The above image appeared on the front page of the Illustrated Police News on 23 September 1871. Inside the paper was an article describing a series of dramatic events at the India House Inn, Gloucester, which led to a man being arrested, on a charge of stealing a watch and chain.
The Illustrated Police News informed its readers that the story took place “within 100 miles of Gloucester Cross”. Actually, the distance was much less, as the India House was in Lower Barton Street, Gloucester, within the parish of Barton St Mary. In 1871, the landlord of the India House was Edward Pritchard, who was often away at sea. In his absence, the inn was run by his wife. The couple had a sixteen-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, who helped her mother in the bar.
Elizabeth Pritchard was betrothed to a young man named Benjamin Matthews, the son of a market gardener, who lived in Stroud Road. The couple were due to be married in August 1871, but not long before the wedding, there was an argument between them after Ben was rude to Elizabeth’s mother. Soon after this, nineteen-year-old Henry Green popped into the India House for a drink, and seeing Elizabeth behind the bar, took an immediate shine to her. Mrs Pritchard apparently believed that Green would be a much better husband for her daughter than Matthews, because she banned the latter from the house, and encouraged Elizabeth to accept the advances of her new admirer. A few weeks after first meeting, on 30 August 1871, Henry James Green and Elizabeth Pritchard were married in St James’ Parish Church, Gloucester.
After the ceremony, the wedding party returned to the India House to celebrate. It appears that Elizabeth already was regretting her marriage, because during the reception, she ran outside and discarded her wedding ring, but Green went after her and persuaded her to go back inside. The newly-weds spent the night in the same room, but the next morning Elizabeth’s feelings towards her new husband had not warmed, and she asked a friend of Ben’s named William Churchill to send him a message from her. Later, Churchill brought her a note. That evening, she went out and did not return. Green went looking for his wife, and searched for her in Cheltenham, before finding her in Gloucester, with Matthews. He discovered that Matthews had pawned a watch and chain on Elizabeth’s behalf. This watch and chain had belonged to Elizabeth before her marriage, but was now technically the property of her husband. Green had his wife and Benjamin Pritchard charged with theft.
At the Gloucester Police Court on 11 September, Benjamin Matthews and Elizabeth Green appeared before the magistrates, charged with stealing a watch and chain, the property of Henry James Green, on 31 August. Both were, according to the Gloucestershire Chronicle, “young and well-dressed”. Their counsel, Mr Chesshyre, pressed for Elizabeth to be discharged, “on the well-known principle that she could not steal her husband’s property, especially when that property was part of her own adornments before marriage.” The magistrates agreed, and the case continued against Benjamin Matthews alone.
Henry Green stated that he had lately been a clerk in the employ of the Midlands Railway Company, and was from Upton St Leonards. The watch and chain had been Elizabeth’s property before they married, but she had left it in his possession on the morning after their marriage. On the same evening, she left the house without saying where she was going. Before leaving she asked him she could fetch him anything for his supper. She never came back. She was wearing the watch and chain when she left.
On hearing that his wife might be with Matthews at the house of William Churchill, he went there with a policeman, but Churchill said the couple weren’t there, and wouldn’t let them in. He saw Ben Matthews a few minutes later in the White Hart Inn. Matthews laughed at him and said Elizabeth wasn’t with him. When he discovered that Matthews had pawned the watch and chain, he obtained a magistrate’s order and redeemed them. Mrs Pritchard had told him that they were worth £17.
Two days after the initial hearing, William Churchill, of Vine Terrace, Kingsholm, gave his evidence. He described how he had seen Mr and Mrs Green in the India House on the morning after the wedding. She asked him to deliver a message to Matthews, and he sent her a note back. Later Churchill was with Benjamin Matthews’ brother when he saw Elizabeth by the White Hart. She asked where Ben was, and the brother fetched him. Churchill went home alone, and then Green arrived with a police constable. He told them the couple were not there. Later that evening, Ben and Elizabeth had come to his house and asked to stay the night. She slept upstairs, while Churchill and Matthews stayed downstairs in the kitchen all night. The next morning, Elizabeth gave Ben the watch and chain and asked him to pawn it, which he did, for two pounds.
Mr Joseph, a pawn-broker of Northgate Street, stated that Benjamin Matthews had pawned the watch and chain and had told him that they were his property. Mr Joseph believed they were worth about six pounds.
The police sergeant who apprehended the couple said that Matthews had on him a certificate signed by Elizabeth Green and dated 1 September, stating that she had sold him the watch and chain for £5. The sergeant also produced a letter from Elizabeth addressed to her mother, asking her to send her clothes, as she was going to Liverpool (her native place).
It was determined that the case should be sent to trial at the next City Quarter Sessions, which began a month later. In his opening remarks to the City Grand Jury, the Recorder (Mr Whitmore, Q.C.), said the case of Benjamin Matthews was “peculiar”, as the charge that he had stolen the watch and chain from the prosecutor (Green) was on the ground that “as he [Matthews] was then living in actual or contemplated adultery with the wife, the offence amounted to larceny in law.” (I must acknowledge that the meaning of this is beyond my very basic understanding of nineteenth century law, but it seems that the prosecution case relied on Elizabeth’s adultery with Matthews being proved.)
The trial of Benjamin Matthews took place on 16 October. He was charged with stealing a gold watch and chain, worth six pounds, from Henry James Green, on September 1st. Green told the same story as he had at the magistrates hearing. In cross-examination, he admitted that he had only known Elizabeth for three weeks, and that she had thrown away her wedding ring on the day of their marriage and had said that she would never be his wife. He denied knowing that she had been engaged to Ben Matthews.
William Churchill repeated his evidence that Elizabeth and Benjamin had not spent the night together when at his house. That ended the case for the prosecution, and the Recorder declared, “There is not a particle of evidence!” The prosecution counsel replied that in that case, he could not go on. The Recorder then addressed the Jury:
Gentlemen. The simple case is that this woman improperly gave a watch and chain to this man to pledge, and he did so. That is the whole of the evidence. There may be a great deal more behind. But that is all which has been proved, and that does not make him a thief – or many of us, I am afraid, would have been proved thieves, I suppose! You must acquit him.
The jury did so at once, and Matthews walked free.
I could find nothing more about the case in the newspapers, but a search of the census records and the birth, marriage and death indexes did allow me to follow up on the story. I couldn’t find any trace of Henry James Green in the census records after 1871, or find a death registration for him, but in 1881, Benjamin Matthews and his wife, Elizabeth, were living in Liverpool, with two sons, William, aged 6, and Thomas, aged 6 months, who were both born in Liverpool. In 1891, they were living in Everton.
It seemed likely that the couple had gone to Liverpool together and were living there as man and wife. However, in the General Register Office marriage indexes, there is an entry in the September to December quarter of 1874, for Benjamin “Hosca” Matthews and Elizabeth Pritchard, who had married in Liverpool. It might be that they married at that time because they had heard that Green had died, but as their first son, William Edward Matthews, was born between January and March of the following year, the most likely reason was that Elizabeth had discovered that she was pregnant.
It is possible that the marriage between Green and Elizabeth was annulled, but I have been unable to find any evidence of that. So, the question arises – was the marriage of Benjamin Matthews and Elizabeth Pritchard a bigamous one? Whether it was or not, the couple stayed together until death did them part, with Elizabeth passing away first, in 1901.
Illustrated Police News, 23 September 1871
Gloucestershire Chronicle, 16 Sept 1871, 21 Oct 1871
Census Records, accessed via Ancestry.co.uk
Birth, Marriage and Death Indexes, accessed via Ancestry.co.uk
© Jill Evans 2015