The parishes along the borders of West Sussex and East Hampshire where the Catchloves lived were largely rural in the 18th & 19th centuries and remain so to this day, despite the expansion of Southampton, Portsmouth and Havant in Hampshire, and Chichester in Sussex.
The Catchlove homelands straddle the southern boundary of the newly designated South Downs National Park in an area of beautiful English countryside that is largely empty of people now, as labour intensive traditional farming has given way to modern agriculture.
Compton is still a tiny village surrounded by arable and sheep farmland, though now it looks pretty and prosperous whereas I suspect that in my ancestors’ times the cottages would have been overcrowded hovels rather than charming. Despite new housing estates, Westbourne has retained its old village centre. And it is still possible to leave the hurtling traffic on the A27 south of Havant and amble into the overgrown and still surprisingly remote and peaceful churchyard of Warblington parish church, breathing in the salt-laden air while seeking in vain for Catchlove graves.
A Sussex Wagon of the 19th Century in the Weald & Downland Museum at Singleton, of a type that would have been used by Matthew the Labourer and my own great grandfather, Henry John Catchlove. (Author’s photograph)
In the 19th century most poor families subsisted on potatoes and poor quality bread and tea (note vi, below), which were often adulterated with substances such as chalk, sand and even alum to make them go further (note vii, below). Meat, fish, dairy produce and even vegetables were beyond the pocket of the working-classes unless they could produce their own.
Those Catchloves living in rural areas were likely to have been slightly better off than many of the urban poor in that they would at least have had a kitchen garden to grow potatoes and beans in, and perhaps keep a few hens.
a Light Sussex hen and Wessex Saddleback pig - traditional breeds found on the Hampshire & Sussex Downs in the 18th & 19th centuries.
The 19th century was a time of great progress growing out of the Industrial Revolution and, from the 1840s onward, saw the coming of railways, the start of the postal service, the introduction of compulsory education, improved sanitation and a host of other improvements. But, throughout Britain, it was also a time of increasing mechanisation along with changes in agriculture which eroded the employment opportunities for the unskilled rural poor who were forced to migrate into the towns and cities in the search for work. In the Catchlove heartlands this situation was worsened in the last quarter of the 19th century by competition from cheap imports of wheat from the USA and mutton from New Zealand, causing a rapid decline in agriculture (note viii, below). In a period before the welfare state, the only other option would have been to enter the workhouse, the conditions so harsh it was considered by many to be worse than starvation.
The census returns for 1841-1901 show that the Catchlove families were often on the move and this reflects the search for work. The obvious example here is my own great grandfather, Henry John CATCHLOVE, who began as an agricultural labourer, most likely working alongside his father and brothers. But by 1901 he had moved into the city, living in one of the poorest parts of town and working as a coal porter – I cannot imagine that it was from choice that he left the fresh country air for the fumes of the city! And we see increasing numbers of young unmarried Catchloves having to leave home to go into service as live-in servants, an option that was itself to all but disappear with the coming of the Great War. However, these changes were not restricted to the unskilled, as traditional crafts were also dying out under competition from mass-production. Sadly, we see the sons of Edward the Blacksmith finally turning away from that highly skilled and respected craft and working as grocers and innkeepers. In their case this seems to have been a wise decision and they appear to have prospered – after all, people always need food and drink!
One interesting observation to be made from the census returns is the employment of George CATCHLOVE (son of Matthew the Labourer) at the Sussex County Lunatic Asylum from 1891 onwards. The late nineteenth century has been dubbed the “Asylum Era” by historians of psychiatry, as this was a period that saw a massive growth in public asylums, with the number of inmates doubling between 1859 and 1901, partly through diagnostic developments, partly through redistribution of inmates from workhouses and partly though a growing intolerance of “deviance” - that is, anyone who was at all different (note xii, below). In 1867 the Commissioners in Lunacy to the Lord Chancellor visited all the workhouses in Britain to record numbers of insane, idiotic and imbecile inmates (note xiii, below). This is also reflected in the census forms, which in 1851 & 1861 require to know whether a person is “blind or deaf & dumb” (probably relating only to the need for parish relief), but, from 1871, ask whether the subject is “1. Deaf & Dumb. 2. Blind. 3. Imbecile or Idiot. 4. Lunatic”. In 1901 the last two categories are lumped together as “Lunatic, Imbecile or Idiot” - little distinction was made between learning difficulties and mental illness.
In fact, neither Hampshire nor Sussex had any large scale industry to speak of and the few employment opportunities tended to be in the docks, on the railway itself and in the shops, inns and hotels of those coastal towns that were beginning to develop as seaside resorts, following on their success as spa towns in the Regency period.
The railway brought more people from the country into the towns in search of work; around 54% of the population lived in urban areas at the time of the 1851 census compared with only around 25% in 1801 (note ix, below) - but we are told that it also killed the old coaching trade (note x, below). However, even as late as 1904, when the Edwardian era had well and truly begun and the Motor Car Act came into force to regulate motor traffic, only 91 cars and 107 motorcycles were registered in the whole of Sussex (note xi, below); the working class and the majority of the middle classes were still reliant on horse-drawn vehicles and oxen were still used for ploughing on the heavy soils of the South Downs. Those Catchloves who were coachman and grooms were still able to find work, albeit with increasing difficulty.
A 1906 illustration of an early nineteenth century coachman by C.E. Brock for Washington Irving’s The Keeping of Christmas at Bracebridge Hall, first published in 1822.
The caption “With knowing leer and words of sly import” is taken from Irving’s account of the coachman bearing him to Bracebridge Hall, whom he describes as a typical English stage-coachman:
“swelled into jolly dimensions by frequent portions of malt liquor, and his bulk is still further increased by a multiplicity of coats, in which he is buried like a cauliflower ... He enjoys great consequence and consideration along the road; has frequent conferences with the village housewives, who look upon him as a man of great trust and dependence; and he seems to have a good understanding with every bright-eyed country lass. ... He is generally surrounded by an admiring throng ... who look up to him as an oracle .. echo his opinions about horses and other types of jockey lore; and above all endeavour to imitate his air and carriage.”
Life would not have been easy for the Catchlove families in the 18th & 19th centuries, and often would have been a struggle to survive. Infant mortality rates were high – around 80-100 per year in Havant between 1850 and 1880, though this was lower than the national average (note i, below) - with scarlet fever, pneumonia, TB and diphtheria being common causes of child deaths (note ii, below). Five women in every 1,000 died in childbirth or shortly afterward due to infection (note iii, below) and this is reflected in the parish Burial Registers.
There would have been no mains water or sewage, and power would have consisted of candles or oil lamps and solid fuel. Much of a housewife’s time was taken up with sweeping out the grate and lighting the fire, drawing enough water to cook and wash with, sewing and darning, feeding and changing babies, scrubbing pots and floors, cooking for a large family and tending the kitchen garden, including planting, hoeing, weeding and digging potatoes - and feeding hens and a pig if they were lucky enough to have them. There would have been little time for niceties like dusting and polishing! Poor families could afford little; clothes would be home-made, much-repaired and worn until they fell apart; food would be home-grown and home-cooked.
The 19th Century began with a series of poor harvests and the European-wide Potato Famine of 1845 brought widespread starvation across Britain (note iv, below). Hibbert tells us that wages for agricultural labourers were lower in the south and west of the country and due to the wet harvests had fallen by the end of the 19th century to only 15 shillings per week; labourers’ cottages were “leaky, draughty, ancient, over-crowded dwellings little better than the hovels of the Middle ages.” (note v, below).
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Annette Hope, 1990. Londoner’s Larder: English cuisine from Chaucer to the present day. Edinburgh: Mainstream Publishing.Ltd
Jean A. Cole & Michael Armstrong, 1988. Tracing your Family Tree: The complete guide to discovering your family history. Wellingborough: Thorsons.
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(this website no longer exists)
Christopher Hibbert, 1988. The English: a Social History, 1066-1945. London: HarperCollins
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Havant Borough Townscape, Landscape and Seascape Character Assessment. February 2007. www.havant.gov.uk/PDF/LCASection2.pdf