The man whose wife had sex with the lodgers

adulteryIn 1900, a Pimlico hairdresser and waiter sought a divorce from his wife, on the grounds of adultery.

His wife seems to have been a busy woman – she and her husband rented out their spare rooms to lodgers, and she was accused of sleeping not just with one but with all three of them.

The husband, Ephraim Riseley, had married Emily Elizabeth Murkett at St John’s in Fitzrovia on 9 May 1886. Ephraim, a coachman’s son, was 23; his bride, the daughter of a carpenter, was 24; both were originally from Huntingdonshire.

They moved into a house at 15 Glasgow Terrace in Pimlico, and had two children, Edwin Ephraim, born in February 1889, and May Emily, born in August 1891.

Ephraim had been working as a footman and butler since his marriage, but wanted to invest for his and his family’s future – so he took over a hairdressing business. They moved to 4 South Wharf Road in Paddington, where Ephraim installed Joel Edwards as manager of the hairdresser’s, renting out one of his rooms to him, with the business being run from there. The other rooms were taken by lodgers named Alfred Leaman and Mr Hammond.

While Edwards was running the hairdresser’s, Ephraim continued to work as a waiter or footman at private functions, which often required working through the night into the early hours of the morning.

On 3 July 1899, when he returned home at 3am after finishing work,

“he found his manager and wife occupying the same bedroom.”

Ephraim's divorce petition, taken from Ancestry.

Ephraim’s divorce petition, taken from Ancestry.

He unceremoniously turfed the couple out into the street, and when it had reached a more civilised hour, lodged a petition for divorce. Initially, he only named Joel Edwards, but then, later, he requested that he be allowed to amend the petition by adding charges of adultery with both Leaman and Hammond – making it clear that he had never found out, or been told, the latter’s first name. He also recorded that he had only been made aware of these ‘offences’ on 30 July, although he didn’t note how he had found out or who had told him.

He alleged that Emily had slept with Leaman at their house on 29 June 1899, and with Hammond on 30 June 1899 at the same address; in other words, that she had slept with different lodgers on consecutive days, both in the marital home. It was only Edwards, though, who Ephraim thought his wife had regularly slept with.

The divorce was granted, and Ephraim was awarded custody of the couple’s children. As soon as he divorced, he married again, and in 1911 was living in Fulham, where he was working as a gentleman’s servant. His children, Edwin and May, were still living with him, together with his daughter Mary Elizabeth, from his second marriage – born only a year after his divorce case.

Emily, meanwhile, so maligned in the divorce case, with her response to Ephraim’s charges unrecorded, was not so fortunate. For the next decade, she eked a living as a charwoman. The 1901 census recorded her as married still; by 1911, she chose to describe herself as a widow. There was no sign of Joel Edwards – or, indeed, any lodger living with Mrs Riseley. She obviously knew the dangers of having lodgers now.

Sources: The National Archives, divorce case J77/673/454 (also on Ancestry); Reynolds’s Newspaper, 18 March 1900; 1911 census for 20 Burnfoot Avenue, Fulham; 1911 census for 42 Theobalds Road, Holborn; 1901 census for Paddington (address not visible on census return).

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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.

The Hall Green Tragedy: Illicit Sex and Murder in a Birmingham Suburb

Dante_Gabriel_Rossetti_-_Paolo_and_Francesca_da_Rimini_-_Google_Art_Project

“News of a shocking domestic tragedy comes from Sparkhill, near Birmingham. On Monday night, groans were heard coming from a field between Hall Green and Sparkhill, and later, when a search was made, the Warwickshire police found the bodies of Edward Birch, 35, an ironplate worker, living at Balsall Heath, and his stepdaughter Carrie Jones, 18.” (Nottinghamshire Guardian, Saturday 12 January 1895, page 8)

The tragedy in south Birmingham on the night of Monday 7 January 1895 had all the markings of a penny dreadful. A teenage girl, having an affair with her stepfather – the two overcome either by guilt or the inability to be together properly to embark on a suicide pact. Both parties had drunk carbolic acid before Edward Birch cut Carrie’s throat, and then his.

*

Selina Jane Birch was Carrie’s mother. She was somewhere between 34 and 38 at the time of the deaths, and Edward Birch, her second husband, was 38 (not 35, as the press reported).

Selina was born in Gloucester around 1860 (although the censuses give her approximate year of birth as anything between 1857 and 1863), but spent much of her life in Birmingham. Nothing is known of her first husband, and little of her marriage to Edward Birch – the records do not enable a definitive name or date (if you know more, do contact me!).

But by 1881, Selina and Edward were married – or stated to be – and living at 23 Aberdeen Street in Birmingham. There were two children at this point – Carrie, listed in the census as “Caroline Birch”, and one-year-old Alfred, who had been born in Edward’s home town of Wolverhampton.

Birmingham city centre at the end of the 19th century.

Birmingham city centre at the end of the 19th century.

Five more children – William, Lilly, Sidney, Herbert and Olive – came along between 1882 and 1894, with the family dependent on Edward’s income as a tin plate worker. Edward took to drinking heavily, and although ‘reasonably affectionate’ towards his wife when sober, was violent when drunk.

He also appears to have resented having to maintain a child that wasn’t his, or tried to convince others that he resented it, but he gradually developed feelings for his stepdaughter that were not the result of a parental love.

He fell for her; his feelings aroused deep jealousy of her relationships with other boys her own age, and he appears to have been a controlling, insecure man who struggled with his emotions and the complexity of his life.

Meanwhile, Selina Birch, although busy with looking after her many children, noticed the closeness between Edward and Carrie, and was uneasy. She tried to convince herself that they simply had a close father-daughter relationship, and that there was nothing improper between them.

But she remained suspicious. In October 1894, a letter arrived for Carrie, asking to make an appointment with her one evening. On that date, she watched the couple closely, and accused Edward of having had the letter written on his behalf, but he denied it.

*

It was late on a Monday evening when people walking down Springfield Road between Hall Green and Sparkhill heard groans coming either from a house or the neighbouring field. It had been snowing, and the night was cold.

Although nobody thought to call the police, one anonymous person did notify the local doctor, who then told the constabulary. Sergeant Wright undertook a search, and soon found the dead body of Carrie Jones, with a two inch wound to her throat, and next to her, Edward Birch, still breathing, but with a cut throat and smelling of carbolic acid.

Part of the former Queen's Hospital in Birmingham. Photo by Oosoom.

Part of the former Queen’s Hospital in Birmingham. Photo by Oosoom.

He was removed in a ‘conveyance’ to the Queen’s Hospital in Birmingham, where he died at around midday the next day.

The carbolic acid had had a corrosive effect on his tongue, gullet, stomach and intestines, and he had died of shock caused by carbolic acid poisoning.

 

 

Part 2 of the Hall Green Tragedy will be posted here tomorrow.

The Magistrates Who Banned Bonfire Night

220px-Guy_Fawkes_by_CruikshankI was intrigued to see Justin Pollard‘s feature on the history of Bonfire Night on the BBC History website – and, more particularly, his mention of how Guildford magistrates were targeted by Bonfire Night pranksters in Victorian times. Magistrates being the subject of my PhD, I thought I’d investigate further.

On 21 November 1863, there was a riot in Guildford, resulting in the loss or destruction of a substantial amount of property.

The riot was a result of Bonfire Night celebrations – or rather, as the result of NOT celebrating. It emerged that certain local residents, and particularly one local magistrate, were hostile to residents celebrating the night, and had ordered that the usual demonstrations on 5 November should not take place.

This was a class issue; the press reported that the festivities were normally participated in by ‘certain classes in the town and neighbourhood’, whereas the objectors were ‘gentlemen’.

A troop of soldiers from Aldershot were ordered to come and protect the town; they did so, and the Bonfire Night activities did not take place. Bad feeling, though, rose instead.

The soldiers left Guildford on 19 November, and the townspeople started making plans. This had been predicted; many people had argued that:

‘as soon as the soldiers were withdrawn, the “guys” would come out.” [1]

At 11.30pm on 21 November, a group of men dressed as Guy Fawkes, carrying fireworks and bludgeons, assembled just outside the town at Stoke’s Fields.

Not an image of the Guildford riot, but it conjures up what it might have been like!

Not an image of the Guildford riot, but it conjures up what it might have been like!

They made their way down the Stoke Road to the houses of Mr Impey and Mr Bowyer, two special constables, and promptly smashed all their windows – a common means in the 17th and 18th centuries of making a political disagreement known, or to intimidate an individual [2].

The group – which had now become a large ‘mob’ – then marched towards Guildford, comprehensively destroying the exterior of a shop belonging to linen draper Mr Weale. His shop was said to have been targeted because it was situated just yards from where the town’s bonfire had traditionally been lit.

KENRG9_427_429-0365But there was another reason that Weale was targeted. He was probably Joseph Weale, described in the census two years earlier as a silk mercer based on Guildford High Street. Joseph Weale was also a magistrate – and is likely to have had a key role in the original banning of the bonfire.

His shutters, Venetian blinds, were destroyed, as were his plate-glass shop front and upper windows. Fireworks were then fired into the shop, and the damage was estimated at around £200, or around £8,600 today.

65-year-old Henry Piper was next in line. He was the chief magistrate of the borough, as well as being a former town mayor, and was, like Joseph Weale, deemed responsible for the ban on bonfire festivities.

After refusing to pay a ‘bribe’, and pleading to be spared as his wife was recovering from an illness, he found his house on Merrow Road in Stoke treated in a similar way. His front door was smashed in, and all the windows destroyed.

His house was only saved from being burnt to the ground by the speedy actions of his servants and neighbours, who ran round with buckets of water.

Meanwhile, another group, comprising special constables and volunteers, some fro the 24th Surrey Rifles, had assembled, ringing the town hall bell to raise other people to help them.

One constable, by the name of Sutton, was severely beaten by the rioters, although the press implied that it was his own fault for watching whilst the mob attacked Mr Weale’s shop, without doing anything to prevent it.

After the mob had done as much damage as they could to Mr Piper’s house, they dispersed back into the night, throwing their bludgeons and disguises into the street as they ran.

Three days later, none of them had been captured or even identified, although one newspaper argued that as they were ‘very well known’ in the town, they would soon be:

‘brought before the magistrates, and large rewards will be offered for the discovery and conviction of any other ringleaders.’ [3]

In the meantime, reported the press,

‘Guildford continues in a state of the greatest alarm and excitement.’ [4]

Even into the 21st century, there has been discussion about whether to ban Bonfire Night celebrations (see here and here, for example) – but the experience of the Surrey magistrates 150-odd years ago shows that it wouldn’t go down very well…

Sources:

1: The Sheffield and Rotherham Independent, 24 November 1863

2: Robert Shoemaker, The London Mob: Violence and Disorder in Eighteenth Century England (A&C Black, 2004), 122

3: The Sheffield and Rotherham Independent, 24 November 1863

4: The Leeds Mercury, 24 November 1863

Criminally interesting: the British Crime Historians Symposium 2014

Liverpool's St George's Hall - former location of the Assizes

Liverpool’s St George’s Hall – former location of the Assizes

On 26 and 27 September, criminal historians from across the UK – and indeed from around the world – gathered at the University of Liverpool’s Foresight Centre for the 2014 British Crime Historians Symposium.

It was an incredibly enjoyable and friendly conference, with several people commenting on how quickly the time went, listening to a wide variety of papers and talking to people working in diverse areas of criminal history.

The only downside, as usual, was choosing which panel to go and listen to; often, several equally interesting panels took place at a time.

The Digital Panopticon team were there, talking about data visualisation and other aspects of this project, which aims to study the impact of punishments on the lives of thousands of people sentenced at the Old Bailey in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Meanwhile, legal historian Richard Ireland gave a hugely entertaining paper about Welsh criminal justice which was later also looked at by Rachel Jones, who studied how Welsh magistrates’ local knowledge was used in their decision making.

Interesting things learned here included the fact that although English was the official language of the Welsh courts until 1942, matters were sometimes subverted by evidence being given in Welsh, without translation, or even by magistrates conducting affairs in Welsh themselves, leading to some rather brief reports in the press – the English-speaking reporters being unable to say what had happened in court. Magistrates might also be related to prosecution or defence lawyers, leading to some rather biased – but also strangely intimate – court cases.

In another panel, I was particularly interested in Louise Falcini‘s paper on the impressment of naked male bathers in London in the late 18th century and Guy Woolnough‘s on rural policing in Victorian Cumbria, which linked the Temperance movement and Methodism in the area to the nature of arrests by the local police.

On Saturday, I listened to a fascinating panel about a project, After Care, that sets out to document the life histories of children who were sent to reformatories in the late 19th century. Pam Cox, Heather Shore and Zoe Alker spoke about the challenges of the project, which is trying to find out what happened to these children – did they go on to lead successful lives, and how do we measure success?

I then took part in a panel with Cardiff University’s Cath Horler-Underwood about women’s involvement in crime in the eighteenth century – I spoke about the representation of female defendants in property offence cases heard by rural magistrates, and Cath about women’s involvement in coin uttering cases – which included some great detail about women who hid coins in their underclothes, which had to be ‘retrieved’ by searchers.

Here’s my Storify of the conference (my tweets were sadly limited as I couldn’t get onto the wifi – despite much trying). If you weren’t there, you missed out on a criminally interesting, entertaining, yet informative, conference that proved that criminal history is where it’s at!

 

 

 

The Roaring Girl: How the RSC failed to convince me that Moll Cutpurse was a Victorian drag king

I went to see the RSC’s The Roaring Girl, directed by Jo Davies, recently – and was rather unimpressed by its assertion that this Jacobean play – and petty criminal heroine – was more about Victorian gender-bending than the society in which it was originally set.

Moll Cutpurse

Moll Cutpurse

Moll Cutpurse was a 17th century pickpocket, an infamous member of the London underworld, a woman who revelled in her reputation, swearing, smoking a pipe, and being the subject of plays even within her own lifetime.

She undoubtedly challenged gender conventions of the time, and was punished for it, being charged with dressing indecently in 1611 and having to do penance a year later for ‘evil living’. She accepted mens’ bets to dress as a man, acted as a pimp, and was infamous for her actions.

Yet she was also seen as rather a glamorous creature. She performed in public to eager audiences, and the fact that plays were written about her suggests that the public wanted to hear and see more of her.

She has become a larger than life figure, mythologised to the extent that it is no longer known what is real and what is fiction. But she remains very much of her time – a Jacobean woman who lived life on her own terms.

One of the most famous plays written about Moll is Dekker and Middleston’s The Roaring Girl, written in the first decade of the 17th century, while Moll was still in her 20s. The title derives from the ‘roaring boy’, a contemporary slang term for men who partied, fought, and carried out petty crimes.

Moll is depicted as an object of horror to the older characters, but is also depicted with sympathy – it is assumed that because she is unconventional, she must be a whore; Moll puts the character of Laxton, who attempts to pay her for sex, in his place about this.

She also admits to Sebastian that she is uninterested in sex and has no intention of marrying. She also later states her aim of protecting the innocent from crime due to her insight into the criminal class.

Moll is clearly seen as a morally superior woman to the more socially acceptable Prudence Gallipot, the apothecary’s wife, who is carrying on an affair with Laxton, and who lies to her husband in order to get money for her lover.

To me, Moll and The Roaring Girl is of its time. It shows how 17th century women could defy gender stereotypes and be strong, independent women who challenged convention. She is no caricature, but a feisty individual who survives as she can.

Yet the RSC has decided otherwise. Their production of The Roaring Girl turns Moll into a fey cross-dresser, mimicking male behaviour – including the way she walks and sits – with a few nods to lesbianism.

But also, they’ve decided that Moll’s life in Jacobean England is just not sexy or relevant enough, and so have decided to make her a Victorian heroine, and a caricature of one at that.

This Roaring Girl is all about Victorian ideals of femininity and how Moll rejects those ideals, ripping off her boned bustle to reveal trousers, and strutting around the men in their bowler hats and plaid jackets. The programme stresses the Victorian context of their production, complete with a timeline of 19th century history.

But Moll is not Victorian, and Victorian society is not Jacobean society. Moll is not universal, she does not transcend the centuries. The reaction to her actions was not unmitigated horror, a fear of her making men look weak and insipid; she was a figure of interest, as shown by the plays written in her lifetime and the performances she put on.

Her offences were typical of her period, and carried out during a time when execution was a real threat to even petty thieves. By the 1890s – when this production is set – that fear had rescinded due to Victorian sensibilities over the effectiveness of hanging (where executions were carried out far less, particularly if you were female, and in Britain, held in private post-1868).

Anne Bonny

Anne Bonny

And Moll was no camp cross-dresser. She disguised herself for bets, or to gain some purpose, and she was not unique in pre-Victorian times – look at the likes of Anne Bonny and Mary Read in the 18th century, for example.

She was not surrounded by meek women carrying parasols (as she is in the RSC production). She was a complex character, a petty criminal, an extrovert – not a pariah or an object of derision but of interest and excitement.

She showed how Jacobean society included a variety of people, and how women could be surprisingly modern.

Perhaps the problem lies more in how Jacobean society is perceived today. Victorians are more sexy, more immediate to audiences.

We relate to them more, because they are more recent, because we have photographs showing what they looked like, diaries and books in abundance from those living in the era. Our knowledge of the 17th century requires more help, more research – it is more shadowy.

And yet, perhaps the RSC recognised that its depiction of Moll as a Victorian lady challenging stereotypes of the submissive woman was difficult to justify, and hence its odd inclusion of rock music, breakdancing, characters playing electric guitars and rapping.

I particularly objected to the rapping – for the characters stated that they were actually ‘canting’. Canting was the slang used by thieves, such as the word ‘frummagemm’d’ to denote being hanged. I recognised that the director was trying to show how different sections of society develop a type of communication that gives them a sense of identity – but rap?! In a Victorian setting?

But just as it makes no sense to include breakdancing randomly into a Victorian setting, it also makes no sense to put Moll into such a setting, either.

I can’t do better than to quote the Telegraph’s Charles Spencer, who described the moden touches as making a ‘mockery’ of the production’s already ‘unnecessary Victorian setting’ and the Evening Standard’s Henry Hitchings who pointed out that the relocation to the late Victorian era was ‘to no great advantage’.

I was relieved that critics had felt the same way as I; it is not necessary to shoehorn events from earlier into the Victorian era.

Not everything is timeless, and sometimes it’s OK to say that women – criminal women, cross-dressing women, or just, say, WOMEN in general – in the 17th century were complex, interesting, and fascinating, and don’t need to be turned into Victorians to make them so.

For my review of Arden of Faversham, another of the RSC’s crime-related productions in its Roaring Girl season, click here.

The Whipped Boys of St Ives

The first of two posts to mark my recent holiday in Cornwall…and neither of them is related to smuggling!

St Ives

St Ives

In 1842, two boys, James Stevens, aged 12, and 16-year-old William Quick, appeared in court before J King Letherbridge, accused of stealing a copper funnel.

The boys were from the coastal town of St Ives, and the funnel was used as a ship’s chimney. They had stolen it from a ship called the Agnes, which had been laid up for the winter in the town’s harbour.

The copper would have been valuable, but it had been an opportunistic crime, the boys seeing the funnel on the ship’s deck, nobody being around, and so taking it.

James Stevens' and William Quick's criminal record - from Ancestry

James Stevens’ and William Quick’s criminal record – from Ancestry

Newspaper reports were conflicted over what had happened to the funnel – stating both that it had been found in the possession of the boys, and that they had also sold it in two parts to two local marine store dealers.

But the two boys quickly confessed to the theft, and the jury equally quickly found them guilty. They were given one week’s imprisonment and ordered to be privately whipped.

This whipping would have been done with a birch; the whipping of boys for larceny was a common punishment, and could at this time be ordered by a magistrate at petty sessions.

But Quick and Stevens could have counted themselves lucky. Others younger than them were receiving harsher punishments at around the same time. Just three years later, an eight year old boy was whipped in addition to serving a month in jail for stealing boxes in St Pancras, London.

Did the boys’ whipping stop them from committing crimes? Well, there is no further entry for William Quick in the criminal registers, so he may have gone on to live a blameless life after his initial offence.

But four years after the funnel theft, James Stevens, now 18, was convicted of house-breaking. His previous record was held against him, and he was transported to Australia for seven years.

Source: The Cornwall Royal Gazette, 18 March 1842 and criminal registers on Ancestry.co.uk