Jill Spracklen tells of her great grandfather.
In 1828 my paternal great grandfather, Emmanuel Snook, came into the world in Winterborne Whitechurch, a Dorset village near Blandford. Although the village was far removed from the rat-race of today, Emmanuel certainly didn’t allow life to quietly pass by. He lived and worked for his Lord and Saviour, his family and his fellow agricultural workers.
As a small boy of 6 years he had stood with his father watching as the Tolpuddle Martyrs were taken away in chains – sentenced to 7 years transportation for forming a trade union. His father told his son to take off his cap as there were ‘some gentlemen about to pass by’. This was something that was to impact on the rest of his life.
Emmanuel married aged 19. His bride, Ellen, was 16, and with 16 children, 13 of whom survived childhood, he kept his family by working as an agent for Thorley’s Cattle Foods, travelled in cloth and appears in the Census Returns of 1881 as ‘a farmer of 12 acres’. His customers were the farmers around the area. Religion entered into every aspect of his life – he became a Methodist Local Preacher, Sunday School Superintendent and an earnest pioneer of the Temperance Movement in Dorset. It is said on occasions he would walk nine miles each way to take a service, but Emmanuel would have wanted no sympathy – this was fulfilling his calling to share the good news of Jesus. It is said that he held that his religion compelled him, both in private and public affairs, to hate oppression and love righteousness.
At that time, the struggles for survival surrounded him. One of his daughters writing relates: father took a loaf to a family that had eaten only turnips for three days. She remembers seeing beds covered in sacks because people could not afford blankets and a lad of 18 who had to work 12 hours a day received 2 weeks imprisonment after taking a Saturday off. These were hard times! Winterborne Whitchurch reflected the plight of farmworkers in general. A fellow Methodist Local Preacher, Joseph Arch, came from a humble background later becoming a Liberal Member of Parliament; he, too, had witnessed the many farm labourers who were underfed and underpaid, many living in cottages little removed from the cattle they tended, experiences that prompted him to fight oppression and become the leading spirit behind the formation of the first ever National Union for Agriculture Labourers.
The impact of watching the Tolpuddle Martyrs being led away never left my great grandfather, and when Joseph Arch came to Dorset he found a ready helper in Emmanuel, who knew, however, that for him and his large family dependent on him, the consequences might be hard and serious. Sadly, this proved to be the case and his business with the gentlemen farmers left him, but his conscience marked out his path. Hated, boycotted and frequently threatened with personal violence, in company with Arch he visited Dorset towns and villages founding branches of the Agricultural Labourers’ Union and encouraged strikers in their endeavours to secure a living wage. His conscience marked
out his path and he was fulfilling his longing to help the oppressed. However, for Emmanuel, as he grew older the tide turned and he was highly respected for his principles – even those who had once hated him grew to hold him in high esteem and he regained much of his business.
Emmanuel Snook had a profound influence on his family and claimed he had been able to work because God worked in him, and ascribed all thanks and honour to his God. Five of his family became Local Preachers, two daughters joined the Salvation Army (one a Missionary) and others of his family he spoke of as ‘exhorters’!
He died in 1903 but has left a legacy of example for which many give thanks. The tablet erected to his memory was removed when the Methodist Church in Winterborne Whitchurch was sadly demolished. The Anglican Church in the village graciously agreed to it being mounted in their Church where it can still be seen.