Professionals and People of Private Means
Cheshunt High Street
By Nicholas Blatchley
Except for the most exclusive areas and the worst slums, most major streets historically had a mixture of classes and occupations. While Cheshunt High Street was predominantly the home to artisans and retailers, and by 1911 nursery workers, there was also a small number of households that might have been regarded as “society”.
In general, these fall under two categories: professionals such as doctors and lawyers, and those “living on private means”.
Until the 1960s, the High Street contained several substantial houses, and the people living in these tended to be those described in the trade directories as “private residents”. The 1851 Kelly’s Directory lists seven of these: Mrs Armstrong, Henry Barclay, Christopher Boyd, the Misses Dewey, H. W. Kolle, Mrs Partington and Capt. Pochin. This covers a wide range, including a naval officer’s widow, a solicitor’s widow, a landed proprietor and a Manchester warehouseman (presumably meaning an owner). Henry Barclay is something of a mystery. The same year’s census lists the only Henry Barclay as a 12-year-old scholar. Perhaps he was named after his father, who happened to be absent for the census.
A number of other professions are given in the 1851 census. John Harding was a road surveyor, Thomas Batcock and John Fielding proprietors of houses, Richard F. Sanders an accountant, Amelia Shippey and Martha Dewey house proprietors, Elizabeth Adams a land proprietor. Some can’t necessarily been seen from the data as upper middle class: George Paul, for instance, is described as a “Nursery Man”, but in this case it means that he owned the nursery. Notably, there doesn’t appear to have been a doctor living in the High Street at that time.
Seven are described as “annuitant”, though it’s not obvious what size of annuity they may have had. Nevertheless, it seems to have been enough to live on.
By 1911, only three households are described as living on private means. This description doesn’t appear in 1851 and is presumably the equivalent of “annuitant”, a word absent in 1911. Mary Louise Hunt was a widow living at number 86 with two daughters and a son, ranging from age 14 to 23. The son worked as a clerk, while neither daughter worked. Emma Bell, at number 146, was a single woman in her 40s living alone, while the Misses Boyd, spinster sisters in their 60s, lived at 140 (Beechholm) with a teenage maid.
There was a doctor in the High Street by this time. Walter Frederick Clark lived at 138 (Hillview), the house that remained a doctor’s home and surgery for much of the 20th century. He’s described on the census as “Physician & Surgeon & Medical Officer of Health (Urban District Council)”. There was also a veterinary surgeon, Walter Bugg at number 3, though I’m not sure that would have been considered “society” at the time.
Francis Walsh, a retired newspaper proprietor, lived in Effingham House and John Lawrence, auctioneer and private surveyor, in Leighton House. There was also Henry Rogers, a retired accountant, living at number 131 with two servants, while the splendidly named Cameron Corlett Cannell was a “Merchant (African)” at number 23. He’s listed as born in South Africa and presumably traded with there.
As in 1851, it’s not always entirely clear from the description of occupation what social status a person had. George Edwick of Penton House is described as “Corn Merchant & Farmer”, but he was also the owner of Edwick Nursery, which would presumably have given him “society” status. Similarly, like George Paul in 1851, one or two of those described as “nurseryman” may well have been owners.
The old concept of “society” didn’t really exist by the time I knew the High Street (or, if it did, it didn’t impinge on my awareness at all). Several of the large houses still stood, although their days were numbered, but I’m not aware of people of private means living in the High Street, while the gap between professionals and others had lessened. The doctor’s practice at Hillview continued, and another general practice was established as part of the new building at the south end. In general, though, the trend was for those who could afford it to move out to leafier regions.