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These were given focus when I began the process of buying one of the first miner’s cottages in California, Eston and it particularly made me wonder how a community such as Eston coped with changing population after the opening of the first mine in January 1851.

To give myself an idea of the effects of mining on Eston, I looked at the 1841, 1851 and 1861 censuses to see how the demographics of the community were altered by mining. The impact of mining on Eston in these years is startling.

Population Changes 1841-1861

In 1841 Eston consisted of 78 households and a population of just 332. By 1851 the number of households remained the same but the population had increased by 129 to 461. The increase is almost entirely due to the influx of 105 miners or labourers in the mines. In the subsequent decade (1851-61) Eston changed dramatically. Three new districts emerged: Eston Junction (District 7), California (District 6) and South Eston (District 5) and the number of households rose by 413 with the population rising by 2374. The original area of Eston (called District 4 in the censuses) had changed little as the population here rose from 461 to 484 from 1851 to 1861 although even here 19 new households were added.

Looking at the household development the three new areas were expanding rapidly and in tandem. In 1861 Eston Junction had 165 households, California 148 and South Eston 161 and each area appears to have developed its own character with South Eston and California mainly serving the mines and Eston Junction linked to iron processing and the railway. These figures reveal an exceptional level of housebuilding to serve the needs of ironstone but also that this was still insufficient to meet the needs of the expanding population. The census shows that the initial influx of miners had been housed in 1851 by 45% of households in Eston (35 out of 78) taking in lodgers. Despite the huge building programme after 1851 lodging in other people’s homes was still the case in 1861 with 38% of households (226 out of 591) having lodgers within them.

Table 1: Household and Population Changes in Eston, 1851-1861

Table 2: Household Formation in Eston, 1851 to 1861

The expansion of the population in the decade after 1851 had a major effect on the gender and age distribution of the population. In 1841 the gender division in Eston was virtually 50% male and 50% female but this changed because of the initial influx of miners, most of whom came alone. This meant that by 1851 62% of the population was male. However, by 1861 the building of houses and the arrival of wives and children meant that males had fallen to 56% of the population. The influx of families also changed the age distribution of the population with those under 10 increasing by 873 representing an increase from 21% of the total population to 34%. This meant that in 1861 40% of the population of Eston (1211) were under 15.

Table 3: Population Age Distribution in Eston, 1851-1861

The 614% increase in population in a decade was created by the influx of people from elsewhere in the UK and in a few cases from further afield. The 1841 census is less detailed than the two later censuses and appears to show that the population of Eston at that time were all born in Yorkshire. By 1851 this had changed with 38% of the population listed as being born in Eston and 39% in Yorkshire. The remaining 23% of the population were drawn from across the UK with 12% of the population from County Durham and 2% each from Westmorland and Scotland. The dramatic rise in the population from 1851 to 1861 meant that those born in Eston now represented just 19% of the total while those born in Yorkshire were 33%. The remaining 48% of the population were widely drawn but 9% of the population were born in Durham and a further 9% in Lincolnshire with 5% from Wales, 3% from Ireland and 2% from Scotland.

Table 4: Places of birth listed for those living in Eston in 1851 and 1861

Looking more closely at the different districts of Eston in 1861, only the original village had over 71% of the population born in Eston or Yorkshire hinting at the possibility that this may have been the most stable community. South Eston also showed a majority born in Eston/Yorkshire (55%) while the other two areas saw majorities born outside Yorkshire with just 48% born in Yorkshire in California and 39% in Eston Junction. Given the very high numbers of children under 10 in these areas, even these percentages might be skewed by births in Eston after families migrated to the village.

It is also clear that immigrant populations tended to congregate in different districts of Eston. Of the 86 Irish immigrants, 81 were living in Eston Junction in 1861 as were 170 of the 178 Welsh. By contrast 147 of the 239 from Lincolnshire were to be found in California along with 37 of the 63 Scots. In South Eston 22 of the 34 arrivals from Devon settled.

Clearly place of birth gives no certainty as to where the new population came from immediately before moving to Eston. However, many families who moved in to the village had children born in the previous decade in the counties of their parents’ birth. This would indicate that many who came to Eston moved from places where they had been long-term resident and that many were moving away from the counties of their birth for the first time.

Occupations in Eston, 1841-1861

In 1841 Eston’s rural status meant that the population were mainly involved in agriculture. 89 men had their occupations listed. Of these 43 were agricultural labourers, 7 farmers and 2 gardeners, meaning 58% were directly working the land. The 9 women listed with occupations were all in domestic service.

By 1851 this had changed. 61 men were still directly working the land but 108 were now engaged in mining meaning that already 44% of those listed with occupations were working in extracting ironstone. This was even more dramatically altered by 1861. Only 29 remained working the land while 645 were now working in mining, 182 in processing ironstone and 45 on the railways. One hidden factor in these figures is that the percentage of women over 20 working rose from 9% in 1851 to 18% in 1861. Another factor appears to be that children under 15 were more likely to be in school. In 1851 43% of boys and 29% of girls were listed as scholars but this had risen to 68% and 73% respectively by 1861 although this might have been linked to the requirement that young people must read and write to work.

5: Occupations of inhabitants of Eston in 1851 and 1861

The above table also shows the reasons behind the influx of population into Eston. Clearly there was a substantial need for physical labourers to work the ironstone seam. However, the table also makes clear that there were many new specialist roles within Eston which demanded people with particular skills and experience and that these had to be drawn from communities widely across the UK.

The censuses also show that boys under 15 were also in employment. In 1851 only one under 15 was employed and he was working as an apprentice butcher to his uncle with whom he lived. By 1861, 53 boys aged 15 or under were working in a variety of roles in the mines with the youngest aged 10.

Table 6: Boys aged 10 to 15 employed in the Eston mines in 1861

The influx of so many people from different areas and backgrounds must have imposed huge strains on the fledgling communities. Table 4 shows that the four communities of Eston had some cohesion due to their linkage to a specific sector of the ironstone industry and this was probably enhanced by the fact that many of the larger immigrant communities settled in the same district. The increase in the number of inns from 1 to 6 and the doubling of the police presence in the community (admittedly only to 2!) hints at other issues while Eston Junction received its first independent minister in the decade to serve the community’s spiritual needs. Evidence suggests that the vicar of Eston had lived elsewhere. The school must also have developed rapidly from 30 students to 432 but only three teachers are listed as living in Eston raising the question of who was educating the children.

One notable absence in both 1851 and 1861 is William Danby and his wife Patience. William is listed in 1841 as being a comedian and still had that occupation in 1851 while living at The Unicorn Inn in Ixworth, Suffolk. Perhaps, the substantial changes to Eston meant that he no longer found much to laugh about in the village!


The above gives the merest snapshot of a community at a time of extreme change and hints at areas which are interesting for greater research. The apparent stability of the original community of 78 households needs further interrogation to see if families remained in Eston despite the changes and whether they retained their original homes. More perplexing, however, is how Eston coped with the more general changes. The three new areas of Eston all appear to have had slightly distinct characters and populations. How each of these communities worked and how they related to each other are intriguing and research here would help to show how those drawn to the area by the prospect of jobs and homes linked to ironstone were able to cohere despite such extreme diversity.

Written by Kevin Dillow