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A History of Randwick
By E. P. Fennemore
1893

Chapter 2

CONDITION OF THE PEOPLE

Poor, yet industrious, modest, quiet, neat,
The frugal housewife trembles when she lights
Her scanty stock of brushwood, Mazing clear
But dying soon like all terrestial joys.
Cowper.

THE people of Randwick were formerly very poor; in fact they have always been noted for their indigence. They were also at one time very ignorant-as seen by the quantity of "marks," instead of signatures in the marriage register during the last century and beginning of this. The Wesleyan Methodist Magazine for January, 1860, says of Randwick :-" At that time (1804) the social and moral condition of that place was deplorably bad. No clergyman lived in the parish, and there was but one service in church on the Sabbath extremely few of the people could read. The Lord's Day was spent in feasting and drunkenness hogsheads of cider were drunk in the fields; and provisions were sold in the churchyard, before and after service." I should imagine this was only at Wap time, as the monetary resources of the village never allowed of a great deal of feasting

The people were mostly employed in the clothing manufacture, much of which, such as weaving, spinning, etc., was done at home, and fetched from the local mills. Those were the days of the hand-looms, which were worked by the hand and foot; independently of steam or water power; consequently most of the cottages were built with the "loom shop," which in the case of master weavers, who employed journeymen, would hold two or three looms. A narrow loom was often erected in a bedroom, for the weaving of kerseymere, and if the house contained no loom shop, the loom, which meant the bread winner of the family, was often set up in the only living room. The floor of this was generally of concrete, with perhaps a few stones here and there, which could easily be mopped up once a week. The fireplaces consisted. mostly of a pile of bricks, with a few bits of hoop iron forming the bars. The principal cooking utensil was the three-legged iron pot, into which the different ingredients for the family dinner were put promiscuously. The lucky possessor of a frying-pan had to lend it to her neighbours-and, instead of thanks, might perhaps be told " I shan't bring 'n back, when you do want'n you fetch 'n

Some of the better-to-do villagers possessed a long-case clock, and many an oak coffer, in which was stowed all the house linen and clothes; and would be handed down from generation to generation.

The dresses of the women 'were made minus the front breadth, over which was worn, even to church, a large apron. The dresses were cut low at the neck, which was covered by a cotton handkerchief; on the head was worn a white frilled cap. To restore this cap (after washing) to its original beauty, often formed Saturday evening employment for busy fingers. Out of doors was worn either a black satin hat, or a "coal-scuttle bonnet" (so called from its resemblance to this domestic article when inverted), and a red cloak, and on the feet velvet shoes, which required the assistance of the now unfamiliar pattern, to keep the wearer out of the mud. Long gloves met the short sleeves of the gown, and in rare cases an umbrella was latterly carried.

Of course this describes the dress of the better class of villagers, such as master weavers' families, and I think the following, which was written by an eye-witness, aptly describes the female dress of one time:-

An old handkerchief grac'd her head,
Whose beauty long ago had fled:
Dirty apron and tatter'd gown,
Bought twelve years since for half-a-crown:
Her stockings were of vary'd hues,
Grac'd by a worn out pair of shoes.*

From "Lord Mayor of Randwick."

The men's dress was not noticeable, except for the knee-breeches, which were worn without leggings, and the low-buckled shoes. In winter, when work was short, the men went "a stooling," that is, getting up the roots of the trees, which had been cut down in the neighbouring woods; these " stools" forming the principal of the winter's fire for the poorer families. In harvest time the women and children rose very early, to go leasing, and gathered many a sack of corn, which, being beaten with sticks on the house floor, by way of thrashing, was taken to the grist mill and there converted into flour. While this was being eaten, the local bread score, if there was one, was sometimes cleared off.

The invention of the power loom, by Cartwright, in 1787, or rather its local introduction, many years later, entirely altered the thriving condition of this little village ; in fact it almost proved its ruin. At this time many of the young men of the village were forced to leave it; some sought employment in the pin mills, others entered the police force, while some emigrated to Australia and other places. Of those who remained, some still followed the fortunes of the clothing trade-in the local mills, and others were employed by the neighbouring farmers.

The condition of the people is now much improved; though a great many still work in the local mills -making the broad-cloth for which Stroud is, or rather was, so famous.

The population early in 1700, was 400; in 1770, 650; and early in 1800 it was 856-having in a century more than doubled itself. The number of freeholders in the year 1776 was 23; the number of inhabited houses being 120.

(From "Rudder's History of Gloucestershire")