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Migration from Cranfield

There have been times when life was so hard in Cranfield that families took their chance on moving away to find work with hopes for a better quality of life.

Some of the earliest migrants were Quakers in the late 1600s. Thomas Wheeler (d. 1634) of Cranfield, England had eleven children. Seven of them immigrated to New England around 1638/69. Most of them settled in Massachusetts, probably to join Peter Bulkeley, formerly rector of Odell who encouraged settlers and was instrumental in setting up the town of Concord.

Later, in the 19th century life working on the land was extremely hard and with encouragement from the Rev James Beard, rector of Cranfield and Justice of the Peace, several families from Cranfield packed up and moved way looking for a better life. A favourite destination was Lancashire with its prospering industry principally cotton.

The archives of the Duke of Bedford contain a letter from which the following extract is taken. It describes the visit by the Rev James Beard, rector of Cranfield and Justice of the Peace to Lancashire on a fact-finding mission in 1835 to see how families were coping who had taken the journey up north. [R3/3889]

“I went to Ampthill Board today to get information about migration of families into manufacturing districts. Beard has returned from 3-mth. visit to Lancs; his account of employment is highly gratifying; he saw 3 families from Cranfield in July who have got on exceedingly well, & he is now sending away a lot more; altogether by the end of next week he will have got 16 families (about 100, old & young) from Cranfield, where they were destitute, into full & regular work at high wages. The Ampthill Bd. resolved to send an intelligent man to make a circuit among the manufacturers to ascertain likelihood of work; and if prospect good to arrange with someone on the spot to send information as to where people are wanted, as well as to meet the paupers when sent & help them to get work.”

Amongst the migrants was Philip Pedder and his family. They left Cranfield for Mellor, a cotton town near Manchester.  In Cranfield, Philip had earned 7 shillings a week as a farmworker, his wife and daughters 5s 10d by lacemaking and a son 2s 6d as a ploughboy. In 1834 he was working on the land and his wife and children in a factory and their total earnings had doubled to 30 shillings a week. The mill owner, Mr Clayton stated that he found his new employees very gentle.

The railways offered another source of employment as this was a boom time for building the railways. The work was hard and accommodation often very poor but the wages were much better than agricultural rates.

Others from Bedfordshire moved to London to take their chance, with Islington being a popular destination.