Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Who Lives in a House Like This?

...or rather who lived in a house like this?  

The local Historical Society provided me with some information about the Old Rectory and its inhabitants over the years. It's so interesting - well, for me, it is! - and I’ve been meaning to write about it for some time.  I finally sat down to do so and turned to the first of the census returns that they had given me, which is for 1841.  I then paid to access the UK census online and found some discrepancies in the data.  But other things about the information that I found aroused my curiosity and I started to do some detective work. 

As background, censuses have taken place in the UK every ten years since 1801 apart, that is, from 1941 when the country was in the midst of the Second World War.  I may be wrong and they may be out there somewhere, but I’ve only been able to find 1841 onwards online.  Up until that particular census, they were used principally as a head count.  But then the purpose changed slightly and people were asked to state the name, age, occupation and whether they were UK born or not for everyone resident in each house on the day of the census. 

The return for the Old Rectory for 1841 shows that it was then known as Vicarage House and that the vicar at that time was Edward Rowden, aged 60.  Further investigation revealed that Edward was born in 1781 (although the information below suggests 1780) in Cuxham, near Watlington, South Oxfordshire.  He died in 1869 at the age of 88, having been the Vicar of this parish for 64 years.  There is a board on the Church wall that lists the incumbent vicars over time.  Francis Rowden, presumably Edward's father, was vicar from 1785, which must have been when the family moved from Cuxham.  Another Edward, presumably son of the Edward in question, took over the reins after his father's 64-year stint, although the exact date of his succession isn’t clear from the board.  I don’t know anything about how this worked but it seems that the parish living was passed from father to son.

If Edward took over as vicar from his father in 1804 and if he was then the vicar for 64 years, he presumably stood down in 1868 when he was 87, a year before he died.  According to the Parish Register, the building of a new vicarage house began in 1809 and was completed in the autumn of 1810.  (Interestingly, this required a mortgage of £850, which was to be paid back over a period of 20 years.  Needless to say, rather less than we paid for it.)  

This means that this building is 50 years younger than we thought and this also brings into question the graffiti etched on the side of the house, which seems to clearly say ‘1801’.  However, if these dates from the Parish Register are correct (and presumably they are) then it means that Edward Rowden and his family were the main inhabitant of this house from when it was first built until he died in 1869.  So that's three quarters of a century sorted out!

A carte-de-visite portrait of Reverend Edward Rowden (1780-1869), photographed by "Merrick" at Joseph Langridge's photographic studio, 33 Western Road, Brighton (1862). Inscribed in ink on the reverse "Revd Edward Rowden, 81 years of age - Dec 2nd 1862." The headstone to Reverend Rowden's grave in St Michael's churchyard reads "Rev Edward Rowden M.A. For 65 years vicar of this parish. Died March 27 1869 aged 88 years.

So, turning back to the 1841 census, it shows that, on the date of the return, Edward Rowden was living here with five servants (which might explain why the place is currently covered in cobwebs and dust with only me acting as housekeeper, lady's maid, house maid, parlour maid, scullery maid, laundry maid, cook, gardener, dog groom and general hand servant!) and four other Rowdens: 25 year old John, eight year old Ellen, seven year old Elizabeth and six month old Margaret.  So were these Edward's son and daughters?  If so, why such a large age gap, 17 years, between John and Ellen?  But, most interesting, why is there no mention of Mrs Edward Rowden?  What has happened to her?  Why is this 60-year-old man left alone with such young children?  I was desperate to know more and so I turned to the 1851 and 1861 census returns.

To be continued...

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