Joseph Hull 1850-1931
by Linda Ayres
Early life at Bell Court, Bedford
Joseph Hull was born on the 13th of October 1850 at his grandparents’ home at 6 Bell Court in St. John’s, Bedford. His christening was held at St. John’s Church, on the 10th November 1850. Joseph was the eldest of the eight children of Mary, nee Splevin and Joseph Hull. His mother was born in Bedford, and his father was born at Wootton in Bedfordshire. It appears that Mary and Joseph met while they were working in London. In 1850 Mary (aged 17) and Joseph (aged 19) were married at Islington, London. They subsequently moved to Bedford, and lived with Mary’s mother and father, William and Mary Splevin, at Bell Court. Joseph and his father-in- law worked as coal porters. Later on Joseph worked as a brickmaker.
The living conditions at Bell Court, were filthy and overcrowded, with no proper drainage. Six houses shared one outside toilet and there were few pumps to supply the water. The lack of an efficient sewerage system was the cause of outbreaks of diarrhoea and typhoid fever, which claimed many lives. It was said that at some time during the 1850s, William Splevin, was sent to clear a drain and became ill there and then. From that day onward he suffered from poor health.
Mary and Joseph had five other children; Mary Ann was born in1857 and Frederick in 1859. Sadly, John William died soon after birth in 1852. Another son also called John died soon after birth in 1853. In 1859 their son William died aged 4 years. The three children’s burials took place in St. John’s Churchyard.
Joseph Jnr. attended the Harpur Trust Boys’ Central School. In those days, the school was known as “Riley’s,” named after the Head Master, Thomas Riley. He had the reputation for being a hard disciplinarian.
The Hull family moves to Lincolnshire
In 1861, Mary and Joseph and their three children moved to Testers Yard, Boston in Lincolnshire. Joseph Snr. worked as a general dealer. Sadly, in 1862 Mary Ann, died aged 5 years. Joseph and Mary had three more children, Arthur (born 1862, Annie (1864), and Herbert (1866).
The funerals of William and Mary Splevin
On the 9th October 1866 William died, aged 67 years, at Bell Court. His burial took place at Foster Hill Road Cemetery. Section E11 Grave 6. Mary survived him by two years. She died aged 63 years on the 6th February 1868. Her funeral was conducted by the Rev Henry Pearce, Rector of St. Johns Church. Her burial took place a short distance from William’s grave in Section F11 Grave 82.
Joseph Snr, Mary and family move to London
After leaving school, Joseph Jnr was apprenticed to a cabinet maker, at a furniture shop facing the market square at Boston in Lincolnshire. In the mid-1870s Joseph Snr, Mary and their children, Arthur, Frederick, Herbert and Annie, moved to London. Joseph Jnr. continued to live in Boston. Joseph Snr. was first employed as a brickmaker and then as a furniture worker. Sadly, in 1877 their son, Arthur died aged 15 years. In 1886, Mary died aged 53 years in London. In 1890, Joseph Snr (aged 59) married his second wife Emily Neave (aged 46). He died in 1912, aged 80 years. At the time of his death Joseph and Emily lived at 131 Forty Acre Lane, West Ham, London.
Joseph Hull returns to Bedford
On the 28th December 1874, Joseph married Elizabeth Jackson, a dressmaker. At the time of their marriage they were living at Fowler’s Row, Boston in Lincolnshire. They moved to Bedford three months later and lived at 36 Russell Street. He worked as a journeyman cabinet maker for Wells & Co., 23-25 High Street. In 1879, he left Wells & Co. and went to work as a carpenter in the building trade with Samuel Foster, a Kempston contractor. Some of his work involved woodturning at Ely Cathedral. It was said that there was nothing in wood that Joseph could not do. Samuel Foster was the contractor who built Goldington Road School (later renamed Castle Newnham School) and Joseph was the craftsman responsible for all the woodwork. He was with Samuel Foster for fifty years.
Elizabeth and Joseph had seven children, Joseph Ernest (1876 -1951), Frederick John (born 1879), Amy Lois (1882-1960), Gertrude Mary (1884-1971), Violet Bertha (1887-1967), and Annie Elsie (1892-1894). They named their youngest son, William Ewart Gladstone (1891-1965) after the Liberal politician, William Ewart Gladstone who was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom for more than twelve years between 1868 and 1894. He was popular among the working class.
Joseph was Treasurer of the Bedford Division Liberal Association, and nothing could shake his belief that the progress of the British Empire was due to and could only be carried out properly on Liberal principles. He was a leader in working-men’s causes, such as Trades Unionism. For many years he was the President of the Carpenters’ and Joiners’ Association in Bedford.
The Anti-Vaccination League
Smallpox was one of the biggest killers in human history. In 1796 the first successful smallpox vaccine was introduced by Dr. Edward Jenner. His discovery was looked on with suspicion, but in time the smallpox vaccination proved successful. In 1853, thirty years after Dr Jenner’s death, the smallpox vaccination was made compulsory in England and Wales for infants up to 3 months old. For some parents the smallpox vaccination itself caused panic and protest. It involved scratching the flesh on a child’s arm and inserting lymph from the blister of a person who had been vaccinated about a week earlier.
Joseph was the President of the Bedford ‘Anti-Vaccination League.’ He believed in hygiene and good housing as an alternative to the dangers of the smallpox vaccination. In July 1876 Joseph was summoned for refusing to obey the order of justices to allow his eldest son, Joseph Ernest, to be vaccinated. He objected that the order was made upon his son. He produced the order and pointed the error, and the case was adjourned in order that an amended order might be served.
In September 1876 at the meeting of the Bedford Board of Guardians Mr. Isaac Walker the Vaccination Officer wrote a letter to the Board asking for instructions in the case of Joseph, who still refused to comply with the Act. Proceedings were taken against Joseph, who was fined by the justices. On his refusing to pay, he was committed to Bedford Prison. The fine, however, was paid by his friends or sympathisers. The Board of Guardians was the power in this matter, and the Chairman, Mr. Charles Longuet Higgins, said they must go on summoning him. Joseph was summoned again and again. Distress was levied on his furniture for a fine of six shillings and six pennies, and the bailiffs took over a pound’s worth of goods. It became impossible to punish everyone who objected to the vaccination and the fines were reduced to six pennies, including costs. In 1898 the Vaccination Act was amended to allow exemption for parents, based on conscience. This clause gave rise to the term “conscientious objector” into English law, which later came to refer to those opposed to military service.
In 1891 Joseph was nominated for a seat on the Board of Guardians (the prosecuting authority) and was returned for St. Peter’s parish. He was a member of the Board of Guardians until its closure in April 1930. He was the first President of the Bedford Co-operative Society, and served for many years as a director. He worked for the Workers’ Hospital Fund, and was the oldest member of the Mill Street Baptist Church and a life Deacon.
Supporter of Elementary and Adult Education
The demand for elementary education outstripped the resources of the Harpur Trust. In 1897 the first School Board was set up and Joseph was one of the first members. The School Board built two elementary schools, namely Queens Park Mixed School (later renamed Queens Park Academy) which opened in 1899, and the Goldington Road School (Castle Newman School) which opened some months later with 164 children on the roll. Joseph was Chairman of the Works and Sites Committee of the School Board of the Borough of Bedford. He laid the memorial stone for the Priory Street Infants’ School (later renamed Priory Primary School at Greyfriars). The school was for 300 children and replaced the St. Paul’s Mission School in Allhallows, which opened in 1877. The stone bore the following inscription. “Mr. Joseph Hull, Chairman of the Works and Sites Committee of the School Board of the Borough of Bedford laid this stone, 2nd March 1901.” Joseph felt greatly honoured, he said, that he, a working man, amidst others of so much better social station, should be asked to lay the stone.
Joseph was a supporter of the Adult School movement. The Adult School began about 1903 at Queen’s Park, Bedford, on Sunday mornings, for men. Nine men attended. That was the basis of the Adult School movement in Bedford and from then on it made remarkable progress. By 1907, there were Adult Schools for men and women. The Schools were non-sectarian and apolitical and they welcomed everyone, from all social classes. The activities included classes, lectures, discussions and study circles on evenings as well as at weekends. In 1908, Joseph gave a lecture at the School about Prince Peter Kropotkin, “a Russian revolutionist.”
Death of Joseph and Elizabeth
In 1924, Elizabeth died aged 66 years. Joseph survived Elizabeth by 7 years. He died suddenly on 27th February 1931, aged 80 years, at his home, 12 Ashburnham Road, Bedford. The funeral service took place at Mill Street Baptist Church. Joseph was buried in the grave with Elizabeth, and their daughter, Annie Elsie, at Foster Hill Road Cemetery. Section C6 Grave 110
Elizabeth and Joseph’s Children
Joseph Ernest Hull went to live in Toronto, Canada. Frederick John, lived in Calcutta. Their youngest son, William became an architect living at Wembley, London. Amy worked at home as a dressmaker and Gertrude was a bookseller’s clerk. In 1920 Violet married Frederick Harry Boud, at Mill Street Baptist Church. They lived at 52 Rosamond Road, Bedford.
Frederick died in 1959, aged 64 years. Violet survived Frederick by 8 years, she died in 1967, aged 80 years. They had no children. Amy and Gertrude never married. They lived together at 6 Lynton Grove, Ampthill Road, Kempston, Bedford where Amy died in 1960, aged 78 years and Gertrude died in 1971, aged 87 years. Their remains were interred next to their parents. Section C6 Grave 142.
The Bedfordshire Times and Bedfordshire Independent, Saturday 22 December 1860
The Bedfordshire Mercury, Saturday 22nd July 1876
The Reporter and Beds and Herts News, Saturday, September 30th, 1876
The History of Vaccines
The Record 5th March 1901
The Ampthill and District News September 14th, 1907
Bedfordshire Times and Independent, 24th April 1931
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