The population figures taken from the census material and the percentages of the whole population are as follows:

Date 1841 1851 1861 1871 1881 1891 1901
Population 178 168 177 157 169 175 149
Adults 105
Over 60 10
Children 73
Paupers 0 4 0 0 0 0 0


This shows a very stable number of people over the 120 years, going against the national trend which saw an increase in the first three decades of the 19th century. Nationally, the age balance of population was different from today, there being a much larger percentage of children. By 1850, 40% of the population was under fifteen and one in ten, 10%, was over 60.

In Elsfield, the number of children in the village was rather below the national average. The number of people over 60 fluctuated, as one might expect. Since all the cottages in the village were tied and needed by the farmers for their workers, some elderly people would have moved out of their homes when they could no longer work, either to move in with relatives or to the workhouse at Headington or St Clements or the house provided by the Mary Brett charity in Marston.

Paupers are listed in only one census, though they would undoubtedly have existed at other times. In 1851, Ann Tolley, aged 66 and living with her son and his family, is listed as a pauper or fieldworker, as is Sarah Lock, aged 76, living with her son and daughter-in-law. William and Mary Narroway, aged 80 and 77 respectively, are also paupers.

It is not possible to be as accurate about the information from 1825, though counting the people who lived in the cottages, there were 74 adults and 50 children. Added to this number must be five farmers and their families, of which we know nothing, Mrs Oglander, a lady of substance who paid £2 towards the upkeep of the Sunday School, and paid for the education of twelve children at the day school in Stow Wood. John Weyland Esquire is also listed along with John Beckley, who held fishing rights, presumably in the Cherwell, though the Bayswater Brook would have been a good source of trout. This means there were over 80 adults living in Elsfield and more than 50 children.



Infant Mortality

Reay points out that in England today only 1-2% of children die in the first five years of life. In early Victorian England, this was 25-28%. Infant and child mortality are usually treated as indicators of the health of a community. However, there is little information about health in rural parts and most of the information is concerned with conditions in the towns. There was relatively high life expectancy in the country and life seems to have been more secure among country children than in those raised in towns. There were two danger periods for death in children – early Spring from respiratory diseases and late summer or early autumn because of the risk of diarrhoea. This double peak does not show up in the parish register but the numbers are so small that it would be difficult to draw any conclusions from them.

There was a long term decline in infant mortality between 1701 and 1911. Still births and unbaptised young babies might not be buried by the vicar and so will not feature in the statistics.

In Elsfield,  the numbers of children have been broken down into those dying in the first year of life, those between the ages of one to five and older children up to the age of fourteen.

Death of Children

1841-51 1851-61 1861-71 1871-81 1881-91 1891-1901
0-1 11 7 4 2 5 3
1-5 6 2 1 0 1 0
5-14 5 1 4 0 2 1
Total 22 10 9 2 8 4


The difference in child mortality between the 1840s and the rest of the century is quite striking. Perhaps this is due to the increase in prosperity and therefore better nutrition available to families.



Age at death

Nationally, there are no peaks in the seasonality of adult deaths, as there are in childhood deaths. Most deaths occurred in winter and spring, from respiratory diseases such as influenza, bronchitis, pneumonia and tuberculosis.

Again the numbers in the Elsfield sample are too small to draw any conclusions. There is certainly a decline in the number of people buried per decade but the age of death does not increase with the passing of the decades, the years between 1881 and 1891 being no better than the 1841-1850 period.

Adult burials 1841-190

Decade Number buried Average age at death
1841-1850 28 56
1851-1860 22 69
1861-1870 27 63
1871-1880 18 67
1881-1890 13 57
1891-1900 18 70




Judging by the average age of death and the number of children dying before reaching adulthood, Elsfield seems to have been a healthy place to live, compared with the national picture and became more so as the century progressed. The picture emerging from this data does suggest that in some ways the idea of the rural idyll was a true one compared with life in some of our towns, but we should not downplay the sheer misery of day to day living for some of the poor of the village, especially in the winter. The School Log Books catalogue the coughs and colds, the accidents, the swollen feet and burst chilblains of the children who could not get to school, the epidemics which swept through the population: measles, diphtheria, scarlet fever, whooping cough and the occasional deaths from diseases such as influenza. As Reay says,

“The health experience of agricultural labourers may have been better than that of other occupations, relatively speaking, yet for many it was a life of suffering and pain.”

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