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.

2 thoughts on “The Violent Lodger

  1. I think Bland ought to have had a longer sentence…3 months seems a light sentence for the crime.

  2. Hi Marilyn, I agree with you mate and the fact the she had died from his attack, he should have been given a much longer sentence. Als the comment that she had provoked him left me flabberghasted? In what way did she provoke him?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *