Whitwell Through the Ages

A Snapshot of Whitwell Through Its Census Records

By Grace Shelbourne

Whitwell has appeared on the census records since the early 1800s as well as on maps where its distinctive linear structure can be seen branching out onto side roads as the village expands over time. Throughout this times businesses have developed or disappeared, although some of the earliest building and establishments are still thriving in the village. Those that have fallen foul to the development of time still bear the names or architecture of what they once were, including the Eagle and Child Pub which can be tracked back to the 1881 census where it is known as the Eagle Pub commanded by Thomas Jeffrey, a 38 year old painter and inn keeper who, with his wife of 39- Ellen, ran the pub and also kept lodgings for John Ansell a 71 year old farm labourer and the Peacock family of three- Charles 43 ( a farm labourer) Louisa his 37 year old wife and their son Harry who is 7 and attending the school in the village. The pub has since been converted to The Eagle and Child House but the support for the billboard still remains, along with the insurance for the fire brigade,

Pubs A’ Plenty

At the time of the 1881 census there were 7 pubs in Whitwell and the surrounding area, each of which took lodgers also. Of the seven, three still remain as working establishments- The Strathmore Arms, The Maidens Head and The Bull Inn. The Fox Beer House, The Eagle Pub, The Swan Pub, the unimaginatively named Beer House and the old Beer House at Church End did not survive the amount of competitions between businesses, although it must be noted that The Fox Beer House was highly supported at least by its family members who totalled 9 all living in the same house at the time the census was taken. Of this number, 5 were grandchildren of the original publican Joseph Thrussel. His daughter Ann worked at the recently demolished Plait house in the village that supplied plaited straw to such markets as Luton- hence the nickname of the Hatters of the Luton Football Club- along with her mother 73 year old Susan and two of her daughters Louisa (19) and Elizabeth (13). This left the oldest grandson George ( 21 and a Baker), the youngest Rudolph at the ripe age of 1 and James, Joseph’s son in law and Ann’s husband who worked as an agricultural labourer even at 52.

A special note should also be taken to the propriator of the Bull Inn in 1881- 74 year old William Eldred, who with his wife Ann (75) ran a business that over 120 years later is still a succesful and key part of Whitwell life.

Post and Potatoes

In 1881 the Post Office was owned and run by John Wyman who had a wife – Matilda- and three young sons; John (1) , Samuel Henry (0) and William Henry ( also 0). They are asissted in their lives by their domestic servant Jane Ford.  However by 1911, some 30 years later, the post office has changed hands and is now owned and operated by Arthur Thomas Robinson who as well as being the postmaster at 54 is also a working tailor. His wife , 55 year old Ellen is the elementary school mistress while his daughter Ellen Maude is living at home at 23.

In 1881 there are 5 grocers shops in the village, three of which are identically named as Whitwell Grocer’s shop; one which activates as part of the cress beds and one that is simultaneously a pub. One of the Whitwell Grocer’s Shops is owned by the 81 year old widow Mary Ginger, who sells her wares with her single 71 year old sister Ann Camp. Both are bakers and grocers who are served on by their general servant Harriet Day (24). The other shop by the same name was run by the Welch family, consisting of the head of the house Timothy Welch who was both the grocer and a flour miller at 62 ; his wife 61 year old Elizabeth and their 18 year old daughter Clara.

The Swan Pub and Grocer’s is a little more interesting as it is run primarily by the 50 year old widow Anna Maria Saunders who is listed in the 1881 census as the publican, assumedly with the help of her daughters Emma (29) and Jane (20). Her son Arthur (25) is listed as a carrier. At the time of the census  there was also two lodgers staying- Isaac Cunningham, a 60 year old groom; and Joseph Giddins, a 56 year old labourer. It is unlikely that lodgers would stay at their lodgings for much time, perhaps even just for a night, but if this night was the night of the census then they would still be listed as a member of the household,hence their appearance in this pub as well as many of the others.

Another of the grocer’s shops, owned by the Lee family became very successful over the space of 10 years. In the 1881 census Thomas Lee, the grocer, lived with his wife Jane and their daughters Eva Jane (4) , Jennie (2) and Emma (1). They also had two servants, Jane Barber(13) and the mysteriously noted Thomas Alfred Barber (3) who is listed as ‘son’. Ten years on and the Lee family has grown with the total now being Thomas (40), Jane (42), Eva J (14) Thos A (13) – a new addition who despite being of age was not noted on the 1881 census –  Jennie (12), Emma (11), Bertha A (9), Stephen J (7) and Maude E (3). There is also the addition of Susan Thrussel the 81 year old mother in law living off her own means; and Annie the 19 year old niece who is a grocer’s assistant.

 The final grocer’s shop listed at the time of 1881 census was as part of the Water Cress Beds where John Clark is the green grocer accompanied by his wife Sophia and his sons Albert (15) and Alfred (14) though the latter, it should be noted, was still in school at the time of the census. His grandaughter, Mary Macdonald, also lives with the family and at 12 is attending school as well.  Two other Clark’s live in the household, Henry (25) and Clara, his wife , (24). Henry’s occupation is listed as a tailor.

It seems that by 1891 more than one business was dealing in more than one trade as above with The Swan Pub and Grocers; as in the 1891 census the Beer House, Woodman and Grocers Shop appears as an establishment run by James Laing who’s occupation is listed as publican, carter and grocer. He lives with his young son John (4) and his wife Rebbecca.

Law and Order

in 1911 a Police Station is first listed in the villlage. Police Constable Wade of the Hertfordshire Constabulary now lives, at this time, in the village with his two children Reginald William and Bernard Stanley,as well as his wife Emily Ada.Interestingly neither of the two boys, despite being of age with Reginald being 7 and Bernard being 5, are listed as attending school. It is not known why this might be.

Smithys, Dresses and Drapers

Business continued to grow in Whitwell between 1881 and 1891, with the appearance of several shops and businesses in the ten years between. A Blacksmiths has appeared owned by the Ewington family specifially William the head of the family and the blacksmith who is also training his oldest son Edward who is 18 as he is registered as his apprentice. Alace, the eldest daughter has no listed occupation and is 22 and the youngest child Albert T Ewington is 10 and so still at school. The only remaining child is Clare E Ewington who is 15 and listed as a dressmaker’s apprentice. William’s wife is called Sarah M and also has no listed occupation.

A Drapers Shop has also been established under the control of John Orsman, a 55 year old cord wainer; along with his sister Ellen who is 64 and a draper by profession. This business however is no longer operating at the time of the 1911 census 20 years later, assumedly because of the death or retiring of the Orsman family.

Many of these businesses no longer remain along the narrow streets of the village, though they leave their marks behind. The old school is now the village hall; the barns of the farm converted to a livery yard,a tea shop and numerous small businesses. Yet the essence of what was once Whitwell still remains; the sense of knowing everyone and all being in one bigger whole. Whitwell may have changed, but the personalities and people have not.


This page was added on 24/04/2013.

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  • I worked at the Bull Inn in the last 90’s. Great pub, wonderful customers, friendly would always buy me a beer when buying a round for their mates.
    Open wood fires in both bars. Large beer garden that was full on week ends during the summer.
    Had a great darts team, they were good nights.

    By Dennis Martin (24/01/2024)
  • My great great great grandfather was Joseph Thrussell who ran The Fox beer house in Whitwell.
    I would also like to find out when that closed and what the address was.

    By Amanda McAfee (27/04/2023)
  • My mother was born in Whitwell in 1932 and her birth certificate states place of birth as The Club House Whitwell and I’m trying to find out where/what The Club house was.

    By Amanda McAfee (27/04/2023)
  • Was looking to see if the oldest house in Whitwell still exists I’m pretty sure it does as a listed building. I lived in it when it was called Moonrakers back in the late seventies.it had a swimming pool and many formula one driver’s would come to party or James Hunt!

    By Denise Nicola Newton-Adair (05/10/2021)