Milburn, a village formerly in Westmorland, now in Cumbria

Milburn, a village formerly in Westmorland, now in Cumbria

In 1861, Mr Thomas Cox found himself without a job. He had been, until recently, the village schoolmaster in Milburn, and hoped – needed – to get another position as soon as possible. Yet, for unknown reasons, he was unable to find either references or a job, so he decided on a rather rash course of action.

He applied for a job, but instead of enclosing the details of contacts with his application, who could be approached for references, wrote glowing testimonials of his personal and professional qualities himself, signed by individuals who certainly existed, but who had no idea that their names were being used in this context.

Unfortunately for Cox, he had, it seems, lost his previous job after engaging in a spat with a local clergyman, Edwin Tyson, who was a 65-year-old Yorkshireman described in the 1861 Westmorland census as a ‘clergyman without cure of souls’. This meant that he did not have a parish of his own to take care of.

Cox had been employed at the local national school – which, of course, would have close links with the Church of England, and therefore with the local parish church. Reverend Tyson had strong views about how the school should be run, but Cox had disagreed with him. They had quarrelled over the school’s management, and Tyson held a grudge.

Thomas Cox's entry in the 1861 Milburn census

Thomas Cox’s entry in the 1861 Milburn census

He suspected Cox of taking unethical steps to procure another job – for Tyson would have refused to have provided a reference. In addition, Milburn was a small place, and gossip may have reached his ears about Cox’s intentions. So the vicar started criminal proceedings against the schoolmaster.

However, when the case came before the Grand Jury at the Westmorland Summer Assizes, the clergyman was seen in rather an unholy light. His actions were seen as vindictive, and the prosecution brought out of malice.

The jury also heard that the men whose names had been used as referees had given depositions, where at least ‘some’ of them stated that they would have been ‘perfectly willing to give him that character’ that he had written for himself.

In addition, there was doubt as to whether he had deliberately written the references without their consent; some said that they had authorised him to write them on their behalf – presumably, they did not have the time or inclination to think up a paragraph themselves.

If Cox HAD written these references with a deliberate intent to mislead, this would, the judge made clear, be an offence at common law – the offence of forgery. Yet it seems that the jury had taken against the vicar and his desire to punish Cox for disagreeing with him over the school’s management. After retiring for 45 minutes to discuss the case, the jury ‘ignored the bill’ and the case was dropped.

Source: The Lancaster Gazette, 10 August 1861