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Chapter II

Occupation and Mobility in Elizabethan Norton:
the General Picture

In Chapter III I have combined the evidence from registers, wills and inventories in order to describe the occupational structure of Elizabethan and early Stuart Norton, and to see what can be learnt about the standard of living of different occupational groupings. This chapter sets the scene by considering the general patterns which emerge from these sources. It also introduces the "Top 50 names" yardstick, which I have used throughout this study as a means of distinguishing settled Norton families from relative newcomers.

The baptism registers during this period are a great deal more consistent than the marriages and burials in listing men's occupations. However, a much better idea of the community's occupational structure can be gained by combining the information from all three registers. It is of course the case that childless couples never appeared in the baptism records, and unmarried men (apart from the occasional father of an illegitimate child) figure only in the burial registers. Added to this, some Norton families tended not to bring their children to be baptised at the parish church, but were buried there. This applied particularly to the families of gentlemen and to the most substantial yeomen: sometimes this could have been because they used their own private chapels for baptisms. Out of 40 gentlemen recorded in the Norton registers, 19 appear only when burials take place.

Most interestingly perhaps, people's occupational status often changed during their lifetime, and the baptism records tend only to tell us what fathers were doing in their prime. The most extreme example of this concerns the 10 paupers who are included in the registers: there is only one in the baptism registers, and the other nine occasions when men were described as paupers were all at their burials. Less predictable patterns of upward and downward mobility also become a good deal clearer through combining the registers and thus making the most of what evidence is available. But there is one occupational grouping in particular - servants - who are still seriously under-represented in any occupational analysis based on the registers. "Service in England and the West was a stage in the life cycle for large numbers of people" (1) - the few who died early in their adulthood, and who thus appeared as servants in the burial records, can give us no clear idea of the numbers involved.

Table 1 summarises the occupational pattern which emerges from the registers. Out of the 731 adult men included there, 271 had their occupation recorded in the registers on more than one occasion. This means that just over one third of the adult men recorded, can provide us with evidence which allows us to follow through their working lives over a period of time. The occupational descriptions for 81 of these 271 change between one entry and another to the extent that they fall into more than one occupational category on the table.

In other words, of those adult men whose working lives we can follow through to any extent from the registers, nearly one-third either changed their means of livelihood at some stage in their lives; or they changed their status; or there was some ambiguity about how their occupation should be described, perhaps because they were pursuing a "dual occupation". All of these occurrences have a good deal to tell us about the social and economic structure of Elizabethan and early Stuart Norton, and they will be examined in some detail.

Apart from the registers, the main evidence used in this chapter is the collection of wills and inventories for Norton parish which were proved at Lichfield. 116 of these date from the period 1560-1650: Table 2 uses the same occupational categories as Table 1 to show the distribution of wills and inventories over the whole community. In order to make meaningful comparisons with the occupational analysis of the registers, it was necessary to "rework" the register figures (columns 3 & 4 of table 2) so that the 81 people who appeared in more than one occupational category in Table 1, only appeared once in Table 2. This was done by listing those men only under the last occupation by which they were described in the registers.

Table 1: OCCUPATIONS OF ADULT MEN IN NORTON, LISTED IN PARISH REGISTERS

Using baptism and marriage registers 1560-1620, burials continued. to 1650.

Occupation Number in
category
As % of all men with known occs. (total 464) No. also appearing in other cats.
GENTLEMEN 40 9 2
YEOMEN 90 19 24
HUSBANDMEN 58 12 32
AGRICULTURAL OTHERS 4 1 1
LABOURERS 82 18 32
SCYTHESMITHS, GRINDERS, FINISHERS 53 11 18
SCYTHE STRIKERS, STRIKERS 28 6 17
SCYTHE SELLERS 3 1 3
CUTLERS 30 6 7
BLACKSMITHS, IRON SMELTERS, SMELTERS 13 3 5
NAILERS 11 2 4
LEADWORKERS (4), WIRE DRAWERS (1) 5 1 2
SICKLESMITHS, SHEARSMITHS 3 1 1
CARPENTERS, WOODMEN, JOINERS 20 5 2
MILLERS 15 3 3
CHARCOAL BURNERS, WOOD COLLIERS 12 3 2
WEAVERS 10 2 1
OTHER CRAFTSMEN, NON-METALWORKING 31 7 10
CHAPMEN 3 1 1
SLATERS, WALLERS 12 3 2
SERVANTS 10 2 0
PAUPERS 10 2 3
CLERKS, VICARS 7 2 0
NON-AGRICULTURAL OTHERS 6 1 1
Total 556 121 173*

* Note: These represent duplicate entries for the 81 men entered at different times with different occupations: some of these appear in 3 or more categories.

Occupation never recorded 267

Occupation recorded once only 193

Occupation recorded more than once 271

-----

Total adult men 731

Table 2: OCCUPATIONS OF ADULT MEN IN NORTON LEAVING WILLS OR INVENTORIES DATED 1560 - 1650

Occupational Category No. leaving wills/invs % of all
wills/invs
No. in
registers
% in
registers
GENTLEMEN 10 11 40 9
YEOMEN 37 41 80 17
HUSBANDMEN 16 18 40 8
AGRICULTURAL OTHERS 0 0 3 1
LABOURERS 0 0 66 14
SCYTHESMITHS, GRINDERS, FINISHERS 8 9 40 9
SCYTHE STRIKERS, STRIKERS 0 0 20 4
SCYTHE SELLERS 1 1 2 1
CUTLERS 3 3 25 5
BLACKSMITHS, IRON SMELTERS, SMELTERS 1 1 9 2
NAILERS 1 1 8 2
LEADWORKERS, WIREDRAWERS 0 0 4 1
SICKLESMITHS, SHEARSMITHS 0 0 2 1
CARPENTERS, WOODMEN, JOINERS 3 3 20 4
MILLERS 2 2 12 3
CHARCOAL BURNERS, WOOD COLLIERS 1 1 12 3
WEAVERS 1 1 9 2
OTHER CRAFTSMEN, NON-METALWORKING 4 4 25 5
CHAPMEN 1 1 3 1
SLATERS, WALLERS 0 0 11 2
SERVANTS 0 0 10 2
PAUPERS 0 0 10 2
CLERKS, VICARS 1 1 7 2
NON-AGRICULTURAL OTHERS 1 1 6 1
Total 91 99 464 101
OTHERS:        
WOMEN 14     0
OCC NOT KNOWN 11   267 0
Total: 116   731  

The dramatic extent to which Norton's wills and inventories are "skewed" as a source is quite evident. Percentages of wills and inventories falling into each occupational category have been calculated in relation to the 90 cases where occupation was specified. If they were truly representative of the community, 17% of these documents would have to relate to yeomen, and 14% to labourers. But in fact 41% of Norton's wills and inventories during this period were for yeomen, while there were none at all for labourers.

Inventories were concerned with the disposal of moveable goods, and there was no legal obligation to make one in cases where an individual's property at his or her death was worth under 5. Clearly, by no means everybody with property worth more than this was subject to an inventory. No doubt there were a variety of reasons why no inventory should have been drawn up - an obvious example would be that assets had been transferred some time before death.

It is evident that in Norton the leaving of wills and inventories was closely related to the holding of land - although this most certainly is not to say that everybody owning or renting a piece of ground would automatically leave a will or inventory. Nonetheless, 70% of those left for men whose occupations are known, were for landholders: gentlemen, yeomen or husbandmen, although the registers show that these three groups together formed no more than 35% of the community. Outside the gentry, the great majority of these documents show that agricultural stock was by far the most valuable property the family possessed. It was for this reason that having a farm, even if it was just a smallholding, might well be a major deciding factor as to whether or not a will or inventory was required. And if this was the case, it points to an important limitation on wills and inventories as source material. It may, for instance, be incorrect to assume that the Norton metalworkers who left inventories showing that they had a small farm as well as a trade, were typical Norton metalworkers. It can certainly be argued that the very reason why they appear amongst those leaving wills or inventories, was that the agricultural stock which they possessed in fact made them atypical.

In the next chapter, I look more closely at what can be discovered about each of Norton's occupational groupings. One of the biggest limitations of this study is, of course, the extent to which it focusses on men's working lives. Given the nature of the source material, this is inevitable; but there are a few wills and inventories relating to women, and some insights can also be gained from the details of how men disposed of their property. A little more is said about this at the end of the chapter. But I have also tried more generally to place the evidence in a context of the family economy; and in Chapter IV, where particular social patterns emerging from the registers are examined more closely, women's lives are given at least a little more of the attention they deserve.

As Chapter IV shows, Norton was growing rapidly during the last half of the sixteenth century. It is clear that it was a parish to which large numbers of incomers were attracted; and distinctly contrasting patterns emerge from the registers when "established" families are compared with those who had no local roots. It is worth looking at this in some depth; in order to do so an analysis was made of the surnames of adult men appearing in the registers. Between them, the 731 adult men recorded shared a total of 329 surnames. But 50% of all adult men shared just 50 surnames between them, while the remaining 50% had surnames which were vastly more scattered in their distribution: of their 279 surnames, 215 appeared once only, and 42 twice only. As a general guide, we can assume that those with surnames from Norton's "Top 50" would come from well-established local families, while those with other surnames were on the whole likely to be newcomers to the parish. Thus the "Top 50" listing (Table 3) can provide a useful yardstick - we know that roughly half of Norton's population belonged to the "Top 50" families and the other half did not. So if, for instance, an occupational grouping was made up of 20% men with surnames from the Top 50, and 80% other surnames, we could fairly safely assume that most of the men employed in that work came from families with roots outside the parish.

Table 3 has also been used to narrow down the best-established families still further: there were 22 surnames which were shared by 7 or more adult men. Altogether these "Top 22" surnames accounted for 226 of Norton's adult men during the period - this means that over 30% of Norton families shared under 7% of all the surnames occurring.

Table 3: Norton's Top 50 Surnames 1560-1620

Based on number of adult men per surname

BULLOCKE 22 COWLEY 6
BARTEN 18 HALL 6
PARKER 18 MORTEN 6
NORTH 14 POYNTON 6
BLYTHE 12 TOWNEND 6
URTON ALS STEVEN 12 DARCIE 5
BATE 11 FIRT 5
ALLEN 10 MALAM 5
GREEN 10 MILWARD 5
KIRKE 9 MORE 5
BARNES 8 RODES 5
CAMME 8 STEVENSON 5
COOKE 8 TRICKET 5
FOXE 8 TURNER 5
HOLLAND 8 WILLYE 5
ROSE 8 BELFIELD 4
BROWNE 7 BIRLEY 4
BROWNELL 7 ELLYS 4
CLAYTON 7 EYRE 4
GILL 7 HALLAM 4
ROLLINSON 7 HILL 4
TAYLER 7 HOBSON 4
BARKER 6 OWTREM 4
BIGGEN 6 SMITHE 4
BORE 6 STANNIFORTH 4
    Total 364

(Number of men with other surnames: 367)

(Note: This table has been modified very slightly in order to provide a simple working tool. Initially all surnames appearing for four or more adult men were included: this gave 52 names, accounting for 51% of all adult men. The two surnames appearing four times which were excluded for convenience were LAWE and PENISTON - chosen because one of the Lawes lived in Chesterfield, and none of the Penistons appeared before 1587.)

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