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Thomas's Great Grand-daughter has kindly allowed us to copy this autobiography
Thomas Coleman Clarke
This is a transcript of Thomas Coleman Clarke’s account of his life. He spent some of his life in Rushden and is buried in Rushden Cemetery. He lived at 20 Moor Road Rushden. The account contains information about the Boot and Shoe trade in the late nineteenth century, as well as leisure information, and is copied as found.

Autobiography of Thomas Coleman Clarke aged 68 June 28 1913

My father born at Catworth, March 1807. My mother born at Odell June 1804. They were married at Odell, December 26, 1825. Made their home at Stanwick. Were blessed with 5 children – Elizabeth, Sophia, Ebenezer, John and Thomas. I (Thomas) the only one living at the present date, 1st April 1913. I am now kept in doors through a slight illness so have started on my biography to amuse myself. Shall divide this account into 3 parts – 1st. My life as a boy, youth and manhood. 2nd – My singing career. 3rd – My teetotal history.

I was born at Stanwick 28 June 1845, being the youngest of a family of five. My father was a very capable boot and shoe maker working for Mr. Nichols of Raunds. When I was 2 years of age, he moved to Raunds into a house nearly opposite the Baptist Meeting, of which he was deacon, and my mother a member. My first idea of any importance was when sent to school (old Lady Ekins): from there to a little more advanced (Miss Foskett’s).

At the age of 7 was sent to the Church School which was part of the south side of the church. There were many changes of schoolmaster in three years, to all appearance good ones stayed very little time. But threepence per week was charged. At 10 years of age I started to work to learn the ‘stabbing’ under the tuition of Mrs. Peacock at ninepence per week after the first month. There was three of us stabbing – Mr. Peacock on his seat making boots and Mrs. Peacock having to attend to the household duties, all in the same room. I was there about 12 months.

About 3 years prior to this my father accepted the position of agent for Mr. Randall of Higham Ferrers to give out army boots to be made by hand. This improved his position a little financially, and feeling the loss of education himself he decided to sacrifice to send me to the best school in the district at the time – Higham Ferrers Grammar School – under the tuition of that able and respected master, Mr. John Saunderson. I started when I was about 12 years of age. For the first 6 months I lived with my sister at Rushden for 5 days in the week, returning home on Friday evenings. After that time another young lad (James Brown) started from Raunds, so we decided to walk to school in the morning and return after school in the afternoon which we did for about 12 months. The 18 months spent at this school was most enjoyable, the tuition was good, and when I left I felt all the better for it. My Master was pleased and my parents well satisfied with the instruction received. A time always looked back upon with pleasure.

About this time (1858) a Sunday School was started at the Baptist and I was the first scholar. Sunday School at that time was the only education which many children had. The principle teaching was to learn to read and spell. It was quite a tussle as to who would get to the top of the class during spelling time. The first class girls were often brought to contest with the boys, and the girls generally came out best. My father was the first superintendent and an able one he was, a man of few words, but very much respected, and always commanded attention. He held the office for thirty years.

At the age of thirteen and a half I was apprenticed to my brother Ebenezer to learn the shoe trade. It did not turn out very satisfactory so I was transferred to Joseph Peacock who I stayed with until I was 15. From him I went to George Beeby, at the age of 17. I was able to make a shoe all through – having work out in my own name, shoes called ‘Marines’, light smart shoes hand made all through at 1 shilling and 4 pence per pair.

I might say here a little about the light I worked by as a learner with others. I commenced with the light from a ‘double-sixes’ that was two tallow candles run together with 2 wicks, from which came plenty of smoke and often wanted snuffing, a delicate process, as they were often snuffed out. Then came a slight improvement on the candles by the introduction of the tallow fat. It consisted of a glass tumbler nearly filled with fat and a piece of wick pushed down the centre, held up a little higher than the fat by a piece of tin, and lifted up as the occasion required. It was a better light than the double candle but a worse fume (about 1858). But the introduction of paraffin and the lamp, a great improvement was made (1860) which lasted some years before the introduction of gas. The hours of labour were rather long – from 8 in the morning until 10 o’clock at night. But there was very little work done on the Monday. But often work until 8 o’clock on Saturdays.

About this time (1860) my parents moved to a much larger house in Hill Street, the home which I left when I was married. Having commenced to work on my own account I entered as depositor in the Temperance Permanent Building Society (Mr. Enos Smith as agent) by paying 2 shillings per week, which came in very useful at my marriage - £20.

I kept on steady at work and at the middle of 1861 with my mate (Jesse Clark) we made up our minds to work well for 12 months and have a good holiday the next year. Having saved about six or seven pounds we started on Raunds Feast Sunday 1862 for a fortnight’s travel (a very remarkable undertaking for young men at that time of day – our ages being mine 17, his 18 years) My mate had an uncle in London (Thomas Beeby) so we made straight for him. We stayed in London for a week, sleeping at a Coffee House in John Street – the hot rolls we had for breakfast were quite a treat to us. We made the best of our time in seeing the sights of London. Visited the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park, the Zoo, St.Paul’s, Westminster Abbey, Spurgeon’s Tabernacle, Houses of Parliament, Madame Tussauds, Moor and Burgesses Minstrels – very popular, Smithfield Open Cattle Market. We also went to Crystal Palace for a day. It was then in its beauty. Its vastness, size and general appearance came in full view of the Great Orchestra with a thousand of little children upon it. They were singing delightfully – it fetched tears to my eyes. We made enquiries what the gathering meant. And to our surprise it was the first gathering of the ‘Band of Hope’. Being both teetotallers we were pleased. I little thought then that I should occupy a place on the orchestra in after years, as I did with such pleasure many times. We climbed the great tower where the water is stored and saw the great fountains play, a scene only to be witnessed at the Palace, all of glass. The first underground railway I believe was opened that year and considered a great engineering work – we often used it.

After being in London a week, we started to the sea side for a week, travelling by water from London Bridge to Ramsgate – 82 miles. Visited Margate, Broadstairs, Brighton, Calais and Dover. On the boat we sailed from Ramsgate to Dover with Lord Palmerston. I did not speak to him but many did. I rub very close to him. I think he was Prime Minister at the time. Perhaps that was the reason I did not introduce myself to him. We went on to the Dover Race Course (Races were on) and to show how careful we were with our cash, we purchased one pennyworth of salmon each. The three card trick was much to the fore just then – nearly tempted, it looked so easy to win, but we refrained. It was a most enjoyable week, and I remember well when the Saturday came, I had to acknowledge that my £6 was gone and only about three shillings left. But my mate came to my assistance as he had a pound or two left yet. We returned to London for Sunday and reached home on the Monday after spending fifteen never to be forgotten days away from home. All were glad to see us back safely.

18 months later my mother had a pressing invitation from friends (Atkinson) at Brighton to pay them a week’s visit. Not willing to go by herself I was persuaded to go with her. My travelling experiences of 18 months previous no doubt was not overlooked (1864). We had a fine time at Brighton - it was Easter. At that time it was usual for volunteers to gather there from all parts on the Monday for a sham fight. Nearly 100,000 would gather on the Downs. They came in as fast as the trains could bring them, each Corps headed by a brass band. I remember the most popular air at that time was ‘Slap Bang. Here We Go Again’, very inspiring and appropriate for the occasion. The report of the cannons and guns was most deafening and we were fortunate to be in the centre of the attack and coming out alive. Dear mother was almost overcome by the excitement.

Nothing very special occurred – only the mating together process – until 23 December 1866, when the marriage took place between myself and Miss C. Hartwell at the parish church, Raunds, Rev. C. Porter officiated. We were married at 8 o’clock on Sunday morning and nearly a mile to walk (no carriage at that time). We breakfasted at my brother Ebenezer’s and both went to the Baptist meeting at 10.30 and returned to our own home for dinner. Our house was one of two cottages situated in Mr. Blott’s garden, reached by crossing the brook from Rotten Row. It was a nice pleasant position for which I paid two shillings and six pence a week with fifteen pole of garden. (Our next door neighbour was George Arnsby. We lived side by side for about three years when he removed to Kettering and I to Finedon) I had small shop built in which to work. Also had an apprentice under me named Andrew Fuller. It was hard work to clear twenty four shillings a week. But C [Charlotte his wife] was ever ready to do her part. She frequently closed two pairs of Army Uppers after she had put the children to bed, so augmenting our income by two or three shillings a week.

They had just erected a fine new Temperance Hall at Finedon and a caretaker was wanted. Mr. John Parker, with the consent of the trustees, offered us the position. Being anxious to do something apart from shoemaking, we accepted it. We left Raunds for Finedon about October 1869. We took with us our two children, Thomas and Charlie. It proved to be a nice change for us until our family increased and there was not sufficient room for us. We moved (after about three years stay) to a house just past Doe Bridge (nearly opposite Mr. Jacquest) belonging to Mr Parker at three shillings per week. Very small – two up, two down.

During my stay here I took up an agency under the Prudential Insurance Co for Finedon and Ithlingborough. It brought me in about four shillings a week (glad of it as I could collect without loosing any time from my ordinary work). Gave it up when I went to Birmingham. I often think had I kept on with the Agency it would have been a better thing for me than anything else, for the Company made such rapid strides after that time.

1872 – We stayed there about three years making several sincere friends. I was still making Army work, having as an apprentice George Pettitt. Work being rather scarce in Finedon at times I had work for a time from Mr. Paternal of Higham Ferrers and it was a very usual thing for my wife to wheel six pairs over there in a perambulator and bring six pairs back, to prevent me loosing any time from work. Had to work very hard, four little children at that time. Also had lodger, John Chapman; he made four very nice money boxes for the children, with their names inserted. There were five houses in the row. We lived in the second and my workshop was at the bottom of the garden. A nasty open drain ran by our back door.

1875 – One season I went up to Mr. Jacquest to help gather cherries. There was a very fine quantity. Up at 4 o’clock in the morning. On Raunds Feast Tuesday I took a cartload of cherries over to the Temperance Gala. Pitched my stall in the field. At four pence a pound they went off easily and quick, could of sold another load if I had got them. As it was I cleared fifteen shillings by them – not bad was it?

Still being anxious to get away from shoemaking, a position was offered me at Birmingham, November 1875. Mr. George Beck, shoe manufacturer, with Mr. Timpson, as manager (he knew me when he lived at Finedon). It turned out very satisfactory and in January 1876 our home was transferred to 24 Cox Street West, Ballsal Heath, Birmingham. The position I occupied was Under Foreman, thirty-five shillings a week.

A great blow to me occurred soon after we got there, in the death of my dear Mother, 27 February 1876. She did not like me to go so far away. But it was a good change for me, opened up a different line of work, which was an advantage to me in the years to come.

Blake Sewing Machine
Blake Sewing Machine
While at Birmingham the ‘Blake Sewing Machine’ was introduced. One was brought to the firm. I was asked if I would learn to work it. I accepted the offer with pleasure. It was a severe trial, but it was mastered, much to my advantage again in future years. I always made a point of never refusing to learn any fresh part in the boot trade. We had a nice home, close to Calthorpe Park and not far from Canon Hill Park, a lovely spot. The house was nine shillings a week with six rooms and basement.

To increase my income I took in repairs and bespoke which was done for me at the factory, bringing me in a little pocket money. C. also purchased a closing machine and had work from the factory consisting of stabbing and closing. As usual she was ever ready for doing her best for home. We always look back upon our stay in Birmingham with pleasure. We liked the city with its attractions in many ways. We witnessed many great attractions during our stay.

1878 – The great demonstration when Mr. Gladstone spoke in Bingley Hall to some 20,000 people. Also great meetings in the Town Hall when John Bright was speaker with Mr. Joseph Chamberlain in his radical days. We were present at the Town Hall when Sir Wilfred Lawson and J.B. Gough were speakers. It was during our stay that the Free Library was burnt down. We had to leave Birmingham through the failure of Mr. Beck. Just at the time we left Birmingham, they began to make that great alteration for Corporation Street. While at Birmingham we had many visitors from Finedon and Rushden. Mr. Charles Wright of Finedon made his home at our house when travelling with his sample of boots, as he had just then commenced to manufacture. My father also came down and stayed a few months with us, spent part of his time in Mr. Beck’s factory – lining and cleaning up.

A great and unexpected blow came to us one morning when Mr. Beck told us he would have to stop business. It was so sudden it brought tears to my eyes, for what would I do for work, it appeared hopeless at Birmingham.

But a way opened up through the person of Mr. Wright of Finedon. Just at that time his business was increasing and he was looking for someone to pass the work from the work people, also someone who knew how to work the ‘Blake Sewer’. Knowing that I had learnt to work that machine, also knowing me well, he wrote to me asking me to consider the matter. I did, which resulted in my return to Finedon, thirty shillings a week. We reached Finedon about Easter with four children, Thomas, Charlie, Lizzie and Prissie, a baby, in 1879. We went into a house next door to Mr. Pope (tailor) nearly opposite to Mr. John Parker’s. We did no stay there long but moved up on the Green into a five roomed cottage belonging to Mr. John Harris, with Mr. Mann (Church School Master) as neighbour. It was a comfortable home at four shillings per week – no garden.

The boys went to school until thirteen years of age when Thomas was apprenticed to Mr. Wright as a clicker. Charlie went to Mr. George Knight in the machine closing room. Afterwards Mr. F. Claypole to learn the ‘Blake Sewing Machine’ under Walter Leaberry. Ultimately taking up the position of traveller for Mr. Claypole.

My position at Mr. Wright’s steadily improved, taking the management of the Rough Stuff Room, also doing the sewing and also learning to work the Blake Stitcher, both worked by treadle. When the Gas Engines were introduced I also had to learn the Screwing Machine. I did not like the Screwing machine but the other two I very much took to.

1882 – About this time a very serious illness (typhoid) had overtaken me, which lasted seventeen weeks. Dr. Crew said, if I got over it, it would make a man of me, which proved true, for I had no necessity to call in the doctor again for thirty three years. Always well and healthy.

We worked at the factory from 6.30am until 8am – ¾ hour for breakfast, 12.30pm dinner. Closed at 6 o’clock. I hour for dinner. 9.45 a day, 54 hours a week. After tea and a good wash I generally spent an hour at the Star Hall Reading Room, one of the most regular members, at one time was asked if would take the position as a trustee, representing the Non-Conformist portion of the village. But I left Finedon for Rushden, before the appointment. Also taken an active part in the Rechabite Tent, of which I was a Charter Member. My political views were also very prominent about this time – at most meetings an active member in the return of my most respected friend – Mr. F. A. Channing.

I stayed with Mr. Wright for about ten years. Mr. Paul Cave came to see me about going to his factory at Rushden. He knew me well for years, but I did not accept the offer. But Mr. Saunders of Rushden, at the request of a friend of mine, came over and offered me a position in his factory as Foreman at thirty –seven shillings a week. I told Mr. Wright about it – rather reluctantly he offered me an addition of two shillings and sixpence (thirty two shillings and sixpence) which I did not think was sufficient. So I accepted Mr. Saunders offer. It was rather a severe severance from Finedon as I liked Mr. Wright and had made many genuine friends. But again the move seemed to me to be an advance. So I started for Rushden, Monday 4 July 1889. The change was alright and the work suited me, but for several months it was most trying, caused by two of the workmen who were disappointed in not getting the position. At one time it looked as though I should have to give up. But I stayed and overcame the opposition. After three years stay with Mr. Saunders another position was offered by Mr. William Clarke (an old friend of many years standing) to take control of the Bottoming Department in his Boot Factory. It was a little improvement on the position held at Mr. Saunders.

I stayed under Mr. Clarke for about four years. At about this time the making of boots underwent a great change. Instead of them being made by the man, right through, machinery was introduced, each machine doing a particular bit. Outworkers being gradually drafted into the factory producing the boots in the finished state under one roof, each department being managed by a foreman.

About this time (1898) my son started to make the ‘Phit-Foot’ boot sold by advertising. The business gradually developed, a small factory was taken, and I was, in a short time, asked by him to manage the making department. The boot, being made to measure and hand sewn all through, my knowledge of my original trade. After a few years, advertising dispensed with and depots were opened at Manchester, Leeds, Hull and Nottingham – but it did not work out so successfully as the original advertising system. The expenses were so largely increased. The business was sold in 1910 to a Northampton party who retained me for about 1 year, after which I left them. Had over one year without any special occupation.

In October 1913 Mr. C. Horrell offered me a place in his factory. Started with eighteen shillings per week, then rose to twenty shillings, then twenty two shillings, at the commencement of 1917- twenty five shillings, bonus extra. I am now a qualified sorter of all leather but soles. I am giving good satisfaction, and like my position and place. January 1917 – Was fully occupied during the war period and 1918 and 1919 wages were rose (but everything had also more than doubled) to thirty-five pounds and bonus. After the Armistice many changes were made and Mr. Horrell quietly asked me to cease working for him, as younger men were looking out for work. So that about August 1920 I gave up work [he would have been 75], applied for old age pension, which was freely granted to both of us (ten shillings a week) which with the little we had saved brought us in a small but comfortable living. Of course our son C. did not forget us. We have at the present time a lot to be thankful for (1922). I fill up my hours with household duties, a little boot repairing and chopping firewood into bundles.

1923 – Still doing housework etc. but it is getting rather too much for us. Both of us were very unwell about Christmas time and Charlie and Nellie were anxious that we should get a housekeeper. Just after Christmas we were fortunate to secure the services of Miss Groome of Raunds, who proved just what we wanted, takes the whole management of the home. She appears well pleased with us, and we are well satisfied. Of course the cost is about one pound a week but with substantial help we are getting along very satisfactory up to now (20 November 1924), but at the New Year (1925) I was taken unwell, 1st January, with diarrhoea and sickness. Two doctors came to see me, everything looked very serious, and for two weeks was very ill indeed, so bad that my daughter, Nellie, came and stayed with us day and night. She nursed beautifully – would never have pulled through without her. Mother was not able to get about but a little. Lizzie was at Eltham House while Nellie was with me. After six weeks of able attention by doctors and nurse I was well enough to get out again and have been quite well all summer (1925). My most pleasant enjoyment has been at the park playing bowls and having nice walks. The doctors said I was a marvel to recover so quickly and well. We spent a fortnight at Kettering in June, much appreciated. My cough left me during the summer and the season was delightful. Mother also held up well and Miss Groome is alright and still with us.

My Singing and Musical Career

My father was a competent vocalist. He was a self-taught, but good, reader of music. The whole of his children had good musical voices. As a young boy I was blessed with a good voice and was often asked to sing little ditties and tunes. My mother brought an hassock for me to stand upon and at the age of ten I was taken into the singing pew at Raunds Baptist meeting to sing treble, my father at that time being the leader of the singing – the whole of the choir being males. The musical ability of the choir was noted for its good talent – all good readers; it was not uncommon for them to sing a chorus from the Messiah at the close of the evening service. No instrument. All male voices and no instrument.

1858 and onwards – Raunds at this time was well known for the musical talent, both vocal and instrumental. A remarkable and unique event occurred in the Parish church (Whit Thursday 1858). The bells were out of order and to raise money to repair them 2 concerts were given ‘Judas Maccabeus’ in the afternoon and the ‘Messiah’ at night. The orchestra consisted of 100. 80 voices, all men. 20 strings with organ and drums. 85 of the 100 were working men of Raunds – all self-taught, but very capable readers. There was no conductor. Tenor (Mr. L. Noble). Alto (Mr. W. Noble.) Bass from Peterborough Cathedral. Soprano, lady from London. It was a musical treat, all went off splendid, but without any rehearsal. Fancy that, in a village of 1,200 inhabitants, sixty years ago (1858). The sum of £44 was realised.

One peculiarity about this concert was that the orchestra was at the west-end against the organ, so that the audience looking east, the whole performance were behind them. I was about twelve years old when this took place, being specially interested in it, as my father and brother Ebenezer took part in it. 100 performers, and a fine achievement.

My voice still retained its good qualities and two years after a small singing class was formed of six of us, five females and myself, with Mr. William Skinner as teacher. We met in the little vestry once a week and paid a halfpenny per night. Mr. Skinner received nine pence a week and having to walk one mile there and one mile back to teach us. It was the love of it more than the pay. Since then I have kept up a close acquaintance with Mr. Skinner until his death.

My father generally reached down the Tune Book after tea on Sundays and tried to tell me as much about music as he knew, but he failed, but he learnt me enough to make me love it, which has continued all my days. At sixteen my voice changed into bass and I sang at the side of my friend Mr. Skinner.

About this time (1861) a Choral Society was formed in Raunds. I being the youngest member was appointed to the important position of librarian and lighter-up at the Temperance Hall.

It was a fine society, all instrumentalists and vocalists being Raunds people. It lasted about five years, during the time the concerts consisted of “The Messiah”, “Judas Maccabeus”, “Samson”, The Creation”, “Elijah”, “Paradise” and selections, all solos being taken by the members. No female altos had yet come out.

About 1863 I began to sing songs at entertainment, also to take part in quartets. At twenty years of age I was entrusted with rendering some solos from the oratorios. I now joined the then celebrated Temperance Band and played the E Flat bass, still singing at the concerts they gave.

I remained in the band until we removed to Finedon (1869). Not been there long before I was asked to join the Singing Class conducted by Mr. Tom Parker and held in his machine room. Then I was asked to become a member of the Independent Wesleyan Choir. At the death of Mr. James Wright I was asked to become its conductor. I accepted and a most pleasant time was spent for several years. Several services of song and concerts were given during the time, notably one entitled “Captive Maid of Israel”, which was repeated by request in a fortnight later.

1878 – About 1878 we left Finedon for Birmingham. There I was soon in musical harness, got linked up with the able Temperance choir and Choral Society. Several concerts were given in the splendid Town Hall. They were grand – I did enjoy them. In the winter I attended several classes conducted by Dr. Gaul – we paid threepence per lesson. Sometimes there were as many as 200 of us. We finished up the season with a concert.

Thomas was now coming out with a good voice and began to sing songs at school. And one day I heard of a piano to be sold for £5 - it was not up to much, but Thomas began to have lessons and got on very well (ten shillings a quarter).

But we had to leave Birmingham and come back to Finedon, brought the piano back, and changed it for one a bit better, off Mr. Pendred. Thomas now having lessons by Mr. John Willis. He got on so well, quite able to accompany me with my songs. I then changed the piano for a superior one for which I gave forty guineas. It was a big undertaking, but where there’s a will there’s a way. Lizzie now began to have lessons, so anyone can see that the love of music cost me something. I was repeatedly singing songs etc. with Thomas as accompanist, notably ‘The Wolf’, ’Friar of Orders Gray’, ‘Outlaw’, ‘Village Blacksmith’, ‘Sailor’s return’, ‘Every Bullet’, ‘King’s of the Main’, ‘Phantom Ship’, duets etc with Thomas.

1880 I also conducted the choir for the Crystal Palace Temperance Festival. They were grand pieces and the gathering at the Palace of five thousand voices was never to be forgotten.

We often went over to Wellingborough to sing and Charlie and Prissie recited. The great gatherings of the Non-Conformist choirs began to take place at Wellingborough. I have attended most of them for the thirty five years – they were grand gatherings.

We left Finedon about 1889 to come to Rushden. My old friend Mr. W. Skinner had been living here some years, and was showing his musical abilities as band master, also conductor of the Choral Society. I did not want any persuasion to join the latter. Had some very fine concerts in the Big Hall. After about two years I was asked to be choir master of the Congregational choir, a position I held for about eight years. Thomas was still playing for me at entertainment both in the town and out. He also came out as a very good singer and was appointed conductor of the Male Adult Choir.

About this time several grand sacred concerts were given at Wellingborough when Mr. Skinner and I took part in the choruses.

1892-1920 I still sang my old songs in public and about 1896 sang a song on the Vestry Hall steps with cornet accompaniment by Mr. F. S. Knight to the air “Goodbye”(Balfour) words by Mrs. Fred Knight. Good and dear Mr. Channing standing by my side – he was highly delighted with it. There were about 3,000 people present (it was election).

About this time I joined the Baptist Choir (under John Farey), splendid practices and fine choir of about sixty. At Mr. Farey’s illness, Mr. Mac Stringer was appointed to fill the vacancy. This lasted for a few years. The war broke out (1914), Mr. Stringer gave up, and several members were called up and the choir was in a very poor way – no conductor. I was very kindly asked if I would try and fill up the vacancy. I did so and did my best. We soon had some good practices and I was in my element. We decided to make an attempt to give a selection (one Sunday afternoon) from ‘The Messiah’. The chapel was crowded and according to the press was stated to be the finest rendering up to that time. It was quite a record so I was well pleased as the responsibility was great. 1918 – I held the position for about four years when my sight got weak and compelled me to resign, still remaining a member of the choir at occasion practices, but a regular occupier of my seat on Sundays.

1922 – My connection with the choir has been most enjoyable and at times most inspiring, making my musical nerves vibrate. Being now the oldest member of the choir, am still welcomed most heartily whenever I attend. Christmas of 1923 was celebrated by a fine rendering of a portion of ‘The Messiah’ which I thoroughly enjoyed (not conducting). Soloists – Miss Berrill, Miss D. Stringer, Mr. F. Stringer and Mr. Cook. Mr. F. Tomkins, conductor.

1923 – Still sitting with the choir, but only occasionally going to practice. My two eldest grand-daughters have proved very good at the piano, more especially Sallie Bradfield, who has gained the L.R.A.M.

1924 October – Still doing my bit on the Sunday with the choir. Here I may mention my connection with the Nonconformist Festival in Wellingborough. Have only missed three times during thirty five years, and am also the oldest member. The gatherings are most enjoyable from a musical standpoint.

1925 – On my eightieth birthday a sweet little air came to my mind so much so that, after continually ringing through my brain, I decided to put it to music, which I did, and did my best to harmonise it. I named it “Remembrance”. It met with approval and the editor of the Baptist Magazine inserted it in the October number. It was then printed on thin cardboard. On the following Sunday it was sung twice with much approval. It can now be had for tuppence, profits for the Sunday School. Still sitting with the choir, 1928.

My TeeTotal Career

Joining the Band of Hope at Raunds when about ten years of age. No Temperance Hall then – had to meet in a room, which was reached by a ladder on the outside, belonging to the houses know as the Friendly Society Houses in Brook Street. The principle manager was a dear old gentleman named Charles Clark. The gatherings were weekly, carried through by speeches, recitations, singing etc. At that time such meetings were unusual but very interesting, and drew a good number of children. They were taught the dangers of drinking intoxicating drinks, so were brought up teetotallers.

1860 the principles of teetotalism was very much ridiculed, but it made much progress. Raunds at this time was noted for its drunkenness, some very noted heavy drinkers, one family of five men, who were prevailed upon to sign the pledge. They all played a very important part in the formation of the Temperance Society.

Open-air addresses and what were known as “Home Spun” experience meetings. We had our first Band of Hope demonstration at Easter. After the procession, tea was provided in the barn, back of Mr. William Nichols factory. Mr. Nat Smith delighted children with his special attention. The Raunds Temperance Hall was built about this time (the first in the county) by £1 shares by the working men who had joined the movement. The hall was well used for Temperance meetings. I was at the foundation stone laying, and also at the Opening. Weekly meetings were held and agents and lectures were also brought to the village. At this time there were ten public houses and, the inhabitants not reaching 2,000, no wonder so much drunkenness. But the workers in the cause began to feel the cause was sound and right and so persevered. The demonstration at Easter, by the Band of Hope, increased in size. I remember one year the old drinkers were trying to throw ridicule on it, but our old pioneer, John Miller said “Oh, you can chaff, but we have got the corn” and it proved to be true in after years.

The Temperance Band at this time was making great progress, and the young men and the young women began to band together and met frequently at the Temperance Hall. They organised entertainments once a month during the winter season. The hall would be packed and the programme thoroughly enjoyed, price of admission tuppence and fourpence. The cash accumulated so we decided to purchase 3 gross of crockery for the temperance Society for the use at the great gatherings so popular at this time. The whole of the young people at this time (with very few exceptions) turned out to be teetotallers; some still living (1925). It has been my practice to visit Raunds on Easter Tuesday at the Annual Demonstration and Procession of the Temperance Society – did so in 1927, 1928. It lasted three score years and ten then lapsed.

It was my privilege to go to several of the great Temperance Festivals at the Crystal Palace. Also conducted some local choirs (Finedon, Wellingborough and Rushden) for the Palace choir of 5,000. My connection also with many early temperance writers and speakers, notably hand shakes with the Honourable Neal Dow, Dr. Lees (1860 -1880). The former was the founder of the Maine Liquor Law in America – the first state to prohibit (1860). The latter (Dr. Lees) was the most popular and greatest defender of the movement for over forty years. J. B. Gough, the great orator, Sir Wilford Lawson, Thomas Whitaker, Dr. Jabez Burns, the great Greek scholar, Dr. Edmonds and Dr. Richardson, the great physicians. J. W. Kirton, author of “Buy your own Cherries”.

I joined the United Kingdom Alliance about 1870, having been a paying member since, also taken the Alliance News ever since. Also fairly conversant with all the leading books and articles on the question. Presented three volumes of the standard works of the “Temperance History” to the Rushden Free Library in 1924. All the prominent workers of the county were well known to me - John Parker, John Claridge, Charles Pollard, John Newman, Joseph Hutchinson, Thomas Hutton, Thomas Law, J. Cave, Judge Paine (who painted an oil painting about 12 feet square which was exhibited at the Crystal Palace 1862 where I saw it). Entitled “The Great Drink Drama”.

I have also taken Temperance choirs to Kettering, Thrapston, Burton Latimer, Bozeat and several at Finedon.

Notes
Currency – One shilling was the equivalent of five pence in our current money.
There were 12 pennies in one shilling, with twenty shillings making up one pound.
Thirty five shillings would be equal to around £1. 75 today.
One gross = 144 therefore 3 gross of crockery would equal 432 pieces of crockery.

Family Tree
Thomas married Charlotte Hartwell. They had five children – Thomas, Charlie, Lizzie, Prissie and Nellie (Ellen Sophia). Nellie married George Hall had two daughters, Connie and Margaret. Connie married Ray Britten who kept the baker’s shop at 50 Grove Rushden. Connie’s daughter Elizabeth, Thomas’ Great Grand-daughter has kindly allowed us to use information from this autobiography. Sallie Bradfield mentioned in the story was the daughter of Thomas’ eldest daughter Lizzie.

Thomas was buried on 14th March 1931 in Rushden Cemetery Grave F457


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