A Village Benefactor, Escourt Southcombe.
Text of presentation made to The Group by Denny Robbins November 2007
Robert, Estcourt’s father, was born at Sheepwash in Devon in 1836. At the age of 17 he left home to join his elder brother, Richard, who was working as a glove manufacturer in Stoke sub Hamdon.
Tintinhull in the 1850’s.
What was Tintinhull like in the 1850’s, when Robert arrived in the area?
We need to remind ourselves that it was a village dependant on agriculture and the trades that supported it; that with 21% of the English population working the land and 37,000 Agricultural Labourers in Somerset at that time, we can appreciate that most of the male population in Tintinhull will have had ‘agriculture labourer’ status.
In fact Tintinhull parish had a total population, man, woman and child, of 530 in 1851(census). Of these 182 were male and of working age, although this meant, for my purposes that they were over 10 years of age, an 8 year old ploughboy was discounted! They included 96 males who were described as ‘Ag. Labs’ (Agricultural Labourers); this was 53 % of the working male population.
The idyllic concept of the country yokel, the ‘Ag. Lab’, is quite a romantic one , but in reality life was very harsh. The family was dressed in hand me down clothes, patching and mending were a way of life and shoes a luxury. ‘Home’ was probably a one up, one down earthen floored, thatched cottage; with no running water and all the occupants sleeping in the same room. 3 such homes occupied a 40 foot stretch at the top of Lamb Farm ‘yard’ in living memory.
Life was made economically viable by the work taken on by the women folk; in the case of Tintinhull by gloving. The 1851 census records 112 female ‘glovers’, aged 8 and above. All were ‘out workers’ dependant on the nearest factory, that belonging to Richard Southcombe at Stoke.
In the second half of the C19th the effects of the earlier Napoleonic Wars, which worsened the economic status of manual workers, and the increasing mechanisation of farm tasks meant that fewer and fewer people were required to work the land; by 1900 only about 8% of the national population were ‘Ag. Labs.’ An alternative occupation, enabling people to stay in the village, was, fortunately, to hand.
The Southcombes, Glovers.
The Southcombe gloving business in Stoke had expanded and in 1880 another factory was started, located here, at Tintinhull. Initially there were only two cutters and three glove makers, but Robert was a shrewd business man and was soon developing this, his own factory, independent from his brother, Richard, at Stoke.
Glove making was not new to Tintinhull; in 1439 the Church Wardens had ordered oil for ‘clouting leather’, a process of curing that took about a year! More recently, censuses give us an idea of the numbers involved in gloving in the village, initially as outworkers for the Stoke factory:-
1851 (30 years before the ‘factory’) 112 people, all female
1871 (10 years before the ’factory) 75 people, all female
1901 (20 years after the ‘factory’), there were only 64 people employed, probably reflecting increased mechanisation.
However, 33 of these were male ‘glovers’ whilst the number of Ag. Labs in Tintinhull had decreased to 32, down from 182 in 50 years.
In 1901, 50 years on, only 31 women were gloving.
Robert, Estcourt’s father, married Mary Bishop, a Tintinhull girl, in 1865. The 1861 census records a Mary Bishop as being 26 years old and working ‘in service’, as were both her parents. If this is her she would have been about 30 years old at the time of the marriage. Marrying someone working ‘in service’ perhaps reflected Robert’s, perceived, social standing at the age of 29, with his own factory not yet established.
They settled into Wisteria Villa adjacent to the later factory site.
Bernard was born in 1870 and Estcourt in 1872.
Following an education at Monks Grammar School, Hendford, Yeovil, both boys were to join their father at the glove factory, Bernard in 1886, aged 16 and Estcourt in 1887, aged 15.
The factory now became Messrs. Southcombe & Sons, specialising in dressed chamois and doeskin leather. Their father who ‘played a very prominent part in all aspects of village life’, would have been the example that was to shape their adult lives.
In 1895 the factory became Southcombe Bros. Co. Ltd. In 1899 Robert acquired the business of Thomas Ensor and Sons of Milbourne Port and it was renamed Ensor and Southcombe Ltd. 29 year old Bernard was given responsibility for it whilst Estcourt took control of the Tintinhull factory under the watchful eye of his father.
Estcourt was a “hands on” boss with very Victorian attitudes. He was “extremely fair and big-hearted, but missed nothing and laid down the law when necessary”; if there was trouble in any department, all of the factory would hear him taking the culprit to task.
Business grew, encompassing the area to the extent that Ilchester women were employed as out workers; walking to the village on a Monday to deliver completed gloves, the materials for which had been collected the week before. As we know, many Tintinhull women and their daughters would have worked to this schedule too!
During WWI business focused on the manufacture of officers’ gloves and khaki puttees, but in the 1920’s it diversified, making gaiters and spats.
During the course of his working life Estcourt’s prowess was recognised in his various roles as
President of Yeovil and District Glove Manufacturers Association (1924),
Vice Chairman and Chairman of the Joint Industrial Council of the Gloving Industry,
Membership of the Executive of the Association of Glove Manufacturers,
He was Master of the Worshipful Company of Glovers of London (founded in 1349) at his death on 12th April 1946, aged 73.
Estcourt and Politics.
He was a political animal, a staunch Conservative, and in 1936 gained the OBE for political and public service in Yeovil.
At 38 he was a member of the Executive Committee of the Divisional Conservative Association, becoming Chairman in 1928 and Life Vice President shortly before his death in 1946.
He was elected to the Yeovil Rural District Council and the Somerset County Council, Ilchester Division in 1938, serving on the Housing and Public Health Committees. He started the Ilchester and District Nursing Association in 1910 and was instrumental in persuading the Somerton and Martock Association to work together, thus giving the villagers the benefit of 3 District Nurses.
Estcourt and Tintinhull.
But Tintinhull mattered too, indeed Tintinhull was very much part of his family! Bernard Southcombe’s philanthropic obituary in the Gazette, could well have been written for Estcourt – “he had given unsparingly of his service to the wider cause of public welfare…… the social, educational and religious life” “..his outlook as a model employer, the good that he did…where…..the inhabitants depended for their happiness and comfort upon his industrial enterprise”
In 1888, aged 16, Estcourt helped to start the Cricket Club, where he played both as wicket keeper and bowler. Seven years later he captained the village team. In those days the probable location of the cricket field was owned by Tintinhull House, “on the right just before the end of the present ‘drove way’ beyond Farm Street”. Pre WWII Estcourt relocated it “to ‘Bowdens’ field, north of the Yeovil Road, ground that he had purchased; this site housed both the cricket and football pitches, but it was the cricket green that was beautifully laid”, doubtlessly reflecting Estcourt’s greater interest in that game. As we know, it was to move yet again, to its Montacute Road site.
Between 1899 and 1907 he was a member of the church choir and joint organist with his brother, Bernard. Together with his brother, he donated the east window in St. Margaret’s Church in memory of his father, Robert.
Later he became Choir Master. Then the choir was composed of “some 10 boys, who were virtually press ganged into it”, 4 or 5 men and 5 ladies. “He really knew his music” and was “ready to use his conductors ‘stick’ in very close proximity to any one who went wrong”! Equally he “repaid good attendance by organising ‘Choir outings’ when a hired charabanc took the choir and their families for a day’s ‘bucket and spade’ outing to the seaside, at Weymouth or Weston Super Mare”.
He must have amazed the village in 1904 when he became a member of the Somerset Automobile Club. Was he the first to drive a car in Tintinhull? Marge Wilkie recalls him ‘putting in much the same factory hours as his workers, but revving his car furiously at 12.55pm as he tried to get home for lunch before the mass exodus’, but that is likely to have been towards the end of his life, circa 1940. Tom remembers that he had a Standard 10 as a ‘workhorse’ but that a Daimler sat in the garage. This was chauffeur driven, by Harry Lye, on special occasions.
When the village began a flower show in 1915, he was Chairman of the committee that instigated it. During WWII he presided at Flower Shows in aid of the Red Cross.
For 44 years he was a member of the Tintinhull Parish Council and Chairman of the committee that organised the development of the swimming pool and associated recreation ground, ensuring local leisure activities for his workforce and other village residents. Tom Whitlock assures me that Estcourt both bought the land and endowed it to the village on condition that it was never sold for housing development. Then ‘The Rec’ boasted the swimming pool, a hard and a grass tennis court, a properly laid bowling green, a putting green around the oak tree and on the lower level, by the Queen St. entrance, a very large sandpit and swings for the children. Marge Wilkie remembers a rotating, wooden ‘summer house’ opposite College Farm which could take advantage of the position of the sun – until the village children wore the pivoting mechanism out using it as a round-a-bout! The Rec had a permanent groundsman then, Betty Abbott’s father in law, who was also employed at the Glove Factory. How things change in the name of progress.
Tintinhull Working Men’s Club.
Estcourt and his father, Robert, founded the Tintinhull Working Men’s Club in December 1907. The concept of The Working Men’s Club was conceived by Henry Solly (1813 – 1903), whose University College, London education had initially put considerable distance between him and the Victorian ‘working class’.
In 1840 Solly entered the Unitarian ministry and was based in Yeovil. Here he married and became involved with several of the working class groups in the town including the Chartists, who promoted the first mass working class movement in the world and fought for the democratic rights that we now take for granted. He eventually lost his Yeovil living because of his involvement with this group. He continued to express social, religious and political concerns for the working class, being especially worried by their “wretched and degrading bondage to the public house” and the impact of drinking on family welfare.
Henry Solly had considerable success in recruiting the support of aristocrats and prominent members of the middle class. He was less successful with the working men - they were not inclined to become teetotal!
In 1865 ‘The Great Beer Question’ was resolved, alcohol was allowed, and the Working Men’s Club and Institute Union, established in 1862, really took off. Solly believed that The Club would both provide for recreation and create an informal teaching situation where more serious matters could be introduced – “Begin by meeting the workingmen’s humblest social wants for relaxation and amusement, and you may lift our hard-worked brethren, by degrees, up to very respectable heights of knowledge and education.” It was clear that The Club was meeting a very real need as many were formed by working men themselves, throughout the 1870’s.
Today the Working Men’s Club and Institute Union is the largest non-profit making, social entertainment and leisure organisation in the UK, representing the interests and views of 6 million club members. Many of the famous British comedians of the 1960’s and 70’s started their careers on the Working Men’s Club circuit.
Locally, Estcourt succeeded his father as President in 1910. It was a different, more vibrant club than the one we have today, with a full time caretaker, who lived in the house alongside. Membership of the Club was a pittance, but the advantages were huge and afforded you entry to any Working Men’s Club country wide. Keeping pub hours, but serving cheaper drinks it also provided a snooker room, darts and a skittle alley extending into an area covered by today’s village hall. It ran a ‘sick club’ and the camaraderie amongst members ensured that they supported each other.
Housing for the workforce.
But recreation and indirect education wasn’t the only need of his work force, they needed housing and a sustainable wage ( we note that brother Bernard was not prepared to lower his employees wages in Milborne Port when there was a flood of cheap gloves from Czechoslovakia). The terraced properties in Queen Street and on the Yeovil Road were probably built, certainly purchased, by Estcourt for his workers at the factory.
These provided typical Victorian housing, just like many a ‘Coronation Street’ across the land, except that they backed on to green fields and not another row of terraces. Offering a ‘Sunday best’ room, a living room, a kitchen and three bedrooms they must have been heaven to the folks who were still living on top of each other in small, dilapidated houses. The lack of a bathroom and the outside loo would not have been a cause for concern a century ago!
The Blue Marines and ‘Club’ Day.
From 1943 – 45 he was Treasurer of the Tintinhull Branch of the Blue Marines. This appears to have been a Friendly Society, a Benefit Society providing both sickness and old age support. Such Friendly Societies probably stem from the Medieval Guilds and the first was recorded in 1643. According to Tingel Tales it had its headquarters at The Lamb Inn. Tom Whitlock believes that it, or another such society, had its headquarters at ‘The Crown and Victoria’ pub. Was this the ‘Hospital Savings Association’ run by Tom Allen and Robert Whitlock?
Whatever, the first existing rules of the all male Blue Marines Sick Club date from 1843. After which date the members celebrated ‘Club Day’. ‘Club Day’ was in early May and Marg Wilkie recalls seeing the village awash with apple blossom from the church tower on one such celebration.
The day began with a peal of church bells at 6.30am. A notable procession started out from the old village hall at 9.45am. It was headed by the Kingsbury Band and the two stewards wearing their blue sashes and followed by the villagers; all were in church for the 10am service.
Later, they were able to sample the hospitality of the village as they went from farm to farm, downing the end product of the apple blossom! Ham sandwiches, bread and cheese often accompanied the cider and kept those that were still standing going until ‘dinner’.
Dinner was in the village hall at 2.30; speeches were made, songs were sung and it was often a rowdy affair. Humour was rife and the stocks came ‘into their own’, providing an opportunity for a ‘cooling off’ period for miscreants. A fair, of roundabouts and side shows, was set up on Hallet’s Orchard to help the festivities along. Regretably, such festivities slowly declined after WWII.
Estcourt and his family.
On a personal level he was twice married, making ‘The Limes’, in the heart of the village, his marital home. Firstly, in 1905, at the age of 33, to Mabel Sergeant of Abergavenny and in 1916, at the age of 44, to Freda English of Castle Cary.
Freda is described by Tom as ‘a dear lady’ who seemed to play no official part in the village, but was probably beavering away in the background. Certainly she organised a war time knitting circle and insisted on seeing Tom wearing his village knitted, services scarf! It was for Freda that Tom went Yeovil shopping on a Friday when sent in to town to collect the glove despatch boxes. Liptons and the ‘delicatessen’ in the Borough were his chief ports of call to bring back some of the little luxuries not delivered around the village by Eastern Stores.
A son, Robert, was born in 1916. It is thanks to Robert’s sons, Ted and Bill, that we have much of this information to hand.
Young Robert, named for his grandfather, took the reigns of the glove factory on the death of his father, Estcourt, in 1946, advised by the then manager, Jimmy White. But, by 1988, the wheel had gone full circle and the assets of the Tintinhull factory were purchased by Southcombe Bros. Ltd of Stoke sub Hamdon. The village glove factory continued as a subsidiary company, Tintinhull Glove Co. Ltd., under the direction of Robert, son of Estcourt, until his retirement.
For a little over a hundred years the Southcombe family had provided employment, housing and recreation for the village inhabitants regardless of their creed. Tintinhull had become their extended family and they the benefactors to whom the village should be eternally grateful.
D. R. 2007