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Studying the Stayers – an investigation of the immobile population of Long Melford, Suffolk 1661-1861

Studying the Stayers – an investigation of the immobile population of Long Melford, Suffolk 1661-1861

The topic

Mobility and migration are crucial aspects of economic and demographic history and historical geography and they have been much studied, but some people spent their lives in the area where they were born. Until relatively recently, little attention has been paid to the immobile, those who were life-time stayers. There is now more interest in residential and geographical stability but most studies have concentrated on either the local elite or the poor. PhD research by Lyn Boothman examined the population of Long Melford in Suffolk, looking in detail at the later seventeenth century (1661-91), the mid-late eighteenth century (1753-83)and the early/mid nineteenth century (1831-61). The majority of the study focused on married couples but single adults were considered where there was sufficient information.

This project followed an MSt dissertation which used a reconstitution of both families and others in the local population, using both parish registers and a wide variety of other record sources, along with a series of listings, to look in depth at the Melford population. Results included higher levels of both stability amongst the non-servant adult population and of kinship links to others in the community than shown in other studies in the early modern period.

For this PhD research stability (or immobility) was assessed in two ways:

  • In relation to family links, concentrating mainly on married couples where at least one partner had had grandparents in the parish (thus they were at least third generation), but also considering couples where at least one partner was second generation in Melford, where their parents had been incomers. In addition the full family trees of both partners in couples present in the 1851 census were drawn up, with links reaching back into the sixteenth century for considerable numbers.
  • In relation to time, analysing the proportion of couples where one or both partners spent at least 30 years in Melford after the age of 15; this measure widened stability to include incomer couples who then remained in the parish.

The main topics

  • Intergenerational continuity: what proportion of families were long-established, did this change over time, and if so how?
  • Social status: were there changes in the social status of the long-established families over time? How might this have related to the occupational mix of couples present in Melford, and thus to changes in its industry over time?
  • Kinship links. Lyn Boothman's MSt showed much higher levels of kinship link in Melford than in other studies of early-modern English communities. Did this continue into the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries? What happened to kinship density and complexity over time, and how did this relate to changes in the proportion of long-established families and/or to changes in the social structure?
  • Residential location and propinquity. In the later seventeenth century some parts of Long Melford were more likely to house people from long-established families, and to have higher levels of kinship links between residents. Did this pattern continue, and did the social structure and/or kinship density of various parts of the parish vary?
  • Stability and a local elite: Melford has records which allowed the analysis of several of the middling 'elite' groups in the parish: churchwardens, overseers of the poor and other office holders, those leading the manorial homage or serving on the court leet jury. How did these groups compare in relation to stability and social status, and how did these office holders compare with the wider population?
  • Immobility and the poor. The poor are often thought to be amongst the most mobile in this period. Were the poor less likely to come from long-established families? Were they more or less likely to have kin links in the parish? Did these factors change over time? Were there families with a continuing pattern of receiving poor relief?

The results (a brief summary)

  • Stability (or immobility) increased through time: the proportion of couples where at least one partner was 3rd generation in the parish (3GEN) increased between the late seventeenth century and the early/mid nineteenth. There was also an increase in the proportion of couples where at least one partner spent 30 years or more in Melford after the age of 15.
  • The proportion of couples in the highest social groups declined: the social structure changed most after the eighteenth century period; by the early/mid nineteenth century a considerably higher proportion of couples were in the lowest social group. In the seventeenth century the 'stability profile' of each social group was similar, by the nineteenth the stable couples were concentrated in the lower social groups. Couples who did not meet the stability measures were a much higher proportion of the upper social groups at this period.
  • The proportion of couples with kin links grew over time, but not dramatically, but kinship density and complexity increased considerably by the nineteenth century. The mean and median number of kin links per couple doubled after the eighteenth century period, and the range of kin links was much wider (more links to more distant kin, as well as those to close kin). Kinship density was highest amongst the lowest social group in the nineteenth century period.
  • There were considerable differences between the holders of different local offices in terms of stability and social status.
  • Stability amongst couples receiving poor relief increased over the period. In the late seventeenth century the poor and the highest social groups were equally likely to be stable, by the nineteenth century the poor were much more likely to meet the stability indicators.

These patterns must have been the result of both national and local changes in the economy. Nationally the fall in long-distance migration, a possible fall in likelihood of shorter-distance migration (which could relate to the decline of farm service, the decline of long-distance moves to apprenticeships); changes in aspects of the Poor Laws, especially related to settlement, and demographic factors such as the rise in adult life expectancy must all be relevant. Changes in the local economy will have interacted with the national developments: as the textile industry declined Melford would presumably have seen fewer men and women migrating in for employment; the decline of Melford-based clothiers also contributed the decline of couples in the higher social groups but the larger scale of both farms and industrial employment by the nineteenth century was also important.

'Studying the Stayers: the Stable Population of Long Melford, Suffolk, over Two Hundred Years' gives more details about the methodology and overall levels of stability found. It is published in Local Population Studies No. 95, Autumn 2015 pp. 9-28.