The Soden family were chimney sweeps in Oxfordshire for more than 200 years.

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

During the First World War, unsuccessful efforts were made for him to be excused military service and remain at home.

So many fellow workers had been called up, he was the only employee left to sweep chimneys, and he was the only licensed horse slaughterer in the city.

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

He had been given a month’s grace at a hearing in August 1917 and was summoned to appear before the tribunal again in October.

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

He had two slaughter houses – one at Wolvercote to supply food to families and the other a knacker’s yard in the city.

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 supplied 45 tons of animal bones which went towards munitions, and supplied soot to farmers.

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Veterinary surgeon Mr R J Verney supported him, arguing that it was necessary to have a slaughterer in the district.

Another vet, Mr R Gillard, said that many horses discharged from the Army were returning from overseas and sold at public auctions. It was possible they could have diseases which would not be spotted by an inexperienced slaughterer.

More support came from Mr T J Hull, the city’s sanitary inspector, who said Mr Soden’s premises were the only ones in the city licensed for slaughter and he owned a special cart for dead horses.

Inspector W Finch, from the RSPCA, admitted there were unlicensed slaughterers in the city, but said the nearest licensed slaughterer was at Witney.

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

Letters were handed in by the city’s medical officer of health and other vets expressing the opinion that an experienced horse slaughterer was a necessity on the grounds of public health.

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The arguments failed to persuade the tribunal, which dismissed the appeal. However, it ruled that Richard Soden should not be called up for a month, presumably to allow him to get his affairs in order. As we recalled (Memory Lane, February 7), six generations of the Soden family ran the chimney sweeping business, starting in 1805 and ending in 2019. Early names have been lost in the midst 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 Gary, Mike’s son, who continued until 2019 when a back injury forced him to give up.

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