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).


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),

12 Days of Criminal Christmas: Industry and Idleness

ginOn 17 January 1801, farmer John Shore went on trial at the Old Bailey, charged with the murder of his wife Mary by dragging her ‘from one chamber to another’. Their servant, Elizabeth Turner, gave evidence, saying:

“I remember…the prisoner left his house in the morning, and returned in the evening. After he went out my mistress was in the kitchen preparing for old Christmas Day. She had during the afternoon drank three quarterns of gin. She was far from being intoxicated; she knew what she was about.

“My master returned about half after nine… The prisoner said he supposed she was drunk. He went up stairs. I heard my mistress cry out, I heard her cry “O Lord!” He came down for something to fasten the door with; he used to fasten her in this room when she was in liquor.”

The next day, Mary was found dead in this room, covered in bruises and vomit. The jury heard that John Shore was an ‘industrious, sober man’ – a clear comparison being made to his wife, who was in the habit of drinking.

He was found not guilty, with the press noting that ‘the prisoner is a respectable, decent looking old man’; the fact that he regularly locked his wife in a room was not deemed to be particularly noteworthy.

Source: The Morning Post, 17 January 1801

Bigamy in Birmingham: the tale of Horatio and Mrs Hoskins

Mary Ann - fifth entry - appeared before the Warwick Assizes under her first married name of Brown.

Mary Ann – fifth entry – appeared before the Warwick Assizes under her first married name of Brown.

At the Loughborough Petty Sessions in April 1846, a Mrs Hoskins charged her husband with having committed bigamy.

This was not unusual; bigamy cases appeared fairly often in court during the 18th and 19th centuries; as David J Cox has stated:

“before men and women could divorce on equal terms and without blame being apportioned, bigamy was seen as one way in which men (or less usually, women) could evade an unhappy and sometimes dangerous marriage and begin afresh.” [1]

But this case had a couple of differences.

Firstly, the man accused, Horatio Huntley Hoskins, was an attorney from a good background, and also the author of a couple of published works: Count De Denia: Or, The Spaniard’s Ransom (1841) and De Valencourt: A Tragedy in Five Acts (1842, written with his brother).

But secondly, Horatio Hoskins had previously accused his wife of bigamy – a case that had been heard at the Warwick Assizes a month earlier. His wife had been acquitted, but she then attempted to get her own back on her husband by accusing him of the same offence.

The details, as given in a brief piece in the local paper, were as follows.

At the petty sessions, Horatio, who was working as an attorney in Loughborough, admitted having been married twice, but then:

“[he] introduced into court a person by the name of Brown, who swore that he was the husband of Mrs Hoskins; and her marriage with Mr Hoskins, as it was therefore contended, illegal. Some doubts were attempted to be thrown on the identity of this first husband of Mrs Hoskins, and she utterly denied and repudiated him, but the magistrates gave credit to his evidence, and dismissed the case.” [2]

I looked into the backgrounds of both Horatio and his wife, to see who was telling the truth here, and it emerged that neither was entirely innocent.

Horatio's childhood home of Newton Park - photo by MJ Richardson.

Horatio’s childhood home of Newton Park – photo by MJ Richardson.

Horatio Huntley Hoskins was the son of Abraham Hoskins, also an attorney, a wealthy man who had Newton Park, in Newton Solney, south Derbyshire, built for him.

Horatio would have grown up in a privileged environment, and, no doubt, his father would have expected his son to make a successful career and make a good match in marriage.

However, it is possible that the Hoskins sons rebelled against their father – Horatio’s brother and co-writer in his youthful plays, William, was an actor – not always a terribly salubrious occupation in Victorian England, describing himself in 1841 as a ‘leading tragedian’ and in 1851 as a ‘comedian’. [3]

William married an American-born singer and actress, Julia Susanna Wallack, who was known professionally as Julia Harland, in 1842. [4]

Whether Mary Ann would have been deemed a better marital choice than Julia Susanna, though, is a matter of speculation.

Her background is unknown, but I believe that she was born Mary Ann Hodgkins, and married William Brown in Birmingham in the summer of 1837, when she was between 17 and 20 years old (records differ – the notoriously unreliable 1841 census gives her age as 20; at the Warwick Assizes in 1846, her age was given as 29). [5]

Two years after her marriage to Brown, in the autumn or winter of 1839, again in Birmingham, Mary Ann Brown married Huntley Hoskins [sic]; Hoskins was, at the time, serving as an articled clerk, having started a five year apprenticeship at the age of 18 that saw him working for at least three different solicitors. [6]

This means that Mary Ann certainly committed bigamy in 1839, assuming that the Brown who appeared before petty sessions in 1846 WAS her husband William.

In 1841, Horatio and Mary Ann Hoskins were living at 2 Darlington Place, Southwark, where the 20-year-old Horatio was described as being ‘independent’. [7]

Perhaps he and Mary Ann had separated by this point. Hoskins continued working, and in 1843 was back in London. But in the summer of 1845, he married Fanny Warner in her home county of Leicestershire, where he appears to have now been working, despite Mary Ann being still very much alive. [8]

Did Horatio know for sure by this point that Mary Ann had committed bigamy in marrying in, and so was confident that this marriage was illegal? Or had he been unaware, and, having separated from Mary Ann, committed bigamy himself (in the belief that his first marriage was legal)? Or, a final option, perhaps he had been aware all along of Mary Ann’s youthful first marriage, and had simply ignored it in order to be with her?

There is no way of telling, although it is interesting that Mary Ann had been acquitted of bigamy at the Assizes. Had she convinced the jury that she had thought her first husband was dead, perhaps?

As an attorney, Hoskins had certainly used his skills to track down Mary Ann’s legal husband and persuade him to be a witness in the case at petty sessions.

The gendered nature of Victorian justice might be seen in the fact that Hoskins’ second marriage was not the subject of disapproval – despite Hoskins admitting that he had married twice knowing Mary Ann to be alive and his excuse that her marriage to him had been illegal anyway – and that more credence was placed on the evidence of a stranger than on Mary Ann’s previous acquittal.

What happened to Mary Ann is unknown. But five years after the case, in 1851, Horatio Hoskins was still living with the remarkably forgiving Fanny in Lambeth, where he continued to thrive as an attorney. [9]  Shortly afterwards, he seems to have emigrated to Australia, where he died in 1876. [10]

Mary Ann retreated into the shadows of history after this case; but I’d love to know what she did next.


1. David J Cox, “‘Trying to get a good one’: Bigamy offences in England and Wales, 1850-1950”, Plymouth Law and Criminal Justice Review, 4 (2011), 2

2. The Leicester Chronicle, 2 May 1846

3. 1851 census, return for St John Street Road [sic], Clerkenwell

4. Marriage entry for William Hoskins and Julia Susannah [sic] Wallack, Medway district, Sep 1842, vol 5, page 427, accessed via Free BMD. Julia was the daughter of London actor and manager Henry Wallack (source: Drury Lane Fund)

5. Marriage entry for William Brown and Mary Ann Hodgkins, Birmingham district, Sep 1837, vol 16, page 244, accessed via Free BMD

6. Articles of Clerkship, 1756-1874, accessed via Ancestry

7. 1841 census, return for Darlington Place, Southwark

8. Marriage entry for Horatio Huntley Hoskins and Fanny Warner, Ashby de la Zouch district, Sept 1845, vol 15, page 3, accessed via Free BMD

9. 1851 census, return for Palace New Road, Lambeth

10. Australia Death Index, 1787-1985, accessed via Ancestry

Seduction, April 1804

469px-Luise_Joseph_Grassi_1802_min_cropped“On the 31st ult. a writ of enquiry was brought before the Sheriff of Lancashire, in which the plaintiff was a respectable manufacturer at Bolton-le-Moors, father of five daughters, the eldest of whom, aged 20, had been seducted by his principal clerk, the defendant, 42 years of age, a married man, and father of two children.

“The plaintiff had permitted his daughter to asset in the counting-house, where the defendant took advantage of the opportunity of seducing her, and she was delivered of a child in November last.

“The Jury awarded £500 damages.”

From the Bury and Norwich Post, 18 April 1804. The damages were the equivalent of around £16,000 today.