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Death of Mr S Oldman

Grand Old Man of Thetford

from the Eastern Daily Press, 4 January 1901

It is with great regret that we announce the death of Mr Stephen Oldman, Snr., of Thetford the sad event taking place yesterday morning at his residence, Earl's Street. The deceased gentleman who was in his 86th year caught a severe chill about ten days ago, which developed into influenza followed by congestion of the lungs and heart trouble. His great age was unable to stand the shock and he passed peacefully away in the presence of his family. Mr Oldman, who was known as the Grand Old Man of Thetford was thrice married and leaves a widow to whom he had been married about 30 years, five sons and one daughter.

Mr Oldman, who was widely known throughout the eastern counties, both as a polititian and as a temperance advocate was born in Thetford in 1815, and for over 60 years has been closely identified with the public life of his native town. Early in life he started trading as a baker and confectioner but in 1840 went into business as an auctioneer and later on combined the business of miller and corn merchant, with his two sons, Mr Stephen Oldman who is now deputy mayor of the borough and Mr William Oldman.

64 years ago he was an active temperance advocate and all through his long life his interest was keen in the question of total abstinence. In 1888 he was presented by the Thetford Total Abstinence Society with an illuminated address, handsome clock and pair of beautiful ornaments, on the occasion of his jubilee in temperance work. In 1895 he drove to London to attend the conference of the Octogenarians' Temperance Society. Early in life he was associated with the Wesleyan Methodists, his father being one of the founders of the movement in the town, but about 40 years ago he severed his connection with that church in consequence of what he considered their indifference on the temperance question.

All through his long life, Mr Oldman was an ardent Liberal and one of the leaders of radicalism in South West Norfolk and the Stowmarket division of Suffolk. His views were the cause of his being boycotted about half a century ago, and he was then turned out of the home which his father and his grandfather had occupied before him. With his strong determination he set about building the very home in which he passed the remainder of his life, and he also erected the premises in which the business of Messrs Oldman and Sons is now carried on.

His public life was of a most varied character; he was always to be found on the side of progress and it mattered not one iota to him if the public vote was for him or against him in what he advocated. For over 40 years he was elected a member of the Town Council and had occupied a seat in the Council ever since , with the exception of one year. His election was almost always strenuously opposed by the opposite party, and he was but once allowed a walkover, which took place three years ago.

For many years he was chairman of the Waterworks Committee, upon which he did most useful work. In 1893 he was made a Justice of the Peace for the borough and had filled the office with dignity to himself and to the satisfaction of his fellow burgesses. Amongst his other public offices he was at the time of his death the vice chairman of the Board of Guardians, the chairman of the School Board, representative of the School Board on the Grammar School trust, Chairman of the Burial Board, trustee of Sir Joseph Williamson's charity, trustee of the small charities, President of the Thetford Liberal Association, and vice president of the South-West Norfolk Liberal Association. He had been chirman of the Burial Board for many years and for a quarter of a century had been on the Board of Guardians, being at one time chairman, but deafness was the cause of his resigning the presidency.

He was one of the three founders of the Mechanics' Institute in Thetford and half a century ago inaugurated the Thetford Building Society, of which he had been the secretary ever since and which has been the means of many a hard - working inhabitant of the borough becoming his own landlord.

For many years he had been the leader of the Radical Party in the town and there was no movement of any forward description in which he did not take a prominent part. He successfully fought the question of building the Girls' Grammar School, and was one of the founders of the Liberal Association, of which he had been President for a great number of years. He took a prominent part in the agitation for the enfranchisement of the agricultural labourers, and although he was then getting into years, he was very active in addressing meetings during the stirring elections of 1885 and 1886. He was well known to all the Liberal leaders in Norfolk and Suffolk, and had a wide acquaintance with most of the prominent men of the party at headquarters.

Any person who at any time visited Thetford for the purpose of promoting any progressive views always sought the assistance of the deceased gentleman. For a great number of years he was sought after and applied to by numbers of poor people for advice on all sorts of business and social difficulties; in fact when they were in any trouble whatever Mr Oldman was the person to whom they went, and they never appealed in vain, his advice and assistance when required being ever at the disposal of those who wished to take advantage of it.

He had been a member of the Peace Society since its formation and contributed largely to the journal of the Society. Right up to the end he was interested in all the movements of the day and his keenness never relaxed. A year ago he delivered a lengthy lecture with wonderful power at the Institute on "The Poets" and at the time of his death he was preparing a paper on "Mahomet" which it was his intention to read at an early date at the same Institution. He was a widely read man on all political and social topics and had gathered together a very good library.

A man of great force of character, and very marked individuality, he in his time was a keen and hard fighter on all questions that he took up, but increasing age had softened the fighting element in him although his feelings were always the best towards everybody in the town. For a great many years Mr Oldman attended all the Liberal conferences and principal party meetings in the Eastern Counties and during the last quarter of a century had been present at a great number of Poor Law conferences, at which he was always ready to put forward his views and advocate what he thought was for the benefit of his poorer and more unfortunate brethren.

No man on the borderlands of Norfolk and Suffolk was so well known in political circles as Mr Oldman. In addition to his temperance and political work he sought to place his views before his fellow men through the agency of the Press, and for many years he contributed largely to the columns of the local journals on subjects which he had at heart. For a period of 40 years he had kept his diary, which was undoubtedly full of local interest. During his long life he never shirked his public responsibilities, and when the odds were heavy against him he fought with a determination which was generally crowned with success.

One of the deceased gentleman's great hobbies was mesmerism, and some 40 years ago he delivered a number of lectures on the subject. His principle hobbies were however temperance and politics and up to the last election he was found on the political platform addressing meetings on behalf of Mr Winfrey with all his old fire and eloquence. As recently as a few weeks ago his remarkable vigour was sustained and his great determination and endurance is illustrated by the fact that last summer he spent his holiday in driving to Manchester and back.

The funeral will take place next Monday at 2.30 at the cemetery at Thetford. It is the desire of the family in accordance with the wishes of the deceased that no flowers be sent.

You can see an account of the funeral here


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