Shelsley Walsh Parish History

There is a very concise parish history in the Victoria County History (VCH) that covers the period up to 1924 and there seems to be little point in repeating the information that can be found there, so this article will attempt to put a bit of flesh onto those bare bones.

In 1841 there were nine households in the parish and there seems to have been two farms. Joseph Smith and his wife occupied what we now know as the Court House and Robert Bray seems to occupy Forge Mill and is described as miller and farmer. It looks as though the entire population of 48 depends on agriculture for their livelihood.

The 1851 census collected more data including ‘place of birth’. It is noticeable that only a handful of the 53 people included in the census were more than a few miles from their birthplace and 26 had not moved since birth. Robert Bray is described as miller in this census and the only recorded farmer is Joseph Smith. All the male occupations listed are agricultural but there are three house servants, one charwoman and a gloveress amongst the women of the parish.

By 1861 Robert Bray had retired and his son-in-law, John Money, is now the miller and farmer at Forge Mill. They seem to be doing quite well because they now employ a servant. Joseph Smith is still the tenant of the Court House, farming the major part of the parish. The men are still all employed in agriculture, with the possible exception of the one carpenter. Female employment seems to be confined to variations on domestic service like laundress or housemaid but there is one seamstress and an outdoor workwoman. It is still quite noticeable that most of the 57 people who make up the population were born locally.

The 1871 census shows changes that will prove to be significant to the parish history. There has been a complete change at Forge Mill Farm, now being run by the extended Fowler family. At the Court House Joseph Smith is now a widower and the large house is home to him, his bailiff, his niece acting as housekeeper and two servants. Occupations are very much as in earlier years, although one of the men is recorded as a brick maker. The majority of the population of 59 are still locally born but two women are from the Black Country, the industrial region some 30 miles northeast that provided the bulk of the seasonal hop-pickers. Perhaps they came for the hop-picking and stayed.

There are dramatic changes recorded in the 1881 census. The population has fallen to only 40 with two cottages un-inhabited. It is more significant that only three of the eleven families recorded in 1871 are still in the parish ten years later. The tenant at the Court House is Montagu C H Taylor, a bachelor born in Halifax, Nova Scotia, who is farming all the available land in the parish. It would seem that the change of tenancy had a major impact on the parish history. What seems to have happened is that Joseph Smith died in 1874 and the farm that provided the majority of the employment fell vacant. Without any welfare support the parents of young families left the area in search of work. It then takes the new farm tenant some time to get the farm back up to production.

By 1891, a year after he had purchased the property, Montagu Taylor has stamped his mark on the community and the parish history. The population has recovered to a total of 56 people that now includes Mr Taylor’s wife and two children. There are four servants living-in at the Court House and there are three other domestic servants recorded as living in the parish. Mr Taylor is known to be an enthusiast of new technology (he was appointed a judge of hop washing machinery at the Royal Show, The Times, 17 June, 1899) and the census records two of the bailiff’s sons as being ‘portable engine drivers’. There is also a domestic coachman and two domestic gardeners listed. By this time there is a much greater spread of birthplaces and it seems as if the farmer is casting his net quite widely to get the staff he wants.

There is another increase in population in the next ten years so that the 1901 census records 73 people in the parish. A closer look reveals that the number of adults has not changed but there are 17 more under 16s listed. The parish looks as though it has settled down and seems reasonably prosperous. Four years later Montagu Taylor’s liking for new technology led him to offer the use of one of his farm tracks as a hillclimb venue which is where this parish history meets the history of the world’s oldest permanent racing track still in use. For more on that story you need to visit the MAC website.

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