Labour Movement

miners wanted leeds mercury 21 Feb 1916

Today’s high levels of home ownership have reduced elasticity in the jobs market. That is to say that people who have mortgages, especially in negative equity, are less able to move to other parts of the country than the overwhelming majority of working class people in the nineteenth century, who rented overcrowded housing (by modern standards). It is fair to point out that personal transport, cars and even bicylces, provide for greater flexibility, but moving beyond commuting range is much more challenging, and for many impossible to contemplate.

Back in Georgian and Victorian times, though, it was a much simpler process. A week’s notice to the landlord, or just a moonlight flit, load up a few possessions, and move to where the new work was. Sometimes recruitment drives would provide transport and help find accommodation. Lodgings were often available for single men and young women in service often lived in.

For me the interesting questions are when did they move and why? Ancestor’s migrations can be tracked via their residence in censuses, but this is only a ten-yearly snapshot and people could move several times in a decade. More precision can be achieved from dates and places of birth, baptism, marriage and death. There is a wide range of other sources, for example newspapers, trade directories and shipping departures and arrivals.

So, what prompted fourth great grandfather William Dennis to move to the small mining village of Moira in north west Leicestershire? I very much doubt it was the spa at Moira Baths!


William Dennis was born in 1754 in Measham, Derbyshire, and buried at Moira in 1822, so it appears that he moved at least some of his family to Moira before then. His grandsons Joseph (1812) and Henry (1814) were born respectively at Measham and Moira. At the inquest into the deaths of Jesse and Thomas Dennis at the Moira Bath Pit in 1845, Joseph Dennis, son of William (and father of the late Thomas), said he had worked there for more than 30 years. The Bath Pit at Moira opened in 1813, so it seems reasonable to suppose that they moved to take employment at this new colliery.

Moira was a typical mining village, where employment was dominated by coal mining. Some young women could find work as lace workers – all 17 in the 1841 census, described as lace work or lace runner, were females aged between 12 and 22 years. There seems to be no information online about where these young women worked. There are references in newspapers to habersashers being able to supply Moira satin and silk, but no reports about its manufacture. There were lace and cotton mills, served by the canal, in Measham (one occupation is given as “cotton factory”), so it seems they must have walked there, about 3 miles. Walking such a distance to work would have been unexceptional in the 1840s.

The driving force behind much of Measham’s economic success was Joseph Wilkes (1733-1805). He established cotton and carding mills powered by steam engines, but I have not found reference to lace making.

occ moira 1841

The 1841 census allows some understanding of the economy in Moira. As expected, coal mining was the dominant source of employment, but textiles and farming were also significant. About one third of people were in work, which seems typical for the time.

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