We have been watching David Olusoga’s third series on ‘A House Through Time’ broadcast on BBC2
This is a fascinating programme showing how good research can bring to life ordinary people and how they faced tragedies in a particular household. These programmes would be a great way to teach children history, and make it relevant to them. The major historic and political events such as Spanish flu, WW1, Suffrage, etc are introduced as incidental to people’s life stories, but always in relation to their family life.
I hope you are all watching this series and that you have been encouraged to do your own house history, and see how former tenants and owners coped with everything that life threw at them. I think these stories help us cope with our own lives by putting in context what our forebears had to deal with. In particular, for the cottages in Milton Abbas street built around 1780, it is possible to determine how many people were living in one address, how badly they were overcrowded, what their occupations or trades were, their baptisms, marriages and deaths, their poverty, and so on.
It is clear, for example, from a brief look at the Censuses, that for women in Milton Abbas, there was a dramatic change in circumstances from the growth and collapse of the Dorset Button industry and then the growth and collapse of the glove making industry. Both cottage industries were destroyed by mechanisation. The overcrowding and living conditions in the street were reported as a disgrace in the national press. Most of the men were agricultural labourers working for the estate, and their working conditions, life expectancy, and medical complaints show what life was like.
We have transcribed plenty of records such as Kelly’s Directories, Overseers of the Poor, wills, settlement examinations, etc which can be used to find out more of the history of the house where you live.