The Soden family sweeps the chimneys and slaughters the horses

The Soden family have been chimney sweeps in Oxfordshire for over 200 years.

But one member, Richard, not only swept chimneys, but had another important job – as a horse slaughterer.

During World War I, unsuccessful efforts were made to have him excused from military service and stay at home.

So many colleagues had been called in, he was the only employee left to sweep the chimneys, and he was the only licensed horse slaughterer in town.

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A court was held at County Hall in Oxford to decide whether Richard, who was 35, was married and lived in Walton Street, should go to war.

He had been granted a month’s pardon at a hearing in August 1917 and was again summoned to appear in court in October.

He told the panel that before the war he had six men in the sweeping business, now there was only one. He also had to do all the felling himself.

He had two slaughterhouses – one in Wolvercote to provide food for families and the other a rendering yard in the town.

In 1916 he slaughtered 520 horses and cattle and so far in 1917 he had slaughtered 411. He also had a farm at Wolvercote with 120 pigs.

He pointed out that he had provided 45 tons of animal bones which were used to make ammunition, and supplied farmers with soot.

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The veterinarian Mr RJ Verney supported him, arguing that it was necessary to have a slaughterhouse in the area.

Another vet, Mr R Gillard, said many horses discharged from the army came back from overseas and were sold at public auction. It was possible that they had diseases that would not be spotted by an inexperienced slaughterer.

More support came from Mr TJ Hull, the town’s health inspector, who said Mr Soden’s premises were the only ones in town authorized to slaughter and he had a special cart for dead horses .

RSPCA Inspector W Finch admitted there were unlicensed fellers in the town but said the nearest licensed feller was in Witney.

He also agreed with Captain Shield, representing the army, that in an emergency he could kill a horse himself.

Letters were delivered by the town’s medical officer of health and other veterinarians expressing the opinion that an experienced horse slaughterer was a necessity for public health reasons.

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The arguments did not convince the court, which dismissed the appeal. However, he decided that Richard Soden should not be called for another month, presumably to allow him to put his house in order. As we have recalled (Memory Lane, February 7), six generations of the Soden family have run the chimney sweeping business, beginning in 1805 and ending in 2019. Early names have been lost in the middle of time, but Richard was a member of the third generation.

Then came Len and Dick Soden, followed by Mike. The sixth generation was completed by Mike’s son Gary, who continued until 2019 when a back injury forced him to retire.

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