Father-and-son builders, Gary and Stewart Westwick, discovered a note written by their Victorian counterparts and hidden in a wax-sealed milk bottle under the floorboards of a terraced house they were renovating in the village of Ash, Kent. The note, found along with a leaflet from a local discount chemist, is dated September 1895, and written in pencil on the back of a scrap of blue floral wallpaper. It records the work done to the property, including the laying of new floorboards, painting and wallpapering, plus the names of the team who conducted the work.
The 5 man team, at what was then a brewery manager’s house, were painters Walter C. Prebble and James Dilnott; bricklayer and sweep Walter Horn; wheelwright and carpenter William Leath; and labourer William Clutton – “commonly called Sloper”.
Stewart Westwick said, “We laughed when we read the note because, as builders, we could just imagine Clutton sloping off to one of the pubs in the village when he should have been working. It’s fascinating to think that he was probably nipping off to have a drink at a pub we now use.”
Stewart, replaced the bottle with a time capsule of his own, including cards, notes and family details, under the new floorboards in the hope that 22nd century builders may enjoy a similar discovery.
But who was William Clutton, recorded for posterity as ‘Sloper’?
William Ernest Clutton was born in Brabourne in 1874 and is recorded in the 1891 census as a 16 year-old bricklayer’s labourer, living with his mother, 2 brothers and sister in Smeeth,Kent.
At the time of the house renovation he would have been 21 and, in the time-honoured tradition of British workmen, no doubt the butt of the older, more skilled workers’ jokes. The nickname ‘Sloper’ probably came from the popular Victorian cartoon character Ally Sloper. In Victorian slang, an ‘alley sloper’ was someone who sneaked out of the back door and went “sloping” down the alley when the landlord came calling for the rent.
William persevered as a builder and in the 1901 census was recorded as a fully trained bricklayer. He was single and living at his parents’ home, the charmingly named ‘Drainage House’ in Ash, where his father was the sewage works manager.
By 1911, aged 36, he was still unmarried and still living with his parents at the sewage works. He had obviously tired of life as a builder and had become a photographer.
In October 1914, he enlisted as a private in the Royal Defence Corps, the WW1 forerunner of the Home Guard of WW2 – thus avoiding front line service on the Western Front. He was discharged in Jun 1918 as ‘sick’ and ‘no longer physically fit for service’.
Despite whatever ailed him, William ‘Sloper’ Clutton went on to live to the ripe old age of 82, dying in 1956 in Thanet, Kent.