Monthly Archives: November 2017

Cold Case: The Huddersfield Tub Murder

The young woman knelt head first in a sunken water tub, her black skirt ripped from top to bottom and strewn on the ground next to her. Coins and her hat lay nearby, along with a discarded Woodbine cigarette tab end.

This was the horrific discovery which met the eyes of 17-year-old teamer Henry Redfearn, when he turned up for work at 6am on Monday 15 February. He ran for the police.

The yard in Brook Street, Huddersfield, where the body lay contained stables. It belonged to Messrs. John Beever and Sons, rug manufacturers. The tub was located between their premises and that of Henry’s employers Messrs. J.H. Wood and Son, wholesale fish merchants.  Containing 21 inches of water, the tub was used as a drinking station for teamers’ horses.  The woman had a large scalp wound and her arms were severely bruised, as if violently restrained. Her body was taken to the town’s Back Ramsden Street mortuary.

Carrie Jubb

Carrie Jubb, Illustrated Police News – 25 February 1915

The woman was subsequently identified as 32-year-old Carrie Jubb, a Dewsbury woman of no fixed abode. Her eldest sister, Margaret Ann Birch, of Boothroyd Lane, Dewsbury made the formal identification at the inquest on 17 February. Carrie had at one time lived at Middle Road, Dewsbury, with her husband Herbert, a teamer. But they had separated several years ago, and Margaret had last seen her sister on 10 July 1914.  In recent times Carrie lived in Huddersfield, and her last known abode was a furnished room in Swallow Street.

She was also euphemistically described as a woman of “ill-repute”, well-known to police. Huddersfield Borough Police Constable James Hinchcliffe had last seen her at 9.10pm on Sunday night, alone in Byram Street. He watched her walk down St Peter’s Street, about 150 yards away from the enclosed Brook Street yard.  He carried on walking.

She suffered terrible injuries. In addition to the many bruises on her arms, her left arm was broken in a defence injury. She had facial injuries. Her front tooth was knocked out but still remained in her mouth. From the abrasions on her cheek, it appeared as if she had been dragged over a rough surface. Her right eye was bruised. Her right temple had a ragged, curved wound down to the bone, caused by a blow from a blunt instrument. Her skull showed evidence of several blows. There was no evidence of drowning – she was dead before entering the water. Dr Irving, who conducted the post-mortem, concluded she had died as a result of shock from the blows to her mouth, one to her right eye, one on the right ear, one behind the temple. These were caused by a combination of fist and blunt injury trauma. The inquest jury returned a verdict of:

“Wilful murder against some person or persons unknown”.

Carrie was born on 23 May 1882, the daughter of Dewsbury couple Tom and Ann Goodall (née Doyle). She was baptised on 30 July 1884 at St John the Evangelist, Dewsbury Moor. Tom, a cloth fuller, and Ann had married in the same church on 10 November 1866. Their eldest child, Timothy Goodall Doyle, was born in 1865 – prior to their marriage. Tom and Ann’s other children included William Newton (born in 1869), Margaret Ann (born in 1871), Tom (born in 1873), Henry (born 1877), Elizabeth (born 1880) and Ethel (born in 1884). The 1871-1891 censuses show the family residing at Thornton Street, Dewsbury.

However, the late 1890s proved a period of turmoil for Carrie and her siblings. Their mother died in 1897. Then, on 23 March 1898, 51-year-old Tom unexpectedly passed away. His death was subject to an inquest before Wakefield Coroner Thomas Taylor, held at the Brunswick Hotel, Dewsbury the following day. Tom’s widowed daughter Elizabeth gave evidence, stating her father came home from work at his normal time. He was talkative and cheerful, going out at around 7pm to the Reading Room. He came home about an hour later, complained of a pain in his chest, but ate his supper and retired to bed at his usual time of 9.30pm. Elizabeth woke up at around midnight after hearing a gurgling noise. Upon checking she discovered her father was dead. Carrie was woken up by a neighbour and informed of the news. A verdict of “Died suddenly from natural causes” was reached.

The 1901 census shows the teenage Carrie[1] lodging at the School Street home of Emma Carlton Selby. She married mill-hand Herbert Jubb on 6 October 1906 at St Saviour’s Church, Ravensthorpe. But it was no happy ending for Carrie. The marriage soon hit difficulties.

On 22 December 1908 she appeared in Dewsbury Borough Court in what the Batley News described as a ‘Sordid Tale from Dewsbury.’ I wonder if the same heading featured in its Dewsbury newspaper counterpart, or was this a Batley dig at the neighbouring town? John Balmford, (who we later learn used a number of names, most usually Bamford which for consistency is the version I will use) a Dewsbury labourer, was charged with assaulting her and knowingly living on the earnings of Jubb, “a woman of immoral life”.

The case described how she had lived with Bamford for 14 months in furnished rooms at Middle Road, in the Daw Green area of town. He was no stranger to the law, having 20 convictions against him. Carrie too was well known to the local police, and only two months previously she received a fine for an offence against public morals. The police warned Bamford as recently as October about the consequences of his liaison with Carrie. During this 14 month period Bamford worked for only eight weeks. Carrie led, in her own words, “a dog’s life”. Every night he sent her out on the streets of Dewsbury.  She earned around 17s 6d a week which Bamford forced her to hand over to him. On the 19 December she refused to go out. He responded by hitting and kicking her about the head and face.

Bamford denied it all. He said he kept her like a lady, and she did not want him to leave her because she was afraid her husband might “kick her to death”. During the hearing an Irish woman called Ellen O’Donnell stood up in the gallery, shouting that Carrie “was swearing the defendant’s life away.

She was hauled to the witness box where it transpired that Bamford was her son-in-law. Ellen clearly did not hold his relationship with Carrie against him, speaking up in his defence. She felt Bamford had no-one to look after him, and he was knocked about from place to place. One of the more startling pieces of information to emerge was the revelation from the prosecution that Ellen’s daughter had 14 convictions for prostitution.

Bamford was convicted and given consecutive jail sentences of one month for the assault and three months for living on the earnings of prostitution. As he was led away from court to HMP Wakefield he insolently wished the magistrates a merry Christmas and a happy New Year.

So, what of John Bamford? I have traced his criminal record up to this point via the HMP Wakefield Nominal Registers of Prisoners and the West Riding Calendars of Prisoners. It is not straightforward as John William Bamford, to give him his full name, was very much a man trying to cover his tracks. The table below shows the convictions and cases I’ve found to date which definitely involved him. There are some others I’ve not included as the evidence of his involvement is inconclusive.img_4573

Names used include Jack and John Smith, as well as variations of Bamford. He was born in around 1877, but the birth places range from Hull, to Oldham and Glossop. The first conviction states Denton, Manchester; the location of courts includes Sheffield, where his appearances start, to Dewsbury, Halifax, Bradford, Leeds and Wakefield. His occupation is usually a labourer. And he is around 5’ 5½” with brown hair.

Some of the cases are amusing. For example, the 6 July 1895 Sheffield cigar stealing case, also involved the stealing of a box of chocolates and several pounds of Pontefract Cakes from Mrs Caroline Martin’s Harvest Lane shop. Bamford undertook this criminal masterclass in conjunction with William Clover. PC Brown and PC Cochrane discovered the break-in and followed the trail of Pontefract Cakes from Apple Street to Clover’s address in Stancer Street where the policemen discovered the pair had burned most of the liquorice sweets!

On other occasions, some sympathy is expressed for the fledgling criminal, namely the Sheffield boot stealing offence of 17 December 1896. The Sheffield Independent lay some blame literally at the doorstep of the owner of Capper’s Boot Shop on Infirmary Road, for hanging the said boots temptingly in the shop doorway. Bamford did not escape with the boots, yet received 42 days hard labour. The paper described him as the victim.

Other incidents were downright nasty. These included the robbery with violence case at Wakefield on 12 March 1902. Here Bamford, along with three other men, threw James Mitchell of Hardy Croft to the ground and stole his watch and chain, selling it for 4s 6d.

One particularly brutish charge ended up at the West Riding Quarter Sessions in July 1906. Using the false name of John Smith, Bamford was charged with unlawfully and maliciously wounding John Kelly at Halifax on 1 May. By this stage, under his alias, Bamford lived at Pump Street in the town and habitually carried a knife. He worked now as a mechanic’s labourer. Following a drinking session argument, which also involved Bamford’s wife, Kelly received a stab wound to the neck. At the Quarter Sessions Kelly admitted he was to blame and the stabbing was a pure accident. Bamford was discharged. He must have returned to Dewsbury shortly after this, and taken up with Carrie Jubb.

Dewsbury was the town in which he married Margaret O’Donnell on 25 May 1901, at the Parish Church of All Saints. The marriage entry gives his father’s name as George Bamford (deceased). I’ve yet to conclusively trace the Bamford family in the 1881 and 1891 censuses. It appears by the mid-1890s he was not with his family – press coverage at the start of his crime spree only mention he was in lodgings. So perhaps in a way Ellen O’Donnell was correct when she said he’d no-one to look after him. In 1901 Bamford was in prison. Where Margaret was whilst her husband was with Carrie is not clear. And, so far, there is no trace of the pair in the 1911 census.

After the December 1908 case, it appears Carrie temporarily returned to her husband Herbert. But it seems she merely swapped one pimp for another. Dewsbury Borough Justices heard another case involving Carrie on 10 September 1910. The headlines in the 17 September 1910 summed it up:

“Dewsbury Loafer’s Disgusting Offence: Living on Wife’s Immoral Earnings”

Swap the defendant, it was almost an exact reprise of the case two years earlier. She was still living at Middle Road, Daw Green. Herbert scarcely had regular employment – the one main exception to his idleness being whilst Carrie was in the Workhouse Infirmary. As soon as she was better, he gave that job up.

On 3 July 1910 police cautioned Carrie and her husband, who was aiding her in prostitution. It turned out this was just one of several cautions to the couple. The police now had them firmly under observation, and presented a catalogue of evidence in the September court case. Carrie plied her trade around the Crackenedge Lane, Great Northern Hotel and covered market area of town – her husband keeping look-out. Other locations in the vicinity mentioned at court included Corporation Street, Wood Street and the Market Place.

Dewsbury

Dewsbury OS Map, Published 1908 – Showing where Carrie and Herbert lived (1) and the area in which they operated in July 1910

Although optional, Carrie chose to give evidence against her husband, weeping bitterly throughout. She claimed that Herbert was “no good to me,” did not give her sufficient money for food and asked her to go on the streets. She felt obliged to comply in order to provide for them. Herbert in contrast denied this, stating he had tried to persuade Carrie to lead a different life. The Justices believed otherwise, and jailed Herbert for three months.

Carrie did not mend her ways and she too found herself locked up in Armley jail in 1911. Fast-forward to Huddersfield that fateful Valentine’s Day of February 1915.

Two men were detained in connection with her murder: a man with whom she had recently been living with; and a previous “friend” who was subsequently released. More of him in due course.

On 12 March 1915 William Nicholson, a 22-year-old rope-maker with whom Carrie lived in the weeks prior to her death, was brought before the Huddersfield Borough Police Court charged with wilful murder, and stealing a woman’s purse containing a small amount of money. No evidence was presented on the latter charge.

The prosecution admitted no eye-witnesses to the murder existed, and all the evidence against Nicholson was circumstantial. The motive given for it was jealousy: the man with whom Carrie lived up until November 1914 had returned to Huddersfield. That man was none other than a John William Bamford. The newspaper reports refer to him as Bamforth and Bamford, often within the same article, again pointing to the confusion around his name. He was also now using the name “Carroll”, so more confusion thrown into the mix. Was this the John Bamford of her Dewsbury days? If not, it seems a huge coincidence.

On the evening of her death Carrie and Nicholson left the Ship Inn on Ramsden Street at 8.10pm, moving on to the Ring o’ Bells on Northgate. William Thomas Tarbox, the license holder, said Carrie asked him whether he knew that “her Jack” had come back. Tarbox knew that “Jack” and Carrie had previously lived together, and he had since enlisted.  Carrie and Nicholson told Tarbox that they had spent the previous Friday evening with “Jack”, and Carrie said “Jack was all right with us”.

The two left the Ring o’ Bells at around 9pm and separated, with Carrie saying she was going to get something to [pay] for their lodgings, which Nicholson claimed he was unhappy about. Carrie was now alone. Nicholson stated he returned to try to find her, but was unsuccessful. At around 9.30pm another witness, Sophie Archer, saw her standing against the doorway of the Ring o’ Bells with a tall dark man wearing a Macintosh and soft hat – but it was neither Nicholson or Bamford (who she knew as Carroll). He was, in fact, brought into court for Mrs Archer to see and eliminate. Eunice Bailey, another witness, whose Fountain Street house overlooked the Brook Street stable yard, said she heard a young girl scream at about 9.30pm.

Nicholson unexpectedly arrived at his lodging house alone at around 10.45pm that night, in an agitated state. He and Carrie had earlier indicated they were moving onto another lodging house in town. He explained his change of heart, saying

“I am cold with being out looking for little Carrie, and I came here thinking she might be here. I have been all over looking for little Carrie.”

He claimed he found the purse, which belonged to a Mrs Ramsden, on the ground near the Post Office whilst seeking her.

One of the final witnesses to take the stand appeared in khaki. It was John William Bamford, a Private with the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment. He confirmed he lived with Carrie until November 1914 when he was locked up for desertion. He returned to Huddersfield on 3 February, following his release from hospital. He was back in Huddersfield from his Halifax Barracks on Friday 12 February and spent between then and 15 February drinking. On 14 February he left the Saracen’s Head at about 8.40pm and went to a friend’s house, where he slept on a sofa. In evidence which appeared to contradict that given by the Ring o’ Bells licensee, he claimed to have only seen Nicholson for the first time on the morning of 15 February, when the rope-maker accosted him asking “Are you Jack?”. He responded in the affirmative, and Nicholson said “I am the man who lives with Carrie”. He claimed not to know of Carrie’s death until after that conversation, when he was in the Ship Inn. Bamford was ruled out of enquiries because he could account for his movements. He also did not match the description of the tall, dark man.

Brook Street

Huddersfield OS Map – Published 1908, showing rough locations of key areas on 14 February. 1 = Saracen’s Head, 2= Ship Inn, 3 = Ring o’ Bells, 4 = Sighting of Carrie by PC Hinchcliffe, 5 = Location of Carrie’s Body

After considering all the evidence the magistrates decided it was insufficient to commit Nicholson to trial at the Assizes. He was discharged.

So, what became of John William Bamford? Well it appears likely he died on or around the 28 September 1916 during the Battle of the Somme, when he went missing.

Soldiers Died in the Great War records the death of a Pte John Bamford of the 1st/5th Battalion Prince of Wales’s Own (West Yorkshire Regiment) who lived in Dewsbury and enlisted in Huddersfield. No place of birth is recorded. The Medal Index Card indicates he initially served with the Duke of Wellington’s (West Riding Regiment) – which links with the Regiment of the John Bamford who appeared as a witness at Huddersfield Police Court. His service number with them, according to the Medal Index Card details, was 12653.

The 1915/15 Star Roll indicates he was with the 2nd Battalion of the Duke of Wellington’s and that he went out to France on 5 December 1914. So, did he return to be admitted to hospital shortly afterwards? Nothing shows on the Forces War Records Military Hospitals Admissions and Discharge Registers, although admittedly that is only a small proportion of such records. No service papers for him survive.

In his time with the West Yorkshire Regiment he held three more service numbers recorded on his Medal Index Card – 22769, 5539 and 203144. It is this latter one under which his death is recorded. There is a John Bamford on the Dewsbury War Memorial – but his service number does not tie in with any of those provided on the Medal Index Card. John Bamford has no known grave and is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission records no family details on their database. However, the Soldiers Effects Register entry show his widow and sole legatee was called Margaret. And in this register, in addition to his service number 203144, there is the service number 6514 – which ties into the Dewsbury War Memorial one.

So right to the end John Bamford remained a man of mystery.

There was one final curious twist to the tale. In November 1917 the press countrywide contained one small snippet of news, tucked away in various newspaper columns: a murder confession to police in Derbyshire. A soldier, named Richardson, had owned up to the killing of Carrie Jubb. Huddersfield Police were in touch with their Derby counterparts and, if the confession proved genuine, the aim was to bring the man before the local magistrates within days. Nothing resulted from it, and the murder of Carrie Jubb remains unsolved.

Sources:

  • Baptism Register, All Saints, Dewsbury – West Yorkshire Archives Ref WDP9/13, via Ancestry.co.uk;
  • Baptism Register, St John the Evangelist, Dewsbury Moor – West Yorkshire Archives Ref WDP174/1/2/3, via Ancestry.co.uk;
  • Batley News – 24 December 1908, 17 September 1910 and 20 February 1915;
  • Batley Reporter – 24 December 1908 and 16 September 1910;
  • Bradford Daily Telegraph – 2 May and 3 July 1906;
  • British Army WWI Medal Rolls Index Cards, 1914-1920 – via Ancestry;
  • Censuses (England) – 1871-1891;
  • Commonwealth War Graves Commission Database;
  • GRO Indexes;
  • Huddersfield Daily Examiner – 15 February 1915, 17 February 1915, 12 March 1915 and 6 November 1917;
  • HMP Wakefield Nominal Registers of Prisoners – West Yorkshire Archives via Ancestry
  • Illustrated Police News – 25 February 1915;
  • Leeds Mercury – 6 March 1902, 10 May 1906;
  • Marriage Register, All Saints, Dewsbury – West Yorkshire Archives Ref WDP9/42 via Ancestry.co.uk;
  • Marriage Register, St John the Evangelist, Dewsbury Moor – West Yorkshire Archives Ref WDP147/1/3/1, via Ancestry.co.uk;
  • Marriage Register, St Saviour’s, Ravensthorpe – West Yorkshire Archives Ref WDP166/9 via Ancestry.co.uk;
  • National Library of Scotland Maps
  • Sheffield Daily Telegraph – 8 July 1895 and 13 March 1902;
  • Sheffield Independent – 18 December 1896;
  • Soldiers Died in the Great War – via FindMyPast;
  • UK, Army Registers of Soldiers’ Effects, 1901-1929 – via Ancestry;
  • West Riding Calendars of Prisoners Tried at The Midsummer Quarter Sessions of the Peace at the Court House, Bradford on Monday 2 July 1906 – West Yorkshire Archives via Ancestry;
  • Yorkshire, England, Wakefield Charities Coroners Notebooks, 1852-1909 (Thomas Taylor) – West Yorkshire Archives Ref C493/K/2/1/208 via Ancestry;
  • WWI Service Medal and Award Rolls; Class: WO 329; Piece Number: 2658 – via Ancestry.

[1] Listed as Caroline, with the age of 17 slightly lower than actuality.

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Mischief Night

What links jam, string, dustbin lids, gate posts, bangers and November? If you’re of a certain age and grew up in West Yorkshire you might know.

img_4017

Essential Equipment – photo by Jane Roberts

Of late I’ve found myself reminiscing about my childhood. This time of year, autumn, used to be one of my favourites. A nip in the air, the magical dark-by-teatime nights. A season full of promise and magic.

The magic started with the annual St Mary of the Angels torchlight procession. This took place on the first Monday night in October. In this annual Catholic witness of faith which started in 1951, we’d set off from church and process through the streets of Batley, following a loudspeaker van leading us in hymn singing and decades of the Rosary. I think it was church organist and high school teacher Mr Scanlon who was the voice behind the megaphone. We’d be brandishing paper torches with a candle shoved through the middle, illuminating our way to Batley market place. It had an element of danger, which added to the excitement for children. If the wind got up, your flickering flame risked igniting the entire paper structure. There was many a scorched torch and mini inferno en route. Consider a good proportion of the participants were infant and junior school kids, carrying naked flames. Health and safety eat your heart out.

The season culminated in Bonfire Night on 5 November. It was as much about the lead up too, with chumping (collecting wood for the fire), building the up the magnificent structure, and creating the Guy to burn in top of the pyre. I never did the ‘Penny for the Guy‘ thing though, trailing the effigy around in a cart to collect money to buy fireworks.

And yes, it was Bonfire Night, not week or month. We’d have a Hill family bonfire in the garden, with combined family fireworks. We’d rotate the venue. One year it would be our house, the next my dad’s sister or brother would host the event. I think later on, bonfire parties were all at my auntie’s house.  All the cousins would be there, so a fun family gathering. We’d prepare traditional food – parkin, bonfire toffee, baked potatoes, maybe pie and peas. I remember one year we burnt all the grass in our garden. I think that was dad’s intention, because it was so overgrown. A scorched earth and start again policy. Another year at my uncle’s it was so wet the fire wouldn’t ignite. But that’s the stuff memories are made of. And only once Bonfire Night was done did the build up to Christmas begin.

In between the Torchlight Procession and Bonfire Night, there was Halloween: although that wasn’t the event it is today. No trick and treating. And no pumpkin. That was a very exotic and foreign gourd. No, we were tougher than that in Yorkshire. We carved our lanterns from turnips and swedes. Try hollowing one of those out. How we managed not to lacerate our hands in the process, heaven knows. Another one to give the health and safety obsessives nightmares. Maybe our torchlight procession attendance saved us? A kind of religious insurance protection.

Instead, our trick and treat night was more of the trick and trick variety: 4 November, the night before Bonfire Night, was deemed Mischief Night. When children roamed the streets smearing door knobs with jam or treacle; when gates would be removed from their hinges; when bin lids were tied to door handles, or door handles to neighbouring door handles; and where sprinting skills were tested to the limit by the dark art of door-knocking and running away.

Except my parents refused to let me play an active part. I could play out, but no annoying neighbours with pranks. So, imagine my surprise when talking to mum last week she described it as innocent fun. She even admitted being allowed to indulge in the door-knocking by her parents. And recalled some irate householder chasing the gang of door-knockers down a ginnel.

Surprise Number Two was the realisation that 4 November Mischief Night seemed to be particularly focused on the West Riding of Yorkshire. I always assumed children up and down the country celebrated the eve of Bonfire night in this manner. But no. Mr Arthur Blewitt, a former head-teacher, addressing the Woodbottom Parents-Teachers Association in 1952 stated:

“Mischief Night was unknown in the North Riding where he was brought up, and although he liked to regard himself as belonging to the West Riding, he certainly held these practices against the people there.”[1]

Surprise Number Three was my assumption that it was a centuries old tradition. It turned out I was only partly correct. The custom of mischief-making does date back centuries, but the actual date varied over the ages. The roots can be traced back to Roman times and the festival of Saturnalia on 17-19 December, days marked by unrestrained disorder and misrule. No public business was undertaken, law courts and schools closed and perpetrators of mischief went unpunished. In Medieval and Tudor England the Lord of Misrule directed Christmas tomfoolery at Court, a state of events which lasted a full 12 days.

In 1888 John Horsfall Turner’s book ‘Yorkshire Folk-Lore’ included a piece about Mischief Night.

“The last night in April is devoted, as far as the peregrinations of the West Riding Constabulary will allow, to a queer custom…..There is an old saying that the first of April is the “fools” day, and that the last day of the month is the “devils”…Mischief night is a night supposed by the imps of mischief (rough youths) to be, under some old law or tradition, theirs, to do as they wish with. Their duty and pleasure combined is to go round in small gangs bent upon doing all the mischief they can, unobserved by anyone in authority, or the owners they assail…..Happily, the good old times in this respect are things of the fast-disappearing present, and “mischief neet” will soon live but in the remembrance of a few.”

So, in the 19th century Mischief Night in Yorkshire was held on the last day of April. And this seemed to be the case in other English counties too.

But by the 1890s tales started appearing in the Yorkshire press about the youths of Leeds considering themselves free of all social obligations on the eve of Guy Fawkes Day. One correspondent in the Yorkshire Evening Post on 5 November 1891 wrote he had “not heard of Mischief Night until recently“.[2] But by 1894 the traditional liberties of “Mischief Night” were referred to.[3] And from the early 20th century onwards the devilment perpetrated became a huge feature of the news, with the event described as “treasured in the traditions of the British boy” and a “harmless, almost necessary incident in a lad’s life.”[4]

The mischief included the following:

  • Soot bags flung in the faces of passers-by;
  • Ropes tied across darkened streets. A refinement was for the rope to be tied between gateposts, the boys would knock on the householder’s door and he would be encouraged him to give chase to them, resulting in him ‘coming a cropper’;
  • Gateposts taken off their hinges and hidden – sometimes even suspended from lamp posts;
  • Spirit tapping, with trouser buttons suspended on string, fashioned to knock against windows;
  • Ghosts were created from turnips and purloined sheets;
  • Brooms lent against letter boxes, the door was knocked on and the householder clattered when they answered the knock;
  • Doors in the street tied together so tightly they could not be opened;
  • Boys dressed as girls and girls as boys, all wearing grotesque masks;
  • Dustbin lids removed, hidden, rolled down the street or tied to door handles;
  • Jam and treacle smeared on door handles;
  • Raids to steal wood from rival bonfires;
  • Bonfires lit in streets;

Of course, fireworks did play a part in the pranks, and occasionally it went too far. Bangers through letter boxes or thrown into shops was a particular favourite. In 1903 a small boy threw a lighted firework into a green-grocer’s shop in Hunslet. The shop sold fireworks and the missile landed in the enticing window display. Onlookers were treated to an unexpected, early pyrotechnic feast.

“Squibs and crackers fought for supremacy in the window: ‘bluelights’ and ‘Roman candles’ sizzled and spluttered in all directions, and in the end the window was blown out.”[5]

The boy did not hang around to watch his handiwork. Two fire engines attended the scene, but fortunately their services were not needed.

In 1928 another firework incident occurred in a Burley Road shop in Leeds. The Misses Simpson owned the establishment. A firework was thrown in, landing on the counter containing a display of fireworks, igniting them. One sister was overcome by smoke, whilst the other had a hole burnt into her dress. The fire brigade attended, but once again their services were not needed as neighbours managed to carry the burning showcase out into the street.

A more serious incident took place in 1946, with the destruction of a car in the Meanwood area of Leeds after a firework was thrown into the garage.

Sometimes Mischief Night led directly to Court. Assault was not unheard of. In 1908 James Moon summoned Mary Ann Thomas of Otley for assault and the use of threatening language. Moon had suffered Mischief Night stone throwing at his door. He chased and caught one of the culprits, the adopted son of Mrs Thomas, admonishing him. She heard about it, marched round to Moon’s house, and kicked and thumped him unmercilessly.

In Bradford in 1925, the appropriately named John Noddle was fined for assaulting 10-year-old Philip H Jennings, banging his head against a wall and hitting him. Jennings was part of a gang who repeatedly knocked on the door of Noddle’s 70-year-old sick mother. The other boys escaped. Noddle’s mistake was not giving the boy a slight slap – that would have been acceptable.

Dissenting voices were heard though. Letters appeared in the papers complaining about this annual victimisation, with calls for protection from the authorities. Descriptions of wilful damage at Burley Rugby Union Football Club in 1936; Complaints that it was degenerating into gang warfare. Fears of the mayhem spilling over into Bonfire Night.

In 1937 Mischief Night was described as a minor orgy in parts of Leeds. A police official said:

“Many children seem to think that they can be hooligans on that night and the police will wink at it. We have all been children ourselves, of course, but there is a limit”.

That year complaints from around the city included a 70+ year-old woman who suffered the shock of a fire-cracker exploding in her letterbox; A road of over 100 houses in Adel where almost every house had its garden gate removed. Some were still missing, whilst others hung from lamp posts; In Kirkstall a motorist had a cracker thrown under his car. He said “I thought I had been blown up“.

Overall though, up to the late 1930’s Mischief Night was indulged, regarded as a grand old custom, part of an old tradition which should be cherished. Descriptions of ‘happy bands of black-faced small boys’ abounded. Children’s columns, such as ‘Children’s Corner’ in newspapers in the lead up to Mischief Night were full of tales about pranks, with the tongue-in-cheek warning

“PS – No MISCHIEF to-night – now REMEMBER, all of you”

Even ‘Leeds Mercury’s’ Alfie Apple got in on the act.

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Alfie Apple on Mischief Night 1934

Mischief Night was a safety valve for kids. Phrases appeared such as:

“A little nonsense now and then
Is realised by the wisest men”

Adults were urged to “Try, remembering your own youth, to be as tolerant as you can.”[6] Others admitted to taking their own pleasure in it “The boys enjoy their bit of mischief; and I – in my grim way – enjoy my bit of the chase.”[7]

Both the First and Second World Wars put a temporary halt on Mischief Night. The black out and impact on bonfire night put paid to the tomfoolery. But unlike the indulgent tone post World War One, the 1940s marked a change in attitude to Mischief Night pranks. Mind you, some of the stunts now ranged from dangerous to downright sinister. In 1945 Seacroft Estate suffered particularly badly with descriptions of uprooted fences, doors battered with half-bricks and rocks; 600-700 milk bottles shattered and glass strewn all over; and most disturbingly the theft and killing of white pet rabbits, the corpses of which were scattered about the roadway.[8] Calls for the police to be issued with good serviceable canes in the lead up to Mischief Night ensued.

The police did become far more pro-active. From October onwards, Leeds constabulary issued warnings about behaviour, with Leeds Chief Constable J.W. Barnett prominent in the papers.

In October 1947 the 999 system was introduced in Leeds. That year the Leeds City Police Force dealt with Mischief Night incidents via their new police operations room. 999 calls began to come in from 6pm. Within minutes police patrol cars were dispatched, and garden gates recovered and replaced. Other incidents that night included windows broken, warning lamps removed from roadworks, a gas lamp set on fire on the Scott Hall Road/Buslingthorpe Lane junction, and car tyres deflated in the Chapeltown and Moortown areas of the city. One child, seven-year-old Peter Norfolk, was treated in hospital for concussion after being struck by a bottle.

Leeds police put in place even more elaborate procedures to deal with Mischief Night mayhem in 1948. This included 40 police cars patrolling the city from 6pm until midnight – 17 of which were equipped with wireless communication!!!! On the outskirts special constables patrolled in their own vehicles. It marked their busiest night since the operations room’s inception, with the receipt of 56 emergency 999 calls. Incidents included the normal fireworks in letterboxes, deflated tyres and the removal of danger lamps from roadworks. And in one example of old-fashioned long since gone policing, the bobbies apprehended three boys who had thrown black paint on a door in Headingley. The policemen watched over the lads until they washed it all off – which took until midnight.

That year even the Pope was quoted as getting to the heart of the whole problem, when he said[9]:

When to mischief mortals bend their will
How soon they find fit instruments of ill!

1949 saw yet another increase in Mischief Night 999 calls in Leeds – the grand total of 61. Some folk were now urging for the abolition of this tradition. The police urged youngsters to confine mischief to innocent pranks.

Jump forward to the early 21st century and I reckon the tradition has gone. I don’t think my daughter has heard about it. Now it’s Halloween and Trick and Treat that’s king, a far more benign custom. But it’s wonderful to recall the good old days, and customs of the past.

And what has this to do with family history? Well, I think the history of the times is as much a part of family history as building a tree. I love to know what was going on when my ancestors were alive. Sometimes we ignore our more recent family stories too.

And you never know, you may find a family member named. For example this newspaper report[10] from Batley Borough Court in 1889 about a 5 November incident:

“LETTING OFF FIREWORKS IN THE STREETS…..Arthur Chappell, Charles Ottiwell , John Hill and Fred Smith were each fined 1s and costs.”

I wonder if this John Hill was my great grandad, age 16?

FOOTNOTE

As a result of this post I’m now collecting information about which English, Scottish & Welsh Counties celebrated 4 November Mischief Night. It might be only a small area in the County participated – if so please let me know. Similarly, I’d love to know if certain places held it on another night (e.g. 30 April).  I’ll update this post accordingly and hopefully by Mischief Night 2018 I’ll have an area map. 

UPDATED AREAS

Those which celebrated Mischief Night

  • East Yorkshire
  • Merseyside (So far, the Liverpool area)
  • Parts of North Yorkshire (Mr Blewitt may possibly have misinformed the Woodbottom PTA):  villages between Pateley Bridge & Harrogate. Although another friend from Harrogate says they didn’t have it. 
  • West Yorkshire

Those which did not have a Mischief Night tradition

  • Cambridgeshire (including the historic Ancient County of Huntingdonshire)
  • Carmarthenshire 
  • Cornwall
  • Derbyshire (so far have been informed about South East of County)
  • Devon
  • Gwent
  • Lancashire
  • Norfolk
  • Nottinghamshire
  • Suffolk

[1] Shipley Times and Express – 12 November 1952
[2] Yorkshire Evening Post – 5 November 1891
[3] Yorkshire Evening Post – 6 November 1894
[4] Bradford Daily Telegraph – 5 November 1903
[5] Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer – 5 November 1903
[6] Leeds Mercury – 4 November 1936
[7] Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer – 4 November 1940
[8] Yorkshire Evening Post – 9 November 1940
[9] Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer – 5 November 1948
[10] Batley Reporter – 16 November 1889