A ‘Suffragette Outrage’ at Cheltenham, 1913

One Sunday in December 1913, at around five o’clock in the morning, a man cycling home after his shift at the gas works noticed smoke and flames coming from the direction of Alstone Lawn, an unoccupied house in extensive grounds on Gloucester Road, Cheltenham. He rode to the fire station to raise the alarm, and two engines and their crews quickly made their way to the house. Once inside the grounds, flames could be seen coming through the middle of the roof, but inside the building it was discovered that the damage was limited to a central staircase that ran from the ground floor to the attic.

The police entered the building after the flames had been extinguished. It was found that entry had been gained through a conservatory window. A trail of footprints of two people, apparently in stockinged feet, were visible from there to the hall and staircase. An empty two-gallon can had been left in the hall and there was a strong smell of paraffin, splashes of which could be seen on the walls of the hall and of adjoining rooms. Literature scattered around the house and grounds made it clear that this was the work of militant members of the movement for women’s suffrage.

Two women were arrested later that morning and appeared at Cheltenham Police Court on Monday, 21 December. The local newspapers reported on the hearing under the headline “SUFFRAGETTE OUTRAGE”. The pair had refused to give their names and addresses to the police, so they were identified in court as “Red” and “Black”, due to the colour of their coats. It was known that they had travelled to Cheltenham from Birmingham, by train. They appeared with their hair loose and with bare legs. It was explained that when their hair had been undone in order to search them, they had refused to have it put back up. Their shoes and stockings had been removed and they wouldn’t put them back on.

The Cheltenham Chronicle reporter took a great interest in the physical appearance of the two prisoners, stating that the hair of the shorter woman (“Black”) looked well-kept and “curled nicely at the ends”. The taller woman (“Red”) was better looking, but her hair was lank and “the free method of wearing it was not so becoming to her.” Both women, the reporter said, “bounced into court and seemed very happy with themselves”.

The police evidence given was that a constable on duty at about 4.30 on Sunday morning had seen two women walking about a quarter mile from Alstone Lawn. He did not speak to them, but gave a description of the pair when he reported back to the station. At 9.20 that same morning, a police sergeant on duty in Tewkesbury Road saw two women who matched the description given by the constable. Both smelled strongly of paraffin and their shoes and stockings appeared to be saturated. They were arrested and taken first to the Tewkesbury Road station, then moved to Cheltenham police station.

When asked by the Bench chairman if they had anything to say, the taller woman said they did not approve of this court, as there was no woman there to try them. They were remanded for a week while efforts were made to identify them. Gloucester Prison had stopped taking female prisoners in 1904, so they were sent to Worcester, travelling by taxi to Gloucester railway station, where they boarded a train to Worcester, accompanied by police in plain clothes. When they emerged from Cheltenham police station to start their journey, both were still bare-footed. A number of press photographers were waiting and they tried to cover their faces. While “Red” and “Black” were in Worcester Prison, the Cheltenham police circulated descriptions of them. It was reported that despite the resistance of the prisoners, the police had managed to take their fingerprints.

On Saturday 27 December, the Gloucester Journal reported that the two suffragettes had been released under the terms of the “Cat and Mouse” Act, because they had refused to eat and had become weak and ill as a result. This Act had been brought in to try to deal with the problem of prisoners going on hunger strike and then being force-fed. When prisoners became ill, they would be released for enough time to recover, then re-arrested. In this case, the two women were released on condition that they returned to Worcester Prison in order to be brought back to Cheltenham Police Court on 29 December.

On 3 January 1914, the Gloucester Journal stated that the two prisoners had not returned to Worcester Prison and so the hearing at Cheltenham Police Court concerning the fire at Alstone Lawn would not take place. The women had disappeared from the house in Birmingham where they had been sent to recover their health. A warrant for their arrest was issued. By now, the woman named as “Red” had been identified as Lilian Lenton, who had become well-known as a serial arsonist in the cause of women’s suffrage.

Lilian Lenton was born in Leicester in 1891 and trained as a dancer. She became very active in the Women’s Suffrage movement, first breaking windows, then moving on to arson. She was a member of a group in the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) known as the ‘Young Hot Bloods’. The members of this group were all unmarried, young, and mostly women. They travelled in pairs around the country carrying heavy containers of paraffin, setting fire to unoccupied buildings.

Lenton’s first arrest had taken place in 1912 when she had been arrested for taking part in a suffragette campaign of breaking windows. She was arrested under the name “Ida Inkley” and sentenced to two months in Holloway Prison. Then in February 1913, she was back in Holloway on remand, having been arrested on a charge of setting fire to the tea house at Kew Gardens. This time, she went on hunger strike and was force-fed in such a brutal manner that food got into her lungs and caused a serious respiratory illness. She was released under the Cat and Mouse Act and once she had recovered, escaped before she could be sent back to prison.

Lilian Lenton photographed at Holloway Prison in 1912.
(Home Office, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

In June 1913, she was arrested again after an attempt was made to set fire to a house in Doncaster. On this occasion, unfortunately, the house turned out not to be empty, as a housekeeper was sleeping there and she interrupted the would-be arsonists. Lenton was only caught because she went to the courtroom where a young male journalist and a female WSPU member who had been charged with the crime were appearing. She gave evidence that she (under the name Mary Dennis), not the woman in the dock, had been the one in the house with the young man on the night in question. She was committed for trial at the Leeds Assizes and was sent on remand to Armley Gaol. A familiar sequence of events then took place: Hunger strike; release on licence; escape. This time, it was believed that she had got away disguised as a delivery boy, and had gone to France.

On 7 October 1913, Lilian Lenton was arrested at Paddington Station, where she had gone to collect a bicycle. She was arrested on the charge of arson at Kew Gardens and was sent to Holloway Prison on remand. She went on hunger strike and was released on licence once again, on condition that she surrendered to take her trial at the Old Bailey in November. She failed to make an appearance and a month later, the offence at Cheltenham took place.

After her failure to appear at Cheltenham Police Court in late December 1913, no more was heard of Lilian Lenton until the following year in early May, when she was arrested by Birkenhead police. Superintendent Hopkins of Gloucestershire Constabulary immediately applied to have her brought to Cheltenham, but he was aware that he might have to wait for some time, as there were the outstanding cases in London and Leeds to be dealt with too. Priority was given to the Doncaster case and Lenton was tried at Leeds Assizes on 8 May, where she was sentenced to 12 months imprisonment. She was sent to Armley Gaol, where she refused to take food or water, became seriously ill and was sent to a boarding house to recover. She disappeared once again and had not been found by the time war broke out in August 1914.

On the outbreak of the Great War, the WSPU held secret talks with the Home Office which led to all law-breaking suffragettes being given an amnesty, in return for the organization ending their militant activities and helping the war effort. From then on, the WSPU campaigned for women to be taken on to do the jobs vacated by men who had joined the armed forces. Some of the members went on to serve abroad as nurses, ambulance drivers and orderlies. Lilian Lenton received the French Red Cross for her work as an orderly. She never appeared in Cheltenham Police Court to answer the charge of arson at Alstone Lawn.


You can find out more about the life and exploits of Lilian Lenton at suffrageresources.org.uk and spartacus-educational.com

You can read about the history of Alstone Lawn at https://historyofhestersway.co.uk

Newspapers (all accessed on http://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk):

Cheltenham Chronicle, 27 Dec 1913

Gloucester Journal, 27 Dec 1913, 3 Jan 1914, 9 May 1914

Gloucestershire Echo, 27 Dec 1913, 31 Dec 1913, 21 May 1914

Daily Mirror, 21 and 28 Feb 1913, 8 and 16 Oct 1913

Yorkshire Post, 17 June and 15 July 1913, 9 and 22 Oct 1913, 13 Dec 1913, 5 and 18 May 1914

Copyright Jill Evans 2023

Two Gloucester Prison Warders up before the Bench, 1874

At the Epiphany meeting of the Gloucestershire Quarter Sessions held in January 1875, Dr Ancrum reported to his fellow magistrates that two warders at the county prison had appeared in court the previous November, charged with supplying forbidden goods to prisoners, contrary to the regulations. After a prisoner had been found to have tobacco in his possession, the governor had made extensive enquiries and discovered that ‘articles of luxury’ had been supplied to prisoners for months. Ancrum stated that suspicions had already been aroused when one prisoner had refused to eat any of the prison food for some time, and rather than wasting away, he had actually put on weight. This prisoner admitted that he had been supplied with food, tobacco, beer and other things by one warder, with another assisting. Both of the warders involved had been found guilty at their summary trial, with one, Nelmes, being sentenced to six months’ imprisonment in the gaol, while the other, called Miller, was fined £10.

Illustration of two warders at an unspecified prison, pictured in Illustrated London News, 5 May 1888. (Image courtesy of British Newspaper Archive)

Edward Nelmes and John Miller had appeared before Dr Ancrum at Shire Hall on 11 November 1874. They were charged with introducing into Gloucester Prison, on 5 November, letters, money, tobacco, food and fermented liquors for the use of prisoners, contrary to the regulations. Captain Knox, governor of the prison, said that on 6 November, the chaplain handed him a letter and about one third of an ounce of tobacco, which had been found in the possession of one of the prisoners. The prisoner, named Davies, said he had received tobacco from another prisoner, Charles Bryant, who also had helped him to send and receive letters. Bryant admitted that he had received bread, onions, beer, cheese, lard and other articles, which he had purchased with money sent by a female acquaintance of his who lived in Islington, London.

Knox had gone to Islington and had spoken to the woman there, who admitted sending money to Bryant. Then he had gone to Coleford to speak to James Davies, father of the other prisoner, who told him that he had sent stamps to the woman in Islington, for the benefit of his son. Knox stated that if a remand was granted, he would be able substantiate the evidence against the two warders. Both defendants had nothing to say when invited to speak, and were remanded until 14 November.

On Saturday, 14 November, Nelmes and Miller appeared before a full bench of magistrates. Charles Bryant, who was serving a term of hard labour for bigamy, gave evidence that the pair had supplied him with tobacco, beer, and various articles of food prohibited by the regulations. In addition, Miller had been the medium of conveying letters through the post between Bryant and a female acquaintance of Bryant’s named Louisa Surhaff, who lived in Islington, London. Miller and Nelmes also had conveyed letters between Bryant and his half-brother in Bristol. In the letters received by Bryant were postage stamps, which were given to the warders, who used them as payment to supply Bryant with goods. On one occasion, Nelmes had gone to Bristol to attend a funeral and Bryant asked him to deliver a note by hand to his brother, which asked him to send ten shillings via the bearer.

Bryant stated that on 2 July that year, he was brought from the prison workshop by Officer Cambridge, to see Miss Surhaff in the visiting room. Cambridge had left after a few minutes and was replaced by Nelmes. Bryant told Surhaff to ‘give the officer something from me’. She took out ten shillings in silver and tried to hand it to Nelmes, but he indicated that she should put the money on the table, then he picked it up. She also handed over some tobacco and a pipe. Bryant asked Nelmes to keep the ten shillings and the pipe for him for when he got out, but the warder could keep the tobacco. He said he had ‘found’ food in his cell and in the workshop. Nelmes had given him beer and Miller had supplied beer and tobacco. About a week after Surhaff’s visit he had received a letter from her, containing ten shillings in postage stamps. He had received the same the next week and had given the stamps to Miller. The letters were always addressed to Miller at the gaol. He had written about 20 letters to Surhaff and got about a dozen back. He had also received five shillings in stamps from his half-brother, Luke Skidmore.

James Davies, who had been convicted of rioting in Coleford, said that he had got into a conversation with Bryant while they were both working at white-washing, supervised by Nelmes. One of his duties was to take water round to the cells and after this conversation, he started looking among the bedclothes in Bryant’s cell when he brought water. Over various visits he had found tobacco, apple pudding, bread and butter, meat and other food. On average over three months he had found tobacco in Bryant’s cell about three times a week, as well as lots of food. Bryant had also arranged for letters to be conveyed to and from Davis and his wife and his father. Louisa Surhaff, Luke Skidmore and James Davies senior all appeared and gave evidence.

John Miller pleaded guilty to the charge of conveying letters and due to a ‘legal difficulty’ which was not made clear, the prosecution withdrew the other charges against him. He was sentenced to pay a fine of ten pounds, plus costs, or spend time in prison. As a result of his offence, he would be dismissed from his position and would not be entitled to any arrears in pay. Edwin Nelmes was convicted of all the offences and was sentenced to six months in prison. The newspapers commented that he had been in the prison service for 16 years, and was also a former soldier in receipt of a pension. The Chairman of the Bench remarked that he wasn’t sure whether Miller was actually the worse of the two.

The registers of Gloucester County Prison provide some more information concerning the two disgraced warders. According to the Registers of Prisoners, they were admitted on 11 November, after their appearance before Dr Ancrum. John Miller was aged 36 and was described as having a large brown beard. Edwin Nelmes was 61, had a large grey beard, and had lost all his upper front teeth. Both men could read and write only imperfectly. After their convictions on 14 November, they appeared in the prison’s Register of Summary Convictions. Miller had been ordered to pay a £10 fine, plus costs of 16 shillings, or spend three months in gaol. He paid in full and was discharged on 16 November. He was described as a Roman Catholic, married with three children. His wife, Mary Ann Miller, lived at 22 St Aldate Street, Gloucester. Nelmes served his time and was discharged on 13 May 1875. He was a Presbyterian, married, and a native of Stinchcombe, Gloucestershire. His wife was Constant Nelmes, whose address was given as Bearland, Gloucester.

A search of the Gloucestershire records on Ancestry did not reveal much information about John Miller. Despite being a Roman Catholic, he married in an Anglican church, perhaps because of his wife’s religion. His marriage to Mary Ann Hooper took place on 2 April 1866 at St Michael’s Church in Gloucester. His occupation at that time was a Railway Policeman. On the 1871 census, he was working at the prison, while his wife’s whereabouts proved elusive. Miller was said to have been born in Codford, Wiltshire. The couple were not found in later census returns.

Edwin Nelmes appeared in the 1861 census living in the district of Barton St Michael, Gloucester. He was then aged 48 and described as a Greenwich Pensioner, late of the Royal Marines, born in Stinchcombe. He wasn’t working at the prison on the night of the 1871 census and could not be found elsewhere. By 1881 Nelmes was a widower, living alone in Tillsdown, Lower Cam. He was still in Tillsdown at the time of the 1891 census, but died later that same year. His burial was recorded in the parish registers of St Bartholomew Church, Lower Cam, on 5 December 1891. He was 77 years old.


Viewed on http://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk, 9-12 Jan 2023:

Gloucester Journal, 14 Nov and 21 Nov 1874, 9 Jan 1875

Cheltenham Examiner, 18 Nov 1874

Illustrated London News, 5 May 1888, page 20

Viewed on http://www.ancestry.co.uk, 9-12 Jan 2023:

Gloucestershire Prison Records: Gloucester County Gaol, Registers of Prisoners, 1871-77 and Registers of Summary Convictions, 1873-76

Census Records for England and Wales: 1861, Barton St Michael, Gloucester; 1871, North Hamlet, Gloucester (County Prison);1881 and 1891, Cam, Gloucestershire

Parish Registers: St Michael’s Parish Church, Gloucester, 2 April 1866; Lower Cam Burial Registers, 5 Dec 1891

Copyright Jill Evans, 2023

Obscene postcards, invisible ink, and the arrest of a respectable woman: “The Coleford Sensation”, December 1923

In the days leading up to Christmas in 1923, while many Coleford residents were sending festive cards to their families and friends, one local woman had been posting items of a very different nature. On 13 December, people busy doing their shopping in the Market Place were shocked when Miss Diana Langham, a respectable middle-aged spinster of independent means, was approached by police officers and asked to accompany them to the station. As she was escorted away, she was heard to say, “I know nothing about the postcards”.

On the same day as Langham was arrested, The Citizen reported on the story and gave some details of the reasons for the arrest. It emerged that for some time past, several people in Coleford had been receiving postcards bearing obscene messages and images. The police had been informed and after weeks of investigation, they had called in the help of Scotland Yard, who had sent Detective-Sergeant Giles of the Criminal Investigation Department (Special GPO Branch) to carry out an investigation, alongside the unfortunately named Inspector Bent of the Coleford Police.

No details were given as to how Diana Langham had been identified as being the chief suspect. The Citizen noted that she was fifty years old and a life-long resident of Coleford. She was a regular attendant at church and a member of the local golf club. Her father was the late Mr Goodrich Langham of Highnash, Coleford, who for many years had been a local Crown Official and had been concerned in various mining operations in the Forest of Dean.

Diana Langham appeared at Coleford Police Court on the following day and pleaded not guilty to the charge that “between 12 July 1923 and divers other days between then and 13 December, she had sent certain postal packets which had therein certain words and designs of an indecent character”. Her address was given as Dombey Lodge, High Street, Coleford. The police asked for the accused to be detained in custody so the case against her could be completed. Her lawyer applied for bail to be granted and a butcher and wine and spirit merchant called Mr Highley offered to act as a surety, but when he was asked to pay £200 and also to take responsibility for her until her next appearance in court, he said he would have to consult with his wife. The magistrates decided that it would be best if Langham was remanded in custody for a week. As Gloucester Prison no longer held females, she was taken by train to Cardiff Prison.

The next hearing was held at a Special Court at Coleford on 21 December. The Gloucester Journal, under the headline “The Coleford Sensation”, reported that Langham was wearing a grey dress and a long grey coat, with a black velvet hat and veil. She was charged under Section 63 of the Post Office Act 1908. It was stated in court that if a summary conviction was made by the magistrates, a £10 fine would be the penalty. If it was decided that the case should be sent for trial on an indictment, the sentence would be imprisonment for up to twelve months.

Again, no details were given as to how Diana Langham had been identified as the likely culprit, but it transpired that a “sting” operation had been put in place to establish her guilt beyond doubt. Mr Bishop of the Secretary’s Office of the General Post Office (GPO) gave evidence that on 3 December, he had marked 12 penny stamps and 24 half-penny stamps with “acid in an invisible manner”. He had given the stamps to Miss Fyfe, the Coleford postmistress, with “certain instructions”. She told the sorting clerk to keep the stamps locked up and not to sell them to anyone but the accused. On 7 December, Langham called at Coleford Post Office and bought six penny and twelve half-penny stamps. She bought more two days later.

On 10 December, a postcard addressed to “Charlie Saunders, Bank, Coleford” was found in the Sparrow Hill letter box. The postman who collected it from the box took it to the postmistress, who gave it to D.S. Giles. The invisible ink was then developed and the stamp bore the secret mark previously applied. On 12 December, Giles, who had been watching Langham’s movements, saw her in the street, fidgeting with something in her pocket and looking rather nervous. Giles followed her and when Langham pulled a glove out of the same pocket he glimpsed the top of a postcard. Later he saw her post something in the Sparrow Hill postbox. When the box was emptied, a few letters and one postcard was found. After Diana Langham’s arrest, her house was searched. The police found unused stamps and postcards, a quill pen, and, crucially, a piece of blotting paper on which one of the indecent words used on the postcards was readable.

Charles Lionel Saunders, chief cashier at Lloyds Bank, Coleford, stated that he had received 32 postcards, all but one sent to the bank. His wife had received two. Arthur Stanley Roberts, a photographer of Market Place, Coleford, had received four postcards and a letter. His wife had received 2 postcards. Stanley Porter, auctioneer, and Albert Hunter Powell, insurance agent, had received one card each.

Langham’s solicitor, Mr Lane, said that there appeared to be no question that his client had sent the cards, although neither she nor any of her friends or family could explain why. He asked that the Bench would deal with the case summarily and administer a fine. The shame of being exposed and the ruin of her previously spotless reputation would be the greatest punishment she would endure. It was also likely that the recipients of the cards would take civil proceedings against her for libel. Her married sister, who lived in Somerset, had offered to give her a home and Miss Langham had no intention of ever returning to Coleford. After consulting for several minutes, the Bench decided that the case should be sent to the Gloucestershire Assizes. Mr Lane then asked for his client to be granted bail, as her sister would take responsibility for her. This was granted and some time later, Diana Langham was taken out of a back door to a waiting motor car. Several women shouted “Good luck!” as she was driven away.

Diana Langham pictured in the Daily Mirror, 22 December 1923. Image from British Newspaper Archive

The Gloucestershire Assizes took place in the last week of January 1924. When her trial came on, Diana Langham entered the courtroom wearing the same clothes as at her hearing, but without the veil. She was given a seat in the dock, where she occasionally applied smelling salts to her nose. She had changed her plea to guilty, meaning that the trial did not take as long as it would have done if she had maintained her innocence. The prosecution counsel said that he would not go into details of the contents of the communications and there was no need for the police or any of the witnesses to give evidence.

Mr A.F. Clements appeared for the accused, and said that the whole case had come as a great shock to all of Langham’s family and friends, as she had always borne a blameless character. The only reason he could offer for her inexplicable behaviour was that being the age she was, “she was passing through that period which induces in some women a strange mental and nervous condition”. (In plainer language, she was menopausal.) Miss Langham had pleaded guilty, she was extremely sorry and would never do such a thing again. She had been living with her married sister in Somerset and would make her home there. She would never go back to Coleford.

As Langham had pleaded guilty there was no need for the jury to retire to consider a verdict. She was helped out of her seat by a wardress and a warder and held onto the dock rail to receive sentence. The judge commended her for changing her plea to guilty, thus sparing the witnesses from having to give evidence. The postcards were “full of the most horrible, vulgar coarseness, which must have caused the greatest distress to the men and women who received them, and were an outrage upon the Post Office employees who had to deal with them”. Her actions had been “pure wickedness, and very cruel wickedness, which could not be passed over” and so he sentenced her to six months imprisonment.

Details were not given as to where Diana Langham served her sentence, but afterwards she went to live with her sister and brother-in-law, Lucy and William J. Browning, in Somerset. She died in 1955, aged 82. As she left a will, some information was given in the National Probate Calendars. She had been living at Fernbank, Barrington, Somerset, and died in a hospital in Taunton, on 2 November 1955. Her sister Lucy Browning administered her will, in which she left estate valued at £1168.11s. Presumably she died without ever having revealed why she had sent the postcards, or why she had targeted those particular individuals, especially the poor bank clerk who had received 32 out of 42 of her communications.


Newspapers all from British Newspaper Archive (www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk)

Daily Mirror, 22 December 1923

Citizen, 13 Dec, 14 Dec 1923, 28 Jan 1924

Gloucester Journal, 15 Dec, 22 Dec 1923

Other sources from Ancestry (www.ancestry.co.uk)

England and Wales Register, 1939

England and Wales Births, Marriages and Deaths: Deaths, Oct-Dec 1955

National Probate Calendars

Copyright Jill Evans, 2021

“I’ve just murdered my two best friends.” A Cheltenham greengrocer tried for murder, 1894

Job Hartland and Rebecca Anstey married at the parish church of Great Washbourne, Gloucestershire, on 28 March 1859. Their first child, Ellen, was baptised in the same church on 20 November that same year. The family moved to nearby Alderton, where Job worked on the estate of Lord Sudeley. Rebecca, as well as looking after her growing family, did a bit of trade as a hawker. Eventually, she and Job purchased a pony and trap and started travelling to Evesham and Cheltenham to sell fruit and other home-produced goods. Around the middle of the 1880s, the Hartlands moved to Cheltenham, where they opened a greengrocery at number 303, High Street.

By the time they moved to Cheltenham, Rebecca had given birth to a total of eight children, seven of whom were still living. In 1894, only the two youngest children, William, aged 16, and George, aged 13, were still living with their parents, in the accommodation behind and above the shop. Another of the children, Mary, lived with her husband, Charles Spiers, further down High Street.

Unfortunately, the marriage of Job and Rebecca was not without its troubles. Job was prone to bouts of heavy drinking, which had led to several appearances before the magistrates. When he drank he would get into a rage, and although Rebecca had never accused him of violence towards her, he would yell and swear at her to such an extent that she would fear for her safety. While they were living in Alderton, the police sometimes had to warn Job about his behaviour towards his wife. Once they moved to Cheltenham, Rebecca would send for Charles Spiers on those occasions when she feared for her safety.

Job’s drinking bouts were often followed by long periods of abstinence, and in those times the couple lived peacefully together. However, as summer approached its end in 1894, he had taken to drinking again and his behaviour towards Rebecca had deteriorated as a result. Things came to head on the last day of August, when Job found out that Rebecca had some money which she refused to give up to him. That night when she retired to bed, where she slept alone, she put the money under her pillow. In the middle of the night, she woke up and found her husband standing over her, holding a hatchet above her head.

On the following night, after closing the shop, she took William and George with her to the house of her daughter Mary Spiers. She and her boys slept there on Saturday and Sunday night. On Monday morning, Job brought round the key to number 303 and Rebecca decided to go and open up the shop. That evening, she went back to the Spiers’ house for a while, but then returned to the family home to spend the night, against the advise of her son-in-law Charles. She took the precaution of having George sleep next to her, presumably believing this would stop her husband if he felt inclined to attack her.

On Tuesday morning, after hearing rumours that something was amiss, Charles Spiers went to number 303 and with the help of a police constable, burst open the door of shop and made his way upstairs. In a back bedroom, he saw Rebecca and George lying in the bed, looking at first like they were asleep. However, it quickly became apparent that both of them were dead. The throats of mother and son had been severely cut, and their heads appeared to have been struck with a blunt instrument. As the door had been locked on the outside and Job had the only key, he was the sole suspect. A police search began for Job Hartland, who was found lying in drunken stupor in an alley behind the Clarence Hotel.

Job Hartland was carried to Cheltenham Police Station, but he was too drunk to be charged or to appear before the magistrates on that day. On the following morning, Wednesday, 5 September, he was charged with murdering Rebecca and George Hartland. A hearing before magistrates at Cheltenham Police Station was opened, but was quickly adjourned for a week to allow the police to carry out further investigations into the circumstances of the case. A coroner’s inquest began on the same day and after the bodies had been viewed by the jury and identified and Charles Spiers had given evidence of finding the bodies, this too was adjourned.

Job Hartland’s first appearance in court (Cheltenham Chronicle, 15 September 1894, via British Newspaper Archive. Copyright British Library Board)

The inquest, held at Cheltenham Police Court, resumed on the morning of 11th September. Charles Spiers again recounted his entering number 303 with the police constable and finding the bodies of the murder victims. He also described finding a knife on the counter of the shop and a coal hammer in the yard. Asked about the relationship of husband and wife, Spiers said that he had never heard Job make threats against Rebecca’s life, although he did curse and swear at her. Rebecca would usually send for him when that happened and Job would then desist. On the night of Saturday, 1 September, Rebecca had come to his house with the boys and told his wife Mary about the incident with the hatchet. He had begged her not to return to number 303 on the Monday morning, but she said she must for the sake of the business. In answer to a question, Spiers said that Job had taken to sleeping on the sofa in the kitchen, rather than the marital bed.

William Hartland, aged 16, gave evidence next. He stated that he was an assistant at a tobacconist’s shop in High Street. He lived with his parents and shared a room with his brother George, but on Monday night he had gone to sleep at the house of a friend. He described seeing his father and mother in the kitchen at home on that evening. They seemed as comfortable together as usual and Job was sober. His father usually took a jug to the Royal Oak Inn (where Job stabled his pony) to fetch a half-pint of beer and his mother said he should go and fetch the beer now if he was going, so they could all get to bed. William set off for his friend’s house and he saw his father walking some distance behind him, then going into the Royal Oak. The next morning, just after seven, he went home but found the door locked and no-one responded to his knocking. He went to the Royal Oak to see if his father was there and could give him the door key, but there was no sign of him and after knocking at number 303 again and getting no response, he had to go to work.

In response to questions, William said he had never heard his father threaten his mother and he couldn’t remember if his mother had ever slept out of the house before. His father was in the habit of drinking heavily every night, but he couldn’t say he ever got drunk.

Superintendent McRae, who had been called to the house after the bodies were found, recounted his examination of the scene. As well as blood being found on the knife and hammer, there were blood stains spattered in various places. The brick floor near the pump in the back kitchen was damp, as if it had been recently washed and there were spots of blood on the handle. In the bedroom where the bodies were found, McRae had discovered £4 (10 shillings in silver and the rest in gold) tied up in a handkerchief.

When Job Hartland was arrested, he had the house key in his pocket. Some of his clothing was damp, suggesting a recent attempt to wash it, and still there were a few blood spots on them. McRae stated that when Hartland was found, he was foaming at the mouth and it was feared that he had taken poison, but a doctor who examined him at the police station found that he was only extremely drunk. When Hartland was charged with murder the following day, he responded, “I shan’t want to say nothing. I done it, and I can’t help it. I can’t think how I done it.” This was written down in a statement and Hartland signed it.

The doctor who had examined the bodies of Rebecca and George at the scene said that when he first looked at them at about 10am, he judged that they had been dead for around five hours. He examined them more closely at 11.30am. George, as well as having had his throat cut, had received a severe blow to the head and his skull was fractured. Rebecca had also been struck several times. It appeared that her throat had been cut before she was struck with the hammer, as there were cuts on her fingers which suggested she had tried to defend herself by grasping the blade of the knife. The doctor had also examined Job Hartland at the police station and he believed he was suffering from chronic alcoholism.

Next to give evidence was Mrs Ellen Edwards, who lived opposite the Hartland’s. She said that on Monday afternoon, Job Hartland had come outside and spent some time sharpening a large knife on the kerbstone. Later she saw him using the knife to trim vegetables. She believed Hartland had been drinking heavily for the past week, but he had seemed more sober over the weekend.

Miss Clara Smith, the barmaid at the Royal Oak, confirmed that Job Hartland had come in for his usual jug of beer on the Monday night. She said that he already had visited the bar twice that day, at 9.30 in the morning then about 4 o’clock in the afternoon. He drank a half pint of beer on both occasions. He did not appear to be drunk when he came in on Monday night.

Next to give evidence was Robert Franklin, a postman who had known Job Hartland for several years. Franklin described meeting Hartland in Church Street at about 7.30 on the morning of Tuesday, 4th September. Hartland came up to him and held out his hand, saying, “Goodbye Postman, I am going from here to another town.” Franklin wished him success and started to walk away, but Hartland called him back and asked if there were any letters for him, then added that if there were any for anyone else at number 303, there was no use in delivering them, as they were all dead. Franklin thought he was joking and replied, “Go on you old fool; none of your game”, but Hartland said, “I’ll tell you the truth. I am the only one that slept in that house last night that is alive.” Hartland then went into the Eight Bells public house. Franklin did not believe Hartland was drunk, but rather befuddled from heavy drinking the night before.

The barmaid of the Clarence Hotel was next in the witness box. She stated that Job Hartland had come into the bar at about 8.30 on the Tuesday morning. He asked for a brandy and said “I have just murdered my two best friends”. Like the postman, she thought he was joking, but he told her she would read it all in the papers that evening. He put his head on the counter and seemed to doze off for a few seconds, until she told him he would have to leave, and he went out of the back door.

Having heard all the evidence, the inquest jury returned a verdict that Job Hartland was guilty of murdering his wife and son. In the afternoon, the court hearing was re-opened. Job Hartland attended and looked much better than he had on his first appearance a week earlier. All the witnesses repeated the evidence they had given at the inquest. When Superintendent McRae read out Hartland’s brief confession, the prisoner burst into tears. The magistrates ordered Hartland to be committed to Gloucester Gaol to await trial at the next county assizes.

The scene in Cheltenham Police Court (details as above image)

On Friday, 7th September, Rebecca and George Hartland were buried together in a grave at Cheltenham Burial Ground. Crowds gathered outside number 303, from where the procession left, and lined the route to the cemetery. About two weeks later, all the household goods and shop fittings belonging to number 303 High Street were sold on the premises. It was clear that Job Hartland would not be returning to the family home.

The trial of Job Hartland took place at the Shire Hall, Gloucester, in November 1894. Job Hartland was brought into court on 20 November to give his plea to the charge of having wilfully murdered Rebecca and George Hartland. He pleaded guilty. He had no defence counsel and the Judge, Justice Matthew, asked if he would like him to appoint one for him. Hartland said yes and Mr Harrington took up the role. After a brief discussion, Hartland withdrew his guilty plea. The trial took place the following day. Job Hartland was brought the short distance from the gaol to the court in a Black Maria. Immense crowds watched his arrival and many were unsuccessful in getting a seat in the courtroom.

The witnesses who had appeared at the inquest and the court hearing in September mostly repeated there evidence. Two new witnesses also appeared. Robert Butcher, landlord of the Golden Heart, stated that Hartland had come in at about 7am and had some whisky and coffee. He looked as if he had been drinking the night before. Before that, Hartland had visited the Nelson Inn. The landlord there stated that Hartland had come in at about 6.45 and asked for some whisky. When asked why he was having whisky rather than his usual brandy, Hartland replied that he hardly knew what he was about. He said that something dreadful had happened and there was more blood in his house than ever came out of a pig. (This statement caused a sensation in court.) The landlord had told him not to talk so foolishly and advised him to go for a long walk. Hartland wanted to shake hands and he did so to get rid of him. He believed Hartland was “going a bit wrong in the head”.

Part of the case put for Hartland was that he was suffering from delirium tremens, which might have caused a type of madness. If the jury believed that Hartland had been in this condition, they could find him guilty of manslaughter. The prison doctor was called to the witness box, and stated that Hartland hadn’t shown symptoms of delirium tremens when he examined him, but that he was certainly “a man accustomed to hard drinking.” In summing up its case, the defence counsel declared that surely only a madman could have inflicted such terrible injuries on his own wife and son.

In his summing up, the judge said the jury had to decide if Hartland knew what he was doing when he killed Rebecca and George. If so, it didn’t matter whether or not he was drunk at the time. The jury retired for about an hour then returned a verdict of guilty, with a recommendation to mercy, “on account of the low type of such a man as the prisoner”. The judge said he would forward their recommendation to the Home Secretary, but he didn’t think there was much hope of a reprieve. He then sentenced Job Hartland to death.

The execution of Job Hartland was scheduled to take place on Thursday, 13 December, but a week before that, news came through that the Home Secretary had commuted his sentence to life imprisonment. The reason appeared to be a belief that when he killed Rebecca and George, Job was out of his mind due to his constant drinking. He was transferred to Exeter Prison on 21 January 1895, where he spent a time in solitary confinement, before being moved to Portland Prison in Dorset.

In December 1896, some newspapers reported that Job Hartland had died at Wormwood Scrubs. The place given was incorrect, but he had indeed died, in circumstances which revealed a strange twist of fate, given his escape from the noose two years earlier. A report on the inquest held after his death in Portland Prison appeared in the Western Gazette on 25 December 1896. A prison warder had taken Hartland his breakfast on the morning of 20 December, then shortly afterwards heard a heavy thud. On returning to Hartland’s cell, he found him lying on the floor, dead. The prison doctor believed Hartland had a fit and fell from his seat. In the fall, somehow he had dislocated his neck.


Newspapers (all viewed on http://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk)

Cheltenham Chronicle, 15 Sept 1894,

Cheltenham Examiner, 5 Sept, 8 Sept, 12 Sept, 29 Sept, 28 Nov 1894

Gloucester Citizen, 7 Dec 1894

Gloucester Journal, 8 Sept 1894, 21 Jan 1895

Gloucestershire Chronicle, 24 Nov 1894

Western Gazette, 25 December 1896

Other Records (viewed on http://www.ancestry.co.uk)

Gloucestershire Prison Records, Gloucester County Prison, Nominal Prison Register, 1893-5

Parish Registers, Great Washbourne Marriages, 1754-1938

Census Records: 1861, Great Washbourne, Gloucestershire; 1871 and 1881, Alderton, Gloucestershire; 1891, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire

(c) Jill Evans 2021

Stolen U.S. Army Cigarettes Hidden in a Pram: Cheltenham, 1943


Advertisement for Camel cigarettes in Carolina Magazine, May 1943 (via archive.org.)


This was the eye-catching headline to a story which appeared in the Cheltenham Chronicle on 4 September 1943, concerning the appearance at Cheltenham Police Court of two women who were accused of receiving cigarettes stolen by a U.S. Army Private. This was not a case of petty pilfering, as six wooden cases containing a total of 60,000 Camel cigarettes had been stolen from an American camp. Mabel Lilian Seldon and Doris Carpenter, both of Number 16 Crabtree Place, Cheltenham, were charged with receiving 10,000 of the cigarettes from Private Richard R. Hamilton, on or about the 20 August 1943. Both women pleaded not guilty.

Superintendent A.W. Hopkins of Gloucestershire Police explained that some American soldiers, including Hamilton, were in the custody of the U.S. Military Police, charged with stealing six cases of Camel cigarettes from the U.S. Army Authorities. Each case contained 10,000 cigarettes, divided into cartons of 200, which in turn were divided into packets of 20.

The six cases had been stolen from the camp on the night of 20 August. The matter had been reported to the police and Detective Sergeant Smith, along with Lieutenant Butler and Sergeant Ward of the U.S. Army, started an investigation. Their inquiries led them to a house rented by Mrs Doris Carpenter, who had her friend Mabel Seldon staying with her. The house was searched and quantities of cigarettes were found in various places. Someone then noticed that a baby’s pram, which had been in the hall when the searchers first arrived at the house, was now missing, along with Seldon’s three-week-old infant. Lieutenant Butler and Detective Sergeant Smith ran out to look around and discovered the pram some distance from the house, being pushed by an elder child. Taking the baby out, they found 44 cartons of cigarettes packed in the bottom of the pram and covered in clothing. The two women were arrested and charged with receiving stolen goods.

In their written statements, it transpired that Private ‘Dick’ Hamilton had made frequent visits to the house in Crabtree Place, as he had been ‘keeping company’ with Mabel Seldon for about twelve months. He had visited on the night of 20 August and shortly after midnight he had borrowed Doris Carpenter’s bicycle, saying he had to fetch some cases of cigarettes which he had hidden in a hedge near the racecourse. He returned later with a wooden case full of cigarettes, which he left in a passage by the stairs. The next day, he asked to borrow the bicycle again, saying he thought he could get rid of another three cases.

Later Hamilton had a drink with Seldon at the Cambridge Inn in North Street. He told her that he had got rid of another case. They took a taxi back to Crabtree Place, where Hamilton told the driver to wait for some cases. He later went off in the taxi with the cases, returning 15 minutes later to ask if he could borrow the bicycle again. He went off on that and they didn’t see him again. On the next morning, the taxi driver from the previous night came to the house and took away more cigarettes. Later, when they became worried that Dick had not returned, they decided to hide the remaining cigarettes in the pram.

In court, Doris Carpenter gave evidence and changed her plea to guilty. Speaking on her behalf, her counsel, Mr A. Mason Amery, suggested that her loyalty to her friend had overcome her duty as a citizen. She had no initial part in the offences and was just in the house when Hamilton visited Seldon. From the moment she had known that the property was stolen, she had acted like a fool. She was bound over for two years.

Addressing Mabel Seldon, the Mayor, who presided, told her that the magistrates believed hers was a very bad case: ‘You have associated with this man Hamilton, and you have committed these offences, rendering yourself liable to six months imprisonment. You have been guilty of telling bare-faced lies and altogether we feel you case is one which should be dealt with severely.’ Despite his strong words, Seldon was not sentenced to serve six months in prison, but three.

At the same court session, a married couple were also charged with receiving some of the stolen cigarettes. Thomas and Mabel Knight, of Number 267 High Street, Cheltenham, were accused of receiving three cases, each containing 10,000 Camel cigarettes, property of the USA Army Authorities, knowing them to be stolen. Both pleaded not guilty. They were represented by the same counsel as the two women, Mr A. Mason Amery.

Superintendent Hopkins stated that inquiries had led him, accompanied by Detective Sergeant Smith and Detective Constable Sheppard, to premises in High Street, where Mr Knight ran a business as a butcher. Mr Knight said that there were no cigarettes on his premises, but Detective Sergeant Smith spoke to Mrs Knight in another room, and she said that an American soldier had brought them, and they were under the bed.

In a written statement, Mrs Knight had said that at about 11 pm on Saturday 21 August, an American soldier came to the door with a taxi and said he was ‘Dick’, a friend of her son Harold. He asked if he could leave three parcels there until Wednesday. She agreed, but on seeing the size of the cases voiced her concern that they would take up a lot of room. The soldier told her to take the wooden cases off and she did so, placing the cardboard cartons under the bed. The soldier told her she could have two packets of cigarettes to give to her daughter’s young man.

Mr Amery put up a powerful plea for the defence, saying the only issue was whether the couple knew the cigarettes were stolen. The American had called at the house and told Mrs Knight that he was a friend of her son’s. He asked her to keep some packets for her for a while. Mrs Knight did not see anything sinister in this, as people often left parcels at the house.

Thomas Knight in his defence said that he didn’t see the American soldier on the night he came to the door and knew nothing about the cigarettes until Sunday morning when he took his wife a cup of tea and and saw the packages. She told him an American soldier named Dick had left them and would call for them later. Knight denied several points set out in a written statement made by Hamilton, in which it was declared that Knight had agreed to take the cigarettes at five shillings a carton.

After a short absence to consider, the magistrates dismissed the case, as the Bench did not think the evidence was sufficiently strong to justify conviction. Superintendent Hopkins then drew attention to a charge of receiving cigarettes which had been proposed to be brought against Cecil Alexander Hall, the licensee of the Cambridge Inn, North Street. Due to the verdict on the last case, he asked for the case to be dropped, which was agreed. Mr J.D. Lane, on behalf of Mr Hall, said he hoped there would be no stigma attached to his client, as he would have pleaded not guilty and the case would have been ‘most strenuously contested’.

The proceedings in the Cheltenham Police Court that day with regards to the stolen cigarettes resulted in one defendant imprisoned, one bound over, two having their cases dismissed and one against whom the case was dropped. What happened to Richard ‘Dick’ Hamilton and his fellows, then in the charge of the U.S. Military Police, was not reported.



Newspapers (accessed at www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk, 25 and 26 Aug 2010)

Cheltenham Chronicle and Gloucestershire Graphic, 4 September 1943

Gloucestershire Echo, 31 August 1943

Illustration from Carolina Magazine, May 1943, accessed on archive.org, 26 Aug 2010

A Judge threatens to jail the Deputy Chief Constable: Gloucester Assizes, 1895

Mr Justice Cave was not in a good mood as he sat in the courtroom of Gloucester’s Shire Hall on the second morning of the Winter Assizes, which took place in November 1895. Shire Hall was undergoing some building works and on this morning, an incessant hammering disturbed the court proceedings.

Increasingly irritated, Judge Cave exclaimed that if the noise was not stopped, he would ‘send someone to prison’. The Deputy Chief Constable of the Gloucestershire Police, Nehemiah Philpott, said that he had sent the Inspector and another officer to find the source of the noise and order them to be quiet. For a short while, peace was restored, but then the hammering started again. Cave said, ‘I cannot have this going on. Bring that man to me.’ DCC Philpott then left the court to look for the miscreant. In the meantime, the trial which had been taking place was suspended.

Philpott returned to the courtroom not long afterwards, alone. The judge asked him, ‘Where is that man I told you to bring to me?’ Philpott replied, ‘My lord, he is not a man belonging to this building at all.’ It appeared that the noise was not coming from Shire Hall itself, but from a neighbouring property. Justice Cave then told the DCC: ‘I do not care whether he belongs to this building, or who he is.’ When Philpott told him that he did not know who the man was, Cave replied sternly, ‘Then go and find out, or I shall send you to prison’.

Philpott set off again and Cave commented to the court, ‘The police here seem extremely incompetent.’ He then ordered the trial to proceed, and after a while Philpott arrived back in court, accompanied by a workman. The judge ordered the man to come forward, then told him he must not make a noise while the court was sitting. The man said that he did not know he was doing wrong. He was told he must go away and not make any more noise, then he was allowed to leave. The rest of the trials that day were heard in peace.

The scene in the court was reported in the local newspaper, The Citizen, that same evening, under the heading, ‘The Hammering Nuisance, the Judge and the Police’. The story was rapidly repeated in many other publications nationwide.  The Citizen reproduced a column which appeared in the periodical Truth, which reported that DCC Philpott had been ‘terrified’ when he was threatened with prison, and that when the erring workman was brought before the judge, ‘To the relief of all present, the offender was not ordered away to instant execution, but was merely admonished and dismissed.’ The report continued that the workman had been in the employ of a contractor on a building in the neighbourhood and that the DCC ‘had to enter the premises and virtually arrest the man to carry out the judge’s command.’ There was some speculation as to whether this was legal.

Cave’s remarks about the competence of the Gloucestershire Police and his treatment of the Deputy Chief Constable caused great indignation amongst the local citizens. On the day following the report in The Citizen, two letters were printed in the same publication. The first, from Abel Evans of Southgate Street, Gloucester, stated that he believed a great number of readers would agree with him that the Judge’s comments about the police were uncalled for, and he hoped Justice Cave would see his way clear to withdraw his remarks. The second letter, from ‘R.J.V.’ of Oxford Street, Gloucester, said that a great injustice had been done to DCC Philpott and the Gloucester Police Force. The remarks by Justice Cave ‘must have hurt the feelings of many Gloucester citizens’. The writer  wondered whether Cave expected all trade to be stopped in the neighbourhood of Shire Hall during the Assizes and if so, would the Judge be prepared to pay compensation for loss of earnings to all those affected?

A few days after the incident, an ex-City High Sheriff, Councillor HRJ Brain, presided over the annual dinner of the Tyndale Cycling Club. In a speech to the gathering, Brain noted the ‘regrettable language reported to have been used with reference to the police by the learned Judge at the recent Assizes’. He had met many judges during his time as High Sheriff and had read Cave’s remarks ‘with astonishment and regret’. No city in England, he said, had a police force more competent, and the DCC was deservedly respected by all sections of society. He only hoped Cave had not been speaking seriously.

On 23 November, the Gloucestershire Chronicle, in its section called ‘City and County Notes’, commented that Cave’s latest visit to Gloucester would be remembered for some time ‘for the manner in which his Lordship thought fit to speak of our local police force’ and the ‘strong indignation’ caused by the Judge’s remarks to DCC Philpott and his threatening to send him to prison, in the presence of police constables.

In December, the Gloucester Journal reported that ‘Mr Justice Cave’s attack upon the police had been taken up in an official quarter.’ At the quarterly meeting of the Gloucestershire Standing Joint Committee, held on the last day of that month, the Chairman stated that he had written to the Lord Chancellor, who had replied that the matter would receive serious consideration. At the next meeting of the Standing Joint Committee, which took place in April 1896, the Chairman informed the members that he had received a communication from the Lord Chancellor who regretted the incident, but  no more could be done. However, the Chairman believed that his complaint to the Lord Chancellor may have had some good effect. Beyond that he could say no more.

The ‘good effect’ to which the Chairman alluded may have been the announcement in January 1896 that Justice Cave had been moved off the Oxford Assize Circuit, of which Gloucestershire was part, and onto the Northern Circuit. Cave would preside over no more trials at Gloucester.


Sir Lewis Cave, ‘Mr Justice Cave’, in the Illustrated London News, 11 Sept 1897. (Image courtesy of http://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk, copyright British Library Board)

In early November of 1895, rumours had begun circulating that Cave would retire from the Bench the following March, when he would have completed 15 years’ service and would be entitled to receive a pension. However, despite increasing ill health, he changed his mind about retiring and continued until August 1897, when he finally tendered his resignation. He didn’t enjoy his retirement for long, as he died on 7 September 1897, aged 65.

A long obituary appeared in the Gloucester Journal on 11 September 1897, which remarked that, ‘His burly figure, rubicund face and brusque manner were familiar on the Oxford Circuit, as was his curt, “That won’t do, you know”, with which he was wont to pull up counsel who tried to occupy untenable positions.’ The report inevitably reminded readers of the incident in Gloucester in November 1895, when ‘his lordship threatened to commit DCC Philpott to prison because he was annoyed by a workman hammering in the vicinity of the Court’. This incident might have been ‘characteristic of his short temper in recent years’, but shouldn’t detract from the many kindly things said about him in the various obituaries.

The report then quoted from some of the obituaries. The Daily Telegraph asserted that Cave was a strong, if not a great, judge, who had been a sound lawyer and ‘one of the most impartial men that ever adorned the Bench’. The Standard opined that Cave was ‘not one of the great judges’, as he was subject to several serious limitations. His temper was often short, especially in later years, when he had to contend with increasing physical infirmities, which made him hasty and irritable. However, Cave had great qualities too, and it was said that in earlier times on the Midlands Circuit, he had entertained all his colleagues with his humorous stories. The Times stated that if Cave had died or resigned some years ago, the almost universal verdict would have been that few more efficient Judges had sat on the Bench in recent years. However, the last years of his career had not been as distinguished as the first, as increasing bad health appeared to have impaired his vigour.

It was revealed that Cave’s main physical problems were chronic dyspepsia and increasing deafness. The latter infirmity no doubt contributed to his bad temper on that infamous day in November 1895, as he probably couldn’t follow what was being said in court because of the terrible noise coming from outside. However, whatever the reason behind his outburst, Cave would long be remembered in Gloucester as the judge who once threatened to send Gloucestershire’s Deputy Chief Constable to prison.


Newspapers (all on http://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk):

The Citizen, 19 Nov, 20 Nov, 22 Nov, 27 Nov 1895

Gloucester Journal, 7 Dec, 14 Dec 1895, 4 Jan 1896, 11 Apr 1896, 11 Aug, 11 Sept 1897

Gloucestershire Chronicle, 23 Nov 1895, 18 Jan 1896

Illustrated London News, 11 September 1897

©Jill Evans, 2020

A Boisterous Bonfire Night in Tewkesbury, 1876


Advertisement in the Tewkesbury Register, 28 Oct 1876, for fireworks on sale at a business in Tewkesbury, which may not have been too popular with its neighbours. (British Newspaper Archive. Image copyright The British Library Board. All Rights Reserved.)


In the 1870s, many of the residents of Tewkesbury did not look forward to November the fifth. Bonfire Night was a rowdy occasion in many parts of Britain, marked by the customary burning of effigies of Guy Fawkes on bonfires and the lighting of fireworks, but in Tewkesbury it was widely believed that the annual celebrations had got out of hand and that the Borough Police were failing to control the young men and boys who took over the streets as soon as darkness fell.

In 1876, November the fifth fell on a Sunday, and because it was a religious day, many places did not celebrate in the usual way. In Tewkesbury, the people who lived or worked in the buildings along the main streets were hoping for a quiet Bonfire Night for once and indeed, the evening itself was quiet. Unfortunately though, the anniversary of the Gunpowder Plot was marked by the town’s revellers on the fourth and sixth of November instead, and the celebrations in Tewkesbury in 1876 proved to be the worst yet.

The Tewkesbury Register and the Gloucester Journal reported on the events which had taken place, stating that on the evenings of Saturday the fourth and Monday the sixth of November, the main thoroughfares were ‘all ablaze’. Youths were striding around, firing off  pistols and miniature cannons (described as ‘nipple-cannons’), and small boys were running about, swinging fireballs over their heads and hurling them and against doors, windows and shutters. Another group were kicking a large burning tar barrel around in the street, with no regard to where it went. At the Cross, a large group gathered which pelted anyone who ventured to pass by with squibs, crackers and ‘other flaming missiles’. Eventually, a building used to store vehicles took fire and was almost destroyed.

The Gloucester Journal, which described the observance of Bonfire Night at Tewkesbury as an ‘annual nuisance’, said that the police had taken a number of firearms off the youths, but otherwise did nothing to ‘subdue this very objectionable manner of remembering the 5th of November, although the public are loud in their denunciation of the nuisance’. The Tewkesbury Register commented that in previous years, the authorities had ‘stood by and winked at these proceedings’, but this year, things had gone too far.

It appeared that the local authorities agreed with the press, as on November the fifth in 1877, there were lots of police on the streets in Tewkesbury, ready to deal with any disturbances. There were very few incidents, except for the odd cannon explosion and the occasional firework being let off. In addition to the police presence, an organised bonfire and firework display was put on for the public, held in a space well away from the main streets, which was greatly enjoyed by all who attended and went on long into the night.



Gloucester Journal, 11 Nov 1876

Tewkesbury Gazette, 28 Oct 1876, 11 Nov 1876, 10 Nov 1877

All newspapers accessed on www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk

Gagged and Bound by a Mystery Man: Forest of Dean, 1930


A sketch of the incident on the front page of the Illustrated Police News, 30 January 1930. Image courtesy of the British Newspaper Archive.

On the morning of Monday, 20 January 1930, colliers Kenneth Penn and Clifford Watkins were on their way to work when, as they walked over Morse Hill, between Drybrook and Ruardean, they saw a young woman lying on the side of the road, apparently unconscious. Her hands were bound with string and a lady’s stocking was tied around her mouth. One of the young men stayed with the woman, while the other hurried to the police station at Ruardean to fetch help. When he reached the station, he discovered that another informant had arrived there shortly before him. Collier Jack Brain had seen the woman as he rode past on his bicycle, but had felt too scared to stop and had ridden straight to the police station. A policeman and a doctor went up to Morse Hill and carried the still-unconscious woman back to the station.

When she recovered consciousness, the woman revealed that she was Dorothy Beard, who was twenty-one years old and worked as a domestic servant at the house of Mr Bryant, a schoolmaster in Drybrook. On the previous night, she had been on her way home to her parents’ house in Ruardean. Walking along the lonely road in the dark, she had been whistling to keep her spirits up. Suddenly she came across a man crouching down beside a hedge. Despite the strangeness of his position, she said ‘goodnight’ to him and he replied in kind, but then jumped up and demanded money from her. She said she hadn’t got any money and tried to carry on walking, but he said ‘You shall not pass’, and put something over her mouth. She remembered nothing else until she woke up in the police station. It had been discovered that the stocking which had been tied around her mouth had been soaked in spirits of camphor.

Dorothy Beard described the man as being middle-aged, fairly tall, of big build and clean-shaven. He was wearing a mackintosh and a trilby hat which was pulled down over his eyes. A woman gave a statement to the police that she had seen a man answering this description walking towards Nailbridge, not long after the incident was known to have taken place.

The newspapers reported that this was the latest and most serious in a number of incidents which had taken place in the Forest of Dean in the last two months. There had been many stories of encounters with a strange man on lonely roads or at the back of isolated premises, with most of those reporting the incidents being female. It was said that many young women and girls had been stopped in various parts of the district, until they were afraid to venture out after dark.

On 16 January 1930, The Citizen had reported on another young woman’s ‘alarming experience’ with the ‘mystery man who prowls’. A woman in the Coleford area had been greatly frightened by a man who jumped from behind a hedge and flashed a powerful light in her face. She was so shocked that when she reached her destination, she collapsed and remained unconscious for two days and could remember nothing when she woke up, until seen by a specialist who helped her to recover her memory. The incident was then reported to the police. Since then, the newspaper stated, a strange man had been reported prowling around houses in Coalway and flashing a light in people’s faces.

Whether the man who attacked Dorothy Beard was the same one who badly frightened the Coleford woman is not absolutely certain, although their descriptions were said to be similar. Dorothy’s attacker did not use a flashlight, although this may have been because she saw him before he could surprise her. The earlier victim was not (as far as is known) asked for money and was certainly was not left gagged and bound, but this may have been because for some reason the attacker lost the opportunity to carry out his intended actions.

As far as the use of a flashlight is concerned, it may be the case that the ‘mystery man’ was actually one of a number of people who thought it was good fun to mess around with torches on dark evenings. One such person appeared in early March 1930 at the Littledean Petty Sessions. Reginald Cowmeadow, aged eighteen, was summoned for flashing a torch in people’s faces at Cinderford and was fined one pound plus costs. The police superintendent said that there had been a lot of complaints about this sort of behaviour taking place, especially on Sunday nights.

No more incidents of a similar nature were reported after the attack on Morse Hill. Dorothy Beard’s attacker was not discovered, so the true facts concerning the identity of the ‘mystery prowler’ never came to light.



Newspapers (all accessed on www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk):

The Citizen, 16 Jan, 20 Jan and 8 March 1930

Gloucester Journal, 25 Jan 1930

Illustrated Police News, 30 Jan 1930


©Jill Evans 2019

Four condemned prisoners escape from Gloucester Gaol, 1765


Gloucester Castle keep: the old county gaol. Based on an 1819 work, from W. Andrew, ‘Old English Towns’, published 1909. Via Wikimedia Commons.

The county Assizes, held at Gloucester in March 1765, were said to have had one of the fullest calendars ever known in the city. At the end of all the trials, nine prisoners had received sentence of death, but five of them were reprieved, leaving four unlucky men to be executed.

John Conroy, who had been a grenadier in the English Fusiliers, was condemned for committing highway robbery, having attacked a man named Morgan Thomas on the highway near Shirehampton, robbing him of his money and then stabbing him in the head several times with a clasp knife. Thomas survived the attack and was able to give a description of his assailant as being very tall and having an Irish accent. John Conroy was quickly identified as being the culprit.

Two more of the condemned men were from Ireland. William O’Brien, alias Howard, and James Wall, also known as Bryan Birchagra, were found guilty of stealing money and a pair of silver and stone buckles from the Ostrich Tavern at Durdham Down, on the outskirts of Bristol. They had been committed to Gloucester Gaol for this offence in November 1764, and also were examined by Sir John Fielding, the Middlesex magistrate, concerning two burglaries in that county. There was a fourth charge against them of stealing money and other items from a dwelling house in Bath, Somerset.

The last condemned prisoner was Richard Holmes, who had been brought into Gloucester Gaol in September 1764, on suspicion of housebreaking and stealing sundry items, including clothes, a silver stock buckle and a pair of silver knee buckles from several properties in the Mitcheldean area. At his trial, Holmes was found guilty on three indictments.

The executions of the four men were scheduled to take place on Friday, 12 April 1765. In the meantime, the prisoners were held in chains in the condemned cell at Gloucester Castle, which at that time served as the county gaol. On the Sunday evening before they were due to be hanged, the men started to work on freeing themselves from their chains, using a spring saw which somehow they had got hold of. In order to mask the noise, three of them loudly sang psalms while the other one sawed at the irons. Conroy and Holmes freed themselves first, then separated O’Brien and Wall, who had been chained together. However, before they could get the latter pair’s leg irons off, the saw broke.

Undeterred from carrying on with their plan, they called out to the person who was guarding the door to their cell, saying that one of them needed to be let out to relieve himself. When the guard opened the door, they jumped on him and knocked him down. Making their way to the gate, they beat and knocked down the turnkey there, taking his key and locking the gate behind them.

Perhaps because two of them were still wearing leg irons, the prisoners only got to Llanthony Causeway, about a quarter of a mile away from the gaol, before they were recaptured.  It was said that the four had made a pact that they would all share the same fate, and so Conroy and Holmes had declined to leave their companions behind. Their bid for freedom came to an end when a gentleman who was out shooting in the area pointed his gun at them and ordered them to surrender.

Back at the Castle, the four men behaved in a disorderly manner at first, but as the day of their executions fast approached, they became more serious. On Friday, 12 April, they were conveyed to Over to be hanged. O’Brien and Wall dressed well for the occasion and prayed with great fervour, but put off giving the signal that they were ready to die until the last possible moment.


Gloucestershire Archives, County Quarter Sessions, Gloucester County Gaol Calendars, (Q/SG1, Epiphany 1765)


Gloucester Journal, 25 March, 8 April 1765

Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette, 28 March,  18 April 1765 (accessed 15/05/2019 on www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk)



A Carol Singer dies on Christmas Night: Forest of Dean, 1889

Rose-in-Hand stamped image

The Rose in Hand, Morse Lane. Copyright Stuart Wilding and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons License.


On Christmas night in 1889, the bar of the Rose in Hand was packed with revellers. The beer house, situated in Morse Lane, west of Drybrook, was frequented by miners who worked in the nearby pits, and was considered rather rough by the local authorities. On that night, just before ten o’clock, a local man, Joe Tyler, came into the bar and announced that he was going to sing a carol for the assembled company. However, the landlord told him that he was too late as the bar was about to close, so Tyler left without performing. About half an hour later, Tyler was found lying dead in a lane, about a quarter of a mile from the Rose in Hand. When the police arrived, they found several men waiting with the body, including twenty-three-year-old collier George Mansell. There were marks of violence on the deceased man’s head, and when witnesses stated that they had come across Mansell standing over the body, he soon found himself under arrest, on suspicion of murder.

Mansell appeared at Littledean Police Court on 27 December. It was stated that Joseph Tyler was a middle-aged, single man who worked as a stone-breaker for the County Council. He never had a bad word for anybody and was well liked by his neighbours, who considered him to be rather ‘simple’. On Christmas Day, he had been going about the local pubs singing carols. He had been in the Malt Shovel Inn at Ruardean before making his way to the Rose in Hand. After closing time, he was found lying dead in the road. He had a contused wound to the side of his head, which was likely to have been the cause of death. He had not been robbed, as there was money and a piece of cake in his pockets.

Some witnesses who lived near the lane where the deceased was found said that they heard the voices of men quarrelling, Mansell’s voice was recognised, and someone else was heard saying, ‘put that stone down’. It was believed that the wound on Tyler’s head had been made by a small stone from the road. Two women said they heard a man cry out several times, ‘Don’t George!’ The court was not satisfied that enough evidence had been gathered to charge Mansell, so the hearing was adjourned.

In the meantime, a Coroner’s Inquest opened on 28th December, at the National School, Drybrook. Superintendent Ford, of Coleford, gave evidence concerning the wound on Tyler’s forehead and of a stone being found twenty yards from where his body lay. It exactly fitted the wound on Tyler’s head and it had blood on it. Tyler’s walking stick was lying near to the stone. There were signs that someone had sat down next to where the stone was found. Regarding Mansell, there had been no blood or dirt on his clothing. The inquest was adjourned until 2 January 1890, when it re-opened at Drybrook.

More witnesses gave evidence on this occasion, including John Brain, the landlord of the Rose in Hand, who said he had stopped serving just as Tyler had come in. He believed Tyler had been sober. He cleared the house at quarter past ten. He saw Tyler go out with several others. He was not the last to leave. In reply to various questions from the coroner and inquest jury, he stated that the deceased did not ask for a drink, no-one had threatened the deceased, and no-one had said he must sing outside. The inquest was adjourned again until after the next court hearing at Littledean.

George Mansell next appeared at Littledean on 3 January 1890. This time, he had a barrister and a solicitor representing him. Superintendent Ford requested that the witnesses should be removed from the courtroom and brought in one by one, so they could not hear what the others said. Ford said he had had great difficulty obtaining any more information on the circumstances of Tyler’s death. However, a few new witnesses made an appearance.

First to give evidence was George Mansell’s younger brother, Richard. He thought that when he left the Rose in Hand on Christmas night, at about a quarter past ten, Joe Tyler had still been in the bar. He (Richard) parted company with George just outside the pub. Someone had asked him to take his brother home, but he didn’t, instead going to a  friend’s house.

Thomas Evans, a collier from Ruardean Hill, said he had been at the inn on Christmas night. He had seen the deceased at the bar at closing time and had heard him singing outside just afterwards.

Thomas Williams said he went down the lane from the inn a bit after ten. He heard a voice say, ‘Get up Joe!’. There was no reply. Then he came upon George Mansell standing over Tyler’s body. Williams and Mansell both waited with the body until the police arrived. Mansell made no attempt to get away.

Timothy Marfell said he came across the scene and struck a light to see who the dead man was. George Mansell told him he had seen someone running away, so he went down the road to look, but only found a married couple walking home. Marfell waited with the others for the police to come. George Mansell had said to him, ‘This is a bad job’.

Moses Matthews said he was walking home when he came across a man standing over another and heard him say, ‘Get up Joe, the police will be here’.

Police Constable Seabright said he went to the prisoner’s house at two o’clock in the morning on December 26th. The prisoner was in bed. He denied knowing Tyler or seeing him the night before, until he came across his body. He though the man was drunk. He had dirt on his hands, which he said had been caused by dropping his pipe in the road. The pipe was examined and it did have dirt on it. Mansell lived with his parents and three sisters. He hadn’t told them what had happened, he said, because it was late when he got home and he didn’t want to wake them.

George Mansell swore that he was innocent of killing Joe Tyler. His defence lawyer said there was not enough evidence to commit the prisoner for trial and there was also no evidence of foul play, as Tyler might have fallen on the stone. Nevertheless, on 9 January 1890, Mansell was committed to Gloucester Gaol, to await trial at the next county Assizes.

The evidence against Mansell was slim, and he might have been given the benefit of the doubt, if he hadn’t already had a reputation for being a trouble-maker. In October 1889, he had been sentenced to 10 days in Littledean House of Correction, for assaulting Elijah Harrison without any provocation, knocking him insensible as he (the complainant) was walking into the Rose in Hand. In evidence, a police constable who knew Mansell said he was ‘a most quarrelsome fellow and created a row wherever he went’.

The Gloucestershire Assizes opened on 22 February 1890. Mr Justice Hawkins, in his opening address, summarized the case against George Mansell, and it was apparent that the judge had doubts about it, as he gave the jury pointers which he said might prove the prisoner innocent.  These included that Tyler might have fallen on the stone, then staggered up the road before falling down dead. Regarding the question of why the prisoner had called the deceased ‘Joe’ when he stated that he did not know him, the prisoner had said he called every man he did not know by that name.

When brought into the dock, George Mansell looked around nervously, before pleading not guilty to the murder of Joseph Tyler on 25 December 1889. At this point, the prosecutor, Mr Sim, told the judge that his team felt that the evidence they had to call  would only establish a case of grave suspicion against the prisoner. After a short consultation amongst the jury, the foreman announced that they agreed the case was not strong enough to proceed. His Lordship said this was the only sensible view to take, as it was far too serious a matter to put a man on trial for without strong evidence against him. George Mansell was discharged.

This was not the first time that the Rose in Hand had featured in a murder trial. The Gloucester Journal, in its report on the death of Joe Tyler, which appeared on 28 December 1889, stated that this was the same place where some years ago, ‘a poor fellow died from a stab wound inflicted in a public house known as the Rose in Hand, a beer-house in Morse Lane kept by a man named John Brain’. This incident took place in January 1876, when the landlord was not John Brain, but Frederick Bartlett.

Elijah Read, who was twenty years old, had tried to intervene in a fight between his brother Benjamin and a collier named Joseph Bidmead, which took place in the upstairs kitchen of the inn. When the fight broke up Read collapsed, clutching his belly, and it was discovered that he had been stabbed. Several other men who had been involved in the altercation found they had been cut too. Bidmead ran from the scene. Read was laid on the kitchen table, where he was attended by a doctor, who said there was little he could do, as the knife had gone into the bowels and perforated his intestines. He died two days later, on 19 January.

At the Gloucestershire Spring Assizes in April 1876, Bidmead was tried for the wilful murder of Elijah Reed. A verdict was returned of manslaughter, and Bidmead was sentenced to twenty years penal servitude. He was removed to Pentonville Prison on 5 May 1876.

Six months after the trial of George Mansell for the murder of Joe Tyler, The Citizen newspaper (23 Aug 1890) reported that John Brain, landlord of the Rose in Hand alehouse, Morse Lane, Drybrook, had been fined for permitting drunkeness on his premises on two occasions. The newspaper commented: ‘This house has been badly conducted for a long time. Two persons have been committed for trial for murder since February 1876. These “murders” originated among persons who had been drinking on these premises. One occurred on 25 December last. This licence has since been transferred from Mr Brain to another person.’

Despite its troubles in the late nineteenth century, the Rose in Hand continues as a public house to this day.


Newspapers (viewed on http://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk):

Gloucester Journal, 29 Jan 1876, 28 Dec 1889, 4 Jan 1890

Gloucester Citizen, 19 Oct, 30 Dec 1889, 23 Aug 1890

Gloucestershire Chronicle, 1 March 1890

Wiltshire and Gloucestershire Standard, 15 Apr 1876

Gloucestershire Prison Records (viewed on Ancestry.co.uk. Originals at Gloucestershire Archives):

Littledean House of Correction, Registers of Prisoners, 1881-93

Gloucester County Gaol, Nominal Prisoners Registers, 1889-90

Illustration from geograph.org.uk.


© Jill Evans, 2018