Three families in 1891

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From the Exeter Evening Post 

Monday April 6th 1891:


"The work of collecting the census papers commenced today. Preachers at various churches yesterday based their discourse on the taking of the Census".

Probably the last thing on the mind of anyone in the West Country in the early days of Spring 1891 was the Census. The weeks just before Sunday April 5th (Census night) were totally dominated by the weather, and the terrible hardships it brought to everyone and everything in the counties of Devon and Cornwall.

A spell of intensely cold weather blew in from the Arctic early in March 1891, bringing with it gales, blizzards, ice and extreme falls of snow. The West of England was particularly hard hit and it was not until the third week of March that a slight thaw began in the Axminster area, spreading very slowly to other parts of Devon and Cornwall by the end of the following week. It was assumed in 1891 that most people could read and write so every householder was supposed to fill out a form with the required information. The enumerator would then collect the forms and copy the information into the official Census Return book and the plan was to deliver the forms to every home ahead of April 5th. 

The railways should have played a key role in conveying Census forms (and enumerators) around the area, but the rapid onset of the storm and the sheer volume of snowfall defeated everyone. To begin with, Brunel's main Great Western line from Exeter to Plymouth (which runs along the sea coast) was kept open, with gangs of railway workers digging and shovelling snow in the most appalling conditions. But within hours they simply had to give up and numerous trains, with their passengers, became stranded. On inland lines, like the track from Plymouth up to Princetown over Dartmoor, trains literally became engulfed in snow and it was days before rescuers could reach the passengers. By March 17th, the entire county was impassable by road or rail.

From the Exeter Evening Post

Thursday March 12th 1891

"Rescuers reached the train  and railway employees attempted to clear the line by digging but were driven back by the awful cold. In some places, the snow drifted until it was like a mountain"

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