Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Hey! That's My Sheet!

The Epiphany 1877 Quarter Sessions include the case of a wronged housewife who demonstrated a certain lack of human sympathy for another woman. On Thursday 26th October 1876 Ellen Charles of Stotfold left five sheets and a tablecloth drying on the line. During the day one calico sheet and one linen sheet went missing. On Friday 27th she found the calico sheet on the bed of a certain George Seymour. In the course of cross-examination it became apparent that on that Friday Seymour's wife was confined in childbirth. Ellen Charles went to the house with PC Thomas Hebbes and was given permission by the woman nursing Mrs Seymour to go upstairs to the bedroom. Apparently ignoring the fact that the occupant was either in labour or had just given birth, Ellen Charles identified the sheet as her own, removed it from the bed and gave it to the policeman, who at least had the tact to wait on the landing outside the room. George Seymour was arrested that evening. When the missing linen sheet was found the next day at the house of a Thomas Morris the charge against Seymour of stealing this item was dropped, but the prosecution for stealing the calico sheet went ahead. Fortunately for his family Seymour was acquitted. Maybe the jury possessed a little more sympathy than Mrs Charles!

The baby born to Mrs Seymour appears to have been a little girl, Emily, whose birth was registered at Biggleswade during the December quarter of 1876. It seems she survived for only a few months as her death was registered in the June1877 quarter.

References: QSR1877/1/5/5; QSR1877/1/4/4/c

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

The Great Bedfordshire Bicycle Chase

In October 2011 our Paths to Crime document of the month told the story of Richard William Webb, who was accused of stealing a penny-farthing bicycle from a mechanic at Leighton Buzzard, Hyde Edward Dightam. I have just catalogued the Michaelmas Sessions for 1876 which included this case. Intrigued by the Keystone Cops style chase across Bedfordshire described in the depositions I did a little digging for additional information about the protagonists.

"Hyde" Edward Dightam was in fact Hyla Edward Dightam, whose bankruptcy was reported in the London Gazette for 19 May 1865. Formerly of Aston Clinton in Buckinghamshire, he was then a watch and clock maker living at Markyate Street. He was discharged from bankruptcy on 23rd June 1865. His financial difficulties did not prevent him practicing his trade as in the 1871 census he was again described as a watchmaker. He was aged 32, had been born in Mursley (Buckinghamshire) and was living with his wife and four young children in Dunstable. In the 1876 Quarter Sessions depositions Dightam is described as a general mechanic, presumably he was using his watchmaker's mechanical skills on a larger scale. By 1881 he was again in Dunstable working as a watch and clockmaker, now with eight children whose birth places indicate his travels. Florence Maud, aged 8, and Gertrude Elenor, aged 5, had both been born in Leighton Buzzard, and Walter Ambrose, aged 3, in Leeds, Yorkshire. The family were back in his wife's home town of Dunstable for the birth of their six month old baby, Olive Adelaine. He seems to have been both a wanderer and something of a jack-of-all-trade. In 1891 he was again living in Dunstable, but his trade was now cabinet maker, and in both 1901 and 1911 he was an upholsterer at Aston in Warwickshire.

Richard William Webb proved elusive. I was not able to find any references to a Richard Webb in Bedfordshire at that date. The gaol register does not give a place of birth but gives his age as 21. In his deposition to the Quarter Sessions James Siratt said that Webb told him he had been riding bicycles for eight years, but in these very early days of cycling it seems rather improbable that he would have been riding at the age of thirteen. Another deposition dismissed Webb's claim that he had discussed bicycle wheel sizes with his "uncle" Thomas Hopkins, the landlord of the Plume and Feathers at Leighton Buzzard. Hopkins said he did not know Webb, was not related to him, and had never discussed bicycles with him. Webb also said he was ready to pay for the bicycle, but had no money on him. It seems that Webb may have been something of a fantasist. The court acquitted him of stealing the penny-farthing. Was this justice? Or luck?

Woburn Cycling Club 1885

Friday, 1 June 2012

Diamond Jubilee

The June Document of the month at The Bedfordshire & Luton Archives and Record Service relates to a document discovered in the Quarter Sessions in 1841.  A young Queen Victoria was on a visit to Woburn Abbey when an offence took place.  A member of the 11 Hussars who was escorting the Queen committed an offence whilst under the influence of alcohol.  The supporting documents include a lengthy letter of apology from the solider.  Click here for the BLARS document of the month.

As yet we haven't catalogued the Diamond Jubilee year of Queen Victoria.  However, out of curiosity we have peeked forward at the QSM (Quarter Session Minutes) book which covers the year 1897.   We found an official response from Whitehall thanking the Justices of Bedfordshire for their congratulatory message sent to the Queen.  Looking back in the QSM we found the original message sent to the Queen by the Justices in November 1886.  We've attached an extract below. 

“We the Justices of the Peace of the County of Bedford in Quarter Sessions assembled desire to offer Your Majesty our humble and heartfelt congratulations upon the attainment by Your Majesty of a Reign which exceed in length the years that of any other Sovereign who has occupied the throne, not only of the United Kingdom, but of England.

We beg to assure Your Majesty that in common with all Your Majesty’s subjects we most deeply appreciate the benefits which had accrued to the Empire during the unprecedented reign, throughout the whole of which, with all its troubles and trials, Your Majesty has laboured with so much anxiety for the welfare of your people.

We earnestly hope that Your Majesty may yet be spared for many years to come to preside over the destinies of the vast Empire, and that the blessing of the Almighty may rest upon Your Majesty and all Your Majesty’s family.”

None of us are likely to see another Diamond Jubilee in our lifetimes, emphasising what an amazing achievement it was for both Queen Victoria and our present Queen Elizabeth to reach such a landmark.  We hope you all enjoy the Jubilee weekend.

QSM48 p590/1 & p605