Alford: a benevolent community
John and Mary’s son William Snowshall married Harriet Elvin in Louth in 1836, neither could write their name on the certificate, they were 18 years old. Initially the couple moved to Bilsby with their young daughter Eliza, by 1841 they were living in the South End of Alford with two children of their own, Harriet’s 14 year old brother David Elvin was living them along with another 14 year old boy, recorded only as “William” both were working as sweeps for William Snowshall.
In 1841 the population of Alford stood at 2,262, an expansion of over 1200 in the space of 40 years. In 1848 the railway brought more people, more business and more money and the expansion continued. Those with money and influence worked hard to improve both the infrastructure of the town and the support and education of the “labouring classes”.
William and Harriet continued to live in the South End in 1851, the family consisted of three children Eliza (14) William (11) and Jane (3), but parish records reveal the loss of two infant boys in 1840 and 1842, young John Henry born in 1838 died in 1849. William was recorded as a Master Sweep, and the household was also home to three other boys who were recorded as being workmen sweeps. John Martin (19), Thomas Hake (13) and Solomon Bell recorded as 11 years old. As the employer of three workmen sweeps William’s business appears to be expanding. Young Solomon was a workhouse orphan, despite the legislation these institutions continued to apprentice young boys to Master sweeps.
By the mid 1850s Alford had a strong temperance movement, a successful Agricultural Society, The Mechanics Institute, and a new National Girls School alongside the existing benevolent institutions and religious organisations, including The Wesleyans, Baptists, Primitive and Free Methodists. Newspaper reports at the end of 1853 underline the movement to improve life for the workers.
ANNIVERSARY of the ALFORD AGRICULTURAL LABOURERS’ SOCIETY. The eighteenth anniversary meeting of this exceedingly valuable society took place at Alford, on Friday last and was quite as successful as any which has preceded it. The amount of local benefit which has been conferred by this society in the important district of its operations, is not to be appreciated : the best-performed agricultural works, and the best-conducted labouring classes are amongst its leading results, and these, we apprehend, are advantages which no one interested in his country’s welfare will be induced deny or to undervalue. … The Right Hon. R. A. Christopher, ALP., (who rising, was very loudly cheered,) said … for the society, whose continued prosperity [he] now proposed, he did conceive that the greatest possible benefit had been derived from its operations by the farmers and labourers alike. Ihey had seen their work most efficiently performed; they had the testimony of the clergy that the morals of the labouring classes were improving, that they were grateful for the wages they received ; and that a better feeling was daily becoming established between landowner and tenant, and tenant and labourer, and he therefore thought sufficient reason was shown why all classes should combine to continue and increase the efficiency of the society. continued below
Following many toasts and speeches by the great and the good of Alford, prize giving for agricultural prowess in various labours began, it is interesting to see how some of the later categories seek to influence the lifestyle and loyalty of those in their service as mentioned above.
- To the labourer in husbandry who shall have brought up the largest family without parochial relief – First prize, 3l
- To the Waggoner who shall have served the greatest number of years in the fewest servitudes-. First prize, 2l.
- To the Servant Boy in Husbandry, under 20 years of age, who shall have lived the greatest number of years the most creditable servitudes, without having been intoxicated while with team ; First prize, 2l
- To the Servant (singlewoman) who shall have lived the greatest number of years in the most creditable servitudes: Prize 2l.
- To the Female Servant of good character, having been the longest depositor in the savings’ bank: First prize, 1l.
- To the Servant Girl who shall have been the longest and most regular depositor a savings’ bank : First prize, 1l
- To the Servant Boy who shall have been the longest and most regular depositor in a savings’ bank : First prize, 1l.
Lincolnshire Chronicle – Friday 25 November 1853
Beyond agriculture some shopkeepers were also praised for their benevolence to their workers.
The Drapers and Grocers of Alford have resolved to grant the young men of their establishments a holiday on the day after Christmas day [a Sunday]. This is a kind indulgence and it is hoped it will be followed by other tradespeople throughout the town. Stamford Mercury – Fri. 09 December 1853
Christmas Market: Alford Market last Tuesday, called by us the Christmas Market, was a very good one. The butchers shops , which were well filled in the morning, presented a deserted appearance towards night, the meat having fled into different arts of the Country along with the currants, raisins and fruits of all descriptions from the grocers, and the best of it is there was plenty of “ready money” left behind. This is as it ought to be, it shows people have the will when they have the means. We hope it will be as merry a Christmas as it forebodes. Lincolnshire Chronicle – Fri 23 December 1853
Despite their best intentions life for many working families remained harsh and the suffering seemingly endless with poor life expectancy for many, particularly the children. Whole neighbourhoods lived from hand to mouth, injury, illness and loss of work quickly led to extreme poverty and the threat of the workhouse loomed for the whole family. In Alford, as elsewhere, there were those who strived to help and in hard times more people stepped forward. In January 1854 their help was desperately needed again.
Relief to the Poor About the middle of last week a meeting of the inhabitants of Alford was hurriedly convened … to devise some means of relieving the poor during the severe storm, by which many of the labouring classes are entirely thrown out of work, and consequently deprived of the means of obtaining the common necessaries of life. … the call was generally responded to, and sum approximating to 60l was then and there collected and guaranteed for the relief of all the destitute poor in the parish, whether belonging to it or not. … upwards of 160 of the poor are now supplied with soup, according to the number in each family, on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. …bread is also distributed on the Saturdays. Of the quality of the soup nothing further need be said than that it is from the best of meat and other requisites necessary for rendering it both nutritious and wholesome. Our correspondent speaks from personal experience on this point, having attended the soup kitchen at the Wesleyan schoolroom, and assisted in distributing it. Stamford Mercury : 13th January 1854
When the people Alford stepped forward to help those in need in January 1854, many of William Snowshall’s neighbours would have been in receipt of that help. As the community came together those neighbours voiced their concerns about a young boy in their midst who was also suffering.
The loss of his own young children might have softened the heart of William Snowshall, but as the son of a sweep who had apprenticed children in the 1830s, this Master Sweep was a hard man. The following report in the Stamford Mercury provides an insight into the lives of William Snowshall’s apprentices …
A little boy between 9 and 10 years of age, named Geo. Farrow, (the illegitimate son of a labourer of the same name at Willoughby), was about 12 months ago bound apprentice to a chimney-sweeper at Alford, and the cruelty exercised over the child ever since was of so gross a nature that some of the neighbours were induced to complain to Mr Casey, in order to its being stopped. On the superintendent enquiring into the matter, he found that not only had Snowshall, the boy’s master, been in the habit of ill treating him by chaining him by the neck in a corner of the soot-house for a whole day at a time, with only a little straw and two soot bags for his bed, but had also encouraged his journeyman to flog him unmercifully, of which treatment the marks on his legs and arms bear witness without further proof. The poet has truly said that “mans inhumanity to man makes countless thousands mourn”. The superintendent had the child taken to the police station, preparatory to his being sent to Somersby Parish ( the legal settlement of his mother), or to Horncastle Union-house. Mr Casey intends laying the matter before the magistrates at their next meeting, and will strictly enforce the Act of Parliament against boys ascending chimneys in this district. Stamford Mercury 13th Jan 1854
I have yet to find evidence of the matter going before the magistrates, but it is clear that William Snowshall’s neighbours and the local police would no longer tolerate his behaviour.
In May 1854 William and Harriet’s son Walter was baptised, three more boys growing up as the sons of a sweep, it is hard to contemplate the life Harriet and Eliza must have lived in that house too but in a few short years everything would change.
The loss of Harriet
Eliza signed the certificate, it was official, her mother was dead, at 38 years of age Harriet Snowshall had lost her life to consumption on January 9th 1857, Eliza had stayed with her to the end. They had endured so much together, the loss of the four boys who failed to survive, the struggle to protect their remaining siblings from the harsh life in the South End. The last three years had been the worst, ever since the boy in the soot house, their neighbours seemed to blame them all. Eliza would move on now, she could marry Frances and get out of that house, they would protect the young ones together. William (11), Jane (9) Henry (6) and Walter (3) were going to need them. David Elvin, her mother’s brother had moved away but he would help, as would Jane Atkin, her mother’s sister, her Aunt had stepped back a bit but they would all help the children. There was always her father’s family, his brother John and her paternal grandparents all lived in the South End too.
On May 19th 1857 Eliza Snowshall, daughter of Sweep William Snowshall, married Frances Dales, a labourer as was his father. May was the month of the Annual Statute the town was bustling with servants for the hirings, along with the accompanying pickpockets who liberally took their hard earned money. Wombwells Menagerie was in Alford for the occasion, the Stamford Mercury reporting that “the interesting specimens and caravans proved very attractive to the numerous visitors”.
Eliza and Frances may have wandered among the stalls looking forward to their marriage and optimistic for the future.
William did not fair well following the marriage of his daughter. On the 30th May two sweeps, Thomas Clarke and Joseph Payne stole soot from him. These may have been William’s own workmen, their committal to Spilsby Session House leaving him shorthanded. Two weeks later William Snowshall was apprehended for sending a twelve year old boy up a chimney:
Wm. Snowshall, of Alford, chimney sweep, was charged with allowing a lad (his son) 12 years of age, to ascend a chimney at Wainfleet on the 12th inst., contrary to the law. Mr. Snowshall said he admitted the charge, but he was not aware at the time he was committing an offence against the law. The boy in question was his own son, and he thought the law allowed him to ascend, and that the penalties applied only to others whom he might employ. The bench said the act made no distinction; they were convinced defendant had been under a mistake, and the lowest penalty was 5l. Supt. Chambers, who preferred the charge on the information of the Wainfleet police officer, expressed concurrence with the bench’s opinion, and at once kindly withdrew the charge, on Mr. S. paying the expenses. Lincolnshire Chronicle – Fri 26 June 1857
While the law seemed to protect William Snowshall it did not hesitate in showing its full force to others. In July Clarke and Payne pleaded guilty, Clarke had a previous conviction and was sentenced to three years penal servitude. Payne received one month’s hard labour at Spilsby and once privately whipped, the soot was valueed at 5s. In November 1857 Frederick Stockton stood before Alford Magistrates charged by William Snowshall with wilfully breaking a window in his shop. The defendant was ordered to pay 5s. 6d expenses.
1858 would not prove any better for William and his family. On 14th May his daughter Eliza lost her life to phthisis ( pulmonary tuberculosis), she was 21 and had not yet been married a year, her son Joseph was a few months old. Three months later 14 year old William died of typhus fever. The 1861 census shows William as the head of the household, a widower of 42 his daughter Jane is recorded as 10 years old (13), his son Henry is recorded as 14 (10), young Walter is 7, there are no longer any workman sweeps in the household. In the space of ten years William Snowshall’s life had altered irreparably, his elder brother John had not wanted the life of a sweep for himself or his family, but life in the South End treated him very harshly too.
John Snowshall (widower)
Another certificate, another death.
Eliza Hall made her mark on the paper, it was official, Ann Snowshall was dead, at 42 years old she had been just a little younger than Eliza herself. Two days before, on 26th August 1860, Eliza had been with Ann when she drew her last breath, dysentry had been the end of her, but that was what the South End of Alford was like, working families crowded together struggling to make ends meet, too many young lives cut short, many failed to survive infancy. Now it would fall to Ann’s daughter Hannah to keep house for her widower father John and her brother John jnr.
Hannah was 16, old enough, and young John was 12 he could work too, their grandmother Lydia Hastings lived just down the alley and she would be glad to help her lost daughter’s family. John Snowshall worked as a labourer, laying bricks and on the land, as long as he could work the family would be able to eat. Eliza knew John’s parents too, they also lived at the South End of town; John Snr had worked as a Master Sweep , he and his wife Mary had moved from Louth to join their two sons John and William a few years ago. Now their elder son John must struggle on alone, William had seen his own troubles over the last few years but William was a hard man with a reputation for cruelty, Eliza had little sympathy for William, but his children needed help too, however she had to look after her own and the Snowshall family must do the same.
Initially the family Ann Snowshall left behind managed to carry on. In the census of 1861 her widower husband John Snowshall was recorded as a labourer, his daughter Hannah as his housekeeper, young John was living with his maternal grandmother Lydia and working as an errand boy. Eighty year old Lydia died in the Summer of 1862, three years later, in November 1865, twenty year old Hannah succumbed to a fever at home, leaving the men to fend for themselves. Her father John fell ill and was forced to enter the workhouse in Hundleby where, in March 1867, he lost his life to consumption. John and William’s mother Mary died at home in Alford a few weeks later, leaving John Snr to return to Louth to live with his daughter Eliza.
Eighteen year old John Snowshall had lost all of his immediate family within seven years. The 1871 census records 22 year old John as a lodger at the White Hart, his occupation is that of an agricultural labourer.
The Snowshall Family: the end of an era
Just as the decade between 1851 and 1861 had devastated William’s family the following decade to 1871 had virtually destroyed his brother’s family leaving only William’s nephew remaining. Before moving beyond 1871 a review of William’s life since 1861 is informative.
In the 1860s William had more on his mind than looking after his three surviving children, Jane, Henry and Walter, more still than his widowed brother’s family, William had a new family of his own to deal with too. In1861 Mary Chester and her six children were living on the Boston Road in Spilsby with her innkeeper husband. By late 1863 Mary had reverted to her maiden name of Mallin, left her husband and children, and was living with William Snowshall with the first of their three children together. All three were registered with Mary Chester as their mother but no father named, all three had the middle name of Snowshall.
As William’s attention turned to his new family his elder sons were left to their own devices. Alford Petty Sessions reports are peppered with incidents connected to the men in the Snowshall family. In 1862 William Snowshall jnr ( most likely 12 year old Henry) was fined for being drunk and abusive. In Sept 1864 14 year old Henry, now a sweep, was charged with stealing 8 sheaves of oats and three of barley, along with fellow sweep Rd Dalby he was sentenced to 6 weeks hard labour at Louth. On 30th December 1864 it was reported that William Snowshall once again stood charged of allowing a sweep under 21 to ascend a chimney at Spilsby, the case was dismissed.
Williams elder children had all left Alford by 1871, the census records William living with his new family on Pinder Lane Alford. William’s first family had gone and his nephew John was completely alone. William seemed to carry on with his business as usual. In 1873 adverts appeared for the sale of soot for top dressing wheat, along with a vacancy.
As beligerent as ever he also continued to appear in the petty session reports. In 1874 William was fined for obstructing the highway, he was fined for stealing turnips, he had previously faced a fine for letting his horse roam. In July of that year William Snowshall appeared in the Alford Petty Sessions column again, seeking the return of 6 machine rods lent to Henry Blades another Alford sweep. Blades maintained that Snowshall had failed to pay him in full work undertaken and refused to return the property. Blades was ordered to return the property within a week or pay 5s. In August Blades and Snowshall were back before the bench in an exchange that demonstrates the character of both men.
H. Blades, of Alford, sweep, was charged by Mr. Snowshall, of the same place, sweep, with using threats towards him. It seems the difference between these “doughty knights of the brush” was reason of a difficulty which arose respecting the non-return of some sweeping implements lent by the complainant to the defendant, and which had been ordered to be given back by the County Court judge. [The] defendant complied with this order personally, and singling out one of the rods he said, ” I should like to smash your brains out with this, and I will do it before I have done with you.” The defendant was bound over in his own recognizances to keep the peace for six months. On the complainant being called upon to pay the costs (14s.) which, in these cases, does not fall upon the defendant, he became excited, and impugned the justice of the Bench, but, on being told that unless he behaved more respectfully he would be committed for contempt, cooled down, and paid the money. Lincolnshire Chronicle – Friday 14 August 1874
Henry Blades and William Snowshall were sweeps from a young age, they had both endured hard lives, but where William had at least worked with his father, Henry Blades had been one of several children in the home of a sweep in Sleaford. In 1841 Henry Blades was a sweep in the home of Richard Bailey, two of Bailey’s sons aged 15 and 14 are listed as sweeps, along side Henry (11) and John and William Baker aged 7 and 6 respectively. Henry had also been a soldier in the European Cavalry in Bengal, and had seen the inside of a prison at the age of 15 for theft. These two beligerent sweeps both lived in the South End of Alford, their clashes were inevitable.
On 25th November 1875 William Snowshall died of pneumonia, he was 57 years old.
A week later the following announcement appeared in the Stamford Mercury.
Solomon Bell was an orphan, the son of a tailor from Trusthorpe. Solomon’s mother Elizabeth had died of typhus when he was a year old and his father William passed away less than 18 months later. The younger children were living in the Hundleby workhouse in June 1841, Robert (10), Maria (9) and Solomon (3). Their older brother Joseph (15) was left to fend for himself, ending up sentenced to 6 months in prison and whipped for sheep stealing in 1845, by 1851 he was residing in Warwick County jail. We do not know how Solomon was treated by William Snowshall but newspaper reports indicate that he became a hawker, being caught up with others following thefts on 1861 and 1862, on both occasions Solomon Bell was aquitted. In 1871 he married in the village of Stone, where his brother Joseph had settled, Solomon finally had a family of his own with his brother close by.
Mary Chester’s children with William: 30th November 1863 William Snowshall Chester; 25th December 1864 Fred Snowshall Chester; 28th May 1867 Joseph Snowshall Chester, Joseph died at 7 months old. Fred Snowshall Chester ‘s service records note his parents name as William and Mary.