in the 19th century, and relatives or friends wished to write and off words of sympathy they used an envelope known as a ‘mourning envelope’ which was purely a normal envelope, but with a black border to signify its content. Personnel were employed to apply a black border for use in this context and were known, as would be expected, as ‘Envelope Black Borderers’. Of course at such times, following funerals, such people as a ‘Stone Mason’ otherwise known as a ‘Stone Carver’ would have been employed to produce the headstone.  

With the ever increasing business of the mills, both the railway and the canal assumed far great importance, and here was another area to attract occupational names such as a ‘Beerhouse Keeper and Railway Labourer’, a ‘Railway Clerk’, and on  the canals we find ‘Boatmen’ as a matter of course, and with them ‘Barge Boatmen’. Elsewhere was to be found a ‘Lodger and Gas Works Stoker’, and a ‘Cutter’ which was a general term used for many reasons in various trades. There was also listed a ‘Marine Store Dealer’.

 Staying with the manufacturing side of things William H Saffrey staying at the Bricklayers Arms, Puller Road in 1901 was said to be a ‘Boarder & Silk Throwster’, a general term for a worker in the Silk Industry, and the gloriously named Cephus Weightman, staying at the The Spotted Bull in 1881 was shown as being a ‘Wire Weaver’. This was a person in the wire producing industry who wound lengths of wire so that they formed a ‘weave effect’ in the finished product. Also listed were ‘A Lodger and Tin Smith’,


Henry C Wright was, from 1861 to 1866, at the Oddfellows Arms a little way along the road was listed in census as ‘Retailer of wine and beer & File cutter of St Giles, Cripplegate, London. A File cutter was employed to produce files, and was responsible for applying the grooves in the surface as well as the file itself.


Other, more general, terms included an ‘Iron Foundry Labourer’, and unbelievably one Matthew Murphy a ‘Dolls Eye Maker’, staying at The Red Lion in the High Street, who came from as far away as Ireland!


Of course everyone had to have shoes, and there were many examples, in the census, of ‘A Shoemaker’ and ‘A Shoemakers Apprentice’. One other rather amusing occupation was given in 1891 by Frederick Seabrook, one of the locally well-known Seabrook Family, who was said to be a ‘Flower Pot Maker’.


Where the retail side of things were concerned there were to be found ‘A Photographer’, ‘A Watchmaker’ and naturally ‘A Watch Repairer’. There were also ‘A Musician’ to be employed, and even ‘A Travelling Jeweller’, although why he would have been travelling might raise some thought.


There was also of course the more seriously based professions such as ‘Publican Accountant’, ‘Solicitor’, ‘Solicitors General Clerk’, ‘Auctioneer’ and ‘Auctioneers Clerk’ and even ‘An Inland Revenue Keeper’, this was someone also known as ‘A Paper Keeper’ which it is assumed was something resembling a glorified filing clerk. It was also quite common over the years to see such as ‘Landlord and Under Bailiff’, such as Solomon Willis at The Three Compasses in The High Street in the 1890’s.


Perhaps unsurprisingly, law enforcement also provides some interesting variations. Such entries included Henry Ives of The Cupid on Redbourn Road, who was listed, in the 1880’s as ‘Publican and Ex Warden of Millbank Prison in Pimlico, London’, between 1750 and 1788 Thomas Kellam at The Kings Arms in The High Street was listed as ‘Inn Keeper and Chief Constable’. Between 1800 and 1810 Frederick Jones at The Masons Arms on Bury Road was shown to be ‘Beerhouse Keeper and Police Pensioner’, and finally George Daborn, at The Plough in Leverstock Green in 1891, was listed as ‘Inn Keeper & retired Police Sergeant’.

There are two occupations which need a little explanation ‘Publican and Carter’ and ‘Lodger and Carman’. A Carter was someone who carried goods or products using a cart, and a Carman was much the same, but they specified that they would not carry any people.

Other such ‘occupations’ in a similar vein were ‘Errand Boy’ and ‘Messenger’, both of which are self-explanatory and would have been carried out by young boys or teenagers.

There was, quite naturally in those days, a number of ‘Pedlars’ also referred to as ‘Hawkers’ or ‘Hucklers’. Again these are self-explanatory, as are the two intriguing, un-named characters who were staying at The Coach and Horses in the High Street in 1891, who were listed as a man of 30 and a man of 40, both having a listed occupation of ‘A Tramp’!

As I have stated there were occasions when I found myself chuckling away at certain ‘occupations’. For instance in 1851 the Beerkeeper at The Fox in Great Gaddesden was said to be a ‘dealer’ but with no indication of what form this took. His name was George Hooker, so perhaps we should say no more about that?

Another story concerns 17 year old Louisa Townsend, Daughter of Landlord James Townsend at The Coach & Horses in The High Street. In 1891 she was entered in the census as being ‘Daughter and Domestic out of Work’!

The final example concerns one Eliza Gale who was at The Grapes in Boxmoor between 1851 and 1882, who was listed in census as being ‘Beerseller and Eventual Widow’. The term ‘Eventual Widow’ arose on a number of occasions, and it transpires it is a term used in the world of Pensions, and concerns income obtained against age and status. This somehow makes the title rather more reassuring!

We do have to remember that, while there are many trades and occupations listed, people had travelled to Hemel Hempstead from all over the country, including Ireland, Scotland and Wales just to find work. The town was, at this time, growing all the time and would have been an obvious port of call for the many tradesmen and labourers, even when they had to take up residence at the local hostelries, and it is a fact that census records and local directories such as Pigot’s and Kelly’s provide a fascinating insight into life in the nineteenth century and beyond.