Category Archives: Leeds

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.

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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

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Buried Alive: A Yorkshire Cemetery Sensation

1888 – Woodhouse Cemetery, Leeds: The gravedigger, shovelling clods of dense, frozen earth, heard a knocking from the coffin and felt an upward motion of the ground beneath him. He paused, listened, consulted with colleagues, then continued with his work.

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By Tim Green from Bradford – St George’s Fields, Leeds, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=51864472

Being buried alive was the stuff of gothic nightmares. The press in the 19th and early 20th centuries revelled in tales of premature interment, be it at home or overseas. Horror stories like Edgar Allen Poe’s ‘The Premature Burial’ fuelled public imagination. But there were plenty of real life stories to whet the reader’s appetite for the macabre.

There was the phenomenon of January 1905 concerning Esther Elizabeth Holden (née Mills) a mother in her late 20s, living at Hapton, near Accrington. Her first husband, James Henry Ferris, played rugby for Rochdale Hornets and according to reports died as a result of an injury sustained in a game against Leeds.  She was left with three young sons – James, Herbert and Henry.  Esther married William Holden in 1901 and their daughter, Florence, was born in 1904. Dr Shotton attended her during a serious illness in January 1905, visiting her the day before her ‘death’. When her husband, William, informed him she had passed away he was unsurprised and issued a death certificate citing the cause as heart disease and exhaustion. William made funeral preparations drawing the £27 insurance money and arranging for the funeral coach. He laid out her body washing her face and brushing her hair and, in accordance with a Lancashire custom, putting on her a pair of white stockings. Undertaker James Waddington then arrived to measure her for the coffin. Whilst in the process of doing this, Mr Waddington became aware of a flickering eyelid, and he realised she was alive.[1]  Brandy was fetched from the local pub and she revived, although still very weak and constantly swooning. Donations poured in for the family to assist with Esther’s recovery. This included one sovereign raised from the sale of the death certificate to an Accrington man.

Deathbed_Study,_by_Julia_Margaret_Cameron

Deathbed Study – Julia Margaret Cameron [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons 

Debates raged about the inadequacy of the law around death certification, especially the fact a medical practitioner was not required to inspect the body before granting a certificate. Others asked how many people had been buried without it being realised they were in fact alive. It also gave ‘fuel to the fire‘ of those in favour of cremation: still viewed with distaste and suspicion by many Christians, the first Cremation Act entered Statute only a few years previously in 1902, although it had not technically been illegal prior to this date and the Cremation Society dated from 1874. All this did not affect Mrs Holden. Less than two months later she was appearing on stage at the Circus and Variety Theatre Rochdale, billed as

“Mrs Holden late of Rochdale, who was saved from being buried alive by an Accrington undertaker.”[2]

She lived until 1942. Others were not so fortunate.

Like the newly-born son of Elizabeth Ann and Charles Lean. Charles was the landlord of the Tavistock Hotel in Gunnislake, Cornwall. Elizabeth died on 14 December 1892 whilst giving birth to her 10th child. The boy, named Thomas, was sickly. When the family reported him dead, the doctor issued a certificate. The baby was placed in his mother’s arms in the coffin, and the lid was screwed down. Prior to burial the father heard the baby cry and, when the undertaker unscrewed the coffin, he was found to be alive. Thomas survived for only a short time afterwards, but the doctor ordered him to be wrapped in blankets for several days before he would permit burial. This took place on 20 December, three days after his mother.

In January 1895 at Heap Bridge, near Heywood in Lancashire a woman named Mrs Sutcliffe, who was laid out for several hours and covered in linen, raised herself up in bed. Two women tidying the room fled in terror, falling down the stairs injuring themselves in their haste to get away. That evening Mrs Sutcliffe told her son that she had been aware of the washing and laying out burial preparations, but was unable to speak. The recovery again was short-lived – the doctor said that her ‘second‘ death was accelerated by shock.[3]

Such was the fear generated by such tales, in 1896 William Tebb founded the London Association for the Prevention of Premature Burial. He published a book about the phenomenon, filled with advice about avoiding such a fate. Indeed, precautions were taken by some to ensure it did not happen to them. These included coffins equipped with contraptions like bells to sound the alarm; to veins being severed, presumably to check blood flow. James Mott, a Birmingham brass founder even had provisions incorporated into his will, including:

“…after my death two medical men or surgeons shall apply every test to prove that life is extinct, that a strong dose of prussic acid shall next to be put into my mouth, and that one of them shall decapitate my body in the presence of the other, and that both shall certify that such a decapitation had been done; or otherwise I direct that my body shall be dissected by post-mortem examination”.

He then wanted to be buried at sea.[4]

But back to the incident at Woodhouse Cemetery, the Leeds General Cemetery in the St George’s Fields area of town, that cold 17 February day in 1888.  Fred Posey was an experienced, respectable and trustworthy gravedigger, tasked with backfilling the grave after the funeral of a woman. Her family had left the scene and he was halfway through filling the nine feet deep hole. He then jumped into the chasm to remove the shoulder boards fastening the sides of the grave up. It was at this point he claimed he felt several knocks beneath his feet and a slight upward movement of earth. He ran to a colleague in the cemetery, and with what the newspapers described as a pallid face and quivering voice, recounted the story. Eventually swayed, the other cemetery worker came to the grave and listened a while but deciding it was nothing, Fred was persuaded to continue his work.

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A gravedigger observes the resurrection of a dead woman – Aquatint by Mayr. Credit Wellcome Library London, Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

The case became a media sensation, causing a public outcry. The demand for an exhumation of the coffin reached Parliament. Leeds MP Herbert Gladstone raised the issue in the House of Commons in early March. The Home Secretary, Henry Matthews, wrote to the Local Authority ordering that if any suggestion of truth existed about the story an inquest should be held. Accordingly, a warrant was issued for the exhumation of the body.

The woman was named as Arabella Elizabeth Tetley. The daughter of watchmaker John Henry Elliott and his wife Arabella, she was born in Leeds in 1864 and baptised on 21 January 1870 at the Methodist Chapel, Little Stonegate, York. The family subsequently moved to Bradford.

Arabella married William Tetley, a schoolteacher, on 10 April 1884 at St Augustine’s Church, Bradford. The couple’s first child, a son named William Norman, was born in Spilsby, Lincolnshire in 1885. However, by 2 February 1888 when she gave birth to daughter Lily Isabel, the couple resided at Beckwithshaw, near Harrogate where William worked as a schoolmaster. Shortly after giving birth 23-year-old Arabella fell victim to that scourge of childbirth puerperal fever, and died on 14 February. Dr Deville, who attended her throughout her confinement and illness, issued the certificate. But was she really dead?

In the early hours of Monday 5 March her body was exhumed and later that day an inquest held at the Millgarth Street Mortuary by Leeds Coroner, Mr J.C. Malcolm. They now had to determine whether her death was indeed natural causes, or if she had been asphyxiated as a result of being buried alive.

The coffin was opened by surgeon Mr Scattergood, formal identification took place and members of the jury viewed the body before witnesses were called. Chief of these was gravedigger Fred Posey. He denied ever having made statements about a knocking sound, saying “I never said nowt to nobody.” He admitted there had been a strange noise, one the like of which he had never heard so he fetched monumental mason, Sykes Shepperd. Contrary to the pale-faced, quivering voice description given by the media, Shepperd said Posey did not seem at all alarmed. In fact, he lit his pipe in the stonemason’s shop. They did go to the grave though and waited kneeling on it for around 20 minutes, but heard nothing further. They attributed the noise to the sound of the frozen clay rattling the sides of the coffin. Shepperd believed because of the three to four tons of earth on it any movement was impossible, and neither would it have been possible to hear any noise.

Next Mr Scattergood came forward. He described shrinkages and crevices in the coffin, with some portions detached. But Arabella’s body was undisturbed, still wrapped in its shroud with the flowers and wreaths laid upon it. When the shroud was drawn back her hands were in the expected position. The Coroner ordered the jury to return a verdict confirming Dr Deville’s original certificate.

What became of Arabella’s family? William was still employed as a schoolmaster living at the Dudley Hill Road School House at Beckwithshaw in 1891. His sisters Mary and Catherine were in residence too, presumably helping look after young William and Lily – yes she survived. William re-married in late 1891, to the wonderfully named Eularia Winter. In 1901 the family lived at Grove Park Terrace, Harrogate with William undertaking a new venture as a hardware and fancy merchant, later described as a 6½d bazaar in 1911. It was clearly a family enterprise, as the household still included his unmarried sisters, who worked in the shop too. A third unmarried sister, Rose Jane, joined the family in 1901, but she earned her living as a school-mistress. In addition to William and Lily, William now had three daughters and a son to his new wife – Caroline (8), John Archibald (6), Dorothy (4) and Eularia (1). So a whole new life.

The question of the source of the initial report to the press remains unanswered. Was it a case of Chinese whispers and the story being embellished for dramatic effect until it reached the ears of the eager media? Whatever the origins, the effect would only have served to heap distress on Arabella’s grieving family: Wondering if she had been buried alive; the trauma of the exhumation; appearing at the inquest to identify the body and give evidence; perhaps attending the reburial; and despite the verdict, would they always have that niggling doubt – was she really coffined alive?

Sources:

  • Ancestry – West Yorkshire Archive Service; Wakefield, Yorkshire, England; Yorkshire Parish Records; Old Reference Number: 17D85/7
  • British Newspaper Archive on FindMyPast – Leeds Times, 3 March 1888
  • British Newspaper Archive on FindMyPast – Pall Mall Gazette, 6 March 1888
  • British Newspaper Archive on FindMyPast – Knaresborough Post,10 March 1888
  • British Newspaper Archive on FindMyPast – Reynolds’s Newspaper, 11 March 1888
  • British Newspaper Archive on FindMyPast – Blackburn Standard, 19 January 1895
  • British Newspaper Archive on FindMyPast – The Yorkshire Evening Post, 18 January 1905
  • British Newspaper Archive on FindMyPast – The Grantham Journal, 21 January 1905
  • British Newspaper Archive on FindMyPast – Burnley Gazette, 1 March 1905
  • British Newspaper Archive on FindMyPast – The Yorkshire Post, 29 August 1927
  • Census: 1891-1901
  • FindMyPast – Methodist Chapel, Little Stonegate, York (Borthwick Institute Reference Y EB 1)
  • Cornwall Online Parish Clerks http://www.opc-cornwall.org/
  • GRO Indexes
  • Premature burial and how it may be prevented: with special reference to trance, catalepsy, and other forms of suspended animation –  by Tebb, William, 1830-1918; Vollum, Edward Perry, d. 1902: https://ia600202.us.archive.org/35/items/prematureburialh00tebb/prematureburialh00tebb.pdf
  • The History of Cremations in the UK http://www.watltd.co.uk/the-history-of-cremations-in-the-uk/
  • Wellcome Library Images: https://wellcomeimages.org/
  • Wikimedia Commons: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Main_Page
  • Woodhouse Cemetery Burial Registers: https://library.leeds.ac.uk/special-collections/collection/706

[1] The Grantham Journal – 21 January 1905

[2] Burnley Gazette – 1 March 1905

[3] Blackburn Standard – 19 January 1895

[4] The Yorkshire Post – 29 August 1927

 

My Bizarre Christmas-Associated Family Name: AKA There’s more to Family History than DNA

In “Shrapnel and Shelletta[1] I wrote about war-associated baby names. This is a more seasonal post about a particular Christmas-associated family name.

When naming a baby at Christmas-time, which names conjure up this magical time of year? Which can be considered as festive and beautiful as this special period? Holly, Ivy, Joy, Noel/le, Merry, Nick or Rudolph might spring to mind. Perhaps Caspar, Gabriel, Emmanuel, Balthasar and Gloria? Or maybe the Holy Family names of Jesus, Mary and Joseph?

In contrast, which name would make you recoil with shock and horror? Which name would you think “No way! How inappropriate! What on earth are they thinking of?”

Probably near the top of the list would be the one associated with my family tree.  For on 24 December 1826 at Kirkheaton’s St John the Baptist Parish Church (oh, the irony of date and church name)[2] the baptism of Herod Jennings took place.

Saint-Sulpice-de-Favières_vitrail1_837 Herod

Magi before Herod the Great, Wikimedia Creative Commons License, G Freihalter

Herod was born on 3 November 1826, one of five children of coal miner George Jennings and his wife Sarah Ellis. They married in October 1818 at St Mary’s, Mirfield and by the time of Herod’s baptism had settled in Hopton, a hamlet in that township, midway between Mirfield and Kirkheaton.

Herod’s siblings included the equally wonderfully named Israel (baptised 20 June 1824) and Lot (born 8 March 1830), so some fabulous biblical associations there too. The other family names of James (baptised 24 September 1820) and Ann (baptised 20 October 1822, buried 7 July 1823) seem disappointingly ordinary in comparison.

Sarah died in 1832, age 36 leaving George to bring up his four surviving children. James married Sarah Pickles on 25 December 1839, another example of Christmastime events in this branch of the Jennings family![3]So, by the time of the 1841 census, it was just George and his two sons, Israel and Herod, along with a female servant Jemima Gibson living in the Upper Moor, Hopton household. Youngest child Lot was along the road at Jack Royd, with the Peace family. This may have been a permanent arrangement given the family situation.

By the time of this census young Herod already worked down the mine, a job which ultimately would possibly contribute to his death.

On 7 October 1850 he married Ann Hallas at St Mary’s, Mirfield. Both Herod and Ann lived at Woods Row, Hopton. Ann was slightly older than Herod, being born in 1824. By the time of their wedding, she was already the unmarried mother of two. Her son, Henry, was born in 1843; and my 2x great grandmother Elizabeth’s birth occurred in November 1850, 11 months prior to Ann’s marriage to Herod.

This then is my family connection to Herod: His marriage to my 3x great grandmother. And it is one of the mysteries I still hope the DNA testing of mum and me will solve. Was Herod the father of Elizabeth? She was certainly brought up to think so, with all the censuses prior to her marriage recording her surname as Jennings, whereas her brother Henry went under his correct Hallas surname. And when registering the birth of her son Jonathan, there is a slip when Elizabeth starts entering her maiden name as “Jen”. This is subsequently scored through and correctly written as “Hallas”.

It appears Henry too was minded to look upon Herod as his father-figure. At his baptism at St Peter’s, Hartshead in June 1857 he appears in the register as Henry Jennings, not Hallas. When he married Hannah Hainsworth at Leeds All Saints on 24 December 1866, his marriage certificate records his father’s name as “Herod Hallas”. And in 1870 he named his eldest son Herod. Although by no means a common name, a glance at the GRO indexes shows it did appear occasionally, along with its alternative forms of Herodius and the feminine Herodia. The fact Henry gave his son this unusual name seems to indicate a measure of affection for the man who brought him up. Finally, at the time of the 1871 census Herod, son William and nephew Charles were boarding in the Leeds home of Henry.

So, whether or not there is a DNA link, he is still a major figure in my family tree. And for me this brings home the fact that there is more to family, and family history research, than DNA links alone!

Herod and Ann had nine other children: Ellen (born April 1851), Louisa (born January 1853), Harriet (born November 1854), Mary (born May 1858), William (born 1860), Eliza (born April 1862), Rose (born 1864), Violet (born 1866) and James (born 1871).

The family moved frequently, presumably due to Herod’s work as a coal miner. They are recorded at various locations in the area, many within walking distance of where I live. These included Mirfield, Battyeford, Hopton, Hartshead, Roberttown, White Lee and Batley.

Outside of work Herod had a keen interest in quoits, arranging and taking part in park challenge games especially around local Feast times. This game was particularly popular with miners and mining communities in Victorian times, with the metal rings being made of waste metal from mine forges. Challenge matches were also a way to raise funds, for example for sick and injured miners.

Herod died age 52, at Cross Bank, Batley as a result of asthma and bronchitis, which presumably owed something to his mining occupation. Working in cramped, filthy, air-polluted, damp, sometimes wet conditions from an early age, this was a hazardous and unhealthy occupation. The conditions and physical exertion led to chronic muscular-skeletal problems and back pain as well as rheumatism and joint inflammation. Most colliers had lung associated problems, with many becoming asthmatic whilst still relatively young. So Herod’s cause of death, from a lung-related illness, is unsurprising.

Ironically Herod’s date of death occurred on 5 January 1878, a day we associate with the Christmas period, falling before 12th night. And in the Western Christian tradition the 6 January is the Epiphany, marking the visit of the Magi to the infant Jesus in Bethlehem. This brings us once more to the King Herod connection, at Herod Jennings’ death as well as his baptism.

This is what Matthew’s gospel says about those events at the first Christmas:

Then Herod summoned the wise men to see him privately. He asked them the exact date on which the star had appeared, and sent them to Bethlehem. ‘Go find out all about the child,’ he said ‘and when you have found him, let me know, so that I too may go and do him homage.’  Having listened to what the king had to say, they set out. And there in front of them was the star they had seen rising; it went forward and halted over the place where the child was. The sight of the star filled them with delight, and going into the house they saw the child with his mother Mary, and falling to their knees they did him homage. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh. But they were warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, and returned to their own country by a different way. 

After they had left, the Angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother with you, and escape into Egypt, and stay there until I tell you, because Herod intends to search for the child and do away with him.’ So Joseph got up and, taking the child and his mother with him, left that night for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod……Herod was furious when he realised he had been outwitted by the wise men, and in Bethlehem and its surrounding district he had all the male children killed who were two years old or under, reckoning by the date he had been careful to ask the wise men”.[4]

Herod was buried in Batley Cemetery on 7 January 1878.

I have a great deal of affection for Herod, whether or not there is a direct family blood-tie. The fact he took on one, possibly two children when he married Ann; and they in turn acknowledged him as a father, which speaks volumes for him. I can relate to the location links. And I can totally sympathise with his asthma suffering.

This is my final family history blog post of 2015, and an apt one given the time of year. Thanks ever so much for reading them. As someone new to blogging your support, encouragement and feedback has meant so much over the past eight months.

Merry Christmas everyone – wishing you all peace, health and happiness for 2016!

Sources:

[1] Shrapnel and Shelletta: Baby Names and their Links to War, Remembrance and Commemoration | PastToPresentGenealogy https://pasttopresentgenealogy.wordpress.com/2015/11/04/shrapnel-and-shelletta-baby-names-and-their-links-to-war-remembrance-and-commemoration/
[2] Herod the Great was responsible for trying to elicit the three wise men to reveal the  whereabouts of Jesus and, when this failed, subsequently ordering the killing of all infant boys under the age two and under, the so-called “Massacre of the Innocents”. His son, Herod Antipas, had John the Baptist killed.
[3] It was not uncommon for working-class people to have wedding ceremonies on Christmas Day. It was, after all, a holiday so they had time off work.
[4] The Jerusalem Bible, Popular Edition 1974 – Matthew 2: 7-17

Robert and the Resurrectionists, a tale of Yorkshire body snatchers – Part 2

I left my last post with four men in custody on 10 November 1831, pending investigations into the discovery of an unidentified body on its way to Edinburgh via the Newcastle-bound Leeds coach. The suspicion was the youth had been murdered as part of the underground trade to supply medical schools with dead bodies for dissection. On display in Leeds Court House, the body remained unidentified despite extensive publicity and being viewed by thousands.

The tale took a new twist on Saturday 12 November. A friend recognised the body as that of Robert Hudson, a collier from East Ardsley. Other friends and family were summoned to corroborate the identification. Brothers Joseph and John[1] confirmed it, even explaining that the damaged missing fourth fingernail on the right hand resulted from him trapping his finger a fortnight before. John’s wife Permelia[2] also identified her brother-in-law.

Immediately after this identification a party was despatched to open Robert’s grave at East Ardsley. They found holes born into the coffin to allow the use of a saw. The lid was sawn open from head to breast. The coffin contained only a glove and an iron bludgeon which had been left behind by the body snatching gang. The body had gone.

Robert Hudson was born in around 1814 and baptised on 31 July 1814 at St Michaels, East Ardsley. He was the youngest child of miner Matthew Hudson and his wife Grace. At the time of his baptism the family lived at Outwood, just over two miles from East Ardsley. When Matthew died in December 1827 the family address was given as near-by Lawns, in the Township of Stanley-cum-Wrenthorpe in Wakefield Parish.

On Sunday 30 October 1831, 17-year-old Robert left his widowed mother’s home in Lawns at around 11am. His body was discovered between 3-4pm that day. He had hung himself by a his neck handkerchief from a spar in a coal pit cabin belonging to his employers, Messrs Charlesworth. The inquest on 31 October recorded a verdict “that the deceased hung himself when in a state of unsound mind”.

Robert’s burial took place at St Michael’s East Ardsley on 1 November. The burial register notes he “hung himself in the coal pit cabin”. Burial in a churchyard of someone who had committed suicide had been legalised by the 1823 Burial of Suicide Act. However the burial of the body of a suicide was conducted without Church rites and at nighttime between the hours of 9pm and 12pm. If the inquest verdict was that the suicide had been committed whilst the individual was of unsound mind, then a churchyard burial was permissible.

St Michael's, East Ardsley

St Michael’s, East Ardsley

In the light of this new information the Leeds inquest jury, suspended the previous Thursday, was reconvened first thing on Monday morning, 14 November. It found that the body was indeed that of Robert Hudson, who had hanged himself on 30 October, and afterwards was brought to Leeds and discovered in a box on the Courier coach.

This at least removed any potential murder charges against those rounded up in connection with the case.

Within an hour of the inquest jury reaching its decision, the Magistrates examined the case against those charged: in addition to Hodgson, Pickering, Norman and Wood four other men were now in custody. William Germain, packer; William Henry Bradley, joiner; Thomas Pearson, cloth weaver; and Henry Teale, gentleman’s servant. All were from the Leeds area. The latter broke ranks, providing full details of events.

The lengthy examination involving statements from Teale and numerous witnesses lasted from around 10.30am on 14 November until 2.30pm on 16 November.

It revealed Hodgson as the ringleader. Obviously undeterred by his previous sentence, less than three months ago, he recruited his gang over a period of several weeks. For instance he made initial contact with Teale on 22 September.

On 2 November Hodgson gave Teale a list of graveyards to check for recent burials: Hanging Heaton, Dewsbury and East Ardsley. There was also a list for Bradley. His too included the East Ardsley one. So, that afternoon, the pair went there together and discovered two fresh graves, one large and one small.

Robert’s was the large grave. The small one belonged to four-year-old Joseph Longley Fielding of Churwell, who died on 31 October and was buried on the day Teale and Bradley visited the churchyard.

After reporting their finds to Hodgson, arrangements were made for Hodgson, Bradley, Germain & Teal to set off for East Ardsley in two hired gigs late that night, between 9-10pm. Hodgson was armed with two pistols which he produced upon hearing a noise when at the church yard, an indication as to the high stakes at play. All four took it in turns to stand watch or dig.

IMG_0121

Once the coffins were reached and entries made, the bodies were drawn out of by means of a rope around the neck. The corpses were stripped, and all linen thrown back – the gang did not wish to run the risk of more serious theft charges. The graves were re-filled. The bodies were put in separate sacks, placed on the gigs and driven back into town, arriving back in Leeds in the pre-dawn hours.

The bodies were stored in an out-building belonging to Norman’s father. Early on the morning of 3 November, at around 5.30am, a failed attempt was made by Germain, Bradley and Teale to dispatch Robert’s body on the Times coach. Too late, they missed it and were forced to return the package to Norman’s garden-house.

As a result of a comment made by Norman’s father, on Saturday 5 November the gang were forced into making hasty, new arrangements. The child’s body was successfully dispatched to Edinburgh via the Rose and Crown evening Courier coach[3]. Robert’s was taken to the White House being rented by Pickering on Tobacco-Mill-Lane.

A second early-morning attempt, on 7 November, was made to send Robert’s body on its way via the Times coach[4]. The coach would not take the package. Back it went to Tobacco-Mill-Lane, where it was locked in the closet due to the scheduled house viewing.

On the evening of 7 November the foiled Rose and Crown Courier coach attempt occurred, resulting in the discovery of the body and subsequent arrests.

After hearing the evidence the Magistrates found no case against Pearson and Wood on this particular charge and discharged them, although they remained in custody. The other six, (Hodgson, Pickering, Germain, Bradley, Norman and Teale), were ordered to appear before the next Yorkshire Assizes.

At the Yorkshire Lent Assizes 1832, held in York, they were indicted with “severally, wickedly, willingly, and unlawfully conspire, combine, confederate and agree together to disinter a dead body, and afterwards, to wit, in the night of the 2nd of November aforesaid, in pursuance of such conspiracy and agreement, severally enter a church yard, situate at East Ardsley, in the West Riding, and did then and there unlawfully dig up, and disinter from and out of a grave the body of one Robert Hudson”[5] and Joseph Longley Fielding, with intent to sell and dispose of the same.

After hearing the evidence and consulting for a full two minutes the jury found Hodgson, Germain, Norman and Bradley guilty. Pickering was acquitted, as no proof existed that he was connected with the body prior to its exhumation. Hodgson was jailed for one year; Bradley, Germain and Norman received three month sentences; Teale, who turned King’s evidence, was discharged.

Those convicted were sent to Wakefield House of Correction to serve their sentences, much to the annoyance of Hodgson who wished to remain in York Castle which was more conducive to the pursuit of his studies.

I mentioned the sympathy with which body snatching could be viewed by the judiciary, given the acknowledged need to further medical science. This, accompanied by petitioning from anatomists and medical schools and the public revulsion at the work of body snatchers, led to the 1832 Anatomy Act, effectively ending the trade in stolen corpses. The Act allowed licensed anatomists and medical schools to use for dissection unclaimed bodies from institutions such as workhouses and prisons.

At around the time the Act was passed, in July-August 1832 Hodgson launched an unsuccessful petition for clemency. The National Archives Discovery summary describes his crime as:

“Disinterring the dead body of a male pauper for the purposes of dissection in churchyard near Leeds, together with four others, anatomy students from Edinburgh”.

The grounds for the petition were that the:

“…officers of the township who bore the expense of the burial refused to prosecute; the prisoner’s health is impaired by six months confinement and cholera is prevalent in the prison; he is willing to leave the country”.

Interestingly Hodgson focused on the pauper element at this time.

In 2015 York Dungeons featured John Hodgson in its Halloween show. It describes it as follows:

“The popular attraction’s new hair-raising show will see one of the most intimidating, darkest, characters ever introduced. John Hodgson, the local body snatcher is morbid, cruel and gruesome has no remorse for digging up the dead!”

 Sources:

  • Ancestry UK: Criminal Registers, Reference HO 27; Piece: 44; Page: 434
  • Find My Past: HO 13 Home Office Criminal Entry Books of out-letter, warrants and pardons; and HO 19 Home Office Registers of Criminal Petitions
  • Find My Past Newspapers: “Leeds Intelligencer” – 10 & 17 November 1831 and 5 April 1832; “Leeds Mercury” – 12 & 19 November 1831; “Leeds Patriot & Yorkshire Advertiser” – 9 July 1831, 12 & 19 November 1831 and 7 April 1832; “Yorkshire Gazette” – 7 April 1832
  • Pharos Tutors Course: Victorian Crime and Punishment, Courts, Police and Prisons http://www.pharostutors.com/
  • Photographs – taken by me
  • St Michael’s East Ardsley Parish Registers (also available via West Yorkshire Archives on Ancestry UK)
  • The National Archives Criminal Petitions Series I, Reference HO 17/36/159
  • York Dungeons: http://www.thedungeons.com/york/en/plan-your-visit/halloween.aspx

[1] Robert had brothers named both Joseph and John. Some reports named Joseph, others John. So they could both have played a part in identification and the law process. Or it could be a name confusion in reports.
[2] In reports she is named as Pamela.
[3] The 7 April 1832 “Yorkshire Gazette” trial report is at odds with other reports, indicating the child’s body was sent via the Golden Lion coach office.
[4] Some reports indicate this attempt was made on Sunday morning (6 November)
[5]Leeds Intelligencer” – 5 April 1832.

Robert and the Resurrectionists, a tale of Yorkshire body snatchers – Part 1

“A Young Man, about 18 Years of Age, Five Feet Six Inches high[1], Face slightly round, Brown Hair, cut short behind, and long before, slightly calf licked on the right side of the Head, very short down Beard, with scarcely any Whiskers; the left Incisor Tooth stands backward, and the left Canine Tooth forwards; Blue Eyes, of which the left is somewhat injected with Blood; rather fair Complexion, well made and somewhat muscular; the Nail of the ring Finger of the right Hand has been destroyed, and a new Nail partially formed; a slight graze on the right shin nearly healed; there is dirt on the Legs set into the Skin, and the Body exhibits no appearance of illness”.

So read the description of Robert Hudson, my 4x great grandad’s youngest brother, in the “Leeds Patriot and Yorkshire Advertiser” of 12 November 1831. Great to have such an early description. More noteworthy perhaps is the fact it is post-mortem of an, at this point, unidentified body. The press circulated the description and the corpse was placed on public display in Leeds Court House in the hope of putting a name to it.

The discovery of the body in Leeds on 7 November 1831 was triggered by something as innocuous as the prospective sale of a house on Tobacco-Mill-Lane in the Sheepscar area.

In late October the house-owner, Mr William Peniston rented the property to school master James Crabtree Pickering. However at the beginning of November a permanent buyer came forward via a friend of Peniston, Mr William Myers. Viewing though proved problematical. Pickering, who was not occupying the property, procrastinated. He claimed not to have the keys. When they did finally materialise on 7 November Mrs Evans, the buyer’s wife, was available, but not her husband. A locked upstairs closet also proved a minor inconvenience.[2].

Arrangements were made for Pickering to show the house again at 7pm that evening. Peniston and Myers arrived first.[3] Yet again Pickering proved elusive. But Peniston and Myers became aware people were in the property. Suddenly, as they watched, three men left the residence wheeling a box in the direction of Leeds. The pair followed all the way to the Rose and Crown Coaching Inn on Briggate.

Blue Plaque at Queens Arcade, Briggate, Leeds - the site of the Rose and Crown Coaching Inn

Blue Plaque at Queens Arcade, Briggate, Leeds – the site of the Rose and Crown Coaching Inn

The package was in the process of being placed onto the Courier coach heading north, when Peniston drew its suspicious nature to the attention of William Halton, the constable. He seized butcher James Norman, one of the men helping to load the package. The others involved melted away into the crowd. The package was addressed at one end to “Hon. Ben Thompson, Mail-Office, Edinbro’. To be kept until called for. Per Courier, Nov 7th 1831” and at the other “Hon Benjamin Thompson, Mail Office, Carlisle”. Opening it revealed the body of a young man.

July 1831 advert for the Courier Coach from the Rose and Crown Inn, Briggate

July 1831 advert for the Courier Coach from the Rose and Crown Inn, Briggate

Pickering was tentatively identified by some as one of the individuals who had brought the box to the Coach Office and paid for its transportation. So Halton went round to his Bond-Street rooms. Pickering was there with John Craig Hodgson and the pair were brought in to the Chief Constable. The room was also found to contain paraphernalia associated with body snatchers including wet, muddy clothing (obviously used), rope, spades, a saw, a gimlet and an implement that could be used for breaking coffin lids.

And Hodgson, an attorney’s clerk, did have history in this area. As recently as July 1831 he appeared before Leeds Borough Sessions, receiving a six week jail sentence for stealing a dead body.[4] At his trial he argued he too would be involved in its dissection to further his anatomical knowledge, which would be useful in his law employment; he had no intention of selling the body on. The leniency of his sentence owed something to the persuasiveness of the defence put forward, including that by Leeds surgeons, about the need for dead bodies for anatomical purposes to advance medicine. Solicitors also testified on his behalf.[5]

The increase in medical schools in this period combined with the reduction in supply of cadavers with the decrease in capital punishment sentencing[6] resulted in a growing shortfall of bodies for anatomical dissection. This in turn led to a criminal black-market trade in freshly-buried corpses. Providing only the body and no other grave contents were taken, including the burial garments, the crime was treated as a misdemeanour so would entail a lesser sentence.

Some did take it a step further and resorted to murder in order to supply the need. Burke and Hare are the most famous exponents of this. And in November 1831 the so-called “Italian Boy” case was hitting the headlines nationally. A teenage boy was murdered in London and an attempt was made to sell his body to an Anatomical School. On 8 November, a coroners’ jury found a verdict of “wilful murder against some person or persons unknown“.[7] This then was the backdrop to the Leeds find and, as such, it added to the feverish excitement of the town’s populace.

The fascination only increased in the following days. Speculation mounted that foul means also accounted for the demise of the Leeds body, which was put on public display for identification purposes. Despite being seen by thousands this proved fruitless and on 10 November, as the suspicion of murder increased, an inquest was held. By this stage four individuals were in custody: Hodgson, Pickering, Norman and shoemaker John Wood.

The body was moved to Leeds Infirmary for a post-mortem prior to the inquest at the Griffin Inn. Leeds surgeon Thomas Chorley found that there was no sign of illness or disease in the body; the cause of death was strangulation; he also said that, due to its unwashed state, it did not appear the body had been buried. Suddenly things were getting very serious indeed for those suspected of involvement in the crime. Body snatching was one thing; murder took it to a whole new level…..

With his legal background Hodgson’s almost two-hour long questioning of Chorley, in an effort to prove there was no certainty about cause of death, demonstrated he was fully aware of the stakes.

The inquest was suspended until the following Wednesday and the body returned to the Court House for public viewing in the hope that identification would shed more light on the case.

To be continued…….

Sources:

  • Ancestry UK: Criminal Registers, HO 27 series
  • Find My Past Newspapers: “Leeds Intelligencer” – 10 & 17 November 1831 and 5 April 1832; “Leeds Mercury” – 12 & 19 November 1831; “Leeds Patriot & Yorkshire Advertiser” – 9 July 1831, 12 & 19 November 1831 and 7 April 1832; “Yorkshire Gazette” – 7 April 1832.
  • Pharos Tutors Course: Victorian Crime and Punishment, Courts, Police and Prisons http://www.pharostutors.com/

[1] Other reports suggest 5’3”
[2] Later that week when the cupboard was accessible, blood stains were visible on the floor.
[3] Some reports indicate the purchaser was due to view.
[4] Ancestry UK Criminal Registers: HO 27; Piece: 42; Page: 438
[5] “Leeds Patriot and Yorkshire Advertiser” 9 July 1831
[6] The bodies of those executed were given over for anatomical dissection.
[7] In December 1831 John Bishop and Thomas Williams were hung for the offence