Swansea Family History
Swansea Family History 

Census Records & The History of Houses

Some of us are lucky enough to live in a house with a bit of history, maybe a home that has been lived in by generations of the same family. Over the forthcoming months, I am going to write about census’ records and the history of houses.  The building that we call home, can take different forms, such as a bungalow, detached, semi-detached, terraced, end of terrace, flat, or cottage.  In this first article, we will discovery why bedroom doors always open into the room.

The first census in 1801 was conducted to ascertain the number of men able to fight in the Napoleonic War – there was no hiding from Napoleon!  The next three census’, 1811-1831, were mainly statistical. In 1800, Swansea’s population was 6,000.  It’s staggering to think that the estimated population in 2016 is 243,892.

November 1832 saw the introduction of the Electoral Registers. Prior to this date, the Overseers of the Poor of the parish had to compile information relevant to electoral qualifications to collect taxes from those able to pay.  Their additional yearly task was to compile the Electoral Register, required on 20th June. This ‘current format’ was produced yearly until the First World War.  The registers were kept in the Town Hall.  It should be noted here that the early registers, only listed those who owned the property, and who were living there at the time, of the compilation.  The example I am going to use is Starling Benson, a well-known magistrate, who moved to Gloucester Place, during the early 1840s.  This property was owned by a Mr Essery.

During the first three months (January-March) of 1841, there were 270 births in Swansea.  The 1841 Census was the first modern census and the first one to intentionally record names of all individuals in a household or institution – it was carried out on the night of June 6th. To complete this huge task, 35,000 censusenumerators were appointed to undertake the data collection.  Census forms were delivered by hand to each household, a few days prior to the said night. The forms were completed by the head of the house and collected on the 7th. Enumerators would help those who were illiterate.  The census recorded people’s names, age, sex, occupation, and if they were born “in county”.  The returned forms were sorted later, and then copied into the Census Books.  Swansea’s population was supposedly 39,458.

Each census is closed for hundred years, meaning that the information will not be publically disclosed until one hundred years have passed.  Available Census Books can be viewed electronically online. Don’t hesitate to contact me if you are interested in obtaining information about an ancestor but don’t have access to a computer.

Hopefully we have a good chance of finding a relative, however we are in trouble if the person in question was good at hiding their existence as in the case of Starling Benson  who doesn’t seem to be on 1836 Electrical Register nor has he an entry on the 1841 census. I am using one of my own ancestor’s entries to illustrate the census (see above).

Following Napoleons defeat at the Battle of Waterloo he was packed off to St. Helena, and Britain enjoyed a long financial boom.  Buildings from this period were known as Regency Architecture (1811 – 1830).  It is during this time, 1826, that out first port of call Gloucester Place, was built. Today one house is divided into three flats and a basement apartment, each commanding a small fortune to either buy or rent.  We are also lucky that the German Luftwaffe didn’t destroy these buildings and the area during their attacks of the Second World War. Clearly Gloucester Place was not in the ‘Book of Attractions’ for Swansea!

Some noticeable features on the façade of Gloucester Place are – a basement with access via a flight of steps down. A dominant front door, now 6-panelled approached by a flight steps.  Also noticeable is the fanlight above the door, with the purpose of allowing light into the hallway.  Research shows that the windows of the building had to be set back four inches, due to fire regulations of the day, which stipulated that other wood decorations were also banned.

To establish what the interior of the building looked like, we refer to an auction advert in the The Cambrian, December 8th 1827, when No. 2 Gloucester Place was being sold at the Mackworth Arms, by Llewelyn and Bowen.  The advert states the rooms as being lofty, and that the property would be a very desirable investment. Even though this area is thought to have been respectable, it harbours a very dark secret – in 1889 Frederick Kent, landlord of the Gloucester Hotel was murdered by Thomas Allen, a Zulu.

If walls could talk, what would they say about a room within a house?  Let’s look at the bedroom.

The bedroom found in fashionable residences such as that of Gloucester Place, during the Georgian period was a private place. During the Victorian period the bedroom was not solely the domain of a married couple as they often had separate rooms. The gentleman of the house would often sleep in his dressing room, and it was here that he would entertain his male friends and smoke. The lady of the house also had her own dressing room, the boudoir.

The star of the show in the bedroom would be the elaborate bed, something that had changed over the years.  Before the Industrial Revolution, the base of the bed comprised of a wooden frame with criss-crossed rope, which was later replaced by coiled metal springs.  The wool and linen sheets were to be changed to cotton bedding.

In answer to the question at the beginning, German commentator, Herman Murthesius, explained in 1904 “The idea behind this [bedroom door] is that the person entering shall not be able to take in the whole room at a glance as he opens the first crack of the door to enter the room, by which time the person seated in the room will have been able to prepare himself suitably for his entry”.

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© Charles Wilson-Watkins