On the 18th and 19th of February 2017 I will be taking part in the world premiere of Amazing Love, a musical based on the lives of John and Charles Wesley. The musical is written by Jack Godfrey, who also wrote “The Pharaoh’s High Magicians” for the musical Moses, (in which I took part and wrote some lyrics).
The musical will be performed at Wesley Memorial Church, in Oxford, and is part of a tradition of locally written musicals. I will be part of the ensemble, so will be a neighbour during a fire, a boozy pub goer, a sailor on a voyage to Georgia, a colonist and a Londoner. I would like to be able to say that this shows the talent and flexibility of the ensemble, however the principals have more words and songs to learn, and still join us in chorus rehearsals to help us learn our songs. Amazing to be surrounded by such talented people !
The musical has now been performed, and Oxford Phab went to see Amazing Love on the 18th February 2017.
Although Amazing Love focusses on John and Charles Wesley, and their parents, Samuel and Susanna, the Wesleys were quite a large family. John was the fifteenth child, and Charles the eighteenth child of the family. In all they had 19 children, nine of whom died in infancy. Three boys and seven girls survived.
Susanna, who educated all of the children, taught sons and daughters alike a range of subjects including Latin and Greek, was herself the 25th of 25 children.
Although I can not trace my own family back as far as 1622, when Samuel Wesley was born, some of the earlier families were larger than is usual today.
William Braund (1766-1840) had ten children, born between 1793 and 1815, and at least six of the children married and had children.
Joseph May (1828-?) had ten children, and his son Samuel (1867-?) had seven, however his daughter, Elizabeth (1865-?) only had two children.
Abel Lines (1807-1877) had eight children, one of them being Joseph Lines, who also had eight children. Abel’s occupations had been Fur Skin Dresser, Smith, Steel Worker, Porter – reflecting the need to keep adapting to the rapid changes in employment needs of the time.
William Cansdale (1814-1891) had ten children, and was an agricultural labourer, and in 1851 a railway labourer. One of his children, William, was a Rook Scarer, aged 9 in the 1851 Census.
Although these families were large, though not as large as the Wesleys, a little over a century earlier, there is a big difference in the Infant Mortality rate, probably caused by improved standards of hygiene, better sanitation, cleaner water and a generally healthier population. The same thing would have applied in the time of the Wesleys, leading to an expanding population, with a lower age profile than we are used to today.
At the same time improvements in agricultural efficiency were allowing more food to be grown with fewer workers. James Harden Champion (1821-1895) was farming 165 acres of Somerset in 1861, with 7 labourers and 2 boys. In 1881 he was farming 190 acres with 4 men, 1 woman and 1 boy.
In 1735 John and Charles Wesley sailed to Savannah, Georgia, at the request of James Oglethorpe, to minister to the new colony. This voyage features in Amazing Love – but with singing and dancing.
By 1790 the population of Georgia was 82, 548 – which would have been largely driven by the demographic changes in Britain. By 1980 over 1.5 million Georgians claimed English ancestry.
My family tree shows mostly internal migration, mostly from the country to living in towns. George Cansdale moved from Copford in Essex to Bethnal Green. William Braund Box (1815-1891) moved from Cornwall to Edmonton in London. It is even possible that his ancestors came from Germany to Cornwall, and may have been Büchs originally. It is interesting to note how much of the housing in London, and other British cities, was being built in this period of migration, so that Northampton Square, where William Braund Box moved to, was built in 1814, so it would have still been quite new when he moved in.
Although in Britain the movement of people from country to town has slowed, lack of opportunities and cost of housing are still causing younger people in villages to move to cities. In other parts of the world this rural to urban migration is still happening, so cities in China, for example, are expanding rapidly, even though the Chinese population growth rate is now only 0.47%
In Syria the movement off the land is exacerbated by their water crisis, which, even without a war (or possibly one of the causes of the war), is reducing the arable productivity. It is ironic that a contributing factor in the water crisis is climate change, causing a shift in rainfall patterns (widening Hadley Cell), and that there is (probably) a scientific consensus that CO2 emissions contribute to climate change – although this is disputed by Donald Trump, who wishes simultaneously to remove the brakes on CO2 emissions and to make life as hard as possible for the migrants it causes.