Sunday, 15 July 2018

Train Crash

August 8th 1861 and near the canal bridge at Slade Heath the driver of a locomotive shut off steam as they approached Four Ashes. As they slowed the driver felt his engine riding roughly and thought they had broken an axle. Moments later the engine and tender left the track and came down the embankment, bringing with it tons of earth which buried stoker Richard Barnwell to the waist. Luckily the engine, which toppled over on to its right side, missed him by inches. Furthermore, another miraculous stroke of luck saw driver James Harrison thrown clear of the footplate and the remainder of the train, the coaches and passengers, remained on the line.


The driver went to retrieve the lamp and sent two men, including coroner Mr Collins, ahead to stop the mail train from Scotland at the station and prevent a crash. Meanwhile he and men from Standeford Mill, who had come to offer assistance, set about releasing the trapped stoker and convey him quickly to the infirmary. His injuries were severe and both legs had to be amputated, he had been scalded, with bruising and lacerations. Three weeks later, while seemingly on the road to recovery, he died.

At the subsequent inquest the coroner heard how two large pieces of timber, over twelve feet in length and three feet wide, showed wheel marks and splintering and revealed they were the cause of the crash. Evidence from the railway company told how this timber had been part of a load coming from Wolverhampton earlier that afternoon. As usual, they had been tied to the truck with an empty truck behind to catch any which worked loose.

The coroner suggested such practice was completely inadequate and an urgent review necessary.

Saturday, 7 July 2018

Dog Problem

It is May 1861 and in the town of Stafford a large dog, the property of a Mr Bostock, leaps out and grabs at the nose of a passing horse crossing the railway bridge in Rickerscote Lane. Unfortunately the horse is pulling a trap driven by Mr Price of Gaol Square, he having hired the vehicle from a Mr Bishop. Worse still, Mr Price had his wife's sister and her child as passengers.


The horse, somewhat understandably, plunged and reared for some thirty yards before it finally managed to free itself from the jaws of the offending canine. It continued on, still kicking and thrashing violently, resulting in the occupants of the trap being thrown out. While the woman and her child escaped with a few bruises, Mr Price landed on his head.


The next report on the incident spoke of how Mr Price was still in hospital and had yet to speak adding that the horse was probably going to be shot. Nothing could be traced regarding any prosecution of Mr Bostock or of the fate of his mutt.

Sunday, 1 July 2018

Insane Inclines

In 1857 Lord Shaftesbury published his supplemental report on the state of workhouses in England and Wales. Figures showed the number of 'insane, idiotic and imbecile inmates' at the various workhouses in Staffordshire numbered 239, of which 89 were male. In the county town of Stafford 7 males and 12 females were considered insane, this out of a total of 7,555 in England and Wales.


It was stated these numbers were not spread evenly throughout England and Wales, remote rural locations would have a much higher percentage than those in more populous localities. Furthermore, this was particularly true in the hilly parts of the country.


It seems altitude was considered a factor in 19th century insanity.

Sunday, 24 June 2018

Eli Meakin

Back almost 150 years to the day, waggoner's boy Eli Meakin was working on Mr Meakin's farm at Whitgreave. It was normal for him, as on this day, to work the threshing machine pulled by two horses. Whilst turning the horses, it was necessary to step over a horizontal shaft. No witnesses saw what happened next is unknown, he either slipped or perhaps his clothes became entangled in the machine, for it was not until someone noticed the horses were stationary did anyone investigate. Young Eli was found trapped between the cog wheels. Others helped to free him quickly but the injuries to his chest were severe and the boy died shortly afterwards.


A verdict of accidental death was recorded at the inquest. However, the coroner issued a notice saying the wheels were unprotected and dangerous for any driver, while the rods were at such an angle as to make them liable to cause injury. He insisted Mr Meakin made the machine safe before anyone would be allowed to operate the thresher again. The farmer agreed and nobody blamed for the incident.

Health and Safety

Monday 19th June 1854 must have started out as a normal working day for John Hudson. On reaching the Shire Hall at Stafford he climbed the scaffolding as usual and was returning to where he had finished work two days earlier. He failed.


Moments later, having slipped through an opening in the scaffolding, he was falling back toward the ground. Such a fall would have been unlikely to have killed him, for this was no great height. Furthermore, his fall was broken by the window sill of the floor below. Hudson bounced off the sill, which threw him away from the building and he landed on the iron railings surrounding the building.

Unfortunately the decorative iron railings were topped by spikes and he landed on one. The spike entered one side of his face through the upper jaw and exited on the other side, just below his eye. Taken to Stafford Infirmary he survived to tell the tale and return to work.

In October 1968, almost fifty years ago, a damp and misty autumnal morning at Yardley Grammar School in Birmingham saw one pupil looking out for his best chum whose late appearance was highly unusual. By stepping up and standing on the low wall, this highly intelligent 12-year-old could peer over the top of the school railings and look along the street for his absent friend. He slipped. A railing impacted his face and he was concerned that there was a rather bad scratch across his most handsome face. He was mistaken.


The spike had actually entered the fleshy part of his face below the jawline and as he attempted to lower himself to the ground, had only succeeded in pushing it further into his face and exiting through the cheek. Luckily he managed to pull himself back up to where he had been standing on the wall and effectively lift his face back off the spike. Thinking now might be a good time to seek medical treatment, he sauntered off to the medical room where a mirror revealed two holes in the righthand side of his face and shortly afterwards an ambulance raced him to hospital. Doctors sewed him back together with, what he then thought, an impressive 39 stitches and then reported back to his parents how the railing had missed the artery by just a fifth of an inch (5mm to we youngsters).

Sunday, 10 June 2018

Stand Back from the Platform Edge

April 13th 1857, and nearby the clock shows 6pm. Returning to the station yard, and his job in managing the engine shed, is 42-year-old William McCabe. Having gone home a couple of hours earlier for his tea at his home in Newton, he walked coming along the siding before encountering a shunting engine and thus crossing the up line to the engine shed on the opposite side.


Some twenty years earlier McCabe had lost his leg in an accident when it was crushed by a wagon on the Manchester to Liverpool line. Because of this he wore a wooden leg and no longer worked on the engines but employed in the 'stationary job' in the engine shed. Whether it was the shunter that distracted him, or perhaps the difficulty negotiating the lines with a wooden leg, likely both, but he did not take notice of the warning whistle and shout from Thomas Pattison, the driver of the shunting engine warning of the engine approaching him from behind on the main line. Seconds later he was dead.


Coming along the up line in reverse, tender first, the locomotive travelling at 6mph was but 10 or 12 yards away from McCabe when the shout went up. Hit by the buffer he fell, with his head across the rail. The wheels pushed him along for a short distance before severing his head completely. The first person to reach the body was the driver from another nearby shunter - this man was none other than William McCabe's eldest son.


The body was quickly removed to the Vine Inn, Newton where the inquest was held the next day. A verdict of accidental death was recorded. William McCabe left a widow and six children.

Tuesday, 5 June 2018

Beaten to Death

In July 1839 Richard Howe is arrested and remanded in Stafford Gaol awaiting trial on the charge of the assault of his wife Mary. It emerged surgeon Mr C Waddell had been seeing Mary for some two years but saw nothing untoward until 25th July 1838 when he saw her when she complained of severe pains in her head, chest and liver. She told the surgeon her husband had caused the swelling to her face, her abdomen and the difficulty in breathing. He diagnosed the problem as inflammation of the pleura.


Next day he returned to find her condition had worsened and, when he returned on the third day, he found her so ill that her life was threatened. Every single day he returned to check on Mary's condition, doing so until August 5th, by which time he considered her out of danger. Yet still Mr Waddell paid regular visits to check on her condition. On 3rd January 1840 he discovered Mary complaining of severe pains in her side and began the daily visits once more, until 21st January, the day of her death.

The post mortem revealed little but an inflammation to the lungs. Both Waddell and Dr Edward Knight of the General Infirmary agreed the death had been due to the injuries she sustained in July the previous year. The court subsequently heard how she had spoken of her husband as a man fuelled by drink, how he crushed her frail body, and pushed her face down against his own chest until she felt she would be asphyxiated. A neighbour spoke of their many rows. How she heard Richard say he would ensure she would "maintain him" and that Mary had replied she had always "maintained him in his idleness". This had resulted in Richard threatening "if you call me idle again I'll split your face!" Soon after she had heard a scream. When she went to see if help was needed she was ordered out by the husband, a scuffle ensued and the neighbour removed from the house, at which time her punched her in the face. Another witness, William Hall, said he had also suffered at the hands of Richard Howe.

The jury retired and found Richard Howe guilty of Wilful Murder. He was hanged for his crime.

Tuesday, 29 May 2018

The Castle Inn Fire

On 2nd November 1838.chambermaid Mary Gardner, cook Harriet Bonner, waitress Mary Ann Rooth, barmaid Caroline Smith and kitchen maids Mary Chatterton and Harriet Buswell had all retired to bed by 1:30am on the Friday morning. About two hours later the alarm cry went up when someone called out FIRE! Landlords Mr and Mrs Webb awoke and, on opening the door to the passage, discovered their path was blocked by the smoke and the great heat. On returning to their bedroom they escaped via the rear window, having attracted the attention of those below.


Initially the proprietors were assured the girls were safe. However, it soon became clear they were most likely still inside. A ladder was found and a search discovered the bodies of the girls. Five of the girls had died as a result of asphyxiation, barmaid Caroline Smith discovered at the top of the stairs with her hands and face badly burned. At the inquest a verdict of accidental death was recorded. The cause has never been understood.  


Four days later one of the most elaborate of public funerals ever seen in Tamworth took place. All the shops closed at 4pm as a mark of respect and to allow the funeral procession to come from the Kings Arms to the churchyard of St Editha's. The streets were thronged with mourners and, despite the vast numbers, all was completely silent. All six were buried in a communal grave, later topped by a memorial paid for by public subscription. The massive funeral costs were covered by their employer, Frederick Webb of the Castle Inn. 

In the 1960s the remains were removed and reburied at Wigginton Cemetery. Close to one corner of the church lies a headstone to William Smith and, as inscribed on that headstone, nearby the remains of his daughter, Caroline.

Sunday, 20 May 2018

Guinea Biseau Place Names Explained

Having blogged samples of my books on English place names and also examined the etymologies of the nations of the world and their respective capitals I thought it time I cast my net a little wider. As English place names share some links to other tongues it would be interesting to see if any of the elements contributing to our place names could be found elsewhere. Resuming the alphabetical tour of the world and a look at the largest of Guinea Biseau's settlements.


Bissau, a city named from the island on which the original settlement began, itself probably from the tribe who lived here, and who were named from their former chief. Alternatively it may be a corruption of Bijago, the name of the ethnic group inhabiting this region.


Cacheu is in the region of the Papel people and is a name of Baunuk origin in meaning 'the place where we rest'.


Farim took its name from the title of the local Mandinka people's ruler. Earlier it had been known as Tubabodaga 'the ville of the whites'.

Note the spellings of the places are English as the piece is written in English.

Sunday, 13 May 2018

Horse Play

On the evening of May 1st 1839, 12-year-old William Dicks had been apprenticed to Stephen Ingram, a surgeon of Stowe in Stafford. Dicks was in the stable bedding one of the mares when Ingram passed and heard the mare plunge. He entered to find Dicks lying on his side about five feet away from the horse's heels. The boy pleaded with him to help him up, saying he was frightened of the horse. Ingram, however, had watched the boy closely and replied "You rascal, you have been teasing the mare several times today".


However he took Dicks into his home and examined him. Clearly from the marks he had been kicked in the belly and had an impact mark on his head, likely from the resulting fall. He undressed the patient, put a poultice on his belly and dressed the head wound before putting him to bed. Later he bled the patient and also gave him a laxative - all perfectly reasonable treatments in early Victorian England. The boy was asleep by 8pm that night and awoke at 4am on the Friday morning when he reported having no pain in either belly or head. Ingram had slept in that same room to watch over him, he gave him more medicine on the Friday morning.

Ingram was out all day but returned at 5pm to find Dicks once again complaining of pains in his belly. He gave him more medicine before going to meet his mother who lived just 600 yards away, bringing her to see her son at about 6pm. In the intervening hour Dicks had moved and was found lying on his side under a hayrick. He maintained Ingram had placed him there despite the belly pains and had been there so long he was cold and very thirsty. He also said Ingram had said he deserved it as it had been his own fault.


Sarah Dicks was, as would be expected, a concerned mother and asked to take her son home with her. Ingram advised against it, so she summoned a Doctor Knight from Chartley who ordered young William be taken straight away to the infirmary. He arrived on the Saturday morning but, despite their care, died on the Monday morning. Post mortem revealed a severe wound to the head but deemed it was the lacerated bowel which had been the cause of death. The jury recorded a verdict of accidental death caused by the mare but censured Ingram saying he had not acted in any degree of professionalism or humanity considering his position.

Sunday, 6 May 2018

Sir Francis Lyttleton Holyoaks Goodricke

On Saturday 30th May 1835 outside the Guildhall in Lichfield, Mr W Hand, the Under Sheriff, announced Sir Francis Lyttleton Holyoaks Goodricke had been elected MP for Staffordshire South. This was greeted by cheers which drowned out much of the hisses (note, no booing). The victor spoke of his thanks and reiterated his proposals on which he had been elected. He was then placed on a handsomely decorated chair on which Sir Francis would be transported to a celebratory reception at the Swan Hotel.


Things did not go quite to plan, for almost as soon as he was seated and the seat lifted the crowd's mood changed. Hooting began and accompanied by a rain of apparently rotten eggs. Worse followed when stones were thrown and, when one hit and cut his cheek, he vacated the seat before further injuries followed. The chair carried on its ceremonial route but the new MP and his party arrived at the Swan Hotel by a different route.


Just what gripe the crowd had was never recorded, although perhaps it was something to do with the count - for he had recorded a majority of just 24 votes over his opponent Colonel Anson.

Sunday, 29 April 2018

Suicide Note

On the evening of November 1st 1911, Mrs Cole of 33 Stowe Street, Lichfield opened the door to find Master Marshall. The young lad clutched a note marked URGENT which he said had been given to him by a "big boy" earlier that day with instructions not to deliver it until the evening. By now a Mr Griffin, having found a neatly folded jacket and cap on the canal bridge at Shortbutts Lane, had found what he presumed was the owner of the discarded clothing under that bridge having drowned in the canal.


Earlier William Henry Mears, aged just sixteen, had left the offices of Mr C. J. Brown, a solicitor of St John Street, for whom he had worked for the last six weeks. William was the son of a widower but since the death of his mother in Hanley two years earlier had lived with his aunt, Mrs Cole. He had left his employer's offices at 1:30pm that day. When Mrs Cole opened the note she found it contained the following message: "Dear Aunt - I am tired of Lichfield. I am starting with chilblains again and I can't stand it. With best love your broken-hearted nephew, Willie. Give my love to cousin Sarah and all. I have no fault against my aunt. You will find me in the canal up the Birmingham Road. I would sooner die happy than live miserable."


At the subsequent inquest the aunt told of how he had complained of voices in his head and seemed quite stupid. He was deaf in one ear and restless at night. He suffered badly of chilblains the previous year, the discomfort causing him to cut his hand, his ear, feet, legs and arms to rid himself of the torture. With the advent of winter he complained often of how much he feared they would return. It seems he had returned to his aunt's house that afternoon, presumably when he wrote the note. He was seen by his aunt's cook, Louisa Phillips. He brought her a parcel, saying in contained chocolates but when she opened it found it contained shampoo powder. Next to see him was Mr Gilbert who pulled him from the bottom of the canal but he was stone cold.


The coroner in his summing up noted how the note had been dated two days prior to his death but thought this was likely because he had not known the correct date. This seems odd considering how erudite the letter and accurate the punctuation. However he went on to make even more extraordinary comments. Telling of how he had recently sat on another case of a young person committing suicide and wondered if this was not the result of them becoming "overly educated". The coroner also asked if young William had read the newspapers as, if so, could consider this to be further evidence of "a copycat suicide".

Sunday, 22 April 2018

Herbert and Maud Freeman

We have all known couples who should never have been together. A marriage doomed from the onset or two people who should never be seen in the same room together. This is such a story. It culminates in the extraordinary events of September 4th 1911 at Hanch north of Lichfield and near the present-day golf club but had been causing much more than ripples in southern Staffordshire before then.


Herbert Freeman, aged 46, was charged with attempting to kill his wife Maud, aged 33,. They had been living at Craddock's Yard, Wilcox's Entry, Tamworth Street, Lichfield and married on August 8th 1911. To show just how big a mistake this marriage was we need look no further than the wedding reception at the Windsor Castle Inn, Lichfield. The 'happy couple' had fought and fought so bitterly and loudly the landlord had been forced to send for the police who, having failed to quieten them, arrested and charged the couple to appear before the magistrates next day.

Next month things had not improved. They were out on Cannock Chase and called at the Roe Buck Inn, Wolseley Bridge. Here they met none other than Alfred Black, a dreyman from the Lichfield Brewery Ltd, who managed to be convinced how it would be a very good idea to give them a lift back to Lichfield on the back of his float. All seemd to be proceeding surprisingly well until they reached Handsacre when Maud reached out and felt inside Herbert's pocket. He claimed she was trying to rob him, although she claimed it had been a joke. Words were exchanged and then he pulled out a long-bladed knife, threatening to kill both his wife and the driver. Alfred was understandably alarmed but offered to take them to the nearby nursing home at Lichfield when she said she was hurt. They never got further than Hanch Hall, where both passengers alighted and Albert drove away.

Later the police and a doctor travelled to Hanch Hall. Here they found the Freemans lying in a pool of blood. Both had had their throats cut, he quiet dead but she unconscious. She was taken to Rugeley District Hospital where she regained consciousness and babbled incoherently for a while. Maud Shipley, as she had previously been known, was previously married to a workman for the local council until he met with an accident at Lichfield Isloation Hospital in 1910 and died at Birmingham Accident Hospital from the resulting injuries.

Herbert's daughter Alice said at the inquest her mother had died in December 1903. Her father had had no regular employment for the last twelve months but she thought him a good father who had fed and clothed his children well. Since the fight on their wedding night she had witnessed many quarrels. On the day in question the couple had taken the train from Lichfield Trent Valley to Hagley, he seeking employment in the track widening while she looking for a home at Hagley as they had been given notice to quit Wilcox's Entry. The inquest was adjourned at this point while further witnesses were summoned.


Reconvening on October 3rd, the court heard from dreyman Alfred Black. He spoke of how Herbert had knocked his wife to the floor of the float before throwing her from it. Maud had appeared hurt but Herbert said he would take of her and he left them. Soon after a car driver stopped when he saw two people fighting near Hanch Hall. Picking up the story he spoke of how he raised the alarm when he discovered the woman on the ground, he thinking her dead, with the man still alive and he went to Hanch Hall to call for help. When the police and doctor arrived they found Maud with two deep cuts to her neck and Herbert with one deep cut severing the windpipe and he clearly dead. Another witness, an employee at the hall, described how he saw the man strike the woman twice with an umbrella, words were exchanged and both were pushing the other in an aggressive manner.

When the police officer gave evidence he identified the knife found at the scene as that know to poachers as a rabbit-legger or a buck sticker. The doctor estimated the man had been dead for around 90 minutes, the woman found to have two deep cuts about three inches in length to the side of her neck. She also sported a black eye, finger-shaped bruises to her arms, and other bruising about her arms and legs. Examining the man he found fingernail scratches to his arms and face, a four-inch wound to the throat and deep enough to expose the back of the palate, his jugular was severed and eath would have occurred in a matter of seconds. Earlier signs of alcohol abuse was found at the post mortem along with an old injury which meant he was missing a finger and thumb from one hand.

Having recovered sufficiently to give evidence, Maud Freeman took to the witness stand. She told of how, on the afternoon of their marriage, he had tried to strangle her. Later he had pinned her to the sofa with a knife at her throat, not releasing her until someone tapped on the window pane. Sober he was a good man but with drink in him a changed person. On August 27th he had forced her upstairs and threatened to kill her, even sleeping with the open knife in his hand should she attempt to move. When drunk he was a jealous and violent individual, but when sober constantly complained of pain in his arms and head.

She confirmed how that last afternoon had seen them fight as others had described. Maud added how he had grabbed her around the neck with his left arm, he was too strong for her and she could not get away. Twice he pushed the knife to her throat before laying her down and kissing her forehead whereupon she passed out. When she came around she saw him lying three feet away from her on his right side and unaware of the knife on the ground beyond him. He was clutching his throat.


The jury retired and returned to deliver their verdict. They were in no doubt the location of the knife on the far side of Herbert's body from Maud, showed beyond reasonable doubt that he had committed suicide after attempting to murder his wife.

Friday, 20 April 2018

Don't Pull the Communication Cord

July 1st 1907 and at 2pm the London and North West Railway's express from Liverpool stops at Tamworth after someone had pulled the communication cord. When the guard investigated he found it had been pulled by Mrs Higham, none other than the wife of the MP for Sowerby in Yorkshire. She claimed her son of 3.1/2 had fallen from the train. Quickly all stations and signalmen on the line between Tamworth and Stafford were alerted and all traffic stopped as the search began.


By 4:30pm news filtered through that the child had been found near Hademore Crossing and was being treated by a district nurse at the cottage of a Mrs Smith near Whittington Bridge. In Tamworth the stationmaster, a Mr Matthews, stopped the down train and accompanied Mrs Higham as she went to check on her son. They arrived at the same time as Dr Homan who reported the child to have been badly hurt but would live. He had been discovered by a platelayer ganger working on the line. Noticing movement at the side of the line he investigated and found the young boy. He had carried the child to the cottage after sending his colleague for the district nurse whom he had seen cycling past just moments earlier.


How the door came open on a train travelling at 60mph was never explained, although he was a large child for his age and perhaps he had done something to contribute to the accident. Indeed, his bulk will have helped protect him as an examination of the trackside revealed he had collided with and broken a number of large stones as he bounced along for some 40 yards before coming to rest alongside the line used by traffic in the opposite direction. Although conscious he had not attempted to move which was fortunate indeed as the down express had passed him two minutes after he came to rest here. The driver of the down train had seen the body of the child but surmised he must have hit the mother, hence stopping at Lichfield to raise the alert.


Later that evening Mr Higham MP arrived from London Euston. He made a statement in the House the following day, thanking all those who had had a hand in the rescue and informing them his son was "progressing nicely".


Perhaps the oddest part of this potentially tragic tale came in the form of the newspaper headline, for the Lichfield Mercury led with the odd choice of EXCITEMENT ON THE TRAIN LINE NEAR LICHFIELD.

Sunday, 8 April 2018

Widowed in the Orchard (Twice!)

Thomas Frederick Young died on December 27th 1906 aged 44 years. A native of Lichfield, where his mother and siblings still lived, he had lived for a number of years at the Eagle Inn, Pitchcombe, near Stroud. On his marriage to the daughter of the former owner in 1895 he had taken over as landlord. moving to Gloucestershire.


With snow still lying on the Cotswold Hills, Thomas Young collected his double-barrelled shotgun and, as the clock struck one, told his wife not to hold dinner for him should he return home late. Next time she saw him was three hours later when she went out to feed the pigs. A glance in the direction of the adjacent orchard and she spotted her husband lying by the hedge. Returning to the pub she asked a Mr White, a military man with medical training, to investigate. He discovered the landlord lying face down in the orchard, on top of the shotgun which had been discharged at point-blank range into the owner's bowels. Clearly he had been dead for some time.

When the police arrived he traced the footsteps in the still-lying snow. These showed he had walked to a neighbour's property and back to the orchard, presumably looking for game, and something he would often do and share any rabbits with the neighbour for Thomas Young was known as the very best of marksmen. The inquest heard the evidence and came to the conclusion the man had placed the gun on the orchard side of the fence before climbing over. A wise precaution but a fatal one for as he grabbed the barrel of the gun and lifted it, twigs of the hedge caught on the trigger and fired the gun.

Back in Lichfield the news was met with dismay for Thomas Young and his family were well liked in the city. Many will have remembered the man who had worked as butler and gamekeeper for Mr. J. C. Little when in Lichfield a decade earlier. With his body interred in Gloucestershire, a memorial service was held in the place of his birth.

It was here that rumours began to circulate and questions asked. It seems the widow Young had been married before. Her first husband, also landlord of the Eagle Inn, had also meant an untimely end. Furthermore this had also been the result of a gunshot wound and also in the orchard adjacent to the inn. Any suggestion of foul play was dismissed as mere coincidence, but still many questioned how the wife had failed to hear the gun going off when his body was discovered just 75 yards from their home.

Sunday, 1 April 2018

A Tale of Misery

John and Sarah-Ann Langley lived in Tamworth Street, Lichfield in 1904 when hauled before the authorities charged with the neglect of five-year-old John Langley. The case attracted a lot of interest from the people of Lichfield. Although it may seem quite extraordinary today, the court was crowded, with large numbers gathered outside, from the moment the session opened at 11am until the judge ended proceedings at 11:45pm. It should be noted they did hold for both lunch and tea for a total of 75 minutes (how very cricket!)


John senior had had four children from a former marriage, the youngest Arthur Langley was six years old. His latest wife, Sarah-Ann, had several children by a former marriage, three of which were still under her care at this time. Back in July 1903 John Langley had visited a Dr Rowland and said nothing could be done to stop John junior's odd habits, including going into the streets picking up refuse and eating it.

As a result the child was admitted to the workhouse. Notes show he was a good weight and exhibited no odd behaviour nor was he seen as troublesome, although below average size for his age and academically inferior to his peers. He stayed at the workhouse until the end of August 1903, mainly because of an unexplained weakness to one arm, during which time he seemed fine and none saw any reason for concern following his release.

On December 22nd 1903 Dr Rowland was again called to the Langley's home. Since his last examination in July the child had certainly lost weight, he noted abrasions to the neck, small of the back, the left knee and bruising to the right thigh. Again taken to stay in the workhouse, young John Langley's condition could easily be explained by normal childhood bumps and knocks. Furthermore, although he had lost weight there was no evidence of him overeating, as would be expected if he had been starved. Yet it was noted that, while no sure diagnosis could be given, in general the child seemed unwell.


The father protested at the possible return of the boy to their care - he complaining young John could not be controlled, he frequently wandered out into the street, and regularly found to be feeding on offal or horse dung (commonplace sights in town streets at the time) - the child thus remained under the supervision of the workhouse and at this time magistrates began to take an interest despite the five-year-old's weight having increased from an appalling low of just 29 pounds.


A baker employed by Langley was called to give evidence and, finally the truth began to emerge. He spoke of how he would see the boy tethered by way of a muffler tied to the chain supporting the swing from 9am until midday. This he saw from September onwards, the child wearing inadequate clothing for the cold weather. He also spoke of the boy being tied up there by his sister almost as soon as the household had awakened.

At mealtimes he could be seen peering in through the window, one sister may pass him a crust on occasions but was more often to be seen eating our of the swill bucket or picking crumbs from the floor of the back yard. Another employee, one John Millington, had taken pity on the boy and passed him food, sending him to the bottom of the yard to eat in secret. The boy's father was witnessed knocking him across the yard on a number of occasions, apparently for no reason, further torture imparted by tethering his left arm to his left leg. Unlike the other children of the house he wore no cap, not a single button sewn on his jacket, he wore no muffler nor scarf, leaving his neck exposed to the elements.

Fearing repercussions he only spoke to the father concerning his paralysed arm, warning both him and his wife to take him to a doctor. Langley told him it was pointless, the paralysis the result of an illness when he was just two years of age. He pitied the child, saying he was heard to cry a number of times, unable to climb down from the swing without help. Since that time both Millington and another employee by the name of Statham had left the employment of the Langleys and reported them to the NSPCC. Statham, when questioned, also spoke of him seeing Langley plunging the boy into a could water trough in all weathers, again seemingly for no reason. These reports were further endorsed by a neighbour, he adding the boy had an awful cough, would be seen walking continually to keep warm, and known to eat anything within his reach. The NSPCC backed up these claims, saying their investigations had also revealed this atrocious behaviour.


Others disagreed, the defence arguing, rather predictably, this was a bad child, born of a consumptive mother who died shortly after his birth. He had been offered plenty of food but it was his choice to eat from the gutter. Furthermore another of his siblings had died young, a clear indication of mental problems suffered by the mother, she the former Mrs Langley.

The defence called a witness, another baker and friend of the Langleys who swore nothing could be further from the truth. The boy had eaten well, from his father's dinner plate no less, supplemented by a diet of eggs, boiled milk and port wine (strange diet for a five-year-old). He also said the child had been allowed to warm himself in the boiler house where a fire burned constantly - this confirming the child was kept outdoors during the day. This witness accused the witnesses for the prosecution of having an axe to grind with the Langleys and in particular the new Mrs Langley. Even his eldest half-sister came forward to give evidence, saying he was treated no differently from the rest and his mental problems were her brother's own fault.

Quickly a verdict was reached. Cheers both inside and outside the court rang out as midnight approached and the Langleys were found guilty. This quickly turned to anger as the crowd threatened to riot, windows of the nearby bakery broken, as they heard the sentence. Given two weeks to pay, the Langleys were fined £25 each - a large sum in 1904 but surely inappropriate for such crimes. Even worse, when explaining the leniency of the sentence the court spoke of how a custodial sentence would have deprived the many other children of both parents.

Friday, 30 March 2018

Easter Lagomorphs

Seven years ago I posted something on hares. I recreate same here, suitably amended.

While the rabbit is today considered to be lucky (as in the foot), historically the hare is anything but. Indeed so much superstition and folklore surrounds the poor creature I decided to dig a little and found the following:

As Easter is upon us, along with its association with the rabbit (ie Easter Bunnies), it came as something of a surprise to find Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands preferring an Easter Hare.

The Anglo-Saxon personification of the sun was Ostara, whose ears were those of a hare and who carried eggs on her back. This is how eggs have become associated with Easter.


Pagan followers associate the hare with the goddess Eostre, from where we get the name for Easter.

Gods in other cultures associated with hares are Hittavainen, Cupid, Aphrodite, Venus, Holda, Freyja, Andraste, Cerridwen, Kaltes,

That the creature has been considered sacred and associated with spring, and almost certainly has been since prehistoric times, is down to the hare only really being seen when they are seen boxing in the mating season. Incidentally, the long held belief these are males fighting over a female was shown to be wrong when it was realised at least one of the combatants could just as easily be female.


Several ancient cultures saw the hare the symbol of fertility, of rebirth, and held to possess supernatural powers. The genitals of the jack were carried to ward off infertility. This fertility idea has some truth for the doe can produce up to forty-two young in a single year.

Some ancient African cultures believed the hare to have a lunar origin.

The tales of Brer Rabbit, as told by Uncle Remus, were brought to North America via the slave trade and are adapted from traditional African narratives. Thus these cannot be about a 'rabbit' but a hare for Africa has no rabbits around the tropical latitudes.


In Egyptian mythology Osiris is also known by other names and is then depicted with the head of a hare, as was the goddess Unut. He is also cited as being the messenger of the god Thoth.

Pliny wrote of how he believed the hare was androgynous, likened to the waxing and waning of the Moon when it was deemed to be masculine and feminine respectively.

The hare is also associated with the Moon in ancient China, held to possess knowledge of the elixir of immortality. Other writings show the hare with the phoenix and the unicorn, ubiquitous mythological creatures of wonder and magical powers.

Hindus in India tell the story of Buddha, whose earliest life on Earth was as a hare. Hence the animal is seen as a symbol of resurrection. It is also the subject of a number of traditional tales where it represents wisdom.

Native American cultures speak of Michabo or Manitou, the Great Hare, which is common to the ancestral mythologies of many tribes. Unlike the Old World, in the New World the hare is associated with the sun.


The madness of hares was likened to a coven of witches. Some held the hares were witches who had changed their appearance to allow them to suckle cows until they were dry.

Sailors, probably the most superstitious career which ever has been or ever will be, consider the hare unlucky and would not allow any mention of them while at sea.

Pregnant women would carrying a hare's foot, for should the animal cross her path it could result in a miscarriage or the child being born with a hare-lip.

The hare's foot charm was also held to be the answer to rheumatism, while the stage perfomance of many a thespian was solely down to such being hidden beneath their costume.


The fat from a hare would be used to fuel a lamp burned when it was important that all present should be in good spirits throughout.

The brain of the hare was added to wine to prevent any danger of oversleeping.

Cambridgeshire folk seeing a hare running through the streets saw this as a sign that a fire was about to break out.

Cornish girls who died of a broken heart after being spurned by their lover would turn into a white hare and pursue him from beyond the grave.

Personally I just wish I could taste this recipe for jugged hare.