Shutler, Oliver


Collection date: Jan 1906

Area: Somerset - Langport surrounds

Oliver Shutler (1838-1916): age 68, 2 songs 20 Jan 1906: Note: Sharp spelled the surname with 2 ‘t’s (Shuttler) but Oliver usually used one ‘t’. Oliver’s story seems rather sad. He was baptised on 3/3/1838 at Pitney church, 2 miles south of Somerton. He was the only child of John Shutler, a modest farmer and his wife Ann (née Salway). Theirs was a late marriage (in 1837 John was 31 and Ann 36). Ann died in Jan 1850, when Oliver was just 12 years of age. Four years later in Jan 1854, aged 16, Oliver was sentenced to 6 months in Wilton Gaol, Taunton for cattle stealing (England & Wales, Criminal Registers, 1791-1892 HO 27; Piece: 109; p182).

Aged 22, he got married on 4/3/1860 at Compton Dundon church to a widow Mary Ann Hollard, 12 years older than him. She had no children by her first marriage and Oliver would have no children either. Moving away from Pitney, Oliver perhaps received a settlement from his father and bought a house and orchard in Compton Dundon. In 1870 Oliver was one of two appointed Constables for the Somerton division. Whether he overstepped the mark in this role is unclear, but in 1871 he was committed to 6 weeks hard labour for violent assault. He was also fined at least three times for poaching-related or gun offences in 1876, including a fine of £8 for shooting a partridge.

When the first Parish Councils began in 1894, Oliver was elected to be a councillor and was annually re-elected till 1898 when he did not stand again. His wife Mary Ann died on 29/7/1903 aged 80. A letter at VWML from Prebendary SH Cooke of Compton Dundon (14/2/1974) stated that ‘At the end she was in such an awful condition that the police intervened.’

Oliver may already have been on the bottle but now he went to pieces. ‘He had to sell his house and lived rough, sleeping in barns etc. He wore an old-fashioned white smock and was often near to starving. He wintered in the Langport Union workhouse and did stone-breaking in the summer months’. Bob Patten noted that according to the Sheffield Daily Independent 12/3/1907 Oliver was ‘an old stonebreaker, who had been in his early days a wrestler, a bruiser and a performer of wonderful feats of strength’. But he was no doubt in a poor state when Sharp found him in January 1906.

Oliver finished his life in the Langport workhouse (viz. 1911 census), having fallen from the hayloft, or the ladder leading to it, at Cook's Farm, where he was living. He died in Mar 1916 (Langport 5c 496) aged 78.

Thanks to Simon Dore and the Compton Dundon Village History Group for additional information.

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