Who Do You Think You Are?
Jeremy Paxman researches his family tree
Who do you think you are, Jeremy Paxman?
Who would have thought Jeremy Paxman's family would have been so poor they had to rely on their Suffolk neighbours for money and food?
Local historian and author Clive Paine helped Jeremy Paxman retrace his Suffolk roots for the BBC programme Who Do You Think You Are?
Clive Paine, local historian
The production company Wall to Wall Television were working backwards from their known records of the Paxman family in the North of England and came to the 1851 census for Bradford. There they found 52-year-old Thomas Paxman, who they knew was one of Jeremy's ancestors.
Confusing census of 1851
Thomas's place of birth was given as Renglingham in Suffolk. Of course there is no such place in Suffolk and it is a 'confusion'. It was meant to read Framlingham.
Paxman family on Bradford 1851 census
In 1851 you didn't fill in the census yourself - many people were illiterate so someone came to your door. The person filling in the form probably couldn't understand Thomas's Suffolk accent.
The programme makers then wanted to find out why Thomas Paxman's family left Framlingham for life in the north of England.
New Poor Law
The move was the result of the New Poor Law which was set up by the government in the 1830s.
The government set up workhouses in 1834 and 1835 and the Poor Law Commissioners realised there were a huge number of unemployed agricultural workers and labourers who had no chance of finding a job.
Extract from Parliamentary Paper 1843
So they devised a way of getting these people to move to Yorkshire, Lancashire and Cheshire to work in the cotton mills and woollen industry where there were jobs. It was a sort of 'forced migration'.
This scheme ran between 1835 and 1837 until the cotton mills and woollen industry went into decline and many people found themselves once again unemployed.
In 1843 there was an investigation into why this scheme failed. Among the documents to this inquiry was a list of all the people who left Suffolk and other places under the scheme.
There were 4,000 people on this list and half of them came from Suffolk.
This list tells us that Thomas Paxman, his wife Jane and their four children Benjamin, Thomas, Jane and Louisa left Suffolk in early 1836 and went to work for J R Barnes and Sons in Farnworth.
They were a cotton and fustian manufacturing firm and they employed the whole family.
The Paxmans were taken to London and then travelled on the Grand Union Canal on the Pickfords Canal Barge. The journey could have taken 2-3 weeks and they were only allowed to take their own clothing and bedding.
If you look at the Framlingham Parish Records Overseers accounts you can see that before the New Poor Law was set up, Thomas was receiving money and bread flour every week over a number of years.
Jeremy Paxman has Suffolk ancestors
Thomas Paxman was a shoemaker but this was a seasonal job so his income fluctuated. Each week he would have to go to the Poor House and tell the overseer how much he had earned and then he'd receive 'out relief'.
This money came from The Poor Rates - a local tax levied on every householder living in the parish.
The number of people needing help was increasing so people were being asked to give more and more in rates, and that's why the government came up with the New Poor Law and the migration scheme.
It could have been that Thomas Paxman was faced with the choice of taking his family into the new workhouse or moving up north with the hope of a new life and higher wages.
Sources of information
This story is a wonderful example of how we can use parish records like the registers' and overseers' accounts, and put them together with the census to ask questions about our ancestors.
Of course, because the migration scheme was a failure (and there was a parliamentary inquiry) we were able to answer the question why the Paxman family left Suffolk.
last updated: 23/06/2008 at 15:50
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