UK Census 1921, Preston Manor

The release to the public of the 1921 census on 6 January 2022 has opened the door to a day in the life of Preston Manor when it was a private house. The Manor would not become a museum until 1933.

Preston Manor
Preston Manor

The census was taken on the night of 19 June 1921 and reveals ten residents, three of whom were unknown until now.

The 100-year rule

The 1921 census was conducted under the Census Act 1920, which is still in force. For reasons of confidentiality 100 years must pass before the results of a census can be made public. People alive today who were born before 19 June 1921 will appear on the 1921 census. There are plenty, because in 2020 there were 15,120 centenarians in the UK.

A Member of Parliament tells an untruth

The head of the household, Charles Thomas-Stanford was aged 63 when he completed the 1921 census return for Preston Manor along with nearly 38 million English and Welsh individuals in 8.5 million households. Charles’s wife Ellen was aged 73, yet he records her as 71.

Portrait of Sir Charles Thomas-Stanford, 1913

Charles was a gentleman historian who had done a great deal of work on Stanford family history. He knew his wife’s age. Yet in a gentlemanly lapse he ‘forgets’ his wife’s 1848 birth year. Chivalry regarding tweaking their ten-year age difference seems to have overshadowed his honesty. Under Section 8 of the Census Act 1920 persons making a false declaration ‘shall be liable on summary conviction’ (and a trial at a magistrate’s court) and face a maximum fine of £1,000. Charles was a Member of Parliament. He knew the law and got away with breaking it.

Until now, the similar ‘mistake’ made by Charles on the 1911 census return could be regarded as a genuine error. In 1911 Ellen is listed as aged 55 when she was, in fact, 63. The big reveal of 2022 points to Charles’s habit of telling untruths in the declaration of his wife’s age.

Portrait of Ellen Benett-Stanford, 1895

Charles and Ellen both died in 1932 and because of the loss of the 1931 census we will never know what Charles wrote as his pen hovered over the census form of the previous year.

The Preston Manor household in 1921

On the night of the 1921 census there were ten persons resident in the house, two householders and eight domestic servants. Additionally, the chauffeur and his wife lived in separate accommodation in the Manor grounds. The live-in servants already known were Emma Maria Cherriman, a cook, aged 48, and George Cherriman, a gardener, aged 43 — this couple were husband and wife. There was also Maurice Elphick, a butler aged 36; Emily Ellen Holkham, a parlour-maid, aged 25; and Ethel Hilda Silverson, a housemaid, aged 15. The three so-far unknown servants were Elizabeth Hubbard, a housemaid, aged 50; Clara Dellow, a lady’s maid, aged 50; and Susan May Leonard, a housemaid, aged 21. These three women are a fascinating addition to the Preston Manor story.

Maurice Elphick, butler

Maurice Elphick (1885-1982) is a historical heavyweight in the Preston Manor story, so finding him on the 1921 census is no surprise. Born into an East Sussex farming family Maurice excelled as the perfect loyal butler to Charles and Ellen Thomas-Stanford. He served the family from 1902 aged 17 until the deaths of his employers in 1932. Mr. Elphick stayed on at Preston Manor working as a museum custodian, eventually retiring in 1957 at the age of 72. Mr. Elphick served in the First World War and married in 1922. The couple lived in a small cottage in the Manor grounds. The Elphick’s only child — a daughter Audrey, born 1928 — was the last person to be born on the Preston Manor estate.  

Maurice Elphick in the 1920s
Maurice Elphick in the 1920s
Mr Elphick's postcard of Preston Manor donated by him in 1979
Mr Elphick’s postcard of Preston Manor donated by him in 1979

Much is known about Maurice Elphick. His claim to fame, amongst many, is his preventing a fire at Preston Manor on 5th June 1940. The Chief Fire Officer said, “another ten minutes and the whole place would have been ablaze” due to a workman putting pipes in for lavatory basins leaving a candle under one of the old beams.

Ethel Hilda Silverson, housemaid

Ethel Silverson (1905-1991) is the only person on the Manor’s 1921 census return who was born in the 20th century. Ethel was born on 22nd December, so she was six months into her fifteenth year in June 1921. She worked in domestic service until the age of 24 when she married Frederick Charles Cook from Brighton and they had two children. Together the Cooks set up a successful bicycle business in Hove called ‘Cook’s Cycles’, trading until the early 1970s. During the Second World War Ethel was a Senior ARP (Air Raid Precaution) warden. Ethel Cook was interviewed about her time working at Preston Manor when she was aged 79 in 1984. Her recall of detail was remarkable and invaluable. Ethel died aged 86 at her home in Southwick, West Sussex.

George and Emma Maria Cherriman, gardener and cook

George and Emma Cherriman were married in Surrey in 1907. George worked as a gardener in East Croydon in 1911 before taking the job of gardener at Preston Manor. George had three brothers and four sisters. Brother William, a former groom, enlisted in the Royal Army Veterinary Corps in 1915. In 1921 George was aged 43 and Emma 48. They had no children. After Preston Manor became a museum in 1932 George worked as a gardener for Brighton Corporation.

George Cherriman and Apple Blossom the dog 1952
George Cherriman and Apple Blossom the dog 1952
Emma Cherriman gravestone
Emma Cherriman gravestone

Emma was not a professional cook, so a question arises as to why she appears employed as such in 1921. The Manor’s cook in this period was 52-year-old Sarah Ann Storey. The June date of the census (postponed from April due to industrial unrest) has revealed many people away from their usual residence due to being on holiday. Perhaps Emma Cherriman stepped in briefly to cook in the absence of Mrs. Storey. All previous records show Emma as taking on rough household work. Interviewed in 1984 Ethel Silverson said, ‘Mrs Cherriman used to come in once a week and clean the house of the – servants’ hall. She used to scrub that floor once a week, and it was really white when she’d finished it. It was beautiful.’ George died in 1955 and Emma in 1950. They are buried together in a marked grave in St. Peter’s churchyard next to Preston Manor

Emily Ellen Holkham, housemaid

Emily ‘Nel’ Holkham (1897-1946) was the daughter of a carpenter in Partridge Green. She started work in domestic service aged 15 when her father died. In 1923 Nel married a local handyman, Cecil Frank Lassetter, known as ‘Las.’ He helped to put up the iron gates on the London Road exit to Preston Manor.

At the time of their wedding Nel was already pregnant with their daughter who was interviewed in 1985 about her mother’s life. Las had three brothers and two sisters, and they grew up in Kingsley Road near Preston Manor. Emily ‘Nel’ died of tuberculosis in 1946 aged 48. Las outlived his wife by 23 years dying aged 79 in 1969.

Ellen Holkham and dog, 1920s
Ellen Holkham and dog, 1920s

James and Ethel Watson, chauffeur and his wife

James Watson was born in 1891 in Brighton. In 1915 he married Ethel Hannah Halse who was born in Woolwich in 1887. Much is known about their lives due to interviews with Watson descendants and family letters and photographs. Ethel loathed cooking but enjoyed kicking a football around in Preston Park. Like George and Emma Cherriman, the Watsons had no children of their own. However, in 1929 they adopted a baby boy, John who spent a happy childhood in the family accommodation above the old stables in the grounds of Preston Manor, a building now demolished. In 1921 James Watson, aged 29, was proudly the head of his own household even though he worked in domestic service. In 1932, after the deaths of Charles and Ellen Thomas-Stanford, James received a letter from the Rolls Royce company commending him on the care of his employers’ car (RR Badge No. 2881).

James and Ethel Watson with John c.1932
James and Ethel Watson with John c.1932
Postcard from James to John
Postcard from James to John

Ellen Thomas-Stanford left £100 to James Watson in her will, a large sum at the time and easily enough to put down the £5 deposit needed on their new house in Patcham. In the Second World War, James put his mechanic’s skills to use volunteering for the ARP and the Royal Engineers, Searchlights Department. James died in 1977 aged 86 and Ethel in 1963 aged 76.

Elizabeth Hubbard, a housemaid brushing with fame and horror

Elizabeth Hubbard is a new discovery. She was born in 1868 in Norwood, Surrey. In 1921 she was aged 53 but passing as 50 and still working as a housemaid — a tough job at a time when 50 was considered almost elderly. Little is known of Elizabeth. She was unmarried and left few traces of a life that was certainly humble and unremarkable. However, through her work she brushed against both fame and horror.

In 1911 Elizabeth was employed as a housemaid in the home of widow, Mrs Augusta Ingram born Augusta Kemp of the grand Ovingdean Hall (now a college) near Brighton. Augusta was a cousin of Thomas Read Kemp, the politician and property developer responsible for the Kemptown area of Brighton. Augusta’s brother, Charles Eamer Kemp (sometimes spelt Kempe, 1837-1907) was a famous designer and manufacturer of stained glass, who had apprenticed with Arts & Crafts luminary William Morris. He produced over 4,000 windows and designs for altars, furnishings, lichgates and memorials in churches and major cathedrals such as York and Winchester.

The 1911 census records Elizabeth’s employer as ‘an ‘elderly widow of unknown age.’ She was in fact 86. Fascinatingly, she had been present at one of the bloodiest and most infamous events in the history of British India. Augusta’s first husband, Charles Wade Crump 1825-1857 was a British Lieutenant in the Madras Artillery. He was also a talented artist. Crump was killed in active service at the Siege of Cawnpore, a key episode in the Indian uprisings of 1857, in which Augusta’s life was also endangered.

Crump’s lithograph ‘The Chamber of Blood, Cawnpore, 1857’ can be seen online in the collection of the National Army Museum, London. The image speaks as well as words. Following her husband’s death, and when recovered from shock and a life-threatening fever, Augusta returned from India to Britain and married a land agent, William Ingram, in 1861.

The question arises: did Elizabeth Hubbard know of old Mrs Ingram’s past? The answer cannot be known. It is unlikely as housemaids did not usually have intimate conversations with their employers and knew only that which they saw or heard while going about their duties. Augusta died on 26 July 1914 two days before the start of the First World War. After which time, Elizabeth Hubbard disappears from record until re-appearing at Preston Manor in 1921.

Clara Dellow

Clara Dellow is a new discovery. She was born in 1870 at Buckland near Reigate in Surrey and was aged 50 in 1921. Clara worked as lady’s maid for Ellen Thomas-Stanford, her profession since at least 1901 when she worked at the beautiful Caversfield House in Oxfordshire, now used as a film location. Clara was the daughter of a coachman and one of eight sisters who were (eldest to youngest) Elizabeth, Clara, Rose, Floren, Edith, Alice, Annie, and Ellen. There were also two brothers Frank and George. Clara never married and appears to have surrounded herself with women.

In 1911 she was employed as a lady’s maid in an unconventional household in a manor house similar to Preston Manor, a house now called Park Cottage in Withyham, East Sussex (Grade II Listed in 1982). The household was headed by Miss Muriel Gertrude Elizabeth Harris, whose brother Sir Austen Edward Harris rose to Director of Lloyds Bank. The residents were a group of young people reminiscent of the household in E.M. Forster’s 1910 novel, Howards End.

Gertrude was aged 34 and living ‘by private means’ along with three well-off women friends, Margaret Noel aged 29, Sybill Fawkes aged 24 and Dorothea Moore also 24 with her brother Roland Moore a 23-year-old ship owner. These five young people were looked after by nine young female servants including Clara Dellow, then aged 39 and one footman aged 26. There was no one in the household over the age of 39. Unusually, one of the housemaids was married: 29 year old Jennie Geer had a one-year-old son, Austin Geer, listed on the 1911 census as ‘visitor.’ Jennie was ‘born at sea’ in 1882. Jennie’s husband, Charles Barnham Geer worked in domestic service as a valet.

After 1921 Clara disappears from record until 1938 when the electoral register shows her living with Elizabeth Chandler at 20 Kymberly Rd Harrow on Hill, now the site of a modern shopping mall. In 1939 Clara was living with Louisa Dellow aged 59 a retired domestic nurse at the same address. Clara died on the 3rd June 1948 aged 78, a spinster with probate to Edith Rogers, spinster leaving effects of £393 14s 9d (about £15,000 today)

Susan May Leonard

Susan May Leonard is a new discovery. Little is known of her aside from the fact she worked at Preston Manor as a housemaid in 1921 aged 22. She was born in 1899 at Smarden in Kent the daughter of a farm labourer. Susan died of unknown causes in 1931 aged 32.

1921

The 1921 census provides a wealth of information for family historians as the population of Britain was asked for more details about their lives than in any previous census.

In 1921 the country was recovering from the devastating 1914-1918 war and the worldwide influenza epidemic that followed. The 1921 census showed Great Britain had a population of 42,767,530 in 1921, an increase of 4.7% over 1911, with 20,430,623 males and 22,336,907 females. For every 1000 men there were 1,096 women. In Wales people were asked if they spoke English and Welsh, English only, or Welsh only. For the first time in census history divorce was listed as a marital status option.

Although the census is taken every ten years this is the last big reveal until the opening of the 1951 census in 2052. This is because the entire 1931 census was destroyed in an accidental fire in the Office of Works store on 19 December 1942. There was no 1941 census because the country was at war.

Paula Wrightson, Venue Officer Preston Manor 

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