Census files

The Fustian trade through the Census Returns

1841 census joseph greenwood image.jpg

The following section is a snapshot of the lives of the people who worked in the fustian trade in this area during the nineteenth century – where they lived, who they were and what they actually did.

It was obtained from a detailed study of the census returns for the Wadsworth township, which covers most of the area of Hebden Bridge and the western part of Mytholmroyd.

Anyone wishing to obtain similar information about Heptonstall township, which includes that part of Hebden Bridge west of the River Hebden, can do so by consulting some family history websites who offer most census free of charge.

It is worth noting that the interpretation of census returns is not without problems. Enumerators were sometimes inconsistent in their descriptions of occupations, for example, so ' educated guesses' have sometimes had to be made. See E. Higgs (1996) 'A Clearer Sense of the Census' HMSO for further information on interpreting census material.


Wadsworth was divided into 12 Enumeration Districts(ED) for the census. Much of the township was rural, with many engaged in farming. Most of the population was born in Yorkshire – the 1841 census gives no further detail but, as we know from 1851, the majority probably came from Wadsworth or adjoining townships.

Worsted weaving was the predominant textile occupation at the time, with some cotton weaving, and associated trades such as woolcombing or bobbin winding. Although it is rarely stated explicitly it is fair to assume that all those classified as 'weavers' worked on hand looms, in their own homes. There are only 24 power loom weavers listed in the whole of Wadsworth.

It was not unusual for members of the same family to be involved with different textiles, and, occasionally, for a weaver to weave both cotton and worsted – perhaps a response to periodic changes in the market for different cloths.

Those interested in the life of Joseph Greenwood, who was later active in the Co-operative movement and a founder member of the Hebden Bridge Fustian Manufacturing Society, will find him, aged 7, living with his parents and younger brother and sister in Wadsworth Lanes (ED 8).

In 1841 the production of fustian was in its early stages and was taking place in the valley bottom i.e. in Hebden Bridge itself. It will be noted that the association of Machpelah with fustian was already established.

Summary of those involved in Fustian Production 1841

Fustian Cutters:


By 1851 Wadsworth township had been divided into 10 Enumeration Districts.

The textile industry is still very mixed, with woollen and worsted, cotton and even carpets all being woven in the area. Increasing numbers are working with power.

Now that the census returns were more specific about place of birth we can see early signs of migration from outside the immediate area.

Joseph Greenwood is still living with his parents and working as a Fustian Cutter - the only one on the Wadsworth hillside.

There appears to be a discrepancy between the increased number of Fustian manufacturers and the small number of cutters. It may be that some cutters lived in other townships and also that those involved in manufacture were still very small scale.

Summary of those involved in Fustian Production 1851

Fustian Cutters:


There has been an increase in the numbers involved in fustian and further evidence of people coming from further afield – Warrington was also an area where fustian was important.

Certain areas of Hebden Bridge were becoming strongly associated with fustian – the Foster Lane area, for example, along with Machpelah, and east towards Mytholmroyd.

Some problems of interpretation - 'Fustian Cutter's Wife' is taken to mean that the woman was not economically active since several wives are listed as 'Fustian Cutters'. 'Cord Cutter' and variants have been included as Fustian Cutters.

Where an occupation existed for more than one type of textile (e.g. ending and mending) it is only included if 'fustian' is mentioned or if there are strong grounds for assuming a fustian link, for example, other family members working with fustian.

Joseph Greenwood is now married and living with his wife and two small children in Commercial St.

Summary of those involved in Fustian Production 1861

Fustian Cutters:


The beginnings of the ready-made clothing industry are beginning to appear and with them some problems of definition. Tailors or seamstresses have not been included unless there is an additional reference which suggests that they were part of the clothing as opposed to 'cottage' industry.

Similarly, warehousemen are excluded unless it is clear that they were employed in fustian warehouse; also 'dyers' or 'enders' unless it is reasonable to suppose a fustian connection, such as other family members. This may have resulted in a very small under-estimation.

It will be noted that Joseph Greenwood's son, Virgil, is now a part-time cutter.

The family seems to have spent some time in Huddersfield – the birthplace of two of their children.

For the first time Hebden Bridge is mentioned as a place of birth, suggesting that people are beginning to identify with the growing town, rather than the township of Wadsworth.

Summary of those involved in Fustian Production and Wholesale Clothing 1871

Fustian Cutters: