Who lived here in the early years?

Photo: Illustrative image for the 'Who lived here in the early years?' page

The social makeup of Powis Square in the early years

By Carolyn Sansbury

We wanted to find out something about early residents of Powis Square. We began with the censuses and street directories. At the Local History Centre we found the censuses from 1851-1911 for Powis Square and the Road, and made photocopies.   Studying our censuses at home, we could see there were changing patterns of people living here. In 1851 - when Powis Square was called Powis Place - and in 1861, it was all rather genteel, with small households headed by a “Landed Proprietor” (no.1), a “Gentleman” or “Gentlewoman” (no. 3 and no.13), or a “Clergyman” (no.2).  

Women and children rule!

Then, in 1871, it was really remarkable to see that Powis Square was inhabited almost entirely by women and children – that year, the census reported 164 females and only 26 males, most of whom were young boys. Of the total of 190 people listed, 70 were under 15 years old. The grown-ups were nearly all widows and grass widows, single women either working or with independent means, and dozens of domestic servants – all women and girls. Some of these women seem to have been doing very well indeed - Isabella Travers, a wholesale grocer from London, lived at no.3 Powis Square with 2 nieces and a nephew from Sydney Australia, and a lot of servants for such a small household: a French governess, a cook, a messenger (the cook’s 14 year old daughter), a ladies' maid, a housemaid and a parlourmaid!    

Schoolmistresses and scholars

And there were schools, lots of them. In 1854 there were nine, in 1861, eight, and in 1871 there were seven. A typical example was at nos. 17+18 Powis Square, where Miss Mary Strongitharm had her establishment. Miss Strongitharm - with the help of Heliose Harle from Versailles in France, Anna Scholte from Hanover in Germany, one other teacher and three servants - taught eleven girls aged 9-17.  Women like Miss Strongitharm and her colleagues were educated, or at very least literate, numerate, and possessing transferable ladylike skills - and they were supporting themselves financially.

Magistrates, musicians and merchants

Later, the social make-up of Powis Square and Powis Road began to change – there were more families, more men, more  professional people (solicitors, physicians, a magistrate), artists, a musician, a music-hall manager, and more ‘trade’ – these were the glory years of the Age of Capital. For example, in 1891, there was a furniture dealer (Edward Broadbridge, 2 Powis Square), an indigo merchant (Francis Roberts, no.11), a brick merchant (Joseph French, no.18), and our only truly famous local hero, Thomas Crapper, the sanitary engineer, who was living at no.21 Powis Square in the early 1890s.

This page was added on 08/04/2010.

If you're already a registered user of this site, please login using the form on the left-hand side of this page.