Occupations in Colton in the Early 20th Century

(Based on the Census of 1901) Talk by Allan Lloyd.4

The population of Colton (including detached parts of Colwich) in the1901 census was 760. According to the census of 2001 the village a century later numbered 701 inhabitants. Despite the relative constancy of the population a close examination of both sets of data reveals the profound social and economic changes that Colton underwent during this period. Essentially occupations changed from those rooted in a predominantly agricultural community to ones in manufacturing, the professions and the public services, especially education.

At the start of the 20th century 311 people were in employment. Of those 67 or 21.5% were women, which may seem a surprisingly high figure for that time until we see the types of occupation in which they were engaged. Agriculture was the dominant employment sector, with 32.4% of the working population, followed by service with 21.2%. This was not the service sector as we currently understand the term, but rather domestic service.


In the first category we find 15 farmers (one female), who, together with their worker sons and daughters, carters, cattlemen, horsemen, ploughboys, shepherds and labourers, reflect the significant farming community of those days.



Service was the main occupational sector for women, 71.6% of that sector being female. The 48 women involved include general domestic servants, but also cooks, housekeepers, housemaids, charwomen, a kitchen maid, ladies’ maids and a lady’s companion. They maintained, amongst other homes, Bellamour Hall and Bellamour Lodge, Colton House and the large farmhouses in and around the village. Among the 18 men, there were two butlers, three grooms, two footmen, a page and a kennel man.



As one might expect, a number of crafts were represented in the village and just over one in five of the working population was engaged in them. In 1901 Colton could boast no fewer than four blacksmiths and a blacksmith’s apprentice. There were also in the village a wheelwright’s apprentice, a joiner and a cordwainer, this last craftsman being able to make and repair the shoes required to withstand the village’s muddy streets and rough tracks. Basically these crafts existed to support farming and the main form of transport, which was horse-drawn. The craft workers were not entirely male, however, since four dressmakers lived in the village and these were female.  



Though it was dominated both directly and indirectly by agriculture, we must not consider employment in Colton to be entirely agrarian. In the 1840’s the London and North Western Railway Company’s new line had sliced through the western side of the village and Rugeley station, today called Rugeley Trent Valley, was in fact located in Colton parish. By 1901 some 31 people from Colton were working on the railway, including five signalmen, six porters, six bricklayers, three navvies, and various clerks, shunters and a ganger.  



At the same time the tannery in Rugeley employed 13 Colton men, comprising 11 tanners’ labourers, a flesher and a scudder (who had the most repellent task of scraping off bits of fat and flesh adhering to the hides). We can imagine the southwesterly winds wafting an unsavory smell from time to time across the village and as the men trudged back across the fields and into Brook Street – now Bellamour Way – perhaps their arrival too would have had a certain olfactory impact. Other industrial jobs included three workers at the Derby Oxide paint mills, situated close to the Trent River bridge, and six general labourers. Overall approximately one in five of the working population was in industrial employment.  



Coltonians were undertaking several trades, accounting for some 8% of the working population. There were for example two milkmen, and as many as five butchers, plus two butchers’ assistants and a slaughterman. Their presence reflects the importance of cattle and sheep on Colton’s farms, and the local nature of the supply in meat products, compared to the long distances they travel today. Two publicans and a beerhouse keeper catered for more liquid needs! In addition there were three laundresses.  



Finally we can note that clerical and professional occupations engaged less than 4% of the working population. They included a certificated elementary schoolmaster, a schoolmistress, an assistant teacher and a pupil teacher. An actor and an actress were recorded as living at Hamley Farm with their domestic servant and this couple adds a somewhat exotic note to the more prosaic list of occupations of that time.  



By 2001 the occupational structure of the village had changed fundamentally. The census for that year shows that agriculture, hunting and forestry represented only 7% of employment. Manufacturing jobs (18.1%), wholesale retail and motor repair (14.9%) and real estate, renting and business (13.3%) have overtaken farming by a considerable margin.  



So too has education with 11.4%, including 31 full-time students in higher and further education, a phenomenon that would have amazed our Victorian ancestors. As public administration, defence, health and social work also feature, though to a lesser degree, the rise of the public service sector during the 20th century becomes very apparent.  



The changes that took place during the 20th century in Colton reflect the social and economic revolution that occurred in wider English society. In 1901 the village, despite the advent of the railway, was much more self-contained and self-sufficient than today. Industry offered low-level, largely unskilled jobs and professional and clerical work was much less evident than today.  



During the following century the great expansion of state education, including the development of secondary and higher education, led to a better educated workforce able to respond to changing technologies, to take up new types of work and to become more socially mobile, as the growth of modern motorised transport systems facilitated much greater geographical mobility.  



While our predecessors of 1901 would undoubtedly still recognise the old fields and the improved streets of Colton, together with a number of the buildings, they would almost certainly be astonished by the ways in which people travel and earn their living today.  




Allan Lloyd