Witchcraft in the Wolds.

The old custom of “Telling it to The Bees” was a comfort to many Alfordians into the 19th century but another less benign, belief remained in the Lincolnshire Wolds, a belief rooted in fear, a belief which emerged again in the 20th century, a belief in witchcraft.

We begin with an article from 1841 which goes some way to revealing the divide between locals on the issue. Next come the 1905 tales of a Bewitched Farm in the Lincolnshire Wolds, the curious story was retold for weeks but few seemed interested in the poor servant girl at the heart of it. Finally a brief look into that poor girl, where she had come from and where she went to escape the storm.

The Alford Witchfinder

In 1841 some folk continued to seek out those who were versed in the old ways, people whom they believed could cure their loved ones of mysterious ailments. Known as wise men and witchfinders they frequently declared the patient over-looked or witch ridden. A letter to the editor of the Stamford Mercury provides an insight into the existence of devotees to the old ways and their exploitation by others.

Allow me through the medium of your widely circulated Mercury to expose the frauds of system based on the ignorance and superstition of its dupes. It is a lamentable fact that in this age of boasted illumination, swindlers, affecting the name of ” wise men,” ” witch-finders” etc., live by picking the pockets of the superstitious and fanatical, under pretence of destroying, by supernatural means, that power by which necromancers or wizards are supposed to “overlook” and torment whomsoever they please. With the doings of one of these impudent rogues I happen to be acquainted: his swindling tricks are well known at Alford, Louth, and the circumjacent villages, where he has for years been making the ignorant as wise himself: he has taken their money, and substituted disappointment and misery in its place. I have known the most direful consequences to result from credulous persons putting trust in [this] rogue who has actually made them believe that they were the unfortunate subjects of witchcraft. Out of the many cases of this nature with which I am personally acquainted I will relate only the following :—About 15 months ago, man living a short distance from Alford took his wife, who was labouring under mental derangement a distance of 12 miles to one of these wise men, who, of course, pronounced her to be “overlooked” or witch-ridden, and after obtaining fee of 1l. 5s. from his dupe, promised to restore the woman to perfect health in a week. The husband being a poor man was unable to pay a person for attending on his unfortunate wife, she was allowed to roam about unrestrained, and though it was well known that she had made repeated attempts upon her life, the parochial authorities took no steps to prevent her again attempting self-destruction. About a week after her visit to the ” wise man,” instead of recovering her mental faculties as he had predicted, she committed suicide by drowning herself in a large pit about half a mile from home. Had proper care been taken, and the woman conveyed to a Lunatic Asylum, this awful result would have been avoided, and the husband escaped being swindled by a remorseless scoundrel, who affects a knowledge which is denied to his species —On another occasion, a person was swindled by the same party out of 10l, under similar delusion. About three years ago, another man, whose wife was labouring under pulmonary consumption, went to the same fellow, and was also told that she was overlooked.” In this instance he insinuated to his dupe that his wife was afflicted by an elderly relation, and hinted that the applicant’s father was the cause of the woman’s disorder and that he believed him to be wizard Thus the peace of families, the lives and property of individuals, are at the mercy of these miscreants. Whilst England ls annually exporting hundreds of missionaries to what we term barbarous countries, to break the gyves of spiritual despotism and superstition, and to teach their inhabitants a new and pure religion, it ts lamentable to find her own peasantry in such state of ignorance as to believe that it is in the power of weak and wicked men to torment by supernatural means their fellow creatures. This system I am most anxious to see put down, and thus to prevent the unthinking and credulous of our fellow men from being plundered by designing knaves, who live by perpetuating the superstitions of the ages of barbarism and cruelty. An Enemy to the Superstition and Fanaticism of the Nineteenth Century April 1841

Over sixty years later the beliefs remained in some quarters, the witchfinders were now called spiritualists.

1905 Bewitched Farm in the Wolds

Bewitched Farm in the Wolds

In 1905 the Lincolnshire Wolds was at the centre of a sensational tale of witchcraft which appeared in local and national newspapers for several weeks.

The story was picked up in the Sheffield Daily Telegraph on 19th January and the various elements to date were then extensively repeated and built upon to the delight of newspaper sellers and their readers everywhere. Many mocked, some sneered but there remained those who took the incident seriously, none more so than the poor servant girl in the eye of the storm, Mabel Sheldrick.

A selection of newspaper stories provide a flavour of these tales which bring to mind scenes from The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. These are followed by a little more information about those involved, the mundane reality of humble people just trying to get by.

The Stories

… mysterious happenings by day and night which occurred in a lonely farmhouse in the wolds are giving colouring to the local belief in witchcraft. ” Amongst peasant folk , naturally there are occurrences regarded as supernatural in nature for which more unromantic and less thrilling explanations can undoubtedly be found … at dinner flowerpots on the windowsill were seen to be wildly whirling around … pans jumped up and down on the shelves, chairs moved jerkily across the floor in broad daylight, brooms danced and household utensils moved even when being closely watched. Nothing would convince the maid that she was not the victim of an unnatural manifestation of power causing her physical pain and mental terror. Mr White and his neighbours believe most firmly that there has been a resuscitation of black magic in the district … Liverpool Echo 23rd Jan 1905

… the village constable a man of unimpeachable probity was sceptical and consequently kept watch and ward in the kitchen. He solemnly declares he saw flowerpots on the windowsill executing mysterious gyrations of their own

Tourquay Times, and South Devon Advertiser Friday 27th Jan 1905

The story was reported far and wide including the following papers: The St James Gazette, The Jarrow Express, The Luton Times & Advertiser, The Bournemouth Daily Echo, The Bolton Evening news, The Leominster News, and The Irish Independent. One of the more tactful reports was that of The Globe which asserted that “The monotony of country life is avoided by these means, and the home kept bright and lively”

The Northampton Mercury noted that the more level headed villagers are inclined to regard the work as that of a practical joker but the household and their immediate friends pin their faith on a witch. Once the popularity of the tales were proved the stories continued.

… A dead rabbit unhooked itself and ran around the house before returning to the hook. When Mrs White saw bottles toppling over one by one and falling from a shelf to break on the tiled floor she called her husband and the servants, they also watched the completion of the spectacle. Two dozen bottles leisurely went to destruction this way, some contained paraffin others oil. Another dead rabbit hung in the dairy transported itself to another room where it was found lying beside a beer barrel. In the dairy three strings of sausages were hung on a line but refused to remain there and after being hung for the third time broke into small pieces. A dozen large dinner plates moved from a shelf and were deposited unbroken beside an earthenware dish. Another … dish of cream over turned … the churn performed a similar feat… When the family were having tea water poured into the kitchen, further investigation showed a large flat bottomed tub had emptied itself, but there was more water than would have filled it. The tub had only been half full of water said Mr White but more water came into the kitchen than would have filled it. I am not superstitious but I am puzzled about these happenings , if I had not seen some of them I would not believe they had occurred.

I saw three large biscuit tins which were on the shelf fall to the floor, together with a side of bacon and three hams which had been thoroughly dried. Up to date Mr White has had 200 fowl killed in a most remarkable manner, their necks, the head and the breast were skinned and their pipe pulled out. This slaughter has been going on continously though the fowl house was watched day and night. Mr White has now only two dozen fowls on the farm.

Offers to “Lay the Witch” have been received from all over the Country, and Mr White has accepted that of Mr John Dunn of Grimsby. Hull Daily Mail 24th Jan 1905


Amusing stories have been circulated with the supposed bewitched farm at Binbrook, but they are surpassed by one correspondent who now relates. Much fun has been caused the locality, and there are some to vouch for the truth of the almost ridiculous incidents. It is said the ” witch ” has left the house, and is playing pranks among the farm hands. One labourer yoked pair of horses to a waggon, which was standing in a shed, with the intention of hauling it out for work on the farm. The waggon, however, it is said, seemed rooted firmly to the spot by some invisible agency, and the addition of another two, and afterwards four, horses to the first pair was insufficient to move it. By this time, several of the farm hands had collected, and they declared that while the struggle with the waggon was in progress the farm foreman, sitting in a wheelbarrow, was brought up, at breakneck speed, by some unseen hands. The sight of their foreman being wheeled along, by apparently nobody, in a wheelbarrow, and at such a speed, proved too much for the already over-wrought nerves of the labourers,who fled in a body, leaving foreman and wheelbarrow, and horses and waggon. Hull Daily Mail – Tuesday 07 February 1905

The final story also appeared in the Hull Daily Mail

GRASBY: Have You Seen the Witch?— The uncanny doings of the Binbrook witch have attracted many visitors the farm, some with a view of “discovering” the mysterious visitor, others to attempt to ” lay” the witch. Amongst the former was a party from this neighbourhood, who (if rumour be correct) had an unpleasant experience, furnishing conclusive proof that it is somewhat dangerous to raise the ire of such visitors as witches, particularly on a Sunday. Engaging a waggonette and pair, the party set out in high spirits their journey of 15 or 16 miles. The thaw having set in, made extremely heavy going. However, after a struggle, they arrived near their destination. Here the courage of the majority seems have failed, for only two of the ten volunteered to reconnoitre. Arriving a the “ghost farm.” they made inquiries, when the farmer’s wife having ascertained from whence they came, quietly advised them to return as quickly as possible. This advice was acted upon, but lo and behold! they had not proceeded far on the return journey, when, to their amazement, both horses and waggonett were ” bewitched !” The wheels became clogged, and refused to go round, whilst the horses appeared dead beaten. Oil was procured at several houses and the wheels thoroughly lubricated; but all in vain, they refused to turn. There was nothing for except walking, and this the forlorn party did almost half the way home, where (after ” putting up ” on the way) they arrived safely, and, although late, wiser men. Their sad experience has had the effect of arousing considerable superstition, and now one hears at every turn (especially after dark) the question asked, “Have you seen the witch? 27th Feb Hull Daily Mail

One newspaper which had taken a slightly more serious approach to the tales was the Sheffield Telegraph. In mid- February they published a report which seemed to be the result of an interview with the Whites, interestingly many of the previous tales were not refuted.

Sheffield Telegraph Special – Tales from Binbrook – some first class “Hair-Raisers”

…. There has been a good deal of fun made of the eerie stories circulated of late relating to occurrences on the Binbrook farm which, in popular phraseology, is supposed to be bewitched; but there are plenty of people who believe that the redeeming grain of truth is not altogether absent. Undoubtedly, however, the Binbrook witch is not up-to-date. She has not learnt the art of self advertisement ; for, to somewhat strain the imagination and suppose her existence, she has hit upon one of the most outlandish spots in the county of Lincoln wherein to revive the broomstick-thunderstorm superstition of the Middle Ages. To journey from Louth to Binbrook, as a correspondent did the other day, over some of the most exposed parts of the Lincolnshire Wolds, and in the face of a bitterly cold wind, is certainly calculated to give one the impression that a spirit of evil—and a vindictive one that—wields an influence over the locality. It is a sparsely populated district; wild and storm-swept in winter. The “bewitched” farm is situated in one of the innumerable hollows in the Wolds country, and about three miles from Binbrook, on the Louth side. It has already attained to picture postcard notoriety, which distinction, however, the good man and woman of the house view with considerable disfavour. A man came from. Caistor the other day, and asked if he might take a photograph of the house,” said the good wife. I said yes, but if I’d known he wouldn’t.” This was when certain asperity at the commencement had worn off. The lady objects to journalists, too. In fact, she expressed the benevolent intention of getting somebody six months. They’ve forged his name,” she said, meaning that someone had adopted the American method of interviewing Mr. White. The latter had not this feminine asperity; he was more ponderous. But when he described how he had intended to treat the next Press-man who called one heartily congratulated oneself on having got sufficiently good terms with him to have one of his glasses near hand. There’s been nothing here since the last two days of the Old Year,” said Mrs. White, and progress thence to details was easy. The first mysterious event, it appears, which occurred in the house was when a line of plants and pots standing on the windowsill laid themselves down on an adjoining table without any of the soil in the pots being disturbed. Then bottles took to falling off shelves without human agency, and while those in the house stood and looked at them. Tins on the wall have also a singular force of gravity or the agency mysterious power. One of the most singular events, however, was the burning of the servant girl. At the time this occurred the girl standing fully sixteen feet away from the fire, between which and her there a table. There was a dull fire in the grate, so that the matter of fact supposition that a spark flew out and ignited her clothing is put out of court. At one moment the girl was standing promising Mrs. White to look after the child in the cot, the next Mrs. White was on the stairs, and Mr. White appeared in the doorway of the kitchen to find the girl enveloped in a mass of flames, and ere the fire could extinguished she was so badly burned that she is still in Louth Hospital, where she has been for nearly a month. She is, however, making satisfactory progress, and is soon expected to be out again. Another extraordinary story related Mrs. White concerns fowls. As long as these are kept in confinement they are all right, but as soon they are let out, they are said to take to jumping in the farmyard with their throttles torn clean out without any indication by what means this has been done. Over 100 of this year’s fowls have, it is said, been lost in this way since last September, and Mrs. White says she has seen birds standing on the doorstep suddenly killed in this way. The breaking of the chickens’ legs, which was reported, Mrs. White attributes human agency; that kind of thing had been going on for a long time she said. With all these doings to be amazed at, we learn, almost with surprise, that Mrs. White is still firm in her opinion that there is no witch. “If there was” she argued “we should have seen something.” This is to some extent reassuring, and one is further relieved to hear that the latest yarn of the foreman of the farm being wheeled in a wheelbarrow by the mysterious power, and of the waggon, rooted in the ground, resisting the efforts of six horses to move it, is an invention, though many people have written to Mr. White, asking whether it was true. 14th Feb 1905

… the Grimsby sprititualists are convinced that the strange phenomena is the work of spirits and that the servant girl, so mysteriously set on fire, was the medium. Offers to lay the witch have been received from all over the Country, Mr White has accepted that of Mr John Dunn of Grimsby. Weekly Dispatch London 29th January

The Reality

On the 28th Jan. The Sheffield Daily Telegraph had also spoken to the servant girl Mabel Sheldrick. She had been in hospital since 14th January and was now finally able to tell her story. Mabel had been sweeping the kitchen floor a short distance from the fire when her clothes ignited, she had received extensive injuries but asserted that all of the reports of strange happenings were untrue.

Henry White was the foreman of Walk Farm, he had married Sarah Jane Jackson of Hagworthingham in 1882, the daughter of an agricultural labourer. The couple had twelve children during their twenty nine year marriage, six of those children had died. They shared their home with other farm workers boarding there along with a young servant girl. Four other houses were identified as related to Walk Farm in the 1901 census, inhabited by agricultural labourers and their families along with a shepherd and his family from Norfolk.

Henry and Sarah White lived and worked at Walk Farm for 28 years, finally retiring to Donninington On Bain. When Sarah passed away in 1941, ten years after Henry, a Louth Standard comment on the occasion revealed that locals clearly held them in high regard.

As the forman had Mr White been the subject of a cruel prank by some disgruntled men ? The loss of six children may have made the Whites more susceptible to spiritual possibilities suggested by some. Once their tales had been shared in the close confines of the farm had others shared their own incredulity too widely, once the rumour mill had begun it could not be quickly closed down. Undoubtedly the assertion of the Globe that “The monotony of country life is avoided by these means, and the home kept bright and lively” enhanced the situation for many.

The one person who really suffered in all of this was Mabel

Mabel’s Story

Louth hospital had shielded Mabel from the outside world for several weeks. As the burns on her legs were slowly healing and she must have worried about having to leave the hospital and face her future. She was about to turn 16 what was to come now, more accusations, more hardship ? Mabel was no stranger to that.

Before Walk Farm

Born in Grimsby, the daughter of fisherman Henry Sheldrick and his wife Harriet, Mabel’s family were rooted in hard work.

Henry Sheldrick was born in Bethnal Green, the son of a slater – himself the son of a lighterman – Henry’s parents did not marry until shortly after he was born. The 1861 census records him living in the home of his paternal grandmother with both of his parents. The birthplace of the older family members is recorded as unknown and a frustrated enumerator has added the comment “all living in sin and ignorance” in place of the missing details.

Harriet’s father, John Wallis had traded as a fishmonger in Louth for many years. Following his marriage to Elizabeth at St James, Louth in 1859 they had travelled the country following work, their six children born along the way, before returning to settle in Louth by 1881.

Mabel’s father, Henry Sheldrick had been swept from the rigging of the Severn by heavy seas in November 1891. Harriet had tried to carry on, the young widow had four small children to bring up alone. She moved to Hull where, in January 1897, she lost her life to tuberculosis. Mabel’s maternal grandfather was at his daughter’s side when she died, he returned to Louth with eight year old Mabel. Elizabeth had died some years before and John Wallis had remarried, he lived with his wife Sarah on Northgate. The couple could not accomodate Mabel but initially she lived a few doors down under the guardianship of E Harrison where her grandfather could keep an eye on her.

Over the next few years Mabel seems to have been boarded out, probably a subject of parish relief. School records show that she attended St Michael’s infant school in Louth, Donnington on Bain School and then Louth girl’s school. Initially under the guardianship of E Harrison in Northgate, the 1901 census records Mabel as a visitor to Charlotte Lingard in Donnington on Bain, finally the 1902 school admission records show James Fielding as Mabel’s guardian, the Master of the Louth Workhouse. Having lost her parents and parted from her siblings Mabel must have felt very alone during those years.

As a boarded out child Mabel was probably used to unwanted attention from the other children at school, marked out as “other ” by her workhouse clothing and finally living in the Union. Outbreaks of measles, smallpox, ringworm and diptheria reportedly prevented those living at the workhouse attending school and complaints were made that the children were late and dirty.

Finally , schooled and trained in domestic duties duties, probably around the age of 14, she would have been able to leave school and go out to work. The trepidation must have been mixed with some relief, she would be living with the White family at Walk farm, in the Wolds. When things went wrong in January 1905 Mabel is simply referred to as the girl in the newspaper stories, accusations quickly followed, devotees knew that witches used young girls as a medium for their craft.

After the hospital

After the trauma of January 1905, undoubtedly unable to work straight away, where would Mabel have been able to go except the workhouse? Her grandfather John Wallis was still alive and may have been able to offer some support but that is unproven. John Wallis died in 1907, by 1911 his wife Sarah was herself in the workhouse.

It has been hard to trace Mabel after leaving the hospital, hours ( and hours and hours) have been spent looking into all possibilities. Marriage and death records do not reveal any answers, neither do the 1911 census records of extended family members. One glimmer of hope remained, emigration records. A young lady called Mabel Sheldrick had left London for Brisbane in early September 1908, arriving in October, Mabel may have left once her last close relative in Louth had died. The next issue was funding, Mabel had nothing to her name but at this time there had been a renewal of assisted emigration schemes for some workers.

In 1908 various advertisements appeared offering free passage to Queensland, one article which was critical of the scheme spells out the details

An examination of the inducements offered shows that Queensland people are very exclusive. They give free passages to domestic servants – a class which this country can very ill spare Dundee Eve. Telegraph Wednesday 8th Jan 1908

Elsewhere the poor law guardians were under continued pressure to utilise these schemes to relieve costs.

Mabel Sheldrick disappears after her arrival in October 1908 but Caro Mabel Sheldrick pops up in a marriage certificate to William Henry Galvin in Tumbarumba in 1910. This has not been a straight forward match as Caro Mabel Galvin (Sheldrick) claims to have been the daughter of Mabel Elizabeth Wallace and sea captain William Henry Sheldrick, of the Cedars, in Hulme in Manchester. In fact the only things that do match are the age of Caro Mabel Galvin, the presence of the Wallace surname and the name of her father – Henry William was written as William Henry on some of her father’s merchant navy documents and baptism records – although he was a fisherman not a sea captain.

However the details Caro Mabel Sheldrick provided to New South Wales authorities do not match any records currently available on the government civil registration records, or the various census records or the many additional parish documents available. There are Sheldricks in Hulme but they do not tie in with the information presented in New South Wales. It may have been that Mabel no longer had full knowledge of where she had come from, it may have been that she did not want details of her old life to follow her to her new one, she could have deliberately muddyied the waters.

At the moment I have to admit defeat, I cannot prove that Caro Mabel Sheldrick is our Mabel Sheldrick, but I also cannot disprove it, I believe it to be the same person.

Caro Mabel Galvin (Sheldrick) died in April 1974, the mother of seven children, I hope it was Henry and Harriet’s daughter and that she found love and happiness in her life.

Flash, bang, wallop, what a picture …

In mid-victorian England the introduction of small photo cards, Carte de Visite (CDV), led to an explosion in popularity for collecting photos of family, friends and the famous. Known as cardomania it was the first time your image could be affordably captured, reprinted, retained and shared by others in their new collection albums. Oh what unimaginable horror !

Ever since it has become the fashion to have squinting, ghastly photographs, instead of the true, plain honest visiting card – ever since it has become the fashion to make collections of these said photographs – above all ever since the fatal invention of albums ad hoc, farewell peace! Whichever way you turn, requests for your portrait are levelled at you like so many guns. All is acceptable prey; indifferent features, respectable age, obscure position – no thing comes amiss to that greedy monster, Album. … Giovanni Ruffini. “A Contemporary Hobby”. Macmillan Magazine 1866

The friendly portrait painter of the upper classes no longer provided an escape, for the middle and lower classes prospective suitors and employers alike sought a CDV in order to obtain a realistic likeness. At a stretch the draper seeking a new milliner to provide counter service may be understood, given the pressures around ladies fashion, but it is harder to comprehend the ironmonger seeking an assistant.

Stamford Mercury – Friday 23 October 1863

In 1866 as judgement by appearance advanced another step towards the social media pressures of today, Alford’s photographers began to capture local people in numbers not previously witnessed. They also captured the changing fashions of the day, seen in the facial hair, collars and ties of the gentlemen but more noticeable in the ladies’ attire. The stationers were already stocking the albums.

Stamford Mercury – Friday 18 May 1866

In the face of such scrutiny by ones peers it is easy to imagine a renewed interest in the publications of the day, particularly the ones which included ladies fashion and beauty pages. Those early influencers must have felt like their audience suddenly sat up and took notice but in a rural town like Alford, so far removed from city life, did the world of changing fashions have much of an effect ?

Typical magazine content for the era
Lincolnshire Chronicle – Friday 25 July 1862

The influence of the ladies magazines

The beautiful fashion plates of the ladies’ magazines disseminated the high end fashion designs of the season throughout the Country. Beyond the social elite, who had the means to continually emulate the designs, the fashion plates inspired women of all stations to create their own attire according to their requirements. Drapers stocked the materials needed, employing dressmakers and milliners for their more affluent clients. Those who ran houses with a full accompaniment of servants frequently included dressmaking and millinery skills within their hiring advertisements. Needlework was seen as an essential skill for working class women and girls. The journals included practical patterns and tips for the dressmaker at home.

1860s evening dress ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The influence of the fashion plates is easily identifiable in the above 1865 plate and the 1867 photo. The much maligned crinoline is worn in practical domestic style in the photo, the very wide skirts of the 1860s gradually narrowed.

John Leech of Punch Magazine frequently underlined the complete impracticality of the wide crinoline skirts

This timeline of Alford Photographers suggests these photos were taken between 1869 and 1873. The flounces of the 1860s remain but the draped layers of the late sixties and early seventies shown in the fashion plate below are not visible here. This underlines the difficulties of trying to date photos by clothing as fashion was adopted according to many more practical influences than the date of a fashion plate, and of course in reality dresses were retained beyond one season.

1870 September ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The late sixties saw a move away from the wide skirts to a narrower multi layered effect. The material was draped and the volume swept to the back of the dress as the crinoline gave way to the bustle. By the mid seventies the back of the dress extended into a train as seen below.

1875 September ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Post 1876 : Edwin Nainby photo

The timeline puts this Nainby photo at post 1876, the change in shape of the skirt is very noticeable here , the heavy beading and slightly higher hair style all adhered to the trends of the mid 1870s.

December 1872 to 1876 Starbuck & nainby

The timeline enables starbuck Nainby photos to be quite closely dated between 1872 and 1876, this makes the above photo ( of disappointingly poor quality) interesting as the dress does sit neatly within the expected parameters, a bustle and train with draped layers can be seen, the bow placements seen on the plate below are also there. The longer corseted bodice which dips below the waist is a late 1870s attribute which is not seen on the dress.

1876 – 1882 September ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Stamped by Starbuck Alford 1876 to 1882

The late 1870s styling of this outfit fits with the era, it was post Messrs Nainby and Starbuck when Clara Starbuck was taking a leading role alongside her father. The dipped bodice is present but the skirt remains full along with the heavy beading.

Post Script: Thanks to Ann Gibb who pointed out what looks like a chatelaine on this ladies left hip. This may have been in jet and signify mourning, particularly with the removal of the left glove to show a wedding ring, a recent widow maybe ? Mourning photographs were frequently taken.

1890s ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Emma (Starbuck) Smyth and her husband were working in Lumley Road by the 1891. They ran a very busy studio, the puffed sleeves of the 1890s fashion plate are seen here as an influence on a very practical dress, which may have been made at home.

As the CDV faded from use postcards took their place both as items to collect and as a method of sending photos. Rosie Lee sent the card on the left to her friend in Swaby in 1915, in the midst of WW1 the practicalities were taking over in terms of women’s clothes. Elsie and Walter captured their wedding attire in Alford in 1923, simplicity was the order of the day for Elsie’s dress but just look at those fabulous shoes .

The changes in fashion can clearly be seen in the photos of Alford’s Victorian ladies, the subject of Drapers and Milliners beckons, along with the role of servants as dressmakers, but having looked at that in some detail there is a lot more information to gather in on that aspect of the lives of our Alford ladies.

In the mean time a brief look at The Lady Beauty Book confirms all suspicions, these women lived in Alford over 100 years ago, they had very different lives in many ways, but when the cameras arrived they ushered in so many of the anxieties we feel today.

Finally I want to share some of the other lovely fashion plates, at least we do not have to worry so much about the etiquette of dress codes as our predecessors.

Alford Jubilees: from pig wrestling to fancy dress …

Coronation Portrait of Her Majesty the Queen 2nd June 1953 . Cecil Beaton 1904 to1980 Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2022

As Alford prepares to celebrate the first Platinum Jubilee it seems like the perfect time to review the newspaper reports of how it was done for previous monarchs.

Queen Victoria: Golden Jubilee 1887

Queen Victoria’s reign commenced on 20th June 1837, she would reign for over 63 years. On the 20th June 1887 Queen Victoria breakfasted at Frogmore, close to Prince Albert’s Mausoleum, before sitting down to a gold plate banquet at Buckingham palace with fifty foreign royals and the governing heads of Britain’s overseas colonies and dominions. The following day the sovereign attended a service of Thanksgiving at Westminster before returning to Buckingham Palace through the cheering crowds, the day closed with fireworks.

The Golden Jubilee State Banquet at Buckingham Palace June 1887
ROBERT TAYLOR PRITCHETT 1828-1907 Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2022

The Queen returning to Buckingham Palace after the Jubilee Service 21st June 1887.
NICHOLAS CHEVALIER (1828-1902) Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2022

The Alford Celebrations: 23rd June 1887

There was a brilliant display of flags, banners and decorations on Tuesday, and the demand could not be multiplied. The drapers were quickly cleared out and “Turkey Red” and other flag stuffs were measured off by hundreds of yards for home manufacture. The entrance to the jubilee ground was marked by a beautiful arch with the mottos “God bless our Queen” and “Jubilee”, and the stately trees added much to the effect. Stamford Mercury – Friday June 24th 1887

Seventy seven years on from the last 50th Jubilee, that of George III, the people were ready to celebrate. Business premises in the town were adorned with flags and bunting, shields and banners presenting loyal mottos filled every space, several shops had prepared gas illuminations displaying words of support. Private residences in the East end of the town continued the national colour theme beyond the large flag fluttering at the church. The Southern end of Alford contained several flags and banners with loyal mottos spread across the narrow passageways. Park Lane, the Police Station, the Justice Room and the Manor House were dressed in a wide range of loyal decorations with a “considerable amount” of bunting along West Street.

The morning of the 23rd June was reserved for thanksgiving services at the church and Wesleyan chapel. Formal assemblies took place at 1 O’clock in the Market Place stretching along West Street from the Church:

  • The Volunteers under command of Major Higgins – Market Place
  • Hamilton Lodge of Freemason in full dress – Market Place
  • Alford Fire Brigade and Engine, marshalled by Sergt. Geary – Market Place
  • Oddfellows in full regalia with banners and flags – Church St
  • Britannia Lodge in full regalia – Church gates
  • Foresters in full attire with horsemen – by Messrs Rhodes & Carnleys
  • Druids – Messrs Hildreds
  • Temperance & Total Abstinence Societies “with a handsome new banner in blue and gold” – Mr L Stephensons
  • Juvenile Friendly Societies with their medals and ribbons, bearing banerets and flags – Park Lane
  • Church Sunday Schools
  • Wesleyan schools – North Market Place
  • Primitive Free Methodist, Congregational and Mission Schools, laden with flags, emblems and mottos – South Market Place.

The Excelsior brass band led this grand procession of people, walking three to four abreast, through the streets the whole parade stretched over half a mile. Five decorated carriages held the youngest participants of the day. Initially they marched to the East, returning and travelling along South Street, Hamilton Road, Bourne Rd and Station Road, before travelling the entire length of West Street, returning to the Market Place to sing the National Anthem. Loud cheers and a volley fired from the Rifle Corps closed this part of the proceedings. The children marched to their school rooms to take tea and a further 1500 adults were given tea in a marquee close to the Manor House.

An evening of sports followed tea, a full grandstand watched cheering and waving their hats as the entertainment and no small amount of hilarity ensued.

The Rifle Volunteer team won the tug of war pulling the GNR, the platelayer’s and the millwright’s teams over the line. An obstacle race involving nets, poles and swinging barrels provided much amusement as did the class for holding a greasy pig by the tail. A hurdle race, 100 yards flat and a sack race also took place before the popular evening dance and the days final gathering.

At dark the streets were again lined to view the torchlit procession, which started from the residence of Mr Carnley on Station Road and was a very imposing spectacle. As a grand finale the torchbearers and the general public heartily and effectively sang the National Anthem in the Market Place. The illuminations of the Manor House, where the windows and door were tricked with scores of lamps and gas devices … set off the decorations and kept people from the villages until a late hour. Stamford Mercury – Friday 01July 1887

Similar events occured in most of the surrounding villages, the format of thanksgiving, a procession followed by tea and sports was common to all. In some cases farmers fed and entertained their employees others funded proceedings by general subscription. The sports at Aby included the addition of climbing a greasy pole, at Farlesthorpe Mr Charles Brooks hosted entertained the whole village with Roast beef and plum pudding, some sports ensued, non participants looked on enjoying ale and tobacco, that evening ended with a firework display.

Queen Victoria : Diamond Jubilee 1897

Ten years later the establishment and the public were keen to celebrate their longest reigning sovereign. The Queen passed the anniversary day quietly before commencing a week of banqueting and celebrations in the public eye. On the 21st June a grande Royal Procession made its way to St Pauls for an open air thanksgiving service. The parade continued around the City and into South London before returning to Buckingham Palace. Queen Victoria was reported to be particularly moved by the reception she received.

No one ever, I believe, has met with such an ovation as was given to me, passing through those 6 miles of streets… The cheering was quite deafening and every face seemed to be filled with real joy. I was much moved and gratified.

Extract from Queen Victoria’s Journal: RCT.UK

The Diamond Jubilee, June-July 1897: Arrival of the Queen at St Paul’s Cathedral, June 1897
ROBERT TAYLOR PRITCHETT (1828-1907) Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2022

The Alford Celebrations: June 1897

The Diamond Jubilee Celebrations in Alford followed a similar pattern to those of 1887. Church bells announced the arrival of the special day, and a small thanksgiving service was held at noon. The organisations then assembled at 2 O’clock for the procession, notable additions to the gathering were the Alford Wheelers along with other cycling and athletic clubs. The parade ended at the Market Place for a photograph and a further service was held which included all of the non-conformist ministers. The National Anthem and a rifle salute closed the proceedings. Tea, sports and the torchlit parade all followed the format of the Golden Jubilee, the one diversion mentioned was that of the torches being thrown on a heap in the Market Place to form a small bonfire following the singing of the National Anthem. Just ten years after the preceeding Jubilee less newspaper coverage was allocated locally to the detail, however photographs suggest that the decorations and enthisiasm in the town were far from lacking.

King George V and Queen Mary: Silver Jubilee 1935

Another 38 years, including the hard years of WWI, would pass before the next Jubilee celebrations.

King George V and Queen Mary were the first British monarchs to celebrate a Silver Jubilee. In London the now familiar plans were prepared. A Royal procession to St Pauls for Thanksgiving , followed by banquets, sports and pageants galore marked the London Celebrations.

The Alford Celebrations: 6th May 1935

The Spring of 1935 was a perfect time for Jubilee Celebrations and once again the people of Alford excelled themselves. A public meeting in the drill hall on 7th March 1935 became the first step on the road to Alford’s celebrations. The meeting turned out to be one of the largest of its kind and a good indicator of the level of public interest and support for the festivities. The agreed proposal of voluntary subscriptions to fund the events proved popular quickly providing £120 enabling a variety of sub committees to be formed.

The involvement of the wider population in the planning stages is reflected in the inclusive nature of the carnival and festival atmosphere that these celebrations achieved.

Premises GH Sutton painted for the 1935 Jubilee
courtesy Clive Sutton

A week before the great day the town began to dress itself in festive garb … houses and business premises all over the town started to display the national colours until by Saturday evening Alford presented a scene of bright colour , seldom if ever seen before. the centre of the town in and around the Market Place was literally alive with colour. Mr GH Sutton had spent several days in decorating his business premises. The whole shop front was painted in a tasteful colour scheme of red, white and blue with a panel on each side. In the left hand panel was painted a portrait of His majesty the King and in the right hand panel was a similar representation of his gracious consort the Queen: and in gilt letters surmounting the whole was painted “Long Live the King”. … All of the business people had done their part and as one walked about the town one saw demonstrations of loyalty everywhere. And it seemed that nature was co-operating with artificial devices , for seldom had the gardens in the town looked better. Louth Standard Saturday 11th May 1935

Clive Sutton still remembers his father and grandfather departing to handpaint the signs of country inns, skills which undoubtedly enabled then to recreate the beautiful portraits of the King and Queen on the shop front as described above.

Jubilee Day in Alford

The townsfolk awoke to a peel of bells at 7:30am announcing the beginning of Jubilee day. Three hours later large crowds gathered in the sunshine to view the bunting and flowers before attending the thanksgiving service. The gathering included ministers and choir members from non conformist churches.

The Market Place assembly was scheduled for 1:30pm with a 2pm departure . The formal procession became more of a carnival parade in 1935, the introduction of several fancy dress classes with prizes in each class had lightened the occasion. The procession formation, led by Inspector G Holmes and Police Sergeant Francis was as follows:

  • Town band under direction RC Barnes
  • Members of Urban District Council and their officials
  • Ministers of religion
  • ex- servicemen
  • members of Salvation Army
  • Fire brigade
  • Oddfellows
  • Foresters
  • Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes
  • school children
  • Various classes in fancy dress
    • Decorated bicycles
    • Trades and farm waggons gaily decorated
    • Artisan class
    • Other decorated vehicles

Among the latter was a dray carrying the local Red Cross, displaying the efficiency shield Alford had won the previous year. Their display included a depiction of Florence Nightingale with her lamp accompanied by twelve nurses and a bedridden patient undergoing treatment. The Cubs and Scouts also rode in their respective drays, the cubs portraying a camp fire scene. The Foresters vehicle was laden with red white and blue bunting, along with silver bells. Their theme was a woodland setting containing Robin Hood and his Merry men along with Maid Marian.

Farm vehicles of note were those of Mr Twigg of Tothby who presented a fine turn out with two of his boys representing the King and Queen, while Councillor Seymour entered a covered waggon in the control of two cowboys representing the popular song“roll along covered waggon roll along“. Other gaily decorated farm waggons were from Mr J Middletons’s farm at Ailby and MR FW Read’s at Rigsby. The tradesmans turnouts were all cheerily bedecked, including Hunt’s Bus Service and Messrs Soulby Sons and Winch.

The Drill Hall was the venue for providing 400 children with tea prior to the commencement of the early evening sports. In 1935 the focus for food and sports turned towards the children but there were a few adult classes, one which stands out being a veterans race for men over 35, each runner being given a yard start for every year over 35. Over 558 participants entered the sports classes with the skipping race for younger girls requiring 10 heats due to the popularity.

Alford Ablaze

The sun went down in the full glory of a summer day and the town lit up once more. The street lamps were lit by special arrangement with the gas company and many shops were well lit with lines of coloured light crossing the streets.

The Market Places and West Street were ablaze with lights enhancing their displays. A string of lights crossed West Street from Mr JH Farnsworth’s shop winding through the trees in the Manor House gardens. Mr Damon and Councillor Seymour brilliantly illuminated their houses and ensured further strings of lights crossed West Street.

Further on near the railway station Mr JE Thompsons’ premises made a lovely picture with the lion and lake in his garden shimmering with appropriately coloured light.

Bonfire and dancing

The way was lit for the crowds to accompany the torch lit procession from the Market Place to the bonfire at the top of Miles Cross hill. The town band led 200 torch bearers and a large crowd out of town soon after 9 O’clock to a field off the Rigsby Road. The local scouts had built a huge bonfire, one of a chain of beacons which were lit around the country. As the Alford procession reached the cross roads villagers from Willoughby and Well and elsewhere joined the throng.

75 larch trees , more than four waggon loads of hedge cuttings, six tar barrels, 160 old motor tyres, and 155 gallons of waster oil went into the making of a great bonfire, which had been constructed by Mr Frost, chief woodman of Well Estate , assisted by other employees of Major Rawnsley. In order to provide against any untoward contingency the beacon had been guarded by local scouts since Friday night.

And so in the fields and along the road many hundreds of people were assembled when the whistle blown by Captain Jay gave warning of impending conflagration. Precisely at 10 O’clock the signal rocket went up, the scouts advanced to apply their torches to the accumulation of combustable material and Alford’s fire blazed into the sky. The remainder of the torches were thrown into the blaze, and a short display of fireworks, let off by members of the Alford Fire Brigade, made a memorable scene.

… most went home, but there was a provision still for those who would not go home until morning. A subcommittee had arranged for dancing in the Corn Exchange , where the musical programme was provided by Ray Johnson’s band from Sutton on Sea … these enthusiasts kept up the dancing and merrymaking until 2am. Louth Standard Saturday 11th May 1935

Enjoy your jubilee celebrations …

Princess Elizabeth with lilies 1929 photographed by her father, before their were lives changed forever by the abdication of her uncle. Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2022

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.

The Snowshall Family Part 3: Alford’s Chimney Boys

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

William Snowshall

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.

Stamford Mercury – Friday 07 November 1873

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.

The Snowshall Family Part 2: Back to the beginning of the Snowshall Sweeps

The Snowshall brothers of Alford were fourth generation sweeps, this time we go back to the first generation, John Snowshall of Louth, their great grandfather.

John Snowshall of the 65th Foot Regiment married Mary Brackenborough by licence at St James in Louth in May 1815. Marriage by license avoided the publicity and delay of marriage by banns and was not uncommon for soldiers. the couple were both in their early twenties. Their first son, also John, was baptised in Louth the following October, William was baptised in 1819 and their youngest son Henry in 1835, four daughters completed the family.

The earliest mention of John Snowshall (Snr) being a sweep is an advertisement in February 1821, placed in the Stamford Mercury.

Stamford Mercury February 2nd 1821

There was clearly plenty of work for the sweeps, Louth was a growing town and John and Mary had four young children to provide for at this stage. The 1821 census recorded a population of 6,000 in Louth, the canal enabled corn and wool to be carried to London, Hull and various other Yorkshire destinations. In 1829 over 20 shoemakers, butchers, inns and tailors are listed in the trade directories, along with a carpet and blanket manufacturer, a soap manufacturer and a paper mill.

John Snowshall had chosen a controversial occupation, increased focus on the cruel nature of the work endured by young boys in the cities led to a raft of new legislation throughout the 1800s. In London high masters were doing very well from contracts with the wealthy, they had premises, dressed as gentlemen, visited their customers in a horse and carriage and often had a lucrative business selling soot to farmers. In the 1780s 150 established Master sweeps lived in London they employed 200 journeymen and around 550 climbing boys. Master’s with smaller businesses walked the streets seeking trade, they survived in much poorer circumstances than the high masters and had small children as apprentices to climb the chimneys. The first chimney sweeping act was initiated by one of the high masters, Mr David Porter, who petitioned parliament for regulation of the trade. In 1788 the act banned the apprenticing of children under eight. Unfortunately the act could not be enforced and the all important licensing of Master Sweeps had been omitted.

30 years later, in 1817, a report to the House of Commons on the Employment of Boys in Sweeping of Chimneys was published. It contains an admission from a sweep that he had to beat the boys to make them do the work, and that on occasion fires were lit under reluctant children, or older ones would ascend below the young to prick their feet and make them go further. Poor parents would “apprentice” their children to sweeps, effectively selling them and enabling unscrupulous masters to use the boys as tools of the trade, the younger the better.

A newspaper article in June 1838 confirms John Snowshall’s use of bound apprentices. A Louth police report reveals that a young man named William Chapman had been sentenced to two months in the House of Correction for absconding for a second time from his Master, John Snowshall. Colossal increases in poor relief at the end of the 18th century had led to scrutiny of the system, a high proportion of those receiving relief were children. Parish overseers, keen to alleviate these costs, bound the children to Masters as apprentices. Initially the masters were paid to take the children but that did change in the early 1800s. Private agreements were also made where poor parents effectively sold children into apprenticeship. in the case of Parish apprenticeships monetary pressures ensured that the suitability of the Masters and the supervisory checks were rarely undertaken.

The issue became a focus of the UK Parliament from the early 1830s. The Chimney Sweeps Act of 1834 outlawed the use of children under 14 in the occupation of cleaning chimneys, a revision in 1840 raised the minimum age to 16. The 1841 Louth census includes two young workers in the Snowshall household; Edward Jeffrey, aged 18, William Gaul was 15 years old, below the statutory age limit. John Snowshall’s two elder sons had left home by 1841. William married Harriet Elvin, daughter of a Blacksmith in 1836, the couple were 18, by 1841 they were living in Alford. William’s elder brother John married Ann Hastings in 1843, they also lived in Alford.

There is little beyond the census to provide an insight into John Snowshall’s life in the 1840s. One local sweep did advertise profusely, his adverts acknowledge the outcry regarding climbing boys.

Stamford Mercury – Friday 16 April 1841

In 1842 a further revision lifted the age limit for ascending a chimney to 21. It is interesting to note the concern in Lincoln about the wider implications of the legislative changes.

In four weeks from this day, all the young chimney-sweeps throughout the kingdom, under the age of twenty-one years, will by law be set free from their apprenticeship, and will be prohibited from climbing flues. We do not disagree with the philanthropic labours of those who have thus achieved the emancipation of these home negro-slaves – chimneys can be swept by machinery as well as by hand – but it is worth while to ask what is to become of the climbing-boys themselves? In Lincoln there are from a dozen to a score of lads, who will thus at once be turned at large upon the public, and as the climbing boys have either been obtained from cruel parents, or still more frequently, are the offspring of such intercourse as “seldom knows a parent’s care,” they cannot be expected to possess friends to provide for them. We call upon those, who have so long been claiming the character of the ‘ Chimney-sweeps’ friend,’ to come forward, and to devise some means of turning them to other occupations ; if not, need we be at all surprised, if sessions after sessions, they are hereafter brought to be transported as thieves at a cost of 15l. or 20l. a head, having been deprived of tbe only means of livelihood they ever possessed? You, who have wearied parliament with your petitions, now that they are granted, come forward to rescue the cast-off chimney-sweep from crime, or the genuineness of your philanthropy will be more than doubted. Lincolnshire Chronicle – Friday 03 June 1842

The above report reveals the deeply held Victorian values that these children must learn to work and earn a living through these apprenticeships. It may be down such concerns that the law was not enforced but the report below provides further insight into the difficulties for the police. Even in small towns such as Louth the law turned a blind eye to the practice:

Climbing Boys: Not withstanding the plain enactments of legislature against the dangerous and cruel practice of climbing chimneys by mere children for the purpose of cleaning them, these by pairs along with their masters hawk the streets [of Louth] from door to door, and urge it as a recommendation that the boys can most effectually sweep the chimneys. In one instance the Master explained to us that his boys were of the age of 16, and informed us that the law was now a dead-letter in as much as many respectable persons, including the magistracy had readily connived at the practice. Stamford Mercury – Friday 20 April 1849

Undoubtedly life as the son of a sweep was harsh, William and his brother John are likely to have worked for their father prior to leaving home. In 1851 16 year old Henry is listed as a sweep alongside his father. The Snowshall’s continued to live in Maiden’s Row and during the early 50s Henry can frequently be found in Louth press reports, in 1853 he was convicted of an unprovoked assault with a further report of a conviction for brawling and fighting in Eastgate in 1854, noted to be his 6th appearance in court. In 1855, following a second spell in prison, Henry joined the military, 29th Dec 1855 ,he would serve for 20 years, 10 years in India, in 1876, age 42 he returned to Louth to work as a chimney sweep.

In 1856 John Snowshall (snr) remains listed as a sweep in Kidgate Louth in 1856 but by 1861 John – now 68 and still listed as a sweep – and Mary were living in the South End of Alford close to their elder sons, William and John.

The Snowshall Family Part 1: Footballing Brothers

While researching Raymond Snowshall in connection with WW1 there were several mentions of him and his two older brothers, Walter Henry and William, in local newspapers. An article in The Standard in 1926 praises the three brother’s service in the Great War. William (Pte) served abroad from 1915 to the end of the war, Raymond (Pte) was captured in 1917 becoming a prisoner of war, Walter (Sergt-Major) served throughout the war, having already volunteered and served during the Boer war.

The brothers were the fourth generation of Snowshall sweeps to live in Alford, below is a very brief insight into the pastimes of their youth, local newspaper articles suggest they were healthy, happy and popular, a striking contrast to the experience of their ancestral family.

Raymond was a popular member of Alford Football Club and he assisted Willoughby and Ulceby clubs in the Badley league engagements. All three brothers appear to have been very involved in community life. Walter (b.1878) and William (b.1881) were more than ten years older than Raymond, in the late 1800s the pair were involved in the local football club and Alford wheelers.

GROTESQUE FOOTBALL. THE ‘NEW WOMAN AND TEN.” A grotesque football match was played at the Tothby road ground, Alford, Lincolnshire, on Saturday afternoon, between teams representing “Eleven Gentlemen” v “The New Woman & Ten of her lady Friends.” Having been photographed along with her team, the ” New Woman” won the toss, and elected to kick down hill., The “Gentlemen” had the best of the game for few minutes, owing to the ladies skirts always being in the way. The ” Gentlemen,” who had been pressing for a quarter hour, put in a shot which looked like scoring, but the Ladies’ custodian saved cleverly. After this, up to half time most of the play was mid-field, and the interval arrived with a blank sheet. In the second half the ladies distinguished themselves, soon after the kick-off, Snowshall scored for ladies. A few minutes after Dales equalised. The ladies again soon got the lead through Catley, while Chandley added a third just before time, and the gentlemen had retire, defeated 3 goals to 1. The referee was Mr W. Burridge who was also arrayed in female costume, and instead of blowing whistle as is usual, tooted his decision with bugle. The teams were as follows – Gentlemen: Goal. F.Wells ; backs. E. Hasnip and C.Lewis; half backs, S.Leary, B. Hasnip, and D.Wilkinson; forwards. T. Dales, G. Vear, G. Sutton, Mountain, and W. Northey. Ladies: Goal, F. Bond ; backs, F Porter and H. Hunter: half backs. W. Yates, F. Yates, and W. Reed; forwards, W. H. Snowshall, N. Catley, J. Samonds, J. Chandler, and J. Stephenson. Hull Daily Mail – Wednesday 24 March 1897:

ALFORD. The town Victoria Football Club held a smoking concert in the Assembly Rooms the Red Lion Hotel on Friday evening. An excellent programme had been arranged and Mr. W. H. Kell presided over good attendance. A pianoforte solo was given by Mr. Redshaw (Louth), songs by Messrs. Morley, Teesdale, J. Dingley, and W. Snowshall and Master Forman, Mr. H. Lawrence contributing mandolin solo. All the items were heartily appreciated. During the evening addresses were given by the chairman, and Mr. H. Tomlinson, sec. of the club, a very enjoyable-evening. Lincolnshire Echo – Monday 22 March 1897

Wheelers Cycling Club.—A minstrel entertainment in aid of the funds of the club was given in the Corn Exchange on Tuesday evening. The entertainment was thorough success. Mr W. M. Skelton, Mr H. Lawrence, Mr W. H. Snowshall, assisted, and Mrs Wholey accompanied the piano, together with Mr Charles Lewis (cornet). Others who took part in the entertainment were Master L. Forman, Master J. Teasdale. Master J. Wholey, Mr H. Morley, Mr N. Lawrence, Mr C. Yates, Mr J. Wakelin, Mr J. W. M. SKelton, and Mr W. N. Snowshall. Hull Daily Mail – Thursday 04 March 1897

Amid reports of temperance meetings, and an evangelist preacher in the Market Place ( being very upset at having to pay for his spot ), the smoking concert is an interesting addition to local events. These all male evenings were an opportunity to smoke, talk politics and listen to new music.

In 1955 William and Walter, now in their seventies, recalled their playing days for a reporter:

Every week when Alford United are playing at home you will be sure to find Mr. William Snowshall … among the spectators. He watches the players keenly, for his knowledge of football goes back fifty years when he and his brother, Mr. Walter Henry Snowshall … played for Alford… the boys often used to practise in the moonlight. One of the most vivid memories of the brothers is when Alford played Skegness in the Willoughby Cup. Mr Bill Snowshall , a young shopworker, was supposed to be looking after a stall outside his shop in the Market Place, but when the football match started he went to watch – and didn’t remember to return to work until the next morning in the excitement of Alford winning the match. In those days there were no expenses and travelling to matches often entailed a two hours’ journey in a tub trap. They remember having to get out and walk up the hills —and sometimes having to push. … Once travelling to Spilsby the shaft broke off their trap and they had to walk from Dalby to Spilsby and then start to play. Lincolnshire Standard & Boston Guardian – 03 Dec. 1955

The Snowshall brothers were the grandsons of William Snowshall, born in Louth in 1819, William and his brother John were themselves the sons of a sweep. The next post will go back to the beginning of the Snowshall sweeps.

Wife for sale in Spilsby …

A curious comment on a wife sale at Spilsby sparked my interest recently

The circumstances which are communicated to us, connected with the sale by a man of Wainfleet, of his wife Spilsby market, are too disgusting and infamous for publication. [Despite] the spirit of censorship which such circumstances require, we shall … add the man’s name Thomas Sowden – Mr. Thomas Sowden our correspondent calls him. Stamford Mercury – Friday 18 May 1810

While the sensibilities of the Stamford Mercury prevented the printing of the details, Mr John Bell’s La Belle Assemblée – an important ladies magazine of the era – were happy to share their information on the event.

Provincials Remarkable Occurrences – Lincolnshire

One of those scenes which are a disgrace to the police, lately took place at Spilsby. One Thomas Sowden of Wainfleet, publicly exposed his wife for sale in Spilsby Market, and sold her for 5 guineas, a larger sum than we have heard a wife to bring at public sale for some time past. One of the engagements in this disgraceful bargain was that the husband should have the liberty of visiting her at what time he thought proper, with out let or molestation. After the conclusion of the sale the parties retired to a public house, where for five days and nights they feasted upon the fruits of the bargain; but at length tired – out by the powerful influence of Morpheus, like pigs, they all retired to the same stye, certainly the fittest place for this unnatural trio. We are astonished the magistrates do not interfere upon these occasions, and prevent such public insults to the morals of the people. Surely they are punishable for an offence contra bones mores, if by no other statute. La Belle Assemblée Vol I 1810

As the magazine points out 5 guineas was a remarkable sum, particularly in comparison to the sale below some twenty years later.

A fellow in the neighbourhood of Horncastle took his wife for sale in the market there last week, and got what he asked for her ( which was 1l ) He gave back 2s.6d for luck, and delivered her up in a halter, tied around her waist. Stamford Mercury – Friday 06 April 1832

Different Lincolnshire locations appear to have prescribed different treatments of the events. In February 1826 the Stamford Mercury reported on another wife presented for sale in Loughborough, remarking upon her own happy adjustment of her halter during the process. Local magistrates sent both parties to prison. In 1842 The Lincolnshire Chronicle reported on a similar attempt at the Green Dragon Inn, Boston, when Henry Mears offered his wife for sale by auction, on this occasion the police intervened but the reporter noted that a private sale was expected to proceed.

Social historians who have studied the sales in depth report that their research substantiates that these spectacles were frequently a public declaration of separation and a change in circumstance, the wife having already taken a lover and chosen her “purchaser” , rooted in custom and tradition, particularly for the working classes. The old newspapers are littered with examples.

A famous report in 1832 shows the theatrical nature of the event on many occasions, the original report from the Lancaster Herald was printed nationwide.

The sale of Mary Thompson at Carlisle


Saturday, the 7th instant, the inhabitants Carlisle witnessed the sale of a wife by her husband, Joseph Thompson who resides in small village about three miles from this city. He rents a farm of about 42 or 44 acres, and was married at Hexham, in the year to his present wife. She is a spruce, lively, buxom damsel, apparently not exceeding 22 years of age, and appeared to feel pleasure the exchange she was about to make, they had no children during their union, and that, together, with some family disputes, caused them by mutual agreement to come to the resolution of finally parting. Accordingly the bell-man was sent round to give notice of the sale, which was to take place at twelve o’clock. This announcement attracted the attention of thousands. She appeared above the crowd, standing large oak chair, surrounded by many of her friends, with rope or halter made of straw round her neck. She was dressed in rather fashionable country style, and appeared to some advantage. The husband, who was also standing in an elevated position near, proceeded to put her for sale, and spoke nearly as follows :

“Gentlemen—l have to offer to your notice my wife, Mary Anne Thompson, otherwise Williamson, whom mean to sell to the highest and fairest bidder. Gentlemen, it is her wish, as well as mine to part for ever. She has been to me only a bosom serpent. 1 took her for my comfort and the good of my house, but she has become my tormentor, a domestic curse, a night invasion, and a daily devil.—(Great Laughter.) Gentlemen, I speak truth from heart when I say, may God deliver us from troublesome wives and frolicsome widows.—(Laughter.) Avoid them the same as you would a mad dog, roaring lion, a loaded pistol, cholera morbus, Mount Etna, or any other pestilential phenomena in nature. Now have shown you the dark side of my wife and told you her faults and her failings, I will now introduce the bright and sunny side of her, and explain her qualifications and goodness. She can read novels, and milk cows, she can laugh and weep with the same ease that I can take a glass of ale when thirsty: indeed Gentlemen, she reminds of what the Poet says of women in general :—

Heaven gave to woman the peculiar grace ,To laugh, to weep, and cheat the human race.

She can make butter and scold the maid ; she can sing Moore’s Melodies, and plait her frills and caps ; she cannot make rum, gin, or whisky, but she is a good judge of them from long experience tasting them. I therefore offer her, with all her perfections and imperfections, for the sum of 50s.”

After hour or two she was purchased by Henry Mears, a pensioner, for-the sum of 20s and a Newfoundland dog.

The happy people left town together, amidst the shouts and huzzas of the multitude, in which they were joined by Thompson, who, with the greatest good humour imaginable, proceeded to put the halter, which his wife had taken off, round the neck of his Newfoundland dog, and then proceeded to the first public-house, where he spent the remainder of the day.

Leicester Chronicle – Saturday 28 April 1832

I found the mention of another Henry Mears involved in a wife sale rather strange, as the Boston report was ten years later , had the “pensioner” of 1832 moved South and decided to move the wife along ?

It would be nice to hear the voice of the women in these stories. There are examples of wife selling in Germany, Switzerland and Paris. One article in the Swindon Advertiser and North Wilts Chronicle – Saturday 19 November 1892 – reviewed a wide variety of wife sales beginning in 1750. They had tracked down one instance of a husband sale in 1888. The man in question had formed a strong attachment with a young lady while travelling to Australia, on finding that he was married she duly wrote to his wife and requested permission to buy him. The initial request of £100 for all rights was refused but the parties came to an arrangement at £20.

Rowlandson’s depiction of wife selling at market 1812

The Machine Men of the Wolds

September 2022 will see the return of the Museum of Rural Life (MORL) heritage weekend. The Tractor Run, on 10th September, along with the Steam & Vintage Vehicle Day, on Sunday 11th September, will enable us to see the machines of the past working together again. Keep an eye on the Manor House website and Facebook page for all of the details.

In April 2020 we looked into the origins of the combine and agricultural engineers Fenton Townsend Ltd , this time around the threshing machine history has provided an insight into the manufacturer, led us to the machine men of the Lincolnshire Wolds and a glimpse of threshing days of the past.

The Portable Threshing Machine

Tuxford’s, agricultural engineers of Boston are credited with being the first to introduce a portable thrashing machine in 1842, followed by the first combined machine ( which dressed, separated, thrashed and winnowed) two years later. In 1858 The Book of Farm Implements and Machines ( Blackwood ) notes that Hornsby & Son of Grantham and Clayton & Shuttleworth of Lincoln are among those celebrated for their manufacture of this form of machine.

The MORL machine has the mark of R Hornsby of Grantham, along with a number, last year Ashley established a few more specifics on this particular machine :

Threshing Machine

Model : R. Hornsby of Grantham,  4’ 6” Right Drive.

Year : Delivered on 3/7/1891 to W & A Brumpton Alford (Swaby), Threshing Contractors.

Power : Belt drive to Main Pulley by Steam Engine

Operation: Sheaves cut and fed manually into the cylinder. Grain bagged off from the rear of the machine. Threshed straw conveyed from front of the machine by elevator for either trussing, baling or re stacking. Chaff removed regularly by hand from under the machine.

Output : Approx 10 tons per day

Manpower :  A team of 10 – 12 men is required.

Pursuing the above information we will look at the early fortunes of Richard Hornsby up to the manufacture of our machine. We can then follow the machine into the heart of the Lincolnshire wolds and have a look at the machine men who worked there. Finally we visit the threshing days of the era.

Richard Hornsby

The founder of R Hornsby & Sons was Mr Richard Hornsby, born in Elsham in 1790, he was apprenticed to a wheelwright in 1805, moving to Grantham 5 years later, he found employment with Mr Richard Seaman of Spittlegate. Hornsby had so impressed his employer that they commenced a new venture together as Seaman and Hornsby, makers of horse powered thrashing machines and drills. In 1828 Seaman retired leaving Richard Hornsby the sole proprietor. The firm became renowned nationally and internationally for quality and innovation, a broad selection of exhibition and farming catalogues testify to their success and prize winning implements. Richard Hornsby senior died in 1864, shortly before his death the firm are recorded as employing 378 people. By 1889, two years prior to the sale of the MORL threshing machine to W&A Brumpton, R Hornsby & Sons employed 1,200 men.

R Hornsby & Sons Ltd Advertisement : History and Development of Steam Locomotion on Common Roads

W & A Brumpton : Threshing Contractors

W. Brumpton of Swaby pops up quite quickly in trade directories, and on the 1891 census, as a threshing machine owner, neither employer or employed. William and his wife Lucy lived in the hamlet of Whitepit, Swaby but the “A” Brumpton mentioned on the original sale record is not within their family unit. Calceby, just a few miles away, was the birthplace of William and home to the wider Brumptons family. A little digging has shown that William’s younger brother Thomas was commonly referred to as Andrew. Their father Thomas made the transition from an agricultural labourer to a machine man. In 1881 Thomas Snr, aged 67, is recorded as the owner and master of a thrashing machine, employing ten men. Two years after the death of their father William and Andrew would buy the new Hornsby machine. As owners of an engine the Brumptons would have been contracted to provide the power behind a wide variety of work beyond their own threshing business placing them at the heart of the agricultural industry in the Wolds.

This old photo appeared in Lincolnshire Life magazine in 1968 it was taken on the South Ormsby estate. William Brumpton is the engine driver, below him left to right, are : Charlie Dodds, Walter Calvert, Hugh Calvert and Jesse Grant all of South Ormsby. Joe Willoughby is on the far right below William, according to the original caption ” the donkey was Joe’s and he always took it work with him. Poor Joe had a wooden leg and no doubt the donkey eased Joe’s burden at the end of a busy day”.

The South Ormsby steam sawing photo leads us into some other wolds families of the era. The Grant family were thatchers and woodman Charlie Dodds worked on the estate as his father had before him. In July 1905 various newspapers reported on the Long Service & Large Families prizes awarded at the Lincolnshire Agriculture Show for “having brought up and placed out the largest number of children without having received parochial relief” Joe Green Willoughby of Calceby had 20 children (two with his first wife who sadly died in 1876 just 6 years after their marriage) Seventeen of those born were brought up and twelve placed out.

The Calverts were wheelwrights their trade spanned four generations at South Ormsby prior to the shop being demolished and it had been in use before their involvement. Benjamin Calvert founded their business.

In 1851, 20 year old, Benjamin Calvert of Alford (Huttoft) is living with his inlaws in South Ormsby. Benjamin is recorded as a journeyman wheelwright, his father in law William butters is also a wheelwright along with a close neighbour, James Atkins. Benjamin would later take over from Edward Atkins when the business was sold in 1863. Some years later newspaper reports suggest that Benjamin liked a tipple. In July 1893, aged 59, he was fined 10s and 7s costs for being drunk in charge of a horse and cart in Alford, an offence repeated in April 1900 in Horncastle.

It should be stated that we cannot be 100% sure that Benjamin’s eldest son (Benjamin Joseph) was not the culprit but he was always known as Joseph.

The Brumpton family were an integral part of the area for many years, more details of the extended family and their transition from labourers to machine men are at the end of this piece for those that are interested.

Threshing Day

Traditional hand tools of harvest were the sickle, the scythe and the flail, some traditional threshing of the corn by flail survived into the twentieth century in Lincolnshire barns. Published recollections of the era conjure up nostalgic images of stooks in the fields, busy wives feeding visiting harvesters, while their children were occupied picking blackberries, sloes and elderberries from the hedgerows.

The stooks would be led back to the yard, some farmers walking behind the last load, carrying the last sheaf to mark the “Harvest Home”. Once the stooks were removed the gleaning could begin, a perk of the labourers, the last remnants of the corn were collected, old hands would have linen aprons made for the purpose to collect as much as possible.

In rural areas harvest time always led to low school attendance although in later years the truant officers would work to return children under 11.Some recollections of mention the presence of children and dogs excited to begin their role of dispatching the rats disturbed by the dismantling of the stack, while others searched for mice beneath the drum sheet drying in the sun.

Preparations would have been made in advance, a large water barrel would stand ready and had to be kept full, the water carrying often undertaken by a boy using a wooden yoke and a pair of two gallon buckets. Coal was at hand to provide the steam engine with its seemingly endless requirement. The machinery train would have rumbled along the village lanes at walking pace, being carefully manouvered along tracks made for horses and carts, trying to avoid the inevitable delays if one of them got stuck in the mud and they had to fetch horses to pull it all free. On occasion its progress would only be made visible by the swaying hurricane lanterns which lit its path.

The threshing set covered a large area. The drum would be set by the stack, the hungry traction engine close by connected to the drive wheel by a belt. An elevator would carry the straw away, all were chocked and ready for the hard work ahead. An anxious farmer may check that the drum was not fed too slowly to hamper progress or too fast to leave grain in the straw. The sacks would be heaved away amid the clouds of dust, wheat sacks were 18 stone, barley 16 and oats 12. The bad tempered chaff carrier rarely suffered in silence while the engine driver occupied an enviable place at the wheel.

At the end of the day, exhausted and dirty, the labourers often faced a long walk home, or wobbled off on old cycles.

We sometimes look back with longing to the simpler days of the past but there was a harsh reality to the times. In 1893 the school leaving age was set at a minimum of 11 years. One Lincolnshire man recalled his first job aged 11 years in the early 1890s , he would work a twelve hour day picking stones from the fields for sixpence a day.

The 2022 Museum of Rural Life Tractor Run will be on Saturday 10th September with the Steam & Vintage Vehicle day taking place on Sunday 11th September in the Manor House Grounds.

The Brumpton Family

The Brumptons were a large family this particular branch originating in Calceby when Thomas Brumpton of Louth and his Wife Eliza Woodliffe of Burwell settled there following their marriage in 1833. The men of the family were all agricultural labourers when they were young. William Brumpton was the eldest son, he was present at the family home in Calceby in 1841, ten years later aged 15 he remained at home alongside his five brothers and two sisters. William, George, James, Thomas, Frances (dau) Mary ann, John, Francis (Son). By the 1851 census young Thomas is referred to as Andrew, most likely our missing “A” from the purchase information of 1891.

The elder boys quickly forged their own path, William was first described as a “Machine Man” on the 1871 census, he lived in the hamlet of Whitepit close to his brother James who had left agriculture behind and worked as a carrier. At that time their father, aged 57, remained in Calceby, Andrew (30), John (23) and Francis (20) all lived in the family home, all were agricultural labourers. It was ten years later, in the 1881 census, that Thomas snr., aged 67, was recorded as the “Owner & Master of Thrashing Machine: Employing 10 men” William’s occupation remains as a “machine man” and engine driver. The presence of Andrew on the sale details above suggests that he worked closely with his elder brother but he is not recorded as an owner on the census at all. There is one mention of Andrew Brumpton of Calceby as a machine man in a local newspaper report in relation to him appearing as a witness to sheep stealing.

Thomas snr died in 1889 and in April 1891 William is finally recorded as a threshing machine owner but he is neither employer or employed suggesting he is leaving the provision of labour to others and just working as a contractor. Just a few months later William and Andrew are recorded as taking delivery of the MORL Hornsby threshing machine. Andrew died in 1895 aged 54, the death certificate records epilepsy and liver disease as a cause of death, which may be why William appears to have taken the lead in the contracting business.

William continued the business with his sons, William and Thomas, he died in October 1902 aged 67 years, his widow remained the official owner of a traction engine working on her own account in 1911 aged 76. The threshing machine passed to William jnr, he married Harriet Hodgson in 1908, the couple lived at Swaby School House with his sister in law. Thomas had 9 children of his own by 1911 and worked as an engine driver for threshing, the family also lived in Swaby.

The Brumptons were intricately involved in village life in the Swaby area, particularly William snr’s brother James’ family. James had set up as a carrier but he died in 1879 aged 40 of TB. Eliza, his wife of 18 years continued as Sub Postmistress supported by his six children. In 1911 at the age of 72 Eliza still held the post assisted throughout by her daughter Emma. James and Eliza’s son Thomas moved away from the agricultural labour of his twenties to work as a postman for his mother alongside his passion for repairing bicycles, watches and clocks earning him the nickname “Clocky Tom”. James and Eliza’s elder son James returned to the village with his own family becoming the Sexton and Parish Clerk while also working as an agricultural machinist. William resumed his father’s carrier business and farmed, his daughter worked for her grandmother as a telegraph messenger, in 1911 his son Edward was an agricultural labourer. Edward was killed in action in 1918.

The 1919 Kelly’s Directory lists Thomas and William Brumpton as threshing contractors, their cousin William was still a farmer and carrier, and Emma had taken over as the sub postmistress.

Rooks and Rookeries

I quite like Rooks, many studies highlight their intelligence, their problem solving skills, with some colonies in the thousands they are very social birds.

However I have to admit to occasionally wondering exactly why a Rookery was worthy of note, frequently referred to in modern property or road names, as in Holywell Road in Alford, was it simply that conditions were so perfect in these locations that natural Rook colonies became particularly large or was there more to it ?

1849 Cox the elder, David; Rook Shooting; Worthing Museum and Art Gallery; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/rook-shooting-70123

I then noticed a few lines in the Lincolnshire Chronicle that made me more curious

On Monday night … between ten and eleven o’clock, a gang of fifteen fellows proceeded the rookery of Mrs. Gibbeson, of Red Hall, near [Lincoln] and commenced taking the young birds. The old crows not relishing the molestation, began uproarious cawing, which roused the farming men, who, the number half dozen, got up and ordered the intruders off: the latter, however, showed bold front, and made Mrs. Gibbeson’s men retire, while they cleared the trees of all the birds they thought it worth while to take, and then decamped—The same night the hen-house of Mrs. Toynbee, of Waddington, was robbed of the whole of the poultry, it is supposed part of the gang who visited Mrs. Gibbeson’s rookery. Lincolnshire Chronicle – Friday 19 May 1837

The Rookery in the report is clearly considered to be the property of Mrs Gibbeson in the same way the poultry were that of Mrs Toynbee. In1849 the late frosts were blamed for the loss of thousands of young rooks on many large estates. The piece refers to the loss in terms of shooting for some and there are plenty of contemporary articles aimed at the shooting fraternity about the beautifully crafted Rook rifles, particularly liked by shooting parties of ladies. I admit to feeing a little disappointed by this discovery, were they really just encouraged for the shoot and the pot ? There are many contemporary references to Rook Pie recipes by the likes of Mrs Beeton, maybe on the farm after a shoot, but on the estates of Lords ?

Finally I found the article below from the Spectator in 1907, as usual there is a lot of information , but rather than omit what may be of interest to some I have highlighted what I consider to be the most interesting elements.


THE Council of the Staffordshire Chamber of Agriculture  has issued a circular to owners of rookeries in the ‘county suggesting that it will be advisable, in view of the increasing destructiveness of rooks in farming districts, to take counsel with a view to thinning the rooks’ numbers. It would be a valuable contribution to natural and agricultural history if the Chamber could obtain from local correspondent’s definite accounts of the damage done, and the relief, if any, afforded by killing down the birds. There are few ornithological topics which have led to closer debate than the question of the amount of harm done by the rook to sown, and ripening crops, compared with the services which he renders to the farmer in the destruction of grubs and insects injurious to plant life; and it is an interesting speculation whether the rook may not be in some respects changing his habits, like his field-companion, the starling, who now eats fruit whenever he can get it. Direct evidence on this point is not always easy to obtain. Gilbert White, for instance, has not very much to say about the rook, and what he has to say is concerned chiefly with its nesting habits, or with an example of albinism, not with its diet. He has a quaint little passage referring to a pair of milk-white rooks which were thrown out of their nest by “a booby of a carter,” from which you would gather that at the back of the rustic mind of the period was a notion that rooks were birds to be destroyed at sight ; but he does not discuss the reasons- prompting the destructive carter’s action, he merely laments the death of the birds as curiosities ; “their bills, legs, feet, and claws were milk-white.” But in Gilbert White’s day there was so much waiting for somebody to observe accurately about birds that the wonder always will be, not that he missed an observation, but that he observed so accurately.

Waterton was perhaps the rook’s first really enthusiastic champion. He bad no doubt about the rook’s right to be considered the farmer’s friend. He does not, of course, argue that the rook does no harm at all; he grants that it pulls up sprouting corn, in order to get at the grain at the root of the blade, and that it will attack cornstacks in winter, when the thatch has been partly removed by a gale. But as regards the sprouting corn, be urges that the pilfering only lasts three weeks, and can be checked by hiring a boy at threepence a day ; and as to the thatched stacks, a man would be a slovenly farmer if he did not repair the damaged roof immediately; “still, we have farmers in Yorkshire of this description.” Another fault of the bird is that it ” is certainly too fond of walnuts,”— an unmannerly predilection of which time has not cured it. But with all these faults, Waterton is convinced of the essential usefulness of the bird. He repeats on two occasions the lamentable story of the North American colonists who killed off their “purple grakles” (the local representative of the rook), and were punished by having all their grass eaten by insects, so that they had to import hay from England; and he is equally insistent on the experiences of the inhabitants of the French island of Reunion, who were guilty of a like folly and were visited with a plague of grasshoppers in consequence. But although since Waterton’s day the rook has never wanted defenders against the accusing ignorance of farmers, he has never been championed with more amazing industry than by the German doctor who made known the results of his experi- ments only last year. Dr. Hollrung in the course of his investigations actually examined the crops of four thousand and thirty rooks,—surely an appalling achievement. However, he certainly obtained some very remarkable figures. He counted every grain of corn and every insect in every crop, and found that while the four thousand crops contained as many as 42,239 sprouted and un-sprouted grains of can and 587 potatoes, they contained also 43,997 insects injurious to agriculture. Of these 43,997 insects, no fewer than 4,486 were cockchafer-beetles and grubs, and 3,896 were click-beetles and their larvae, wireworms. He then proceeded to calculate the damage which would • have been done to crops • by the cockchafers alone. If half the 2,222 cockchafer-beetles were females, they would lay 60 to 70 eggs apiece,—total, 66,660 eggs. If half of these hatched, there would be 33,330 grubs. Now a grub spends three years in the soil, and destroys perhaps ten cereal plants, at a low estimate, per annum. Imagine, however, that half the grubs get killed somehow during the second year, and an easy calculation shows that before the 33,330 eggs had matured into beetles they would have destroyed between a half and three-quarters of a million plants. Contrast these numbers with the numbers of the grains of corn eaten by the insatiate four thousand, and remember that you have confined yourself to the cockchafers only, and the conclusion is clear. You are left to imagine the gnawing remorse with which the doctor must have contemplated the defunct remains of the hapless subjects of his experiment. Would he dare to show his face to a farmer?

It may well be the case, however, that there is a limit to the number per acre at which rooks are useful to the farmer, and that when that number is exceeded some of the rooks get into bad habits, such as preferring grain to grubs, or even indulging in unhallowed feasts from the pheasantry and chicken-run. Probably, when rooks take to egg-eating and chick-stealing, they are first impelled to their horrid deeds by prolonged frosts or dry weather, which make it impossible for them to drive their beaks into the soil for their natural food. For all that, a good deal of experience seems to show that a rook who has once got a taste for eggs or young birds is like a man- eating tiger; he prefers the forbidden food to all others, and he had better be shot as an evil and unregenerate fowl if ever he is caught among the pheasants or the poultry- coops. But there is another question, in regard to the thinning down of rooks, on which collected statistics would be particularly interesting. What is the direct evidence in support of the widely held but incorrect belief that unless the young rooks are shot every year, the rookery will be deserted? How many instances are there, and when did they occur, of rookeries being deserted when the young rooks had been left un-shot the, year before? Of course, deserted rookeries are by no means uncommon, but what is the direct connexion between the thinning down of the young rooks and the desertion of, the nests? For, it is needless to say, there are plenty of rookeries in the country where the young rooks are never shot, and which go on increasing happily every year. Is it a question of tree-room? Do the rooks decide that there is room for so many nests, and for no more, here, or there, or in that space of country ?

It would seem that they do so sometimes, at all events, for they will often prevent a new rookery being built up by other rooks within a certain distance of an established colony; and they often quarrel, apparently in a purposeless way, but it may be with real instinctive knowledge, over the placing of a particular nest in a particular spot. These involved problems of the rook community are some of the most interesting in all bird history. Only experience, for instance, teaches the astonishing difficulty of trying to persuade the birds to establish a rookery in what is apparently an ideal situation, if they do not want to come there. Hand-rearing of young birds among the trees where they are wanted to build; the placing of nests, half or wholly made, among the tree-branches before the breeding season begins; even the deportation of entire nests of young into the tree-tops, after the example of Sir Edward Northey, who carted a nest from Epsom to the Temple (he established his rookery successfully),—all have failed over and over again; though, also, each method has occasionally succeeded.

It may be that British rooks during the past few years have grown too many for British acres. If so, the remedy is distressingly simple, and will not, it is to be hoped, be applied too thoroughly. It may be necessary to keep the number of rooks in certain districts within limits, but it is, after all, one of the poorest uses to which to put a rookery, to use it for rook-shooting. It is true that not all the young rooks will “stand to be killed,” as the advertisements say of keepers night-dogs; they very wisely fly away. It is true, also, that in a good snoring breeze, or even in a light wind, the bumped, dusty-black body of the young rook, half hidden in the humming greenery sixty feet or more in the air, is not always an easy mark. But the end of such witless beings is an unhappy business, and as for rook-pie, although there be those who speak with satisfaction of stewings in milk and other gastronomical essays, the thought can be nauseating enough to others. The real happiness in the possession of a rookery has nothing to do with rifles. It is in the succession of sights and sounds which it provides during the year,—the long, leisurely flights through the heavens of majestic birds, out and home at morning and evening ; sudden descents from immense heights, and strange and ordered evolutions above the trees before settling in the darkening branches; rooks in a wind, reeling up and down and aslant above the horizon of trees ; above all, rooks in the hot sunlight of a May morning, stalking shining through the buttercups or flapping clumsily from the swaying elm-branches, with all the bright air resonant with the sharp clatter of jackdaws, the gobble of satisfied nestlings, and the solemn cawing of wise and anxious parent birds. Rooks look too small, at the distance at which they keep us, to give a proper idea of their real size and importance. But bring them near to you with a pair of field- glasses, and watch them settling and resettling, pluming their wings, stooping their heads to caw portentously, and flapping away again from the dead or dying tree without which no rookery is complete, and which all rooks will prefer to conduct their business upon before a tree in leaf. Only then will you realise the largeness and handsomeness of the intimate life of a rookery. There is nothing in Japanese picture-schemes more decorative than half-a-dozen of these big, shapely birds, their black feathers glossy with shot purple, balancing on dark and spiky bare branches against a background of pure blue or tumbling clouds.

It may be that British rooks were becoming too many for British acres, by 1948 Alford was the proving ground for the clearance of the Lincolnshire Rookeries.

WAR ON ROOKS : Lincs. Assault With Gun and Hose: War with shotgun and high pressure fire hoses on Lincolnshire rookeries, whose occupants are reported to be increasing in number and causing enormous damage to growing crops, is being organised by Lindsey’ Agricultural Pests Committee. Mr. A.W. Smith. chairman of the Pests Committee, told the Market Rasen branch of the National Farmers’ Union on Wednesday how the tree-top warfare is to be waged. The co-operation of every rookery owner was required, he said. There was now every prospect that if owners did not help compulsory orders would be served on them and their rooks would be shot for them. He hoped that compulsion would’ not be necessary, but latest reports had emphasised the seriousness of the problem. Enormous damage was being done in the Louth and Alford areas. … Where water was available it was suggested that a rookery owner might ask the N.F.S. to direct powerful water jets on the nests, he added. The experiment was being tried out in the Alford area this week.

Mr. F.Strawson: It does not sound very sportsmanlike.

Mr. C. M. Brant: If I were a rook I would rather be drowned than shot. Boston Guardian 21st April 1948

Poor things …. I can safely say that I will not wonder about the Rookeries of old any more !