MEMOIRS OF WILLIAM SMALL

SUMMARY OF THE LECTURE BY RUTH NEWMAN AND JANE HOWELLS ON THURSDAY 18TH JANUARY 2018

William Small, who lived in Salisbury from 1820 to 1890, wrote his memoirs of life in Salisbury in two volumes, entitled, “Cherished Memories of Associations”. The first volume spoke of his father and mother, employment and personal memories, such as climbing to the top of the Cathedral spire. The second volume spoke again of family, plus neighbours and entries copied from Salisbury Journal. He also included poetry, written from memory and ended with the death of his parents and sister and problems with his business. Very recently Jane and Ruth have discovered Volumes three and four, covering the period from October 1881 to October 1885. These contain various jottings, including copies of wedding details and mention of the Doom painting in St Thomas’s Church.

William’s father, also William, was a painter and glazier, living in a cottage in East Harnham when William was born in 1820. The family then moved to a rented house in St Nicholas Road, Harnham Bridge, where William’s siblings were born. He had a happy childhood, in spite of losing three brothers and sisters in infancy and then an 11 year old sister. William loved fishing and would often stop for 5 minutes to catch a trout while on an errand for his father. The family later moved to 1 New Street (now the Wig & Quill). His father was well respected in the City and became Overseer of the Poor. William loved his mother, Maria, who was a staunch Methodist. He also adored his sister Henrietta, who was 8 years younger. She was a milliner in New Canal but gave up when she was needed at home to care for her parents. She was a Methodist Sunday School teacher, never married and died six months after her mother. William never recovered from the loss.

William followed his father as a painter and glazier, as did his two younger brothers. George, who was 14 years younger fell off a ladder in Milford in November 1881, at the age of 45. He suffered a compound facture of his tibia and spent two and a half months in Salisbury Infirmary. His friends got up a subscription to help his family. William wrote positively about conditions on the Ward.

William, as an adult, was shy, sensitive, loyal, decent and honest. He was a staunch Conservative with progressive views on education. His first schooling was with Betsy Biddlecombe in East Harnham. At six years of age he attended Mr Berry’s school at Fisherton, which he enjoyed and obtained good reports. He later wrote all his father’s letters and became very good at calculations. By 1851 William Senior was employing his three sons plus two others and taking on apprentices. When William Senior died in 1863 his widow placed a newspaper advert to say that the business would continue with her sons. Work usually came by word of mouth and the dozen other such firms in the city were all on good terms. The Smalls undertook work on windows, painted walls, boats and houses, etc. They also did signwriting, worked on clocks – re-silvering a dial and chasing the figures. They painted the walls and staircase of Mompesson House in The Close in pea green and cream. In the 1880s William wrote of worries about the inability to earn, with regular clients falling away.

William was very observant, writing about the natural world and the weather. In 1882 he noted a major storm when rain came down in torrents and the railway arch on Castle Street was flooded. There was little time for leisure. As children there was “Treacle Snap” in the chalkpit at Harnham.  (A rope is flung over a sycamore branch and a loaf, soaked in treacle, is tied to it. Children taking part are enveloped in fertilizer bags, which pinion their arms but leave their heads free. The loaf is kept bobbing and weaving by someone pulling the rope. The children leap for it, heading it until most of the treacle has transferred to their hair, their faces and fertilizer bags. The winner is the one who collects most treacle).  Later there was badger baiting and cock fighting. William also mentioned attending Weyhill Fair near Andover. As an adult William was a keen gardener and fisherman and also painted pictures, occasionally attending lectures in the city and visiting acquaintances. He was able to sell his oil paintings.

In 1810 William helped to build the Methodist chapel in St Edmund’s Church Street, Salisbury, which replaced the original chapel that was on the same site when John Wesley came to the city to preach in 1738. In all John Wesley preached in Salisbury on 40 occasions. William was a keen supporter of the teaching of writing in Sunday Schools. There were difficulties for the Methodists in the early 19th century and they suffered taunting from mobs. Sunday preachers in the fields at Harnham had to put up with drinking booths being set up nearby to draw away their audience.

William finally mentions his wife, Elizabeth Sutton one third of the way through Volume 2. Her father, Richard, was a baker in Trinity Street. Two of his daughters committed suicide. One cut her throat whilst living in Laverstock and the other committed the identical act 20 years later. It seems that William and Elizabeth’s marriage was not a happy one. Their son was born one month before their wedding and died at the age of 17 of smallpox, having been a house painter since leaving school. Elizabeth died in 1875 at the age of 55. Interestingly, Elizabeth Small was arrested for using obscene language in Milford Street, in 1873. When William suffered financial problems, he received no help from the Sutton family. William is more positive about his wife and son and the Sutton family in later volumes and he became closer to the family as he got older. He first met Elizabeth at Salisbury Fair in 1847.

Volumes 3 and 4 contain William’s anxieties about eviction from 1 New Street, where he had continued to live after the death of his parents. On 29th September 1882 he was finally given notice to quit. He moved to 16 Trinity Street, leaving in 1885 when he spent 5 years in the almshouse, Trinity Hospital, before his death. He wanted to be buried in Britford, alongside his sister but is actually in the London Road cemetery, which opened in the 1850s. The last entry in his diary was on 28th October 1885 and read Finis.