The Snowshall Family Part 4 : full circle

By 1871 all of William & Harriet Snowshall’s remaining children had left Alford. In 1867 Walter (13), the youngest of William and Harriet’s children, was indentured as a fisherlad . Jane (22) had married John Hewson, an Ostler from Hull, in 1869. Eighteen year old Henry (18) lived with his maternal Uncle’s family in Market Rasen in 1871.

Henry’s removal from Alford may have been to keep him out of trouble after his prison sentence. David Elvin had lived with his sister and her husband as a young teenager, working for William as a sweep. At 42 years of age David continued to work as a sweep, Henry worked as a sweep for him; living with his aunt and uncle and five cousins. Over the next ten years David Elvin moved into greengrocery alongside the business of sweeping chimneys, his family flourished, Henry’s cousin William being placed out as an assistant to a draper and dressmaker, he would eventually become a successful business man in his home town.

Following William’s death in 1875 Henry had declared that he would be taking over his father’s business. As Henry stepped up to the helm his cousin John was slipping out of the reach of help. John had lost all of his family within the space of 7 years and was struggling alone.

William’s nephew may have been working for him as in January 1875 it was reported that John Snowshall, a sweep, was fined 5s for with failing to quit a licensed premises, the White Hart, when asked to do so. The following July John Snowshall was charged with stealing a dog rug and two brass taps while being employed removing furniture from the Corn Exchange; he pleaded that “had it not been for the beer he should not have done it” he was sentenced to one month in Spilsby House of Correction with hard labour. Following his uncle’s demise John got into more difficulties, in April 1878 he was sentenced to six months in prison with hard labour for his involvement in stealing tame fowl from Bilsby, he was later proved to have sold them to the White Hart kitchens, this time three years police supervision would follow his release.

Henry had taken the reins of his father’s business and was changing direction. He ran adverts for sweeps who were familiar with the use of a machine and ,somewhat interestingly, he advertised a piece of land for sale in Dashwood road, which begs the question who had acqiuired it originally, I have yet to solve that one. William would have needed a pony, he was fined for letting it roam, but he did not appear to have the means to have land. Harriet’s father, William Elvin, was a blacksmith. In 1841 he lived in Bilsby, he may have had land eventually.

In June of 1876 Henry Curtis Snowshall married Sarah Ann Cottman of Alford (born Friskney). Witnesses at the wedding were Joseph Dales and Sarah Ann Atkin. Joseph was the son born to Henry’s sister Eliza shortly before her death in 1858. Sarah was the daughter of Jane Atkin, his maternal Aunt. Henry and Sarah had five children that survived, Eliza Jane 1876, Walter Henry 1878, William 1881, Doris Madelaine 1891, Raymond 1895. In 1881 Henry and Sarah were living in Providence Place with Eliza Walter and William. In the home of his uncle Henry had would have experienced a very different life, from similar humble beginnings David Elvin had ensured his children flourished and Henry must have wanted that for his own family rather than the devastating experiences of his own childhood.

As Henry’s own family grew the news arrived that his young brother Walter was missing. In 1880 a Schooner from Goole was reported to be feared lost, the Five Sisters had left Hull for Weymouth laden with cotton cake and had not been seen since storms on the 7th October. Wreckage would later confirm that all hands were lost , including able seaman Walter Snowshall.

Within a year Henry’s cousin John Snowshall followed in the footsteps of his own father, illness forcing him to enter the workhouse at Hundleby where he died in September 1881, his death certificate cites cause of death as Phthisis ( pulmonary tuberculosis) he was 33 years old.

Although Henry appears to have been a kinder man than his father he did not shy away from protecting his business or his property and that business remained harsh.

John Wilson a tramping chimney sweep, was charged with embezzling a sum of 6/6 the monies of his late employer, Henry Snowshall. He was further charged with stealing a coat and pair of trousers, the property of Henry Snowshall. Early in December he was sent out to work and directed to leave an account with Miss Waite, the matron of the Convalescent Home at Mablethorpe, for work done at that institution. He was paid the money, and not only failed to account for it on his return, but denied receiving it. A few days later he absconded from his employ taking with him a coat and pair of trousers. Information … resulted in the apprehension of the prisoner at Glentham, … with the stolen property in his possession. He now pleaded guilty to both charges and was sentenced to one months hard labour for each offence. Spalding Guardian – Saturday 27 January 1883

As the above article shows Henry’s business went beyond Alford, the job of cleaning the windows in the large convalescent home at Mablethorpe must have been sought after.

In July 1888 George William Daniels “Sheffield George” , a sweep, pleaded guilty to the theft of a machine, two bags and a soot sheet from Henry the previous April, the apparatus had been in his possession for work. Daniels was sentenced to 3 months hard labour. The feud between the Snowshalls and the Blades family also continued with the next generation.

At the Petty Sessions yesterday … John Henry Blades, chimney sweep, Alford, was charged with stealing a coat and brass plate on April 4th,” the property of Mr. Henry Snowshall. P.C. Cook proved the case, also with being drunk. Sent to Lincoln for one month in the first case, and 14 days for last offence. Lincolnshire Echo – Wednesday 25 April 1894

The 1891 census records the family in Hanby Lane, Jane (14) and William( 10) are still at school but Walter (12) is listed as an assistant sweep to his father. Walter did not remain at his father’s side as a sweep for long, joining the Lincolnshire Regiment in 1894. Three years later Henry Curtis Snowshall died aged just 45 years old, all three of his sons had experienced life as a sweep.

Henry did put his family on the right path. By 1911 his elder daughter, Eliza Jane, was a teacher, the younger ,Doris ,worked as a shop assistant. William (30) and Raymond (16) maintained the family chimney sweep business for their mother. In her letter of appeal in 1916 Sarah revealed her reliance on her son’s work, following the war everything changed for the sweeps.

In 1919 Walter returned home to his wife Maud in Spilsby, suffering from the after effects of a gunshot wound to the arm in 1915, he received a £50 grant to start a grocery business. In 1921 Walter is recorded in Spilsby as a grocer and shopkeeper , living on Halton Rd, in later years his military background led him to work as a special constable.

After the war William returned to Alford and began work as a drapery dealer, in 1921 he had no fixed place of work but by 1939 he was a Master Draper in West Street, assisted in the shop by his wife Annie.

Raymond returned to life as a chimney sweep , in 1921 he remained single and is recorded as a visitor in Ulceby. His experiences in the war left their scars, there is a link to Raymond’s war story below.

The Snowshall sweeps can be followed here:

Part 1: Footballing Brothers

Part 2: Back to the Beginning of the Snowshall Sweeps

Part 3: Alford’s Chimney Boys

Follow the link for Raymond’s story

Finally a brief return to the story of Walter Snowshall, William and Harriet’s youngest son, born in 1854 just months after the boy in the coal house was found. Walter must have had a dreadful life. His mother died when he was 3, the following year his elder sister died at 21, followed by the eldest remaining boy aged 14. This left 4 year old Walter in the care of his sister Jane aged 10 and his brother Henry aged 7 at the end of 1858. The first of the Snowshall Chester boys, William, was born in November 1863, the following December a second child, Fred, was born. Walter’s elder brother Henry was now in trouble, for being drunk in October 1862 and then for stealing in September 1864, Walter was 10 years old. In May 1867 Joseph Snowshall Chester was born, in January of the same year, at 13 years old, Walter had joined the fisherlads.

Joseph died 7 months later, the death certificate shows cause of death as “hooping cough, teething and convulsions, no medical attendant” , another of William Snowshall’s sons lost.

Grimsby Fishing Smacks


It is difficult to imagine the circumstances which led to Walter becoming a fisherlad, in an age of cruel child labour poor Walter had grown up in one of the harshest environments only to end in up a worse one. There are two indenture records, dated 1867,which bear his name.( Several hours have gone into discounting other possibilities) The first in January 1867 is for the Vessel Jane at the port of Hull, this accurately reflects his age as 13, binding him for 7 years; the second is from the following November and records him as being 16, showing him bound to a Grimsby vessel the Vete for 5 years. In 1867 Walter was 13 years old, in September 1868 he was imprisoned for 70 days with hard labour for absconding. There is no further detail regarding Walter’s life at sea available here at the moment but the following details provide an insight into life for the fisherlads.

Young boys were apprenticed to the sea in their dozens from the London workhouses. Alone at sea with hard men and no escape the boys ran away as soon as they returned to land. In an alien environment they were quickly apprehended and marched off to prison. As with the chimney boys there were many voices of dissent:

CORRESPONDENCE. FISHERBOYS AND THEIR MASTERS. TO THE EDITOR OF THE “HULL PACKET.” SIR, -Will you permit me to make a few remarks which may not be entirely out of place? For a long time, and almost without exception, I have week after week, in glancing through your police reports, with much regret noticed the cases of fisherlads brought up, charged with delaying the vessel by refusing to go to sea. The question which naturally arises is, how is it that these lads are so repeatedly deserting their masters? The only reasonable answer which would appear to suggest itself is, that either the lads must be disproportionately bad, or the masters must be extremely cruel. I have no doubt that many of the lads are not a bit better than they should be. Indeed, it would be a difficult matter to induce the parents of a respectable youth to allow their son to lead such a life as is the lot of a fisherman’s apprentice. I have not the least doubt that, in many cases, the boys themselves are really bad, but I do not scruple to assert that those who are over them are ten times worse. The crew of a fishing smack consists generally of five-either two men and three boys, or three men and two boys. The captain, or as he is more generally called, the ” skipper,” has it in his power when out at sea to do almost just what he pleases with the lads on his vessel. How he exercises this power the columns of your paper, which have contained accounts sufficient to rouse the indignation of any being possessed of a heart not turned to stone, will show. The brutal and murderous conduct of the two men, Thomas Hemlyn and John Anderson, who, I believe, are now in York Castle, and the melancholy death of Jacob Kesleir, an apprentice, 13 years of age, will still linger in the minds of your readers. Instances I could mention of cowardly brutality almost without parallel. As a punishment for not getting the cocoa ready in time, one of these poor lads had his ear most horribly burnt with a lighted candle, but who implored that nothing should be said to his master or else he would treat him even worse than that when he got him out to sea again. Not only is the most brutal cruelty their common habit still it almost becomes part of their nature, but their language is the embodiment of what is most filthy, combined with the vilest and coarsest oaths that it is possible for men to utter. Is it a matter of surprise then that boys should shrink from such a life as this, and prefer even the treadmill to a voyage with such men as these ? It would be unfair to say that every fishing smack which sails from Hull is under the control of men such as I have mentioned. No doubt that in some cases the natural boyish fears of stormy weather and a rough sea are sufficient to make a lad desert his vessel, but too frequently is it the horrid and brutal treatment to which they are subjected at the hands of beings not worthy of the name of men. Is it right that such a state of things should continue Yours truly, HUMANITY. Hull, Dec. 7th, 1865. Hull Packet 8th Dec 1865

A Series or articles in early 1873 were initiated from a report in Figaro , a follow up piece continued to seek a response from parliament:

IS THERE SLAVERY IN ENGLAND ? Under this heading we lately directed attention to the case of the fisher lads at Great Grimsby. We did not beat about the bush.”We are informed that a system of slavery infamous as any system slavery ever devised, exists Great Grimsby;” and then set forth the facts .. obtained from our correspondents, and from the Grimsby News. In one copy of that paper, we read of eight lads being committed to prison, with hard labour, for disobedience to their masters. were informed that, on the average, 500 fisher lads are brought before the Grimsby magistrates in the course the year, and are sent to prison. We were also informed that these lads are brought from the London workhouse, and apprenticed to the smack-owners, nolens volens , We denied the right of the guardians to bind boys to the work of fishing without their consent; and we said that the fact that 500 of the lads are annually sent to prison is strong evidence that they are cruelly treated. The Grimsby Herald of Saturday last writes : —” Respectable people said they would be glad if Grimsby could erased from the map of England. If they knew much about the treatment of some these lads by some of the skippers and fellow-apprentices as we do. they would feel surprised that the judgment of Heaven did not fall upon us.” We regret that we have not space to quote at greater length from the article. We learn from the Lincolnshire Chronical that the “city of Lincoln rings with indignation at the treatment these lads receive at the hands the authorities and we heartily thank our contemporary for boldly denouncing the wrong. The Lincolnshire Chronicle says:—” the lads are brought by train, which generally arrives about 9.30 a.m., and are heavily chained together in numbers from three to five, and in this way are marched through the busiest part the High Street of our city, for more than mile, to their destination. This merely for disobedience of orders. Be it remembered, that at the time they are not felons, and ought not to be so treated. Lads apprenticed to the smack-owners against their will, and so treated that, on the average 500 are sent to prison in the year, are marched through the public streets heavily chained together! If this had been done in the Southern States of America, what a howl of indignation there would have been ! Is the offence less heinous because it is committed in England, and the lads are of our race, and not negroes. Parliament is now sitting, and, in the name of humanity we ask, we supplicate, nay, demand, an investigation. We want know by what authority the guardians send these lads to Great Grimsby? We want to know why so many are sent to prison ? We want to know if the magistrates exceed their duty ? We want to know, we ask the public to insist upon answer, whether it is lawful march the lads, heavily chained through the public streets , No, we do not want answer to that question. We venture to declare that such conduct is unlawful, and a barbarous and shameful excess of authority. One paragraph of her Majesty’s Speech is devoted to the slave trade on the East coast of Zanzibar. For the sake of our national honour, let us inquire into the slavery at home —into the slavery at Great Grimsby. If we do not, if Parliament discusses the mission to Zanzibar, and does not discuss the case of the Grimsby fisher lads, we shall justly branded as despicable hypocrites. London Figaro February 1873

The guardians of the London workhouses, wrote lengthy rebuttals stressing the lengths they had gone to to ensure the boys were safe. Questions were asked in the House of Commons on the matter. One piece in the Globe published about six weeks after the original article appears more balanced.

“IS THERE SLAVERY IN ENGLAND?” A very startling cry has been raised respecting the treatment of lads engaged in the fishing trade of Great Grimsby. A spirited contemporary, the London Figaro, has directed attention to statements which, if well founded, prove nothing less than the existence in England of slavery as abominable as anything that ever disgraced the Southern States of America. It is alleged that the guardians of the London poor have been in the habit of handing over pauper lads to the owners of fishing smacks. Willing or unwilling, they have been bound apprentices for a term of years, and sent to sea, where they have often been brutally ill-treated, and for any refractory behaviour have been brought before the magistrates and then taken off to gaol chained in gangs. It has been affirmed that 500 of these boys have been thus committed to prison annually. ” Heavily chained together in numbers from three to five,” says the Lincolnshire Chronicle, ” they are marched through the busiest part of the High-street of our city for more than a mile,” and the same paper declares that the city of Lincoln rings with indignation at it. To make the scandal complete, it is stated, or at least insinuated, that some of the magistrates by whom these boys are committed are themselves interested in their labour. It may be confidently assumed that if these statements were only fairly substantiated, then, not only in the city of Lincoln, but throughout the length and breadth of the land, there would be a storm of indignation, such as the present guardians of the poor and all concerned in the business would recollect for many a long day. It is not desirable, however, that any such storm should be raised without adequate cause, and it is satisfactory to be able to hope that in this case matters are not quite so bad has they have been represented. In the first place, so far at least as we are able to ascertain, these lads are not sent to sea against their inclination. They are volunteers, and they go for a short time on trial, with the option of returning if they do not like it. This, of course, dispels the first hideous idea of slavery. They may be ill-treated and under- fed, and poorly sheltered, but they are not slaves. In the next place, the number actually imprisoned by the magistrates of Great Grimsby during the past year was, on the authority of the superintendent of police, not 500 but 104, while 42 were fined. Thirdly, it is emphatically denied that either of the magistrates who committed the boys had any interest whatever in the fishery trade. If this also is true then the gravest features of the case are eliminated. Unfortunately, however, there still remains much that is of a very unpleasant character. It may be perfectly true that the boy volunteers for a seafaring life and that he has a short probationary term before finally adopting it, but it may be true, nevertheless, that he is afterwards exposed to brutal treatment, and that he leads a life of incredible hardship and suffering. The event must, of course, depend to a very great extent upon the character of the man to whom he is bound, and it is greatly to be feared that boys are often handed over, friendless and unprotected, into the keeping of men who are totally unfit to be entrusted with them, and who not only treat them with barbarity, but degrade and brutalise their characters. If kindly and judiciously treated it is not often that English boys, even of the pauper class, will require to be dragged into a police- court; and the fact that in one seaport town there were last year no less than 156 cases of the kind, is a certain indication that somewhere or other there is a screw loose. There is nothing in the fishery trade unsuitable for the employment of youths, provided that they are placed with respectable men who will treat them with fairness and humanity. The utmost care, however, should be taken on this point, and it is just here that, we have reason to believe, the poor-law guardians have been at fault. It appears to be no uncommon thing for a lad to bo bound to a fisherman who is unknown to the guardians, the negotiations being carried on through an agent. A Billingsgate salesman, for instance, applies for an apprentice on behalf of a Grimsby smack owner, and there can be little doubt that in such cases the guardians are often entirely misled as to the cha-racter of the party to whom they consign their protege. As to the statement that these fisher-lads who are convicted by a magistrate are sent to prison chained in gangs, that, we deeply regret to say, appears to be a fact, the only misrepresentation being in respect to the weight of the chain. Meanwhile, good service has been done by trouncing the offenders against public decency. The Lincolnshire police authorities will do well to dispense with these chains, whether light or heavy ; and it is satisfactory to find that, the practice having been exposed, they are about to start a prisoners’ van. Chains are all very well for horses, and possibly for a certain class of criminals, but that young lads should be paraded through the public streets in such trappings is scandalous, and ought not to be tolerated for an instant. The excuse is that by adopting this means one policeman can do what would otherwise require two or three, and thus the public funds are economised. This plea, however, is altogether insufficient. We cannot afford to practise economy by degrading and debasing English boyhood, and we trust that Lincoln will not allow its indignation to subside until this demoralising practice has been finally abandoned.— The Globe: reprinted in Huddersfield Chronicle – Wednesday 19 March 1873

This subject runs for years within the National press, with frequent referrals to the boys themselves stating that they prefer prison, while some call for prison stays to be made more unpleasant. Between 1st January and 25th October 1878 One hundred and twenty nine fishing apprentices were in Lincoln prison, 15 had been charged with stealing or disorderly behaviour, the remaining 114 had absconded from life at sea.

Poor Walter Snowshall drowned in 1880 and we are unlikely to know what he endured during his time at sea.

The subject of the fisherboys is well addressed in “The Grimsby Fisher Lads: The Story of the Humber fishing apprentices” by Marc Jones.

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Mrs T

Beyond the day job, and the garden, I love to delve into local and family history. While pursuing one project other snippets frequently distract me, resulting in the eclectic mix of tales from the past found here.

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