Who else was living on the High Street in Stevenage in 1911?

More stories from the 1911 census

By John Birch

No 12, the North Star Pub c1910. In 1911 it was run by four sisters aged only 13-29 after the death of their parents.
From the Stevenage Museum collections (P55)
36 High Street c 1910, then home of the Stevenage Club
From the Stevenage Museum collections (P8375)
Ayres grocer c 1905 at 148 High Street at the bottom the the High Street, looking south down London Road
From the Stevenage Museum collections (PP503)
21-23 High Street Males Shop c1910
From the Stevenage Museum collections (P12697)

This article looks at the people who are recorded as living on the west (even numbered) side of Stevenage High Street in the 1911 Census. It is a follow-up to a previous article that looked at the east side. As with that article it aims to show that there is more to be found in online resources such as Find My Past and Ancestry– both of which can be accessed freely with a Hertfordshire library card in Hertfordshire libraries. In some cases this article also draws on other library resources, such as trade directories of the period and the fascinating publication “The Changing Face of Stevenage High Street 1837-2009”, produced by Stevenage Museum in 2010 (this publication also includes several excellent maps).

The article also highlights some of the difficulties to be found using these resources. Many of these were mentioned in the earlier article and there is no need to repeat them, though a search for this side of the High Street does highlight one major problem – transcription errors. In electronic indexes to the 1911 Census (such as those on Find My Past and Ancestry) the west side is listed as “High Sreet Stevenage”, a mistake than can mean that some searches will miss the entire street! The moral here is to not be too specific when doing a search.

It is also clear that the west side census was conducted by a different hand than the east side. There is less detail here, but still some fascinating stories nonetheless.

Different worlds

What is immediately interesting is how different life was on the other side of the street. Starting from the north end the professional school head teachers and doctors looking out across a green would perhaps glimpse a very different life on the other side.

To begin at the beginning, above a blacksmiths shop, at No 2 lived 77 year old widow Mary Ann Pearman. Slightly remarkably she was living on a pension – a great rarity in 1911. So where did this come from? Obviously her husband. Trawling through previous censuses we discover that his name was James, and that he must have died only a few months before the 1911 census, after 37 years of marriage.

But James does not seem to be an obvious person to have a pension at this period. Not only was he only a coachman in Stevenage in 1881 – the first census after their marriage – but by 1891 he had lost his hearing (had there been an accident?) and was working as a gardener, and by 1901 he had lost his sight too. They also only had one child – John – born in 1877.

A clue to this enigma comes from the fact that neither James nor Mary appear in the census in 1871. Or 1861. Or even 1851. Where were they? Well, there is more to these genealogical databases than censuses and elsewhere we find that a James Pearman was a corporal in India in 1861. Obviously there is no way to be certain they are the same person, but the age is roughly right. It also goes some way to explain why Mary did not marry James – eight years her junior – until she was in her late 30s. Did a dashing young corporal, perhaps, befriend – even rescue – a lonely widow in India in the aftermath of the India Mutiny, and marry her when they returned to their native Hertfordshire? It would explain the pension…

Next door to Mary, at no 4, lived another widow – Elizabeth Ellis – but it is clear how this 74 year old makes her living. She lets out rooms in her house, in this case to Charles Whurr – a horse dealer – and Robert Killerby, who is a coal merchant. Curiously Elizabeth does not own the house – local trade directories (which tend to record property ownership rather than residence) reveal that since the death of her husband it seems she has been living in a house owned by her son-in-law, Fred Day, who lives nearby with her daughter Sophia. In addition, perhaps because Elizabeth is becoming a little frail, her granddaughter Dorothy Day also lives with her – or at least was in house on census night.

The Cook family

No 6 is the home of the Cook family, and in this case a widower – 87 year-old Benjamin Cook, who still works as a piano dealer. However, his son – Walter (a piano tuner) – and his unmarried daughter Minna are there to look after him, as does their servant Ellen Reynolds who (unusually for servants in Stevenage High Street) is not a teenager, and does not come from the town. 28 year-old Ellen Reynolds actually hails from Fownthorpe in Herefordshire – how did she find her way to Stevenage? On this census night the family also have a visitor – 15 year-old Ethel Vaugon from Willesdon Green. Quite what Ethel is doing in Stevenage is impossible to say – she is no relative of the Cooks, and her mother – recently widowed – is still living in London. Her mother was originally from Baldock, however… another unanswered (and unanswerable) question. It is worth remembering, however, that in 1911 children left school at 12. Perhaps Ethel was looking for a job?

And so to No 8 – and another widow! 83 year-old farmer Mary Moules, her daughter (and assistant) Mary, and servant 34 year-old Emma Graves from Arlesey. What does become interesting as you go through these records is how many unmarried daughters live with the elderly widowed mothers or fathers – in a world without pensions (unless you have an army connection), families relied on their children and the role of at least one child – usually a daughter – seems to be to remain unmarried and devote their lives to looking after their parents in their old age.

No 10 – and yet another widow. Amy Waby lives with her son, in this case, Lewin – a furniture salesman – and daughter, Emma.

No 12 is the first pub on this side of the street. The North Star is owned by 29 year-old Jessie Gardner, who has been running the pub since her mother died, with the help of her sisters Rose, Ethel and Margaret (though the latter is only 13 and still at school). Although Jessie is not a widow, her mother, Ann, was – there is no other way a woman would have been running her own business (especially so young) – but, having had to take on the joint role of running a large family and the business she had died five years before at the age of only 48. The North Star pub itself would close within the next few years.

There is some confusion about the next three houses. House numbers had only just been introduced, and the census conflicts with the trade directories of the same period. However, the most likely resident of No 14 (despite the census saying 16) seems to be William Street, a 60 year-old house painter and (perhaps inevitably) a widower. At No 16 is a builder, Francis Newton, who does not appear in the census (perhaps he was away?) but appears in at least two directories.

A music teacher

All sources do agree that at No 18 we have the Wurrs – and for the first time on the west side of the street it’s a full family. Music teacher William (70) and wife Maria (69) have been married for 40 years. They have had five children, two of whom have died, but one, 33 year-old Kathleen, has – as we have seen before – devoted her life to looking after her parents. She does have a profession however – she is also is a teacher of music.

At No 20 John Brown and his sister run the bakers, and William Cook’s piano shop is next door at No 22 (but he does not live there).

No 24 is another private house – “Springfields” – and home to another widow, Mary Collinson (74) with her unmarried daughter Florence (40). Clearly they have some private income as they have three servants, lead by the redoubtable Catherine Lewis, still employed as a housekeeper despite being 73! House Parlour maid Ann Gardener (26) from Gloucestershire and Kitchen maid Edith George (21) complete the household.

Butcher Ernest Westwood was at No 26, with his wife and family – Frederick (13), Ella (10) and John (5) (all at school)… plus mother-in-law Eliza Bayler (64) and aunt Amma Kimpton (68), both widows. Young Frederick was to die on 30th December 1917, the only war casualty suffered by the west side of the street (though given the age profile of the street this is, perhaps, less surprising). However, he did not die on the Western Front – indeed he probably never went there. Called up in 1916, he joined the 5th Battalion of the Bedfordshire Regiment, and died on a ship that was torpedoed whilst taking him off to fight the Turks in Gaza, Palestine.

Another “normal” family lived next door at No 28 – Richard Buck, a plumber, his wife Roberta and children John (8) and Harry (6). They have recently moved to Stevenage from Essex, but it seems from the trade directories will soon move on again.

At No 30 bootmaker Wallace Culpin lived with his wife Annie and 10 year-old daughter Dorothy – a small family, especially compared to No 32 where watchmaker Augustus and Edith James lived with their three children (all under 10), Augustus’ 77 year-old father Samuel, and 18 year-old servant Beatrice Tooley (from Stevenage). This night they also had Edith’s sister Annie staying with them.

We are now among the professional classes. At No 34 Dr Alfred Grosvenor (48) lived (and worked – this was his surgery as well) with his daughter, Dorothy (18). He was originally from Hanley, while his daughter was born in Gotham, Notts. They are joined by a border – Earnest Carpmael (a retired barrister) and servant Edith Freeman. Rather interestingly in this case the census form has been filled in incorrectly and, although Edith is not married to Alfred, she has given details of her children. The 53 year-old married domestic from Brighton has had six children (one died). She also says she has been married for 30 years. Alfred, who we guess is a widower, had been married for 19 years and had had two children.


No 36 was the home of the “Stevenage Club”, but not a residence. Frank Sadler is the grocer at numbers 38-44, though as the shop traded as F E Briden, perhaps having recently bought the business from Bridens, or more probably are simply managing it? Frank and his wife Beatrice had been married only two years, and had moved to Stevenage from Oxfordshire. They have a servant – 15 year-old Kate Bygrave from Symonds Green – and have a boarder, Elizabeth Bowden (27), a draper’s assistant from Devon. Mary Ann Briden herself lives at No 46, which is also a general store.

Nos. 48-50 (“The Paddock”) is the home of James Flack (55), living on his own means with two servants, Mary Gray  (68) and Annie Nude (45).

No 52 is the “Unionist Club”, with club steward Charles Debnam and wife Alma living on the premises. They’ve been married for 10 years, but their only child died. They do, however, live with widowed mother-in-law Ann Woolley and brother-in-law John, who works as a groom.

No 54 is a F H Fresson’s, the chemist (but again no-one’s home), and then at No 56 widowed saddler Harriet Underwood (60) lives with her daughter Lottie and her family (husband Frank Manning and two children, Frank (3) and Sydney (1))  plus son Herbert. Three generations under one roof… Tobacconists Arthur and Elizabeth Hunt live next door at No 58.

Nos 60-62 is the “White Lion Hotel”, home to and run by Robert Madgin (who describes himself as a “timekeeper” in the census) and his wife, Kathleen. They have four children – all under 11 – and Kathleen’s mother living with them, and need a staff of three, including a “mother’s help” and a “hotel boot”.

Architect W H Allen lived at No 64, but he does not seem to have been present on census night. No 66 – “Wye Lodge” – is home to Auctioneer George Smyth (38), and his wife Margaret (32) and their two infants Joyce and Thomas. Plus, of course, three servants (a cook, a nurse, and a housemaid).

Barclay’s Bank manager Arthur Sheppard was at no 68 with wife Edith and a servant, Ethel Day. Meanwhile next door at No 70 – “The Rookery” – furniture dealer Walter Healey and wife Elizabeth get by without any domestic help at all!

Drapery S G Muncey is at No 72-74, run by Muncey Green (53) and wife Annie (55). Despite being married for 27 years they have no children, but they do have a servant – May Jude (17) – and two shop assistants, who live with them.


No 76 was the ironmongers of James Silk (though not, it appears, his home), while No 78 was Paternoster & Hales, a bookshop, managed by Frederick Stevens who lived there with his wife, Florence, and the three surviving children from their 11 year marriage – and nurse maid Eleanor Southin, 18, who had come all the way from Worplesdon in Surrey to work for the Stevens family.

John Lane (49) ran the Red Lion at No 80 with his wife, Mary (50). They also hosted 14 year-old Lilian Davies, who was going to school in Stevenage but does not seem to be a relative of the Lanes. Next door (No 82) was the saddlery business of Horace Allison, before we come to cycle agent Arthur Folligg at No 84, with his wife Emma and two children aged 8 and 7. Nos 86-96 were shops – including, at 86-88, F S Higgins (densist and artificial teeth maker), Fishmonger William Leggett at No 90, F Chouler’s drapery at No 92, and H Titmuss’ saddlery at No 96. No 94 was a private house between these shops where lived Assistant Teacher John Davies, 32, all the way from Aberystwyth, wife Bertha and five year-old Donald.

Jessie Brown ran her dressmakers from No 98, while looking after her 70 year-old father and wood dealer Daniel. The shops continue with Charles Bidnell (28), ironmongers No 100 (where he lived with his wife, Daisy, and three year-old son Leonard); hairdressers A Buckingham (No 102), and A Kilby, fruiterer (No 104).

Now we have three private houses, starting at No 106 with William McFarlane (46), from Melbourne, Australia, who lived on private means wife Alice (47 – from London), their housemaid (19 year-old Annie Briars, from Stevenage) and cook (20 year-old Minnie Matthews, also from Stevenage). At No 108 72 year-old Miriam Smith lives alone, apart from her domestic servant Elizabeth Chalkey (55, from Guildford); and at No 110 there is cabinet maker Edward Goatley (60) with his wife Rosa – they have no children.

A Warren’s grocery is next at No 112, before we reach No 114 and William Matthews, bootmaker, his wife Maud and three sons – all under five years-old. They seemed to have moved to Stevenage about four years ago, after the birth of their first son, Heber, in Brixton. Charles Jones runs another grocers next door (No 116) with his wife Edith, and their three children – all under 11. Just like the Matthews, the Jones moved to Stevenage after the birth of their child in Slough, Edith’s home town.

Frank Ashwell – who was from Ashwell – had his butchers at Nos 118-120, a large business which he ran with the help of wife Rose, plus his brother, sister and an assistant.

No 122 is the International Stores and Tea Company – a large grocers – while No 124, which was until recently the registrar, is now the private home of Henry Titmuss, 55 year-old harness maker, his wife Mary, and two daughters – schoolgirl Ruth (14) , and Lillian (15), the inevitable draper’s assistant (so many teenage girls training to be drapers!).

Nos 126-130 is the home and business of Albert Lines, ironmonger, and his wife Annie, and their seven children, from 13 year-old Maud to new-born Richard – a large home for a large and growing family – and no servants to help.

The “Marquis of Lorne”

Perhaps Albert slipped next door occasionally to the “Marquis of Lorne” pub, at No 132-134, kept by farm labourer Charles Walker and his wife Mary. And maybe Charles’ twin daughters, 11 year-olds Elizabeth and Alice, helped and played with the big family next door.

William Lloyd ran his decorating business next at No 136, with his wife Ada and son Henry, though Charles Motts – a grocer’s assistant – helped with the bills by boarding with them. No 138, home of Thomas Grey, was also empty on Census night, by retired brickmaker Henry Norman was at home with his wife, Emma, and grandson Alfred, living above Shelford Brothers’ bakery at No 140.

Also above the bakery, at No 142, was the baker himself – George Shelford (51), his widowed mother Elizabeth (74), and his son George (23) and daughter Ruby (22). There is no sign of George’s wife, but Elsie Browning (21) is visiting – I wonder which George she was there to see?

No 144, “Townsend Close”, is the home of Robert Guinness – another man from Melbourne – his wife Madeline, from London, and their daughter Barbara who was born in Hong Kong. They have two servants, one of whom – cook Alice Girdler – is from Guildford. I wonder if they knew the McFarlanes at 106?

Finally at Nos 146-148 we have George Ayres (72), grocer and widower, who runs the Post Office with his son Herbert (36), and the help of 16 year-old Mabel Hunt, general servant.

Of the many interesting things, it is noticeable that for the west side of the street it is the south end that is prosperous, while for the other side it was the north. So much difference, variety – and stories – on one street!

This page was added on 30/10/2012.

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  • Fascinating glimpses of ghosts of the past long gone.
    I lived in High Street in the 1960’s and it was a refreshing change from he middle of London. The place where I lived was really old with the floors all sloping and nothing square and the timber beans so old they were rotting away to powder. Loved the town and Barclay School. Was sorry to leave.
    Is it possible to have the author’s contact details please?

    By Stephen Masters (14/09/2017)
  • I remember Dennis Tait and his antiques. He used to go to Bowes Lyon on Friday nights. 1/6d I think. He had a serious accident in his works van. Where are you now Dennis?

    By Clem (03/05/2017)
  • No. 94. Bertha Davis was my Great Aunt and my parents lived with her after WW2.

    By Jennifer Underwood (16/04/2017)
  • I have bad memory – it was 45 Grove Road I lived. Wish I had never sold it, detached house next to Pentecostal church, church now demolished and 2 new houses.

    By Paul Johnsoniv1 (23/04/2016)
  • Oh 36 High Street, I lived there in the 80’s.  I was in partnership with Dennis Tait, Ivy House antiques. I later opened a secondhand shop in Fishers Green Road. Those were the days.

    By Paul Johnson (07/04/2016)
  • I remember International Stores when it closed, coz I bought all the stock that was left, and staff helped to wheel it in supermarket trollies round to my house in 36 Grove Road, I will never forget that, lol.

    By Paul Johnson (05/07/2015)
  • What a fascinating walk down memory lane, I grew up in Stevenage where my great-grandfather had moved his family in 190?  My father Allen — known as Roger — Mindenhall, and his four siblings all grew up at Todds Green. Many of the names in this article are familiar, particularly Moules (cousins) and Waby, my maternal grandmother was Mary Waby. Next time I am in the UK I must take a walk down the High Street and reminisce. Thank you. Dorothy Mindenhall, Victoria BC Canada

    By Dorothy Mindenhall (24/03/2013)
  • i found this article very interesting as all my ancesters originate from Stevenage. Particularly re Ellen Reynolds from Wales, as my grand mother was a Jessie Day, nee Reynolds from Wales, now i have to check to see if there is a connection

    By Raymond Day (16/01/2013)