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Joan Leach was a local historian, a volunteer at the Heritage Centre, a founder of The Gaskell Society, and much more besides.


Counting the People

Joan Leach

A census has been taken every ten years in Great Britain since 1801 but until 1841 these were of a statistical, impersonal style. From 1841 they listed all the inhabitants by name, age, relationship and place of birth. These have been a boon to genealogists.

A few years ago I was asked where 242, King Street was in 1841 but the numbers in that census (and later ones) were no street numbers but the number given by the enumerator who filled in the forms.

By the 1891 census the enumerator distributed the forms checked them on collection and in Northwich noted that he had had to fill in 7% of them himself and fet people to sign their names byt this had improved since the 1881 census: spellings could be puzzling, such as : 'skouler' and 'cimic labrer'.

Another enumerator found at one house ' a plethora of unmarried daughters and was offered one at which he snatched up his hat and beat a hasty retreat!!'

The 1841 census in Knutsford listed 39 weavers but by 1861 there were only 3. There were 43 agricultural labourers and a similar number listed as labourers counted in 1841 became 284 in 1861. Many of these were Irish itinerant labourers living in the market place, one house had twelve.

Over the years some occupations disappear and others take their place. Seventy year old Betty Read in 1841 was 'bleeder with leeches' another was 'getter up of linen', the 'town's bell man' no longer lives in the market place and gone are the 'well sinker', 'salt dealer', 'smith's striker' and 'hair seating weaver'.

Never again will Knutsford need 37 white or blacksmiths to work iron or tin, 63 brick makers or layers, 15 tanners and 8 cordwainers (leather workers) and an untold number of shoemakers.

The density of population in some areas of the town is staggering. Silk Mill Street in 1841 had 139 residents and 31 lived in the last five houses in King Street, plus two back cottages at the Tatton Park end, they included a tailor, slater, laundress, cotton weaver and currier. By 1861 the Silk Mill Street population rose to 174!

Families were of course larger. James Roscoe, attorney-at-law lived in the large Georgian house, and still a solicitors', with wife, governess, nine children, three servants, as well as Thomas Dunver, solicitor, his wife and child. John Gannon, builder lived on Manchester Road, in 1841, with his wife and eight children. His name has just disappeared from the town map with the demise of Gannon Square.

The old market place must have been a lively place then. It had a pub called the Golden Lion and later a beer house as well, also the market house and lock-up adjoining. Here the Irish population of Knutsford (1861) congregated: they numbered 60 out of the 243 in the Market Place an 9% of Knutsford. Betty Boswell a seventy year old charwoman boarded six Irishmen in 1841 but did not know their names and Mikel Davey could not name his 18 lodgers.

Knutsford's population in 1841 was 3001 in 1861: 3275 in 1901: 5742, in 1951: 6617. in 1991: 13352 and today is ?? The workhouse numbers doubled between 1841 and 1861.






One Sunday in Knutsford Churches

Joan Leach

The recent census had a question about religious affiliation but in the 1851 census questions were much more searching: ministers of Religion were asked to fill in statistics of church attendance on census day, their average attendance and the date of their building.

Henry Green, minister of Brook Street Chapel, compiled under protest: "The Act of Parliament…makes no mention of a return of this kind and it is only as a matter of courtesy that a return is made: surely a Government officer does not do right when he allows a paper to be headed as this is (13-14 Victoria:53) when the Act of Parliament referred to this not the remotest mention of the subject of this return?

The information he reluctantly gave was that the Chapel was erected in 1688 and had 100 free sittings plus 40 others. The average attendance varied from 45 to 100. On census day 78 had attended morning service and 75 afternoon (no evening service) with 40 children at the Sunday School.

St John the Baptist Parish Church listed 150 free sittings and 750 other. Morning service had been attended by 267 with 130 in Sunday school. The Vicar noted that the day had been wet and there was much sickness in the town so the congregation fell short of the average by about one third.

Sittings in the Parish Church later became a problem as so many were privately owned or rented that it became something of a social stigma to sit in a 'free' seat. Other places of worship had rented pews which helped with funds but it was a mark of social standing to own a pew or sitting in the Parish Church; Doctor Peter Holland , Mrs Gaskell's uncle was a Unitarian but he owned a pew in the Parish Church too.

The Wesleyan Methodist Chapel, then in the old Market Place, built before 1800, had 100 free seats and 186 others. The total attendance at the two services was 230.

In Swinton Square there was an independent chapel (1802) (later called congregational and a church was built on Brook Street) they had 178 at their services.

The Roman Catholic Church had a congregation of 110 but noted the average was 150.