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.

The Robbery of John Speed.

In April of 1851, a man called John Speed was employed as a wood worker and lived in Brown Street, Sheffield. On the night of 27 April he went out for a quiet drink after finishing work. John visited several pubs in Sheffield, but around 11.30 pm, he was to be found inside Littlewood’s public house in West Street, Sheffield. John asked for a drink and after it was supplied, he looked around to see if there was anyone he knew. John quickly saw a 22 year old man called George Staley who was sat with two other men that he did not know. He acknowledged Staley with a curt nod as continued drink his ale. Accordingly, it was around midnight when John finally decided it was time to make his way home.

As it was a dark night, John was careful to walk in the middle of the road as he walked up West Street, when suddenly he heard someone behind him. Looking round he saw Staley and the two men he had been drinking with, now following him. John, fearful that the men had some criminal intentions towards him, turned around and proceeded down Holly Street, all the time increasing his pace. That was when he heard running footsteps as the men started to run towards him. Now John knew that they did indeed intend him harm, as one of them knocked him savagely at the back of his head with a heavy stick.

Fearful of his money being taken from him, John kept his hand in his left hand trouser pocket as he was determined not to let them rob him. Consequently when he fell, with his arm in that position, his shoulder was dislocated. Whilst John was writhing in pain on the ground however, the three men felt little pity towards their victim. They proceeded to beat and kick him in the head, body and ribs before finally stealing his money. Thankfully one of the Sheffield nightwatchmen was on duty in Holly Street. He was a man called John Jagger and he had earlier seen John Speed leave the Littlewood’s public house on West street and noted that at the time, he was being followed out by three other men.

Jagger knew Staley to be a suspicious character who was well known to the Sheffield police force, However seeing nothing amiss, he eventually carried on with his beat. Consequently Jagger proceeded down Bow Street, Sheffield and after progressing for about 30 yards, the watchman heard a noise which alerted him. Turning around, Jagger saw one man on the ground and noted Staley and two other men running towards him. Consequently he grabbed at the collar of Staley’s jacket as he passed, and at the same time heard him dropping something into his waistcoat pocket which sounded like coins. Staley was now struggling to free himself from the night watchman’s grip, but Jagger was relentless.

Holding the man firmly, the nightwatchman asked him what he had been up to. This question seemed to provoke his prisoner as Staley managed to finally seize hold of his prisoner. Without hesitation Staley threw Jagger down on the floor as he grabbed hold of his night stick, ran off with it. The nightwatchman immediately got himself up and then went to help the injured man on the ground, who was groaning in pain and clutching at his shoulder. Jagger saw that the injured man had bruising on his face and that both his trouser pockets had been turned inside out. The nightwatchman organised for Speed to be taken immediately to the Sheffield Infirmary where his shoulder was attended to.

Meanwhile Jagger returned back to the Town Hall and made a full report to his senior officer. The next day a statement was also taken from John Speed who gave what details he could of the robbery. He said that the men had ill-used him before they stole 18s from his pocket. He identified George Staley as being the main attacker, although he had no knowledge of who the other two young men had been. Proof of the attack was later found when another officer, searching the site the following day, picked up a half sovereign. This coin was identified by John as being one of the coins stolen from him. A warrant was taken out for George Staley’s arrest, but officers attending his home address found that the man had already absconded.

However five days later, information reached the Sheffield police that Staley had been seen at his fathers house on Meadow Street, Sheffield. The Chief Constable immediately sent a squad of officers to arrest him, under the direction of Inspector Tasker. The men would need all their strength as Staley resisted violently all the way back to the Town Hall, all the time protesting his innocence. He simply claimed that they had got the wrong man, and that he had been no where near Littlewood’s on the night of the attack. However his protestations proved useless, as John Speed correctly identified him, as did the watchman, Jagger. On Saturday 3 May, George Staley was brought before the magistrates at Sheffield charged with street robbery with violence.

Despite his protestations to the contrary, the prisoner was quickly found guilty and sent to take his trial at the York Summer Assizes. He appeared before Mr Justice Williams on Tuesday 15 July 1851 where he was defended by a Mr Foster. Mr Overend prosecuted the case and he gave an outline of the facts to the jury. He stated that the prisoner and two other men had been implicated in the case, but their names or whereabouts still remained unknown. Consequently George Staley was the only man in the dock. Mr Foster’s defence was simply that of a mistaken identity on the part of John Speed and the watchman, John Jagger.

He called a man called Samuel Gregory to give the prisoner a good character, and the witness told the court that he was a table knife manufacturer. Gregory stated that he was also a neighbour to the prisoner they both lived in Meadow Street. The witness added that he was the landlord of a public house in Gibraltar Street, Sheffield where Storey was a regular, and he described the prisoner as being a hard working and an honest man. However in an attempt to discredit the evidence given by Samuel Gregory, Mr Overend began to slowly assassinate the prisoners character. His cross-examination was calculated to denounce the prisoners moral reputation.

The prosecution asked the witness if he had knowledge that previously George Storey had cohabited with a woman called Ann Jenkinson. She was well known to be a Sheffield prostitute and Mr Overend claimed that the prisoner had, for some time lived off her earnings. Gregory told the jury that he did not know anything about that matter. Finally after hearing all the evidence the prisoner was found guilty, although his sentencing was deferred to the following day. On Wednesday 16 July 1851, George Storey was sentenced to six months imprisonment with hard labour for the most cowardly attack.

The Mysterious Death of Charles Musgrave

It had long been decided that the regime in the debtors prison in Sheffield should be purposely harsh in order to determine that as few people as possible would enter through its doors. Therefore the food needed to be a basic prison diet. They also hoped that the prisoners own relatives would supplement their needs. Those prisoners who had no relatives, were funded by the workhouse guardians of the particular towns where the prisoners had been born. The governor of the Sheffield Debtors Gaol at this period was Mr William Kirk and he made it very plain that the food allowance was not sufficient, at a meeting held in August 1837.

The meeting which consisted of the workhouse overseers and the Sheffield magistrates therefore decided what the food allowance for the prisoners should be. After some debate, they agreed that each prisoner should have a pound and a half of bread each day and 6d a week in money. However Mr Kirk argued that this was 6d less than the prisoners had received previously. It was also agreed that the bread would be supplied either from the workhouse itself or from bakers in the town who had been contracted to supply it. However when the death of 45 year old prisoner, Charles Musgrave was brought to the attention of the local authorities, it was decided that something must be done.

He had died in the early hours of Friday 8 September 1837, so the Coroner Mr Badger arranged an inquest to be held at the prison later that same day. Mr William Kirk was summoned to the inquest and he told the jury that the prisoner Musgrave, who had originally come to Sheffield from Barnsley, had five debt warrants against him when he entered the prison in April of that year. The governor explained the food allowance system and told the magistrates of his concerns that it was insufficient. He gave his opinion that either the bread or money allowance should be increased.

At this point one of the jury, Mr Sanderson asked the coroner if he could speak. He told the inquest that he was a baker who lived adjoining the gaol in Scotland Street and stated that he agreed with the witnesses findings. The baker admitted that he had provided bread to the gaol for nearly three years and during that time had heard several complaints. He said the prisoners were not complaining about the quality of the bread, so much as the quantity of it that they were given. The next witness was the widow of the deceased man, Mrs Ann Musgrave. She told the coroner that when her husband had been sent to the Debtors Gaol, she had been left with seven children to care for.

Since that time she said that she had been allowed just 2s a week and two 6lb loaves of bread from the Barnsley Workhouse to feed herself and the children. Therefore she was unable to supplement any money or food for her husband. Mrs Musgrave declared that her two eldest daughters had worked at home for several weeks previously. They were employed in weaving hair, and for the last three weeks had brought in 7s each for this work. The witness complained that while Charles had lived with his family, he worked hard to provide for them all. One of the jury asked her if her husband had been a drunkard, which she hotly denied.

She said that had tried desperately to provide for herself and the children, but that he has simply got into debt, due to having a large family and being on very low wages. She described how she had visited him in the cell at Scotland Street and had been appalled at how ill Charles had become during the six months he had been in the gaol. Mrs Musgrave also told the inquest that she was convinced that it was the poor diet of just bread and water which had brought on her husbands death. One of the other prisoners, James Glaves was the next witness.

He told the coroner that the deceased had been his cell mate since his incarceration in the Debtors Gaol. He said Musgrave was always complaining of being hungry and he felt that his last illness was purely from the want of enough to eat. Glaves admitted that his cell mate had been gradually sinking in health and that he had been with him when he died a little before 1 am earlier that same morning. The witness said that there were many prisoners who felt the same, and pointed out that out of the 6d money allowance, they had to either provide their own candles or sit in the dark.
Another prisoner called Thomas Atkinson then gave his evidence and said that he too had been in the same cell as Musgrave and Glaves for the last four weeks.

The witness agreed that the deceased man had been ill ever since he had known him. This prisoner also complained that there simply was not enough to eat. At this point the inquest was adjourned to the following Tuesday 12 September 1837 to be held in the Coroners office at noon. When the adjourned inquest was opened, the medical officer for the Sheffield workhouse, Mr Foster was the first to give evidence. He told the coroner that his duty was to also attend the prisoners in the debtors prison. The surgeon told the jury that he had been called to see Musgrave three months previously with an infection in his chest and that under his treatment the man had quickly recovered.

Since then, Mr Foster said he had visited him again and treated him for slight ailments of the abdomen and bowels. The witness told the jury that he had been called in again late in the evening of Thursday 7 September when he found Charles Musgrave to be insensible and in a dying state. He said that he ordered mustard plasters to be attached to his calves in order to produce a reaction if possible. Mr Foster stated that during his attendance on the prisoner, he had made no complaint of being hungry or indeed of anything else. Mr Badger asked the surgeon if he thought the allowance for the prisoners was sufficient. In reply he stated that it was, but he felt that the money allowance should be increased to 1s a week.

Another surgeon, Mr Jackson was the next witness and he said that along with three other surgeons they had completed the post mortem on Charles Musgrave. He said they had found the body to be ‘spare but not emaciated’ and internally there had been no obvious signs of disease. Mr Jackson stated that his organs were healthy, but indicated that the deceased man had a pre-disposition for consumption. He concluded by saying that the cause of death was effusion of serum on the brain, although they could not establish the cause of such effusion. The coroner asked the surgeon if the diet had affected the man’s death, but Mr Jackson said he thought not. However from the general appearance of the deceased, that he should not suppose the want of food had caused his death.

However Mr Jackson did recommend more meat in the prisoners diet, rather than the increase of money allowed would be better. Another surgeon, Dr Knight who had also attended the post mortem, said that he concurred with his colleagues conclusions with one exception. He felt that the man had showed signs of apoplexy and he felt that was the cause of the man’s death. However, although he felt that Musgrave’s death had not been caused by the want of food, he could not for certain say that it had not accelerated his death.

Mr Badger then summed up for the jury and stated that he was quite satisfied with the evidence. The room was then cleared in order for the jury to make their verdict. After just an hour they found that:

‘That the deceased died in Scotland Street gaol from effusion on the brain; but the jury are of opinion that the gaol allowance is too little. They strongly solicit the proper authorities to cause an immediate increase of suitable food as recommended by Dr Knight and Mr Jackson.’

Rotherham’s Railway Navvies.

It has to be said that a navvy’s life was long, hard and dangerous. The men who worked on these canals and railways were called navvies after the term of ‘canal navigators.’ The working condition were basic, as there was no sick pay and if the weather was bad then the men simply just didn’t work. Frequently, when they could not work they drank for the whole of the day. In Rotherham, some of them lived in the many lodging houses of the town, whilst others lived in hastily built cabins or huts erected near to their work. Sometimes these cabins only had two rooms shared sometimes by six to eight men.

They had no basic amenities such as toilets or washing facilities. Yet often the navvies would be accompanied by their wives and families, also sharing such terrible conditions. Needless to say, these navvies quickly gained a reputation, which was promoted through the newspapers of the period, as being drunken and unruly men. Three such navigators were brought before the Rotherham magistrates on Tuesday 3 October 1837. They were brothers William and James Pennington aged 19 and 28 respectively, and another man called John Harrison. The men were charged with committing ‘a desperate and violent attack on the police’.

The report from the Sheffield Independent dated 7 October 1827 simply described them as ‘three rough looking men employed by the railways.’ They were escorted into the court by the Superintendent of Rotherham Police, Mr John Bland. The first witness was William Bagnall who kept a grocers shop and beer house at Masbrough. He told the court that the previous night about 11 pm, he had closed up the shop and had been making preparations for bed. Suddenly, and without warning, the three prisoners broke open the shop door and accompanied by several other men, poured into the premises.

They then proceeded to threaten to kill the witness if he did not serve them all with a gallon of ale. Bagnall quite rightly refused, so without any further provocation the men attacked him, knocking him to the floor and kicking him viciously when he was down. The witness stated that thankfully his wife and his family were in the back room, so upon hearing the attack, they fled out of the door to the safety of a neighbouring house. Eventually Bagnall described how he also managed to escape and leaving his shop, the stock and the men inside, he also fled through the back door. Bagnall said that he ran to find the nearest police constable in the area and on Masbrough Street he found Police Constable Henry Womack on duty.

The two men returned back to the shop, which they found smashed up and the contents scattered all over the floor. When Bagnall was asked if he had identified any of the men involved, he mentioned the two Pennington’s and Harrison, who had been in the shop several times before. PC Womack was the next witness and he told the bench that after he had reported the robbery to his Superintendent, he and three other officers were sent to arrest the two Pennington’s at Masbrough later that same night. As they entered the lodging house where the brothers lived they found a number of other navvies also in the kitchen. The officer stated that they managed to arrest the two brothers, but at that time could see no sign of Harrison.

However as the police tried to take the three prisoners back to the cells at the station, a shout went up from some of the other lodgers to rescue them. Going outside, the four officers readied themselves as they were immediately surrounded by 20 or 30 other navvies who also lived in the same area of Masbrough. A general melee then ensued, which resulted in all the police officers being knocked down and kicked. The two brothers and Harrison were jubilantly rescued and taken off by some of the mob. Constable Womack told the magistrates that the attack was so vicious that he and his assistants were obliged to flee from the rest of the assembled navvies to save their own lives.

On his return back to the station, the witness said that he immediate reported the offence to Mr Bland. The Superintendent was the next witness and he told the court that after hearing the statement made by his officers, he and four other officers went back to Masbrough to the same lodging house as the Pennington brothers. There the two brothers were pointed out to him by PC Womack and so the superintendent told them that he was here to arrest them. Once again a general fight took place and the witness told the court that he was struck on the head with a heavy bludgeon, wielded by William Pennington.

Only after a most determined assault, did the officers manage to finally arrest the two men and bring them kicking and punching back to the station. The following day, even more officers were sent to Masbrough where John Harrison was finally captured and arrested. One of the magistrates on the bench, Henry Walker Esq., hearing this statement, vowed that the magistrates were determined to cut out such behaviour in Rotherham. He said that at that time such men employed as navvies on the railway were becoming ‘a complete menace.’ Speaking for the other members of the bench, he told the court that:

‘The disturbances by these men were now becoming so serious that people would soon scarcely feel safe in their own houses. We are determined to visit all such persons as the prisoners with the full penalty of the law. In particular where the constables’ lives were actually attacked, as in this case’.

The prisoners were quickly found guilty and were ordered to take their trial at the next West Riding Sessions which were due to be held at Sheffield later that month. When the subject of bail came up, none of the men were able to provide sureties and so bail was denied. On Saturday 28 October 1837 the two Pennington’s and John Harrison were brought before Lord Wharnecliffe at the Sheffield Sessions. James Pennington pleaded guilty to assaulting two of the constables, Thomas Darnally and George Marshall in the execution of their duty. His brother also pleaded guilty to assaulting John Bland and other constables, also in the execution of their duty.

The court sentenced them both to imprisonment for fourteen days and to enter into sureties of £10 each to keep the peace for 12 months. When it came to the third prisoner however, the Grand Jury found that John Harrison’s identification during the assault had not been fully established. Therefore they had to ignore the charge against him of aiding and abetting the last two prisoners, and he was discharged.

Now, modern historians are much more sympathetic towards these navvies and recognise the excellent work these men carried out under the most terrible conditions. It is a matter of fact that hundreds of these men were killed or injured undertaking the dangerous work of building canals and railways. Thankfully because of them, the South Yorkshire Navigation Canal had been opened in Rotherham in 1780. It brought trade and prosperity to Rotherham, as did the Rotherham Westgate Railway Station which opened on 31 October 1838.

The Crimes of Mary Ann Cowl

On Monday 29 October 1917 a woman called Mrs Thomas Franklin left her house on Ash Street, Sheffield to undertaken some business in the town centre. In her absence she left her eleven-year old daughter Gladys in charge. She made sure that her daughter locked and bolted the back door first and then listened carefully from outside whilst she heard her lock and bolt the front door too. Secure that the house was safe, Mrs Franklin carried on with her business. She had trained her daughter well in what she had to do. The arrangement was that when her daughter needed to go out herself, the child would leave the key on a mangle in the back yard.

She had carefully instructed her daughter to place it on the mangle in the back yard, under a cloth and then to put a large stone over it. Consequently when Gladys needed to do some shopping herself, she accordingly left the key on the mangle. However when the girl returned from her shopping she went into the back yard and lifted the stone and the cloth, only to find the key missing. For a moment or two the girl remained stunned, as she knew she had left it there just a short time before. Still puzzling over what had gone wrong she went to the back door and was even more surprised when a strange woman opened the door.

The woman, who was later identified as Mary Ann Cowl, was almost as surprised as Gladys had been. Gladys in fright, shouted at the woman and demanded to know what she was doing inside her mother’s house. Thankfully a neighbour heard the girl shouting and he intervened. He caught hold of the woman and took her next door to his own house, whilst the police were summoned. Once a constable arrived, the woman gave her name and admitted that she was a munitions worker who lived on Kenyon Street, Sheffield. Mary Ann was searched and several items were found on her.

When Mrs Franklin returned home later, she identified the items as being the property of her husband and daughter. Mary Ann Cowl was arrested but by the time she appeared in the Sheffield Police Court on Thursday 1 November, she was charged with a second count of housebreaking.
The second charge was that of breaking into a house belonging to a Private Pickard of the Royal Engineers, who was at the time away serving in the war. He and his wife lived on Oxford Street, Sheffield and on the same day as Mary Ann Cowl had broken into Mrs Franklin’s house, she had also stolen money and cigars from the house on Oxford Street.

The first witness was the eleven year old girl Gladys Franklin and she described being very careful at leaving the house secure in her mothers absence. After she had given her evidence in a clear and concise manner, she was complimented by the Lord Mayor, Counsellor Appleyard and Counsellor Blanchard. The girl was told that she should be very proud of herself, in the way she had made her statement and thanked for her help in catching the prisoner. The second witness was the wife of Private Pickard and she told the court that on the same day she had missed £6.18s from a cash box which had been in a drawer in her bedroom.

She had also missed some cigars of her husbands. She too told the bench that she had locked up the house carefully before leaving, but on her return found the door unlocked. However the chief evidence against the prisoner was the testimony of her own eight year old daughter. She told the court how her mother had visited both houses on the day in question. When Counsellor Blanchard asked the prisoner if she had anything to say in her own defence, she blamed it on ‘taking drink, which had been the ruin of me.’ The Lord Mayor told the court that the prisoner had a record of many such offences and consequently Mary Ann Cowl was ordered to take her trial at the next assizes. However before the prisoner could be sent to take her trial, just two days on Saturday 3 November she was to appear once again in court for an incredible third housebreaking offence.

Mary Ann was charged once more with breaking and entering a house belonging to Thomas Hudson of Sutton Street, Sheffield. His wife, Mrs Annie Hudson was the first witness and she told the court that on the afternoon of 16 June around 2.30 pm she left the house, making sure that everywhere was secure. As usual she had locked the door and put the key inside a window before pulling the window closed as she left. Upon her return around 5 pm she found the window open. The key was still in its usual place and she picked it up only to find that the door was already open. Mrs Hudson was completely dumbfounded when a strange woman walked downstairs.

The woman asked her ‘you’re Mrs Hudson aren’t you?’ The witness replied ‘yes’ before asking the prisoner ‘who are you and what are you doing up my stairs.’ At that time the firm of Cammells in Sheffield were collecting money for the families of serving soldiers, so the woman told her that she had been awarded 6s 5d from that fund. When Mrs Hudson pointed out that she did not work for Cammells, the prisoner apologised before making some excuse and left. Only after she had gone did the witness make a search of the house and found that a cash box she had kept in one of the bedrooms had been broken open and the money was gone.

After hearing this evidence, once again Mary Ann asked if she had anything to say. Once again the prisoner blamed it on her love of alcohol. Subsequently Mary Ann Cowl was brought before the judge at the Autumn Assizes at York on Thursday 29 November 1917. She pleaded guilty to the three charges of breaking and entering and stealing a total of £6.18s in money, two cigars, a pair of woollen gloves and a rolled gold bangle. An unnamed Detective officer told the judge, Mr Justice Roche that every opportunity to change had been given to the prisoner, who was a confirmed thief. He said that after a previous trial at the Assizes in York a local clergyman had taken an interest in her.

He had found her a situation, and Mary Ann had gone straight for a while, but then she was arrested again on a housebreaking charge. Once more the same clergyman found her yet another position after she had been discharged from prison. This time it was in London in the expectation of getting her away from Sheffield and her former associates. Once again the clergyman had hoped that it would help Mary Ann to stay on the straight and narrow. However as soon as she could, the woman returned back to Sheffield and carried on with her nefarious career. Mary Ann’s husband, Mr John Cowl was called and he confirmed that his wife was virtually an alcoholic.

He said that since she had an accident at the Admiralty Testing Works in Sheffield, where she had been employed a few years previously ‘she could not leave the drink alone.’ Mr Justice Roche heard all the evidence, before telling Mary Ann Cowl that he was determined to put an end to her criminal career. He ordered that she serve fifteen months imprisonment with hard labour for the three charges before him. After that he warned her, that she would be subject to careful police supervision for three years afterwards.

The Gentleman Thief

On Friday 22 September 1893 Richard Buttenshaw left the works around 10.30 am and shortly afterwards appeared at the Sheffield and Rotherham Bank on the High Street, as was his custom. There he drew out the cash for the men’s wages which totalled £760. The bank clerk Mr James Chislett asked him how he would like the money and he replied that he would take it all in gold as he had around £100 in silver to make up the remainder. As was usual the cash was paid to him without anyone suspecting anything irregular, and he placed in it a small leather bag. That was where his usual behaviour ended and he simply disappeared. Around 3.30 pm Mr Tozer himself wanted to speak to Richard and it was only at that point that his absence was noted.

When it became known that the cashier had not returned from his visit to the bank, it was suspected that he might have been attacked and robbed. The Rotherham Police force were notified, but no reports of any robbery had come to their attention. It was only after an examination of his books, that more large sums of money were found to be missing. A warrant for Richard Buttenshaw’s arrest was immediately issued. Enquiries soon established that far from being a victim, Richard had got on a train at the Rotherham Station on Westgate. There he had boarded one of the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire trains for Doncaster which left at 11.42 am that day.

Telegrams giving his description and his crimes were dispatched to all the major cities and seaside towns and the police were issued with orders to look out for the wanted man. The local people of the town were absolutely stunned as this news circulated. Richard had been a person of good social standing in the town where he had been a well known figure. Railway men were questioned at various places and it was soon established that he had gone to the town of Ely in Cambridgeshire on the 1.40 pm train from Doncaster. Almost immediately the Chief Constable of Rotherham, Mr J Enwright spoke to the Ely Constabulary and photographs and a fuller description was given and distributed.

Meanwhile all other leads were followed up in an attempt to arrest the once familiar Rotherham figure. One such lead was that Richard had been spotted leaving from a port at Dover, but this was later found to be false. By Monday 25 September rumours were circulating in Rotherham that Richard Buttenshaw had been found in the Isle of Ely and identified. It was also established that he still had the larger part of £700 in his possession at the time he was arrested. A communication was sent by Mr Enright and arrangements were made for the prisoners return back to Rotherham. It appeared that Richard had been found at the Bell Hotel at Ely where he had given the name John Calvert and had indicated to the hotel staff that he was a gentleman of means.

In the meantime, he had spent a lot of time and money travelling to all the beauty spots in the area, hiring carriages to take him to all the different places. Richard had spent part of his time at the seaside town of Hunstanton and had also attended religious services in Ely Cathedral. It was also rumoured that he had impressed people at the Ely Conservative Club with his political opinions. Nevertheless despite his ‘respectable’ appearance, some suspicion had been aroused which had come to the attention of Ely police and they dispatched Sergeant Parker to investigate. He found the man purporting to be John Calvert sitting in the lounge of the Bell Hotel.

In the presence of the manager, the sergeant challenged him that he had assumed a name which was not his own. The man hotly denied it. Sergeant Parker told Richard that he would have to accompany him to the police station at Ely in order to prove his identity. At that point the man stated that he wanted to change his clothes and so the sergeant and himself went to the bedroom which he had recently occupied. Once there and in the absence of the manager, Richard admitted that he was the wanted man and he was arrested. He admitted his regret for the act of dishonesty which had led to him leaving Rotherham. As a result, two officers from the Rotherham police, Chief Clerk Baylis and Detective Sergeant Ross also travelled down to Cambridgeshire on Tuesday 10 October 1893.

Once there they took the prisoner into their custody from the Isle of Ely Police. When they read the warrant over to him, Richard made no reply. Then they escorted the prisoner to Ely station in order to catch the train back to Rotherham. They returned him back to the Central Station at Rotherham from where he had taken flight, eighteen days earlier. It was reported that at the time of his capture that Richard still had the sum of £695.9s.3d still in his possession. Richard James Buttenshaw was brought before the magistrates court the next morning, where he was found guilty and ordered to take his trial at the Autumn Assizes held at Leeds. The prisoner appeared there on Tuesday 5 December 1893 in front of judge, Mr Baron Pollock where he pleaded guilty to having stolen £760.

The prosecution Mr Ellison stated that the prisoner had been in a position of great trust within the firm of Steel, Peach and Tozer and that he had abused that trust when he robbed the company. He stated that after the prisoners disappearance from Rotherham, the cash books of the firm had been examined and other large sums of money had been missing. It was noted that in total over the last seventeen years a sum of £3,100 had vanished. Mr Ellison said that there has been a shortfall of £1,931 on one account, £226 missing from the accident club at the works and the hospital fund was short by £208 as well as £48 from the cash box.

The prisoners defence Mr Kershaw stated that it was hopeless to try to struggle against the charge against his client and added that this was an extremely sad case. The notoriety of the charge had fallen not only on the prisoner, but also on his wife and children. He asked the judge to forget the fact that these thefts had occurred over several years and to take all the different amounts and to deal with them as one charge. Mr Kershaw added that when a man gives way to dishonesty in such a way as the prisoner had, all the other acts follow in natural sequence. One fact purporting this theory was that the man had given way completely to drink and when arrested he was found to be in the early stages of delirium tremens.

The judge disagreed with him and stated that as far as he was concerned for seventeen years the prisoner had been consistently stealing from his employers. He had broken their trust and that of other people who had also been employed at the same firm. The judge told the prisoner that the sentence of the court was that he would be sent to prison for a term of six years. Richard Buttenshaw was then removed to the cells to begin his sentence.

James Swift

One man who had been taken before the Sheffield magistrates for such an omission was called James Swift. He was a blacksmith from Ecclesfield, who had neglected to pay a bastardy account. Consequently on 7 December 1835, Swift was arrested and placed in a prison cell at the Town Hall, Sheffield. Although he was only confined in the cell for one night, it appeared that he had learned his lesson, however reluctantly. The next morning Swift paid the expenses he owed to to Mr James Machin a vestry clerk and a tax collector of Sheffield. Consequently, he begrudgingly paid over the arrears which amounted to 30s.

However Swift loathed being forced to pay the amount, and he silently decided to take his revenge, and the person he chose for his target was the vestry clerk himself. On the evening of 15 December, the clerk James Machin returned home from his role at the workhouse. As he opened the door of his house, a letter which had been stuck in the door jamb, fell to the floor. This letter looked as if it had been written by someone illiterate, and in it the writer threatened to kill Machin, ending on an ominous note stating ‘surcharge for surcharge’. Two days later on 17 December 1835, Machin, who had been away from home all day on parish business, returned home and being tired went straight to bed.

In the morning, he found to his shock that a heifer which had belonging to him had been shot. The heifer had been left out in a field overnight and it was when Machin went to feed it the next morning, that he found the body of the dead animal. Alongside the heifer was another letter with a stone placed on top of it. It was written in the same hand as the previous one, only this time the letter was a bit more explicit, as the writer described how he intended to kill the vestry clerk. Almost immediately Machin suspected that the animal had been killed by James Swift, who he knew had bitterly resented being imprisoned for the non-payment of the maintenance payments.

The police were notified and following their investigations, it seems that Machin had been right in his suspicions. Consequently on Friday 8 January 1836, James Swift was brought before Sheffield magistrates Mr H Parker and Henry Walker Esquires at the Town Hall. The first witness was Machin himself and he described the events leading up to his receiving the letter. He reminded the court that he had been obliged to summon the prisoner for non-payment of maintenance that was due for his illegitimate child. The clerk described the contents of the two letters and pointed out that the prisoner had a history of blaming other people for his own misdeeds.

The next witness was a man called Thomas Wilkinson who claimed that five months previously Swift had accused him of depriving himself of doing some work he was supposed to carry out at the Sheffield workhouse. He said that Swift had been contracted by the Workhouse Guardians to make some iron stanchions for some of the windows. However when he was late starting the work, he found that Wilkinson had been engaged in his place. Wilkinson, who was a big man, told him that he had done no such thing before Swift backed down, saying something about he must have been mistaken in the matter

Another witness was a surveyor of the roads called Mr Butler, who gave evidence that he had various bills in his possession, which were in the prisoners handwriting for work that he had undertaken for him. He produced the letters in court, which confirmed the threatening letters were written in the same handwriting. This was also confirmed by a cabinet case maker called William Adams of Crooksmoor. He said that he was the treasurer of a new Chapel there, and the prisoner had done some work for him at the chapel. He too produced several receipts which had been signed by James Swift.

Both these letters had been compared with the letter sent to James Machin and it was agreed that they were all written by the same hand. Other witnesses also gave similar evidence before the prisoner was found guilty and ordered to be sent to the West Riding Sessions that same month to be held at Doncaster. Subsequently, James Swift was brought before the Rev. W Alderson on Wednesday 13 January 1836 charged with having sent two anonymous letters threatening to kill and murder James Machen. The prosecution stated that the law of the time was quite clear on the punishment for such offences. It declared that:

Any person who should send any writing without a signature or with a fictitious name, demanding money or threatening in any way, should be transported for life or imprisoned for seven years with hard labour.’

However James Swift’s defence pointed out that it had been impossible for any of the witnesses to prove for definite that the letters had been written in the prisoners handwriting. All they could say was that they believed it to be his. Therefore he requested that if the jury had any doubts at all of the prisoners guilt, that they must give the prisoner the benefit of those doubts. Thankfully, after hearing all the evidence, the Grand Jury took a merciful view of the whole matter. After a long conversation between themselves, the jury found James Swift to be not guilty and he was released.