England Occupations Communication Services (National Institute)

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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course English: Occupation Records-Professions and Trades and English: Occupations-Military & Services  by Dr. Penelope Christensen. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).

Communications Services[edit | edit source]

In the Middle Ages transportation needs were largely for agricultural produce to get to its markets and this was achieved in the main by drovers of live animals, and by farmers as a part of their weekly routine. As the movement of people and the needs of industry for transport services increased so methods of moving them proliferated, including the development of railways and postal services.

Road Transportation[edit | edit source]

Drovers[edit | edit source]

The ancient occupation of droving farm animals goes back to prehistoric times, and flocks of sheep and herds of cattle were driven long distances from huge manorial and monastic pastures to Middle Ages markets. Young livestock could be reared on the poor, wet pastures on the Highlands but sheep and beasts could only be fattened in the lush lowland meadows. Thus cattle were brought from Scotland and Wales to eastern, midland and southern England, and most of the sheep came from Wales, walking along traditional routes and grazing at the roadside or in rented pastures. The droving trade was at its peak from the 17th to 19th centuries, from when the railways provided faster transport. Farm animals had always been traded at town fairs and markets but as the population settled more in the towns and cities, and with limited methods of meat storage, there was a greater need for drovers to supply it fresh. Flocks of geese, ducks or turkeys, and herds of goats or pigs would all be driven on foot. The most important drovers routes were improved to become turnpike roads with tolls and drovers then created an independent network of circuitous drove-roads or green-roads. David Hey, in The Oxford Companion to Local and Family History lists a number of references about the old drove-roads and their preservation. Packhorse routes with their narrow hump-backed bridges over rivers too wide or deep to ford, and having perhaps a couple of wider passing places, went through the villages. Some of these were stannary ways bringing tin from Cornwall, or saltways for Cheshire and Worcestershire salt (Litton).

Crieff in Perthshire was the centre for the drovers coming from the far north and west of Scotland, and they proceeded to Falkirk, Stirlingshire where English dealers bought them and drove them hundreds of miles south. David Hey states that 80,000 Scottish cattle came to England this way annually. The border towns of Shrewsbury, Leominster, Hereford and Monmouth were where the Welsh drovers headed on their way to London and other towns in the English midlands and south. Telltale signs are the numerous Drovers Inns and the presence of Welsh patronymic names in English parish registers along their routes, especially along the old Roman road called Watling Street in Bedfordshire (Rowlands and Rowlands). Drovers would take in all the major markets and fairs held on set dates throughout the year, and their wives often came with them, setting up shops to sell woollen products in the towns along the way (Watts).

Records of drovers are sparse; they had to be licensed at the quarter sessions from 1552-1772, except in the six northern counties of England. Drovers had to be married householders at least 30 years of age, and some were very affluent dealers. When a genealogist finds a drover marrying a local girl they should consider the routes of the local green-roads for evidence of his christening. An index to Welsh cattle drovers is on the Pembrokeshire Occupations pages of the GENUKI website.

Carters, Carriers and Carmen[edit | edit source]

In the Middle Ages farmers tended to carry their own produce to their local market town or port. The wealthier ones employed agricultural labourers called carters for the job using simple two-wheeled wains at first, then heavier four-wheeled waggons from the 16th century (Camp 1999-3). It was a social occasion as well, a chance to catch up on the news, find labourers at hiring fairs and meet a potential wife coming from the catchment area of the market. Local carriers also ran regular routes, and long distance carriers operated from the Middle Ages increasing in numbers in the late 16th and 17th centuries. All parts of England and Wales were connected to London by weekly services by 1637 and days and times of arrival and departure at inns, the destination points, were published (Hey). Wagons or teams of packhorses were used and services to London, especially, proliferated. The carrier was certainly the cheapest form of transport other than walking. Even unwanted babies, hundreds of them, were sent by carrier to the Foundling Hospital in London from all over England (Camp 1999-3).

Carters, carriers, and carmen, including sedan chair carriers, had to be licensed and surviving records will be in the city record office where they were based. Look in the FamilySearch Catalog under COUNTY-TOWN- OCCUPATIONS or COURT RECORDS or write to the local record office. Other information about local carriers is difficult to come by before trade and commercial directories and newspapers flourished in the late 18th and 19th centuries. Occasionally handbills giving details may be found in county or local archives ephemera sections, but often one only has a reference in parish registers or other documents to, for example, a London Carrier, that is one who ran the service to London. The local carrier also took passengers into town as can be found in the novels of Thomas Hardy, and such local services naturally survived the coming of railways and buses better than long distance goods carriers. There are a few examples of rural carriers still in business at the end of the Second World War. The carts were horse drawn by one, or rarely two, animals and were often high, four-wheeled vehicles with a bench either side. Passengers climbed the steps at the rear and sat facing each other, perhaps sharing the cart with an assortment of chickens, rabbits, ducks or the occasional goat or sheep! Folk would attract the carrier’s attention by means of a flag in the window, or a brick on a gatepost, so that he would call and pick up their parcel or take them on board (Johns). An extract from a trade directory is shown below.

CHART: Carriers from Congleton 1834
An extract from Pigot’s Commercial Directory for Cheshire

To BIRMINGHAM, NEWCASTLE, STONE, STAFFORD and WOLVERHAMPTON, Ann Johnson’s Waggon (from Manchester) calls at the Moreton’s Arms every Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday.
To CHESTER and MIDDLEWICH, Peter Joynson, from his house, every Tuesday.
To MANCHESTER, Ann Johnson’s Waggon (from Birmingham) calls at the Moreton’s Arms every Monday, Wednesday and Fridays morning at four; goes through Wilmslow.
Note: Edward Snelson ran The Moreton’s Arms, Swan Bank.

The city carriers were called carmen and they delivered general goods, including coal, using a cart. The 2,444 surviving apprenticeship records at the Guildhall Library of the Carmens’ Company of London for 1668 and 1678-1800 have been indexed by Webb. The originals are part of the 7 films of Carmens’ Company records starting at FHL film 2068137.

Coachmen[edit | edit source]

The first coaches appeared in England in the 1560s and they were at first confined to the London area, the state of roads outside the capital not really encouraging their spread! By 1600 coaches were being used in other parts of the country and by the 1630s public stage-coaches operated within 30 miles of London. They were based on major inns that acted as staging posts at roughly 10-mile intervals (stages). Towns in Yorkshire were part of the system by 1658, the trip taking four days from London. Perusal of a map of any major artery, such as the Great West Road, shows that the old coaching towns were placed at almost exactly ten-mile intervals right down the route, most being today’s prosperous industrial and tourist centres.

Steel springs were used from 1754 and made the ride more comfortable. Local parishes and townships could no longer afford the upkeep of the highways by themselves by the 18th century because of the increased traffic, thus more and more turnpike trusts were formed to improve the major roads and collect tolls for this purpose. Improvements included regular maintenance, widening to allow wheeled vehicles to pass, replacing packhorse bridges with new ones, and occasional new courses for sections of roads. In the late 18th and 19th centuries entirely new turnpike routes were commenced, all assisted by the work of the engineers Telford and MacAdam. Local roads remained as poor as ever, being maintained by the local parish. Turnpike roads are indelibly associated with the stage coach era; Aldin’s Romance of the Road is wonderfully evocative of the period. Hanson (The Coaching Life) and Maurin (Old Occupations: Coaches and Coachmen. Family Tree Magazine Vol 11 #6, page 3-5) provide good descriptions of coaching and a coachman’s life is described by Jones (James Gill—Coachman. The Greenwood Tree (Somerset and Dorset FHS) Vol 22 #4, page 121). With the coming of the railways tolls declined dramatically as freight was transferred to rail and by the 1850s and 1860s many turnpikes were in poor repair, responsibility for them being transferred to the new county councils in 1888. The demise of the occupations of stage coachman and guard was rapid - there were 2,619 in 1839 but only 146 four years later (Camp 1999). Felgate (Transports of Delight. Greentrees (Westminster and Central Middlesex FHS) Vol 16 # 2, page 40-41) has provided a delightful history of public road transport in London from the early sedan chairs to the motor cab and Walker (Old Occupations: Tollgate Keeper. Family Tree Magazine Vol 5 #7) has written about tollgate keepers.

Many of our ancestors will be found on censuses as coachmen, ostlers, grooms and collectors of tolls; the latter are likely to stay in one place, but those who worked with the horses at the inns and on the coaches themselves tended to move up and down the coach roads, in a similar manner to canal people. Happily stagecoaches, milestones, water troughs, tollgates and tollbars lasted into the era of photography. County archives contain much evidence of local highway building, maintenance and turnpike trusts. A major source for routes and coach proprietors are the provincial trade directories and advertisements were naturally carried by local newspapers.

CHART: Coaches from Congleton 1834
An extract from Pigot’s Commercial Directory for Cheshire

To LONDON, THE Red Rover (from Manchester) calls at the Bull’s Head Inn, Mill St, every night at eleven; goes through Newcastle, Stone, Stafford etc.

To BIRMINGHAM, the Royal Mail (from Manchester) calls at the Three Arrows, Mill St, every day at twelve; goes thro’ Newcastle, Stone and Stafford; the Rail-Way calls at the Coach and Horses, Mill St, every afternoon at half-past three; the Traveller calls at the same Inn every morning at half-past ten; and the Eclipse calls at the Three Arrows every morning (Sunday excepted) at half-past nine; all go the same route as the Mail.

To MANCHESTER, THE Royal Mail (from Birmingham) calls at the Three Arrows every morning at eleven; the Eclipse calls at the same Inn every afternoon (Sunday excepted) at two; both go through Wilmslow; the Rail-Way calls at the Bull’s Head Inn every morning at half-past three; the Traveller calls at the Coach and Horses every afternoon at half-past four; the Hero from the Moreton’s Arms every morning (Sunday excepted) at half-past six; the Red Rover (from London) calls at the Lion and Swan Inn every afternoon (Sunday excepted) at half-past one; and the Potter (from the Potteries) calls at the Bull’s head Inn every morning (Sunday excepted) at nine; all go through Macclesfield.

To the POTTERIES, the Potter (from Manchester) calls at the Bull’s Head Inn every evening (Sun ex.) at seven)


Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online courses English: Occupation Records-Professions and Trades and English: Occupations-Military and Services offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at wiki@genealogicalstudies.com

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