Flookersbrook, Newton & Hoole Female Friendly Society
The following account of the first procession of the Flookersbrook, Newton & Hoole Female Friendly Society appeared in the Chester Courant at Whitsuntide 1816.
Similar reports were to appear in succeeding years, the last one found being in 1843 when the society’s name appears to have changed to The Ermine Female Club. In the first few years the church services were held at St. Oswald’s in Chester Cathedral, later St. John’s Church was the venue and in 1840 the newly built Christchurch in Newtown was used. Sermons were given by various members of the local clergy including the Rev. Archdeacon Clarke of Chester Cathedral; Rev. Isaac Temple, Vicar of Plemstall; and Rev. G. Pearson of St. Olave’s.
After the processions, dinners were given by prominent local people, initially Thomas Walker at his premises at the tanyard in Flookersbrook; by John Lightfoot at Brookside; and later by Jospeh Newall at his wheelwright’s business in Brook Street. In 1820, the dinner was “served up by Mrs. Monk the wife of the landlord of The Ermine, after which dancing commenced on The Green and continued until 6 o’clock when tea was served. To prevent intrusion lady non-members and gentlemen paid 2 shillings each for tea, if dancing only, 1 shilling.” In 1818 “the pleasures of the day terminated with feelings of regret by all who participated in the music fete”. In 1840 they concluded the evening by having “a right good merry dance”.
Although these annual events were reported as the highlight of the society’s activities, there is unfortunately no other information on what the Society did or how it was organised. In February of this year, Stella Young, who had researched Neston Female Friendly Society gave a presentation on the way in which that Society had operated and because there were many similar societies nationwide, it is likely that our Society ran on similar lines.
Friendly Societies (the title is still used by some companies today) were set up to provide insurance for its members in the event of illness or disability, and benefits were paid to its members; female friendly societies were able to respond to particular circumstances such as pregnancy, childbirth and female ailments; note the surgeon (then the term for a doctor) taking part in the procession. Young female servants in trouble and elderly employees e.g. cooks and maids unable to work any longer could be helped.
In Neston, monthly subscriptions (premiums) were paid according to age, 6 pence if under 20, 8 pence between 20 and 25, 1 shilling between 35 and 40 etc. Like present day insurance there were rules as to eligibility.
- For sickness: 4 shillings weekly after being unable to work for 1 week on producing an Order from the Surgeon such allowance to be continued for 6 months if ill for so long; if longer only 2 shillings and 6 pence.
- In old age: a weekly allowance of 2 shillings and 6 pence.
- On death: if a member for 6 years £2, for 8 years £4, for 10 years £6 providing she had a child or children born in lawful wedlock or other relatives dependent upon her support; otherwise, in no case more than £2.
- In childbirth: on the birth of a child 5 shillings.
[It is noted that the only rule found of our local Society was “all women lying in are to bring a certificate of the baptism of their children by a Minister of the established Church”. This was quoted in a letter in the Chester Chronicle on November 1816 from a ‘dissenter’ who disagreed with the rule and who then received a rebuke in the paper from a ‘friend of the Church’.]
The Surgeon was appointed on a salary of £15 per annum to attend all the benefitted members in case of sickness and to find them proper medicines.
The Neston Society appointed a lady patroness, stewardesses, a secretary and trustees. The Flookersbrook, Newton & Hoole Society reflected this pattern of organisation and those who took part were clearly from well to do families of the area and many of the names are recognisable.
The prime organisers were the Hesketh family who lived at Newton Hall. Henry Hesketh Senior was a notable City wine merchant related to the Liverpool branch of the family who, as a part of Offley Campion Hesketh Co., owned vineyards in Portugal and records of the Port of Chester show him importing port wine on a regular basis. His son, Henry carried on the business and his wife became the President of the Society. One of their daughters Emma, then aged 23, is credited with the establishment of the Society, designing the beehive insignia, ensuring white shawls edged with green were worn and that wands (long sticks) surmounted by evergreens were available. Emma married Rev. Thomas Blackburne in August 1819 and then lived in his new Parish of Eccles. Following her husband’s sudden death in 1847 she settled at Spring Hill in Boughton. She died in April 1886 aged 91 and a stained-glass window in Chester Cathedral is dedicated to her memory. Research by the Borthwick Institute for Archives at York University into her role following the first fatal railway accident, which involved Liverpool MP William Huskisson at the opening of the Liverpool to Manchester line in September 1830, and more details of her life, can be found at https://borthwickinstitute.blogspot.com/2019/09/william-huskisson-and-vicaress-of-eccles.html.
The lady patronesses were Lady Broughton who lived at Hoole House and was well known for her gardens there; Lady Kilmorey, the wife of the Lord of the Manor of Newton; and Mrs. T. Cotton a member of a prominent local family. Other members included the sisters, Mrs Francis Bagnall and Mrs. Maria Moore who owned the land on which Moor Park was built; Mrs. Tonna a sister-in-law of the Hamiltons; Miss Brittain a member of the prominent land holding family; Mrs. Walker nee Catherine Lightfoot, the wife of Thomas Walker; and Miss Broster daughter of John Broster of Brook Lodge, printer, publisher, historian. In 1820 a Miss Brown (Browns of Chester) is listed and in 1823 Mrs. Sedgwick who had moved into Hoole Hall.
Nationally, a number of female friendly societies continued to exist for many years, using their local Church as a focus. This area did not have its own Church until All Saints opened in 1867. The coming of the railways in 1840 saw the social pattern of the area changing completely probably explaining the disappearance of Flookersbrook, Newton & Hoole Female Friendly Society.
- Courtesy of Sally-Anne Shearn, the Borthwick Institute
- Courtesy of Sally-Anne Shearn, the Borthwick Institute