Occupations of High Street Residents
Cheshunt High Street
By Nicholas Blatchley
One of the biggest changes in the High Street between the 1851 and 1911 censuses can be found in the occupations of the heads of household.
There’s surprisingly little difference in the number of heads of households listed in the two surveys (155 in 1851, 157 in 1911) and some categories of occupation also remain similar. There were, for instance, 39 tradesmen or retailers (including publicans) in 1851 and 38 in 1911, while the number of professionals (doctors, accountants, solicitors, surveyors etc.) went from five to eight.
One big decline over that period was in artisans. There were 41 of them in 1851, from shoemakers and dressmakers to farriers and wheelwrights, not to mention a whitesmith (or worker in tin) and even a watch maker. By 1911, only 21 heads of household came under the artisan bracket.
The biggest change of all, though, was in the rise of the nurseries as employers. In 1841, although there are agricultural labourers listed, there’s only a couple of mentions of nurseries. By 1911, 56 heads of household in the High Street (more than a third of the total number) were employed in some capacity by the nurseries, in roles ranging from labourer to manager. And that, of course, is in addition to the large number of adult (or semi-adult) dependents also employed by the nurseries.
The nursery industry of the Lea Valley developed through the 19th century. The area had excellent soil and was clear of London’s growing sprawl while still being close enough to deliver the flowers both by horse and cart and along the river. The Paul family had already established a nursery off the High Street by the time of the 1851 census, but the brothers George and William Paul are the only residents listed as having anything to do with nurseries.
In 1880, several nursery firms, including Rochford, moved to Cheshunt, and the industry really took off. Rochford, in particular, built extensive housing for their workers, but this was largely in Turnford and Flamstead End, areas sometimes referred to as Rochfordville. Nevertheless, even in the existing housing of the High Street, 89 residents worked in some capacity in the nurseries in 1911.
The nurseries are gone from Cheshunt now. Rochford is a housing estate, and another of the nurseries has turned into the Brookfield Farm trading estate, but the 1911 census provides a snapshot of the time when the nursery industry defined Cheshunt almost as clearly as the mines and mills in the north.