Staffordshire Working Lives
An account by Thomas Carr - executor of a will

An account by Thomas Carr, acting as executor to his brother John Carr of Wetton, in the Staffordshire Moorlands, dated 1760. John Carr's will of 31 January, held at Lichfield Record Office, describes him as a yeoman, and his probate inventory includes basic agricultural implements and farming stock. The burial on 27 January, recorded in the parish register for Wetton, states that John Carr was drowned, but does not give his age.

The executor's account given here starts with payments relating to John's death, such as paying for the coroner, coffin and funeral expenses, and proving the will. But it continues with general payments made to local tradesmen, and money advanced to John's young son, Thomas, who is still at school. The purpose of this document is to illustrate the continuing cycle of life and work.

(© Staffordshire Record Office: D1065/10/4)

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Staffordshire is a large county of many extremes and this is reflected in the working lives of those who lived here in the past. It had two large industrial urban areas at each end, dominated by coal and ironworks in the south, and by coal and pottery in the north. For centuries a lack of navigable rivers had restricted the county's wider ability to trade, but this changed from the late-eighteenth century when canals and then railways started to cross the county between the centres of industry. Large rural and agricultural areas continued to fill the space in between, with smaller market towns and smaller industries and with large residences and private estates.

The building of the canals and then the railways changed the landscape for ever and also had a significant effect upon working lives. First, while new these communications were under construction, labourers were brought in from far away and previously isolated communities might find many strangers in their midst. Second, once these routes were opened, travel and trade became an easy option and so the mixing of rural and urban dwellers and workers became more widespread.

Staffordshire is known for many manufactured products. The manufactories based in industrial areas were closely connected with mining and its by-products, such as pottery and tile or brick-making, and metal-working. The Black Country in South Staffordshire developed a multitude of specialist workers in small pieces of metalwork and this also led to the development of related trades such as leatherwork for horses. The supply of leather then spread to Stafford, famous for its shoe trade. Other areas, such as Leek and Burton-on-Trent, developed other specialities, including textiles and brewing. At the same time people were working in agriculture and commerce, domestic or estate service, general labouring or civil engineering, all the many types of work similar across the country.

This website illustrates the working lives of the people of Staffordshire and Stoke on Trent, through a sample of documents that show them at work. Working Lives is divided into different themes or types of work, each with an introductory section. The Victoria County History for Staffordshire has provided much useful background supporting the information given in the documents themselves. This is a developing site and more examples of different types of work will be added.

Many types of documents have been used to illustrate different types of work. Some contain a straightforward description of a task, such as an advertisement for a post, or a list of instructions to a new employee; others provide more depth, such as a report by an official or land agent. Accounts can be kept in such detail that they also itemise individual activities sufficiently to give a very good idea of the work involved.

Many of the occasions when people describe how they work occurred because something had gone wrong. So these might be disputes or legal cases about the quality or cost of work, witness statements relating to a crime, or examinations relating to poverty and unemployment.

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