Key Topics

All Things Bright and Beautiful

- A Social Comment

When I was at primary school in the 1940's we used to sing hymns and one of my favourites began:

All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful,
The Lord God made them all.

Another verse, deleted from modern hymn books as no longer being politically correct, was:

The rich man in his castle,
The poor man at the gate,
He made them, high and lowly,
And ordered their estate.

When you research your ancestors it is important that you recognise the intense social stratification that existed in England before the First World War. If marriages were not actually arranged, the young people knew what was expected of them. You married within your class, and usually within your religious denomination. At least among the well-to-do, cousin marriages were quite common - perhaps to keep the money in the family. The child of a skilled tradesman was more likely to marry at the same level, than higher or lower in the class structure. Even if the financial status was similar, the son of a leading non-conformist shopkeeper was more likely to take a similar wife than to marry the daughter of a local farmer who was vicar's warden in the parish church. The son of a Quaker was unlikely to marry the daughter of an army officer. Occupations often passed from father to son, while the well-to-do might prepare the eldest son to take over the country house and associated estate, while younger sons would enter the professions - such as the law - or become ministers of the Church of England.

Of course there were exceptions - but if you simply collect names to pin on your family tree without keeping an eye on social status, religious affiliation or occupation you could easily make mistakes.

If you can add to the information given above tell me.


Minor typo corrected October 2007