Settle’s history tends to be recalled through the accounts of middle class and wealthy residents, but 80% of our population was working class. Rodger’s life gives us a different perspective.
Rodger was born in Hellifield, the son of an agricultural labourer, John Preston, and his wife Dorothy. When John died, Dorothy moved to Upper Settle with her unmarried children, describing herself as a pauper. This family were really living on the breadline. Rodger took work where he could get it — on farms or in the lime works.
After Dorothy died in 1871, Rodger lived in the common lodging houses on Albert Hill — these provided the cheapest possible accommodation to avoid the workhouse, but were cramped and unpleasant. Residents paid a few pence each night, but were generally asked to leave during the day, to encourage them to work.
In 1882, Rodger couldn’t afford to pay for accommodation, so slept in an outhouse of the Commercial Inn. He was imprisoned for 14 days and may have been glad to have a roof over his head. Vagrancy was the most commonly reported ‘crime’ in 19th century Settle.
In 1892, Rodger fell victim to small pox whilst living in the common lodging house. The cramped conditions were ideal for the spread of infection.
Unsurprisingly, Rodger’s last years and death were in the workhouse, which provided the only possible care for poor people. He lived until he was 77.
Rodger’s elder brother Ambrose also struggled. He was repeatedly fined and even imprisoned for poaching. He did eventually find work as a platelayer on the railways, but suffered an industrial accident which fractured his skull. Amazingly, although not expected to recover, Ambrose lived for another 20 years.