Victorian Caldecote

The Victorian household in Caldecote : the evidence of the 1891 census

Census data is invaluable in telling us about individuals in the past – their ages, occupations and where they lived –and also about households – family size, the role of servants, and so on. Here we examine the 1891 census for Caldecote to provide a snapshot of life in Victorian rural England. The data allows us to produce quite a lot of quantative information, but also provides insights into the lives of individual families.The bare bones of the census enumerator’s listings can be made to reveal a good deal.

In 1891 there were just 92 people in the village, 49 men and 43 women.The average age of the villagers was 37. This was a tiny and tight-knit community. Three households were headed by a Badcock, totalling 20 people of that surname. There were also 7 people called Farrington.

 Population Mobility

This was a  very geographically immobile society. Most people were born, lived, marrried and died in the same locality. 51 of the 92 inhabitants were born in Caldecote, 30 elsewhere in Cambridgeshire, and 11 outside the county. A closer look shows that the picture was even more localised. Most of the Cambridgeshire people came from villages within 5miles of Caldecote. Most of the people who came from outsde Cambridgeshire came from neighbouring counties. All told 83% were born either in Caldecote or within 5 miles of it. The furthest afield  that anybody was born was Staffordshire, Sussex or Wiltshire.

Household Size

The Caldecotians lived in 21 households, an average size of 4.4 people per household. But there was a good deal of variation:

Household size Number of households
1 0
2 5
3 1
4 7
5 4
6 1
7 2
8 0
9 0
10 0
11 1

By far the biggest household was one of the Badcocks’, comprising William and Betsy Badcock, their 4 sons and 3 daughters, together with 2 grandchildren.

In that patriarchal era, the census form required the identification of the ‘head’ of the family, who was of course almost invariably male. Headship was ordinarily constituted by being male and being married:in one case there was a widowed father living in the family home but he was not described as ‘head’.

Victorian Female head


In Caldecote, there was one female ‘head’, a widow, Mary Chapman, aged 76 who was described as ‘living on her own means’. Her household comprised her brother, aged 70, listed as a gardener and her niece, aged 35, who acted as housekeeper.

Victorian Room

Quite a number of households had relations other than children living in the home. This was the case in 8 homes: there were grandparents, grandchildren, a nephew, a niece and a brother.

Occupants of Manor Farm: Joseph Butler Clarke, wife Kate and three sons.

Occupants of Manor Farm: Joseph Butler Clarke, wife Kate and three sons.


This was a farming village and farm work was by far the largest category of occupation followed by domestic service. Occupations were listed for 58 people:

Agricultural labourer                      29

Household servants                      15

Farmers                                         3

Victorian Plough jpeg

The following occupations all had one each: Carpenter, Clergyman, Dressmaker, Grocer’s assistant, Gardener, Hawker, Farm Bailiff, Farmer’s assistant, Publican, Railway Platelayer and Shepherd. If we put the bailiff, shepherd and farmer’s assistant in with farmers and agricultural labourers then we find that 60% of those with occupations were in agriculture; plus 26% were household servants.

Victorian Kitchen


Victorian Bells

It is striking just how large a category household service was in Victorian times. Only after the First World War did domestic service go into rapid decline.

Victorian Washing


The 15 servants in Caldecote divided into 5 housekeepers, 4 mother’s helps, 2 gardeners, 2 general servants, 1 domestic servant and 1 parlour maid.

The presence of domestic servants did not mean that a household was well off and Caldecote was certainly not a ‘middle class’ village.

However we need to take a closer look at who those servants were. We discover that of the 11 households which had servants, in only 2 cases were the servants not members of the family: those of Mr Westrope, a gentleman farmer, who had a housekeeper and the rector, the Revd. Edward Arnett Powell, who had a staff of three. These two were really the only people in the village who could be called ‘middle class’.  In all other cases, the domestic servants were in fact adult daughters of the family living at home. (These figures take no account of the domestic work done by wives, since wives were not listed as having an occupation. We can assume that the bulk of home-keeping in the remaining 10 households in the village was done by the wives.)It is not surprising to discover that 11 of the 15 servants were women. There was just one other woman listed with an occupation: a dressmaker.

Victorian Dress

Marriage and Parenthood

Victorian Marriage

Marriage apparently occurred quite late for Caldecotians.  There was a married man aged 24 and another aged 34 but otherwise the married men were all 40 or above. There was one married woman aged 23 but all the others were 37 or above .It is striking how many adult children still lived in the parental home. Six households had children over 21. Not until children were married were the likely to set up home.


It turns out that the concept of retirement does not seem to have existed in Caldecote! Every single man in the village, however old, was listed as having an occupation. There were 11 men over 65. These included gardeners and agricultural labourers in their 70’s, including two aged 77. The oldest man was the vicar who was 84. His housekeeper aged 68 was the oldest woman in work. There was no state retirement insurance until 1910.

If retirement did not exist in Caldecote, childhood was considerably abbreviated by the standards of our own time. There were 27 people under the age of 21. These fell into three categories:

  • 8 were at school aged between 5 and 11.
  • The remainder were employed and one of these as young as 10.
  • Among the boys, we find agricultural labourers aged 10, 11, 14, 16 and 17.
  • Among the girls, there are servants aged 16, 17, 18, and 19.

A Big Victorian Family

The census of 1871 tells us that there were 11 people living at the Vicarage:

  • Douglas Blakiston, curate of Caldecote and Toft, born 1833
  • Sophia, his wife, born 1829 and their 6 children:
  • Emily, born 1860
  • Herbert, born 1863
  • Charles, born 1864, John, born 1868
  • Mabel, born 1869
  • William, born 1870
  • Together with Eliza Dent, sister-in –law, born 1818
  • Elizabeth Filmer, nurse, born 1836 and Selina Cruttendon, cook, born 1818

Victorian Church

The Railways

One of the biggest changes to take place during this period was the arrival of the railway.  This opened in 1865 .It ran across the fields from the direction of Toft and under the road near to the church and along parallel to the road to Bourn before heading off towards Longstowe. The nearest station was at Lords Bridge.  While the Caldecote Bridge has gone part of the old track-bed near the Bourn–Toft road is now a nature trail.

The bridge at Caldecote

The bridge at Caldecote


The track bed.

The track bed.

Caldecote land was finally enclosed in 1854. Under the relevant enclosure act all of the land in the parish was re-divided up among the land owners so that instead of owning strips of land and small fields called closes dotted around the village their land was put together. This enabled fields to be bigger and easier to cultivate. As this did away with the gaps between strips less wasteful land was wasted. Those who relied on common land though lost out as that now disappeared.

Enclosure map

There were ten main land holders at the time. They included St John’s College, Christ’s college, Clare College, the church and Joseph Westrope who was the largest of the private land holders. The bigger fields enabled the use of more modern farming methods. Steam traction engines could pull heavier ploughs. Useful on the local heavy clay soil. They could also drive the new threshing machines. This saved much labour in hand threshing. A team with the equipment would travel around from farm to farm. The farmer would supply the coal. This could be bought from Newman Bros at the Lords Bridge railway siding. 

Unlike ploughing with a modern tractor or horses where the plough is pulled up and down the field steam ploughing was rather different. Two steam traction engines were used. They had a winch drum fitted underneath them. They were sited at each side of the field. A steel cable was attached from each engine to the large  plough. This had two sets of plough blades facing in opposite directions and could pivot around its central axle. The driver who sat on the plough lowered one set of blades into the ground and the plough was pulled towards the engine. At the edge of the field he switched over the blades and the other engine pulled the plough back to the other side. After each line was ploughed the engines would move up the edge of the field to plough the next piece. Clare College has a DayBook for what we now know as Clare Farm in its archive. The farm manager would enter a brief note of what happened each day in it. The entries make interesting reading. For example:

In 1882

Wednesday 21 June. Fine weather. Received two ton 7 hundredweight coal from Watson. On the same day the steam ploughs came during the afternoon.

Others deal with live stock. Because the entries are short you have to read the emotion hidden by the brief note.

For example;

November 13 drilled wheat. Sow popped out four pigs.

Drilling is seed sowing using a machine called a seed drill. 

Threshing by machine at Manor farm

Threshing by machine at Manor farm

Another important invention was the mechanical binder. This both cuts and binds wheat crops when harvesting. These were still in use until combine harvesters came into general use in the 1960’s.

The church underwent repairs in the late Victorian period. Much of what we see inside today stems from this time. There was a strong movement in changing church interiors so that there were open pews facing the altar area and tiled floors.    

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