The Wickersley Farmer.

During the Victorian period the courts had to judge whether a man was temporarily insane through drink, and whether that might be a reason to excuse him from his crimes. Such a case was brought before the magistrates at Doncaster on 1 January 1856, when a very respectable farmer from Wickersley was charged with common theft. Twenty nine year old Thomas Wilson was charged with stealing a shawl, a gown, an apron, a child’s dress, two dust sheets, three towels and two umbrellas to the value of 13s. These objects were the property of Alexander Milner the landlord of the Wood Street Hotel, Doncaster and they had all been stolen from the hotel bedrooms.

It seems that on 16 December of the previous year Police Constable Theobald of the Doncaster Police force had spotted the prisoner acting suspiciously outside the hotel. Later that evening about 5 pm, he met the farmer again carrying a bundle under one arm and two umbrella’s under the other. Wilson could give no explanation for having the articles, and so he was taken to the lock up where his pockets were searched. To the constables complete astonishment, he found the farmer also carried a watch as well as two promissory notes, one for £500 and the other for £200.

At first Wilson tried to tell Sergeant Pawson that he had a brother-in-law living on Garden Street, Doncaster and had obtained the objects from him, but the Sergeant knew well that there was no Garden Street in the town. Subsequently Wilson was brought before the Doncaster court and one of the magistrates asked Sergeant Pawson if the prisoner had been drunk at the time of the arrest. But the officer replied that he was fresh [intoxicated] when he was brought into the station, but certainly not drunk. Thankfully the social position of Thomas Wilson was such that he was able to afford to employ a barrister to defend him, and at this point Mr R N Phillips rose to defend his client.

He stated that Thomas Wilson had always been respectable farmer, as well as being elected as an overseer of the poor in Wickersley. He had a wife, a very comfortable home, and at the time of the offence, a considerable amount of money in notes upon his person. However the barrister told the court that he was unable to account for his clients very strange conduct. Mr. Phillips admitted Wilson’s guilt, before pointing out that on the day of the robbery he had gone to Doncaster to sell a horse at the fair. The magistrates therefore had no option, but to examine Wilson’s state of mind at the time he committed the offence.

Mr Phillips, using very forceful language, stated that he would bring witnesses to prove that his client, although he was very respectable, was a man soon excited by indulging in even the smallest amount of liquor. Therefore the claim that he had made about a mythical brother-in-law must be viewed as a result of labouring under temporary insanity. The barrister claimed that in this condition Wilson did not know what he was saying or doing. He concluded by pointing out that his actions were more of an act of folly, rather than of felonious intent. Mr Phillips therefore asked the court for an acquittal, which would allow his client to leave the court cleared of all criminal charges.

The barrister concluded that if the court was in agreement, Wilson ‘could then atone for his for his conduct by striving again to occupy that respectable position from which he had so quickly fallen.’ The first witness he produced was a Benjamin Robinson who worked for the prisoner. He claimed that his master had always been honest in his dealings, although he had been drinking on 16 December. He stated that he had been drunk at 5 pm when Robinson left him in Doncaster and that he had been acting ‘wild and strange.’ However, when cross-examined, Robinson admitted that his master had committed a similar offence at Rotherham some years previously.

Mr. Phillips told the bench that on that occasion, Wilson had been acquitted on the grounds of intoxication adding ‘and therefore he was as innocent as ever he was before’. However, the prosecution Mr. Marratt challenged that. He said that from the defence’s argument, it would seem that a man had to do nothing but get extremely drunk, commit a felony and then plead drunkenness simply to escape justice. The next witness Mr Phillips called was Mr. Charles Lowe a respectable quarry owner of Wickersley. He told the court that he had known Thomas Wilson for some years and was convinced that he was not right in his head when he was under the influence of liquor.

Other witnesses gave similar evidence, which proved that Wilson was ‘more of a madman than a thief.’ From the evidence it would seem that even the smallest amount of liquor affected Thomas Wilson’s brain, so much that he was not aware of what he was doing. Mr Marratt stated the case for the prosecution and read out the conversation between the prisoner and the police officers in which he mentioned the fictitious brother-in-law after he was charged. His statements made no sense and he queried that if Wilson had been so intoxicated, then was this considered to be the conduct of a man who was perfectly insensible to what he was doing?

The prisoners defence, Mr Phillips told the court he did not go so far as to say that his client was insane, for he knew that if it amounted to insanity, that the court had the power to order the prisoners confinement. However he stated that he did not want to go that way, therefore he had not dwelt much upon it. The jury listened to both accounts before returning a verdict that they found Thomas Wilson to be guilty, but with a recommendation to mercy. In passing sentence the chair of the magistrates stated that he felt that he agreed with the jury and added:

‘I do not consider the case calls for severe punishment and I would have thought the same if the prisoner had not been placed in such good circumstances as he was. It pains me to pass sentence, but I hope it would be a warning to the prisoner not to allow the temptations of drink to overcome him any more. I do not wish to see him among the felons at Wakefield prison. Therefore the sentence of the court is that he be imprisoned in the common gaol of the borough for the space of one week’.

It was reported that Wilson was so greatly excited during the delivery of the sentence that he sobbed aloud and appealed for mercy several times. However the leniency of the sentence was regarded with great satisfaction by a large number of the prisoner’s friends who were in the court.

I am no expert at diagnosis, but it does appear that Thomas Wilson was possibly a kleptomaniac which is now classified as ‘an impulse control disorder’ which is usually committed for reasons other than those of personal gain. Although it was little understood in those early years, now it can be treated with the use of drugs. However you do get the feeling from the accounts of the case, that it was only Thomas Wilson’s good standing in the community and the fact that he was wealthy enough to employ a barrister to defend him, which had, in the end set him free.

The Tragic Servant Girl

Elizabeth Ann Wright was just 16 years of age when she began working for Mr and Mrs Ebenezer Stacey, whose house was on Western Bank, Sheffield on 3 January 1894. However it was not long before she found out that she was working for a very demanding mistress. When Elizabeth started work, Mrs Stacey had had promised to pay her 4s a week. But her mistress kept a very wary eye on her servants and would fine them for any breakages. Not unnaturally this made the poor servant girl very nervous particularly when, the same week she started work, Elizabeth somehow managed to drop a coffee jug. Mrs Stacey told her that she would have to take 4s out of her first weeks wages in order to replace it.

In the second week of her employment, her mother Mrs Alice Ann Wright received another letter from her daughter outlining her disappointments in the new post. Elizabeth told her mother that even though she had not been working for the family for long, Mrs Stacey had already given her a months warning on the Tuesday of the second week. Her employers wife had told the girl that she was very disappointed in her and she would have to reduce her wages if she continued to do her work as badly as she had done previously. Elizabeth also complained that she was not allowed a light in her bedroom at night, so she had to grope her way into bed at the end of a very long day.

The very next day, Mrs Stacey gave Elizabeth two ugly print dresses to wear, because she did not like the clothes that her servant had brought with her from home. Matters continued to deteriorate and just three weeks into her service, Alice Wright received yet another complaining letter from her daughter, which outlined even more terrible treatment from her mistress. Elizabeth said that her employers were ‘always out’ leaving her to deal with their unruly children. She complained that they ‘tell tales about me and they do peek and pry.’ and ended the letter stating ‘I cannot say much as I have a lot of work to do before she comes back.’

On the night of Saturday 27 January 1894, it seems that Mr and Mrs Stacey had been invited to a supper party, consequently they did not arrive back at the house on Western Bank until around midnight. However they found that their servant Elizabeth was missing, although thankfully all the children were all still sleeping in their beds. Mrs Stacey was furious at her servants deception and decided to dismiss her in the morning, but her servant never returned that night. The next day, finding that the girl was still missing, she went to her parents house at High Green, Sheffield to complain about her leaving them without a word.

However she found that Elizabeth was not at home with her parents. Needless to say Mr and Mrs Wright were most worried at this news and had no option but to report her missing to the Sheffield police. A search was instigated and concerns deepened when some of Elizabeth’s clothing was found lying beside Howbrook Reservoir near to where they lived on Sunday 28 January. The reservoir was dragged by some police officers, but nothing was found until it had been completely drained altogether. There, on Tuesday 30 January at the very bottom, the body of Elizabeth Wright was found.

Needless to say, an inquest on the body of Elizabeth Ann Wright was convened by the Sheffield Coroner, Mr D Wightman. It was held at the Salutation Inn at High Green, Sheffield two days later. Also in attendance was Mr A S Fawcett, a solicitor for Mr and Mrs Stacey as well as Sergeant Burton of Chapeltown, who represented the West Riding Police. The deceased girls mother Eliza was the first witness, and she told the inquest that she was the wife of James Wright, who lived just a few doors away from the Salutation Inn. She told the coroner that her daughter had been a strong and healthy girl who had been looking forward to her first position as a domestic servant with the Stacey’s.

The witness described how her daughter had left home just over three weeks previously, and that she had not seen her daughter since. The coroner asked her if there had been any insanity in the family, but Mrs Wright quickly denied it. A member of the jury asked Mrs Wright if her daughter had been a timid girl, to which her mother replied that she was. Then the same juror her asked why her daughter should have gone to the reservoir to kill herself, instead of going home to her parents instead. He pointed out that the water was less than a quarter of a mile away from her own home. Sadly Mrs Wright had no answer to that vital question.

Another witness was a farmer of High Green called Charles Scholey, who told Mr Wightman that he knew the deceased and that on the Saturday night she disappeared, the girl had travelled in the same train compartment as himself. They had both travelled from Sheffield to Westwood Station, where they arrived around midnight. Given the late hour, the farmer had kindly offered to accompany her as far as his own house, which was on the way. The witness admitted however that they had little conversation as Elizabeth seemed to be reluctant to converse and the night itself was very windy. As they had walked however she did tell him that she had left her employment at the house in Western Bank.

Then she left him and she was heading in the direction of her own home, so he naturally assumed that was where she was going. The coroner at this point asked if the girl had seemed depressed at all, but the farmer said that she just appeared as she normally would. The next witness was another person who knew the family and he introduced himself as a miner called George Laycock of Mortemley. He described find a woman’s hat, jacket and umbrella in a field near the reservoir on Sunday 28 January 1894. He immediately sent for a police officer and within a short time Police Constable Brooke arrived.

He searched the clothing and found a note and a letter in the jacket pocket. The note simply said ‘Goodbye to all dear friends. Goodbye to the missus who made me do this.’ The letter was just a folded sheet of paper and was addressed to Elizabeths family. Inside she had written:

‘Dear mother and father, sisters and brothers,
I say good-bye to you. Missus has been a bad one to me, and I ran away tonight. I came home by the last train to drown myself, for I dare not come home. My dinner on Tuesday was nasty and I am sure they are trying to poison me. I am writing this sat on the grass. Never let Lucy go to such a place mother.’

There was silence in the room as the letter was read out. One of the jury cleared his throat before adding that it was evident from the letter that the deceased had fully intended to drown herself, even though no one had actually witnessed her going into the water. PC Brooks told the court that he knew the girls father James Wright and he had always been a straight man and a good father.

Mr Wright who was also present was then asked to give evidence. The coroner, Mr Wightman asked him if his daughter would take exception to being rebuked about her work, but he explained that this was not the first position his daughter had held. However he said that she had always got on well with her mistresses in the past. However he did admit that if he or his wife chastised Elizabeth for anything, that she would be very ‘cut up’ about it. The next witness was a keeper of the reservoir, a man called George Rogers. He stated that at first the police had dragged the reservoir with hooks on the same day that the clothing had been found. They found nothing and so he had to open the valves and drain the water out completely. Subsequently it had been two days later on the Tuesday before the body was discovered.

The keeper said that at the place where the body had finally been found, the water was about seventeen feet deep. The body had been found in a corner of the reservoir, so that accounted for the reason why it had not discovered earlier when the police were dragging the water. The coroner cross examined Mr Rogers as to whether the reservoir had been safely fenced off and the witness replied that it was his job to repair and replace any damage to the fencing around the water. He stated that the girl would have to be very determined, as she would have had to climb over a four foot high fence to get into the water. However it was the next witness which most of the people at the inquest wanted to hear from.

Consequently there was a distinct murmur in the room as the woman at the centre of the case introduced herself. Mrs Stacey told the inquest that the girl had proved to be completely incompetent, to the point where she had been forced to give her notice to leave the following Tuesday. Ironically, that was the very day in which Elizabeth’s dead body had been found. Mrs Stacey however didn’t hold back and she told the inquest that the girl was incapable of cleaning rooms properly or doing any task that was required of her. The witness then described how she and her husbands had return home on Saturday 27 January only to find the girl gone.

Mr Wightman asked her if she had told the girl that she would not pay her the promised wages of 4s a week, but the witness corrected him. She said that she had told Elizabeth that ‘she was not worth the 4s a week.’ To no ones surprise her employer also complained that her servant always looked sad and appeared to be quite depressed in spirits. Then, when asked by her own solicitor if Mrs Stacey had decided to take the servant back after giving her notice, the witness agreed that she had agreed to give her servant a second chance. Mrs Stacey maintained that she had always treated the deceased with consideration and kindness. She pointed out that the girl had never complained to her about being badly treated.

At this point the solicitor intervened again and asked the coroner if he could give evidence as to Mrs Stacey’s relations with a previous servant who had been with her for four years. However the coroner told him that it would serve no purpose as she had not been employed whilst the deceased girl had been working for the Stacey’s. Curiously, one of the jury asked Mr Wightman if he could judge what might be the cause for the girl’s depression, and the coroner answered that there could be many reasons. He said that a lot of people were suffering from depression and melancholy without ever knowing the reason for it. He stated that it was something which baffled even the best medical minds.

In his summing up, Mr Wightman told the jury that it was very clear that the girl had drowned herself. Therefore the jury had to decide on her state of mind at the time she did it. He stated that he would point them in the direction of the last letter to her parents, and suggested that anyone who felt that they were being poisoned suggests that she might not in her right mind. The coroner also noted the deceased comments regarding her ‘daring not to go home’ which he found to be equally mystifying to understand. Mr Wightman said that he had spoken to both parents and they were equally baffled.

Finally he directed the jury to remember that the deceased had not simply walked into the water by accident, as was proved by her clothes being found. The jury retired for a short while to deliberate, and a few moments later filed back into the room. The foreman gave the verdict which was that ‘the deceased had committed suicide whilst in a state of temporary insanity.’ Mr Wightman told the jury that he entirely concurred with their decision. He then told the inquest that Mrs Stacey had kindly offered to pay the girls funeral expenses, which had been gratefully accepted by the family. The inquest was then formally closed.

The Curious Death of Blanche Early

On Wednesday 11 December 1901, a pork butcher called Jesse Early, lived over the shop with his wife and daughters on Effingham Street, Rotherham. At the time, one of his girls was called Blanche Emily who was around nineteen years of age. Despite her youth however, she had seemed beset by illness for most of her life and was considered by her parents to be weak and fragile. Blanche shared a bed with her eldest sister, Florence Amy, who on that morning was told to get up by her mother around 7.30 am. She accordingly got up, leaving her sister, who had not been very well, still in bed.

It seems that as Florence went downstairs, she noted that her mother had left the Venetian blinds up in the bedroom next door to their own, which she shared with their father. Thinking nothing of it, the girl went downstairs to help her mother prepare breakfast for the family. Her father Jesse meanwhile also called in at at his youngest daughters bedroom door, urging Blanche to get up as it was almost 8 am. As he was descending the stairs, Jesse saw his daughter was up and walking along the landing, heading towards the back bedroom he had just left. He walked into the kitchen having no idea about what was just about to happen.

At the same time, in a house on the opposite side of the street was a servant girl who was employed in helping out in the Early household, serving in the butchers shop, as well as helping around the house. She was called Lily Woodhead and was getting ready for work when she glanced across to her employers house. To her complete astonishment she saw Blanche open the window of her parents bedroom and putting her legs out, sit on the sill. Lily watched in horror as Blanche, still in her nightdress seemed to be still for a moment, before plunging down into the yard below. Lily scream helplessly as she knew that the bedroom window was estimated to be twenty five feet from the window, and knew that Blanche would not survive the fall.

Blanche’s brother, Patrick by now was working in the butchers shop and he also heard someone open his parents bedroom window above. To his horror a couple of minutes afterwards he saw his sister fall past the shop window, and rushing outside found her seriously injured on the cobbles. Picking Blanche up as gently as he could, he carried her through the shop and into the family’s living quarters behind. A local doctor, Dr Baldwin was immediately called out and he quickly attended the girl, but there was little he could do. Just two days afterwards on 14 December Blanche Early died. It seems that although she had soon re-covered consciousness, Blanch was unable to remember anything about the incident or what had prompted her to take such desperate actions.

Needless to say the family was distraught and the only conclusion that they could come to was that Blanche had walked in her sleep and had somehow jumped out of the window by mistake. Needless to say an inquest was arranged for Monday 16 December 1901 by the deputy coroner, Mr Benjamin Bagshawe at the Rotherham Infirmary. Blanche’s father was the first witness who told the jury that his daughter had never been a healthy girl, even from her birth. However Jesse said that he had thought that there had been some improvement in her over the last few years. The butcher also stated that Blanche had, for many years, been subject to walking in her sleep but that appeared to have ceased around six years previously.

The witness said that his daughter had seemed normal and the night before had gone to bed at the usual time and appeared to him to be in her usual health and spirits. He said that the next time he had seen her however was when she was unconscious in the arms of her brother, after he found her in the yard. When the butcher was asked if he could account for his daughters death, Jesse simply shook his head. He said that he had looked long and hard at what had happened and could only conclude that in lifting the Venetian blinds, the brightness of the day must have startled Blanche.

He presumed that his daughter had been heading towards the bathroom but instead had found herself in her parents bedroom. He suggested that perhaps in a state of some confusion that she had for some unknown reason fallen out of the window. One of the jury asked the witness if he thought Blanche could have known exactly what she was doing, but her father could only suggest that she might have been dazed and not fully awake. Then it was time for Blanche’s sister Florence to give her evidence and she told the inquest that she was in the kitchen downstairs when she heard her sister go into the back bedroom above. She thought she had probably gone in there to fetch some clean clothes so also thought little of it. That was until she heard her brother shouting that Blanche had fallen into the yard.

Florence recalled how her sister was unconscious at first, but that she revived after about an hour or so later. However she could give no account of what had happened as she didn’t even remember getting out of bed. The coroner asked the witness if she and her sister were close, to which Florence agreed that they were. He then asked her if her sister had been particularly worried about anything at the time, but Florence stated that Blanche did not appear to be worried, not was she in any trouble within the family as far as she knew. The servant girl who worked for the family and the only witness to the girl’s death was the next to give evidence, and gave her name as Lily Woodhead.

She described how her employers daughter had come to the window and sat on the sill for a minute before jumping. The servant related how the girl had appeared to be talking to herself ‘because her mouth was moving’ but she could hear nothing. The witness said that only when Blanche opened the window did she, herself experience some alarm so Lily called out to her, but at the same time, the girl jumped into the yard below. The coroner summed up for the jury and he told them that sadly they could only come to one conclusion. Mr Bagshawe repeated the fathers assertion that his daughter had previously been a sleep walker, which he said was common for girls of that age.

He pointed out that according to the witness’s evidence, the girl had gone to bed quite cheerful and therefore the family had no reason to suspect that she might have intended to kill herself. They had no reason to feel concerned or to suspect that she might do what she had done. The coroner therefore suggested that the jury’s verdict should be something along the lines of ‘that the deceased had died from the effects of falling through a bedroom window, whilst probably in a semi-conscious or somnolent condition’. A verdict to that effect was given by the jury.

The coroner added his deep sympathy for the family before closing the enquiry. However this most peculiar and mysterious death of their daughter no doubt puzzled Blanche’s family for many years to come.

The Italian Musician.

In the evening of Tuesday 27 September 1836, around 7pm, an Italian musician called Joseph Romasarte was plying his trade in Furnival Street, Sheffield. He was earning pennies by playing tunes on a little pipe organ in the street. Suddenly he was approached by a man outside the public house called ‘The Swan with Two Necks.’ The man was a coachman called Levi Roebuck, who had come to collect his hackney carriage and horses which were stabled at the public house. Nevertheless it was clear to the young musician that Roebuck had been drinking.

However the man seemed pleasant enough as he told the Italian that he had enjoyed listening to him and his music and offered him sixpence to play another tune. Romasarte delightedly obliged and played another tune, but when he had finished the coachman refused to pay him. The two men started to argue in the street, before Roebuck slapped the musician hard across his face. Hearing the debacle, his common-law-wife Ann Clay intervened and sent Roebuck back into the stables of the Swan to calm down. She paid Romasarte the money her paramour had promised him, before leaving him still muttering about what he would do to the coachman if he saw him again.

After watering his horses, Roebuck was leading them out into Furnival Street and was probably thinking that was the end of the matter. However as he was leaving the stables, the Italian came from behind a corner and stabbed Roebuck low down in the stomach before running away. The blow was so violent that he left the coachman with his bowels protruding from his stomach. Within minutes the man was unconscious and was brought back inside the Swan, where he was conveyed up to one of the bedrooms there. A surgeon, Mr Wilson was called and he found that the wound suffered by the injured man was so severe that he was convinced that Roebuck’s life was in some danger.

The police were also informed about the stabbing and a description of the perpetrator was given to the watchmen as they were mustering for night duty. As a result, one of the watch, a man called William Wolstenholme was following his beat along Pond Street later that evening when he saw a crowd of boys annoying a man in their midst. Upon seeing the watchman, the boys told him that he was indeed the Italian who had carried out the stabbing earlier that evening. As a result Romasarte was taken into custody at the Town Hall and brought before the magistrates the next morning.

The surgeon, Mr Knoulton Wilson told the court that he feared that Roebucks life was in some danger and he could not possibly be brought to court to give evidence for some weeks. So the prisoner was simply remanded. Subsequently it was not until Friday 14 October before Roebuck appeared before the Sheffield magistrates and recounted what had happened on the night in question. Romasarte’s defence, Mr Palfreyman asked Roebuck what was his state of mind at the time and the coachman admitted to being been quite drunk. Ann Clay gave evidence that after Roebuck had slapped the musician across the face, that she had offered Romasarte three pence to take no notice of ‘a drunken man.’

Instead he had replied in a sinister voice that ‘he would be paid another way.’ Only when she went outside five minutes later did she later find that Roebuck had been stabbed. The next witness was the surgeon Mr Knoulton Wilson, who told the court that he had examined Roebuck after being summoned to help him and had found a perpendicular wound about an inch and a half long. It appeared to have been produced by a very long, sharp knife and, at the time he felt doubtful that Roebuck would recover. The watchman Wolstenholme stated that he had been ordered to watch out for the Italian on his rounds and described how he had found him in Pond Street.

He was trying to get away from a group of people that had followed him and they called out to the watchman to arrest the man. When the prisoner was asked what he had done, he replied ‘not much.’ The keeper of the Sheffield gaol, Aaron Cooper stated that when Joseph Romasarte was brought into custody he had a black eye. The prisoners defence Mr Palfreyman jumped on this information, and questioned the witness as to whether it was just the redness from a slap on the face or it was indeed a black eye. Cooper confirmed that it was definitely a black eye.

The prisoner defence pointed out that he felt that the attack on Roebuck had not been pre-meditated and had simply been as a result of an assault on his client. He stated that therefore the charge should have been listed under manslaughter not murder. He said that to his mind it was more a case of common assault. The magistrates discussed the case between themselves and it was not long before it was decided to send the prisoner to the next York Assizes. Joseph Romasarte was brought before judge Sir Gregory Lewin at the Yorkshire Spring Assizes on 20 March 1837. The prisoner was charged with cutting and stabbing Levi Roebuck on 27 September 1836 with intent to kill and murder him.

An unnamed prosecutor cross-examined the various witnesses and it was reported that their evidence showed that Roebuck ‘was a man of very dissipated habits, and of an extremely quarrelsome disposition.’ The coachman himself admitted to the court that he had once before been convicted of an assault and had also been brought before the magistrates charged with cruelty to his animals. However a witness for the Italian musician, a woman with whom he had lodged for some time in Sheffield, gave him a very good character reference. She stated that in all the time she had known him, he had always been a quiet and peaceful man.

The judge summed up for the jury and condemned Roebuck for having used some provocation towards the prisoner by slapping him. The court was cleared whilst the jury made their deliberations, which took just a few moments. They found Joseph Romasarte not guilty of the charge. It might be said that the coachman Levi Roebuck aptly deserved his violent reputation as events proved that he had learned nothing from his earlier escape. Just ten months later on Friday 20 January 1838 he was again hauled before magistrate, Mr Hugh Parker charged with another assault. This time he had attacked a vestry clerk called Mr Crossland, for which he was found guilty and fined 30s.

Shebeening at Dalton.

In August of 1900 the Rotherham police were given information about some illicit drinking which had been going on at Dalton. Suspicions had begun when several local men had been taken into custody accused of being drunk, however none would admit to drinking in a particular hostelry in the area, so the police could not tie it down to any landlord. The worst offenders seemed to be some Irish miners who were working at the Silverwood Colliery and who lived in huts. These had been temporarily erected in the area where sinking operations for the colliery had been in progress. The area was put under close supervision and around 17 August it was noted that a certain quantity of beer was seen to be taken into a hut occupied by a man called Albert Reynolds.

Superintendent McDonald arranged for a constable from another division, who was unknown to the area, to be given employment at the colliery brickyard near to the huts. Working undercover and in plain clothes, he had kept an eye on the hut, where he could regularly hear the sound of men singing and enjoying themselves. Entering the hut one night, the undercover officer, found that large quantities of liquor was being sold on the premises. Altogether on sale were barrels of beer and bottles of whiskey, rum and brandy. After that, he managed to visit the hut on a regular basis and saw drink being consumed on the premises and also taken away from the premises for consumption later. Once he made his report to the superintendent, a raid was organised

Accordingly on Saturday 8 September 1900, Superintendent McDonald took out a warrant and accompanied by Inspector Myers, they raided the hut around 11.30 pm and found several men on the premises. The hut was surrounded and all the alcohol on the premises was removed. In fact the haul was so large, that a special horse and dray had to be requisition in order to remove it all. In total there was 53 gallons of cask beer, 336 pint bottles of beer, 10 bottles of Irish whiskey, 3 bottles of brandy and 3 bottles of rum. The alcohol was then taken to the courthouse at Rotherham. On Monday 10 September, Albert Reynolds was brought before the magistrates at the West Riding Police Court.

It was recorded that he ‘hobbled into court on crutches, suffering from a broken leg for which he had been off work for some time’. Once seated, he told the court that he would be conducting his own defence. Reynolds pleaded guilty to the charge, but asked for a remand in order to bring witnesses who would prove that certain allegations against him were incorrect. He was charged with selling beer without a license on the 7 and 8 September. Superintendent McDonald described the prisoner as being employed as a sinker at the Colliery and the occupier of a hut nearest to the pit where he worked. He said that after several complaints from local people, the hut had been placed under observation, and beer had been seen taken into the hut under cover of darkness.

The next witness was Police Constable Stone who told the bench that he had observed a delivery of alcohol at 9.10 pm on 17 August. The delivery, which was carried out by two drays, were then emptied at the hut belonging to the prisoner. He also told the court that although there had been many complaints about drunken men, the nearest public house was a mile away. Then it was time for the undercover police officer to give evidence. He told the court that his name was Police Constable Lancaster and said he had been stationed in the Barnsley police force, but had been seconded to Rotherham for this investigation. For this purpose he had been employed in the brickworks, and so he could see Reynolds’ hut from where he was working as it was only about 150 yards away.

He said that on 7 September he had gone to the hut in company with a man named Willis, and ordered a pint of beer for which he paid 6d. For the next round, Willis ordered two more pints and was served by a servant. Since that time he had gone several times and had always been served. He stated that on each occasion Reynolds had been present. Also whilst he had been in the hut he heard men come to the back door and order sixpenny worth of whisky. Reynolds wife went to the door and told the servant to serve them and once again Reynolds was there. The witness described how the whisky was measured in an egg cup before being poured into larger cups for the men who then took them away. He also claimed that when working in the brickyard he saw men go to the hut day and night, just as if it had been an ordinary public house.

However upon hearing this, the prisoner Reynolds maintained that on the date mentioned, he had not been present in the hut as he had been at Woodhouse Mill at the time. He asked the magistrates to remand him for a week, so that he could find witnesses to prove that he had been elsewhere at the time. The chair to the magistrates, Mr Rhodes asked him if any of these witnesses could account for any of the alcohol which had been found on the premises and the prisoner shook his head. Inspector Myers then stated that on 8 September he had gone with some of his men to remove the alcohol with a search warrant. He listed that the barrels of beer had come from various breweries along with the bottles of spirits.

The inspector stated that the bottles of spirits had been placed out of sight under a table which was covered all around to hide the bottles. His officers had also found a book which recorded all the sales made from the various breweries, as well as a number of bills. He confirmed that the police had gone with plenty of men in order to prevent any retaliation from any of Reynolds customers during the raid. When Reynolds was asked to account for the shebeening he stated that he was separated from his wife and had to pay her 17s 6d a week and then he had been forced to be away from work due to his broken leg. Therefore he had sold alcohol to the other men in order to supplement his wages. He concluded that it was no good denying what he had done.

But then Mr Rhodes dropped a bombshell. He told the court that the prisoner had been convicted at Shirebrook, Chesterfield four years previously for shebeening on 19 September 1896. There had been two separate charges for which he was fined £50 and costs. After hearing this, the court inflicted another fine of £50 or three months imprisonment on him. The next case the court heard arose from an incident which had occurred when the police were in the act of arresting Reynolds on 7 September. The prisoners name was William Comer of Silverwood and he was charged with resisting the police. Superintendent McDonald again was the witness and he said that when the police went into the hut, the prisoner had been sitting at a table there.

When he saw the uniformed officers he grabbed a walking stick and held it in a threatening manner. The stick was removed from him and he was told to ‘keep quiet.’ Later he picked up a poker and was about too strike one of his men, when the superintendent spotted him. He shouted and thankfully another officer, Police Constable Brooks managed to knock the poker out of the man’s hands. When asked if he had anything to say for himself, Comer apologised for his behaviour and stated that he had been drinking and didn’t know what he was doing. However the superintendent told the bench that after he had been arrested, he had also tried to incite others to attack his men. The bench inflicted a fine of 20s and costs or one month in prison.

It was reported later that the case had excited much interest in the local populace and that consequently the courtroom had been crowded throughout. Many of the men from the colliery had been present in the court, however it was reported that they behaved very well. Reynolds wife had also been arrested on a similar charge, but as magistrates of the period tended to think that women had no option but to obey their husbands, they agreed to drop all the charges against her and Mrs Reynolds was dismissed

Stone Throwing at Masbrough

John Matthewman was a boy of just ten years in January of 1887 and he lived on Midland Road, Masborough with his parents. It was around 3.30 pm on Monday 24 January when he and some other boys were walking down Victoria Street, Masborough on their way home from school. When they reached the junction where Victoria Street meets Station Road, he saw fourteen year old Edward Roberts, who had recently started work as a clerk walking up the road. As they both passed each other, Edward used a foul expression at John before the other boy picked up a stone and threw it in retaliation.

The stone hit Edward square on his forehead and he simply dropped to the floor without uttering a sound. John, seeing what he had done, just ran off, not bothering to see if Edward was hurt or not.
The next day when he got home from school, his mother tell him that Edwards father had been to see them earlier that day. He told them that his son was lying unconscious at home from the stone throwing incident and that John was to blame. He told John’s parents that the previous evening his son had gone home with blood pouring from the wound in his head. His mother had tried to staunch the bleeding, but she had not succeeded and had finally to call in a local surgeon.

Edwards parents had become progressively worried as the night went on and when Edward had started to drift in and out of consciousness they became very concerned. At this point John tried to protest that the fourteen year old had asked for it, as he had been taunting him, but he was struck silent by his mothers worried face. Her worries were justified when the following day 26 January, they heard that young Edward Roberts had died. At first the Rotherham legal authorities were at a loss as what to do, given the young age of both the assailant and the victim, but eventually it was decided that, young though he was, John would have to be brought into custody.

Mrs Matthewman cried as she saw her ten year old son being taken away by Police Constable Horton, and he was placed in a cell at the Rotherham Police Station. The Coroner Mr D Wightman was informed of the young boy’s death and he arranged for an inquest to be held at the Woodman Inn on Midland Road on Saturday 29 January 1887. The first witness was the deceased boys father, who was also called Edward. He told the inquest that he had identified the body of his son. He said that his son had been brought home on the Monday night with his forehead bleeding. He had complained that John Matthewman had thrown a stone at him and it had hit him hard.

The witness then described his son’s slow deterioration before he died in his mothers arms the following day. Mr Wightman asked him if his son had always been a healthy child, but Edward Roberts senior shook his head and said ‘he had never been a healthy child.’ Then it was the turn of a young man who had actually witnessed the stone throwing. He was called Harry Downs and he described John picking up the stone and throwing it at Edward. Downs said it had struck Edward on his temple and had knocked the boy down. He told the coroner that when John saw what he had done, he just ran away.

Police Constable Horton gave evidence of arresting the ten-year-old. He said that when charged John had told him ‘he had done it because previously Edward had hit him many a time.’ At that point the inquest was adjourned until Friday 18 February 1887. When the inquest re-convened it was time for the young prisoner to speak up for himself. John admitted that he had thrown the stone at the deceased lad, but stated quite clearly that he did not intend to hurt him. The coroner asked him if he was in the habit of throwing stones and when the young boy said not, Mr Wightman told him ‘well you must be the only lad in Rotherham that isn’t then.’ To which there was some laughter in the room at this comment.

Dr Cobban, the police surgeon was the next to give evidence and he said that he had been called out to see Edward Roberts on 26 January. He added that he had not spoken to the lad as this had been just a few hours before he died, when he was already unconscious. Then the coroner summed up for the jury and told them that they had several options. They might send the ten year old to take his trial for manslaughter, but they also had to take into consideration the fact that all boys of his age were in the regular habit of throwing stones. Mr Wightman said that he did not feel that there had been any particular quarrel between the boys which had started the stone throwing, and he truly believed that young Matthewman had not intended to seriously injure the other boy.

The coroner stated that in such cases he would have been punished by a good thrashing from his father. At this Matthewman’s father interjected and said that he had thrashed his son many times for throwing stones, but it had never done him any good. Mr Wightman said that if he had any power to order a good thrashing to his son he would do so, but matters had turned more serious with the lads death. Nevertheless he advocated the senior Matthewman should talk very seriously to his son in order to prevent such a thing happening again. The jury retired for about twenty minutes before returning back to the inquest room.

They brought in a verdict that ‘Edward Roberts had died from concussion of the brain, caused by a blow from a stone thrown by John Matthewman,’ On Thursday 3 February John was brought before the Rotherham Borough Police Court charged with having caused the death of Edward Roberts aged 14 years. Mr Edwards prosecuted, although he simply to ask for a remand for seven days which was agreed. The following week the same witnesses were heard as at the inquest and the Rotherham magistrates had no option but to send John Matthewman to take his trial at the next Assizes to be held at Leeds Town Hall.

Consequently the young John Matthewman was brought before the judge Mr Justice Grantham on Thursday 12 May 1887 where he was defended by Mr Rimington Wilson. John had originally pleaded not guilty but after a discussion with his defence counsel, he changed his plea to guilty. Mr Ellison outlined the case for the prosecution and spoke about the spate of stone throwing which had taken place in Rotherham at the time, which had no doubt, had an effect on the young boy. Then he describing Edward Roberts’ death. In his defence of the prisoner Mr Wilson stated that ‘the occurrence was very near the borders of being an accident, before he asked for clemency for the prisoner given his young age.

His Lordship administered a severe caution to the young prisoner before finally concluding that the case would be satisfied if he sentenced John Matthewman to a weeks imprisonment. He said that as that period had already elapsed since the opening of the Assizes, the boy would be at once discharged. I have little doubt that both John and his parents would have heaved a great sigh of relief at this decision, but it would have been of little comfort to Edward Roberts parents.

The Violent Lodger

The dark courts around Duke Street, Sheffield had been described as a bit of a rabbit warren by the health authorities in July 1865. Most families in those overcrowded houses exacerbated the problem with taking in lodgers to make ends meet. One of those residents was an elderly woman called Mrs Ann Stevens who, it was estimated was aged around sixty, and was blind and infirm. In February of 1866 she lived with her husband Benjamin and a fifty one year old lodger called John Bland. Given her disabilities, Ann looked after them as best as she could even, after she had an accident when a cart ran over her foot.

The elderly woman tried to deal with her injury the best way she could, but soon her whole leg became inflamed and she was reduced to using a stick to hobble around the house. Finally she was driven to go to the Sheffield Dispensary where she was attended to by an assistant house surgeon, a man called Dr J S Pratt. He was very kind to her, and would often visit her at home in order to change her dressings. At first Ann managed to cope well enough to look after both her husband and the lodger, but soon there were arguments. However this was not about her not being able to tend to the house as well as she had done before, but was rather fuelled by her lodgers wild behaviour.

It turned out that Bland was a heavy drinker and subsequently the sounds of many arguments between Ann and the lodger were heard by the neighbours. What made Bland particularly annoying was the fact that he would often stay out late drinking with friends and then come home at some early hour of the morning. Then he would simply bang on the door until someone got out of bed to let him in. Around the beginning of July of that year matters sunk to such a level level that Ann asked him to leave. Bland was reluctant to leave as the lodgings were cheap and quite close to his place of work where he was employed as a cutler. So he simply ignored her.

On Sunday 1 July, Bland had been out all night again and subsequently it was around 9 am when he finally returned home. He was heard by a neighbour to be knocking at Ann’s door and roughly demanded admission. However this time although nearly all those inside the house could hear him, no one came to open the door. Bland shouted up to his son who finally appeared at one of the windows. When he told him ‘to come down and open the door’ the boy just told him that ‘Nancy wouldnt let him.’ A reference to Ann who went by that name to her lodgers. With that Bland started kicking at the door and as a result he made a hole in it, something he had done once before.

Incensed, Ann was furious as she was finally made to come and unlock the damaged door and in temper she grabbed at the poker. Unlocking the door with one hand and holding the poker with her other, she threatened Bland that she would use it on him if he dared to make one step inside. Ann told him to ‘go back to the place where he had been drinking the night before.’ By now the neighbours were coming out of their respective houses, attracted by the noise, and Ann was so angry that she hit him on the head with the poker. Bland looked at the group of neighbours gathered in the yard and asked no one in particular ‘would you stand for that?’

The lodger finally grabbed the poker out of the old woman’s hand and he hit his elderly landlady with it. Almost immediately her head began to bleed. Now frightened by the sight of so much blood, Bland ran out of the yard. Ann went back inside her house and tried to staunch the bleeding, but she could not stop it. In the end her husband told her to go to the Sheffield Public Hospital to have one of the doctors put a stitch in it. Ann did so and was consequently an outpatient at the hospital for some days. She was pleased in that one good thing to come out of it all was the fact that John Bland had never come back to the house since the altercation.

The couple could now sleep in their beds without being disturbed. However their pleasure was short lived when Ann died on Sunday 16 July from the effects of the blow on the head. The surgeon, Mr Pratt who had been treating her for the accident to her foot, was told of the death and he notified the Sheffield Coroner, Mr J Webster. He also called to the house and found the deceased woman now had a badly lacerated wound on the top of her head. He noted that it had been an inch long and had been inflicted with such violence that the bone of her skull was visible. Meanwhile an inquest on Ann Stevens was arranged for the following day at the Saw Mill Tavern on Sydney Street, Sheffield.

The first to give evidence was her husband, Benjamin Stevens and he told the jury that he was aware that she had been hit on the head by Bland, but that he had not been at home when the argument had taken place. The witness said that Bland had since left the house and had not seen him since. Stevens then described how the lodger would stay out all night drinking and then insist that his wife get up and open the door to him on his return. A neighbour, a woman called Julia Bosworth described the argument which had taken place between her neighbour and Bland, which she had observed over the fence which had separated the two houses.

Julia told the inquest that she had actually witnessed Bland striking the old woman on the head with the poker. The witness described how Ann had been standing at the door with the poker in her hand, when suddenly her lodger grabbed it out of her hand and hit her with it. Julia Bosworth claimed that Ann had been trying to prevent her lodger from coming inside the house. Another neighbour, Ann Taylor corroborated Mrs Bosworth’s evidence, and told the inquest how Bland had provoked the attack by kicking a hole in the door with his boots. The witness said it was not the first time it had happened.

The Assistant House Surgeon at the Sheffield Public Hospital, Mr Pratt was the next to give evidence and he described the wound he had found on the old woman’s scalp. He said that he had treated it for several days, but it had soon become inflamed and there had been considerable swelling around the wound. The surgeon said that the deceased had complained of severe pain in her head and he admitted that he knew almost immediately that she would not recover. He finally gave his opinion that death was caused by the injury to Ann’s head, which had produced inflammation of the membranes of the brain.

The coroner Mr Webster summed up for the jury and he directed them towards a verdict of manslaughter which was recorded against John Bland. A warrant was issued for his arrest and later that same day John Bland was found in Sheffield and taken into custody. On Tuesday 18 July 1866 he was brought before magistrate, Mr H Harrison at the Town Hall charged with the manslaughter of Ann Stevens. After hearing the evidence from the witnesses, John Bland was found guilty and committed to take his trial at the next Assizes. Consequently, he appeared at the Town Hall, Leeds on Tuesday 8 August 1865.

Mr Baker acted as the prosecution as he outlined the details of the case for the jury. Describing the attack, the judge and jury then heard the medical evidence, which stated clearly that although the wound had gone down to the bone, the skull underneath had not been fractured. Bland, who was undefended, told the court that he was very sorry for what had happened and spoke of being in a great passion at the time. The judge summed up for the Grand Jury and told them that there had no doubt, been some great provocation to the prisoner. Nevertheless he must ‘mark his disapproval of the prisoners conduct in using such a weapon upon such an old lady.’ Therefore he sentenced John Bland to serve three months imprisonment with hard labour.

Manslaughter at the Plough.

It would seem that in Rotherham, some cases of foolish behaviour were becoming all to common in the area in April of 1853. So much so that one of the local newspapers, the Sheffield Independent dated Saturday 9 April 1853 summed up the case. The reporter described it as ‘another of those fatal affrays arising from drunkenness, which have of late years, too frequently disgraced this neighbourhood’ The report stated that the incident had started on the evening of Easter Tuesday, 5 April 1853 when a group of men were drinking together at the Catcliffe public house. Among them in the Plough were Ralph Taylor and his brother James, along with a third man called Thomas Westnidge.

All the men were young and in their twenties and were having a good time together celebrating the holidays. Suddenly Thomas Westnidge knocked James Taylor’s hat off and then completely denied that he’d done it. Under normal circumstances the situation would have quickly dissolved into laughter and the nights enjoyment would have continued. But for some reason, this playful act seemed to rankle with his brother Ralph Taylor. Rising from his seat Ralph knocked Wastnidge’s own hat off and trampled it under his feet stating to him ‘If it was your head, I would serve it the same.’

Disgustedly, James Taylor picked his hat up and dusted it off and he and his brother and some companions went into another room where they remained until just before 9 pm. Still annoyed however, as they were about to leave, Ralph Taylor went back into the room where Thomas was still sitting and shouted at him that he was going to summons him for what he had done. Westnidge got up and grabbing Taylor by the collar of his jacket, and said to him ‘Oh will you, you bugger.’ He then smashed his head into the other man’s face, throwing him violently backwards with great force.

Indeed Ralph fell so heavily that the back of his head slammed into the stone floor beneath. Consequently he did not move as Thomas and his friends left the Plough before they staggered off home. Incredibly, not one of them realised the seriousness of what had just happened. After they had gone, several men who had been drinking in the Plough tried to rouse Ralph and eventually it was decided that he could not remain there. So he was carried to his brother James’s house nearby, where a surgeon Mr Thomas Blunn was quickly called.

He examined Ralph, but as he was told that the man’s state was due to a drunken argument that had taken place earlier in the Plough, the surgeon simply left instructions to be called if the man’s condition deteriorated. Soon after the surgeon left, however Ralph began to recover slightly. After some time he regained his senses, but he complained of a terrible pain in the back of his head. James’s wife put him into a truckle bed in the spare bedroom next to their own bedroom. She attended to him assiduously until around 1 am when she finally left him to go to sleep herself. However before she climbed into the double bed she shared with her husband, James’s wife left the door open between the two bedrooms.

Nevertheless, the poor woman was getting increasingly concerned about her brother-in-law and so several times during the night she awoke. As she could still hear Ralph’s heavy breathing, she naturally assumed that he was just in a very deep sleep. However at sometime around 7 am James awoke and went into the next room where he found his brother dead. As soon as the death was announced to the local constabulary, the police heard about the circumstances and promptly arrested Thomas Westnidge charging him with murder of Ralph Taylor. Consequently, he was brought before the court the next day. However he was simply remanded until the hearing of the inquest which was due to be held on Friday 8 April 1853.

The Coroner, Mr Thomas Badger arranged for the inquest to be held at the same public house where the incident had taken place, the Plough at Catcliffe. Westnidge was brought into the room in the custody of a police constable. It was difficult to judge what his thoughts were, as he looked around the same room where all the men had been drinking just four nights before. The first witness was surgeon Mr Le-Tall of Handsworth Woodhouse and he told the inquest that the previous day he had performed a post mortem on the remains of Ralph Taylor.

He stated that he had examined the body externally and found marks of violence around the head of the deceased. However those marks were fairly insignificant. Only when he removed the skull did he found it to be extensively fractured. The surgeon said that at the right side of the man’s skull there was a substantial amount of dark coagulated blood between the bone and the dura mater. He therefore concluded that the cause of death was the fractures of the skull which caused an effusion of blood in collect in the man’s brain.

His evidence was also confirmed by another surgeon Mr John Foster of Rotherham, who had also attended the post mortem. Mr Badger summed up the evidence for the jury, who almost unanimously brought in a verdict of manslaughter against Thomas Westnidge. Mr Badger told the prisoner that he would be sent before the Assizes to take his trial. Although Thomas had shown no reaction to the accusations that had been made against him, the prisoner looked very shocked as he was removed from the room.

Thomas Westnidge was brought before judge Mr Justice Earle at the Yorkshire Summer Assizes at York on Tuesday 12 July 1853 charged with the manslaughter of Ralph Taylor. The prisoner pleaded guilty to the manslaughter charge. Fortunately the grand jury were much more sympathetic than the Rotherham legal authorities had been. The witnesses gave the same evidence as they had done before the Rotherham court before the judge summed up. He pointed out that there had been no malice intended in Ralph Taylor’s death, which had simply been the result of a drunken affray. As a result Thomas Westnidge was just sentenced to be imprisoned for just a fortnight with hard labour.

Child death at Mexborough.

Eveline Cotton was aged nineteen when she lived with her grandparents, Mr and Mrs Charles Lefley at the Barracks, Doncaster Road, Mexborough. Her grandfather was a poultry dealer by trade and with the assistance of his wife and granddaughter he also ran a local shop. On Friday 17 October, Eveline was working in the shop when she complained of feeling ill. Her grandfather told her to go home and go straight to bed, which she did. After the shop had closed, her grandmother returned home and asked Eveline if she was feeling better, but the girl who was still in bed shook her head. She told Charlotte Lefley that she was feeling much worse.

So the elderly woman brought her up some gruel and a small glass of gin and urged the girl to drink it as it would help her, if she was developing a cold. However a few hours later Charlotte was in for a shock when she returned upstairs to see how Eveline was now feeling. The girl was still in bed and crying profusely. Shocked, the elderly woman put her arms around her granddaughter and urged her to tell her what the matter was. Through her tears Eveline admitted to her horrified relative that she was not ill, but had instead given birth to a male child which, she said had been born dead.

When Charlotte asked her where was the body, the girl told her that it was in a box at the bottom of the bed. A local, newly qualified doctor, Dr Huey was called to the house and he quickly attended. To his shock he was told that there was a deceased child which had been born on the premises. Then he was taken upstairs to Eveline’s bedroom where she was still sobbing quietly. Charlotte told him that her granddaughter had given birth to the child that very day. When Dr Huey opened the box, inside he found the body of a newly born, deceased, male child. He asked the stricken girl if she was the mother and she admitted that the child was hers and that she had given birth a few hours before.

Eveline told him that the child had never made a sound after it had been born. The surgeon told her that he would have to report the finding of the body to the Coroner and that a full investigation would have to be made, which made the girl cry even more. The news that an illegitimate child had been born and died soon became a great sensation in the village of Mexborough, as many people crowded around the house on Doncaster Road. However they saw very little as the curtains were kept firmly closed. Meanwhile the Coroner Mr Wightman was informed and he, in return reported the case to the police at Rotherham.

He also requested that Dr Huey make a post mortem of the child’s body in the hope of establishing the cause of death. Mr Wightman then arranged for an inquest to be held at the Montague Cottage Hospital at Mexborough on the afternoon of Tuesday 21 October. On that day, Eveline was escorted into the room by Police Sergeant Foreman and it was noted that she looked very pale and not quite recovered from her recent ordeal. As a result she was given a chair and allowed to be seated to give her own evidence. Also in attendance was Inspector Watson who was the newly-appointed Inspector of Police at Mexborough.

The jury were sworn in, and the first witness was the young Dr Huey. He was asked whether he had attended to the prisoner before being called to the house the previous Tuesday, to which he admitted that he had not. The surgeon then described being called to the house and being shown the body of the child. When asked by the coroner if the girl had been reluctant to show him the body, Dr Huey responded that she wasn’t. He stated that there had been no attempt to hide the child and that the prisoner had readily pointed to her box at the bottom of the bed when asked where the body was.
She had also told him that she was alone when she gave birth in the house, as her grandparents were still at the shop.

Dr Huey then described how it was Charlotte Lefley who had taken the body out of the box and handed it to him. He described how the baby’s body had been wrapped in an old apron. The young surgeon said that he had examined the child and found it to be deceased, before having it removed to the mortuary of the Montague Hospital. The coroner then asked Dr Huey what were his findings at the post mortem and he described how he had first made an external examination of the body, and had found that it had been a full term, healthy looking child.

He had found no marks of violence upon it, but internally he had paid close attention to the lungs and found them to be fully inflated. Mr Wightman had turned to the jury at this point and warned them to play close attention to the medical evidence. He said:

‘That is a very important statement, as you can see. If the lungs had never been fully inflated, then the child could not have had a separate existence from the mother after birth. Therefore if they were fully inflated, the child had a partial existence separate from the mother.’

Dr Huey was asked for his opinion for the cause of death, and he concluded that was due to neglect at the point of birth and inattention from any professional midwife. Continuing with his evidence the young surgeon said that after being shown the dead body, he asked Eveline how long she had kept the baby in bed with her after the birth. The girl stated that it was only about ten minutes or so. She then admitted that she did not know what to do with the child and at first had put it under the bed. As dawn broke, and the sky got lighter, only then did she put it in the box.

Mr Wightman then asked him if it struck him at the time that anything was suspicious about the birth, but Dr Huey stated that he put the death down purely to the lack of professional help at the point of birth. The coroner then summed up for the jury. He told them:

‘I had thought that the case might turn out to be one of manslaughter, not because the mother had murdered or strangled the child, but she might have allowed it to die. If she had taken proper care and precaution, which a woman under those circumstances ought to take, the child might have been alive. That would mean a case of manslaughter.

However after the evidence of Dr Huey there is no earthly possibility of the woman being convicted of manslaughter or murder. I am satisfied of that. You gentlemen, after hearing all the evidence might return an open verdict. In that case if the police thought proper, they might prosecute the prisoner for concealment of birth, but you gentlemen would have nothing to do with that decision.’

Turning to Dr Huey the coroner had not finished with him yet. He asked him ‘was the mother so weak that she was in a state where she was totally unfit to assist the child’ to which the surgeon agreed that she might well have been. Mr Wightman then asked him if she might have been in a state of total collapse, to which Dr Huey again agreed that too was possible. The surgeon told him that upon his initial examination it was clear that the child had been born, just a few hours before his own arrival. After hearing all the evidence, the foreman of the jury Mr Tyas told the inquest that the jury had reached a unanimous decision on an open verdict.

A verdict to this effect was duly recorded.

Riding the Stang

Five young, unnamed men were brought before the Sheffield magistrates on Tuesday 13 August 1867 charged with the assault of a man called George Ollerenshaw of Wadsley Bridge, Sheffield. Apparently on the night of Thursday 8 August, the five men along with others, had threatened Ollerenshaw’s life. Therefore the police had been compelled to bring them into court. Mr Roberts, the solicitor who appeared for Ollerenshaw told the court that his client lived alone with his daughter, after his wife had died 13 years previously. The fact that she had five illegitimate children whilst still living under his roof, had caused neighbours to assume that the children were his.

Ollerenshaw had protested his innocence, but it had not dispelled the rumours which were rife in the village. On the night in question, straw effigies had been set on fire and thrown into his garden, stones had been thrown at his door and all his windows were broken. Mr Roberts said that looking out his client had seen a great mob, including the five prisoners assembled in his own garden. They were all shouting and making a great clamour. Another magistrate, Mr Rogers stated that ’notwithstanding any immorality on the man’s part, a crime had been committed and that it was not lawful to assault or threaten him.’ He told the court that this behaviour was known as ‘Riding the Stang’ and was an ancient custom which simply had the intention of shaming the person involved.

Mr Rogers pointed out that Ollerenshaw’s life had never been in any danger and therefore in his eyes, no crime had been committed. He also claimed that the demonstration had been sanctioned by the elders of the village, and it was a case of public scandal that Ollerenshaw had been living with his daughter, who had several children despite the fact that she was unmarried. The problems started because the name of the putative father of these children had never been brought before the magistrates, so conjecture had been rife as to who was the actual guilty party.

After some more discussion between the members of the bench, all the men were all bound over to keep the peace in their own recognisances of £10 each for six months.