Very hard times for a Sudbury family

Very hard times for a Sudbury family

In October 1855, William Scott, (living in Acton Green), recounted a very sad series of events to a reporter from the ‘ Suffolk and Essex Free Press’.

Born in Bulmer in 1800, William was an agricultural labourer. It is likely that he started work aged 6 scaring birds from the crops, keeping the livestock from straying, collecting firewood etc. As he grew older, he would have progressed to more difficult physical tasks such as ploughing and harvesting.

The Harvest

Working on a farm was not only very badly paid but could be a dangerous occupation. William broke his arm and then, two years later, lost his sight as a result of an injury received when employed as a labourer at a farm in Henny. Another workman threw a pitchfork to him, which he attempted to catch. One of the prongs entered his eye and he was blinded.

William married a Sudbury girl, Hannah Murrells in January 1827. She was a worsted handloom weaver at a time when the industry was declining in Sudbury. They lived in Wiggen End, (East Street), and had a large family. With so many mouths to provide for and with William disabled, the children had to work from an early age. One of the children fractured a thigh but this was not the end of their calamities.

Workers at Allen’s brickworks in Ballingdon, c.1890. The photograph was taken about 35 years later than the story of Jonathan Scott but shows that young boys were still working in Sudbury brick yards. Image from Sudbury Historic Photo Archive.

By the time Jonathan was born in 1841, there were six older children. At the age of 10 he was working and at 13 was employed at Mr. Thomas Fox’s brick-yard, in a field near Sudbury, where ventilating bricks were manufactured. The firm had a powerful steam engine. Early one Monday morning, at around 6 a.m., Jonathan was helping another boy put clay into the pug mill as it was always emptied for cleaning on Saturdays and needed to be filled again before the engine was fired up. The engineer, George Appleby started the steam engine and the boys were told to come down but Jonathan’s coat was caught in the wheels and he was dragged into the machinery. The steam was shut off and the engine stopped as soon as possible; two or three other people reversed it and got him out but was dreadfully injured. He was put on a cart and taken home but died 15 minutes after a surgeon arrived.

An inquest was held the same night at the Waggon and Horses Inn, Sudbury, by Mr. Dowman, Coroner for the Borough, and, not surprisingly for the times, the Jury returned a verdict of ‘Accidental Death’.

The Waggon and Horses Inn, Sudbury

William Scott’s troubles did not end with the death of Jonathan as, in 1854, his son Benjamin, aged 21, attempted suicide by cutting his throat. Fortunately he recovered but this occurred during an age when suicide was regarded as a very serious crime.

The only way William could earn a little money was by collecting dung from the streets in Sudbury. For a blind man, this was another dangerous occupation. On one occasion, he was knocked down by a tumbril, and the wheel passed along his back. Fortunately, his head was pulled out of the way by a person who was passing otherwise it would have been crushed.

A tumbril – a two-wheeled cart or wagon

William’s youngest son, Timothy, had his leg fractured just below the knee by a kick from a horse while leading his father near the Railway Station. Another son, having enlisted into the 40th Regiment, and proceeded to Australia, was regarded by William and Hannah as the next potential disaster in the family.

Fortunately, Timothy recovered and, when he was older, moved to London where he was employed at the Greenwich gas works. By September 1882 he was married with two children and earning between 24 to 30 shillings a week. Meanwhile, his father, aged 82, was still in Sudbury and living with another son and 7 grandchildren. The Board of Guardians from the Workhouse did their best to persuade Timothy to contribute 3 shillings a week towards the maintenance of his father. By January 1883, Timothy had another child and could not pay towards the cost of parish relief; he suggested a contribution of 1/6d.

William benefitted from charitable bequests given to the Borough by wealthy burgesses. In 1855, aged 56, under the will of Nathaniel King he was given a new coat on Christmas day. At the age of 76, he received a new shirt from the Martin Cole bequest. (Image from the Town Archives at Sudbury Town Hall.)

William Scott did not die in the Union unlike many other elderly, infirm and poor Sudburians. He died in April 1883 at home but his youngest son Timothy was taken to court again in June and sentenced to one month’s imprisonment in default of paying the Sudbury Board of Guardians the sum of £3 for arrears for the maintenance of his recently deceased father.