By Alan Power, Wycombe Library

The full results of the 1921 census have just been made available, which gives details of everyone living in the country at that time.

The release of census results is a major event in the lives of most family historians. Because so much personal detail is given in the full census, publication is normally delayed for 100 years, on the assumption that anyone recorded in that census is likely to have passed on after that period has elapsed.

This will be the last census to be available for some time, as the 1931 census returns were completely destroyed in a fire, and the planned 1941 census never took place because of the War. A kind of census was carried out at the outbreak of World War II for the National Identity Register, and an edited version of this is currently available. (Records of anyone listed who is likely to be still alive are blanked out for reasons of confidentiality). The next census to appear will be the 1951 census in thirty years’ time!

On census day in 1921 every household was asked to provide details of who was living in the property on that day. Personal details provided to the census enumerator included full names, ages, occupations, relationship to head of household and place of birth. Therefore, the information is a great help to anyone tracing their family, as well as to anyone interested in finding out who lived in their house before them. The 1921 census results are only available on-line on the subscription-website Find My Past database to begin with, and even there at a price: even personal subscribers will have to pay £2.50 for every record transcript and £3.50 for every original record image viewed. It can also be accessed free of charge at the National Archives in Kew, and at one or two major libraries. The 1939 Register can also be viewed on Find My Past, and free of charge on the Ancestry database in the Library.

What was life like in Wycombe in 1921

We look back to a period when life was very different to what it is now. There were few cars on the road, no TV, no internet, and no mobile phones. If you were poor, the was no Social Security to fall back on, only the workhouse. A snapshot of the town can be seen in local directories, the Bucks Free Press and the 1921 census.

So, what was Wycombe like at the start of 1921? According to Kelly’s local directory, population numbered nearly 22,000: parts of the town were quite rural and a large part of the Rye was still pasture land. Chair making was the chief trade, with around 150 firms in operation, producing nearly a million and a half chairs each year.

Other trades included a Marqueterie cutter, a wood carver, a wardrobe dealer, a jobmaster, a blacksmith, a motor charabanc proprietor, a marine store dealer, a mineral water manufacturer, a yeast merchant, and several carriers. There was also an office offering a “Register for servants”, a sort of Employment Office.

The pages of the Bucks Free Press reveal a very different town to what we know today, although many of the events reported have a familiar ring, such as crimes and road accidents.

Post-Christmas musical activities featured a concert from the enterprising Princes Risborough & District Choral Society, which included excerpts from two compositions unheard of today: Alfred the Great by William Hurlstone, and Ruth by Alfred Gaul. Might this concert possibly be the last time these pieces were ever heard in this country?

There seemed to be remarkably few houses for sale. None of the adverts carried any indication of an asking price, let alone a photo of the property.

Several matters of (comparatively) minor importance were also reported, such as a Robert Fletcher of Beaconsfield catching a queen wasp flying around his house – in February; and Chalfont St Giles, with its population of 2,000, reportedly not having seen a funeral for seven months. Many articles reported on local whist drives, the activities of several local slate clubs (do these still exist in any form?) and an adult Bible class in Penn.

Adverts of the time really show how much has changed.

A murder trial

The year began in dramatic fashion with the Barn Cottage Poisoning Trial, reported in the press in some detail. Milkman George Bailey, 33, of Barn Cottage, Little Marlow, was on trial for poisoning his wife, Kate, 22, along with a serious assault on another local woman. He had attracted the attention of the local constabulary after “a number of young ladies” had been seen frequenting his house. On a raid, police had found his wife dead in bed and a collection of poisons around the house.

Bailey’s trial was held at the County Court in Aylesbury and was noteworthy because it was the first murder trial in the UK to include a woman juror. Bailey was found guilty and sentenced to death. An appeal was unsuccessful, and the sentence was carried out at Oxford prison at the beginning of March.

Local author Quentin Falk has published a book about the murder and trial, with the title The Whistling Milkman, so-named as Bailey was well-known for whistling while on his milk-round.

Wycombe Wanderers

Wycombe Wanderers had enjoyed a very successful 1920/21 season. Playing in the Spartan League for the second season they finished top, repeating their achievement of the previous season. Their playing record was 19 wins, 2 draws and 1 defeat, thus dropping just 4 points (it was still 2 points for a win). Three of those points were against the runners-up, Slough!

In fact that season was remarkable as local teams held the top three positions in the Spartan League, with Chesham Utd third; also Aylesbury Utd finished 7th. The average attendance for the league games at Loakes Park that season was 2,800, with the highest attendance being 6,250 for an FA cup Qualifying Round match. Who was that against - Slough.

That attendance was beaten by the 9,875 fans who saw the Berks & Bucks Cup Final. The match was played at Reading’s Elm Park ground, again against Slough, and the Wanderers won 5-2. This was the largest crowd the Wanderers had played in front of up to that time.

On March 18 1921 the town was celebrating the announcement that the Wanderers application to join the Isthmian League had been accepted, having been rejected the previous season. The Club were to remain in that League for over 60 years, apart from the WW2 years.

If you want to read more about the town in 1921, the pages of the Bucks Free Press can be read in the library. Copies of The Whistling Milkman can be obtained from the Library Service.