An Illustrated Social History

Chelsworth  Yesterday and Today

IIn the early 18th Century, the majority of the men in the village work on the land or on crafts connected with farming, and this manual labour leaves them little time or energy for other kinds of activity. Women’s time, too, is largely taken up with the endless tasks of household chores and raising large families, or domestic service, perhaps along with spinning or dressmaking or other home-based enterprises.

For their children, there are limited opportunities for education, amounting at best to a minimal competence in reading, writing and arithmetic. Thereafter, a lifetime of work is the early prospect for young people, possibly in an apprenticeship to a craftsman, but more probably labouring work in the fields.

For the food and goods they need, women can get much of their family’s daily requirement from their neighbours - butchers, bakers and millers, husbandmen, smiths and so on: but to a large extent they grow their own food, bake their own bread and make their own clothes.

For the special purchase, there are the weekly markets, such as that in Bildeston, an the country fairs where they may be tempted to try out a quack doctor’s patent medicine or some promoter’s new invention.

On Sunday, the one day free from manual labour, men are required to take their wives and children to All Saints Church, to be lectured by the parson on the need for subservience to the will of God and to their rightful lords and masters. They also endeavour to sing along with the popular hymns and struggle to understand the Bible readings. They sit of course in the back pews, while their betters are warmly ensconced in their roomier, heated and boxed enclosures.

3.     Daily Life In Chelsworth

For these more comfortable residents, management of the estate may take up the greater part of the man’s working day, but they also have considerable opportunity to engage in social intercourse and leisure activities. Their wives and children are even less profitably occupied on productive endeavours, with the women able to command the labour of several domestic servants and the younger ones exposed to only modest opportunities for learning. However, there is a good tradition of charitable work and giving to the poor.

Today, we live in a world of convenience and material well-being, and much of our daily life revolves around, and is supported by, the implements of a technologically mature society - whether it be the household tools that we need for work such as laundry, cooking and cleaning, or the social requisites that enrich (if that is the right word) our ability to create and communicate, such as the computer and the mobile telephone.