Monday, 13 October 2008

Gustave Stinkpoo's 127-year-old practical joke: and other treasures from census returns

I came across the delightful name Fanny Whip the other day, as I was browsing the 1881 UK Census. This 67-year-old coachman's wife, of Berkshire, wasn't the only Victorian woman to be saddled with a name that we sneering 21st-century-ites cannot help but find hilarious; there are three other Fanny Whipps in the same census.

There is also a Donald Duck, a Peter Rabbitt, two Oliver Twists, eleven Julius Caesars, more than a hundred Harry Potters and - oh I do love this one - 51-year-old Africa Bastard, of Kent.

If you like history and appreciate whimsy, strangeness and pathos - or if you are obsessed with family history, as I am - you will have such fun snooping around census returns
(**see end of post for details) .

After wasting so much time hunting for silly names, I had a look around the Net to find out what other hidden oddities and nuggets lurk in British census returns. And, oh joy, there are plenty.

If you're a celebrity spotter, you might enjoy a bit of retro-digging: Charles Darwin
, Emmeline Pankhurst, Charles Dickens, Charlotte Bronte, Queen Victoria, Winston Churchill, Florence Nightingale, William Wordsworth and even Karl Marx. Click here for census images of other famous names.

And then there are the many unusual and archaic occupations and trades. We have coachmen, straw-plaiters, fish hawkers, rag sorters, umbrella makers, horse clippers, laundresses, chaff cutters, letter returners, convicts, ostlers, pettifroggers, beadles, messmen, curriers, cobblers, cutlers, idiots and vagrants.
Louis Harty Fowler of Lancashire gives his occupation as 'wizard', while John Holden calls himself 'The Queens Magician & Wizard Of The Wicked World'. William Neal listed no occupation, because he was 'too idle'.

Best of all, we have a group of young lodgers in a boarding house who must have had too much ale to drink on the night that the census enumerator came around, and decided to give his leg a jolly old pull. Their entries include [these come from British Genealogy; if you'd like to see the original image, click here

* G. O'LEARY Peacock Feather Trimmer
* John REGAN, Dolls Eye Weaver
* Mouse REGAN, Ratcatcher
* Charles HORSEFLESH, Dog Fancier
* Pancho FLIPBACK, Grave Digger
* Gustave STINKPOO, Turpentine Boiler
* Charles BIGTOP, Tiger Slayer
* Joseph BROWN, Urinal Attendant
* Henry DANDELION, Horse Hair Platter

RG11/76 folios 43-45

Then again, they might just have been telling the truth.

You can access the index to the 1881 British census for free at the amazing site, but you will need to pay a nominal subscription fee if you want to see the original scanned-in pages, or look at census returns for the years 1841-1901. Or sign up for a free two-week trial.

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