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18 September 2014
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Victorian Britain

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Work in Victorian Britain: The Census as Source Material

By Geoff Timmins
John Pearson's entry

John Pearson's own entry
John Pearson's own entry ©
Pearson was a small farmer who worked just 12 acres of land. As can be seen in the extract reproduced here, he lived with his wife and two other people, William and John Eccles, who were described as servants. Probably they were farm servants as opposed to domestic servants. This inference is drawn not only because they lived on a farm, but also because Pearson tended to distinguish domestic servants when he noted them in entries relating to other families.

'... it's important not to assume too much.'

In the 'relation to head of family' column, William Eccles is given as John Pearson's nephew. If this were so, then the relationship would have been on his wife's side of the family. Yet no family relationship is given between Pearson and John Eccles.

Other possibilities are that the Eccles were not related or that William Eccles was in fact nephew to John Eccles. Plainly, uncertainties can arise in trying to establish family relationships from census evidence of this type and it's important not to assume too much.

There is also uncertainty with regard to the labour force employed on the farm. Pearson notes that he employed one labourer. The implication we might draw here is that this man was a day labourer. In other words, he differed from a farm servant who would have lived in the farm house, as in the case of William and John Eccles.

If this was so, then no fewer than four men would have been available to work a very small farm. And Mary Pearson may also have been available to help out. To explain this situation is very difficult, though one possibility is that the Eccles were living on the farm temporarily, perhaps staying with kin in order to find work.

Published: 2004-11-04

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