TitleThe 1901 Census - Birch Centenary Chronicles 27
AbstractThe 1901 Census

Birch, Layer Breton & Layer Marney Local History

Centenary Chronicles - No. 27.

Published in Parish News - August 2002

This article really is concerned with a centenary as it is just over a hundred years since the Census was taken in 1901. We can be very certain that no one included in that report on the population had the faintest idea that the details recorded about them would, one day, be directly available to be studied, in comfort, within the homes in the parishes and elsewhere. What is more the method by which the details would be revealed was even more unimagineable. This would involve a telephone link, a modem and a computer, connected so as to make the information available on the desks of those with an interest! In fact, of course, this has not yet happened but that is due more to the overwhelming demand by local and family historians with a thirst for such knowledge, rather than shortcomings in technical ability.

Last year, when we filled in the 2001 Census forms, we did so with the knowledge that such information as we supplied would not be available for at least one hundred years and it may well be that when the details are released the method used will be as beyond our understanding as the words "modem and PC" would have been to earlier generations.

The April 1901 census records 1,241 people living in Birch, Layer Breton and Layer Marney. In Birch there were 767, Layer Breton 248, and Layer Marney 226. There were 635 females (51.1%) but here the parishes varied as in Birch there were 63 more females than males whereas in Layer Breton there were ten more men than women, and in Layer Marney the difference was even higher with males outnumbering females by 24.

The population occupied 299 houses with another 16 unoccupied. Of the 299 houses 172, or 57.5%, had four rooms or less, with 2 in Birch having only one room each, and another 6 in Birch and 2 in Layer Marney, having just two rooms each. From the details recorded we know that of the 1,241 people well over half (763 or 61.5%) were born within the three parishes, and altogether over a thousand - (88.2%) were born in Essex.

The oldest inhabitant seems to have been Elizabeth Smith, a widow aged 93, living at The Green, Birch, and there were two others of 90, Mary A Smith, also a widow, living at Birch Cottage with her son Daniel and his family whilst in Layer Marney Emma Sach, a widow, was with her daughter and family at Haynes Green Cottage. The youngest person recorded was George H Brewer aged just one day living in Blind Lane, Birch. There were just over 300 males under the age of 25 who, if they lived would be of an age to serve in the First World War. Many of those can be linked to names on the War Memorials and others recorded in the Parish Magazines.

It is also interesting to compare the way in which the census returns have been completed. For Birch the very neat script, and numbers, were entered by Arthur B Chandler who himself appears as living at the School House, Birch, aged 40, born in Cambridge, and employed as a schoolmaster! The Layer Breton enumerator was Daniel Smith, a Birch farmer - the son of Mary A Smith noted above. For Layer Marney we have to thank Charles Henry Hall who lived outside the area, and who clearly had a harder task than the others in striving for accuracy.

Examination of some of the individual entries make interesting reading as in Layer Marney it is unclear whether Herbert Jay and J Courthope Peache ought to be included or not. Both names are entered but no other details are provided and neither appear as included - we wonder where they were and did they appear at all anywhere? It was customary to describe people in terms of their relation to the head of the family but in the case of Birch Hall the enumerator clearly had second thoughts. The occupant - Thomas Polley - was first described as "Head" in the normal way but this was crossed through and replaced by "Caretaker" which seems to reflect his position in the household rather than employment as Thomas is also described as "Labourer in garden", and was, no doubt, merely looking after the Hall in the absence of the Round family at the time. Mr and Mrs Douglas Round were living at The Cottage, Birch.

Not surprisingly the vast majority of the men worked on the land or at occupations connected with it. With well over 400 employed in agriculture, and 29 farmers in the three parishes, farming clearly predominated but we have no idea of the size of individual farms on this occasion. Birch had a surgeon, grocer, postman, butcher, draper, policeman, carrier, builder, a publican, a fishmonger, and a female innkeeper. Layer Breton was almost entirely agricultural but had a Congregational Minister, a postman, carrier and an artist. Layer Marney had its own school with a mistress and her assistant, but, here again, the occupations were mainly agricultural, plus a clergyman and a watchmaker. Perhaps today the "Rat Killer" would be upgraded to a Rodent Destroyer or some such! Female employment was not as marked as it is today and only 92 of the 415 females in Birch are shown as having employment, and a third of those were tailoresses, while a further 19 were in domestic service. In addition to Mr Chandler there were three female teachers and two female pupil teachers. There was also a postmistress with an assistant, and two nurses. The position was much the same in the other two parishes but Layer Breton had a female blacksmith, as well as a governess, and in Layer Marney there were two nurses and a nursemaid.

Family names in the area included some still known today such as Taylor, Pooley, Everitt, Burmby Howard, Whybrow, Smith, Partner, Hutton, Goody, Norfolk and Bond in Birch. Playle, Bond, Johnson, Burmby, Partner, Taylor and Potter in Layer Breton. In Layer Marney there were families of Harvey, Wadley, Whyatt, Pettican, Mansfield,Potter, Bell and Brewer among others.

In summary one can say that much has changed so far as technical developments have replaced old occupations with new. Families are, on the whole, smaller than they were a hundred years ago. Communities are much less self sufficient than they were and we all travel more both to work and play. We now think little of flying abroad for holidays whereas a hundred years ago most never had much of a holiday and made their own entertainment for the most part. Also many continued to live near to where they, and their forefathers, had been employed and this explains why over 60% lived close to where they were born. What will our descendants find when they can unravel the 2001 census details - and probably more interesting - what means will they have available to make that possible. At the end of the day - or in 2102 - it will still rest on a human being able to operate the technology to the satisfaction of those requiring the information - something we have not achieved this year so far as the 1901 census is concerned!


EDITOR'S NOTE:   I noticed that Eric's list of local names didn't include Round, and I think this has happened because he took the recent parish electoral rolls and checked them against the old census, so there are no Rounds in Birch today and there were no Rounds in Layer Marney then, perhaps, though there were Rounds in Birch then and there are in Layer Marney now. Doubtless there will be other well-known local names not on his lists for similar reasons. I've discussed it with Eric and we cannot see an easy way around this; so if your name is missing too, please do not take it amiss. The lists are just included in the article for interest, and it depends how you compare the records.   GRG.

NOTE FROM RICHARD CARR:   The reference to Mr J Courthope Peache caught my eye. His great claim to fame is in the sphere of steam engineering. In the late 19th century he worked for the noted steam engineer, Peter Willans, at Thames Ditton. Subsequently he was recruited by James Paxman, the founder of Davey, Paxman & Co of Colchester, and became Works Director of this Company in 1895. He designed a type of high speed steam engine which was patented and became known as the Paxman 'Peache Patent' engine. The local interest runs deeper than that. By 1902 the Borough of Colchester's Electricity Works (power station) was powered by five 'Paxman-Peache' high speed engines. For more information on J Courthope Peach and his high speed steam engines see

PublishedAugust 2002
SourceMersea Museum / Breton Heath