Winslow Provident Society (1844-c.1904)
by Ed Grimsdale
Winslow Provident Society was formed in 1844 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.
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.
Four years later, 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.
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:
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.