Category Archives: Criminal Ancestors

Mother-in-Law Murderer – Unlucky Friday 13th

Friday 13 June 1794 proved an unfortunate day for both mother-in-law and daughter-in-law. Both ultimately paid with their lives. One suffered a slow, agonising death. The other’s head was subsequently placed in a noose. Mary and Ann Scalberd are names long since forgotten, but in the summer of 1794 they must have been the talk of Batley and Dewsbury, if not Yorkshire.

The unusual name “Scalberd” has a number of spelling variations in the records, including Scalbird, Scalbirt and Scalbert. But, to avoid confusion, I will stick with “Scalberd”.

On 6 April 1760 Benjamin Scalberd, from Batley, married Mary Milnes at Dewsbury Parish Church. It appears clothier Benjamin and Mary had four children – John baptised on 16 January 1761, Mary on 21 March 1762 and Moses on 7 October 1764; there is also a burial for a second daughter, Sarah, on 4 May 1772, but I have not traced her baptism. All these events took place at Batley Parish Church. The same church hosted the marriage on 22 January 1787 of their son Moses to Nancy Oldroyd, daughter of Joseph Oldroyd. Like his father, Moses worked as a clothier.

Seven years later his wife faced accusations of murdering his mother.

Batley Parish Church – by Jane Roberts

Coroner Richard Linnecar heard evidence of the circumstances surrounding Mary’s death at the Batley Carr inquest on 21 June 1794. Witnesses included Mary’s son John and unmarried daughter Mary, along with Sarah Newsham, two surgeons and two employees of a third surgeon. Although none of the witnesses actually saw the incident, the dying woman told several of them what occurred.

Witnesses stated Mary Scalberd was very well on the morning of 13 June. That afternoon Ann, known to the family as Nance, begged Mary to come to her house to look after her children whilst she went out on an errand. Batley parish church records show the baptism of one child to Moses and Ann, a daughter Sally, born on 23 May 1793. However the statements imply the couple had at least one other child.

When Ann returned from her outing she insisted Mary eat some warm milk and sops she had prepared for the children. Initially Mary refused, saying the children needed it more. Ann continued to press her until eventually Mary gave in. When she reached the bottom of the pot containing the concoction she noticed a gritty substance. Challenged by Mary as to what it was, Ann claimed perhaps some lime had fallen into the container. One witness, John, stated his mother told him when she accused Ann of poisoning her, Ann left the room without uttering a word.

Within half an hour of having the milk Mary was taken ill. Her daughter, who lived in Batley Carr, and confusingly also called Mary, told the inquest she saw her mother later that afternoon by which time her now swollen body was wracked by violent bouts of sickness and diarrhoea. Her mother accused Ann of poisoning her. Mary stayed with her throughout these final agonising days, during which her mother suffered “the utmost misery and pain”.

The horror of her decline is unimaginable, both for Mary and those witnessing the scene. No indoor flushing toilets, plentiful clean water and disinfectants. Instead sparsely furnished, basic houses with few rooms and comforts, possibly not even a bed per person. And all the time unremitting episodes of vomiting and diarrhoea, with no treatment other than possibly pain relief.

Other visitors to the sickbed included Sarah Newsham, a married woman from Batley Carr. According to her, the rapidly declining Mary “constantly said that Nance Scalberd had poisoned her and if she died at that time she ought to be hanged”.

Son John Scalberd, residing in the Chapel Fold area of Batley, gave similar evidence. He saw his seriously ill mother on 15 June and her condition, combined with her allegations, caused him so much concern he immediately sent for a Dewsbury surgeon, George Swinton. The circumstances and her symptoms, including the uncontrollable vomiting and diarrhoea, led the experienced doctor to suspect ingestion of arsenic.

Arsenic was cheap and readily available during this period. Used around the house for vermin control, it was also popular with those owning sheep as a sheep scab treatment. In the 18th century this involved applying hand washes containing lime, mercury, nicotine, turpentine or arsenic. As a poison, it resulted in an excruciating death over a number of days. The symptoms included fluid accumulation, nausea, constant vomiting, diarrhoea which was often blood-streaked, excessive thirst, a feeling of pressure and swelling in the stomach, intense pain and distressingly, up until the end stages, the victim remained lucid. However many of these symptoms could equally apply to common illnesses such as English cholera, dysentery and diarrhoea. This, combined with the lack of a definitive test and rudimentary medical expertise about poisoning, resulted in only a small number of trials and convictions in this period.

The doctor was unable to do anything to save Mary. She endured agonising suffering for six days, before she finally died on 19 June. However, his suspicions meant he referred the case. Another eminent local surgeon was sent for, Benjamin Sykes of Gomersal. Both he and Dr Swinton opened up Mary for the inquest on 21 June. They concluded her death was the result of arsenic.

Collection: Wellcome Images Library reference no.: Science Museum A600213 Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

The final two inquest witnesses worked in the shop of Dewsbury surgeon Robert Rockley Batty. They claimed that on, or just before 13 June, Ann Scalberd attempted to buy a penny-worth of white mercury (the name by which arsenic was known in Yorkshire) from the surgeon’s assistant, Henry Hudson. She claimed she wanted it for sheep. Hudson explained that they never sold it. His evidence was backed up by Peter Cannings, a book-keeper for the surgeon. Was this the errand Ann did whilst her mother-in-law looked after the children? To buy the poison with which to commit murder.

Mary was buried the day after the inquest, on 22 June, at Batley Parish Church. As a result of the inquest Ann Scalberd was committed to York Castle, charged with the wilful murder of Mary Scalberd. She would appear at the York Summer Assizes at the beginning of August. They took place in front of Sir Giles Rooke and Sir Soulden Lawrence.

Ann’s trial contained a very curious incident, subsequently cited in case law. During examination of one of the first witnesses a juror, Thomas Davison, fell down in a fit. The trial was halted and the juror carried off to a public house to recover. He failed to return and eventually another juror, accompanied by a bailiff, were dispatched to enquire as to his health. The juror duly reported back. Mr Davison would not be well enough to continue. Justice Lawrence discharged the jury and ordered the swearing in of another. This comprised the initial 11 well jurors plus another. The trial continued.

In the face of overwhelming evidence, including that Ann visited several shops attempting to procure the poison, the jury had no hesitation in delivering a guilty verdict to an impassive Ann. She was sentenced to death.

A second trial twist then occurred. Ann “pleaded the belly”. In other words she declared she was pregnant, knowing this could be a chance to evade the death penalty. The authorities would not execute a pregnant woman, as this would take an innocent life. If a woman was deemed “quick with child”, that is the foetus could be felt to move which was deemed the point when the unborn child had a soul, the execution would be delayed till after birth. Inevitably this meant it would not take place at all, the sentence probably commuted to imprisonment.

In order to establish the validity of this, a jury of matrons was convened. It comprised 12 older women, pulled together from those within the court room, with experience of pregnancy. They adjourned to a private room to conduct the examination.

Ann’s last-minute ploy failed. The women reported back – Ann was not pregnant.  She would face the death penalty. One newspaper, the “Leeds Intelligencer” stated she now confessed her guilt. However the motive for murder remains shrouded in mystery.

Between 1735-1799, 703 death sentences were passed at York Assizes, resulting in 217 executions. Ann’s execution took place on 12 August 1794 at Tyburn, south of the city and the Knavesmire area which now forms part of York racecourse. This is the spot where highwayman Dick Turpin met the same fate in 1739. Ann was one of only three people hung there in 1794, and her execution is a rare occurrence of a woman receiving the death penalty. Her body was given to surgeons for dissection. Her husband Moses died within months and was buried on 7 December 1794 at Batley.

Site of York Gallows – Jeremy Howat. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

This is my final post about Batley in my March focus on local history.

Sources:  

  • The National Archives, Northern & North-Eastern Assize Papers, Reference ASSI 45/38/2/84B-84C – Ann Scalbird (Depositions) – Thanks to Carole Steers
  • Batley All Saints Parish Registers
  • Dewsbury All Saints Parish Registers
  • Newspapers via the British Newspaper Archive, FindMyPast – Bury & Norwich Post 6 August 1794, Derby Mercury 14 & 21 August 1794, Kentish Weekly Post & Canterbury Journal 17 August 1794 and Leeds Intelligencer 30 June & 18 August 1794
  • Poisoned Lives – Katherine Watson
  • Capital Punishment UK – http://www.capitalpunishmentuk.org/
  • British Executions – http://www.britishexecutions.co.uk/
  • The New and Complete Newgate Calendar: Or Villany Displayed in All its Branches, Vol 6
  • Cases in Crown Law, Vol 2 (1815)
  • A Short History of Sheep Scab – J D Bezuidenhout
  • Wellcome Images, Library reference no.: Science Museum A600213, Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/
  • Wikimedia Commons – site of York Gallows by Jeremy Howat

Pigeon-Stealing in Batley

An entry dated 13 March 1908 in the Batley Borough Court records attracted my attention. On that day two 13-year-old boys and another aged 12 appeared before the Town Hall Magistrates charged with pigeon-stealing. They stood accused of taking four dark, dappled birds on 8 March from Back Cross Park Street.

image

Batley Town Hall – Photo by Jane Roberts

Juvenile crime was not uncommon in the Court listings. But two things attracted me to this one:

  • The sentencing notes were slightly unusual; and
  • I recognised the names of all three lads.

The Court Register entry combined with the newspaper report build up a fuller picture. It should be noted that the newspaper is, in some crucial areas, at variance with the Court record. The name of one of the lads is slightly different. And the ages are given as 12, 13 and 14.

The birds belonged to miner Robert Dewhirst. They were housed in a cote containing 15 pigeons. Robert locked it at around 5pm on Sunday teatime. When he checked it at around 5am the following morning he found the door swinging open, the padlock discarded on the floor and four birds missing. They had an estimated value of £2 according to the Court notes.

Later that day the birds were recovered. They were in the possession of Robert Clarkson, a Commercial Street fish and game dealer. He said he told the boys the pigeons were old and not worth more 6d. He also claimed to have told them to fetch the owner and he would pay for them. The boys never returned. The Court Register and papers are silent about any charges preferred against Robert, so it seems there were none.

The three youths, a school boy, errand boy and pony driver, were not so fortunate. Two pleaded guilty to the charge; the other put in a “not guilty” plea.  Despite this he was convicted of the crime, along with his two friends.

This is where the sentencing twist came into play. They were discharged on entering recognizances for 12 months. They were instructed as to their good behaviour during this time. During this period they were to be under the supervision of Mr Gladwin, the probation officer. He was to visit them and submit regular reports to the magistrates about their conduct. Alongside this a 20s surety applied.

The noteworthy facet of the sentencing: this was the first ever case for the local probation officer.

Pigeon Stealing

Newspaper Headline

This new service owed its origins in 1876 to Hertfordshire printer Frederic Rainer, a volunteer with the Church of England Temperance Society (CETS). Initially London-based, it worked with magistrates via the London Police Courts Mission (LPCM) to release offenders on condition they kept in touch and accepted guidance from the “missionaries”.  The system was extended countrywide with the 1886 Probation of First Time Offenders Act. With an emphasis on religious mission and temperance, this Act allowed courts to appoint similar missionaries if they wanted to. Few chose to do so.

The 1907 Probation of Offenders Act gave these missionaries official status as “officers of the court”.  Furthermore it was now possible for courts to appoint probation officers paid for by the local authority.  The Act allowed courts to suspend punishment and discharge offenders who entered into a recognisance of between one and three years. As part of the conditions of this suspension, the offender agreed to be supervised by a “probation officer”.

Durham-born James Gladwin was Batley’s Probation Officer. He had held the Town Missionary post for a number of years, being recorded as such from the 1901 census onwards[1]. However the three Batley lads, all from St Mary’s parish, were his first cases following the 1907 Probation Act.

The sentence was partially effective. Two of the lads did indeed steer clear of further trouble. Sadly, the youngest failed to do so. He appeared once more before the Magistrates on 7 December 1908. This time he was charged with stealing a pair of men’s moleskin trousers, valued at 2s 6d from Joseph Bennett’s Commercial Street pawnshop on 5 December. Bennett took the precaution of ticketing his shop contents. The lad failed to notice this. So when he then attempted to pawn them at another shop on Wellington Street, Bennett’s mark was recognised and the boy apprehended.

This was around nine months after the pigeon-stealing incident, which as a result now came into play. Mr Gladwin, his Probation Officer, gave his character opinion of the lad. He was sorry, but not surprised, to see him in trouble again. He was always on “the edge of it”, always promising to do better. Police Inspector Wright said the lad was a bad influence on the other boys in town. Despite pleadings from his father, he was now convicted of both the trouser and pigeon-stealing offences. To save him from a life of trouble he was sentenced to five years in a Reformatory.

The Reformatory system was established in 1854 for under-16s convicted of crime. With concern about the way children were treated in the criminal system, the Philanthropic Society was at the forefront of this change to the criminal system. Children sent to Reformatory schools spent between two to five years there. However, until 1899, those committed to such establishments still spent 14 days in an adult prison first. This was thankfully no longer the case by the time of this lad’s sentence.

As a Catholic he was sent to serve out his sentence at St William’s School for Training Catholic Boys, situated at Holme upon Spalding Moor, near Market Weighton in the East Riding. Founded in 1856 as the Yorkshire Catholic Reform School, this was in a remote, rural location. The work the boys undertook reflected its countryside locality, with a large proportion dividing their time between studies and farm labouring. Other trades included shoemakers, bricklayers, printers, tailors, bookbinders, laundry and horse boys.

At the time he entered the Reformatory, it was headed by Rev Charles Ottaway who took over in 1906. It was Father Ottaway who instigated the name-change to St William’s. He was still in charge in the 1911 census, where the boy is shown as an inmate dividing his time between schooling and working as a farm boy labourer.

Under Father Ottaway’s regime the boys wore a uniform of plain cord knickers and a tweed coat. However despite the uniform and name-change, the Reformatory under his tenure was noted for its poor discipline and too frequent punishments, as noted in highly critical inspection reports. The covering letter to a December 1911 inspection said:

Father Ottaway overloaded, boys have insufficient food, overwork and lack of recreation, stunted in growth and underweight, approved dietary scale not adhered to and substitutes inadequate, punishments not accurately recorded, carelessness, cells unfit for use…..

Another report in May 1912 by Brigdier Mark Sykes M.P., a member of the Reformatory Committtee, noted amongst other things improper cleaning; ill-shod boys in ragged, disreputable clothing; an unvaried, disgusting diet; too frequent and too trivial punishments; inadequate fire-safety and escape provisions and damnning indictments on various staff members. His report ended:

I consider that with the exception of Mr Hart it would be best to discharge the whole of the present staff and start afresh“.

In short the entire establishment lacked go and discipline. 

The declining numbers of boys being admitted during Father Ottaway’s tenure was a probable reflection of the lack of  care, schooling, work-training  and basic facilities such as toilets and washing on offer there. Nevertheless Batley Borough Court continued to use it for its “wayward” Catholic boys, including two sent there in March 1912 for stealing a box of biscuits. And Father Ottaway remained in charge until the summer of 1912.

Back to the pigeon and trouser-stealing boy though. The lad’s father had a maintenance order of 2s a week imposed by the Court, in order to provide for his son’s upkeep in this establishment. Parents had to contribute towards the costs, and this was means-tested based on the family income. As the newspaper noted the family had £2 10s coming into the household each week.

East Riding Archives hold extensive records for this particular Reformatory, including admission registers, report books and medical registers.[2] So well worth a visit for those with ancestors who spent time there, either working or as inmates.

At the beginning of this post I mentioned I recognised the names of all three lads charged with pigeon-stealing[3].  They are all connected with my parish church. And all three lads were dead just over eight years following the pigeon incident. All lost their lives in the Great War: One in 1914, the other 1915 and the final one in 1916. They are all on the church War Memorial.

I have deliberately not named any of the boys involved.

Sources:

[1] In 1891 his occupation was given as “home missionary”
[2] East Riding Archives Finding Reference DDSW, St William’s Community Home
[3] I have taken the Court Register names to be the correct ones. As I mentioned earlier in the post, the only newspaper report for this incident had a different Christian name and slightly different surname for one of the boys. However checking baptisms, births and censuses there is no-one matching the newspaper name.

“You’ve a Mother and a Father. That’s All You Need to Know” – Batley Borough Court Records: Part 3

I thought long and hard before writing this post, the third in my Batley Borough Court paternity proof series. The reason for the deliberation is it concerns family information not discussed for years, if at all in living memory. “You’ve a mother and a father. That’s all you need to know” is a phrase that springs to mind. But I wanted to know more than that. So on and off I ferreted away at records.

The deciding factors for me in going ahead in writing this are:

  • it relates to my family history;
  • those directly affected are no longer alive. Neither are immediate subsequent generations;
  • the events took place over 100 years ago;
  • the information is publicly available;
  • when researching my family history I want to be even-handed with all aspects, the good and the not so good; and
  • this post may give an indication of some of the sources that are available when looking into the issue of tracing fathers of illegitimate ancestors.

I was elated with the find. Here the Batley Borough Court records have solved one of my long-standing family mysteries, as outlined in an earlier post about Parish Registers. It relates to the paternity of my great grandmother Bridget Gavan’s second child, a daughter, born on 28 August 1893.

The parish priest at St Mary of the Angels, Batley, at the time of the child’s baptism the following month believed Bridget to be married. The baptismal entry in the parish register is under the name “Regan” and Bridget’s husband is named as Charles Regan. The only problem: Bridget was not married. So proof you cannot always take what is written in parish registers as 100% accurate.

A later priest realised the error. When the girl’s marriage took place, some decades later, he noted against her baptismal entry that she married under the name Gavin [sic]. Yes the priests were meticulous in the practice of annotating baptismal entries with later marriage details!

But, although the baptismal entry gave a potential lead into the child’s father, I could not definitively identify Charles Regan. Not until a search of the Batley Borough Court register.

On 5 February 1894 Bridget Gavan was the complainant in a bastardy case heard at Batley Town Hall against Charles Ragan (note the subtle spelling difference here). Charles was ordered to pay 3/ a week until the unnamed child reached the age of 13. As well as court costs he also had to pay birth expenses of £1:1:0. So this provides corroboration of the baptismal paternity information.

Charles Ragan features a further eight times in the Borough Court Register between 1894-1907[1]. Three of these relate to police charges of drunk and riotous behaviour in various areas of Batley. The other five are cases brought by Bridget for bastardy arrears. Full details are at Table 1.Charles Ragan BBC

It can be seen from the entries that Bridget gave Charles time to pay on two occasions. Some of the bastardy cases took place after Bridget’s marriage in November 1897. And some of the adjudications around the bastardy arrears involved straight custodial sentences, without the option of paying a fine.

This then led me to the collection of West Yorkshire Archives Prison Records on Ancestry.

Bingo! I was astounded to find 20 entries in the Wakefield Prison Records Nominal Registers relating to Charles for appearances before West Riding Courts at Wakefield and Dewsbury as well as Batley. They relate to the various bastardy cases heard at Batley, outlined above, as well as charges in all areas for drunkenness and non-payment of costs.

Wakefield Prison

Wakefield Prison Image from around 1916 shared by David Studdard on the Maggie Blanck Website – see Sources

It appears that even where Charles had the option of paying a fine he chose not to do so, or perhaps simply could not afford to, and the alternative custodial sentence was enforced.  This includes one of the instances where Bridget had allowed extra time: Hence the large numbers of entries for him in the Wakefield prison register.

For my research purposes these entries provide a basic description of Charles, his age, religion, occupation, education level and, crucially, a birthplace. Although the records are not consistent, particularly around education levels which range from “imperfect” to “read and write” through to Standards I-III[2], they give a general picture.

Charles was around 5’5” tall, with brown hair, had only a very basic level of education and his employment varied from colliery worker to miner to labourer, so manual work. His birthplace was given as Leeds and further narrowed in some of the register entries to the Beeston/Holbeck area.  And his date of birth was somewhere between 1869-1876. Despite the variations, they clearly all relate to the same man given the detail provided including the previous custodial reference number.

The entries are summarised in Tables 2a and 2bCharles Ragan 2a

Charles Ragan 2bLooking at the censuses with this fresh information, Charles Joseph Ragan, to give him his full name, was born in Holbeck in 1869. He was the son of Irish-born coal miner John Ragan and his wife Sarah Norfolk, a local girl from Hunslet. The couple married in 1866 and by the time of the 1871 census the family was recorded living in Holbeck. Besides Charles other children included six year-old Hannah Norfolk, three year-old Thomas and infant daughter Sarah.

The 1881 census reveals further siblings of Charles: George, age eight; six year-old John; Arthur, four; and Elizabeth, two. By this time Charles had employment as a dray-boy.

1891 shows a move to East Ardsley and two further additions John and Sarah’s family – Alice born in around 1882 and Walter in 1884. Charles now worked as a coal miner, like his father.

The work opportunities in the relatively new pits in East Ardsley probably initiated the move from the Leeds area. The town’s extensive collieries were owned by Robert Holliday and Sons, with East Ardsley Colliery being known as Holliday’s Pit. They started to sink two shafts here in 1872, on land leased from the Cardigan estate. A third shaft was sunk in 1877. By 1881 in excess of 300 East Ardsley men were employed in mining. In 1899 the colliery produced 200,000 tons annually, making it the 11th largest Yorkshire coalfield.

Returning to Charles’ brushes with the law, newspaper reports added a little more detail, but not much. For example in the March 1900 case around arrears, Bridget revealed that Charles had failed to make payments for their seven year-old daughter for three years. Possibly this corresponded with the time Bridget was involved with her soon-to-be husband, who she married in late 1897.

The reports also indicate Charles lived at Lawns in August 1897 and thereafter in East Ardsley. Did his forays from there into Batley indicate he remained in loose contact with his daughter?  Or were other family connections the draw? There were a number of Ragans living in Batley during this period.

In terms of character, Charles certainly seemed fond of a tipple, given the number of drink-related offences. One from the West Riding Police Court, Wakefield, involved the assault on William Forrest, the landlord of an East Ardsley pub, the “Bedford Arms“.  George Mullins was his partner in this crime. The report in the “Sheffield Daily Telegraph” of 24 August 1897 read:

…the defendants did not appear, it being stated they had left the district. On the afternoon of Friday, the 13th inst., the defendents went to the public-house, created a disturbance, refused to leave, and on being forcibly ejected, Mullins bit the landlord on one of his arms, both men struck and attacked him, and defendants re-entered the house and again assaulted the landlord“.

geograph-3204067-by-Betty-Longbottom

The Bedford Arms, East Ardsley

 So what became of Charles Ragan? By August 1906 he was free of his weekly payments for his daughter, she being 13. It appears he married 34 year-old widow Jane Worth (maiden name Sow(e)ry) on 24 December 1911 at St Mary the Virgin, Hunslet. A quick scan of GRO records reveals the birth of three children, all registered in the Hunslet District between 1913 and 1917.

Charles’ death is registered in Leeds North in Q4 1932. He was 63. He is buried in Hunslet Cemetry.

Bridget died in 1947. Their daughter died more than 45 years ago.

See here for Part 1 and Part 2 of my Batley Borough Court series of posts.

Sources:

[1] Up until the end of my search in 1916
[2] See The Victorian School website for a descriptor of the various levels as they applied from 1872 http://www.victorianschool.co.uk/school%20history%20lessons.html

Borough Court Records: Crime, Punishment & Bastardy in Batley – Part 2, “Kissing Cousins?”

This is the second part of my Batley Borough Court records series. Part 1 can be found here.

Mary Jennings was my 2x great grandmother’s sister, the daughter of Ann Hallas and Herod Jennings. She was born on 16 May 1858, probably in Hartshead, and baptised on 18 May 1859 at St Mary’s, Mirfield.

By the time of the 1881 census her father, Herod, was dead. She lived at Clark Green[1], Batley with her widowed mother Ann who headed the household, and brothers William and James.

Relation Frank Thornton, a 23 year-old coal miner from Hartshead, was also present that census night.  Ann’s sister Louisa Hallas and her husband George Thornton had a son, Franklin, born on the 31 January 1858. Baptised at St Mary’s, Mirfield, on the same day as Mary, his name was often shortened in records to Frank. I assumed this was the man in the Jennings household.

There was a final member of the household that 3 April night: A one-year-old girl named Sarah Ann. She is described on the form as daughter. However Ann at this stage was 56 and a widow for over three years.  Without a birth certificate I worked on the theory Sarah Ann was Ann’s granddaughter. Her birth was registered in Q2 1880, but it’s a case of another too costly certificate to satisfy idle curiosity. Subsequent censuses proved the theory though.

On 24 April 1890 Mary Jennings married 32 year-old mill hand William Blackwell at Batley Parish church. In the censuses of 1891 (Batley) and 1901 (Sherburn in Elmet), Sarah Ann is living in William and Mary’s home, described as “daughter”.

Batley Parish Church – photo by Jane Roberts

But I still did not know who Sarah Ann’s father was…..until I looked at the Batley Borough Court records. On 2 July 1880, shortly after Sarah Ann’s birth, Mary Jennings was named as the claimant and Frank Thornton the defendant in a bastardy case. The hearing was adjourned until 5 July when, in Frank’s absence, an order was made for him to pay 3s per week until the child reached 13 years of age. As well as court costs, he also had to pay £1 10s for the birth expenses.

There now followed a regular procession of non-payment cases. Newspaper reports and prison records flesh out the sorry story. The Batley Borough Court records made tracing these additional sources so much easier. The newspapers involved are not online, so no Optical Character Recognition (OCR) search help here. The prison records only provide the prisoner’s name, so that first court case name lead was crucial for searching these.

The first of the non-payment cases in response to the 5 July 1880 award occurred on 13 May 1881, just over a month after the census. Mary, according to a note in the register margins, was destitute. The upshot was a two month prison sentence for Frank. He served his sentence at Wakefield. The “Nominal Register” prison record provides a description. Frank had received no education and worked as a collier. He stood at s shade over 5’10” with brown hair. The entry also shows he had four previous convictions, with the reference given to his last prison register entry, enabling backtracking.

Another method of looking at convictions is via the “Index to [Nominal] Registers”.  These may span a number of years. It means you can track the references to all previous prison register entries in that time span in one go. They too provide a basic description and birthplace of the prisoner. The Index has not been catalogued in the Ancestry search, but I found it a useful complementary check because some of the “Nominal Registers” have missing volumes which the Index can help fill.

Anyway back to Mary and Frank. Clearly the prison sentence shock failed because he was in court again on 22 May 1882. By then he owed £10 6s in bastardy arrears and, in addition to costs, the court ordered him to pay £1 immediately and thereafter 8s a week to pay off the outstanding balance. It seems this was complied with. There is no record of a custodial imposition.

There was an interval of nearly four years before a very intense period of court activity adjudicating on the disputed domestic matters of Mary and Frank. On 8 January 1886 Frank owed 13 weeks-worth of payments. At 3s a week, this amounted to £1 19s according to the Court register. Another month’s jail sentence followed.

On 8 February 1886, within a couple of days of ending this January one-month prison sentence Frank appeared at the Borough Court once more. He needed to show cause why he should not be sent to prison in default of complying with the bastardy order. His arrears were recorded at £2 2s[2].  Frank said he had no means of paying.  A further 14 day committal followed for him, unless he could find a bondsman that day.  No bondsman was forthcoming, so it was back to Wakefield prison for Frank.

But that did not mark the end. Released from prison on Saturday 20 February, he was immediately apprehended on the same charge. He found himself bounced back into court again on Monday 22 February. Even the newspaper reports now referred to him in sympathetic tones as “the poor man“. Arrears were listed as £1 19s[3] so presumably he had managed to pay a small amount. Frank now promised to pay all the money. He faced a further one month jail sentence, but this was suspended for 28 days to allow him to fulfil his promise to make his payments. It seems he managed it, as there is no imprisonment record.

So who was Frank Thornton? Did the relation comment in the 1881 census refer to him being the nephew of Ann and cousin of Mary, as I initially thought? Was it a reference to Sarah Ann’s paternity? Or was it both? I’ve used censuses, GRO indexes, prison records and newspaper reports to try to pinpoint him.

Including the names Frank, Franklin and Francis in any searches there are a number of “possibles”. However in terms of Hartshead/Mirfield-born alternatives, the birthplace given in prison registers, other than cousin Frank, there appears to be just one. But there is a slight discrepancy with the year of birth (1860) of this alternative, and his occupation does not fit. So it can be discounted. Bringing me back to Mary’s cousin.

Ignoring the birthplace given in the prison records and extending beyond Hartshead/Mirfield does produce other options, but again the stumbling block is job description. There are no feasible coal-miners, although jobs could change. But even allowing for a career switch, why would I want to ignore the birthplace anyway? This is consistent in the prison records.

Extending the search to his other custodial sentences and newspaper coverage of them, including one in 1879 for assaulting a police officer, I still cannot definitively point to Frank being the son of George and Louisa Thornton. However, the evidence so far leads me to think that Sarah Ann’s father was indeed Mary’s cousin. But there is no absolute proof, certainly no reference in the newspapers.

It appears Frank married in Q2 of 1882 (another certificate on my long wish list). Maybe this was the reason behind the May 1882 non-payment. By the time of the 1886 sequence of court cases he had a young family, which again may have strained finances and resulted in him trying to avoid obligations for this first child. By the time of the 1891 census the Thornton family were living near Barnsley and by 1901 they had settled in the north east of England.

So once more the Batley Borough Court records have provided leads and a potential solution to a family paternity mystery, but with quite a different outcome from the previous case. If indeed the father of Mary’s child was her cousin, as it seems, one can only wonder at the strains this whole situation placed on wider family.

There is a third case, with yet another twist, here.

Sources:

  • Batley Borough Court Records – West Yorkshire Archives
  • Batley News” and “Batley Reporter” newspapers, various dates in February 1886
  • Parish Registers – Parish Churches of St Mary’s, Mirfield and All Saints, Batley – available online at http://home.ancestry.co.uk/
  • Censuses – 1861-1911
  • GRO Indexes
  • West Riding Prison Records, “Wakefield Index to [Nominal] Registers” and “Nominal Registers” – available online at http://home.ancestry.co.uk/

[1] The modern spelling is Clerk Green
[2] £2 6s reported in the newspapers
[3] £2 3s in the newspaper reports

Borough Court Records: Crime, Punishment & Bastardy in Batley – Part 1

In my murderous assaults post I mentioned I would be undertaking a series of archives visits focusing on the Batley Borough Court registers to try to establish a fuller picture of court cases involving my ancestors.

The records are held at the Wakefield branch of West Yorkshire Archives. The office closed on 13 May 2016 in preparation for the move to a new building in early 2017. More details are here. So it was something of a race against time to complete this work. But I am pleased to report I did get there in the end. 

The registers are not available online – no, contrary to what some would hope, not everything is! So it is a case of visiting the archives and going through each register page by page. For me it’s a joyful experience, especially with a set of information-rich records for my family history like these proved to be.

West Yorkshire Archives, Wakefield Office – Photo by Jane Roberts

The Batley Borough Court records run from 1872-1974, 116 volumes in total. However with the 100 year legal restriction access limit, I only (!) had to go through 58 of them.

And it has been wonderfully, and unexpectedly, enlightening.

The registers contain columns giving information such as:

  • the date of the case;
  • name of informant/complainant;
  • name of the defendant and age if under 16;
  • nature of offence;
  • adjudication; and
  • the names of the Justices.

There are also other pertinent notes, for example if the fine was paid and, if not, when the custodial sentence was imposed.

Whilst the registers give only the bare bones, they do lead on to other sources, from bmd and employment records to prison registers and newspapers. And because you have a date for the case it is a short-cut for newspaper searching, especially for those “not online” papers, or where online newspaper optical character recognition (OCR) is problematical.

It also pays to check the other cases heard that day as they may be linked to the “partners in crime” of ancestors. 

The cases brought before the court cover the run-of-the-mill drunk and riotous or obscene language cases; incidents of stealing; animal cruelty; failure to send children to school; wilful damage; employees taking employers to court on non-payment of wages (from these I’ve learned the name of the stone mason who employed my 2x great grandfather William Gavan); to attempted suicide and more serious assault, indecent assault, rape and murder cases, some of which are referred onto a higher court. There are a fair few children brought before the Justices and punishments ranged from birch-strikes to reformatory and industrial school sentences. Smallpox vaccination exemptions, applications for children to perform in theatrical productions and beer selling licence transfers and applications also feature.

There are also more domestic-centred cases including married couple disputes, separation orders, orders relating to married women’s property, child neglect accusations, and unmarried mothers claiming maintenance payments for their illegitimate children – crucially providing the name of the father. These maintenance orders were lodged with the petty sessions, or other jurisdiction, local to the mother up to one year after the child’s birth. In these cases the burden of proof was very much weighted in favour of the mother, for obvious money-saving reasons.

Three women connected with my family history appear in this latter set of cases. All three cases have contrasting elements and outcomes, and will feature in three separate posts. This is the first.

Sarah Gavan was born in Kidderminster in June 1857, the third daughter of my 2x great grandparents William and Bridget Gavan (Knavesay). She was baptised in the town’s Catholic chapel on 5 July 1857. Within three years the family relocated to Batley.

On 19 September 1875 Sarah gave birth to her first child, a son named John Thomas. He was baptised at St Mary of the Angels RC church on 3 October 1875. The baptismal register entry starts to records a father’s name, “Thoma“, but this is scored out and there is no surname for him. Sarah was unmarried. But clearly the child’s father was common knowledge.

I am curious to see a birth certificate for John Thomas, to see if his father officially acknowledged him here. From 1875 the reputed father had to be present at the registration to formally consent to his name being included on the certificate. As the Act stated “The name, surname and occupation of an illegitimate child must not be entered except at the joint request of the father and mother; in which case both the father and mother must sign the entry as informants“.

Looking at the GRO indexes, I can’t see a relevant birth registration for a John Thomas Gavan (or variant). Interestingly the Dewsbury Registration District does have a birth registered for a John Thomas Connell in Q4 1875 Vol 9b Page 625. This is a possible, given subsequent research including bmds and the 1881 census onwards. I would love to look at this to see if it did relate to Sarah’s son, and if so why he is not registered under Gavan: Was “Thomas” from the baptismal register present to jointly register is son’s birth as it appears. Oh for the long awaited certificate price-reduction!

As indicated, my search of the Batley Borough Court records adds an additional layer of paternal proof and a new dimension to events. On 10 November 1875 Thomas Connell appeared before the court on a bastardy charge and was ordered to pay Sarah Gavan 3s a week from their child’s birth until the age of 14.

Payments were occasionally difficult for Irish-born pit-worker Thomas, and his parental responsibility not always diligently complied with. Perhaps his court appearances and fines played a part.

It appears that he, and a number of other coal miners, were taken to court in 1876 by their Batley colliery employer James Critchley for absenting themselves from service without appropriate notice. In Thomas’ case this was from 17-24 January, and his employer sought compensation of 17s 6d. The case was heard at Batley Borough Court on 26 January 1876 and Thomas, who failed to appear, was found guilty and ordered to pay. The incident was reported fully in the local papers.

Weeks later, on 28 February 1876, there is another court register entry with Sarah in the role of complainant against Thomas. The entry merely says bastardy, so presumably this is for arrears. The obvious conclusion is the colliery episode and subsequent fine played a part in his financial difficulties and failure to pay.

The next entry for a case between Sarah and Thomas was on 24 June 1878. This was adjourned for four weeks, until 22 July 1878. The July entry also contains an adjournment note.

After that nothing – because within the month the two were wed. Less than three years after John Thomas’ birth the couple married on 17 August 1878 at St Mary’s. They went on to have at least eight more children before Sarah’s death in 1907.

St Mary of the Angels RC Church, Batley – photo by Jane Roberts

The Borough Court register was a crucial part of evidence in ascertaining the paternity of Sarah’s baby . None of these bastardy cases against Thomas made it to the local papers, as far as I discovered.  Contrast this with the next family court case. To be continued

Sources:

  • Batley Borough Court Registers (P/11) – West Yorkshire Archives
  • Batley Cemetery Register (unconsecrated)
  • Batley Reporter” and “Dewsbury Reporter” newspapers of 29 January 1876
  • Census – 1861-1911
  • GRO indexes
  • Parish Registers – St Ambrose, Kidderminster & St Mary of the Angels, Batley
  • My ancestor was a bastard” by Ruth Paley

 

 

 

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

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