Sunday, 29 November 2020

Herbert and Maud Freeman

4th September 1911 and at Hanch, north of Lichfield near the present golf club, Herbert Freeman, aged 46, attempted to kill his wife Maud aged 33. Had been living at Craddock’s Yard, Wilcox’s Entry, Tamworth Street, Lichfield. They only married on August 8th, 27 days earlier, and it had already proved to be a terrible marriage.

Their wedding reception was held at the Windsor Castle Inn, Lichfield. Here they fought and were asked to quit but refused and so found themselves in front of magistrates charged with disturbing the peace – at their own wedding reception! Over the next four weeks matters did not improve. On the 4th September they were out on Cannock Chase together and called at the Roe Buck Inn, Wolseley Bridge - now known as the Wolseley Arms. Here they found Alfred Black, a dreyman of the Lichfield Brewery. and obtained a lift back on his float.

All went well until they reached Handsacre, as they left she put her hand in her husband’s pocket. He accused her of trying to rob him, although later claimed it was a joke. Words ensued, then he pulled out a long-bladed knife and threatened to kill both his wife and the driver, Alfred Black. The driver was alarmed but offered to help when Maud said she was hurt, he offered to take her to the nursing home in Lichfield. On reaching Hanch Hall the passengers alighted, husband saying he would take care of her. It seems he took care of both of them – first cutting his wife’s neck before turning to his own and severed the windpipe. When police and doctors arrived at 9pm, two bodies were found lying in a pool of blood. He was dead, she found unconscious but when taken to Rugeley District Hospital she gave an incoherent account of events.

Maud Shipley, as she had been known, was previously married to a workman for the local council, until he met with an accident at Lichfield Isolation Hospital the previous year and had died at Birmingham Accident Hospital from his injuries. Herbert’s daughter Alice Freeman said her mother died in December 1903 and her father had had no regular employment for the last 12 months but was a good father and fed and clothed his children well. Since the fight on their wedding night there had been many quarrels. On the day in question both were taking the train from Lichfield Trent Valley to Hagley, he to seek employment in the railway track widening work, she to look for a home at Hagley as they had been given notice at Wilcox’s Entry. Inquest was adjourned until October 3rd to trace further witnesses.

When reconvening, Alfred Black said Herbert had knocked her to the floor and thrown her from the float, she appeared to be hurt. Another witness driving a car picked up the story. He saw two people near Hanch Hall apparently fighting. He raised the alarm when he discovered the woman on the ground and apparently dead, while the man was still alive. He went to Hanch Hall to summon assistance, it was they who discovered Maud had two deep cuts to her neck although Herbert had but one cut but was dead. Another witness, a labourer at the hall, described how Herbert had hit his wife twice across the face with his umbrella, words were exchanged and there was much pushing. Policeman described the spring knife as that which poachers knew as a rabbit-legger or a buck-sticker. By the time the doctor arrived the man had been dead for 1.1/2 hours. Wife had two deep wounds about 3 inches long, one from the middle of the neck to the left side of the jaw and 3/4 inch deep and opened up a similar gash in the gullet, the right side was but a scratch. She also had a blackened left eye, finger-shaped bruises on her arms and other bruises about the body and legs. The man had fingernail scratches on his arms and face. He had a 4 inch wound to the throat, deep enough to expose the back of the palate, jugular was severed and death would have come in a matter of seconds. The man was also missing a finger and thumb on the left hand but this was from an old injury. His body also showed signs of alcoholism.

Then the wife gave evidence, having recovered from her injuries. She said on the afternoon of their marriage he had tried to strangle her. Soon after had got her on the sofa and held a knife to her throat, but released her when someone tapped on the window. She maintained he was a good man with no drink in him. 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 monster, sober he complained of pains in his arms and head. The tussle was exactly as others had described, adding he grabbed her around the neck with his left arm, she could not get away, he was too strong. He pushed the knife into her throat. She collapsed and laid her down and he kissed her forehead. She awoke to see him lying three feet away to her right, the poachers knife on her left but she did not know this until later. He was clutching his throat, his face down. With some deliberation as to the location of the knife the jury delivered the verdict of suicide after attempting to murder his wife.

Sunday, 22 November 2020

Jesse Joseph Quartermaine of Upper Gungate in Tamworth

It is 1901. To be precise, Saturday 26th October 1901, and for Jesse Joseph Quartermaine of Upper Gungate in Tamworth a fateful day.

A procession of wagons pulled by traction engines was passing through heading for the city of Lichfield. These owned by Danks and Co, they were transporting three large colliery wheels from Tamworth to Hanley. The convoy called at the Constitution Inn shortly after 10am, where food and three quarts of ale were consumed by the six men. Shortly after they stopped at the top of the hill to take on water from a pool. As they set off, Jesse walked up one side of the wagons and his brother Harry up the other side. After a few yards a shout was heard and the engines stopped.

It was then Jesse was found under the last wagon, both legs virtually severed. For some three or four yards a great deal of blood showed the extent of the incident, the progress marked by a trail of blood, bits of flesh, trouser and bone. It was generally thought, though none had observed such, he had fallen while riding the draw-bar. Perhaps he was attempting to climb into that third wagon. Police and doctors were called and he was taken to the Lichfield Victoria Nursing Home. In shock and bleeding greatly they attempted to save his life by amputating both legs at the thigh. To no avail. He died at 1:40pm that day and left a widow and three children.

Sunday, 15 November 2020

A Less Savoury Episode in Lichfield's History

1904 – January. John and Sarah Ann Langley of Tamworth Street, Lichfield are charged with neglect of a five-year-old of John Langley. The courtroom was surprisingly crowded, with large numbers outside. This lengthy court session lasted from 11am to 11:45pm. Albeit less 1.1/4 hours for lunch and tea (how very civilised). John had four children from a former marriage, the youngest Arthur Langley was just 6 years old. Sarah Ann had ‘several’ children by her former marriage and three of these were still living with her at the time. John had gone to Dr F M Rowland in July 1903 saying nothing could be done to stop Arthur’s old habits, including going into the streets picking up food from refuse and eating it.

He was admitted to the workhouse afterwards, seeming of good weight, although small and not as bright as others of his age, exhibited no odd behaviour, nor was he troublesome. He remained there until August 31st. Despite an unexplained weakness of one arm he seemed fine and was released. On December 22nd 1903 the doctor was called to the home again. He saw abrasions to the neck, the small of the back, his left knee, and a bruise on the right thigh. This child had lost weight since he had seen him in July. He was returned to the workhouse, examined but saw no evidence of over eating, marks seen could easily be everyday bumps, bangs and cuts, but the child seemed unwell, although with no true evidence of mistreatment. Father John Langley tried to make his son’s removal to the workhouse permanent, saying he could not be controlled, he wandered into the street where he could easily be run down. He was seen to eat the offal discarded in the streets, and known to eat horse dung.

At the end of December 1903 he weighed just 29 pounds and was very thin. By the time the magistrates received the case he had already gained some weight. An employee gave evidence to say he worked as a baker for Langley and had seen the boy tied, using a muffler, to the chain of a swing in the September, where he was observed from 9am until well after midday. He saw him there many times, always badly dressed for cold weather. One daughter appeared to be the one putting him there. Put in the yard as soon as he awoke, while the rest of the family ate he was looking in through the window. While occasionally passed a crust by that same daughter, he would also eat of the swill from the bucket, and pick crumbs from the floor of the yard. That same employee, baker John Millington, had put food in the lad’s pocket and sent him to the bottom of the yard to eat it unseen. Millington also saw the father strike the boy, knocking him across the yard, and for an hour or more tie his left arm to his left leg seemingly just to torment the child. He was certainly treated differently to their other children, with no cap, had buttons missing from his jacket, inappropriate open neck in winter, given no muffler or scarf. Millington told the father to take him to the doctor about his paralysed arm, also warned the wife to do so should her husband fail. The boy was often heard to cry or sing pitifully, the child could not enter the house or climb off the swing without help. Millington said he dare not interfere for fear of repercussions. Langley explained the paralysis was the result of illness at two months, and he tied the limb to encourage him to use the arm. Since then Millington had left the employ and reported the matter to the NSPCC.

Another employee, Frederick Statham, backed this evidence, adding he saw the father plunge the child into cold water for no apparent reason, leaving him outside in all weathers. Statham left their employ in October 1903. A neighbour added he had seen the lad outside in all weathers, coughing, apparently seemed pained when walking trying to keep warm, seen eating off the floor of the yard. The NSPCC corroborated his evidence. Defence claimed this was a bad child, born of a consumptive mother who died shortly afterwards. He was given plenty to eat but chose his awful diet, a sibling also died young showing clear signs of the mental problems of the mother.

Defence witness, a baker friend of Langley, said nothing was further from the truth. He was fed well. Allowed to warm himself in the brew house where there was always a fire. Fed well with his father’s dinner and also diet of eggs, port wine and boiled milk. He damned the witnesses for the prosecution for having an axe to grind as they left following insults to Mrs Langley. Mrs Langley, her daughter and other witnesses also said the child was treated no differently, even making allowances for his mental problems. Found guilty the parents were find £25 each, such leniency because imprisonment would also penalise the other children. They were given two weeks to pay. Crowds outside virtually rioted at this announcement, with boos and groans following the initial announcement of ‘guilty’. Both upstairs windows and frontage of their home was smashed as the crowd vented their anger.

Sunday, 8 November 2020

Train Accident near Tamworth

1907 – Monday 1st July and the communication cord is pulled on the LNW express from Liverpool at 2pm and stopped at Tamworth. Guard discovered it had been pulled by Mrs Higham, wife of the MP for Sowerby in Yorkshire said her 3.1/2 year-old child had fallen from the train. All trains alerted as far back as Stafford and all stations began a search.

At 4:30pm news came through that the child had been found at Hademore and, badly hurt but alive, was at the cottage of Mrs Smith near Whittington Bridge. Stationmaster Mr Mathews of Tamworth had a down train stopped and accompanied the mother back to Hademore and Whittington, first aid being administered by the district nurse and Dr Homan of Lichfield soon after arriving. A platelayer ganger had been working when he noticed something moving, it proved to be the child. He carried the child to the cottage after sending a lad to find the nurse whom he had noticed cycling by a few moments earlier. A policeman sent to summon a cab from Lichfield but met the ambulance on the way. How the door came open on a train travelling at 60mph was never discovered, he was a large boy for 3.1/2 years and it was suspected he had managed to open it himself.

His escape was deemed a miracle, his fall smashing several large stones. He bounced for some 40 yards, coming to rest on the outer edge of the opposite line. He was inches from the line when found and, although conscious, had not attempted to move which was fortunate as the down express had passed not two minutes after he fell here. The driver of the down train had seen the body of the child and felt certain he had hit the mother, as he assumed she would be carrying the infant. He reached Lichfield and alerted the stationmaster who had summoned the ambulance. Father arrived from London Euston later that evening, returning the next day where he made a statement thanking all for their assistance and stating his son was ‘progressing nicely’.

The Lichfield Mercury thought the headline “Excitement on the Train Line near Lichfield” appropriate.

Sunday, 1 November 2020

Bloody History of Lichfield

In the 17th century corporation officials claimed the seal represented the corpses of three armies of Christian kings, defeated here by Diocletian, this was repeated in the 19th century. The three kings said to have been Bor, Ro, and Cop – this held to be the origin of Borrowcop Lane.

Back in the 7th century – for many years the ‘grey battle field’ explanation of the place name of Lichfield was given. This is said to come from a 7th century battle, Caer Lwydgoed stated the Welsh of Powys capturing 1,500 cattle, 80 horses, and five bondsmen. Later the place name was said to come from Middle English lic ‘corpse’ was the basis and thus ‘field of corpses’ and said to be the 7th century battle or, through pure conjecture by Matthew Paris of St Albans Abbey in 1259, that some 999 Christians were martyred here by the order of the Roman emperor Diocletian (284-305). The story was compounded in 1549, when the new city corporation decided to use the image on its seal and featured for over a century.

An interesting story but that's all it is, a story. It has absolutely no basis in fact.