Thursday, April 12, 2012

Agricultural labourers found in old newspapers

There were nearly 1.5 million agricultural labourers, farm servants and shepherds listed in the 1851 English census - the most common occupation group. Agricultural labourers were often described as "Ag Labs" in the census. I had always pictured my agricultural labourers from Somerset as wearing smocks and floppy hats, drinking cider and working for the local Squire.

I was searching in the online British Newspaper Archive and decided to try looking for my Napper family from the South Petherton area of Somerset. I had previously searched without success in other British online newspaper sites. Much to my surprise I found some of my Napper relations in the Western Flying Post, Sherborne and Yeovil Mercury.

In the edition of October 20 1849, for example, there is a report of the annual meeting of the Chard, Crewekerne and Ilminster Labourers Friend Society at which awards were presented to "deserving labourers". According to the report:

"One of the prizemen was deserving of particular notice, his name was Charles Napper of Lopen, he had brought up twelve children without parochial relief, for which on a former occasion he received a prize from the Society: he now received a prize for long service. His wages averaged about eight or nine shillings a week."

In another article in the November 10 1849 edition of the same newspaper there is a report of the annual meeting of the South Petherton Agricultural Society. In this report over twenty labourers who won prizes are listed together with the names of their employees.

My ancestor James Napper, who was described as an agricultural labourer in the 1851 census, was found in an advertisement for a land auction at South Petherton in the September 3 1850 edition of the Sherborne and Yeovil Mercury. Details were given of four pieces of land that he was leasing at Watergore.

I've found the British Newspaper Archive to be a great resource and I'm sure that there are many more "Ag Labs" waiting to be found.

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