Where Did Everyone come From?
The Story of One Enumeration District
Enumeration District No 25, 1881 (Kensington St Mary) includes a short length of Elgin Avenue and the end roads of the Neeld Estate. These householders were the first to occupy the new houses. They were pioneers, gathered from many directions as the census returns show. There are 47 sheets of Census Returns with 1,175 persons listed. Of these, 194 (16.51%) of the Heads of Houses were born in Wiltshire, or counties west of this, or in South Wales, and would probably have arrived in Paddington by the Great Western Railway.
The tendency in London was for people to want to move out towards the west, into the prevailing wind, away from the industrial smog of the East End and the Lee Valley. If there was work available, the newcomers would have preferred to stay there, rather than go east. And there was work, for the big shops of Kensington required large numbers of assistants and specialist workers to provide the goods and services which they offered. The census shows railway-men, as one would expect, but also dressmakers, a trunk buyer, a hosier's clerk, tailors, woollen drapers, warehousemen, silk buyers, a mantle cutter, upholsterers and other people who must have served in the prosperous new shopping centres of Kensington and Knightsbridge.
The shops gave employment to a huge range of specialists, many of whom would have been very polite, neatly dressed, not well paid but in fairly regular employment, and highly respectable. The area probably contrasted sharply with the unskilled and casually employed of parts of Lisson Grove, on the other side of the Edgware Road.
Of the 194 arrivals from the west, 52 (26.8%) were Heads of Households. Some wives and children too were born in the west. So were a surprising number of servants and lodgers who, in their turn, might settle and bring up families.
Why did so many people come from the west? W.G.Hoskins, in 'Devon', part of the New Survey of England, 1954, pub. David & Charles, says:-