1921 Census reveals unseen Manchester College family

1921 Census - Manchester College 

The data for the 1921 Census for England and Wales was released in early January and reveals some surprising results for College.  An intriguing array of individuals are listed amongst the eleven people who spent the night in college on 19th June 1921, including a five year old girl and four people sharing the surname Soundy.  

Not surprisingly, five of the individuals at college are students or academic visitors.  Tracing who the students are is straightforward as they are listed either in our annual reports and / or student lists, and they all appear in the 1921 College photo.  Alexander John MacKenzie and James Burnes were both enrolled at College in 1919 after military service during the War; Peter Kemp enrolled in 1920 and is listed as a research scholar; Rowland F Nye is an American visitor from Meadville, attending college for a year; and Ven. Suriyagoda Sumangala is a Buddhist Monk (the first to study at Oxford) from Sri Lanka .  In each case we have traces of them within the archive and official college documentation and know who they are and why they are here. 

A black and white college photo dated june 1921 showing a group of mostly male students formally posing for the picture.

College photo, June 1921, containing some of the individuals listed on the census return

More intriguing and more difficult to pin down are the remaining six individuals.  Without the information from the Census we would struggle to have any idea that they were associated with College.  Their names don’t appear in our college committee minutes or indexes, nor do they feature in any photos.  So who are the Soundy family and why is there a small child in college?  


Picture of the handwritten census return for Manchester College

The Census return shows that William Soundy (b. 1863), Frances Mary Soundy (b. 1873), Alexander (sic) Amelia Soundy (b. 1862), and William Williscroft Soundy (b.1905) were registered at the college address.  Looking in more detail at the data, it shows that William Soundy is listed as the College Steward, and Frances (known as Mary) is his wife and William his son.  Alexander (Alexandria) Soundy is listed as a visitor.  Further research reveals an obituary for William Soundy showing he was the Steward here for 32 years, from the College’s opening at Oxford until his death in 1925.  The piece goes on to say that he was a keen sportsman and an excellent football player and cricketer.  His loss is, unusually for domestic matters, also recorded in the College’s Annual Report ‘his death deprives the College of a trusted servant, a man of sterling character, efficient in his office, and one who had the interest of College truly at heart’. His funeral was held in the College Chapel and he is buried at Holywell Cemetery.  

The small child, Dorothy Mary Eleanor Wilks, is the granddaughter of William and Mary Soundy, the child of their daughter Dorothy.  Mrs Dorothy Wilks, née Soundy, married Maurice Betts Wilks of Cowley Road in 1916.  Sadly Maurice Betts Wilks of the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry was killed in action in France in 1916.  He is remembered at the War memorial at Thiepval and at the St Peter-in-the-East Church war memorial (now housed in St Cross Church).  The remaining name on the Census return is Leonard Whitaker (b.1901).  Leonard is listed as Domestic College Servant, and looking at further records connected to him, one can see he came from a family where his father’s occupation was listed as a College Servant (Butler).  

Finding out about the Soundy family and their relationship to College is a powerful reminder that what remains recorded in institutional archives and libraries is often a partial and curated picture of what life was actually like on the ground.  Thanks to the release of the 1921 Census we are able to add William Soundy and his family and Leonard Whitaker to our institutional memory.

A picture of a memorial stone attached to the wall, with Soundy members listed on it.

Memorial to the Soundy family in Holywell Cemetery