Monday, 23 April 2012

Reformatory Ship

When boys were convicted of crimes from the 1840s onwards they were typically given a short gaol sentence followed by a period of years in a Reformatory School. At the Epiphany Sessions in 1871 Henry Tuck, a 13 year old apprentice to a shoemaker at Husborne Crawley, was convicted of stealing a coat, a hat, a scarf and a pair of shoes from his master Alfred Faulkner before absonding. He was apprended two weeks later at Huntingdon and sentenced to one month of hard labour in Gaol followed by 5 years at a Reformatory. The gaol database tells us that after his release from Bedford Gaol he was sent to the Akbar Reformatory Ship. This sounded intriguing, so I did a little research.

The informative website of the E Chambré Hardman Archive includes several pages about the Akbar. From 1855 to 1907 two school ships named Akbar were moored on the Mersey by a charitable organisation, the Liverpool Juvenile Reformatory Association. Henry Tuck would have served his time on the second Akbar, a former Royal Navy vessel which replaced its predecessor in 1862. The ship was funded by a grant from Liverpool Council, the Reformatory Association, charitable donations and parental contributions, which could be up to 5 shillings a week. Up to 200 boys could be held on the ship, where they were to receive a combination of discipline and education intended to equip them with skills for later life. The E Chambré Hardman Archive website tells us that:
Life on board the Akbar was harsh and dangerous. Food was in short supply and not very healthy. In the summer ventilation was inadequate and in the winter temperatures on board were very low. This was particularly so in 1894 when parts of the River Mersey froze for around thirteen weeks. It is no surprise that many boys fell ill and that some died. In 1893 an inspector criticised the Akbar’s health record and as a result the boys were evacuated to New Ferry Cholera Hospital on the Wirral while the ship was cleaned. Life on board any ship was by its very nature dangerous. The Akbar’s minute books record a number of accidental deaths and injuries amongst its boys.
A little research on Henry Tuck himself threw up some more interesting information. In the 1871 census a Henry Tuck, aged 13, was in the Bedford Union Workhouse. Henry had been born in Thrapston in Northamptonshire and was described as "deserted". In 1861 he had been living in Thrapston with his father Henry Tuck, a 31 year old "engine smith" born in Dunmow (Essex), his mother Maryann, aged 25 from Thrapston and a 5 year old sister Jane. The death of a Mary Ann Tuck is recorded in the Bedford registration district in 1865. It seems likely that this was Henry's mother and that some time between 1865 and 1871 the older Henry abandoned his children and disappeared. There is no trace of him on later censuses - possibly he changed his name to avoid being prosecuted for desertion. Unfortunately I was not able to find out anything about young Henry's life after he left the Akbar, as he also disappears from the censuses.

Drunk and Disorderly

The Easter quarter of 1883 introduced us to the character of Alfred Hirdle.  Alfred was married to Sarah and appeared in court charged with a violent assault on his wife.  She had taken a warrant out against him and in revenge he broke into their house in the early hours of the morning.  He went to his wife’s bedroom and violently hit her about the head with a stick.   He was sentenced to 5 year penal servitude.

Cases of assault appear regularly in the Quarter sessions, but we were curious to see if he was still with his wife at the time of the next census.  A little investigation saw that the couple had only been married approaching 4 years at the time of the attack.  It’s likely his wife knew the type of man she was marrying, as Alfred had been convicted (mostly of drunkenness) over 20 times before they married.  He was only 27.  He was even in trouble on the night of the 1871 census, being listed as a prisoner at Woburn police station.

We did find Sarah in the 1891, living with her mother in Ridgmont and she appears to have continued to have children in these years.  By 1901 she was still with her mother in Ridgmont with her mother, but this time she was described as a widow.   Obviously this meant we wanted to see what had become of Alfred.

A quick bit of Googling brought up the excellent MK Heritage site.  They have a section dedicated to the Fir Tree inn at Woburn Sands, where it appears Alfred Hirdle had become a frequent visitor.  The site talks of another case involving Alfred which was reported in local paper.  Once again it revolved around drunken behaviour.  The article adds an interesting footnote which solves the mystery of what became of Alfred:

 “Alfred Hirdle eventually passed away, whilst serving a sentence in Bedford Prison in 1900, aged 49. The doctors said cause of death was 'Profound Disturbance of the Brain and Apoplexy'.  Hirdle was infamous in the area, as his total of 59 convictions, mostly for being 'Drunk and Disorderly' bear testimony. Every landlord for miles around must have breathed a quiet sigh of relief!”

(with thanks to

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

And your name is?

Occasionally the Quarter Sessions don’t seem completely aware of who they are dealing with. In the November 1880, 23 year old man by the name of Davis sought lodgings in the Bedfordshire village of Clifton. He claimed to be a clerk to lawyers in Oxford Street, London. He said he was down on business and would remain for about a month, or most likely until Christmas. Mrs Elizabeth Ensdersby, his new landlady, made the agreement with him that he would pay guinea a week for board and lodging. He made himself at home and moved freely around the house. After he had taken dinner he said he was off to the Woolpack Inn to see if the beer was better there than that he had been served at dinner. He did not return and she did not see him again until he was in custody. Within an hour of his leaving she went into her bedroom and missed a silver watch. She had seen it safe earlier that afternoon.

On arrest he gave his name as Herbert Clarence Percy Duroy, but refused an address and he claimed to be respectably connected and he did not wish his friends to know. He claimed to be an actor and is later described on the Calendar of Prisoners as a Comedian. He was tried in the Epiphany Quarter Session under this name, with the aliases of John Wright, Davis and William Burchell also listed. He was sentenced to 12 months hard labour in the House of Correction. However, interestingly a previous conviction was found for him under the name of Charles Edward Buckwell. In that instance he served 6 months in Cold Bath Fields, for obtaining money by false pretences.

His statement upon arrest showed he had a way with words. He said he was guilty of the charge and he wished to add that starvation was the reason he had done what he had. “Having through one fatal error blighted any prospects in my life and not being able to obtain an engagement and further having parted with all I possessed in the world for food”. He found himself “utterly penniless and destitute and therefore resorted to despicable means to save himself from starvation”.

He served his sentence under the name of Herbert Clarence Percy Duroy and appears under this name on the 1881 census (whilst in the House of Correction in Bedford). That appears to be the only record under that name. What this mans correct name was remains a mystery to us. We’d love to hear if anyone has a theory on what became of him.