Thomas Hall – Cow Keeper

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July 5, 2014 by auntkatefirmin

I’m getting back into the swing of posting after a time away.  One of the pleasures of researching family is enjoying the details of another world.  Thomas Hall, Aunt Kate’s great-grandfather, led me on an interesting journey as I found out more about his profession, cow keeper.

London cow keeper's shop about 1825 by George Scharf.

View of a London shop front about 1825 by George Scharf.
© Trustees of the British Museum

In 1794, the Survey of Middlesex reported 8,500 cows in the county and a follow up report in 1798 gave more details, including that about 200 cows were located in Shoreditch. The 1825 painting by George Scharf, above, depicts a shop, said to be in the City, with sheds for cows behind the counter where walk-in customers were served. There were also fields where dairy herds were kept outside the populated areas, but even by 1818 (when the Hall family is known to be in London) the road conditions were poor enough that milk could not be transported from any considerable distance to meet the needs of the growing urban population. Also the lack of refrigeration meant that milk could not be stored for long periods. The demand for milk often far exceeded the supply. In 1850, Charles Dickens wrote a short story, “The Cow with the Iron Tail,” about milkmen diluting the milk using water from a pump (the handle being the iron tail) and other much less savory substances.

To read some lovely contemporary accounts of milk maids distributing the milk check out Buying Bread and Milk in 18th and 19th Century London, a post by Susanna Ives.

Marion Hearfield’s delightful online essays about cow keepers in 18th century London use bankruptcy notices to provide detail on the tools of the cow keeper’s trade.  Based on her research, a London cow keeper might have had a herd of 30-80 cows, a considerable number of horses and carts, and would have needed to dispose of a fair amount of dung. (Seems obvious once you point it out …) All this would have required a substantial amount of capital as a milk cow cost roughly a year’s wages for an agricultural laborer – while her research is about a generation prior to the era of Thomas, general conditions before the coming of the railway and convenient refrigeration were similar enough for comparison to Thomas and his life.

There is very little direct evidence about the Hall family’s income other than the 1851 census where Thomas is listed as a carman employing four men. To me that would imply investment in a fair amount of stock and a fair level of business sense; in changing times Thomas has continued to prosper and avoid the perils of accident and illness. Not bad for age 61 in Victorian London!

Thomas’s son-in-law, George Firmin, was a carman for a brief time (as was George’s father John and brother Henry) and my guess is that Thomas used his knowledge to transition from cow keeper to carman as the railways changed the lives of London cow keepers dramatically. Again according to Marion Hearfield, it was not unusual for a cow keeper to own waggons to transport the cattle feed in from the countryside so this would not have been a dramatically different set of skills or equipment. Thomas might have used some of his own stock and the Firmin connections to build up a business as a carman – but back to cows and his earlier life!

There is a Thomas Hall found in the tax records of the Liberty of Holywell as early as 1816 but not enough information is supplied for me to be certain whether or not the two are the same person.  Given the number of cows in nearby Shoreditch, it’s certainly possible.  Another puzzle is how Thomas financed his move from Barby to London and what relationships he might have retained with other family members in Northamptonshire.  Regardless, it’s clear that the Hall family was relatively well-to-do and most likely several generations of resources contributed to the level of wealth that allowed Thomas to move to London and to operate a dairy business as a young man in his late twenties. If my current guesses are correct, Thomas could have been the only son in the family but that line of the family could use some real in-person research.

It would certainly be interesting to look into drovers’ roads from Barby to London; certainly much wool came from the area to London. It would also be interesting to check out weather, the economy and other factors that might have influenced a decision to migrate around that time. Other than the general growth of London, I don’t know of a pattern of change that quite fits Thomas’ circumstances – another spot of reading ahead as there is good information out there about the locality.

Here’s a rough timeline centered around events for Thomas (see also the earlier entry for Harriet):

1790  Estimated birth of Thomas Hall in Barby, Northamptonshire, based on later census entries.  Possibly the son of John & Ann Hall with siblings John, Elizabeth & Hannah.

1816 There is a tax record from Holywell Liberty for a Thomas Hall in 1816 but not enough detail to make a clear connection without an in-depth knowledge of the time and neighborhood.

1816 or 1817 Thomas meets and marries his wife Harriet … exciting details to follow in a new post.

1817-1820 Daughter Dorothy is baptized in Marylebone in December 1817 and Ann in August 1820.

1824 In the 1861 census Emily Hall Firmin gave her birthplace as “St Martin-le-Grand” which is a street (and former Liberty) within the City running from the wall to St. Paul’s. (The church in that area was torn down in the era of Henry VIII and the post office on the site was not established until 1829.)

1833 According to the 1851 census, young Harriet Hall was born in the parish of St. Luke, which is adjacent to Shoreditch.

1837 Thomas is a Cow Keeper living in John’s Row with his wife and four children – Ann, Emily, Harriet & William.  All four are baptised together at St. Leonard’s, Shoreditch, despite living in St. Luke’s parish. I wonder what triggered this family baptism?

1839 Dorothy lived with the family at #8 John’s Row prior to her marriage to William Smith, another a cow keeper in the neighborhood. (After William’s death in 1848, Dorothy married another cow keeper, Josiah Hall of Wiltshire.)

1841  The family, Thomas & Harriet with three daughters, are enumerated in John’s Row (now Lever Street).  Ages in this census are rounded and Thomas is listed as 45, as is Harriet. As William would only be six and is not listed  living at home, it is not clear if he is still alive. (As an aside showing the continuity of property suitable for a dairy business, In 1851 the family of Henry Madden, cow keeper, is living in John’s Row.)

1844 Their daughter, Emily, marries George Firmin. Thomas is described as a dairyman.

1847  The burial of a Harriet Hall, age 51, living in Pauls Alley, Cripplegate, is recorded in the St. Giles’ register. Thomas is a widower by 1851, so it’s very possible this is his wife, although there are no conclusive links. A death certificate could be ordered for confirmation.

1851  Thomas, age 61, is living in Wapping with his daughter Harriet, age 18, and working as a carman employing four men.  The whereabouts of daughter Ann are as yet unknown. A William Hall, age 16, living in Castle Street (which runs between Saffron Hill and Turnmill Street, and was around the corner from his sister Dorothy in Cow Cross) died in 1851.

1856  Death of a Harriet Hall in St Pancras – is this the daughter of Thomas & Harriet? I haven’t tracked down all the London marriages for a Harriet Hall (there are plenty).  At the moment, Harriet’s fate is unknown after 1851.

1861  Thomas, age 70,  is living with his daughter Emily and her family in Wiltshire.

1866 The death of a Thomas Hall, age 75, is registered in Wiltshire but no matching probate record has been located so far. There’s no strong reason to believe this is a different Thomas Hall but it would have been nice to find out more about his estate, if any.

Coming up, more about Dorothy Sylvester Hall the oldest daughter of Thomas and Harriet.


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