Hinckley Historian Magazine

Hinckley Historian Magazine No.61 - Joseph Dare - Champion of the Poor

Joseph Dare
Joseph Dare

The Dare family came to Hinckley in the early 1800s from Titchfield in Hampshire. I came here to Hinckley in 1973, from Fareham, the nearest town to Titchfield so I feel I have a curious link with the Dares. Outside the Great Meeting Chapel are two blue plaques and the one on the Victorian part of the building is to 'Joseph Dare, 1800-1883, Domestic Missioner, Poet and Teacher'.

Joseph's father came to Hinckley with his family around the end of the Napoleonic Wars. He was a miller and had a Jewish wife, Hannah, who bore him 12 children. Joseph was born in 1800, one of two pairs of twins of which his mother was delivered in that year according to information from Rev. Peter Hewis. Perhaps the family went to the Great Meeting because Unitarians had a more liberal approach to other faiths. Joseph was in his late teens when the family came to Hinckley. In 1830 he married Mary Collington (a local girl) and they would have nine children. In the Great Meeting Baptismal Records the birth of Harriet, their first child, is recorded on December 16 1831 and her baptism on July 8* 1832. Sadly, her death is recorded at the age of four and a half, in July of 1836. She was buried by the Minister, Rev Charles Case Nutter. Joseph and his wife had seen the death of their younger daughter, Elizabeth, aged only two and a half, in June of the same year. The grim reality of infant death made an impact on the Dares at a very early stage of their married lives.

Joseph, although a Unitarian, was particularly shocked by the state of St Mary's Churchyard. He recorded the fact that the graveyard was full in 1832 and that 'bodies were daily disturbed in all stages of decomposition whilst the churchyard was being used as a playground!' Joseph agitated, along with others, for more land to be purchased and some three years later 2,400 square yards of land were added. By the late 1850's this land was also full and a new Hinckley Cemetery was opened. Also by the 1830's Joseph had begun to teach children at the Chapel and he also became renowned as a local poet. He wrote a poem on the subject of Hinckley churchyard. Later a collection of Joseph's Poems was published under the title - 'The Garland of Gratitude' in 1849. Joseph, as a Unitarian, was interested in other faiths and one such poem gave evidence of his attendance at a Roman Catholic Service:-

"Written after hearing a sermon by Dr Wiseman (afterwards Cardinal Wiseman)" Preached in the Roman Catholic Church, Hinckley on April 30th, 1843, on the text, 'There shall be one fold and one shepherd.

I scare would ask what creed such faith must be, Could it be aught but pure - less than divine, If all might meet around its shrine, And feel in love as one great family?

How would the heart with holier feelings swell, and want, and crime, and strife, and blood-shed cease.

And earth, no longer found a restless hell, Each, under his own vine, should sit in peace.

Oh, God in mercy send thy mystic Dove, to teach all hearts thy pity, truth, and love'

(From 'The Garland of Gratitude)

Joseph Dare and the Rev. Nutter became interested in adult education as well as teaching Unitarian and other local children. A group of young men had set up a Mutual Instruction Society in the 1830's. One of them was John Gent Brooks about whom I have written before. The group were given help and accommodation at the Great Meeting Unitarian Chapel. Later the group became the Hinckley Mechanics Institute and Joseph Dare was a keen supporter. He was also Secretary to the Widows and Orphans Society and to the Hinckley Horticultural Society. Joseph was very conscious of the appalling conditions of the framework knitters in Hinckley.

He wrote a poem on the subject called 'The Chant of the Lowly.

Food and knowledge both denied us,

Hope lies dead and faith grows old;

And the men who rob deride us.

When our pale forms they behold:

Tyrants, our sweat-drops coin their gold.

The plight of Hinckley in the 'Hungry Forties' led many to emigrate and several of the Dares went to the United States, first to New York. Joseph and George, his brother, remained in Hinckley giving help to those of the family who remained and to others in Hinckley.

Joseph gave evidence to Mr Muggeridge, who conducted a commission looking into the condition of the framework knitters in 1844. The evidence was recorded by his secretary in Hinckley, John Gent Brooks, who I have mentioned before and who Joseph had taught earlier in the 1830's. 'Evidence from teacher Joseph Dare at the Mechanics Institute and Sunday School attached to the Unitarian Chapel.

As a witness, he states:

He runs evening classes at the Mechanics Institute where workers over 14 years of age are taught to read and write and keep accounts. The fee is Id a week. Many leave once they can read and write their own name because of being unable to pay the fee: 'As soon as ever a depression comes all the stocking makers disappear at once'.

There are eight Sunday Schools in Hinckley but many of the framework knitters' children stay away because they do not have shoes and clothes. Many do not attend public worship for the same reason.

'I believe that it is a fact that the stocking makers cannot avail themselves of the advantages which are offered as to education, on account of their personal destitution'.

The Victorian Part of the Great Meeting showing Joseph Dare’s Blue Plaque The Joseph Dare Blue Plaque
The Victorian Part of the Great Meeting showing Joseph Dare’s Blue Plaque (left/top),
The Joseph Dare Blue Plaque (right/bottom)

In Hinckley, there is one pauper for every rate payer: 'and rather more at this present time, and now they profess to be in a good state for work... It is a mystery to see how it is that wages do not rise with demand... but many... suppose the cause to be frame rents...'

In the 1840's the Unitarians in the Midlands began to appoint Domestic Missioners. These men were to act in the role of social workers. They would visit those in poverty who were not linked to any religious denomination and were not receiving help from any source. The original scheme for Domestic Missioners had been started by Dr Tuckerman in the U S A.

Joseph Dare became Domestic Missioner in Leicester in 1845 at a salary of £75 p a. Curiously enough John Gent Brooks became Domestic Missioner in Birmingham at about the same time so Hinckley's Great Meeting had a leading part to play in the development of social work in the Midlands in Victorian times: The Missioner was to do all he could to relieve distress - providing food, clothing and small amounts of money and also attempting to give some basic education to poor children. Each Missioner kept a Personal Diary giving a daily account of his work and also wrote an Annual Report. Joseph's Diary is one of the most complete accounts of poverty in Leicester during the Victorian period and it has been used by social historians as a valuable source of information. Professor Jack Simmons at Leicester University has written extensively of nineteenth century poverty using Joseph's Diary.

Joseph worked ceaselessly to try to improve the conditions of Leicester's poor. Undoubtedly he often came back to Hinckley to see his brother and attended the Great Meeting when in Hinckley on a Sunday.

Joseph said that his fight against the evils of poverty in Leicester centred on, 'Ignorance, faith and fatalism.' He attacked the appalling standards of sanitation in the city, poor hygiene, lack of adequate ventilation in many houses and the failure to prevent the spread of smallpox.

Let me give a few examples of the conditions which Joseph found. Many houses had upper windows which were not made to open. In 1851, during a very hot summer, he found an elderly widow, 'Who seemed to be literally frying in her bed, that was reeking with her perspiration'. Thirteen years later, in 1864, he again protested that many houses were still being built without provision for windows in the bedrooms to be opened, - which he attacked as a 'disgraceful defect.' No building regulations at this time! Indeed in many respects Leicester housing became worse according to Joseph's reports. In the 1840's there were no back to back houses in the city. By 1864 there were 1,500 of them. Joseph attacked Leicester Town Council unwilling to use its powers to improve housing.

Water supply was another issue Joseph sought to improve. Leicester received its first piped water in the 1850's from the new Thornton Reservoir - the first piped water was tasted in 1853 at the Temperance Hall! However, sewers were still inadequate and briefly in 1871 Leicester had the highest death rate of any town in England. Gradually Joseph's demands for improvement had their effect. In 1873 a full time Medical Officer was appointed in the town. Epidemics still continued however. Joseph had attacked what he called the 'ignorance of filth and fatalism of those living in poverty'. Leicester was a centre for opposition to vaccination against smallpox by those believing that such a disease was an Act of God.

Joseph noted in his Diary a comment by one mother who said, 'I did not think it any use to keep my child away from the house next door where children had smallpox for God could find him out wherever he was, as well as he did the other!'

Both children contracted smallpox and died. The Unitarian Domestic Missioners strove to instill an understanding that disease was not 'an Act of God.' Joseph continued his work as Missioner in Leicester until 1876. He died in 1883 and his headstone in Welford Road Cemetery bears the following inscription - In memory of Joseph Dare, for 30 years minister to the poor of Leicester who died September 6th 1883 aged 83. Mary, his wife, is buried with him and also other family members.

Author: Hugh Beavin

Written for: Hinckley Historian Magazine