A Minor Tutbury Tragedy

John L was a stalwart of the Tutbury Oddfellows Lodge. In the days before the Welfare State, this Friendly Society played a vital role in the village, providing sickness, medical, unemployment and death benefits in exchange for a few pence subscription each week. And with several hundred members, it was the focus of a lively round of social activities as well.

By 1904 John, a married Glass Cutter in his fifties, had been Lodge Secretary for over ten years. The voluntary roles of Secretary and Treasurer were immensely burdensome for modestly educated working men to undertake in the limited spare time available after their long factory hours. A "Past Provincial Grand Master" of the Burton District, John's tireless work had made him well-known and respected in the village and the wider Oddfellows movement. The Lodge was his life.

But in February 1904 the Minutes of the fortnightly Meetings, held at the Wheel Inn in High Street, start to reflect some concerns about the Lodge finances. On 13th June the Treasurer "made a statement to the effect that his attention had been called to the Secretary having charged the Lodge with returned Doctors fees he had not paid". Somewhere in the interchange of payments between sick members, the local Panel doctors and the Lodge funds used to reimburse members, money had gone missing. The exact details are unclear, but an Investigating Committee found that John had effectively misappropriated £18.16s.0d of Lodge funds (a far from unique occurrence amongst Friendly Society officers in those days). A "Summoned Meeting" of all members was called for the evening of Saturday 2nd July, which John attended, though having already tendered his resignation as Secretary. The Committee recommended those present "to accept Brother L's offer to repay the amount forthwith and to inflict the shortest term of suspension possible". The Meeting agreed this unanimously.

Behind these bare facts, there is so much that can be inferred or speculated:

- In a tightly-knit village like Tutbury, the shame and repercussions of the scandal on John and his family can be readily imagined.

- The Saturday night "Show Trial" was probably the hottest ticket in town that summer of 1904.

- The personal circumstances leading to John's actions are unknown, but it is evident that he was treated with very considerable sympathy by his fellows.

- The Police were not called in and the matter was settled "in-house".

John disappears from the Lodge records until 1910, when he starts to re-attend Fortnightly Meetings, perhaps having expiated his crime in his own eyes and those of his colleagues. He remained in the village until his death some years later. No present day survivors of John's family have been identified, certainly not in the locality. He should be remembered more for his long service to the village rather than for the tragic lapse that ended his Oddfellows career.

(Details extracted from the Minute Books of the Loyal Sir Oswald Mosley Lodge No.909 of the Manchester Unity Independent Order of Odd Fellows, from Census records, and from transcriptions of Parish birth, marriage and death Registers, all held by Tutbury Museum).