Using Neville Randall’s reconstruction of the population of Broadclyst when the 1841 census was taken, we can now explore Charlotte Chamberlain’s family. In another post, we will also try to find their place in the ‘great conflagration’ that destroyed almost all the village in half an hour on 27 April 1871. Charlotte was of course by that time in Pwill-y-Pant and very newly widowed (James Lawrie Monfries having died three months before), but several of the Chamberlains still living in Broadclyst were caught up in the disaster.
Charlotte’s father, John, and her mother, Sarah (b. Willey), were both born in the village in 1796; they married in 1818 and, like Charlotte in the 1850s, had at least nine children. Apart from John and Sarah, both 45 in 1841, there were Susanna (20, b. 1822), already supporting the family by her work as a Dress Maker; Mary (17, b. 1824); John (15, b. 1826, d. aged 34 in 1860); James (13, b. 1828); Emma (11, b. 1830); Martha (9, b. 1832); Ann (7, b. 1834); George (5, b. 1836); and Joshua (2, b. 1839). Since the marriage was in 1818, it is possible that there were up to three older children (b. 1819, 1820 and 1821) who had left home by 1841: the Broadclyst baptism records have a Sally, b. 1821. There are no records for a Susanna baptised/born in 1822, but there are for Charlotte, and since she made her living as a milliner and dressmaker after she was widowed, ‘Susanna’ seems to be an error for her in the census record. This means, of course, that Sarah had one child every two years, apart from the three-year gap between George and Joshua, from 1820/1821 to 1839!
Among the Chamberlain dead in St John the Baptist churchyard in the village is another John (b. 1852, d. 1869 at 17), who could be one of Charlotte’s brothers’ sons. A further possible son is Richard (b. 1857), who emigrated to Toronto, died at an unknown date but has a memorial in the churchyard. The real puzzle is the final John buried there. His grave has him married to Mary (b. 1818) and 56 on his death in 1876; Mary lived on to 1900 and was buried with him. His birth in 1820 would make him Charlotte’s eldest brother, but that does not explain the younger John born in 1826.
Charlotte’s father, even if he was also a master carpenter, would have been hard pressed to feed so large a family, and one reason that Charlotte seems to have married only around 1852, when she was already 30, may have been that she was an important breadwinner for the family: it would have been the late 1840s before her six younger siblings were of working age. All the children seem to have survived into at least their teenage years, and this may be because Broadclyst, although deep in the country on the floodplain of the River Clyst 5 miles northeast of Exeter, was a relatively wealthy village. Most of the agricultural labouring families were tenants of the Aclands on the Killerton estate on a steady if low wage, but there were also a large number of small tradesmen and craftsmen. Compared with impoverished Kent villages such as Boughton under Blean and Chilham where the Coulsons (Alice Edith Vlieland’s family) had their mills and which were at the mercy of every farming depression, East Devon was prosperous. If we look at the small tradesmen and mechanics who were wiped out in the 1871 fire, we have a saddler, grocer/baker, builder, several carpenters, market gardener, boot/shoemaker, plumber/glazier, master mason, butcher and stock breeder, as well as government employees such as the postmistress, police sergeant and relieving officer tasked with providing places in the workhouse for the indigent.
In the census, Sarah Chamberlain seems to have a brother, Henry Willey, an agricultural labourer, b. 1801. His wife, Mary, is b. 1806, and must have married about 1830; their three children are Sarah (9, b. 1832); Elizabeth (7, b. 1834); and Anne (2, b. 1839): the gaps imply some infant deaths, and at that point there are no sons. The baptism records list a John and a Henry John Willey (b. 1864 and 1866) who could be Sarah’s great-nephews and, more sadly, a John Henry Willey, of the 15th Battalion the Hampshire Regiment, who was born in 1899 and listed missing, aged 19, on 9 August 1918, in the Battle of Amiens that ended the First World War.
Particular thanks are due to Neville Randall for his reconstruction of the 1841 census, and the Exeter Flying Post of 4 May 1870 for the local press account ‘Conflagration at Broadclyst’, from which much of the detail on the fire is taken.
and thanks to Barbara.