Althorpe Street – Leamington Priors: A Social History 1841-1901

Occupational shift

In the Victorian era between 1841 and 1901, Leamington as a Spa town grew in terms of its population; its size and its wealth. Conversely, according to data extracted from the 1901 Census, Althorpe Street was in comparative decline with evidence of a significant social change.

Of the 206 residents, the male:female ratio was approximately 50:50. However, 9 of the 42 properties had female ‘Heads of Household’ indicating that by this time, women could assume commercial responsibilities by being able to rent property in their own name

It was no longer a street of skilled artisans (as outlined in the 1781-1841 section of this study). It now housed mainly unskilled workers, although there were still three public houses and a combined total of seven butchers, bakers and grocers to meet the social and day to day living needs of the Althorpe Street community. With the development of railways, the occupations that used to support horse drawn transport had disappeared. For example, the street now only had one blacksmith and no carriage makers.

graph1861In the 60 years since 1841 there was a shift in employment towards general labouring (34) and work in the Eagle Iron Foundry (5 iron founders). The impact of Leamington’s mineral spring waters and its appeal as a health Spa resort to the Victorians resulted in the development of a bottling plant employing bottle washers and bottlers (4) as well as attracting sufficient Victorian tourists to keep 23 laundresses in Althorpe Street in work either on their own account or in local laundries. Resident’s more unusual jobs (from a modern day perspective) included a tripe dresser and the Town Crier. The split of the 114 employed people of Althorpe Street between Male/Female and skilled/unskilled is shown here (right).

The 1901 Census also shows that the mobility of labour is not just a 20th Century concept. Out of 114 employed residents, 21 had moved into Althorpe Street from as far afield as Wales, London and Yorkshire presumably sparked by job opportunities arising from the town’s development on the North side of the river.

The coming of the railways

Prior to the arrival of the railways, transport to and from Leamington was by coach. These left the Bath Hotel coach office every morning to connect with train services to Birmingham and also London from Coventry station, a journey which in 1841 took 4 hours 10 minutes (versus today’s 1 hour 55 minutes). In 1844 part of Althorpe Street (nearest to High Street) was demolished to make way for the bridge to carry the London and Northwestern line to Coventry with the further development of an adjacent branch line by Great Western in 1853 giving access to Oxford and Birmingham. Althorpe Street’s housing loss was Leamington’s gain since access to the railways made for easy and rapid communication by all the UK with the Spa.