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

Camelad1943

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

‘STOLEN U.S. “SMOKES” HIDDEN IN PRAM’.

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.

 

Sources:

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.

IllLondonNews11Sept1897

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.

Sources:

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

TewkesReg28Oct1876

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.

 

Sources:

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

Illpolnews30Jan1930

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.

 

Sources:

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_and_Gaol,_1819

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.

Sources:

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

Newspapers:

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.

Sources

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

 

 

 

 

The Westgate Bridge Riots: Gloucester, 1827

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Old postcard of Smirke’s Westgate Bridge, with steamboat passing under

In 1806, an Act of Parliament was passed which facilitated the building of a new Westgate Bridge at Gloucester, to replace the medieval crossing over the River Severn. The old bridge, which had been in use for centuries, had five arches through which vessels had to negotiate, and was becoming increasingly costly to repair. The new bridge was designed by Robert Smirke, who was also the architect of Gloucester’s Shire Hall. Smirke’s design was for a simple, single-span arch. After several years of building work, during which travellers leaving or entering the city from the west had to use a temporary structure over the river, the new Westgate Bridge opened in 1816.

One of the clauses of the 1806 Act of Parliament stipulated that tolls could be raised from anyone crossing the Severn on the west side of Gloucester, including foot passengers, to recoup the cost of the bridge’s construction. A toll-house was built on the temporary bridge and advertisements appeared in the local press for prospective toll-collectors, who would bid at auction for the privilege of collecting money from those crossing the river, paying an annual rent of about £2,000 a year. When the new bridge opened in 1816, the collection of money from travellers continued. It was intended that the raising of tolls would stop once the new bridge had been paid for, but by 1827, people were still paying to cross in and out of the city. This was because the Gloucester Corporation had decided to build another new bridge at Over, this time to a design by Thomas Telford, and the tolls raised from Westgate Bridge were used to pay for that.

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Advertisement for a toll-keeper in Gloucester Journal, 28 May 1810 (British Newspaper Archive. Image copyright British Library Board).

Resentment had been growing over the years among the inhabitants of Gloucester, who were tired of having to pay to get in and out of the west side of the city, over ten years after construction of the bridge had been completed. The men who were working on the construction of the new bridge at Over were particularly disgruntled, because they had to pay twice every day, to get between their homes in the city and their workplace.

On the evening of Thursday, 20 September 1827, a gang of men from Over refused to pay to cross over Westgate Bridge to get back into the city. The toll-keeper’s wife was on duty that evening, and she was determined not to let the men pass without paying. They threatened to tear down the barrier, demolish the toll-house and to hang the woman up on the ruins, but she refused to be intimidated. Eventually, the men forced their way past her and over the bridge.

The next day, the same confrontation took place, and this time the workmen broke part of the barrier and cleared a footway across the bridge. Over the weekend, this path was left open, so for the first time people were able to walk across the bridge without paying. On Monday, the employer of the men working at Over had a meeting with the Trustees of the Westgate Bridge, and a compromise was made by which the workers would no longer have to pay to cross on foot. After this, the barrier once again was repaired.

It was expected that there would be no more trouble from the Over workers, as they would no longer have to pay the toll, but some of them were not satisfied and soon after five o’clock, a group of them arrived at the toll-gate, where gradually they were joined by their workmates, bargemen, and many other inhabitants of Gloucester, until there was a crowd of over a thousand people. An attack on the toll-gate began, with the barrier being torn from its hinges and thrown into the river, followed by every piece of gating and fencing. A number of police constables and specials had attended the scene in order to try to stop the proceedings, but they were overwhelmed and took shelter in the toll-house, along with the toll-keeper and his family. The mob then started to throw large stones at the house, breaking the shutters on the windows. The occupants made their escape through a back window. The demolition of the house then began and all of the toll-keeper’s furniture and belongings were thrown into the river. After the house and gate had been destroyed, some of the crowd went into the city, where they paraded around the streets, until about ten o’clock, when all became quiet.

On Tuesday afternoon (25 September), two troops of the 4th Dragoon Guards, one from Dursley and the other from Wotton-under-Edge, arrived in the city. Under their protection, a new toll-gate was erected and a guard house was built nearby, with a military patrol stationed there. There was no further trouble at the bridge.

In the meantime, a reward had been offered for the apprehension of the ring-leaders of the riot. Four men, named Joseph Dangerfield, Richard Bird, Henry Lane and Benjamin Bennett, were arrested on 26 September and taken to Gloucester’s city gaol, to await trial at the next Assizes. The men were charged with ‘having with a multitude of other Persons wilfully and unlawfully destroyed the Toll House and Toll Gates at the Westgate Bridge in this City’. On 5 October, two more men were arrested. A stone-mason named James Nelson was walking past the Tolsey at the Cross when he was recognised by a police officer as being one of the rioters. He was taken into the Tolsey for questioning. Some of his companions gathered at the Cross and there was talk of getting Nelson out. Another man in the crowd, James McKenzie,  was recognised as a rioter and he too was taken into the Tolsey. It was decided that the pair should be held with the others in Gloucester city gaol, but the police were concerned that they would be attacked as they escorted the men down Southgate Street, so they asked for a military escort. At the gaol, Nelson and McKenzie were charged with ‘feloniously destroying the woodwork connected with the Westgate Bridge in this City’.

After being charged, the men accused of rioting offered to pay bail for their appearance at the next Assizes, which would take place the following April, but they were refused. The city authorities had decided that the atmosphere was so volatile that they would require an order from the Court of King’s Bench before agreeing to release the men. A hearing took place in November 1827 in London. Mr John Phillpotts, for the men, asked for a writ of habeas corpus to be issued to the Sheriff of Gloucester, to bring up the bodies of the men in question. He stated that they had been held in gaol for seven weeks, despite offering to pay for bail. Mr Campbell, on behalf of the Gloucester magistrates, opposed the men’s release, and described the events which had taken place in September, stating, perhaps with some exaggeration, that a mob of over 2,000 people had gathered and after destroying the toll-house and gate, they had paraded the streets of the city waving flags. The men alluded to had been arrested by the magistrates who, in consequence of the disturbed state of the city, were afraid to admit them to bail without the sanction of the Court of King’s Bench.

Mr Philpotts said the men had sworn their innocence. They had offered to pay good bail but the magistrates were determined to keep them in custody until the next Assizes. The men had behaved so well in prison that the Trustees of the bridge and toll-gate had requested the magistrates to admit them to bail. The court decided to recommend that the men be allowed bail, as this would be less expensive than granting habeas corpus. All the men were bailed out on 16 November.

In April 1828, the Assizes began in Gloucester. When it came to the case of the Westgate Bridge riot, Mr Phillpotts addressed the judge, informing him that in the previous October, the Bridge’s Trustees, from the information they had received, believed it was their duty to prosecute the men accused. They had since learnt that these men were not the ring-leaders at all. After being confined in gaol for seven weeks, the men had been allowed to find bail, and, ‘from that hour, the most perfect harmony and good will had subsisted between all parties. The men’s conduct had been unexceptionable’. He was instructed to apply to his Lordship to permit recognizances to be discharged without presenting a bill to the Grand Jury. The judge, Mr Baron Vaughan, agreed to this ‘judicious course’. The men were released shortly afterwards.

So, in the end, nobody was tried and punished for taking part in the Westgate Bridge riot. No doubt the authorities believed that as peace had descended on Gloucester, there was no point in risking stirring things up again. The Gloucester Journal, in its report on the case, had insinuated that the workers were not really to blame anyway, as there were ‘higher powers’ behind the riot. It was suggested that ‘some individuals’ had plied the workers with alcohol and encouraged them to attack the toll-gate. Although the newspaper did not name a particular person, they appeared to be putting the blame firmly on John Phillpotts, the barrister who had defended the men. Phillpotts had aspirations to be an MP for the city, and as he had been a member of the Corporation, it was presumed that he knew the state of the finances concerning the Westgate Bridge. He was said to have told the people over and over again that the bridge had already been paid for.

In the aftermath of this incident, described in the Cheltenham Chronicle as ‘one of the most disgraceful scenes we ever remember to have occurred in this part of the country’, the toll on foot passengers crossing the Westgate Bridge was brought to an end in January 1828. By the end of that year, all tolls on the bridge were abolished.

© Jill Evans 2018

Sources:

Gloucester Journal, 29 Sept and 6 Oct 1827

Morning Post, 28 Sept 1827; Cheltenham Chronicle, 27 Sept 1827; Cheltenham Journal, 19 Nov 1827, 14 Apr 1828 (all viewed on British Newspaper Archive)

Gloucester City Gaol Registers, 1816-35 (viewed on Ancestry; originals at Gloucestershire Archives, under Gloucester Borough Records)

A History of the County of Gloucester, Volume IV: The City of Gloucester, ed. N.M.Herbert, (Victoria County History, 1988)

 

 

 

A Reporter’s Unpleasant Duty: Attending Executions at HM Prison Gloucester

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Gloucester reporter E. Kendall Pearson, pictured in the Gloucester Journal, 23 Feb 1933. (British Newspaper Archive)

In June 1935, preparations were being made at Gloucester Prison to carry out the execution of Arthur Franklin, who had murdered his former lover, Gladys Nott, at Hanham Woods, near Bristol. This prompted a former Gloucester journalist, Edward Kendall Pearson (known as E. Kendall Pearson), to write in The Citizen about his experiences attending executions in the 1890s. His recollections appeared in the column ‘Gloucester Day By Day: Views and Gossip For the Tea Table’, on 24 June 1935, the day before Franklin was executed.

The earliest execution Pearson had witnessed on behalf of The Citizen newspaper had taken place ‘on a grey March morning, 42 years ago’. [Albert Manning was hanged on 16 March 1893, for murdering his former lover at Kingswood, near Bristol.] This execution, Pearson said, attracted unusual public attention because the accused ‘feigned madness with so much cleverness as to puzzle the experts in lunacy who had him under observation’. Also, after the event, a London newspaper reported that the man was hanged ‘in sight of his open grave’. This led to a question being raised in the House of Commons. During the trial, Manning had been a ‘hunched-over dwarfish figure’. After being sentenced, his mother visited him in the condemned cell, and from then on, he started to talk and behave rationally. Pearson was amazed, when standing near the gallows on the morning of the execution, to see approaching his doom ‘not a dwarfish, hunched-over figure, but a much taller man than the occupant of the dock had seemed to be’.

Regarding the open grave story, the prison governor, Major Knox, had been furious at the statement, and invited several journalists, including Pearson, to replicate the walk from the condemned cell to the gallows taken by Manning, to prove that he could not have seen his grave. Pearson described ‘walking in the steps of the condemned man, from near the cell, down a flight of winding stairs, like a belfry, into the open yard and  right up to the gallows’.

In the same year, Pearson attended another execution, ‘rendered all the more sensational by the prisoner addressing some farewell words to the reporters as he came in sight of the scaffold’. [Frederick Wyndham, who shot and killed his father, was hanged 21 Dec 1893.] He was reported to have said, ‘I wish you all goodbye. I should have liked to have killed that whore [his father’s mistress] before I die’.

The attendance of newspaper reporters at executions came to an end at Gloucester Prison in 1912, when a special execution chamber was built on the end wall of A Wing, which was too small to admit anyone other than the prisoner, the executioner, and a few officials. Pearson noted that the execution of Franklin would take place in this chamber, ‘a room adjoining the condemned cell, on the same floor as the Prison Chapel’.

Pearson’s recollections prompted a former colleague of his, Paul Francillon, to continue the subject in his column in the Gloucester Journal, ‘St John’s Lane and It’s Memories: Glancing Back Over the Years’, which appeared on 29 June 1935. Pearson had made no mention of his personal feelings about attending executions, but Francillon indicated that his friend had found this to be a particularly unpleasant duty. Regarding his time working at The Citizen, Francillon said that he had never had to do this task, so had no ‘gruesome memories’ of executions in Gloucester Gaol, unlike his friend Kendall Pearson. His [Francillon’s] nerves might have better stood the ordeal of attendance in pursuit of professional duty, as Pearson found it ‘utterly repugnant’. Francillon was glad that he had never been instructed to attend an execution, because, he asserted, he would have ‘mutinied’ rather than being ‘the unwitting instrument of ministering to a morbid public taste which happily now belongs to a past age of journalism’.

Francillon recalled that there used to be a fierce competition to be the first paper with the news of the actual executions in the times of which he wrote, 40 or 50 years ago. He remembered the speed with which Pearson got his copy in and ‘the feverish haste with which it was composed and sent to the press, and the despatch of a big issue by a convenient express train to sell on Bristol streets in competition with the Bristol papers, which we did not count half so go-ahead as the lively little Citizen’. Francillon recalled that he had his own work to do in forwarding the production of these ‘Execution Specials’, so although he never witnessed an actual hanging, he had a share of responsibility in passing through what he still regarded as ‘a not very delectable side of journalism’.

When he and Pearson started work at St John’s Lane, there were still many people to whom public executions had been a familiar scene. The attendance of reporters when executioners were withdrawn from public into the gaol [in 1868] marked a transition stage in which reporters acted by proxy for the public. Now it was an ‘almost extinct’ practice for reporters to attend. Instead the newspapers had to rely on documentation – the registration of death and the inquest certificates – for information.

In Francillon’s early days, the public had ‘an avid appetite for the ghastly details’ of an execution. Execution specials in The Citizen usually brought the total day’s issue to a new high record of circulation. Old time publicity was not confined to newspapers. Itinerant vendors sold copies of ‘last dying speeches’, etc, to morbid crowds waiting outside gaols for the black flag to be raised over the gaol gateway. Today [1935], the black flag, the tolling gaol bell and ‘the last dying speech and confession’ were all things of the past.

Looking back at Kendall Pearson’s report on the execution of Albert Manning, which  appeared in The Citizen on 16 March 1893, it is clear that Francillon was correct in his assertion that his colleague did not enjoy this part of his job. After giving all the details of the crime and the trial, he wrote, under the sub-title, ‘THE SCENE AT THE SCAFFOLD. MANNINGS LAST MOMENTS’:

Of all the duties which the reporter whose lot in a county town is called upon to perform in the interests of the paper which he represents and the public, none, perhaps, are more irksome or unpleasant than his attendance at an execution. The “ordeal” must be faced and the Pressman must leave his feelings – if he has any – at home, and proceed to the spot where the unhappy criminal is to end his day, with mind intent on one thing only, and that the absorption of all those impressions of the scene which are necessary to the compilation of a faithful and accurate description of what the public are anxiously waiting to know.

Pearson went on to describe how he arrived at the prison gatehouse with two other local reporters, was taken to his place near the gallows to watch the execution, then ushered forwards to peer down into the pit where the body was hanging, fingers still twitching. An unpleasant duty indeed.

 

Edward Kendall Pearson was on the staff of The Citizen and the Gloucester Journal for 43 years. He joined the newspaper group in 1891, and worked as chief reporter for both newspapers for 33 years, before becoming news editor of The Citizen. He retired in 1932, but continued to contribute to the column ‘Gloucester Day-By-Day’ in The Citizen, as ‘E.K.P.’ He died on 26 May 1946.

Paul Francillon joined the newspaper group at St John’s Lane in 1886. The group published the Gloucester Journal, The Citizen, the Gloucestershire Chronicle and the Gloucester Standard. He was on the editorial staff of The Citizen and the Gloucester Journal for 59 years. By the end of the 19th century, he was the leader writer for The Citizen, and by the time he went into semi-retirement in 1838, he was the Deputy Editor. He continued to write leaders and columns until his death, on 25 April 1945.

Sources

Newspapers all accessed on British Newspaper Archive, www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk, 21-24 May 2018):

Gloucester Journal, 25 Feb 1933, 29 June 1935

The Citizen, 16 March 1893, 24 June 1935, 30 April 1945 (report on Francillon’s funeral)

Gloucestershire Echo, 27 May 1946 (obituary of E.K. Pearson)

Further Reading (aka Shameless Plugs):

Hanged at Gloucester, by Jill Evans (The History Press, 2011)

A History of Gloucester Prison, 1791-1950, by Jill Evans (Glos Crime History Books, 2017)

 

‘Masquerading as a Man’: A Gloucestershire servant arrested in London, 1913

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From The Tatler, 15 Jan 1908*

In the first decades of the twentieth century, variety shows in British theatres often contained a popular act in the form of a woman who dressed up as a man and sang. Some of these women, such as Vesta Tilley and Daisy Burrell, became huge stars and photographs of them dressed in male clothing appeared in the pages of magazines and newspapers such as The Tatler, The Era and The Sphere. Everyone knew that these ‘boys’ were really females; they were always given the title of ‘Miss’ in theatre programmes, so there was no misunderstanding. When it came to females in ordinary life who ‘disguised’ themselves in male clothing, for whatever reason, there was less approbation, and when such a female was discovered, it could lead to a disturbance and an appearance in court. Once such case occurred in London in 1913.

 

On 25 January 1913, the Cheltenham Chronicle reported that a ‘Cheltenham girl’ had been arrested in London. Lilian Cawley, who gave her address as Queen’s Road, Bayswater, had appeared at Marylebone Police Court, looking ‘very downcast and depressed’. She had been arrested on a charge of ‘behaving in a disorderly manner by masquerading in male attire in Bishops-Rd, Paddington, and thereby causing a crowd to assemble’. A police constable had found her on Saturday night, surrounded by a crowd, and took her into custody ‘for her own sake’.

The magistrate, Mr Plowden, thought the matter quite amusing and asked if she had been dressed as a field-marshal. The police constable replied solemnly that the girl had been dressed in normal male clothing. Lilian Cawley said that she had previously worked as a domestic servant in Cheltenham, but on coming to London she thought she would stand a better chance of getting a job if she dressed as a man. Mr Plowden told her that she had been very foolish, for ‘no-one would ever take her for a man’. On her promising not to do it again, she was dismissed from court.

This might have been the end of the story, if the Gloucestershire Police had not been sent the girl’s details and found that her description matched that of a servant named Annie Cownley, who a few weeks earlier had disappeared from her master’s house, taking some of his clothing and money with her. She was taken into custody in London and Detective Frank Hallett went to fetch her from Paddington Green Police Station and bring her back to Gloucester on the train.

It transpired that Lilian or Annie Cownley, who was 23 years of age at the time of her arrest, had been born in Worcester and had gone from an orphanage into domestic service in Malvern, then spent eight years in Cheltenham. (The 1911 census has her as Lilian Hilda Cownley, living at Atherstone Lawn, Cheltenham, as a domestic servant in the household of Alfred Loxley Creese, a fancy draper.) By January 1913 she was a servant in the home of Charles Henry Organ, of 25 Brunswick Square, Gloucester. She had been employed there for only five weeks when she was found to have gone missing on the morning of 6 January, along with male clothing and a purse containing around £14 in cash.

On being charged with theft, Cawnley admitted her guilt. She told Detective Hallett that she didn’t know why she had done it. She said she had left Mr Organ’s house at 3 o’clock in the morning, wearing her master’s clothes. She had gone to Worcester, then to London, where she had bought a suit of men’s clothes for two guineas, a gent’s overcoat for two pounds, a trunk for 18 shillings and six pence, a pair of men’s boots for eight shillings and six pence, and paid five shillings and six pence in advance for a month’s lodgings.  She spent the next three weeks masquerading as a man and looking for work, without success. The trunk, containing Organ’s clothes, was found at her lodgings. She had the purse with her, containing five shillings and six pence and a pawn ticket.

Cawnley appeared before the city magistrates at Gloucester on 27 January, charged with stealing £13. 10s in gold and a quantity of male wearing apparel, the property of Charles Henry Organ. The newspapers reported that she sat dejectedly in court with her eyes fixed to the ground. She was dressed in female clothing, which was described in detail (long blue coat, black skirt, black mushroom felt hat with silver-grey band, and a blue muffler over her shoulders). She was sentenced to two months’ imprisonment with hard labour, which the Chairman of the magistrates ‘hoped would be a warning to her for the rest of her life’.

A story about a woman dressing as a man was always a popular read in the newspapers, and there were several such cases reported by the Gloucestershire press at around the same time. In June 1913, a young girl was taken into custody in Cheltenham after people became suspicious that she was a female wearing boy’s clothes. It was discovered that she had run away from her family in Swindon and had dressed herself in some of her brother’s clothes, partly in the hope of remaining undiscovered, and also because she thought she would have a better chance of finding work as a boy. Although very reluctant, she was eventually persuaded to return home.

During the First World War, attracting suspicion because of what you were wearing had an added danger. In 1915, again in Cheltenham, a woman dressed as a man nearly caused a riot when a crowd gathered round her, apparently as word spread that she was a German spy. She took refuge in a hotel bar to escape the mob and a policeman went in afterwards to look for her. It took him some time to realise that the confident young fellow drinking and smoking in the corner was in fact the suspicious female. The constable took her out of a back door to avoid the crowd gathered outside, where she disappeared into the streets, before the authorities had a chance to question her.

Sources:

Newspapers: Cheltenham Chronicle, 25 Jan 1913, 28 June 1913, 23 Oct 1915; Gloucester Journal, 1 Feb 1913. (All accessed on British Newspaper Archive, March 2018)

1911 Census, Cheltenham, District 11. Household of Alfred Loxley Creese, Atherstone Lawn Cheltenham. (Accessed on ancestry.co.uk, March 2018)

*Image From The Tatler, via britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk.  ©The British Library Board. All Rights Reserved.

©Jill Evans, 2018

 

 

 

Quarrelling Radicals in Gloucester Prison, 1799-1801

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John Binns as pictured in his autobiography, 1852

In the late 18th century, a number of political or ‘State’ prisoners were sent to Gloucester Prison, to be held on suspicion of intending to commit treasonous practices. After the events of the French Revolution, the British Government was very nervous of individuals or group that criticised the government or the monarch, and the habeus corpus was suspended in 1794, enabling the government to commit suspicious persons to prison without trial. Gloucester County Prison, with its individual cells, was regarded as an ideal location to house such prisoners.

Kid Wake could be regarded as being Gloucester’s first State prisoner, although he had been tried for committing an actual crime. In May 1796, he had been sentenced to five years’ hard labour, for shouting “No King, No War!” as George the Third’s carriage made its way to the opening of Parliament. Wake was kept in the penitentiary at Gloucester from 20 May 1796 to 7 May 1801. As part of his sentence, he was made to stand in the pillory in the middle of Gloucester for an hour on every market day, for the first three months of his term.

While Kid Wake was serving his sentence, another political prisoner, John Binns, arrived at Gloucester Prison. Unlike Wake, Binns had not been tried for committing any particular crime. He was a member of the London Corresponding Society, which had formed in 1792, with the aim of campaigning for parliamentary reform. The leaders of this society, and its most active members, were frequently arrested, interrogated and sometimes put on trial. John Binns had been held in a number of jails, including the Tower of London, several times before he was sent to Gloucester Prison in May 1799. This was the result of a committee report to parliament in which Binns was named as ‘a person particularly zealous in organising political associations, in opposition to the government’. Binns was detained on 16 March 1799 and held in Clerkenwell Prison in London until 9 May, when he was sent to Gloucester on the orders of the Duke of Portland, the Secretary of State.

John Binns published an autobiography in 1852, in which he gives some interesting details of the time he spent in Gloucester Prison. As he had not been tried and convicted for committing a crime, he was treated like a prisoner waiting for trial, but as a man of a higher social status than most of the inmates, he was given some special privileges. However, the governor was given strict instructions by the Duke of Portland not to allow him to mix with other prisoners. Therefore, Binns was given a dayroom for his sole use, where he spent most of time alone. At night, he was locked in an individual cell, the same as the other prisoners.

Binns recalled that he had been allowed the use of a yard, ‘abundantly large’ where he exercised for three or four hours a day. He was also given two plots of ground, on which he cultivated vegetables, for his own use. Soon after his arrival at the prison, he met with the board of visiting magistrates, several of whom offered to lend him books. He later met the Dean of Gloucester, who offered him the full use of his library. Binns had a microscope at the prison, but he was not allowed to read any newspaper, and the warders and officials were not permitted to talk to him about national or international events. While at Gloucester, Binns had two pets to keep him company: a cat which followed him wherever he went and a toad. He took the cat away with him when he left the prison, but released the toad.

After Binns had been at the prison for three months, he was joined by two more political prisoners. John Bone and Robert Keir were both members of the London Corresponding Society and were committed to Gloucester in August 1799, by the Duke of Portland, for ‘treasonable practices’. Bone and Keir were put into the same dayroom as Binns, then locked up in separate cells at night. The three men already knew each other, and Binns recalled that they got along well for the first few months, spending their days using books to learn French and mathematics, and exercising in the yard allocated to them. However, according to Binns, the other two became jealous of him and ‘conspired’ against him, leading to the three being split up.

In January 1800, the governor noted in his journal that the three State prisoners had been put into separate rooms for fighting. In his autobiography, Binns related what had been the cause of their quarrel. He stated that one morning, he and his companions were exercising in their yard, ‘whipping tops’, when Bone and Keir were summoned to appear before the Board of Magistrates, who were in the governor’s house. After about forty-five minutes they came back, and Binns was sent before the Board. He was told that Bone and Keir had made a complaint of a serious nature against him. They had claimed that for some time past, two or more evenings a week, after they had all been locked up in their cells, Binns, instead of being locked up, had been taken to the governor’s rooms, where he would spend the evening in company with the governor, his wife, and sometimes his niece, until the outer prison bell was rung, at which time he would be conveyed back to his cell and locked in.

Binns expressed great surprise at the charge, as neither of the two prisoners ‘had ever apprised me of their mean suspicions or petty jealousies, nor warned me that they had, or thought they had, cause of complaint against me.’ He denied their accusation and was then taken back to the yard. He described what happened next:

‘I no sooner found myself in the yard, on my return from the board, and within striking distance of my worthy compeers, than I began thrashing them soundly; while they, to do them justice, “ran and roared” lustily, until the turnkeys came and took them out of the yard into the prison.’

Binns stated that he never saw then in the jail again, but his memory of the incident may have dimmed over time, as according to the prison journals, they were in the same dayroom until October 1800, when Keir was separated from the others after Bone complained that Keir had prevented him from keeping their room clean.

Binns, Bone and Keir were all liberated from Gloucester Prison on 1 March 1801, along with all the other political prisoners in the kingdom who had been detained under the suspension of the habeus corpus. No doubt the officials and staff at Gloucester were happy to see their quarrelsome ‘guests’ take their leave.

Sources

Recollections of the Life of John Binns (1852)

Whiting, JRS, Prison Reform in Gloucestershire, 1776-1820 (Phillimore, 1975)