Thirty-three Years in a Workhouse
John Neal, son of Mrs Neal residing in High Street, Skegness, and who is now dangerously ill, died on Sunday last, at the age of 58 years, in the Spilsby Union Workhouse, in which institution he has spent thirty-three years of his life in consequence of a serious affliction.
The mortal remains of the deceased were taken here and interred in the Skegness Churchyard [St Clement’s] yesterday.
Neal, we understand, was the first man who introduced donkeys into Skegness and the first to use them on the sands.
The first donkey he had was a black one and which died about seven years ago at a good age.
It was purchased of the deceased before he went into the workhouse by Mr Parker, of Burgh, in whose possession it remained until the animal’s death.
Source: Skegness Herald 22nd January 1897
We decided to find out more about John Neal the first donkey man in Skegness.
John was born in Skegness in 1844 to Enos Neal and wife Mary. The parents can be found on the 1841 census with John’s elder brother, Henry, living in Great Hale, Lincolnshire. Enos was an agricultural labourer. The family moved to the Parish Houses on High Street, Skegness just before John was born.
The family continued to live at the same house for a long time. But looking at the 1861 census…
… John, now aged 17, was classed as an ‘idiot’ (look at the extreme right-hand column of the image in the link). There was no mention of employment for John.
We are told in the news article that John was institutionalized in 1864 and he appears on the 1871, 1881 and 1891 censuses in Spilsby Union Workhouse. John did not marry.
So, we can draw no evidence from the censuses of John or the family ever operating a donkey on Skegness beach. We shall have to take the word of the Skegness Herald newspaper.
But if John did, and he was the pioneer of the, to this day, ever popular Donkey Rides on Skegness Beach, then maybe he wasn’t such an ‘idiot’ after all!