The Westgate Bridge Riots: Gloucester, 1827

westgatebridgepostcard

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.

GJ28May1810tolls

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)

 

 

 

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

Tatler4July1906Lloyd

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

 

 

 

The Dursley Election Riot, 1867

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Electoral Districts, Gloucestershire, 1835. From Samuel Lewis, Topographical Dictionary of England, 1835. (www.ancestryimages.com)

 

The parliamentary constituency of West Gloucestershire had been created by the Great Reform Act of 1832. The constituency was represented by two members of parliament. In 1867, the West Gloucestershire representatives were Sir John Rolt, a Conservative, and Robert Kingscote, a Liberal. In that year, Sir John Rolt gave up his seat when he became a judge, so a by-election was declared. The Liberal candidate for the vacant seat was quickly announced as Mr Charles Paget Fitzharding Berkeley, second son of Lord Fitzharding of Berkeley Castle. The Conservatives took a long time in declaring their candidate. It had been expected that Sir George Jenkinson, 11th Baronet of Walcot and Hawkesbury, would be nominated. Sir George lived at Eastwood House, in Falfield, Gloucestershire, and he had been the High Sheriff of Gloucestershire in 1862. However, for reasons not made public, the eventual Conservative candidate was Colonel Edward Arthur Somerset, a cousin of the Duke of Somerset.

The market town of Dursley was the place where the hustings for West Gloucestershire elections took place. On 31 July 1867, the candidates, their supporters and crowds of people gathered to hear the declaration of the results. Sir George Jenkinson came to Dursley to support Somerset on the hustings, bringing with him his wife and  children, and other guests, including the Honorable George Charles Grantley Fitzharding Berkeley, commonly known as Grantley Berkeley. Grantley Berkeley was the uncle of Charles Berkeley, the Liberal candidate,  but he had not come to support his nephew. Despite having been a Liberal MP in the same seat from 1837 to 1857, he was now supporting the Conservative candidate, Colonel Somerset. His appearance on the hustings alongside Somerset and Sir George Jenkinson led to hissing and cries of ‘turncoat!’ from Liberal supporters, who made up the majority of the crowd. The Gloucester Journal reported that the proceedings were very disorderly, and the presence of Grantley Berkeley appeared to be the principal cause of the unrest, coupled with the officiousness of Sir George Jenkinson, who ‘made himself conspicuous by obtruding himself on the notice of those assembled, bandying words with the crowd, and gesturing like a Merry Andrew’.*

When the High Sheriff declared that the Conservative candidate had won the election by 96 votes, there were cheers from the Conservative supporters, and jeers and cries of ‘bribery’ from the Liberals. Somerset gave a speech, and there was uproar when he thanked Sir George Jenkinson.  In his speech, Charles Berkeley, the losing candidate, congratulated Colonel Somerset, then made a pointed reference to people who had promised to support him but then hadn’t done so. Grantley Berkeley tried to reply, but his voice was drowned out by booing, and then fighting broke out in the crowd. Grantley Berkeley persisted in trying to speak, shouting that the troublemakers were ‘no more fit to enjoy the franchise than a pack of wild beasts’. He continued to shout at the top of his voice while the crowd booed, but when sticks began to  be thrown, he retreated from the hustings. Jenkinson remained for a while longer, berating and taunting the spectators.

A little while later, Sir George Jenkinson decided it was time to leave Dursley. As he and his family got into their carriage, they were heckled and missiles were thrown at them. The police surrounded the carriage as its occupants were pelted with rotten eggs, offal, horse-dung, turf and sticks, and a sheep’s head was thrown repeatedly back and forth over their heads.

Following this riotous behaviour, five people were arrested and appeared at a special Petty Sessions which was held at Dursley on 10 August. The Gloucester Journal reported that the proceedings “created a great deal of excitement in Dursley, and the court was thronged”. There were six magistrates on the bench and the hearing lasted eight hours. A large number of constables were present in the town, in case of any further disturbances. Gloucester solicitor Mr Taynton represented the prosecutors, while Mr Gaisford of Berkeley appeared for the defendants.

Henry Woodward, Andrew Kilmister, William Dean and Richard Lacy, along with Rowland Hill, described as “a boy”, were charged by Superintendent Griffin of the Gloucestershire Constabulary, that they did, “with divers other evil-disposed persons, to the number of ten or more, on the 31st July 1867, at the parish of Dursley, in the county of Gloucester, unlawfully and riotously assemble and gather together to disturb the peace of our Lady the Queen, and that, being then and there so assembled and gathered together, they did unlawfully and riotously make an assault upon one Sir George Jenkinson, Bart, and the Hon. G.F. Berkeley, and others, to the great disturbances and terror of the liege subjects of her Majesty the Queen then and there being”.

Mr Taynton stated that he had been instructed to prosecute by the Chief Constable of the Gloucestershire Police, who wanted brought to justice all the persons who could be proved to have taken part in this “very scandalous outrage”. The magistrates might decide the defendants had not been guilty of committing a riot, but he prayed that in that case they would be sent for trial on charges of tumultuous and unlawful assembly.

Police Sergeant Monk of Dursley was the first witness. He had been on duty on 31 July, the day when the High Sheriff officially declared the result of the poll in the recent election. There were about four hundred to five hundred people assembled near the Bell and Castle Inn, and their conduct had been riotous and noisy. Monk saw Sir George Jenkinson’s carriage being brought out from the yard of the Bell and Castle Inn, when it was time for him to leave. Sir George came through the crowd with some ladies towards the carriage. He was struck on the back by an egg. As the party got into the carriage, more eggs were thrown. The police surrounded the carriage to protect the occupants. He saw a sheep’s head being passed over the carriage, but he did not see any missiles hit anyone in the carriage. The eggs passed over the ladies’ heads, but one struck the back of the box were Sir George was seated. He had heard the name “Grantley” uttered most by the crowd. Monk identified Henry Woodward and Andrew Kilmister as part of the mob. When the carriage left, it had been followed by the crowd for a few hundred yards, who threw stones and anything else they could find. The crowd dispersed once the carriage had gone.

Captain Kennedy, C.B. (a former governor of Vancouver Island) was another witness. He had been one of Sir George Jenkinson’s party. He had seen stones, eggs, sticks, bones and offal being thrown at the occupants of the carriage. He had caught Lacey with a bag of eggs, and handed him over to the police. Lady Jenkinson and Miss Jenkinson had blood on their faces. The former lady’s face was cut, but the blood on Miss Jenkinson’s face was from being struck by a piece of offal. Kennedy’s wife had been hit by two apples.

Police Constable Gough stated that he had seen Rowland Hill, the boy, pick up the sheep’s head and throw it at the carriage. He also saw William Dean in the crowd, shouting and pushing. Another constable identified Henry Woodward as being the chief culprit. He had seen the other defendants in the crowd, but hadn’t witnessed them doing anything. Woodward had thrown things at the carriages of Sir George Jenkinson and Colonel Somerset.

Having heard all the evidence, the magistrates declared that “a most disgraceful riot” had been committed, and all the defendants except William Dean were committed for trial at the next county Assizes.

After this, Sir George Jenkinson appeared to answer a charge that on the day of the election, he assaulted one Thomas Ward, by striking him with his whip as he drove past him, on his way into Dursley. Sir George was hissed as he entered the courtroom. Ward, described as a labourer and a corporal in the Militia, stated that on 31 July, he was standing at the Kingshill turnpike with others, dressed in yellow, the colour of the Liberal supporters. As Sir George Jenkinson drove his carriage past at a trot, he stood up and brought his whip down on him. He would have been cut across the face if he hadn’t managed to turn his back.

Another witness said that the crowd standing at the turnpike had not been hostile, and only shouted “Yellow forever” as each carriage drove past. There was also a suggestion from Mr Gaisford that Sir George had, in a vulgar gesture, lifted his coat-tails and slapped his “nether-ends” in the direction of the crowd. In his defence, Sir George said that the crowd at the turnpike had rushed his carriage and frightened the horses. He said that Ward had confronted him in an inn at Dursley and demanded money, or else he would accuse him of assault. The bench decided to fine Sir George Jenkinson 40 shillings for assaulting Ward.

The four defendants who were sent for trial on charges of rioting did not have to wait long for their case to be heard, as the Gloucestershire Assizes began soon afterwards.  The charge against them was of riotous assembly and assault against Sir George Jenkinson, Bart, the Hon. Grantley Berkeley, and others. The judge, Mr Shee, in his opening statement, suggested that if the committing magistrates had been afforded more time to reflect, they might have decided that it would have been better to fine the defendants, rather than having them sent for trial at the Assizes.

Opening the prosecution case, it was submitted that the assault on Sir George and his party had been premeditated, because rotten eggs in brown paper bags had been brought in to Dursley from elsewhere. The evidence given at the Dursley Petty Sessions was then repeated. After hearing the case against Rowland Hill (who was about thirteen years old), the prosecution withdrew the charge against him, because he was “only a boy”. The judge said the boy should never have appeared in the dock at all.

Sir George Jenkinson, Lady Jenkinson and their eldest daughter, Miss Emily Frances Jenkinson, all appeared as witnesses.  Lady Jenkinson stated that she had been hit on the temple by a hard green apple, which caused severe bruising. Her daughter Emily had been struck several times by stones and offal, and her little boy had been cut below one of his eyes and was still in bed recovering.

Sir George Jenkinson was given a thorough grilling by the defence counsel, Mr James. He denied having enraged the crowd, said he didn’t recall hitting Ward with his whip, but did admit that he had tried to hit someone else, but had missed. He emphatically denied having lifted up his coat tails and slapped his bottom, in a vulgar gesture. Several Dursley residents appeared to give good character references to the defendants. In his summing up, Mr James castigated Jenkinson, as the prosecutor of the case, for allowing Rowland Hill, a child, to be held in custody for six days and nights before the trial. He also criticised him for taking ladies and children to the election hustings, when he knew such occasions were always rowdy. James was applauded when he sat down.

After consulting together for three minutes, the jury found the remaining defendants not guilty. The trial had lasted nearly five hours.

Detail from An Election Squib

Detail from “An Election Squib” by George Cruickshank, 1841 (www.ancestryimages.com)

 

A note on Sir George Jenkinson

Sir George Samuel Jenkinson was the 11th Baronet of Walcot, Oxfordshire and Hawkesbury, Gloucestershire. He was the son of the Bishop of St David’s and a first cousin once removed of one-time Prime Minister Robert Jenkinson, 2nd Earl of Liverpool. He had succeeded his uncle as Baronet in 1855. He had been the High Sheriff of Gloucestershire in 1862. He unsuccessfully contested the seat for Wiltshire North in 1865 and of Nottingham in 1866. During these election campaigns, he had gained a reputation for being boastful and bumptious, but was said to be popular with landed proprietors and tenant farmers. In 1868, he finally succeeded in becoming a member of parliament,  being elected as the representative for Wiltshire North. He stayed in that  seat until 1880. He died at his home, Eastwood House in Falfield, on 19 January 1892, and was buried in Falfield Parish Church.

Although his behaviour at the Dursley election caused him to be viewed as an arrogant “toff”, his obituary in the Gloucestershire Chronicle on 23 January 1892 showed a different side to his character. On succeeding to the Eastwood Estates, it said, he had built the present church, vicarage and schools in Falfield, almost entirely at his own expense. He was ‘of a most liberal and generous disposition’, and supported all the local institutions, was generous to the poor and was a large employer of local labour, who was ‘widely and deservedly respected’. Perhaps the passing of twenty-five years had mellowed his character.

*I have no idea what this means.

 

Sources

Dictionary of National Biography

Cheltenham Looker-On, 12 Jan 1867

Gloucester Journal, 27 July, 3 August, 10 August, 17 August 1867

Gloucestershire Chronicle, 23 January 1892

© Jill Evans 2017

 

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).

© Jill Evans 2015

What shall we do with the drunken sailor? Seamen in 19th century Gloucester

Gloucester Docks, 1842 (ancestryimages.com)

Gloucester Docks, 1842 (ancestryimages.com)

The first story in my latest book, Gloucester Murder & Crime, is about a French sailor who in 1873 was fatally stabbed by a ship’s carpenter from Dantzic, outside the Barley Mow public house in Lower Southgate Street. For decades before this incident, sailors and seamen from many parts of the world had become a common sight in the city, as their vessels came into the docks to unload their cargoes. Unsurprisingly, men such as these who were away from home and had plenty of free time on their hands frequently got into drink-fuelled fights, either with each other or with the locals, although it was rare for such disagreements to end in a fatality.

In February 1858, the Gloucester Journal printed a letter from “A Citizen of Gloucester”, which bemoaned the increase of vice in the city, with not even Sunday being respected. The writer felt that visiting seamen were largely to blame, describing how “bodies of intoxicated sailors sally out of some low saloon or public-house, and disturb the congregations at the different chapels and churches in the city with their obscene songs and swearing, under the very noses of the police.” He had also witnessed a scene one Wednesday night, outside the “Ramping Cat” in Northgate Street, in which a crowd gathered to watch a sailor drag a prostitute by her hair down Hare Lane.

The fact that sailors coming onshore frequently carried knives was a cause of particular concern in Gloucester. In January 1858, four Greek sailors were charged with assaulting some women and creating a disturbance in Commercial Street. When some bystanders intervened, one of the sailors drew a large dagger, but he was pinioned by a policeman who came up behind him. In October 1862, two young men from the country came to the mop fair in Gloucester, and fell into company with two “ladies”, who invited them back to their lodgings. As they walked down Worcester Street, they met with two American sailors, with whom the girls had been drinking earlier, and a fight started. One of the sailors pulled out a knife and cut the face of one of the young men.

By the mid-1870s, the types of blade which sailors were carrying was causing alarm throughout the country, and the Pall Mall Gazette reported in March 1877 that at the annual meeting of the directors of the Gloucester Sailors’ Home in Ladybellegate Street, several of these new types of weapon were exhibited. One in particular, known as a “rib tickler” had such a sharp point that it needed a metal-tipped sheath to ensure that the wearer was not wounded by it. It was pointed out that no seaman need a knife as sharp as this for his work, so there was no need for him to carry such a weapon.

Establishments such as the Sailors’ Home and the Mariners Church at the docks provided much-needed spiritual, and often practical, support to visiting seamen, but the temptations faced by men who came onshore after being at sea for a long period could never be completely eradicated. The captain of a foreign vessel who was asked to interpret for two of his crew, who found themselves before the city petty sessions in 1899 after becoming involved in a fracas in Bristol Road, put the dilemma of his charges in simple terms, which were repeated in The Citizen:

“The captain said the men were safe at sea, but were quite spoiled when they got hold of some whiskey, and did not know ‘what’s why’.”

A defence which could have been applied to many of the seamen who found themselves in a bit of trouble after a visit to Gloucester in the nineteenth century.