Recently I’ve been looking through the 19th century census records of the High Street to try and match up the properties and I wondered if I could make out any patterns or trends in the occupations listed for the heads of households.
The first detailed census was made 1841, 4 years after QueenVictoria came to the throne. At the time, Poole was suffering from a deep recession, caused by the collapse of its Newfoundland trade followed by political in-fighting that brought the Corporation to bankruptcy. Perhaps that is why there were 34 uninhabited properties in the High Street in 1841.
People living in the street came from all levels of society from ‘landed proprietor’ to ‘pauper’. There were still quite a lot of private houses and 19 householders were shown as being of independent means. Many of them lived at the upper end of the High Street, above North Street in the area known as ‘The Parade’.
Several important businessmen lived in the street, like Thomas Wanhill, ship-owner, shipbuilder and clay merchant who employed over 145 men and boys in his business, and the hosier Henry B. Smith who had 110 women knitters working for him. There were also the professional men, lawyers, bankers, doctors, clergymen and teachers and public officials such as customs officers.
The majority of the mid 19th century High Street residents, however, were shopkeepers and traders. Unlike today, most shopkeepers lived over the shop which must have been a squash for some large Victorian families. Another major difference was the fact that many traders made what they sold, either on the premises or nearby. So the shoemakers, bakers, confectioners, cabinet makers, jewellers, saddlers, dressmakers and milliners were also craftsmen and women who needed skills and long training. Even chemists made quite a lot of their own pills and preparations. Other craftsmen like blockmakers, shipwrights, coopers (barrel makers) and cordwainers (rope makers) provided for the traditional needs of the port.
The poorest end of society was represented by washerwomen, labourers, porters and charwomen, like the unfortunate Mary Shean who was recorded as ‘pauper charwoman’. Few people are described as retired and most probably had little choice but to keep working as long as they could.
In later censuses the number of private residents in the High Street gradually declined and some of the traditional maritime trades vanished. New trades like gas fitter appeared. The 1861 census was the first to record a photographer on the street and in 1871, we get the first mention of the Post Office and Post Master. Meanwhile, some of the established traders expanded their businesses.
In 1872, the Poole railway line and station was opened, cutting through the High Street and bringing its noise, smoke and smuts to the Parade. I don’t suppose any of the richer residents still living there were very pleased! From the 1881 census onwards, there were several railway workers living in the street. In 1901, we see the new craze of cycling catered for by William H Hopkins, cycle manufacturer and dealer, and the appearance of the first fried fish shopkeeper, William H. R. West.
Towards the end of the 19th century, the number of ‘managers’ and ‘assistants’ listed in the High Street increased. Does this mean that some prosperous shop owners were moving out to the growing suburbs of Longfleet and Parkstone, leaving their employees to live over the shop?
This is only a quick sketch. A closer look at particular families and individuals would give us a much fuller picture of how people lived and worked. Meanwhile, my choice of the most outlandish occupation rests between Thomas Cooper ‘taxidermist and fruiterer’ and Fabian Street ‘scripture reader’. Sounds like a hard way to make a living!