Monthly Archives: April 2016

Batley Privy Riots and the Death of a Policeman

Searching for my ancestors in the Batley library newspapers, I ended up totally side-tracked reading about the goings-on in the town’s New Street area. Some incidents involved distantly connected relations. But the real value was the insight it gave into the community in which my ancestors lived, over a narrow timeframe. I looked at the two years from Christmas 1875. Whilst I didn’t read every paper, the ones I skimmed gave a flavour.

The 1875 Christmas festivities in New Street, an Irish immigrant area, resulted in court appearances for a number of its residents. The first involved Ann Gavan, a married woman (so far no link with my Gavans), accompanied by the headline in the “Batley Reporter” of 1 January 1876 “The Way Christmas is Kept in New Street”. On 27 December she appeared at Batley Borough Court, convicted of being drunk and riotous on Christmas Day.

She attracted police attention on Christmas Eve. Seeing a crowd gathered around her house, Police Sergeant Gamwell looked through the window. He saw her lying heavily drunk on the floor, surrounded by a crowd of boys. Her husband was also drunk. In fact they were seldom sober. By 3am Christmas Day the pair were cursing and swearing, attracting a large crowd. At this point Police Constable Shewan apprehended Ann. He couldn’t manage her husband too.

But this wasn’t an isolated New Street incident. Appearing in Batley Borough Court on the same day were an assortment of individuals. Christmas Day saw John King, described as an old man – although what constituted old then may not be the case by today’s standards, hauled off to the police station. Again the charge was one of drunk and riotous behaviour. He also assaulted the arresting office, Police Constable Beecroft. On 26 December Patrick Jordan and Patrick Moran’s drunken fight resulted in a drunk and riotous conviction for the pair. Their escapade tied up five or six police officers most of the evening. And Michael McManus was similarly convicted, for the 17th time.

That wasn’t the end of the parade of individuals before Batley Borough Court for events that Christmas in New Street. The following week’s edition of the “Batley Reporter” contained a string of obscene language cases: Mary Foley used obscene language towards several policemen on 26 December; Ellen Tarpey was convicted of using obscene language toward Mary Gavan (a potential family connection here) on 27 December; the case against John Hannan (another family link) was dismissed. He faced a charge of using obscene language towards Ann McCormick on 28 December. And finally yet another case involving Ann McCormick as victim, this time at the receiving end from John McManus on 27 December. The Mayor wished the bench could fine her too, as he considered her equally to blame in the incident.

The idea that this was a one-off string of cases occasioned by Christmas doesn’t hold water. True the police office was nearby, so the area fell under particular scrutiny. But no other area of Batley had such a high proportion of cases. In fact the Mayor “….commented strongly on the number of cases of obscene language brought before the Bench especially from that locality; and said if it was not for the cases from that district the magistrates would have little to do”.

And going through the papers there are more cases, not confined to holidays. The one incident that stuck out for me did involve distant relatives: John Hannan, of the murderous poker assault episode on his father-in-law, and his wife, Margaret. The newspaper heading reads “Dealing Gently With New Street Rioters”.

The incident started at 3.45pm on Sunday 15 October 1876, lasted two or three hours, and involved several residents. It was sparked by the disputed use of a privy in the yard of Patrick Gannon. Hannan and another man broke open its door. They claimed they had a right to be in the toilet. It appears Gannon and nearby neighbour Mary McManus, with whom the Hannans now lodged, shared the same landlord. The landlord authorised Mary’s use of the privy.

687px-Toilet_in_the_Beamish_Museum_01 (2)

Outside Toilet at Beamish – Wikimedia Commons by Immanuel Giel

Gannon claimed that as he challenged the “intruders”, Hannan struck him. At this point Gannon fetched the police.

Normally in these circumstances the police would not attend. They would issue an assault summons. On this occasion Police Constable Friendly Hague went with Gannon to New Street, an action subsequently criticised. He defended it by saying Gannon was afraid to go home. Perhaps the fact Hannan was well-known to the police had an influence.

It was claimed Hannan re-commenced his attack on Gannon. Police Constable Webber, upon seeing the crowd gathered in New Street, went to see what was happening. He assisted Police Constable Hague in apprehending Hannan, who resisted. In the ensuing melee Bridget Gannon, wife of Patrick, came out with a poker. At this point Hannan was on the floor, black in the face from being throttled by Police Constable Hague.

Margaret Hannan now joined in to rescue her husband. She too was armed with a poker, striking both Gannon and Police Constable Hague about the head, shoulders and back with it, saying “I’ll not let the b___ take him”. She was led away by Mary McManus.

Michael Gallagher also joined the affray, kicking Police Constable Hague whilst on the floor, saying “We’ll kill the b___ if you like”. Hannan incited Gallagher further by crying “Go into him”, so Gallagher obliged, aiming another kick.

The upshot of this Court appearance before the Mayor, Alderman J.T.Marriott: Hannan was cleared of assaulting Gannon. He was also cleared of damaging Police Constable Hague’s trousers, as the Mayor said the policeman should not have rushed in as he did. He was, however, convicted of the assault on Hague; as was Gallagher; Margaret was convicted of assaulting both the policeman and Gannon.

Whist on the surface this seems a series of humorous incidents, it highlights the problems faced by these early Victorian police in executing their duty. It was also a precursor to an event with far more serious consequences: the death of a policeman in the town on 9 December 1877. Inevitably New Street featured in the events.

William Peet [1] was born in January 1853, the son of agricultural labourer Thomas Peet and his wife Sarah. His baptism took place on 1 May 1853 in the parish of Wolvey in Warwickshire, close to the border with Leicestershire. The family are recorded here prior to William’s birth in the 1851 census, with daughters Sarah Ann (6), Elizabeth (2) and Jane (2 months).

By the time of the 1861 census the Peets had moved north to Broomhill near Barnsley. In addition to William and his parents, the family included Jane (10), Joseph (6) and infant son Thomas.

William’s father died sometime prior to the 1871 census. This census shows William as the oldest child residing in his mother Sarah’s home. Not yet 50 and described as an annuitant, she had five other sons at home, three under the age of 10. These were Joseph (16), Thomas (10), Fred (8), John (7) and Harry (4). William’s wage from his job as a mason’s labourer must have been a welcome support.

In September 1874 William married 19 year old Mary Downs at Wombwell parish church. The register entry describes his occupation as a miner. Two daughters followed, Lily (1875) and Sarah Ann (1877).

It was shortly after Sarah Ann’s birth that William undertook a significant change of career. 1856 saw the creation of the West Riding Constabulary, an organisation which William joined on 17 September 1877. The Examination Book shows he measured 5”8¼”, had light hair, light blue eyes and a fair complexion. He described his trade as a labourer, his previous employment being at Barnsley’s Lundhill colliery. He was attached to the Division responsible for policing in Batley on 23 October 1877.

It was at around the time of a sequence of serious incidents between Batley’s Irish community and the police. In one incident, originating in New Street at the end of November 1877, Police Constable Beecroft suffered such a serious assault it rendered him unfit for work weeks later. This was the situation facing the new policeman. A situation which cost him his life on Sunday 9 December 1877.

The remarks column of his Examination Book reads:

Killed in a street row at Batley by a number of drunken Irishmen (between 11pm and midnight). He and PC 278 Herring were quelling the disturbance when 7 or 8 Irishmen turned round and began to beat, stone and kick them in a most unmerciful manner, one of them striking a fatal blow on the head with a heavy walking stick taken from PC Herring”.

From around 9pm on 8 December PC Peet and PC Robert Herring patrolled the Batley area around New Street, Wellington Street, Hick Lane and Union Street. At just gone 11pm they heard a disturbance on Cobden Street and witnessed a crowd of around 60 men and women. A number of them, William Flynn (27 year old shoemaker), Patrick Phillips (labourer, age 25 ), John Ryan (labourer, 24) and Michael O’Neill (labourer) had been to a jig at Patrick McGowan’s “Prince of Wales” beerhouse in Cobden Street. New Street’s Ann McCormick, a rag picker and a familiar name in my research of the area, (there was a mother and daughter of this name and I suspect this was the daughter whereas the one involved in the Christmas 1875 incidents was the mother), also attended the dance. Now, after closing time, many of the revellers became involved in a street dispute.

Some men had their coats off, including Flynn, O’Neill and Phillips, and were threatening to strike men from the Staincliffe area and neighbouring town of Heckmondwike, including Patrick Hunt. When PCs Peet and Herring arrived Ann McCormick, screaming and crying, claimed she had been struck by one of the Batley men, pointing in the direction of Flynn and O’Neill. Apparently it was the latter. There is the possibility she was trying to obtain payback for a prevented marriage.

1892 map showing the area events took place

The police tried to diffuse the situation, attempting to get the crowd to disperse. At this point the Staincliffe and Heckmondwike men made their escape. Flynn and his mates progressed down Peel Street, swearing and cursing but then, reaching Wellington Street, refused to move.

Challenged by Herring about their dispersal delay, one of the men knocked the policeman down stealing his wooden stick. He then charged at PC Peet striking him about the head with the stolen weapon, knocking him to the ground and taking his truncheon.

There was some confusion as to the identity of this assailant. PC Herring remained adamant throughout the judicial process it was Flynn; but it was a dark night with little lamplight, and evidence from others was confusing with some indicating O’Neill. Some giving evidence claimed not to have seen blows struck, others only fist blows. Doubt was also cast on Herring’s identification because he had only been working in the Batley area for a few weeks. And new witnesses crawled out of the woodwork disputing events. For example Mary Foley appeared at the Assizes claiming she witnessed the row but hadn’t appeared before the magistrates earlier in proceedings because she “had a queer husband, a large family, and did not want to be mixed up with the police”.

Whilst Peet was down, Flynn, O’Neill and Ryan aimed kicks at him. They then turned on PC Herring.

This provided an opportunity for PC Peet to regain his feet and assist his colleague. The pair managed to grab hold of Flynn. Other men in the crowd began to pelt the police with stones and loose setts which had been left in he street by council workmen carrying out repairs. John McManus, a 25 year old collier, was identified as the man who threw the setts. Phillips as a stone-thrower. Peet was hit on the back of the arm or shoulder. The stone-throwing enabled Flynn to escape into a house in New Street, the police giving chase.

No other officer heard PC Herring’s whistle-blowing calls for help and the crowd refused to assist, so he remained watching the house whilst PC Peet brought police reinforcements. The extra police arrived but upon entering the house they found Flynn had vanished.


The police now went about tracing and arresting those involved. These included Flynn (apprehended in his bed at his Ward’s Hill home 1.30am. His wife woke him and he struck her saying “You b*****”, and to Robert Webber, one of the arresting policemen “It’s thy b***** phizog is it?”). Others rounded up were McManus, Ryan, Martin Devanagh and Patrick and James Phillips. Patrick Phillips, according to some reports, lodged in John Hannan’s house, but the Clark Green[2] location does raise questions as to whether it is “my” man. One person though evaded capture – O’Neill.

Whilst this was going on, at just before 1am in the morning Peet complained of feeling ill and returned to his Purlwell Lane home in the Mount Pleasant area of town. It was a house which he and his family shared with the Herring family. During the early hours he became increasingly unwell, lapsing into a coma. Police surgeon James Cameron was called at around 6am and Peet died just before 8am.

Cameron undertook a post-mortem, assisted by Dr William Bayldon. It revealed Peet had suffered a skull fracture and haemorrhage, causing his death. Peet’s body was taken back to his home near Barnsley for burial.

The two-part inquest in front of Thomas Taylor, district coroner, was held on the 11 and 18 December at the New Inn at Clark Green in Batley. A verdict of murder by Flynn was reached.

The men next appeared before the Magistrates, and a large crowd, at Batley Town Hall on 20 December. The case against Devanagh was dropped as the evidence against him was not sufficiently strong. Herring couldn’t swear to his presence and he, naturally, denied having been there.

At the end of the hearing James Phillips was also discharged. Although said to be at the row, he wasn’t seen doing anything termed fatal.

That left Flynn, Ryan, McManus and Patrick Phillips committed to trial at the Yorkshire Winter Assizes on a wilful murder charge: Flynn as the man who inflicted the fatal blow, the others for aiding and abetting. Some discussion did take place about extending this serious charge  wider than Flynn, but the balance of opinion swayed in favour of it. They concluded it was not necessary that all persons should inflict the fatal blow. If those present aided and abetted, they were all equally guilty of wilful murder.

The proceedings in Batley were not without occasional humour, a kind of “us and them” scenario reminiscent of Sir Jeremiah Harman’s Springsteen, Gascoigne and Oasis comments. These included an exchange in Batley Borough Court  about the meaning of “jig“, with Mr Airton from the West Riding Police providing the explanation.

“Dewsbury Reporter” 22 December 1877 – A Jig Explained

At the inquest  Ellen Chappell, a witness, illustrates wonderfully why we have variations in ancestral surname spellings.

Surname Confusion – “Huddersfield Chronicle” 19 December 1877

The Assizes took place at Leeds Town Hall the following month. One of the first decisions made by the Grand Jury was a downgrading of the charges against Ryan, McManus and Phillips as there did not appear to be any common purpose between Flynn and the others to attack Peet. They now faced a charge of assaulting a policeman in the execution of his duty. Only Flynn faced the charge of wilful murder.

His trial took place on 18 January 1878. To an outbreak of applause in the court the jury returned a “not guilty” verdict. This on the basis of uncertainty as to who stuck the fatal blow – they could not definitely say it was Flynn. He was detained to face an assault charge with the others, the following day.

This was the final trial of the Assizes. Because Flynn had been acquitted of Peet’s murder, no evidence was offered for the assault and he was discharged. Guilty verdicts were reached against the other three men, who each received six month sentences.

Mary Peet and her children returned to her hometown of Wombwell, near Barnsley. The Police Committee granted her a £65 gratuity. A subscription fund was also established for her. She married coalminer Den(n)is Bretton in 1879, having a number of other children during her second marriage, including a son named William.

Besides a man loosing his life, the death of PC Peet highlighted racial tension in Batley, between the Irish and local communities. A series of local newspaper letters and articles are testimony to this. One letter illustrating the fact, which attracted much attention, appeared in the “Dewsbury Reporter” of 15 December 1877. It was written from “A Batley Lad”. It harked back to the leniency shown to those New Street privy rioters amongst others. It read:

The murder of a constable, often predicted, in Batley, has at last taken place, and perhaps the Irish now will be a trifle more quiet. They have felled many a policeman during the last two years, and when brought up, especially when Mr J.T. Marriott was Mayor and Ex-Mayor, have been let off, as your paper recorded from time to time, with most inadequate punishment. The Irish in this quarter are a very low lot, and rows and fights have taken place every weekend, but instead of the magistracy supporting the representatives of the law they have leaned to the other, and not virtuous side.

I think it is time that we had our own borough police, for if we had I think we should not allow them to be knocked about by the Irish roughshod as the poor county constables have been.

Perhaps the Irish after this murder will remember Patrick Reid”.[3]

Rev. Canon Gordon, the priest at St Mary of the Angels RC Church, referred to the incident in his sermon on Sunday 16 December 1877. He stated the Irishmen involved in the disturbance and murder never entered Church, and were Catholics in name only. He went on to say the event was a disgrace to all true Irishmen and Catholics. The incident confirmed his previously expressed opinion that a murder would be committed in Batley as a result of the excessive drinking which prevailed in the Irish classes. He concluded by expressing the hope that God would severely punish the guilty as a lesson to future generations.

This was the community in which my Irish ancestors lived and were part of. Its history forms a critical backdrop in shaping their everyday lives.

I’ve named only a fraction of those involved in the various stages of the trial for the murder of William Peet. If anyone believes their ancestor is involved I’m happy to check my notes.

Footnotes:
[1] Sometimes referred to as Peete
[2] Modern spelling is Clerk Green
[3] Patrick Reid was an Irish hawker executed in York on 8 January 1848 for the triple murder in Mirfield of James and Ann Wraith and their servant Caroline Ellis

Sources:

  • Ancestry.co.uk – Warwickshire Anglican Registers for the Parish of Wolvey; West Riding Constabulary Examination Books; Wakefield Charities Coroners Notebooks, 1852-1909; Criminal Registers, 1791-1892 (HO 27);
  • “Batley Reporter” newspaper
  • Census: 1851-1881
  • FindMyPast – Doncaster Archives Yorkshire Marriages; newspapers including “Dewsbury Reporter”, “Huddersfield Chronicle”, “Leeds Mercury”, “Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer”,
  • GRO Indexes
  • Wikimedia Commons for photograph of outside toilet, by Immanuel Giel – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1110467
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Murderous Assaults with Poker & Rope: The (Un)Fortunate William Gavan

This is a tale of my 2x great grandfather William Gavan, a victim of crime but perhaps himself a wrong-doer? Two recent record releases, one on Ancestry UK and the other on FindMyPast, have supplemented earlier findings. One has possibly revealed a twist on this earlier research. 

William Gavan hailed from County Mayo, moving to England at around the time of the Great Famine of the late 1840s. He was certainly in Kidderminster by the 1851 census. It was in the town’s Roman Catholic chapel that he married County Mayo-born Bridget Knavesay in 1852. They moved to Batley in around 1860 with their young family, Honor, Margaret, Sarah and John. Eldest son James died sometime prior to the move, and Honor’s death followed in 1869. The couple had four further children – Mary, Thomas, Bridget (my great grandmother). Their youngest, William, was born in 1872. 

In the absence of any baptism record, William’s year of birth ranges anywhere between 1821-1832 depending on source. 

The story begins in April 1870. This was the first mention I found of William in Batley’s only town paper at the time, the “Batley Reporter”. I discovered the entry by pure chance whilst doing a library newspaper search for something totally unrelated. The headline captured my imagination: “Murderous Assault with a Poker“. It conjured up visions of the reputed cause of death of Edward II whose tomb I saw at Gloucester Cathedral. This story proved to be far less gruesome, but on a personal level far more interesting. As I read on I realised the victim was my 2x great grandfather William Gavan. 

On Saturday 9 April, at around 9.30pm, William was drinking with a friend, James Brannan, in John Farrar’s establishment, the “Ringers’ Arms” on New Street, Batley. The beerhouse was gain-hand for William, as he lived on the same street. Thomas Cain, a New Street neighbour, sat opposite William. Thomas, a much younger Irish man in his early 20s, lived with his mother.  

“Ringers Arms” sign, a few decades later – image courtesy of Batley Community Archive

 Initially conversation was friendly. At some point though Thomas made some remark, about William beating his wife. William responded by telling Thomas to go home and mind his mother. This seemingly innocuous response triggered a dramatic reaction. Thomas grabbed a poker and struck William on the head, a blow so violent as to render him unconscious and draw a copious flow of blood. William was taken home and the Doctor, William Bayldon, summoned. 

He found William slumped in a chair, faint through blood loss which had saturated his hair, covered his face and even soaked into the chair. The almost two inch long wound, on the left of his head, extended through the whole thickness of his scalp and resulted in an arterial rupture of a branch of the left temple artery.  

Police Sergeant Lund apprehended Thomas in his home at around 4am in the morning of 10 April. When charged with the assault he declared “I did hit him once with the poker, and I hope the b______ will die, if I thought he would not, I would have given him another blow”. So a fairly clear admission. 

William was confined to bed for five days after the assault, necessitating the deferral of the case against Thomas. Finally able to give evidence, William appeared at Batley Borough Court on 18 April. He must have cut a dramatic figure with bandaged head, remaining seated throughout the process. Dr Bayldon said the wound had not healed and would probably require treatment for a further fortnight. So a pretty impressive injury. Equally theatrical was the dramatic production of the offending poker during the case.  

The assault was of such a serious nature Batley Borough Court decided to refer the case to the Quarter Sessions at Bradford. The “Batley Reporter” had a one liner reporting the outcome on 21 May 1870: “Nine Months – Thomas Cain, unlawfully and maliciously wounding William Gavin [sic], at Batley” 

This is where the new records in Ancestry.co.uk come in. A recent addition is the West Riding Quarter Session records, 1637-1914. They are searchable by the name of the person indicted, but not by victim or witnesses. Luckily, through newspapers, I knew the name of William’s assailant. The indictment book gives detail of the full charge against Thomas Cain – in essence that he unlawfully made an assault on William and unlawfully beat, wound and ill-treated and did other wrongs to him. It also provides the names of the witnesses. The case was heard on 19 May 1870 and Thomas pleaded guilty. The wording is very formulaic and repetitive and doesn’t really add many details – for that the newspaper report is best. But it does provide another layer of detail, and a search of these records could help identify hitherto unknown charges against ancestors. 

By the time of the 1871 census Thomas was back home from the Wakefield House of Correction and once more living with his mother in New Street. The Gavan family had upped sticks and left the street on which they’d lived since their arrival in Batley. They now resided at Spring Gardens. I do wonder if the re-location owed something to the return of William’s attacker. I don’t expect many would want to remain living in the immediate vicinity of their poker-wielding assailant. 

But at the back of my mind was the wife-beating allegation Thomas made against William, which precipitated events that April 1870 night. Was there any substance in the claim? Was William ever hauled in front of the Magistrates to answer accusations? Did he beat Bridget? No charges on this count showed in the Quarter Session records, but any case wasn’t bound to get to that level. It may most likely have been dealt locally in the Petty Sessions.  

I never got round to further perusing the local newspapers for the period to see if William featured again. In the absence of any other information it was too formidable undertaking; neither did I check at West Yorkshire Archives for any lists of those appearing before Batley Borough Court.  

Here FindMyPast’s newspaper collection came to the rescue. It pays to keep checking because newspapers are added regularly. I was overjoyed to discover the addition of the “Dewsbury Reporter”. Not quite as good as having the “Batley Reporter” or the later Batley town paper, the “Batley News”. But not to be overlooked, because Batley stories feature in this neighbouring town’s paper. Also, it’s fair to point out, on FindMyPast there is a limited run for the Dewsbury paper. So far, it covers editions from its inception in 1869 until 1884. But it is part of the period of my ancestors lived in the town. So definitely worth a speculative search one evening. Hopefully the coverage will expand over time.

I really had to play around to overcome OCR errors as well as the dreaded surname variants for Gavan. It was worth the effort. Whilst there may be more to find, I unearthed some absolute corkers. And not confined to the occasional drunk and riotous episode either. 

Reports for the Gavan family included a rather interesting one dated 6 September 1873. In short William was summoned to appear at Batley Borough Court on Monday 1 September to answer a charge preferred against him by his wife, Bridget, of threatening to take her life. When the case was called she refused to say anything against her husband until Inspector Wetherill said he would lock the pair of them up. This loosened Bridget’s tongue. Apart from anything else, she had young children to consider. Youngest child William was only one.

She and William quarrelled on the 29 August. During the row he threatened kill her, something she took seriously. Afraid he would do her grievous bodily harm she reported him. William was bound over to keep the peace for six months. So perhaps there may have been something in what Thomas Cain alleged over three years earlier. Maybe Thomas was indeed upset at the way William treated his wife. And the hot-headed youth acted whilst in his cups. 

The next gem involved Bridget. On Wednesday 2 June 1875 it was her turn to appear in the Borough Court. I love the phraseology and images conjured up by the newspaper report, so much so I’m reproducing it in its entirety: 

Bridget Gavan was charged with assaulting Mary Winn, wife of Peter Winn, Spring Gardens, on the 20th May. Mr Hudson appeared for the complainant, and stated that the complainant’s husband was a coal agent, and sold coals in the neighbourhood, and collected money in small instalments. On Saturday last he called at the house of the defendant for some money, but instead of receiving the money he received a very warm reception from the defendant’s tongue, which induced him to leave the house and go away about his business. After visiting several other places, he went again and saw the defendant, who struck him, and scratched him in the face. He went home and told his wife, who naturally was not very well pleased with it, and on Monday she happened to meet with the defendant at a friend’s house, and asked her why she had insulted her husband. The defendant used some very naughty words, and afterwards she followed complainant to her house, seized her by the hair of the head, and a scrimmage took place to the detriment of both parties; and then it was that the complainant took out a summons for assault, and the summons was served on Monday. The summons was taken by the defendant, and in a very indecent manner was thrown by her into the complainant’s house, and she also broke a window. Evidence having been given by Peter Winn and the complainant, the defendant said the complainant struck her first with a brush. The Bench thought there had been some provocation on both sides, and only inflicted a fine of 2s 6d and costs”. 

I do wonder what constituted “very naughty words” and the mind boggles at how a summons could be taken in an “indecent manner”.  And why did Bridget react like this? Had Peter Winn overcharged her? Was he trying to collect money already paid? Was the coal he supplied of inferior quality? The dispute between the Winns and Bridget must have been the talk of Spring Gardens! I wonder if the Gavan’s used a different coal agent subsequently? 

But the residents of Spring Gardens were to be treated with another far more dramatic domestic disturbance in the Gavan household a little over a year later, stoking their gossip fires in a way far beyond the coal dispute. 

This jewel in the crown of my finds was accompanied by yet another “murderous assault” headline. Once more William had the role of victim. This time his attacker was his son-in-law, John Hannan. Again a much younger man in his 20’s.

John married the eldest surviving Gavan daughter, Margaret, at St Mary of the Angels RC Church, Batley on 21 September 1875, shortly after Margaret’s 20th birthday. The newly-weds lived at Spring Gardens in the household of Margaret’s parents. 

Less than 12 months after their wedding John, who was well-known to the authorities, appeared in Batley Borough Court facing charges of being drunk and riotous at Spring Gardens, assaulting Inspector Inman and assaulting William. His previous convictions included unlawfully wounding, larceny and attempted breach of the peace in connection with a prize fight. So an array of offences. 

His latest brush with the law followed drink-fuelled events on the evening of Saturday 1 July 1876. At 9pm that evening several women besieged Batley Police Office to report William lay seriously injured, probably dying, following an attack by John. 

Inspector Inman went to the house to find William with his head on a pillow, surrounded by more women. When Inspector Inman asked John what he’d been doing, John’s responded “What are you doing, you b____”. As the Inspector attempted to take John to the police station, John got hold of him by the thigh, threw him on his back and made his escape, assisted by several of the women. These allegedly included William’s daughter, 19 year old Sarah Gavan. She vehemently denied this, claiming she was away at that particular point in proceedings. 

In the meantime Dr Bayldon attended William, the same physician as was called following the 1870 attack. Again mirroring the earlier attack, William had several facial cuts, including a two inch one down to the bone. Bizarrely he also had a rope tied around his neck.  

Crime Scenes – Batley

 Fortunately William’s injuries were less serious than initially thought. Able to appear in court, without undue delay this time, he asked the Bench to “go easy” on his son-in-law. Upon being told that the matter was far too serious, William claimed not to remember anything about the night, when he “had had a sup of drink himself”. He believed John had tied a rope around his neck, but he had no feeling as John had rendered him insensible. Whether this memory loss was legitimate or a way of protecting John is open to question. I know where my suspicion lies. And the Mayor did remark to William “And yet you want to be very kind to him”. 

In his defence John claimed both he and William were drunk. He was attempting to get his father-in-law in the house and to bed. He’d pushed William causing him to fall and receive his injuries. He denied all knowledge of the rope around William’s neck. 

Sarah Gavan’s answers proved equally unsatisfactory and vague. John brought her father home and the pair participated in some “acting”, one trying to get twopence out of the other’s hand. She accounted for the rope around her father’s neck as part of this horseplay. John tried unsuccessfully to get her father to bed and she left them to it.  

It seems that concluded the evidence. John pleaded guilty to the drunk and riotous charge, and to the assault on William. For each of these offences he was fined 10s and costs, or 14 days. To the assault on Inspector Inman, he pleaded not guilty. However the Bench convicted him, imposing a one month prison sentence. No fine option for this offence. 

So a very fruitful search, adding more colour to the characters of my paternal ancestors. What struck me was how neatly the incidents linked, the symmetry between them – neighbourhood quarrels; family fall-outs; hot-headedness; Dr Bayldon’s visits to patch William up; and too much booze.

I am now in the process of a series of visits to the Wakefield branch of West Yorkshire Archives to see if the Batley Borough Court records point to any further potential ancestral misdemeanours. The list of complainants, defendants and dates will make a newspaper search more manageable. And, even in these early stages, there are plenty more newspaper searches to go at as a result.  

However, it’s something of a race against time, given the planned closure of Wakefield on 13 May until early 2017. My impending surgery could in effect mean I may have to wait until next year to finish. I do have a number of archive visits booked, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed. 

Sources: 

  • Ancestry.co.uk:  West Riding Quarter Sessions 19 May 1870 & HO 27 – Home Office: Criminal Registers, England and Wales 
  • Batley Community Archive – “Ringers Arms” sign
  • Batley Reporter” – 16 & 23 April 1870 and 21 May 1870
  • Census: 1851-1881 
  • GRO Marriage Certificate: William Gavan & Bridget Knavesay 
  • Parish Register: St Mary of the Angels, Batley 
  • FindMyPast: 
  • Dewsbury Reporter” – 6 September 1873, 17 October 1874, 5 June 1875 and 8 July 1876 & HO 140 – Home Office Calendar of Prisoners 

WDYTYA? Live 2016 : So much to do, So little time

The evening after the day before. I’m still recovering after a 220 mile round trip and a jam-packed day at “WDYTYA? Live”.

WDYTYA4

The “Ask the Experts” area, busy right from the off

This year I focused on talks as trailed here. I did a mixture of ticketed and free talks. Pre-booking the Society of Genealogists (SoG) Workshops proved a wise choice for me – I think all my chosen ones had sold out before the event. So it meant this year I got a seat instead of loitering on the periphery.

I picked up lots of useful tips from all three SoG talks I attended, including search tips and suggested books. I now have a couple of new research strategies and record sets to check out for my Irish research from “Luck of the Irish”. It was fascinating to follow step by step the methods used in conducting research from one name in Meath, tracing the family back to way beyond pre Civil Registration.

And, following on from “Tracing a 16th and 17th Century Family Tree”, the moment I got home I ordered a copy of “Courts of the Manors of Bandon and Beddington 1489-1552” to help with my Latin to English translation of Manorial records.  Going to a Catholic school and studying Latin for two years is of limited help – and then only for basic words. My “Ecce Romani” Latin is useless for Manorial rolls!

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A Packed “Tracing a 16th and 17th Century Family” Tree Workshop

My husband also attended three workshops. He’s only into Family History at a basic level, but learned lots from the “What they Don’t Tell you about Visiting Archives” and WW1 research talk “Overcoming Trench Walls”. He came away fired with enthusiasm, and insisted there and then on sharing his new-found knowledge!

As a journalist he also attended the “Copyright and Family History” talk. It was interesting to compare his perspective of what is done in reality (and ways round things), to what should be done.  He said this talk would put the fear of God into anyone about doing anything!

As an old-school journalist he was trained in shorthand, so made copious notes. I will be keeping an eye on the SoG website  http://www.sog.org.uk/ because, as in previous years, many (but not all) of the speakers’ handouts or slides presented at the show will be uploaded in due course.

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Final Packed Workshop of the Day – Research Before 1837

I also attended Debbie Kennett’s “Autosomal DNA Pleasures and Pitfalls” talk. A clear explanation of a complex subject, and I now feel better prepared to re-visit my DNA tests. Immediately on my return home I downloaded her talk slides and joined the “DNA help for Genealogy (UK)” Facebook page. So these should help with what is a daunting subject for my scientifically-challenged mind.

One nugget I did take away with me, which hadn’t previously crossed my mind with the Ancestry DNA kit, was the need to factor in my annual Ancestry subscription cost. This is required in order to be able to continue to access the full range of their DNA online result features.

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Debbie Kennett Points out the Pleasures and Pitfalls of Autosomal DNA

One talk which me and my husband attended together was Andrew Robertshaw’s “The Story of the Somme”. As my husband put it, the clearest most concise 20 minute explanation he has ever heard.

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“The Story of the Somme” – one of the highlights of the show for me

As a result of the number of talks I attended, regretfully I didn’t have as much time as I needed to explore the rest of the cornucopia of exhibitors. I did plan out in advance those I wanted to visit but didn’t get round them all. Part of the problem was navigating the stand numbering system – I kept getting hopelessly lost and distracted.

I was particularly disappointed I didn’t make it to the Forces War Records stand to see what the discount was, as I am considering subscribing.

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WW2 Spitfire in the Forces War Records Area

I did manage to get my 25% Ancestry renewal discount. Definitely one bargain not to be missed out on.

I was torn about purchasing some more DNA kits for the family. Ancestry had a great deal, with kits retailing at a massively discounted £59 and Family Tree DNA’s autosomal Family Finder kit at £65. I decided against it. But with luck, judging by the rate they were flying off the shelves, I may get some more matches (hopefully with attached trees).

As ever I spent a small fortune on books, my big weakness. The Pen & Sword stand got the largest chunk of my book cash. Their offer of three books for £30 proved far too tempting and I ended up buying 5 for £40! Only the fact I’ve got the indispensable “Phillimore Atlas of Parish Registers” stopped me from grabbing a £20 bargain at The History Press stand.

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Pen & Sword Haul

I also managed to sign up for a Pharos course (with 20% discount). So I’ll be doing their “Introduction to One-Name Studies” course in May. For good measure I ended up registering a one-name study name with the Guild – heaven knows how much extra work I’ve landed myself there!

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More Goodies – including One-Name Studies Guidance

On the subject of courses, I managed to speak to a number of providers. I’m now pondering about doing the Pharos Advanced course, the Institute of Heraldic & Genealogical Studies (IHGS) correspondence course or a Centre for Archive and Information Studies (CAIS) one. As ever for me the sticking point is fitting genealogy learning around work commitments. I need the flexibility. I also want a course which will potentially lead to formal accreditation with the Association of Genealogists and Researchers in Archives (AGRA).

And talking, listening and learning is another fantastic thing about “WDYTYA? Live”. It was great to meet so many people who share this passion for family history, including so many #AncestryHour Twitter folk! So faces to Twitter names at last.

Given my interest in WW1 history, I visit Flanders and the Somme annually. So the show provided me opportunity to do some planning for my two visits scheduled for this year.

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Holiday Planning

On a WW1 theme finally, as the show was winding up, Chris and I paid for joint membership of the Western Front Association, something we’ve meant to do for quite some time.

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Plenty for Military Researchers

Yet again I thoroughly enjoyed my day at “WDYTYA? Live”. The talks I attended were excellent. However, given that I felt I missed so much this year in terms of exhibitors, next year I won’t try to cram everything into one day. I will stay for two, possibly the full three, days. That in itself sums up how useful the event is.end of show

The Fateful Effects of Intemperance: Knife Crime & Premature Death

In “Attempted Murder in Halton” I wrote about the nasty confrontation which occured in 1842 between my 4x great grandfather Francis Hill and his eldest son William. This resulted in the detention of Francis, accused of stabbing his son in so serious a manner as to endanger his life.

I was reminded once more of Francis whilst doing my Cause of Death Pedigree Charts. He died on 5 April 1857 in Leeds Infirmary.  

Described as a farmer, his death certificate states he died as a result of “Disease of the Brain”. I think farmer was used in its loosest terms. The 1847 Tithe Map of Temple Newsam shows Francis renting a cottage and garden in Halton from Joseph Asquith. The cottage was the equivalent of 1 perch and the garden 15 perches. A perch equates to 1/160th of an acre. The cottage and garden were not adjacent and the area was surrounded by mainly grassland with some patches of cultivated land. So he did have a little land to cultivate, but not a farm. And I can’t see things changing at the time of his death.

Starting off as a butcher, essentially throughout most of his adult life Francis worked as a general labourer. He, and some relations, seemed to have set up together as hay dealers in the 1820s, but this petered out. Other sources at the time of his death described him as labourer, and putting it together with all other documented sources for his occupation I’m inclined to question the death certificate information.  

The death certificate also inaccurately gives his age at death as 71. Wrong – he was 67 years old. 

Francis’ funeral took place at St Mary’s, Whitkirk on 7 April.  

Whitkirk Parish Church

 I did wonder about his cause of death and why it occurred in Leeds Infirmary. Also his death was registered by the Coroner, Mr Blackburn. So what had happened?  

Further investigations left me stunned. 

With hindsight the drunken argument with his son 15 years earlier provided a clue. Things though hadn’t always been so bleak for Francis. When I first started researching him I felt optimistic that he and his wife Grace Pennington (in early documents her family name appears as Penitent) would have a fairly good life. They married by licence at St Mary’s Whitkirk on 25 September 1811. This, I hoped, was an indication of a more comfortably off background, where life wouldn’t be quite such a struggle. 

Initially they settled in Francis’ home parish of Sherburn in Elmet. This is where their first two children were baptised, Mary (1812) and William (1814). And it is where William was buried in 1815.  

By the time their next child was born the family were back in Halton, from where the Pennington family hailed. This baby was also named William. He of the 1842 stabbing incident. And his baptism was not without controversy either.  

The parish register entry at St Mary’s Whitkirk, records William’s baptism on 14 July 1816. However his surname is down as Pennington, and the entry states he was the illegitimate son of Grace. This was an extremely serious error. If left uncorrected the stigma could have significant consequences in terms of the family’s perception amongst their neighbours as well as for William’s future inheritance rights. At a time before general registration and birth certificates, the entry in the parish register was crucial providing legal proof of the antecedents of an individual, so the error could have grave implications. It came to light weeks later and the register does contain a corrigendum, a reflection of the legal importance of baptism entries. 

It is not clear exactly how the error was discovered, but the correction does contain hints and it is clear that Francis took swift action to put the record straight. The fact that the couple’s marriage took place within the parish and appeared in the marriage register would have simplified a resolution of matters. 

A note in the parish register states that on 1 September 1816, when William was brought to church having being privately baptised on 14 July, the original entry was discovered to be erroneous, Grace being lawfully married. It points out that the correct entry should read that William was the son of Francis and Grace Hill of Halton and that Francis worked as a butcher. Both the vicar and Francis signed the amendment. Perhaps the private nature of the baptism is a clue – William may have been ill at birth and the baptism rushed, possibly not in church, without Francis’ attendance.  

Francis and Grace had four further children: Joseph (1821), John (1822), Francis (1824) and Sarah (1827).

Back to events in April 1857 and his cause of death. One headline in the 11 April edition of the “Leeds Times” summed it up: “Frightful Death Of An Intemperate Man”. On the same day the “Leeds Intelligencer” reported under the banner “Deaths from Drunkenness” 

The multiple use of the word “death” shows this wasn’t an isolated incident. Alcohol-related deaths featured regularly in the Victorian newspapers. The 1830 Beerhouse Act (amended 1834 and 1840) was designed to curb the consumption of gin and steer working people towards the lesser evil of beer drinking. The Temperance Movement of the time supported the change. They were primarily an anti-spirit movement in the early 19th century, who regarded beer as more wholesome alternative.  

However the Acts led to the rapid expansion of beer drinking establishments. Drunkenness from beer drinking was added to that from gin drinking, and the Temperance Movement switched to being one of teetotalism. Newspapers were filled with tales and warnings of the evil of intemperance, its effects and impact on the moral, social and industrial fabric of Victorian society. 

 Francis’ life, and death, should be seen in the context of this background.

At midnight on Thursday 2 April, Francis was discovered in a state of helpless intoxication, lying in mud, on York Road. He was taken to the police station and from there to Leeds Infirmary. He died in the hospital on Sunday 5 April, just over two days after his prone body was stumbled upon. 

The inquest took place on 6 April. It appears from the unnamed witness that Francis was a regular and well-known drinker in the area – the number of Halton beerhouses, inns and taverns would have provided ample opportunity for socialising of an evening. York Road was less than a mile north of where Francis lived. How long he lay in the dark, wet, unlit road before his discovery is not mentioned in the reports. Neither is the person who found him named, but presumably the fact that he was taken to the police station and not to his home may indicate it was not a friend searching for Francis.  

In accordance with the evidence presented by Mr R.G. Hardwick, house surgeon to the Infirmary, the inquest jury returned a verdict of “Died from disease of the brain; but whether it was induced by lying in the wet, or some other cause, there was no evidence to show”. 

Once again the family were centre-stage for the wrong reasons. The events surrounding Francis’ death would have been the topic for much tittle-tattle in the local community, only adding to the family’s anguish. Maybe older residents remembered the earlier incident of 1842, and all this too was dredged up by Halton gossips, much to the embarrassment of the family. Perhaps the mental afflictions of Grace’s aunt were also poured out by these same scandalmongers. 

Francis’ widow Grace died in 1873. In the years after Francis’ death she features regularly in the Whitkirk parish charities’ records, receiving money from four separate parish charities. And in the 1871 census, age 80, she still worked as a herb gatherer, an indication of the tough financial circumstances of her old age. But her life wasn’t always thus. I will return to another twist in her story at a later date. And that twist may also shed further light on the 1842 stabbing.

Sources:

  • Illustration of Whitkirk Parish Church by J.A. Symington from Morkill & Platt’s “Records of the Parish of Whitkirk” 1892. Copyright expired and in the public domain
  • Death Certificate for Francis Hill
  • Whitkirk Parish Records – parish register & charities’ records
  • Leeds Times” & “Leeds Intelligencer” – 11 April 1857 -FindMyPast newspapers
  • Tracks in Time, the Leeds Tithe Map Project: http://www.tracksintime.wyjs.org.uk