Winslow Provident Society (1840-c.1904)

by Ed Grimsdale

Winslow Provident Society was formed in 1840 for the mutual benefit of its members – mainly the rural working class. It survived having a thief, George Tredaway, as its Clerk and Secretary in the late 1850s. That National Schoolmaster’s terrible tale of forgery and embezzlement is told elsewhere. Friendly societies depended on small payments from their members that insured them, in turn, against loss of earnings due to illness. Annual surpluses would be spent by giving members a "Festival" or "Feast" day, full of marching (to "show the flag"), entertainment, and good food – a day when they could escape the miseries of "making do" and surviving.

Here’s an account from the Bucks Herald of 7 June 1873, of one such occasion:

On Friday, May 30, the members of the Winslow Provident Society held their annual festival, when about 60 of them sat down to an excellent dinner provided by the committee in the Boys’ School. The services of the Waddesdon band had been secured for the occasion. The financial position of the society is good, although the two past years have been exceedingly heavy ones for sickness.

Two years later, the chairman, Mr. H. Monk, of Tuckey Farm told 50 members that although £67 had been spent on sick relief, almost £18 to the surgeon and £17 10s had been contributed towards funerals, the society still had £350 in the Buckingham Savings Bank.

Click here for more about the activities of the Provident Society in the 1870s.

73 sat down for lunch in 1879 after two hours spent parading around Winslow, led again by the Waddesdon band. Dr Newham told of 16 members who had needed sick relief (>18%) and over £20 had been spent on medical aid. After such annual reports, the band gave a recital before all returned to march the streets until it was time to sit down to a shared supper.

1880: Buckingham Advertiser, 5 June
  THE WINSLOW PROVIDENT SOCIETY.- This firmly established Benefit Society held its yearly festival on Friday last, a red-letter day with its members who seem to make a point of attending, from whatever part of England they may happen to be located in.  The Waddesdon Brass Band was met at the entrance of the town by a body of the members, carrying the flag and several carrying gilt topped staves.  The Boys’ Schoolroom was kindly lent for the occasion, and the entrance was adorned on each side with large boughs of green oak; after parading the town once or twice, the members and band, numbering nearly 70 sat down in this Room and partook of a substantial dinner, provided by the secretary, Mr. Bailey.  The chair was taken by Dr. Newham, Medical Officer of the society, who was supported by T. P. Willis Esq.  After the good things had been dispatched, the chairman read the year’s Balance Sheet with which we should think every member felt gratified, the Society had received contributions from members £67 14s. 3d., fines £3 12s. 0d., entrance fees, 6s., honorary subscriptions £1 and interest £10 5s. 9d., and had paid £32 12s.0d., to 12 sick members, to the Surgeon £21 4s. 0d., and incidental expenses £5 7s. 6d., the assets being at Bank £353 17s. 4d., in Society’s hands £28 5s. 9d. - The usual patriotic toasts were given, and the healths of the president and the other officers of the club, were also proposed and enthusiastically drank.  In the evening the Members again assembled at the Schoolroom and finished the day with a supper.

In 1882 60 members attended the annual dinner at the Boys' School. George Bailey resigned as secretary.

In 1883, the Bucks Herald reported that "there was the usual number of stalls, booths &c in the Market-square". The Society’s Secretary James Spooner, who received £3 a year, recorded that contributions from its 74 members towards sick relief had totalled £55 16s towards a total income of about £65 which had afforded sick relief to 15 members and £19 10s of medical support.

In 1884 the festival was held at the school on 30 May, with Rev. H.A. Douglas-Hamilton presiding. President: T.P. Willis. Secretary: Mr Spooner. Treasurer: Mr Bailey. In 1885 it was stated that Dr Newham had been medical officer for 25 years.

1886: Buckingham Express, 5 June
PROVIDENT SOCIETY.
  The annual festival of this Society was held on Friday, May 28th.  The day being fine added much to the enjoyment.  The members headed by the Fenny Stratford Brass Band paraded the town and at one p.m., assembled in the Boys’ Schoolroom where an excellent dinner had been provided.
  At the head of the table the chair was taken by Dr. Newham, who was supported by Mr. H. Monk both trustees of the Society.  Grace was said before and after the repast by the Chairman, who rose to give the first toast, the health of Her Majesty the Queen, which was responded to with musical honors.
  The Chairman then referred to the 29 years in which he had been a doctor, and as one of the trustees his main object being the general happiness and well-being of the members, and as he grew older, he would endeavour to do the same.
  This was responded to by the band playing “For he’s a jolly good fellow, and so say all of us.”
  The Chairman then said he had one more toast to give, viz., “Success to the Society” coupling with it, his friend, Mr. H. Monk, whom he had much pleasure in seeing present, this being responded to with three hearty cheers by the members.
  Mr. H. Monk then spoke to the effect that he felt much pleasure in being present that day to contribute to their enjoyment, and said the members were true Englishmen and they would be safe to bold on their way [sic], it would be impossible to drown them as they had good heads, they would not sink, (laughter), he had been connected with them as a trustee ever since they were robbed of all their money (in the year 1862), and hoped, if spared, to be in the future as he had been in the past, viz., a friend to the Society.
  The Secretary, Mr. James Spooner then read the report of the Society’s accounts which were very satisfactory, the Club now having £275 0s. 6d., in Bank and 69 members on the books…
  The Band then paraded the town, calling on most of the gentry, playing some excellent music returning at nine p.m. to the Club room, where they all sat down to an excellent supper which after some more music was played, concluded with the National Anthem bringing to a close one more annual club feast of the old Provident Society, established March 6th 1840.

In 1888, the annual festival was held at the Boys' School on 25 May. T.P. Willis president and treasurer, Jonas Hillyer vice-president, James Spooner secretary. 64 members, £259 funds.

By 1891, investments in Buckingham Savings Bank had dropped to £186 10s 10d, contributions had shrunk to £42 12s 6d but outgoings had remained at £56. Despite these clouds on the horizon, a bright day shone on members as they went about their Festival brightened by the return of the Waddesdon band after a few years of absence.

The following year, the Secretary, James Spooner, caused quite a stir in Winslow by standing as a Labour candidate for the elections to Bucks County Council, appealing to agricultural workers "to support of their class". Local Liberals were indignant, claiming that he was splitting the progressive vote and a deputation of them called on him to "withdraw". Mr Spooner intimated that "he was going quietly on", which he did, coming a bad third to Colonel Hubbard.

Mr A.J. Clear replaced Mr Spooner as Secretary and he proceeded to tidy the Society’s accounts. The Society suffered during the last decade of the 19th century from the attrition of membership to newer, "national" bodies, such as the "Odd Fellows", and because it drew its members solely from agricultural workers, a sector in decline. Having been established for a so long, the Provident Society’s membership was ageing, becoming both more "at risk" and no longer able to sustain contributions as they were no longer in full-time work. Winslow’s Provident Society argued the case for a national retirement age and pension.

The Bucks Herald illustrated the difficulties the Society faced in the 20th century when it recorded,on 6 June, 1903, in its column LOCAL AND DISTRICT ECHOES:

I regret to note the death, at Oxford, of an old inhabitant of Winslow in the person of James Colton. Deceased had been paying a visit to his son, and was run over in Oxford High Street by a vehicle [a horse and cart] , breaking his thigh from the effects of which he never recovered. He was 86 years of age and the oldest member of the Winslow Provident Society, having joined at the age of 26 – a record which probably few can equal.

The Northampton Mercury for 17 June, 1904 made dismal reading:

WINSLOW.
PROVIDENT SOCIETY: At a general meeting of the Provident Society on Tuesday evening, the question of dissolving the society was discussed, but owing to there not being sufficient members present, the matter was adjourned.

The Winslow Provident Society had once been the strongest in North Bucks. Age, weariness and yet another "loss on the year’s work" had brought it to its knees. It had distributed over £2,400 of relief to sick members over its 60 years of activity.

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Copyright 24 April, 2021