The case that revolved around the age of a goat

120px-Goat_PortraitIn 1839, a rather ludicrous case was heard at the Drumcondra Petty Sessions in Dublin regarding a goat stolen from a former policeman – where the case hinged on the age of the said animal.

The former policeman, Samuel Stephens, who was now working as a labourer, accused Conliffe Mill proprietor Mr Dollard of having a goat that Stephens swore had been stolen from him some three years earlier.

Magistrate Captain Cottingham noted that the case had been held over from a previous day in order for someone to be called to prove the age of the goat.

Stephens stated that his goat was around seven years old, whereas Dollard argued that HIS goat was only four.

In evidence, Stephens told the magistrate that in mid 1836, three goats had been stolen from him, and that he had received information that they had been stolen by a man and woman who lived in Spring Gardens.

When he had tracked down the couple, the woman said the goat was hers; but when asked where she had got it from, she burst into tears, and said she had bought it from a man in Dalkey about five weeks earlier.

Stephens said he was sure it was his goat; it had a white face, black neck and white sides.

The case got somewhat derailed by the defendant’s counsel’s curiosity about why Stephens had left the police.

“Did you like the service?”

“I did.”

“Did the service like you?”

“Certainly it did.”

“Then if you liked the service, and the service was equally fond of you, what was the cause of your leaving it and becoming a labourer?”

“I left it to go to a gentleman.”

“Will you swear you were not dismissed?”

“I left the police to go to a gentleman, I tell you.”

“Come, Sir, by virtue of your oath, were you not dismissed from the police?”

Stephens appealed to Captain Cottingham,

“Am I bound to answer the question?”

“You are.”

The defendant’s counsel, Mr Cantwell, then asked,

“Now, again, I ask you, and you must answer the question, were you not dismissed from the police?”

“Yes, I was.”

Further examination revealed that Stephens had been dismissed from the police for assaulted a man on the Naas Road.

His reputation for honesty somewhat damaged, he then detailed how he had bought the goats some three years before their theft.

One of the goats had been a kid then, and Stephens had paid half a crown for him. That was the goat he swore that Dollard had taken.

Mr Cantwell asked,

“Did you know the goat by any other marks than those you have described?”

An exasperated Stephens responded,

“Oh, it’s all a humbug! The goat is mine!”

“I quite agree with you that it is a humbug,” Cantwell replied.

A witness was then called, Laurence Brangan, who had given a kid to a Miss Connolly – and he thought this was the same goat that Dollard now had.

Then a Mr McLoghen was called, who said he was the man who had given a kid to Laurence Brangan, who had then given it to Miss Connolly… But he could not say that this goat was the same as that kid.

“Why, this gentleman’s evidence is of no value to anyone!” spluttered the magistrate. “He is not able to prove the identity!”

McLoghen was recalled. “Is it four or three years since you gave the kid to Mr Brangan?” asked the magistrate.

McLoghen was vague. “It is either three or four years since I gave it, but I cannot say which.”

Mr Cantwell complained that McLoghen was being given harder questions than Stephens had. McLoghen suddenly got his memory back, and said that the goat had been given three years earlier, not four.

Dalkey, home of the Connollys.

Dalkey, home of the Connollys.

Then Thomas Connelly of Dalkey was called, to state that Miss Connolly, his sister, had given him a goat the previous winter to keep on his land until the summer.

But in June 1838, McLoghen’s sister had asked Connolly to give the goat to Dollard’s wife as a present, and the goat was duly sent there.

Mr Cantwell believed that this convoluted evidence of multiple ownership made the case clear; but Cottingham, the magistrate, understandably remained confused. Again, he commented that he would like someone to tell him how old the goat was.

Now, for some reason, Stephens called a witness, called Larkin, ostensibly to prove that three years ago, Stephens had owned three goats.

Unfortunately for Stephens, though, Larkin, on being examined, couldn’t describe any of the goats to the magistrate.

And then, “a great deal of time” was spent “endeavouring to get somebody who could judge the age of a goat” – but nobody could be found.

Captain Cottingham, by now at the end of his – ahem – tether, announced his intention to dismiss the case. “I believe that Stephens is under the conscientious impression that the goat is his property, but it must be a mistake on his part.”

Stephens was not prepared to let this lie. “Oh! It is no mistake!” he exclaimed. “The goat is mine!”

The case looked like it would now have no speedy resolution, with both sides continuing to lock horns (sorry) over the age of a goat.

Source: Freeman’s Journal, Dublin, 19 September 1839

The Woman Who Ate Her Baby

prestonguardian14:3:1846

 

This tantalisingly brief piece in the Preston Guardian of 14 March 1846 caught my attention as I was searching for something else.

The relative lack of detail made me wonder if it was a fictional piece – the Victorian press were not strangers to making up the odd story, or embellishing the basics of a true one to make a better piece.

A woman gnawing her baby to death? Surely not.

But then I searched a bit more, and realised that this was, sadly, only too true (although a few parts of the Preston Guardian‘s story are incorrect, or based on later events).

It was a tale of poverty, and of a woman driven literally mad by the effects of childbirth.

Mary Ann Dinah King, the woman in question, was a mother of three. She was born in December 1822 at Union Street in Lambeth, the daughter of Joseph Lyons, a hawker, and his wife Amelia.

mary ann baptism

The baptism of Mary Ann Dinah Lyons in 1823.

 

On 16 March 1841, aged 18, she married John King at St Mary’s in Lambeth. She had not been known to have any mental issues until she gave birth to her first child, and, within a short period of time, had become pregnant with twins.

By the beginning of 1846, Mary Ann was living at her parents’ house on Chester Street in Kennington – her husband absent or dead.

On 24 January 1846, she gave birth there, to a boy and a girl, both healthy. She named them James and Catherine Mary Ann. All three appeared to be doing well, until the evening of 31 January.

Mary Ann had been in bed at her parents’ house that night, when she suddenly started up, grabbed the little boy, and beat him around the head.

Her mother, Amelia Lyons,  ran to her, but by the time she got to the baby, Mary Ann had started to bite at his face. Blood was pouring from little James’s head.

Amelia screamed for her husband, Joseph, who ran up to the room, but by this point, Mary Ann had chewed through James’s nose and cheek. She was leaning on her son, her mouth still attached to his face, and would not let go until her father pinched her nose tightly and she had to breathe.

James was covered in blood. Mary Ann’s face and mouth were smeared with it. The shock and horror that Mary Ann’s parents – little James’s grandparents – must have felt is clear.

motherAmelia had the presence of mind to run with the baby to the house of Mr Mason, the local surgeon, who dressed James’s wounds as best as he could.

Amazingly, James survived for nearly a month, gradually becoming weak and exhausted, before dying on 25 February.

A coroner’s inquest was held at the Fountain Tavern on Walworth Road in Kennington at the beginning of March, where the coroner, William Carter, and 14 local householders gathered to hear the horrifying story.

The householders returned a verdict of wilful murder against Mary Ann. She, meanwhile, had, since the attack, been committed to the lunatic ward of the parish workhouse*.

She was indicted for trial at the Central Criminal Court, but when her case was held on 2 April, the jury found that she was clearly unfit to plead, being of unsound mind.

 

Old Bailey Online 1846

 The brief details of Mary Ann’s case, taken from the Old Bailey Proceedings.

What happened to Mary Ann afterwards? It does not appear that she regained her senses; her actions were those of a woman who had lost contact with reality and it is hard to see how she could come back from that awful night.

NOTES

  • Details found via Free BMD, Ancestry.co.uk, Preston Guardian and The Era.
  • * One report stated that Mary Ann was in the lunatic ward of Newington workhouse, but she was living at her parents’ house in Kennington, which came under the Lambeth Poor Law Union, rather than the Newington PLU, and so it is possible she was actually sent there.
  • Mary Ann’s oldest child, not mentioned by name in press reports, may have been Amelia, born in Lambeth early in 1842.

Seduction in Stevenage: sex, marriage and keeping it in the family

Székely_Woman_StretchingWilliam Swaine was a Hertfordshire farmer, who had grown accustomed to the help of his young niece around his Stevenage farm.

She had been living with his family since she was two and a half, and he looked on her as his own child. This young girl, Matilda Winters, spent her days looking after the farmhouse whilst her uncle farmed.

Living down the road was the Brown family. Young master Brown lived with his parents, and they all got on well with Farmer Swaine.

The farmer noticed that Brown got on particularly well with Matilda, but thought nothing of it; he supposed “that a man at his time of life was not likely to take advantage of the confidence that was placed in him.”

Unfortunately for William Swaine, his faith was misplaced. Matilda was a good looking girl, who looked younger than her age. Although Brown had known her since she was a child, he now professed the “greatest affection” for her.

610px-Antique_Die_Cut_ValentineAt Christmas time in 1867, when Matilda was just 16, Brown seduced her in the farm stable. Her wrote her letters, addressing her as his “dear little sweetheart”, and on Valentine’s Day, 1868, he sent her a romantic poem.

The relationship continued, in secret, until February 1870, when Matilda realised she was pregnant.

She asked Brown was she was to do, and he gave her a prescription for an abortifacent, accompanying her to a chemist in Hitchin, where the prescription was made up – but the “medicine” tasted so horrid that Matilda was unable to drink more than one bottle of it.

Brown asked her for the one unopened bottle back; when she refused and asked why he wanted it, he replied, “it might be useful to some other girl.”

The pregnancy continued. Matilda’s uncle grew suspicious only when she reached seven or eight months pregnant, and when questioning her, she at first refused to say who the father was. Eventually she admitted it was their neighbour – to her uncle’s shock.

Swaine immediately called Brown to him, and told him he knew that Matilda was pregnant. Brown admitted that he had slept with Matilda, but attempted to blacken the young woman’s name, stating  that “others had done the same”.

Swaine saaid that the only way for Brown to “restore his niece’s character” was to marry her. Brown refused but said he would be willing to give her an allowance of 10 shillings a week as long as he did not have to live with her.

Swaine, horrified at Brown’s allegations of Matilda’s sexual misconduct with other boys, ordered Brown to leave his house.

Matilda gave birth to her daughter  on 15 November 1870. She named her Cecilia Angelina Brown Winters, her child’s second name being her seducer’s surname. Her friends approached Brown and asked him to marry her, as he had previously promised to do, but he continued to refuse.

Accordingly, William Swaine took him to the Hertford Assizes in March 1871, ostensibly to “recover damages for the loss of the services of his niece, on account of her seduction”.

This was as a seduced woman could not bring a case herself – William brought one as Matilda’s de facto father, with this “parent/child” relationship being seen as akin to a master/servant one. This was unlike a breach of promise case, where the injured party was required to bring the action herself.

William sought £2,000 (the equivalent of over £90,000 today) from Brown.

UntitledMatilda stood in court and claimed that Brown had bought her presents, including a watch, a locket, and a work-box. She thought he had intended to marry her, and denied that she had ever “been guilty of any impropriety” with some other local boys named in court.

Swaine was told that he could not prove that he had lost Matilda’s services as a result of her seduction, as he had instigated the case before she had given birth.

The Lord Chief Justice then criticised Swaine for bringing a case prematurely, suggesting that the farmer and Brown could have come to “some arrangement” that would have removed the need of further litigation.

But after debate between the defence and the prosecution counsels, Brown stated that he would agree to pay Sweyne compensation of £750 (just under £3,500 today), and the verdict was accordingly recorded.

Four years after the court case, Matilda wed a Luton-born butcher named George Ellerd Davis. George had not had a straightforward start to his sexual life either. He had become a husband at 21, on marrying Phoebe Horley, and a widower at 22.

Matilda and George lived  in various places in Hertfordshire, Middlesex and Bedfordshire, having several sons together.

But there was a twist in this tale. Matilda died in 1898, aged 46. Her widower, George, had, within weeks, remarried.

The speed with which he remarried was one thing. But his choice of wife was even more unexpected – he wed his illegitimate stepdaughter, Cecilia, who was 18 years his junior.

Cecilia and George's marriage entry - the space for Cecilia's father's name is, of course, blank (via Ancestry).

Cecilia and George’s marriage entry – the space for Cecilia’s father’s name is, of course, blank (via Ancestry).

They married on 2 November 1898 in Islington, a place where they had no links, presumably to avoid gossip from those they knew. Yet in 1901, they were living at Moorfield House, Fishers Green – back in Stevenage.

Perhaps they thought nobody there would remember the circumstances of Cecilia’s birth 30 years earlier, but one person would have. William Swaine was still alive and lived in Stevenage for another eight years until he died aged 88.

Cecilia also died, on 18 June 1908, after less than ten years of marriage, and aged only 37. She and her mother Matilda both had children by George Davis; Cecilia’s son Hector was left without a mother at the age of six.

George again lost little time in finding another wife – his fourth – although at least this time, she does not appear to have been a member of the Winters family.

But there appears to have been doubt, after Cecilia’s death, as to whether she and George were even legally married.

Probate was not issued until 21 years after her death, which found her effects to be worth over £2,000. Her name was listed in the probate calendar as “Cecilia Angelina Brown Winters, otherwise Cecilia Davis”.

An 1846 Isle of Man case had argued that marriage between another stepfather and stepfather was “incestuous intercourse”, and stated that canon law prohibited a man from marrying his late wife’s daughter – this was ruled to be “affinity”.

However, in the Isle of Man case, because the man and woman had been lawfully married under licence, the marriage could not be “put aside”.

Cecilia and George had also been married legally, by licence. It seems that when probate was finally granted to George, in 1929, long after he had married for the fourth time, that a similar conclusion was reached as in the 1846 case.

The decision closed the door on one family’s complex relationships – a teenage seduction, illegitimate child, multiple marriages and that contested, secret marriage to a stepchild. Who knew Stevenage’s history was so interesting?!

 

Sources: The Morning Post, 3 March 1871, page 7, “Promises Broken: Courtship, Class, and Gender in Victorian England” by Ginger S. Frost (University of Virginia Press, 1995), Ancestry.co.uk.

The horrors of Kilmainham Gaol

image1 4Last month, I visited Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin, and it had quite an effect on me.

Unlike many sanitised dark tourism sites, Kilmainham remains a forbidding site.

The first thing to mention about it is the cold. Little effort has been made to bring it into the 21st century with heating, or decent lighting, or any mod cons.

Apart from the museum – which is a fascinating place, well designed and with so much information that you can spend hours there – the place is firmly set in the past.

You can imagine the lives of the prisoners who once spent their days and nights there; the men crammed in their small cells, the women and children bedding down on straw in the corridors, under open, unglazed windows – at the mercy of the Irish weather.

image2 3This was once, in the late eighteenth century, home primarily to debtors, who made up over 50 per cent of prisoners. But it was also home to petty thieves, drunks, and prostitutes. Men and women were held together, in spaces designed for far fewer.

Window glass was not brought to the site until the late 1840s – until then, how many people must have died after failing to get adequate warmth within the confines of the gaol?

The Vagrancy (Ireland) Act, passed in 1847, served to punish those who, made destitute by the Famine, tried to beg in the streets, or steal food.

The prison became home to these poor people, with up to five sharing a cell designed for one. At least, now, they had a roof over their heads and regular food and drink.

Kilmainham is, of course, mainly associated with political prisoners. The instigators of the Easter Rising of 1916 were brought here, and executed in the yard.

image3 3Today, a cross marks the spot where all but one of these men faced the firing squad (the other, James Connolly, was so ill, he had to be constrained in a chair and killed near the gate where he had been brought in, unable to walk to the traditional execution spot).

You can only visit Kilmainham as part of a guided tour, and even as part of a group, it feels dark, claustrophobic and intimidating walking its corridors and looking at the cell doors behind which so many prisoners languished.

But for that reason, it is well worth a visit. It brings to life how awful prison life was, up there on Gallows Hill, rather than attempting to be a tourism “experience” with costumed guides and garish souvenirs.

 

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Horror and entertainment at the gibbet: Charles Dickens’ day out

Marie_Manning,_murderer

Marie Manning, hanged with her husband Frederick outside Horsemonger Lane Gaol on 13 November 1849 – witnessed by Charles Dickens.

“I was a witness of the execution at Horsemonger-lane…The horrors of the gibbet and of the crime which brought the wretched murderers to it, faded in my mind before the atrocious bearing, looks and language, of the assembled spectators…

“When the day dawned, thieves, low prostitutes, ruffians and vagabonds of every kind, flocked onto the ground, with every variety of offensive and foul behaviour.

“Fightings, faintings, whistling, imitations of Punch, brutal jokes, tumultuous demonstrations of indecent delight when swooning women were dragged out of the crowd by the police with their dresses disordered, gave a new zest to the general entertainment.

“Nothing that ingenuity could devise to be done in this city, in the same compass of time, could work such ruin as one public execution, and I stand astounded and appalled by the wickedness it exhibits.”

Charles Dickens, 18 November 1849

Looking through a magistrate’s eyes

I’ve been meaning to do this post since last summer – but better late than never! This is an insight into one of the magistrates I studied for my PhD, which includes a look round his house…

Richard Colt Hoare and his son

Richard Colt Hoare and his son

Sir Richard Colt Hoare was a Wiltshire magistrate, a member of the banking family. Born in 1758, he inherited the family estate of Stourhead, near Mere, on the Wiltshire/Somerset border.

Hoare was, as was typical for a rural justice, a member of the landed gentry. He professed sympathy for the rural poor, yet was, by his own status, somewhat distanced from them.

His attitude expressed a dichotomy amongst the magistrate; he commissioned portraits of the poor, showing them as both innocent and vulnerable and thus displaying publicly his empathy towards them.

However, he also kept man-traps in his house and made out lists of poachers who had been caught taking game from his lands.

Hoare’s ambivalence and contradictions perhaps reflected his own background. Although gentry, his status reflected the changing nature of the magistracy over the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

The increasing workload of the rural magistrate was leading to the JP being drawn from a wider social group than previously – for example, a growing number of magistrates were now from a clerical background.

Hoare’s money was new(ish) money; he was descended from the founder of the bank, C. Hoare and Co. Unlike many gentry magistrates, Hoare was not educated at Oxford or Cambridge, and did not get admitted to one of the Inns of Court, a popular form of education for young gentlemen.

Stourhead

Stourhead

Instead, in his mid-20s, he inherited Stourhead, and indulged his passions for archaeology and travelling. But he was also a magistrate for decades – his notebooks covering the period between 1785 and 1834 – and High Sheriff for Wiltshire in 1805.

How accessible he was as a magistrate is debatable. He spent a lot of time travelling both in Britain and across Europe, and translated classical works.

He was certainly not always present at Stourhead, and in his absence, local people had to either travel further to another magistrate, or resolve their issues within their community rather than seeking the mediation and arbitration of a justice.

Hoare's library

Hoare’s library

Hoare was also concerned with appearances. He set his grand library up as his justicing room, where he would received those members of the local community who wanted him to resolve their disputes, or to report offences such as thefts and assaults.

This library must have appeared intimidating to callers. It was lined floor to ceiling with books – both antiquarian works and legal manuals, bound copies of statute law and books on local history.

But the most fundamental issue was access to the justicing room itself. Hoare constructed an exterior staircase entering into the room, so that callers would have to queue outside – regardless of the weather – rather than traipse through the interior of Stourhead to reach the room.

This does not suggest that Hoare saw himself as champion of the poor, or friend of the poor. Instead, it suggests that he was at a distance from those who came before him, and was keen to preserve that distance.

Those of equal status to himself may have been allowed to set foot in other rooms, but those who came before him charged with poaching, or other forms of theft, and who were drawn largely from the humblest ranks of rural society, knew their place as soon as they lined up on that staircase.

That is why visiting Stourhead is so valuable; the gap between the image the magistrate wanted to present, and the complex reality is clearly visible in the contrast between grand library and the small flight of stairs outside it.

For more information about the Hoare family, see the National Trust’s page here.

An extra shilling for Valentine’s Day

 

Not a crime story, but I liked this Valentine’s story from 1871, so thought I’d share it:

“On the evening before St Valentine’s Day, there was an immense increase of labour in the inland branch of the Post Office, which was met partly by the employment of an extra number of men and partly by extra exertion of the regular hands, who were paid an additional shilling for coming an hour earlier than their usual time.

“The ordinary force of 350 sorters was made up to 500, by the enlistment of men who were off duty in their own right, and of others from the Dead Letter Office.

“The number of valentines despatched on Monday evening from the General Post Office was 250,000 more were received the same night and on the morning of St Valentine’s Day, for despatch by the day mails.”

The Derby Mercury, 22 February 1871 (who in turn had lifted their story from the Globe).

Dressing the Criminal, Stealing the Dress

Annie Wilson, admitted to Dorchester Prison in 1900 (Dorset History Centre, via Ancestry.co.uk).

Annie Wilson, admitted to Dorchester Prison in 1900 (Dorset History Centre, via Ancestry.co.uk).

When I was applying for university at 18, I originally intended to study fashion design, gaining a place at the London College of Fashion. Although I ended up doing something completely different, my interest in fashion history has remained.

This links to my work in criminal history, in that I am fascinated by what people wore in the past, and in particular, what criminals wore and what they stole in terms of clothing.

Clothing the elite: fashions on display at the V&A.

Clothing the elite: fashions on display at the V&A.

There’s plenty of evidence for what the elite wore – the paintings that adorn the walls of country houses show us.

The clothes that get preserved and exhibited in museums (such as the ones in the Victoria and Albert Museum) again tend to be those of the higher echelons of society.

But what about the poor, the marginalised members of society? One of the historians who has made the biggest inroads into this area is John Styles, with his book The Dress of the People, which includes a section on the clothes that criminals stole, and what these can tell us about what was seen as fashionable, popular, or what these people would have worn themselves.

The Old Bailey Proceedings detail the clothing stolen by individuals, in varying amount of detail. In 1692, for example, Abraham Stacey was indicted for theft, having stolen:

“One stuff Gown value 10s, one woman’s hood Dress, value 15s, another Scarf value 40s, a Feather Tippet, value 5s.” (Old Bailey Proceedings Online, 15 January 1692)

The status of the woman who the goods belonged to, a Jane Browne, is not known, but the goods were both valuable and valued. This is not your average plebeian woman’s wardrobe. Abraham, who stole the clothing, was a cook – a servant – and had stolen clothing that could be sold on.

The Old Bailey Proceedings do show that particular items of clothing were popular targets for thieves at different times. In the late 17th and early 18th centuries, women’s hoods and muslin head-dresses, ruffles and pieces of lace were popular items to steal, together with Holland aprons.

In the late 18th century, bonnets, damask shoes, striped muslin aprons, silk dresses and petticoats were itemised; these were not only goods that thieves coveted or thought valuable – they were what Londoners were buying and wearing.

The poorer members of society coveted what their ‘betters’ wore; so in 1768, a female servant bought clothing with money she had stolen from her mistress, and was spotted “dress’d in gauze and a black apron, and other things, with a new gown.”

Of course, by the late Victorian era, photos were being routinely taken of criminals, which really bring to life what ordinary people were wearing in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Elizabeth Clode in 1890 (Dorset History Centre/Ancestry.co.uk).

Elizabeth Clode in 1890 (Dorset History Centre/Ancestry.co.uk).

The photo of Annie Wilson, at the top of this post, shows her wearing a distinctive double-breasted coat or jacket.

Elizabeth Clode, left, admitted to Dorchester in 1890, has some striking buttons on her top.

The wealth – or lack of it – is also visible in prison photos, with some men wearing waistcoats and relatively tidy jackets, whereas others are in torn coats and dirty neckerchiefs.

What does all of this show? Well, it shows that people have always been interested in fashion, in looking fashionable. It shows that crimes have been committed because of fashion – its monetary value, and envy of those who can afford it.

It’s also evident how one’s social status and financial worth have been made explicit through clothing in history. The exhibitions of eighteenth-century dress at the V&A are a world away from the prisoners’ mugshots online at Ancestry.

But both show the importance of dress to our ancestors – both to the poor and to the rich, to thieves and their victims – and what it can tell us about their position in society.

A pilfering barmaid at the Rising Sun

The Old Rising Sun on Marylebone High Street

The Old Rising Sun on Marylebone High Street

Florence Savins was a barmaid at the Old Rising Sun on Marylebone High Street. She was just 19 years old, and had been working at the pub for around two months.

But her behaviour was arousing suspicion. The pub’s takings had been falling off; money seemed to be disappearing. The landlord thought Florence had been taking money from her employer.

He called the police, and two police detectives, Keys and Brooks, duly arrived. He told them of his suspicions, and they took some coins from him and marked them.

They then called into the Rising Sun, pretending to be customers, and when Florence told them how much their beer was, they passed the coins over in payment.

When the landlord came to empty the till that night, he found that two shillings and a sixpence were missing. He called Sergeant Keys to the pub, and, in front of Palmer, Keys questioned Florence.

At first, she said she didn’t know what had happened to the missing purse, and said all the money she had been paid had gone straight into the till.

image2She then showed the men her purse, which contained over a pound, all in unmarked coins. However, she later produced the marked coins, admitting having pocketed them after receiving payment from a customer. She was immediately taken into custody.

Florence’s case was heard in May 1894 at the Marylebone Magistrates’ Court, the prosecutor being the famous solicitor Frederick Freke Palmer.

Freke Palmer asked for her to be dealt with leniently, and Walter Dobbin, from her employers (Dobbin & Co), promised her that if she told him all about the money, “he would do his best to be lenient to her”.

However, Mr Newton, the magistrate who dealt with her,  said,

“tradesmen could not carry on business if such offences were to be regarded as trivial matters.”

He sentenced Florence to 21 days hard labour.

Source: The Standard, London, 16 May 1894, p.6

The Hall Green Tragedy Part 2: Scandal at the Undertaker’s

This is part two of my retelling of the Hall Green Tragedy of 1895. For part one, see here.

It was not until the day after the deaths that the bodies were identified, after police found an address in Edward’s pocket.

His wife was brought to formally identify the bodies as those of her husband and her eldest daughter by her first husband. It was noted that ‘the distress and horror of the poor woman were most painful to witness’.

The Mermaid Inn in Sparkhill. Photo by Oosoom.

The Mermaid Inn in Sparkhill. Photo by Oosoom.

Carrie’s body was initially taken to the local pub, the Mermaid Inn, on Stratford Road, but later, both her body and that of Edward Birch were removed to the undertakers. Here, scandal ensued.

The undertaker unscrupulously allowed spectators to view the bodies on payment of a penny each admission fee.

The result was that his premises were ‘crowded with morbid sightseers’ all weekend, with women seen shaking their fists in Edward Birch’s dead face and shouting ‘May you go straight to hell!’.

The negative publicity this resulted in led to the undertaker promising to donate all money paid to Mrs Birch, but this did not lessen the views of other locals that this had been an ‘unedifying’, ‘repulsive’, spectacle.

Carrie’s inquest was held first, at the Mermaid Inn, with AH Hebbert, deputy coroner for North Worcestershire, presiding. Here, the verdict of wilful murder against Edward Birch was recorded, despite the couple appearing to have made a pact together to die.

The deputy coroner summed up by saying, ‘the extraordinary part of the case was that the girl consented to die’ but that if two persons agreed to kill themselves, but one of them survived, the survivor would be guilty of murder.

The jury expressed ‘strong dissatisfaction’ with how the bodies had been ‘housed’ – and the subsequent scandal – and ‘hoped it would not be long before a proper police-station, mortuary and ambulance’ was provided in Sparkhill.

Meanwhile, a search had been carried out in the family home, and police found several letters written by Birch. One read:

“E Birch, 59 Upper Highgate Street, Highgate, Birmingham. Nov 8th 1894. This is to shew that I will not be bested I worned her 12 mounths ago she dou in May 5th 1894 what she ourt not to… she as deceived me agin & when I get in drink it plays on my mind and I make the best of myself Ive taken her out & to places of amusement and then she will be after the men & in September last I give hir lef to go Sunday school and church if she be in by 9 and then she goes of with to fellers in the Ram till after 10 at night round the Mosley fields coaved with muck and paint… She is not my own child and this is the reason when I tell hir about it the mouther takes hir part and incurges hir in it. So this is the end of it.”

The next letter, sent to his parents in Wolverhampton on 5 January, stated:

“Dont put yourself about me of what you see and hear, I care for nothing as they ave brought it all on themselves. Emmer knows what I sed about genney when I was out of work being with that grieves till 1 o’clock in the morning as I keept from starving so long in 1893. So this makes to I have to keep of other mens kids and Calley is as bad…and have soon put her in trouble and this is the way out of it the Job is worse for me than hir as I shall go throw the same and no it tell the fokes to have mutch to say of this afair on either sides to envest into ther own life and they will no dout find soom black spots that will take a robbing out.”

The Victoria Law Courts, by Tony Hisgett

The Victoria Law Courts, by Tony Hisgett

An inquest on Edward Birch was held on 15 January at the Victoria Courts in Birmingham, before city coroner Oliver Pemberton. Here, Mrs Birch repeated the evidence that she had given at her daughter’s inquest, detailing the ‘painful relationship’ between her relatives.

At a small china teacup, which had the words ‘A present from Birmingham’ inscribed in gold round it, being produced, she burst into sobs – ‘it was given to me by my daughter on my 32nd birthday.’

Carrie’s younger sister Lilly, then aged around eight, then had to give evidence, followed by two of Birch’s colleagues at Messrs Lowe’s iron foundry in Upper Trinity Street. They noted that although quiet and intelligent as a worker, he was something of a drinker, and had been summoned before the courts recently for not sending one of his children to school.

The coroner stated that the dead man had ‘turned from the conduct of the parent and behaved in a manner almost impossible to describe.’ He went further; Birch was a ‘profoundly wicked man’, and he encouraged the jury to return a verdict of felo de se – that Birch had ‘feloniously, wilfully, and of malice aforethought did kill and murder himself’. The jury duly did so.

The funeral of Carrie Jones took place at Yardley Cemetery on the Monday morning. The funeral procession left her mother’s house at 59 Upper Highgate Street at 9.30am with the service taking place at 11am.

How did Mrs Birch cope with this double betrayal by her husband and daughter, followed by the double deaths and the publicity the events received?

Understandably, the press reported that she was ‘utterly prostrated, both mentally and physically’, to the extent of being unable to maintain either herself or her six other children, the youngest being only a few months old. In her lowest moments, but the community did not stigmatise her, instead rallying around her.

The jury had stated at Birch’s inquest that they expressed ‘deep sympathy’ for Mrs Birch, and collected money for her from each of the jurors at the end of the inquest. The coroner encouraged all the onlookers at the court to do the same.

Joseph Lock was appointed by the community to collect money on behalf of the Birch family, writing in the press that ‘any sums, however small’ would be welcome to help maintain the family as it would be ‘weeks, probably months’ before Mrs Birch was able to resume family life.

Another man, William L Sheffield, responded in the press that ‘the unfortunate woman Mrs Birch deserves some little help, and I shall be happy to contribute’, and others sent postal orders directly to the newspapers, asking for them to be forwarded on.

Selina Birch survived the ordeal, although life continued to be tough for her. She stayed in the Upper Highgate Street area for the next decade.

She worked as a laundress to maintain her children, and seems to have had at least two illegitimate children following Edward’s death – Jessie was born in 1898 and Lizzie in 1906.

In 1911, living at 6 Beales Buildings, Frank Street, in Balsall Heath, she stated that she was a widow with nine children, of whom two had died.

Significantly, though, despite being a widow, she wrote that her ‘present marriage’ had so far lasted 30 years, suggesting that she still saw Edward Birch very much as her husband.

Selina J Birch died in Birmingham in 1939, shortly before the start of the Second World War, aged 79 – having long outlived her unfaithful husband and naïve daughter.

Sources: 

The Standard, 9 January 1895, p.3; Nottinghamshire Guardian, 12 January 1895, p.8; Birmingham Daily Post, 12 January 1895; The Derby Mercury, 16 Jan 1895; Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper, 20 January 1895; Ancestry, The Genealogist.