“A man of brutal passions”: A case of attempted murder, Gloucester, 1878

William Scriven was a rag-and-bone man who lived at Dorn’s lodging house, in Gloucester. The house was situated in a passage on the Island, at the bottom of Westgate Street. In the same passage, next door to Dorn’s establishment, there was another lodging house, kept by William Young. On Sunday, 7 April 1878, Scriven had just returned to his lodgings after a pleasant stroll along the Quay, when he heard a commotion outside. Going to the door, he was surprised to see a woman lying on the ground, with a man bent over her, holding her down. He went over to help the woman and, assisted by Young, restrained the assailant and took a razor out of his hand. He and Young then handed over the man and the weapon to the police, while the woman was rushed to the Infirmary.

On the following morning, Joseph Hooper, a labourer, appeared at the Gloucester City Petty Sessions, charged with attempting to murder Elizabeth Brinn, by cutting her throat. Deputy Chief Constable Mr Chipp told the Bench that Brinn’s injuries were not life-threatening, but she was too ill to give evidence at that time, and probably wouldn’t be well enough to do so for a couple of weeks. The magistrates decided to hear the evidence of one of the witnesses, and Scriven was called to describe what had happened. The hearing then was adjourned, and in the meantime, Hooper was remanded in Gloucester Prison.

Illustration of the crime in the Illustrated Police News, 11 May 1878. (via British newspaper Archive.) Image copyright The British Library Board. all Rights Reserved.

Illustration of the crime in the Illustrated Police News, 11 May 1878. (via British Newspaper Archive.) Image copyright The British Library Board. All Rights Reserved.

Elizabeth Brinn finally was able to come to court and give her evidence on 29 April. She said that she and Hooper had lived together as man and wife for about twenty months. They had been lodgers at Young’s house since February. On that Sunday morning, 7th April, she and Hooper had gone out together in the morning for a walk, and went all round the perimeter of the city. At half past twelve, they had gone to a public house, the Mermaid on the Quay, where they stayed until closing time, at half past two. Both were “the worse for beer” when they came out, and they started to quarrel. They had a fight on the Quay and continued to argue on the way back to their lodgings. When they got home, Brinn asked Mr Taylor to have her belongings fetched down, because she was leaving. After that, she went out into the yard, and felt someone grab her from behind and throw her onto the ground. She remembered nothing else until she woke up in hospital.

William Scriven then gave his evidence, followed by William Young. Young said that Hooper and Brinn were habitual drunkards who were always quarrelling and fighting. On that Sunday afternoon, they came into the kitchen and proceeded to have a fight. “The woman appeared to have the best of it”, and he had to pull her off Hooper. He decided to put both of them out of the house. Their few belongings were brought down and they divided their bundle between them, still quarrelling. Brinn went out into the yard, with Hooper behind her. Hooper grabbed her and threw her down into the gutter. Someone in the yard called out, “William, I think he’s cutting her throat”. He ran over and lifted Hooper’s right hand off the woman, and saw he was holding a razor, which Scriven took of him.  They handed Hooper over to two policemen who were coming to attend the scene.

Police Sergeant Maggs was one of the policemen who took charge of Hooper. He stated that when the prisoner was handed over, he was drunk and his hands, face and clothes were smeared with blood. On the following morning, when Hooper was charged, he said he wasn’t aware that he had cut Brinn’s throat, because he had been drunk and “half off his head”.

Joseph Hooper was committed to be tried at the next Assizes, which took place in August 1878. He was charged with feloniously cutting and wounding Elizabeth Brinn, at Gloucester on April 7th, with intent to murder her. Brinn had been bound over to attend, but she was nowhere to be seen, so the trial went ahead without her evidence. As at the initial hearings before the city magistrates, Scriven (now described as a “marine store collector”) and Young were the chief witnesses.

Their evidence was followed by that of Mr Ernest Dyke Bower, house surgeon at the Infirmary, who had attended Elizabeth Brinn on her arrival. The wound was to the right side of her throat and was four to five inches long. The incision was about three quarters of an inch deep and was not a very dangerous wound. She was not unconscious when she was brought in.

In his defence, Hooper said that he was innocent, and that he believed Brinn had done it to herself, in order to get him into trouble. He was, of course, found guilty, but the jury decided that he had not intended to murder Brinn, but rather to inflict grievous bodily harm.

In passing sentence, the judge revealed that Hooper had been convicted in 1866 of cutting a woman’s throat, and had been sentenced to five years’ penal servitude. There were other convictions against him too. He appeared to be a man “of brutal passions who gave way to drink, and then to crime”. He sentenced Hooper to fourteen years’ penal servitude.

More on Joseph Hooper

The Registers of Prisoners admitted to Gloucester Prison,  held at Gloucestershire Archives (and now available on Ancestry.co.uk), are a fascinating source, giving more details on prisoners than appear in newspaper reports. Joseph Hooper was admitted to Gloucester Gaol on remand on 8 April, then as a prisoner awaiting trial at the Assizes on 29 April 1878. He was described as a labourer, who couldn’t read or write, aged 49 years and 10 months. He was five feet and four inches tall, with grey hair and eyes. He had several tattoos. He was a native of Coomb Hill, near Cheltenham, a member of the Church of England, and he was married, but his wife’s whereabouts were unknown. He had been known to Police Superintendent Day for twelve years. He had three previous convictions, including a term of penal servitude. He was transferred to HMP Pentonville on 3 September 1878.

Sources:

Gloucester Journal, 8 April, 15 April, 22 April, 29 April, and 6 Aug 1878.

Illustrated Police News, 11 May 1878.

Gloucester Prison, Registers of Prisoners (Gloucestershire Archives, Q/Gc6/7)

 

“The Horrible Discovery at Gloucester”: New Street, 1883

IPN16June1883

“The Horrible Discovery at Gloucester”, on the front page of the Illustrated Police News, 16 June 1883. (British Newspaper Archive. Image copyright The British Library Board. All Rights Reserved.)

 

 

Charles and Adelaide Reece lived at number 66, New Street, Gloucester. Charles was a foreman at a timber yard, while Adelaide worked as a midwife and nurse. The couple had no children. Adelaide was an experienced midwife who had delivered the children of many of her neighbours.

On 28 May 1883, Adelaide attended Mrs Hancock, who also lived in New Street, when she went into labour. Mrs Hancock had lost a baby in child-birth before, and the midwife was given strict instructions to send for a doctor if there were any problems. The labour was a difficult one and the mother lost consciousness before the baby was delivered. When Mrs Hancock woke up, she asked whether the child was a girl or a boy, and Adelaide replied that it was a boy, but it was dead, and she believed it had been born prematurely.

On the morning after attending Mrs Hancock, Adelaide told several neighbours that she she had called a doctor to help with the delivery, but the baby had been born very prematurely and had died. She said that the doctor had told her to put the body, which was far from full-grown, “down the closet”.

About a week later, one of the neighbours with whom Adelaide Reece had discussed Mrs Hancock’s labour spoke to the doctor who was said to have attended, and he emphatically denied having been summoned to New Street on the night in question. This neighbour confronted the midwife, who became very agitated and insisted that she had done nothing wrong.

The neighbour decided to inform the police about Adelaide’s inconsistent story. When Mr and Mrs Hancock were interviewed, they stated that the body of the infant had remained in the house overnight, then Mrs Reece had taken it away. On her return, she said that she had taken the body to the cemetery, and had paid 2 shillings and 6 pence for its burial. This expense had subsequently been added to her fee for acting as midwife and nurse.

When the police went to number 66, New Street to talk to Adelaide Reece, they found that she was missing. The next day they realised that she had been hiding at a neighbour’s house, but when they went round there, she fled out of the back door and was half way over a fence at the bottom of the garden when Police Constable Howse caught up with her.

PC Howse asked her what had happened to the Hancock infant, and she said that she had buried him in her back garden. She took the constable to her house and pointed out the spot where she had buried him. Howse started to dig and about two feet down, he found the body of a male infant, covered with charcoal and quicklime. There was a noticeably unpleasant smell in the garden, so when Mrs Reece had been taken to the police station, PC Howse returned to New Street and dug over the whole plot. Another seven bodies of infants were found, all in various stages of decomposition.

At an inquest into the death of the Hancock child, it was revealed that a post mortem examination had found that he had been alive and at full term when he was born. There were no marks of violence on the body, but he had died of loss of blood, which could have been caused by violence or mistreatment during the birth. Adelaide Reece was arrested on suspicion of murder. Her husband was arrested too, but the charge against him was later dropped, due to lack of evidence.

Adelaide Reece stood trial for murder at the Gloucester Assizes in August 1883. It had been decided that she would only be charged with the murder of the Hancock child. She pleaded not guilty to the charge. The case created a great sensation with many members of the public trying to get into the viewing gallery at Shire Hall, but no women were allowed in as spectators. The trial was a long and complicated one, with many witnesses called to give evidence. Several of the witnesses, including Mr Hancock, the father of the dead child, stated that Adelaide Reece was a kind and humane woman.

The doctor who had carried out the post mortem on the child, Mr AP Carter, repeated the evidence he had given at the inquest that the infant had died of a haemorrhage, adding that he believed the loss of blood was due to neglect at birth and that the body had been treated in such a way that haemorrhage was almost inevitable. However, when he was cross-examined, he agreed that the treatment of the body might have been accidental, especially in a case where the mother was in a dangerous state and the midwife had lost presence of mind and allowed the child to bleed to death from neglect.

The judge now interposed and said it was time for the prosecution counsel to decide whether it was possible to continue with the charge of murder, or even of manslaughter. The only evidence of death, he said, was through haemorrhage, and there appeared to be no motive for Mrs Reece to have deliberately killed the child or allowed it to die. The prosecution counsel then agreed to drop the murder charge, and a much less serious charge of concealing the birth of a child was substituted.

It was the law according to the Offences Against the Person Act of 1861 that the birth of any child, whether it was still-born or died shortly after being born, must be reported to the appropriate authorities. Any person who secretly disposed of the body of a child born in such circumstances, thereby concealing its birth, was guilty of a misdemeanour which could be punished with a maximum sentence of two years in prison. The defence counsel suggested that as there was only a low fence between a field and the garden of number 66, New Street, someone else might have been responsible for burying the bodies of the Hancock child and the others, but inevitably, Adelaide Reece was found guilty of concealing a birth.

Before sentencing her, the judge addressed the prisoner:

“The motives that induced you to conceal the birth of that child and to bury it as you did in your garden are uncertain. That there was some motive, and some very improper motive, no-one can doubt. It is impossible to shut one’s eyes, moreover, to the fact that the bodies of seven other children were found in that garden. Not a word of explanation has been offered by you at any time on that subject. Suggestions have been made, very properly enough, by the counsel in defending you, as to how those bodies may have come there, but as far as you yourself are concerned, from your lips no account has been given as to the way in which those bodies got there. I do not hesitate to say that the case is full of suspicion of a far graver offence than the one of which you have been found guilty by the jury. Several witnesses have spoken as to your character. I can only say that I take very little notice of and attach very little weight to that. It is abundantly clear that you are a very bad woman, and I shall mark my sense of the crime of which you have been convicted by sentencing you to be kept in prison with hard labour for eighteen calendar months.”

Adelaide Reece gave no explanation as to why those small bodies were found in her garden, but it seems very likely that she had buried the Hancock infant herself, then pocketed the money which she had been given to pay for his burial at the cemetery. No doubt she had done this seven times previously, without detection. Her mistake in this case was that she lied about fetching a doctor to help with Mrs Hancock’s labour, and was found out.

Despite the opinion of the judge that Adelaide was a very bad woman, her neighbours in New Street do not appear to have agreed with him. She went back to live with Charles at number 66, New Street after she came out of prison, and she even continued to get work as a midwife. In 1894, she had to give evidence at an inquest on a new-born infant she had delivered. She had arranged for the disposal of the body, and there was some question as to whether she had reported the birth and death correctly, but she was cleared of any suspicion of wrong-doing. Adelaide died on 5 March 1902, aged 61, at her home, in New Street.

 

Sources:

Illustrated Police News, 16 June 1883.

The Citizen, 4 June, 22 June, 8 Aug, 9 Aug 1883, 8 March 1902.

Census returns for New Street, Gloucester: 1871, 1881, 1891 and 1901.

 

 

 

Poison in the Pepper Box: The Aftermath of the Tarring Case

Advert for rat poison, in Royal Society of Health Journal, 1814 (Uploaded from Flickr Commons)

Advert for rat poison, in Royal Society of Health Journal, 1814 (Uploaded from Flickr Commons)

In my last post, “A Tarring and Turfing in the Forest of Dean, 1877“, I related the tale of a grocer in Lydbrook who had tar poured over him by three women, who were all fined and ordered to pay costs and damages. One of the women, Sabrina Cole, was sent to Gloucester Prison, because her husband, George Cole, did not pay up. She did not spend long in the gaol because her sister paid her fine, but two weeks later she was back in court, accused of trying to murder her husband by poisoning him.

On 29 August, The Citizen reported that Sabrina Cole had appeared at Coleford Police Station, having been arrested in Woolwich, on a charge of attempting to murder her husband, George Cole, by administering poison. The case was heard in full at Littledean Police Court on Monday, 10 September. The Citizen reminded readers that Sabrina Cole was one of the three “nymphs of the Forest” who had tarred the grocer. Her husband had refused to pay her fine and she had been “marched off to prison at Gloucester.” It was alleged that in retaliation she mixed vermin powder with pepper and put it in his sandwiches.

George Cole was supposed to have given evidence against Sabrina a week earlier, but  he had failed to turn up in court, so the hearing was postponed while he was issued with a warrant to attend. Cole still did not  arrive at the start of the proceedings, so two policemen were sent to find him and eventually he was escorted to the courtroom. On his arrival, Cole said he no longer wanted to give evidence against his wife, but when he was threatened with being charged with perjury, he went ahead.

Cole stated that a week after the tarring incident, he had got up to go to work at the Trafalgar Colliery, and watched Sabrina make him a beef sandwich for his lunch. He saw her sprinkle some seasoning from the pepper box onto the meat. Shortly after eating his lunch at work, he started to feel numbness in his hands and shoulders, and he felt sleepy. On going home, he found his wife had gone and the house was locked up. He had to climb in through a window. After realising that Sabrina had apparently gone away, he took a train to Gloucester, where he asked at the ticket office about her and discovered that she had bought a ticket for Paddington, London. He then went to Gloucester Police Station and spoke to Deputy Chief Constable Chipp. He informed Chipp that Mrs Cole had taken some of his property with her, and also said something about her ordering their little boy to steal something from a shop stall. He was still feeling unwell, but he didn’t say anything about it to Mr Chipp.

After leaving the police station, Cole said he went to a public house and had a pint of beer. Soon afterwards, he started to feel very ill indeed, with pain in his stomach and bowels. He went to another bar and ordered a gin and peppermint, but this failed to ease his discomfort. He wondered whether he might have been poisoned. Two girls in the bar (one called Annie, who he knew, the other a “short, fat, ugly one”, who was a stranger to him) took him to a doctor’s surgery. The doctor gave him a draught, which helped temporarily, but by the time he got the train home, he was feeling terrible. He got off the train at Newnham, and spent the night at the King’s Arms, but couldn’t lie down to sleep.

When he returned to his house in Lydbrook, he looked in the pepper box, because some money had been kept in it, which he found was gone. He noticed some blue grains in amongst the pepper and showed it to a neighbour, who said, “Oh God! That is poison in there.” He then took the pepper box to the police station and asked P.C. French to issue a warrant for his wife’s arrest.

When George Cole was cross-examined by the counsel for the defence, it transpired that once Sabrina had been apprehended at Woolwich and brought back to the Forest of Dean, he had applied for his wife to be released on bail, saying the poisoning may have been an accident. He had also written to Sabrina, asking that they might make it up and live together again.

At this point, the hearing was postponed for another week.

At the next hearing, the County Analyst gave evidence of examining the contents of the pepper box. He found that a small quantity of strychnine, in the form of a few grains of rodent poison, was mixed amongst the pepper.

Mr Albert Pleydell Carter, the doctor who had seen George Cole at his Gloucester surgery, said he was sure Cole was tipsy when he was brought in by a prostitute. The doctor believed Cole had drunk some bad beer, and this had caused his discomfort.  Cole’s symptoms did not match those of strychnine poisoning, because he had been doubled up in pain, whereas someone who had taken strychnine would have muscle spasms and his back would be arching. Also, numbness of limbs and drowsiness were not signs of strychnine poisoning.

When P.C. French was questioned about Sabrina Cole’s arrest, he said that he had found out where she was because she had written a letter to him, giving her address. She had asked a friend to send on some clothes to her, but she hadn’t received them, and her letters had not been answered, so she wanted P.C. French to go and speak to the woman. She also said that she had found a good position in London and would not be returning to Lydbrook. When she was apprehended in Woolwich, Mrs Cole had looked very surprised on reading the warrant, and said she knew nothing about it. The police had been around various chemists in the area, including one at Ross-on-Wye which Sabrina sometimes visited, but there was no record of her buying rodent poison at any of them.

George Cole was cross-examined again. He stated that he had been alone in the house with the pepper box for about ten minutes, before he showed its contents to anyone else. He denied putting the poison into the box himself.

Questioned as to his conduct towards his wife, he said he had gone to Gloucester to fetch Sabrina when she was released from gaol, but denied that he had threatened her during their journey home, although at Ross-on-Wye he had warned her that if he caught her carrying on with other men, he would “warm her noddle.” It was true that he sometimes kept a hatchet under his bed, but this was because it cost 12 shillings and he needed it for his work. He hadn’t threatened her with it, and indeed he could do her more damage with his fists than with that. Asked about a former incident, he said that he had been “in drink” when he “used the poker to her”.

This last exchange led me to do a search further back in the newspapers for any former cases involving George and Sabrina Cole. The poker incident referred to was reported in the Gloucester Journal on 27 December 1873. George Cole had married Sabrina Davies in September 1872. Due to his violence towards her, Sabrina had left George several times, and in September 1873 she went to live with her mother at Longney. George followed her and begged her to come home. When she repeatedly refused, he hit her with a poker, which he had warmed in the fire first. George ran away and the police were called. He was arrested in a brothel in Gloucester. Sabrina was in hospital for weeks. George was tried in December  1873 and sentenced to 18 months hard labour, the judge describing him as a “merciless ruffian”. Other cases of a less serious nature took place in the years following.

After discussing all the evidence, the Littledean Bench dismissed the case. Sabrina Cole’s defence lawyer applied for George Cole to be made to enter into sureties for his good behaviour towards his wife, otherwise there might be “very serious consequences”. Mrs Cole was questioned by the magistrates. She said she was in bodily fear of her husband and she would not return to their home. Cole said he would leave the district to “relieve his wife”. He was called on to enter into sureties, then left the court.

So, what do I think really happened? George Cole was a violent and controlling man, and his wife had left him many times, but he had always persuaded her to go back to him. This time, he found that she had gone to London, so he went to the police in Gloucester and accused her of stealing his property and of forcing their son to commit a crime, in the hope that a warrant would be issued for her arrest. This didn’t happen and while he was in a bar, he drank some bad beer, which gave him a stomach ache. Sometime between then and his return to Lydbrook, he decided to accuse his wife of trying to poison him, in the hope that the police would find her and bring her home. Alone in his house, he found some rodent poison and put some in the pepper box, then showed it to his neighbours and the police. When Sabrina was arrested in London and brought back to the Forest of Dean, he tried to get the case dropped by refusing to give evidence against her, but he was forced to go ahead. Fortunately for Sabrina Cole, George didn’t know exactly what type of poison was in the vermin killer, and his symptoms did not match those of someone who had taken strychnine.

I don’t know whether Sabrina managed to get away from her husband for good, but George was still living in Lydbrook nine months later. In June 1878, he was charged at the Gloucestershire Quarter Sessions with uttering counterfeit coinage. He was sent to Gloucester Prison for twelve months, with hard labour.

Sources:

All from the British Newspaper Archive:

The Citizen, 29 Aug and 18 Sep 1877; Gloucester Journal, 27 Dec 1873, 6, 15 and 22 Sep 1877; Gloucestershire Chronicle, 22 Sep 1877; Western Mail, 12 Sep 1877

 

A Tarring and Turfing in the Forest of Dean, 1877

"Tarring a Grocer at Lydbrook", from the Illustrated Police News, 1 Sept 1877. (From the British Newspaper Archive. Image copyright The British Library Board. All Rights Reserved.)

“Tarring a Grocer at Lydbrook”, from the Illustrated Police News, 1 Sept 1877. (From the British Newspaper Archive. Image copyright The British Library Board. All Rights Reserved.)

One Monday morning in August 1877, the atmosphere at Littledean Police Court was lightened considerably by the appearance of two “respectable-looking” married women, Sabrina Cole and Susan Phelps, who were accused of assaulting a Lydbrook grocer by pouring tar over him, then pelting him with clods of turf. Another woman, Maria Phelps, was also charged, but did not appear in court. The case was, according to The Citizen newspaper, “of a most amusing character”.

The complainant, James Cook, worked for the Lydbrook Store Company, and would go  round houses to take orders and collect money for goods which had been bought on account. He had become unpopular with the local housewives through persuading them to buy groceries on credit, then demanding payment soon after the goods had been received.

On 23 July, Cook had gone out on his rounds as usual, and while he was inside the house of his second customer, he heard two of the defendants calling in a hostile manner for him to come out. He went to the gate and persuaded them to go away, but while he was visiting his next customer, an invalid who was lying in bed in a downstairs room, the three accused women came inside and caught hold of him. As they tried to drag Cook outside, he clung onto the bedpost, much to the consternation of the poor lady in the bed.  The description of this scene caused outbursts of laughter in the courtroom.

After a struggle, the women got Cook outside, where he was met by a small crowd, one of whom was a boy holding a kettle containing cold tar. One of the Phelps women dipped a brush into the tar and gave Cook a good coating. The other Mrs Phelps then poured the remaining contents of the kettle over his head. To finish, a tar-covered rag was tied round his neck. As he left the scene as quickly as he was able, the women and some boys pelted him with turfs and – according to Cook – with stones.

Sabrina Cole, who had helped to drag the grocer outside, but hadn’t taken part in the tarring, was fined five shillings and costs, while the two Phelps women each had to pay ten shillings and costs. The court also awarded Cook damages of 30 shillings for his ruined clothes, the payment of which was to be shared between the three defendants.

The newspaper reports on the case ended with the women being led away, protesting at their treatment, while their husbands stepped forward to pay their fines. However, it transpired later that one of the men, George Cole, refused to pay, and as a consequence, his wife was sent to Gloucester prison. A few weeks later, Sabrina Cole found herself in court again, this time on a charge of attempting to poison her husband.  This part of the story is told in my next post, Poison in the Pepper Box.

Sources:

The Citizen, 15 August 1877, Gloucester Journal, 18 August 1877, Illustrated Police News, 1 September 1877 (all via the British Newspaper Archive website).

 

Run to the Hills (with Police in Hot Pursuit): Gloucester, 1913

Birdliphill

Birdlip Hill. (Copyright of Andy Dolman and licensed for reuse Under Creative Commons Licence, via http://www.geograph.org.uk)

On Saturday, 13 September 1913, the Gloucester Journal reported on an exciting chase following a prisoner’s escape from custody at Gloucester Police Station. Alfred Llewellyn had been arrested on the previous Wednesday, on suspicion of obtaining money by false pretences. He was held in police cells overnight, then the following morning was allowed out into the corridor to exercise. His guard left him alone for a brief time and when he returned, found that his prisoner was missing. Llewellyn had apparently got out through a door with a faulty lock onto the parade ground, then had gone through a shed on to Severn Road and into the docks.

A search for the escaped prisoner ensued and his description was circulated. Somebody saw him without his coat or hat, and later he was sighted wearing a new cap and a dungaree jacket, of the type worn by sailors. Llewellyn was traced through Tredworth Road along by the cemetery, back over the Horton Road Railway to Wotton Hill, but then the trail ran cold. It later transpired that this was because he had boarded a tramcar, alighting at the Hucclecote terminus. From there he proceeded through Brockworth, then made his way up Birdlip Hill.

The police had begun the pursuit on their bicycles, but had to discard them once the prisoner moved into open countryside, avoiding roads or tracks. However, a Gloucester man was assisting in the hunt by searching for the missing man on his motorbike. He encountered Llewellyn at the top of Birdlip Hill. A tussle ensued, from which the escapee emerged triumphant, and he made off once again.

A large force of police by now had arrived in the vicinity of Birdlip, accompanied by many members of the public, who were no doubt encouraged by the offer of a one pound reward for capturing the prisoner. Llewellyn was followed through some wooded land down to the bottom of Birdlip Hill. From there, he made his way across country towards Crickley Hill and then to Shurdington Hill, where he walked into a farmyard. The farmer recognised the prisoner from his description, but did not challenge him. Instead, he invited him to join him in a game of draughts, while a message was sent to nearby Bentham, and a policeman made his way to the farm. When PC Bull arrived, he found that Llewellyn had gone, having become suspicious. Bull searched the vicinity and found his quarry in one of the farm’s fields. He arrested Llewellyn, who at 11.30pm was escorted back to Gloucester.

The Gloucester Journal reported that a story had come out that while Llewellyn was passing through Brockworth, there had been a collision between two motor vehicles outside the Cross Hands Inn. He had helped to take one of the cars to the village blacksmith to be repaired, before going into the inn. While he was there, a police constable came in to ask if anyone had seen the missing man, giving a description of him. Nobody in the bar could remember seeing the man, but after the policeman had left, it was noticed that Llewellyn did fit the description, so he quickly left.

It was stated that the money Llewellyn used to buy his new cap and coat (and presumably his tram ticket) had been concealed under a bandage he had round a cut on his arm. It was also rumoured that shortly after his escape, the prisoner had gone into a public house on Bristol Road, where a police constable challenged him as answering the description of the wanted man. Llewellyn said that he lived just across the road and suggested the policeman go over there and ask, if he was suspicious. The constable did so and of course found that the story was false, but on his return to the pub, the suspect was gone.

Alfred Llewellyn, of no fixed abode, but from the Cardiff area, appeared at Gloucester City Police Court on the morning after his recapture. He was charged with obtaining five pounds by false pretences on September 10th, from George Long of the Robinhood Inn, Bristol Road. There was a second charge of obtaining ten shillings by false pretences from George MacIntyre Wright of the White Swan Inn. In the first case, Llewellyn had spun a yarn about knowing Long’s recently deceased father, and leaving an envelope supposedly containing his engineering certificates, worth £50, he said, as security for borrowing five pounds. The landlord became suspicious after Llewellyn left, and finding he had been duped, contacted the police. Llewellyn had been arrested at the GWR Station, where he had boarded a train bound for Cheltenham.  He was committed for trial at the next Assizes, but caused much amusement in court by saying that he might not appear.

The Autumn Assizes took place at the end of October 1913. Alfred Llewellyn had not managed to escape during his wait in gaol, and at his trial he pleaded guilty to the two charges against him. Deputy Chief Constable Harrison told the court that having made inquiries about the prisoner, who was 28 years old and described as an engineer, he had found that he was “a worthless man”. The judge said that there was a list of twelve previous offences against him, the last at Cardiff in April 1911. He had been sentenced to three years’ penal servitude on that occasion, and had only just been released from prison on parole when he had committed the offences in Gloucester. Llewellyn was sentenced to nine months in gaol, with hard labour. No mention was made of his escape from custody in September.

Llewellyn’s latest stint in prison did not bring his criminal career to an end. The Birmingham Mail of 9 April 1915 reported that at the Carmarthen Quarter Sessions, one Alfred Llewellyn, a native of Cardiff, had appeared in a bogus naval uniform, and was sentenced to 18 months’ penal servitude with hard labour for obtaining goods and money by false pretences at Llanelli. He had headed the Sunday Church Parade of the 2nd Fourth Welsh there, but the next day his bogus uniform had been detected and he was arrested.

On 5 October 1923, the Yorkshire Post noted that there had been only one prisoner for trial at the Rotherham Quarter Sessions, held on the previous day. Alfred Llewellyn, aged 39, an engineer, pleaded guilty to three charges of obtaining food and money by false pretences. “A remarkable story of the prisoner’s career” was told in court, and he was said to have committed similar offences at places including Weymouth, Cardiff, London, Hull, Bournemouth, Southport, Matlock and Sheffield. Between January 1906 and January 1916 he had spent a total of eight years in prison. Later he had joined the army and in 1919 was serving in Egypt when he was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment for desertion and false pretences. He was finally discharged from the army for misconduct on 14 August 1923.

Perhaps exhausted from his criminal adventures, Llewellyn asked the judge to give him a sentence of three years’ penal servitude plus five year’s penal detention. The judge replied that by law he couldn’t give him such a long sentence for the crimes he was charged with, and instead he got three years’ penal servitude. There is no record of him trying to escape.

Sources:

Newspapers all on the British Newspaper Archive:

Gloucester Journal, 13  and 20 Sept 1913, 1 Nov 1913

Birmingham Mail, 9 Apr 1915

Yorkshire Post, 5 Oct 1923

The photograph of Birdlip Hill came from www.geograph.org.uk.

From the Forest of Dean to Newgate: William Probert, hanged 1825.

“An Execution at the Debtor’s Door of Newgate”, from The Newgate Calendar (www.exclassics.com/newgate/ngintro.htm.)

On 7 April 1825, William Probert stood trial at the Old Bailey, charged with stealing a mare from Ruardean, in the Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire. Probert was a native of the Forest of Dean, and although he had moved away to London years ago, for a couple of months he had been staying with his mother in Lydbrook. The mare was the property of Andrew Meredith, a miller, whose wife was a distant relation of Probert.

Meredith discovered that his horse was missing on the morning of 11th February, and several witnesses said they had seen William Probert riding it in the early hours of that day. The mare was eventually traced to London, where it had just been sold by Probert. The evidence against him was damning, and he was duly sentenced to death.

This looked like just another sorry story of a horse thief being caught and condemned, but there was an unusual amount of interest from the British press in the case, and the statement William Probert read out in his defence gives a clue as to why this was. He said that since “the calamitous event which occurred at Hertford”, public animosity towards him had been kept alive by the press and had reached “every part of England”. He couldn’t find work and every door had been shut against him. He had been driven to commit the crime by “fatal necessity”.

Further investigation revealed that William Probert had become very famous indeed two years earlier, due to his involvement in a murder case in Hertfordshire.

William Probert was baptised at English Bicknor Parish Church in April 1787, the son of Thomas and Jane Probert. Although his family were farmers, Probert decided on a different career path, and obtained a position as a clerk to a wine merchant in London. He did well in the capital and his prospects improved greatly when in December 1813, he married Elizabeth Noyes, the daughter of a brewer and farmer. His bride brought him money and property, and he was able to set himself up in business as a wine merchant. He did well for the first few years, but by 1818 he was getting into financial difficulties, and in 1819 he was declared bankrupt, owing £22,000.

Probert was put into the King’s Bench Prison, where he maintained a comfortable lifestyle, despite all the money he owed to his many creditors. However, he was caught stealing cash from the till of the coffee-room in the prison and was sentenced to six months imprisonment in Brixton House of Correction.

On his release, Probert carried on his extravagant way of life, despite being an uncertified bankrupt. He rented a property in Gill-Hill’s Lane, near Elstree in Hertfordshire. His wife, son and other family members stayed at the cottage most of the time, with Probert joining them at weekends, often accompanied by his some of his friends, who liked to gamble, drink copiously, and go shooting.

One Friday evening in October 1823, two such friends, John Thurtell and Joseph Hunt, arranged to go to Gill’s Hill Cottage for the weekend. Thurtell suggested that Probert should drive Hunt there, while he would bring another friend with him separately. What happened that weekend is a long and complicated story, with all the protagonists giving a slightly different version of what occurred, but what is clear is that on the way to Probert’s cottage, John Thurtell murdered his travelling companion, leaving the body lying behind a hedge not far from Gill’s Hill Lane. The murdered man was brought to the cottage and deposited in the fishpond in the garden for the weekend. On the following Monday, the body was removed from the fishpond, placed in a sack, and driven away, to be disposed off elsewhere.

The fact that a murder had been committed was  soon discovered, when a gore-encrusted pistol and pen-knife were found near the place where the crime had taken place. Thurtell and Hunt were identified as having been in the area that weekend, and both were taken into custody in London by a Bow Street officer.  Probert  was arrested later, at Gill’s Hill Cottage. Hunt swiftly confessed to his part in the crime and named the victim as William Weare, a professional gambler who had supposedly swindled Thurtell out of £300.  Hunt took the police to a pond just outside Elstree, where the body of William Weare was recovered.

At the Coroner’s Inquest which followed, Probert swore that he had not known Weare, that he had known nothing about Thurtell’s plan to commit murder, and was horrified when he found out what had happened. He admitted to helping to  hide the body, but said Thurtell had threatened to harm him if he did not. There was some doubt as to how much he had been involved, however. The inquest jury returned a verdict of murder against Thurtell, while Hunt and Probert were charged with being accessories to murder. All of them were committed to Hertford Gaol to await trial.

The story caused a great furore in the British Press and some very scandalous stories began to appear. It was said that Thurtell, Hunt and Probert were part of a gang of con-men who cheated at gambling. Then some newspapers declared that the three had been responsible for the murders of various wealthy men who had gone missing, and that they had a list of people they were planning to kill in the future.

“Portrait and Autograph of William Probert”, in Sussex Advertiser, 17 Nov 1823. (British Newspaper Archive. Image copyright of The British Library Board. All rights reserved.)

In December 1823, the trial of Thurtell, Hunt and Probert began, at the Hertford Assizes. It was at this time that Probert received a stroke of good fortune. The prosecution team wanted to call Probert’s wife as a key witness to the events at Gill’s Hill Cottage, but she could not by law give evidence against her husband. It was therefore decided that Probert should be allowed to turn King’s Evidence, which meant he was not prosecuted himself, in return for giving evidence against his two friends.

The trial did not proceed very far, as on the second day, the defence complained that  there had been so much adverse publicity in the press, including some reports after the trial had begun, that there was no chance that the defendants would receive a fair trial, so the judge agreed to hold a special Assize in January.

The trial began again on 6 January 1824, and lasted two days. Probert gave his evidence against his former friends, and the jury found Thurtell guilty of murder, while Hunt was found guilty as an Accessory before the Fact. The judge sentenced Thurtell to be hanged on Friday, 9th January, and his body to be afterwards dissected. Hunt also was to be hanged and dissected, but no date for his execution was given. He was reprieved a few weeks later and sentence to transportation for life.

After the trial, Probert was set at liberty, but fearing that he might be confronted by one of Thurtell’s friends in town, he asked to spend the night in his cell. On the following day, he collected his wife from the inn where she had been staying during the trial, and they left Hertford, with the blinds pulled down on their carriage.

Rumours concerning Probert continued to appear in the newspapers. Despite his technical acquittal, he was widely regarded as having been more involved in the murder plot than he had admitted. Finding no former friends who would take him in or help him financially, Probert finally resorted to returning to live with his mother and her second husband, Francis James, in the Forest of Dean. Even in his former home, he found that most people shunned him. He visited his distant relation, Mary Meredith, a few times, but Andrew Meredith did not welcome his company. It was under these circumstances that he decided to steal Meredith’s horse.

William Probert was executed on 20 June 1825, alongside four other prisoners, outside the debtors’ door of Newgate Prison. He denied having known about the plot to murder William Weare to the very end. He was buried in St Martin’s churchyard. A report in the Hereford Journal said there was a delay in burying him once the small funeral party arrived at the church, because the grave had been prepared in the wrong place and another had to be dug. During the delay, a disorderly mob gathered and called out inappropriate remarks during the service. (Other newspapers made no mention of this “mob”.) None of Probert’s relatives attended at the graveside, but it was said that his mother was seen in the churchyard.

Sources:

The trial of William Probert, 7 Apr 1825, can be viewed here: http://www.oldbaileyonline.org/browse.jsp?id=t18250407-1-defend87&div=t18250407-1#highlight

Numerous newspaper sources, including:

Morning Post, 5 Nov 1823; 5, 6, 8 Dec 1823; 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 19, 27, 28, 30 Jan 1824, 21 Feb 1825

Morning Chronicle, 10 Nov 1823, 4 Dec 1823; 9 and 31 Jan 1824

Public Ledger and Advertiser, 7 July 1819, 31 Oct 1823

Bristol Mirror, 8 Nov 1823

Hereford Journal, 29 June 1825

Family history details from the Parish Register Records of the Forest of Dean Family History Trust website, www.forest-of-dean.net.

Marry In Haste and Repent at Leisure: Gloucester, 1871

Illustrated Police News, 23 Sept 1871 (Courtesy of British Newspaper Archive)

Illustrated Police News, 23 Sept 1871 (Courtesy of British Newspaper Archive).

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.

Sources:

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