Subject Name :  Stephen Dallen (b 1813 – d 1886)

Researcher :  Katherine Rusbridge

Stephen Dallen comes across as a bit of a lost soul. He never married and never moved far from his birthplace, remaining at home with his parents until they both died within a few days of one another when he was age 34. Further difficult times followed, including at least two prison terms, ending with him spending his last years in the Guildford Union Workhouse where he passed away age 73.

Born in Ockham, Surrey on 17th January 1813, Stephen had a reasonable start in life. He was the 10th child of James and Ann Dallen nee Gavill in a family of eleven children, all of whom were baptised at the All Saints Church in Ockham.  James was clearly a strong supporter of that church, as his name had been inscribed on a bell there – ‘James Dallen & Richd Bonsey Churchwardens 1811’.

James was also a man of some status.  His occupation was ‘maltster’, responsible for preparing malted barley for brewing.  He was one of fifteen or so Ockham men qualified as jurors in 1802 to 1810. To qualify as a juror, he would either have owned a property worth £10 or more, or be in possession of a long lease with an annual value of £20. 

The list of Ockham’s jurors included Edward Capon, who, as a ‘miller’, would have worked closely with James. Edward died in 1818 and left a detailed will in which eight of the Dallen children, including Stephen, had a bequest of £10 each – a princely sum at that time.

Stephen’s father was not included in the will but continued to prosper.  An 1837 Report on the prisons of Great Britain listed James Dallen as the miller for the Guildford House of Correction since 1822, at a pay of one guinea per week (£54.60 per year).

At the time of the first formal Census in 1841, only Stephen, aged 28, and his younger brother James, 26, were still living with their parents James and Ann, now in Guildford.  James senior, in his 60s, was by now a miller. Stephen was described as a labourer and his brother James a bricklayer.

In January 1847, tragedy struck the family when both Stephen’s parents died in Guildford within three days of each another, his mother Ann age 75 on 19th January and father James age 71 on the 22nd. The cause of death for both was recorded as bronchitis. They were buried on the same day, 28th January, at Ockham and are consecutive entries in the All Saints Church parish register. 

Aside from trying to recover from their double loss, one of the immediate effects on Stephen and James would have been finding somewhere to live.  Four years later, the 1851 Census showed Stephen as a 36-year-old unmarried bricklayer’s labourer living at 11 Tuns Gate, Guildford, to the north east side of the castle. Although he was listed separately, Stephen was sharing the property with seven members of the Balchin family headed by William, another bricklayer’s labourer. Two other men living there were in the same occupation.

The arrival of the railway in the 1840s had attracted investment in Guildford, and as the town began to grow, bricklayers would have been in demand.  Stephen’s brother James had married in 1850 and remained a bricklayer’s labourer, living just around the corner in South Street with his wife and baby.

However, it seems that Stephen did not continue in this trade and before long, both himself and James found themselves in trouble with the law. 

In April 1856, Stephen, ‘a collector of rags and bones’ was charged with trespass, only avoiding prosecution on a legal technicality. As a ‘rag and bone man’, he would have eked out a meagre living by collecting mostly rags which could be turned into paper, and animal bones which could either provide grease for soap making or be carved into objects such as cutlery handles. 

Stephen’s brother James seemed to be heading in a similar downward direction.  Although still working as a bricklayer, he became well known to the authorities as a trespasser and poacher, with the occupational hazard of rather frequent short spells in prison.  Although this continued into the 1870s, he still was able to raise a family of six children.

In July 1860, Stephen was charged with stealing a piece of chain, value one shilling (5 pence) and was found guilty, serving 14 days hard labour in Wandsworth Prison.  45-year-old Stephen’s prison record noted him to be 5ft 9in (1.75m) tall, with grey hair, grey eyes and a fresh complexion.

After his spell in Wandsworth, the 1861 Census showed Stephen was lodging in Trinity Church Yard, Guildford. He was still with the Balchin family, now headed by newly married 19-year-old Richard and his wife. Stephen’s occupation was listed as an ‘agricultural labourer’, but an unfortunate accident just before Christmas 1864 indicated that he had most probably remained as a rag and bone man. A newspaper report said that Stephen was returning with ‘a cart load of rags done up in sacks … in trying to get down was caught in the shafts and fell heavily on the ground fracturing both bones of the right leg’.  While he recovered from the injury, the Guildford Union provided some money and medical assistance for Stephen which would have kept him out of the workhouse then.  However, he did go on to spend some lengthy periods of time there during 1868 and 1869.

In the 1871 Census, Stephen ‘Darling’ sic, age 56, was lodging in Guildford High Street. He now called himself a ‘dealer’, but this was most likely his term for a rag and bone man.

Stephen seemed to manage to steer clear of the law until May 1876, when he was given a prison sentence of 21 days for ‘Lodging in a certain outhouse &c’, sleeping rough being a criminal offence under the Vagrancy Act of 1824.  His occupation was ‘general dealer’.  He had wounds on his leg, no doubt from his earlier accident, a cross on the back of his left hand, and indistinct scars on his left arm. He was 5’ 7’’ (1.70m) and weighed 9st 11lb (62.1kg) when he entered prison; not a great weight for a man of reasonable height. By the end of his sentence three weeks later, his weight had dropped to 9st 7lb (60.3kg).

There are no admission or discharge records for the Guildford Union to indicate if Stephen spent more time in the Workhouse before and/or after his prison sentence. It is possible that he entered the Guildford Union Workhouse once he came out of prison and remained there for the rest of his life. What is known is that he was an inmate of the Workhouse in the 1881 Census, occupation ‘rag collector’

After almost 40 years of living a solitary existence since the deaths of his parents, Stephen, a ‘rag collector of Ockham’, passed away age 73 in the Workhouse on 22nd December 1886 from ‘decay of age’. His body was taken to be buried on Christmas Eve at the Dallen family church, All Saints, Ockham.

August 2023

Sources / British Newspaper Archives
      General Register Office
      Google Books
      Internet Archive/University of Toronto
      Maltsters Association of Great Britain
      Surrey History Centre, Woking
      The National Archives, Kew /

For a full list of references click here