A social pioneer who lifted the lid on scandalous goings-on in a rural village has finally had her paper published – more than 100 years after her embarrassed subjects had it suppressed.
Maud Davies, 33, broke with small town convention and left to study at the London School of Economics before returning to write a sociological study of the village.
But the description of her neighbours as “rather rough”, a “drunken sot”, a “dirty lot” with children branded “rascals”, “slow”, “lazy” or “sulky” caused outrage in Corsley, Wilts.
Villagers petitioned the local parish council to have it successfully repressed and withdrawn before it was sent to publishers.
Maud, who went on to investigate and expose the ‘white slave trade’ in British prostitutes to America and the West Indies, was found dead, decapitated at the age of 37.
But now, exactly 100 years after her death, John Chandler, a local historian and publisher, has finally printed the forgotten paper.
He said: “The trouble was that, although she did not name them individually, they found it easy to identify who she was describing.
“Her frank comments about their drinking habits and moral lapses did not go down well. The parish council tried to suppress and have it withdrawn.”
Maud studied sociology at the London School of Economics at the turn of the century and was hailed as probably the first girl from the area to make it to university.
In 1905 she returned to Corsley for an in-depth investigation into the daily lives of ordinary villagers and was allowed into homes to record every detail of their day-to-day survival.
Her book goes into fascinating detail about wages and working conditions of each labourer and lays bare the meagre living agricultural workers had to endure at the time.
She even outlined exactly what individual members of families ate – using food and work diaries filled in by residents.
But despite knowing her subjects, and growing up with many of them, she pulled no punches when it came to describing their drunkenness and laziness.
In one extract where she describes a market gardener and his wife she notes: “Drank a good deal of their profits, wife got so drunk she could hardly sit in the cart.
“Seen one day in public at Frome having glass of port – more than such people could afford.”
In another she describes a labourer, his wife and four children: “Can’t say much for them. Wife hard-working woman, but bad manager.
“Not much of it [debt]. A poor lot, drink too much and don’t pay. Dirty lot. Inspector has been down on the once or twice – woman keeps house so dirty.
“Dirty children. Noted family. Have been on point of reporting parents to Officer of Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Children.
“Yet children wouldn’t be so bad with careful training. Attendance [at school] bad, they take turns to come.”
She lists more than 200 houses into six categories – family, probably income in money or kind, amount above or below primary poverty, general character, promptness in paying debts and thrift generally, school report.
The book, “Life in an English Village”, took Maud more than five years to complete and she even includes an hourly census of the numbers and types of people in the six pubs in Corsley over several nights.
John, from Stroud, Glos., stumbled across the book in the 1970s when running the local studies library in Wiltshire.
John added: “Maud’s book, though rare, was not completely suppressed, and has been valued and quoted by social historians for more than a century.
“In 2001 a television programme was made about it.
“Now there is a new edition of this fascinating document, edited by Dr Jane Howells and published as a paperback by Hobnob Press available for all to read.”
The book is split into two halves, ‘Corsley in the past’, describing the geography of the village and its history, and ‘Corsley in the future’, setting out the results of her survey.
She carried out the work using a house-to-house enquiry to complete a questionnaire during the winter months of 1905-6.
She also sought reports “as to the characteristics of the various households” and information on incomes.
The publishing comes 100 years after the sociologist’s tragic, untimely death, when she was found, decapitated on a London underground line.
Maud, only 37, a campaigning researcher had just returned from a sea voyage to the West Indies and America investigating the ‘white slave trade’ which saw prostitutes from England being trafficked.
There were suspicions she had been murdered because she had discovered too much, or had killed herself. Her inquest was sensationally reported in the press.
The book is published by Hobnob Press and is available either online or in shops.