OXTON IN THE NINETEENTH CENTURY
IT must be remembered that at the end of the eighteenth century there was no old-age pension, and poor relief was very small. It is interesting to note that Henry Lowe of Oxton, formerly of Bingham, Notts, was the instigator of the workhouse in the country. No man or woman in those days could have poor relief when out of work without going into the workhouse, and there earning the cost of their keep.
The conditions obtaining in the institutions at that time, and up to sixty years ago, were deplorable and even terrible. The author remembers taking some of the villagers to the workhouse and there seeing the bread and skilly provided. The skilly was just bread broken up in warm water, with a little fat swimming on the top. In cellars underneath the house the inmates had to break stones. They were provided with uncomfortable beds with scarcely any coverings, and there was no recreation whatsoever. The condition of the poor when they were past work was deplorable. They dreaded going up `the big hill’, and to them it was a nightmare end to life.
The history of the poor was revealed to their friend as he went round to sell the halfpenny paper known as joyful News. To them and the aged on Saturday evenings he sold twenty-five thousand copies, and while doing so gained much information from the purchasers or recipients themselves. He took many a man and woman to Southwell Workhouse, by means of his father’s pony, and many of these poor folk sobbed bitterly as they climbed the stone steps inside the House. The result was that he determined to represent Oxton on the Southwell Board of Guardians, and to do something to improve the lot of these derelicts of the years and fortune. This he eventually achieved with the aid of Mr. Herbert Lewin of Halam, Mr. Arthur Carnill, of Lowdham, Mr. Alexander Straw of Farnsfield, Mr. Gale of Egmaton, Mr. Ward of Wellow, Mr. Day of Gunthorpe, and others.
The Ministry of Health suggested that the premises which resulted, be called Greet House, Southwell, by which name it has been called throughout the twentieth century. Difficulty in getting things altered was because of the apathy of the aristocracy and the clergy. The name Greet House was given because it was thought that any child being born in the institution was likely to be stigmatized when seeking a situation, but if they could give `Greet House’ as their place of birth, they would stand a better chance.
People who were out of work walked from Newark to Southwell and then on to Mansfield Workhouse. Before they were allowed to leave the workhouse at Southwell they had to break stones in the cellar for half a day, so the finding of occasional work on the farms was rendered impossible, since no one wanted men in the afternoon. The result was, they had to lie down in the hedge bottom, there often to die of starvation and cold. The opposition to adequate help for these unfortunates was most marked in the agents of the aristocracy.
Illness in the village came before the Guardians committee. The average weekly wage for an agricultural worker was fifteen shillings, and very often wet days were not paid for. The labourer sometimes had to walk two or three miles to his work, and sometimes, on his road home, had to take the farmer’s horse to the smith’s forge for shoeing. This he did, and was ordered to tell the smith to turn it up the lane to my farm, when it was shod, and it would come home. So the horse and man found their respective ways home, the labourer not receiving any pay for his work. Such deprivations reduced the toiler’s wage so that he received from nine shillings to eleven shillings per week. Men worked on dry days till six o’clock, and after walking home and getting a drink of tea, they laboured in their gardens (for which they paid the lord of the manor five shillings per year) setting vegetables and potatoes till dark. Without health service and unemployment pay, they sought help from the Guardians, in times of illness. In such cases grants were grudgingly made of five shillings per week, sometimes only half a crown. Little wonder that men who had for the most part to pay for their doctor, delayed calling him in until it was too late. In fairness to the medical profession it must be said that they were many who did not send in a bill to these poor folk.
From 1885 to 1900 the Sick Clubs were favoured institutions. Illiterate men were the treasurers, and while the Oddfellows Club paraded the village, headed by a `brass band’ and dined in the lodge-room on Whit-Monday, or the Manchester Unity Club paraded the village headed by another brass band, much money was lost by the officials. It was indeed wonderful how poor men could find their monthly subscriptions out of such small wages, in order to have small sums at times of sudden illness or death. The Manchester Unity had, at one time, a hundred. and twenty members from this and the surrounding villages. One member in office felt that the parade had become a disgrace and the feast an orgy, so he moved that these demonstrations, costing £17 a year, should be discontinued. Feeling ran high on the proposition, but it was carried by the narrowest majority.
The Oxton Female Society was instituted in 1828, and met at the sign of the Green Dragon. The rules make interesting reading now. The governing was done by a mistress and two stewardesses, and the avowed aim of the Society was to dispense pecuniary relief to those who were in need by sickness or accident. A strong-box was provided in which to keep the cash and books. This had three different locks, and each officer had to keep her own key, only opening the safe in the presence of five members. The Society was open to all trades, and those eligible were from seventeen to thirty-five years. The subscription was eightpence per month for the first year and subsequently it was sixpence per month. Fines were instituted for cursing and swearing, and for affronting any member. It was also an offence to continue speaking after silence had been ordered. The members had to seat themselves round the room, with decency and in good order, and not to bustle the stewardesses in the execution of their duties. The commission of these disorders was met by a fine of twopence. Benefits were granted after two years’ membership, the payments being five shillings or half a crown per week. The member had to be incapable of following her occupation, exceptions being made of intemperance or vicious life, in which cases no payment was made. Payments were for a maximum of sixteen weeks at the higher rate and sixteen weeks at the lower rate. Monies were paid after seven days’ notice, and if a member was found at work or gaming during incapacity, the pay was forfeited or the member was excluded. For those not resident in Oxton a weekly certificate of a doctor was needed before the money was paid. The stewardesses were to visit the sick and to receive threepence per mile for their travel. Doctor’s bills were to be paid at once by the members. If a member entered the General Hospital at Nottingham, or any similar institution, the benefits were reduced by half. Pregnancy was not accounted an illness, and would not be paid for unless the malady was not due to the condition. In the case of burials, payments were evidently not made, but attendance at the funeral was obligatory on the members appointed to attend. Such members were to appear at the clubroom for the occasion and to be allowed half a pint of ale, never leaving till the ceremony was over. The annual feast was held on Whit-Monday, and was available to all who had paid their dues up to the event. The feast was preceded by a service, and in all cases a failure to observe the regulations resulted in a fine. The mistress was Elizabeth Hall, and the stewardesses Sarah Lawrence and Mary Taylor.
Plough Monday. Year after year the boys at Oxton practised for Plough Monday. They went to the shoeing shed of the blacksmith’s shop with amazing regularity so as to be ready for this annual event. The Drama League of today in some respects would not equal those plays of seventy years ago. After the characters had made themselves competent and were dressed up for the occasion, they started round the village, calling at almost every house. There they were provided with mince pies, pork pies, cakes and sweets, while Tom Fool, one of the cast, went. round with his large money box. Where they put the food is a mystery to this day, for it was after midnight when they finished their tours. They had then to divide the cash equally, and be in school betimes next morning. The play had as artistes Tom Fool, who was dressed as a clown, his face being made up with red, white and black, and his costume including odd boots and socks, and an old dented hard hat. Then there was the Farmer’s Man, who was suitably attired in a long smock, with old corduroy trousers, tied with string below the knee. Eezie Squeesum carried a besom and a frying-pan, and the Lady had a long skirt, shawl, elegant hat and shoes. The Recruiting Sergeant was in the scarlet uniform of the soldiers of the time. Dame Jane was a bedraggled edition of the Lady, and she had a big doll for a baby. The Devil or Beelzebub wore ordinary clothes, covered with a sack, with slits to put his arms through, his whole body being thickly padded with straw kept in place by string. He carried a club on his shoulder. The last of this motley party was the Doctor, who wore a top hat and long black coat, and was complete with gloves and a cane. As one may imagine, the fun was fast and furious.
The Oxton Church of England Temperance Society and Band of Hope. Similar to the festival described above was the work of the Oxton Church of England Temperance Society and Band of Hope. This was begun in 1884, with the vicar as President, and a number of Methodists in support, among whom were Messrs. G. Wood, Smith of Oxton, Fallow, Cutler, and Thomas Shipside senior. In 1885 a brass band was formed, and to raise money a Fête and Gala was held in the Pleasure Ground. Eight hundred folk attended, and when many had sat down to tea in a big covered shed, many more tried to get refreshment at the Green Dragon Inn, so that the licensee said he had no beer left the day after the Temperance Fête was held at Oxton! To supplement the money raised, the vicar found a good sum to pay for a new drum and silver plated cornet.
It was a great day when the band was engaged to play for Queen Victoria’s Jubilee celebrations in 1887. The band was then a Church of England temperance effort, and some of the members liked a glass of beer; nor did they stop at one or two glasses. My parents did not like me to go away from Oxton to play, but the demonstration at Nottingham Forest on Queen Victoria’s Jubilee day was to have fifty thousand Sunday School children, led by eighty brass bands. Oxton band was engaged to play the Mapperley Sunday School to the scene. On the morning of the event I was not called, and as we had to meet at butcher Strutt’s shop at six a.m., I went downstairs only to find that the clock said five minutes to two! I returned to bed and tied both my hands together, and at six a.m. we assembled near the entrance to what is now the Elmcroft Housing Estate. From there we played to the Bridge House, at which point the band climbed into a carrier’s cart for Mapperley, calling en route for Mr. Morley (Mino) who was both the leader of the Calverton Band and our tutor. At Calverton Mr. Richard Burton, a very good musician, congratulated us on our playing. We reached Mapperley in time for lunch, which consisted of bread and cheese and pickled onions. Afterwards we lined up, the cornet players marching in the front row, Mr. Morley, W. Birch, S. Argyle and myself. But presently a road obstruction caused us to walk on the causeway, and S. Argyle collided with a lamppost, cut his lip, and was not much use for the rest of the day. The Forest demonstration being over, we played the children back to Mapperley, where they had tea in their school, and afterwards we played for dancing until the bonfire was lit on Mapperley Hills. We arrived home at Oxton about midnight, and so ended a happy and high day in my life.
Another band engagement was to play for Epperstone Club Feast. We knew only two dance tunes, one Scottish, one Welsh, so that at every house where we went to play for dancing, the question was `Which shall it be—this or t’other?’ Following that outing the committee decided to call in all the band instruments, and to have only pledged abstainers as players. I was among those who took in their instruments, but a number, including Henry Clay the drummer, John Allwood and Richard Foulds the euphonium players, refused to give theirs up. At the subsequent prosecution in Newark the County Court Judge ruled that, failing affiliation to the society in London, the committee could not claim return of the instruments. The chagrin of the obedient bandsmen can be imagined, for the rebels played their instruments through Oxton, and all wished that they had kept theirs. The band came to an end after this incident, and was never re-formed.
The Dramatic Club. Interest in drama in Oxton goes back many years, to the time when the little schoolroom under the chapel, the chapel itself, and the village Day School each served in its turn to house the various programmes, concerts and plays which enlivened the community. Memory brings back one concert in particular, when the cook sat unintentionally in the dough meant for bread, and brought the house down as well as the basin which held the paste. There was another occasion when a well-meaning mother gave her daughter’s dolls away in a good cause, and forgot to estimate the reaction of the said daughter. A village dramatic society was formed in 1934., and courses were held under the University Department of Adult Education, directed by R. Gill, B.A. One of the eliminating festivals in connection with the Notts Drama League was held at Oxton, when the village presented Honest Folk, a comedy for five characters, and a second play called The Oak Settle. More concerts were given during the winter of 1934, bringing in the remaining members of the society.
A year later Oxton was successful in gaining the highest marks out of forty competitors, and competed with Calverton, Tuxford and Warsop for the final placing which carried with it the Newark Advertiser Shield and the right to compete in the Northern Area semi-final at Goldthorpe. The final was held in the `Empire’, Nottingham. The Oxton players staged Eldorado, by B. Gilbert, and the actors were Mr. G. Braddock (James Watson), Mr. J. H. Butcher (Henry Watson), Miss K. Eydes (Betty Watson), and Mrs. L. Hopkin (Emma Burrows). Excitement was intense when Oxton was awarded the Shield and placed in the Northern Finals. Here the village came fourth, only three points behind the champions. Later the club gave Eldorado at the Technical College, Newark. Rehearsals of Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream in 1939 were broken off by the war, and it was not until 1947 that the Group was re-formed. From that time interest centred in pantomime until 1953, when straight plays again became the concern of the club.
Preface and Introduction
Chapter 1 – Nottinghamshire in the Olden days
Chapter 2 – Oxton in Olden Days
Chapter 3 -Oxton in the Nineteenth Century
Chapter 4 – The Chapels at Oxton
Chapter 5 – The People of the Village
Chapter 6 – The Charities Parish Church Hall and Village of Oxton
Chapter 7 – The Towns and Villages Roundabout