Our daughter turned 13 this month, I was the same age in 1991 and I clearly remember my father sitting down to complete our family’s census return that year. He explained to me that they happen every ten years and that they are really important. I’ve always carried that with me and I actually get a thrill out of completing our census form. I understand that the government needs information about the current demographic of our country’s population to plan for future development and provision of services, but for me the real beauty of the census is that it helps to unlock the past...
When we moved to Halsbeer Farm (five years ago on 21st March) I was initially too busy to give much thought to the previous inhabitants of the farmstead. I knew from the previous owners that there may have been a Domesday manor on the site and that the current house was believed to date from the 1600s but beyond that I had no idea about its history and that of its former occupants. As with most research these days I started googling not just Halsbeer but also its alternative spellings of Halsbeare, Halsbear and Halsbere. I started turning up some interesting things and soon got into census records via Find My Past.
They really do open up a window on family and farm life in the past. The history of a house becomes a lot more real when you have names for its former inhabitants. The records cover a seventy year period from 1841 (considered the year of the first ‘modern’ census’) up until 1911 (the most recent census that is publicly available). Sometimes a bit of detective work is required to interpret the relationships but for me that is part of the fun. It’s like solving a mystery, each new discovery is a piece in the puzzle...
A house is so much more than just bricks and mortar, or in our case cobb and thatch. It is all the people who have gone before; who built it, altered it, who lived and breathed in it, were born in it and died in it. I will enjoy filling in my census on Sunday. I like to think that future amateur historians might one day want to research who lived in our house in this century. We are but one family in a long line of guardians of Halsbeer. We may not be locals, having relocated from Surrey five years ago, but we love the house, Blackborough and Kentisbeare and are grateful for those who have gone before and those who live here still. It is the family that makes a house a home and the community that makes villages lovely places to live. And we love being able to share this historic homestead with our guests too.
For more about Halsbeer Farm's history and that of its inhabitants visit our Halsbeer history webpage. If you are a descendant of or have any information about any of the former occupants of the farm I would love to hear from you. At some point I would very much like to organise a family history day for descendants of those who lived here in the past to come and visit. Do please let me know if you are interested.