Day six of the national Novel Writing in a Month challenge; I’m tackling a story about a family in search of its past,and I’m using real information from census returns, but just inserting my characters into empty lines on the census returns; so my characters are imaginary but their neighbours really existed. I have taken some names from the census which is the first time I’ve used real people, albeit ones who were born nearly two hundred years ago.
Sometimes we have the idea that people didn’t move around very much, they were born, lived, married, had families and then died in their own little area without having travelled further than the next town. That maybe true, but no more true than it is today. people moved around all over the place and this was at a time (1840’s when part of my story is set) when unless you were rich and horses, or carriages, or could afford to go on the new trains, you walked. On of my husband’s relatives was born in Suffolk and ended up in Surrey, via London. My main character appears on the 1841 census in Essex and in the ten intervening years makes his way to Surrey, just as my husband’s ancestor did.
In those ten years between 1841 and 1845, the character acquires a wife and three children, and when they are recorded in the census, very sadly the wife and two younger children are in the Workhouse. There was a terrible stigma attached to the Workhouse… when I was born a neighbour had her child at a private nursing home because she didn’t want him born in a building which had once been a Workhouse but was now the maternity hospital. The Workhouse as such had closed twenty years before, but the stigma of the very building still remained.
There is an interesting site about Cambridge Workhouses here:
My main character comes across the census information about the Radwinter family:
Robert Radwinter… I find little Robert and Thirza and Lamy all on the same page, living in the same place, in Blechingely… the Union Workhouse… I sit literally shivering…
- Robert Radwinter, inmate, 3, son of pauper, born Chigwell, Essex
- Thirza Radwinter, inmate, 1, daughter of pauper, born Lambeth London
- Lamy Radwinter, inmate, 23, pauper general servant, born Radwinter Essex