Criminal Historian

Working with dead people

Tag: Edwardian

Unnatural conduct: the murder of Elizabeth Peers

Elizabeth Peers was not missed.

She had been gone all night, and most of the following day, but still she was not missed.

This is not to say that her parents had not noticed she had gone; more that they knew, but didn’t care. They didn’t miss her.

William Peers was a Liverpudlian labourer, a brick-setter, with a drink problem. His wife Elizabeth wasn’t much better. On the evening of Saturday. 28 October 1905, the couple had been arguing.

They paused for long enough to send their youngest daughter Elizabeth, then aged 10, out from their house in Wendell Street, Toxteth, to buy ‘some pork’. Either they had a strange urge for meat at 12.30am on a Saturday night, or they simply wanted a pretext to get their daughter away from them.

Even though it was absurdly late to send a 10-year-old out on errands – she should have been safely in bed – they sent her anyway. And then they failed to notice when she didn’t come back.

Instead, they went to bed. The next day, they failed to notice Elizabeth’s absence for some time – or at least, they failed to tell the police that their young daughter was missing. Eventually, Mr Peers asked some local relatives if Elizabeth was with them, and found out that she wasn’t.

The 1901 census for Toxteth, Liverpool, showing the Peers family (from Ancestry)

Elizabeth wasn’t with them, because she had been found that day in Back Cullen Street, an alleyway off Smithdown Road, and just two roads away from her home, dead. She had been sexually assaulted before being killed, and had probably been killed shortly after leaving her home on that Saturday night. Her father, obviously, didn’t find her, as he hadn’t looked. Instead, someone – presumably police – had to go to him to tell him his neglected daughter had been found dead in an alley, and removed to the mortuary.

Her cause of death was uncertain – some papers said she was throttled, others that she had been suffocated. All agreed that she had been ‘violated’ – raped. One paper went further and said that she died as a ‘result of the shock and violence to which she was subjected’ during the sexual assault; another that she had been gagged during her ordeal. This was a girl who was still little, who should have been tucked up in bed at home – but who was sent out by drunken parents who failed to protect her or ensure that she was safe.

The inquest shed light on the nature of Elizabeth’s family and associates. One man, a dock labourer named George Amos Wolstenholme, gave evidence that he had seen a man running from the alley at around 1.30 that morning, sweating, with his clothes ‘disarranged’ – but his evidence was dismissed as ‘unreliable’.

Elizabeth’s movements could not be traced – unsurprising given the antisocial hour that she had been out on her errands – and her assailant couldn’t be identified. The press criticised the police as having ‘no clue’, but there being a verdict of wilful murder against persons unknown was returned, the coroner and the jury knew who should really be blamed for this poor girl’s murder.

The jury approached the coroner, and asked him to say something to the public. He willingly agreed, and, as clear as he could, ‘severely censured the parents for the child for their unnatural conduct.’

Elizabeth may not have been noticed in life, but she was in death. When she was buried, it was said that more than 30,000 people came to stand on the Liverpool streets to see her hearse and three mourning carriages make their way to the Smithdown Cemetery. Streets were crowded; the blinds were drawn in the houses on the route; and women cried out for justice as the hearse went past them. The funeral procession was headed by three mounted police and a large number of policemen; perhaps out of respect for the child, but more likely to prevent the crowds turning nasty on the chief mourners, the parents.

There was some form of divine retribution for Elizabeth’s negligent parents. On Hallowe’en, 31 October, Mrs Peers – said to have been suffering greatly from shock, to the extent that the ‘poor creature can scarcely be held responsible for her acts’, spilt a paraffin lamp in the Peers home, setting the furniture on fire. Dazed, she was dragged out of the house by neighbours, and once in the street, fell, and hurt her face quite badly. This was the same woman who on being told a child had been found dead, commented, “God help some poor mother” before going to get some more drink.

The murder reinforced what many newspapers saw as the criminality of Liverpool’s residents, and in particular, of its slum areas. They eagerly covered the case, noting the poor area in which Elizabeth lived, and how children were neglected there. One article was headlined ‘Child life in a Liverpool slum’ and noted how one witness had said that it was not unusual for children to be out playing at midnight in the neighbourhood, and so it would not have been thought strange for Elizabeth to be out at that time.

Elizabeth was a ‘slum child’, given independence far beyond what we give our children today. She was sent on errands, forced to be older than her years as her parents dealt with their lives by numbing their feelings with alcohol.

It is not surprising that the press blamed her death on these parents, and on her location, as it enabled them to highlight concerns about the slums, and to argue for their destruction. It’s a shame they didn’t argue as forcibly for Elizabeth’s murderer to be caught, and for anyone with suspicions to report them. As it is, Elizabeth’s killer remained at large, and probably within the community the press criticised so harshly.

 

 

Sources: Dundee Courier, 23 November 1905, Lancashire Evening Post, 22 November 1905, Portsmouth Evening News, 1 November 1905, Derby Daily Telegraph, 4 November 1905, Gloucester Citizen, 22 November 1905, Sheffield Daily Telegraph, 23 November 1905, Dundee Evening Telegraph, 31 October 1905, Manchester Courier, 1 November 1905, Yorkshire Post, 16 November 1905

 

The Canadian Seaman and the Telephone Operator

In September 1908, a Canadian seaman named John Metcalfe was charged at Tower Bridge Police Court with stabbing a telephone operator.

The Commercial Docks at Rotherhithe

Metcalfe (his name also spelled as Metcalf and Medcalfe in the newspapers) was then aged 30, and had been working on the Allan Line’s ss Sicilian, which was moored in the Surrey Commercial Docks. His victim, Annie Standen, lived in Bermondsey. Some reports stated that she was married; others referred to her as ‘Miss Standen, a young woman of attractive appearance’.

Annie had been visiting friends one night, and decided to walk home – from Trundley Road to St James Road – at 1am. Although she walked quickly, she could hear heavy footsteps behind her. She went quicker, but as she turned into Abbeyfield Road, her follower stabbed her in the back.

She wasn’t at first sure of what had happened, and turned, to see him vanishing round the corner. Then she became aware of what had happened, started screaming, and ran to the first house she saw to bang on the door to ask for help.

Luckily for Annie, a local constable had been nearby, and on hearing her scream, rushed towards the sound. He found the young woman standing against some railings by a house, with a knife – identifiable as the sort carried by sailors – still sticking out of her back, the blade ‘buried to the hilt’. The constable pulled the blade out, and blood spurted over his arm. He quickly took Annie to a local doctor, and from there to Guy’s Hospital.

When the policemen at the constable’s station looked later at the knife, they immediately recognised it as the weapon that had been used in a similar attack the week before.

In this case, Mrs Louisa Plumpton, of Rotherhithe, had been drinking in her local pub, the local Star and Garter, with her husband when she noticed two men quarrelling. One pushed against her baby, and when she retaliated by knocking him aside, he stabbed her with a sailor’s knife in her right wrist. The man was apprehended, and justified his actions by saying:

“A man asked me for money, and insulted me, and this being my first visit to England, and not knowing what was going to happen, I drew my knife to protect myself. The woman was injured by accident.”

When he appeared at the police court on this offence, he was discharged after the magistrate commented:

“Sailors, when they come ashore, are the prey of all sorts of rascals who try to extort money from them and rob them. A man who protects himself from such persons is on a different footing from the man who draws a knife to attack somebody.”

Because this attack was seen as understandable, given the man’s status as a sailor, he was released and went back home to his lodgings at Lower Road in Rotherhithe – the same road where the pub was located. It was here that the police duly returned when Annie was then stabbed. He was found fast asleep in bed, and arrested – to which he responded:

“All right, I know what you want me for. I threw the knife away this afternoon in company with a man named Nobby Taylor, and another named Dan Tracey.”

On reaching the police station, he was shown the offending knife – not thrown away, of course – and again tried to argue that he had thrown the knife away and that it must have been picked up by someone else. However, now the timing had changed – he had thrown it away “tonight, in some street”. He was placed in a police cell, where now, he sighed,

“They take no notice of doing one or two in my country.”

But this was clearly no isolated incident, and neither was it a justifiable self-defence against other men. In both cases, this sailor had attacked women, and in one case, the woman was on her own, at night. He had clearly targeted her – and it seems highly improbable that this behaviour would have been taken ‘no notice of’ back in Canada.

The Canadian sailor was duly committed for trial at the Old Bailey, charged with attempted murder, according to the press – but he eventually appeared in court on a charge of wounding. Although he had been rather vocal when arrested, on being tried, he went completely silent, refusing to speak at all, even to plead – instead, a plea of ‘not guilty’ was entered on his behalf. He was found guilty, and sentenced to 12 months’ hard labour.

 

SOURCES: South London Press, 18 September 1908; Lancashire Evening Post, 23 October 1908

 

 

The lamplighter’s wife: a dark tale from Edwardian London

A hysterical woman yawning, c.1890, by Albert Londe (Wellcome Images, used under Creative Commons)

A hysterical woman yawning, c.1890, by Albert Londe (Wellcome Images, used under Creative Commons)

It was just after 8pm on 8 July 1907 – a Monday night in north London. Lamplighter Harry Mitchell, aged 33, had just left his home in Stoke Newington to light his lamps for the night. He lived in a top floor flat in what were somewhat euphemistically called artisan’s dwellings at 34 Garnham Street, with his wife, Clarissa Maria, and three children – a six-month-old girl, 18-month-old boy, and a seven year old girl.

Left behind, Clarissa was seen to open the front window at the top of the building – and to onlookers’ horror, push through her seven-year-old daughter, Clarissa Alice, who fell and became impaled on the spikes of railings that separated the building from the pavement. Mrs Mitchell then looked through the window to check that her daughter had fallen, before rushing back into the front room.

George Tilley, a mill foreman, was walking down the street when he saw the first child impaled on the railings. He ran over and gently lifted her off, before a movement above made him raise his eyes. To his horror, he saw the middle child, known as Frederick, only 18 months old, clinging onto the sill of the second floor window. As he watched, this child too fell ‘with a thud’ into the space between the railings and the flats, lying there clearly severely injured.

Jessie Abrahams, a local woman who was also passing by at the time, said there was a gap of around two or three minutes between the two children falling out of the window. She had also seen Clarissa Mitchell ‘very deliberately’ open the window wider, before throwing herself out – as though tumbling through space, it was later said. Her body was impaled on the railing spikes with such force that several men were needed to lift her off the railing.

The three Mitchells were carried by shocked onlookers to the nearest dispensary, on the High Road, where much to everyone’s amazement, Frederick was found to be still alive, although critically injured, and was immediately rushed to the Metropolitan Hospital. It was initially believed that both the mother and elder daughter were dead – but a more thorough investigation found signs of life in both, and they were taken to the German Hospital in Dalston. Although both were conscious, they were said to be in a ‘very critical’ condition.

The Mitchell family’s neighbours, hearing the shouts and thuds, and learning what had happened, were obviously concerned about the fate of the younger daughter. They broke into the flat, and there found the baby sleeping peacefully in bed.

What had caused this woman to take such an awful course of action? Mr and Mrs Mitchell were said to be highly respected residents of their local community, members of the Salvation Army, and hard working.

However, the 30-year-old Mrs Mitchell, who worked as a servant, but who when not at work was confined to a small flat with three small children to look after, had been said to have been ‘low spirited for some time’. This was another way of saying that she suffered from depression.

On her husband leaving for work one summer’s evening, she had decided she could take life no more, and had tried to take her children with her on a journey to a better world. Her only comment on being lifted from the railings was that her head hurt; her oldest child, however, told onlookers:

“Mother threw me out. I clutched the curtains, but they broke.”

The following day, it was reported that Mrs Mitchell had spent a restless night in the German Hospital, and had been screaming ‘almost continuously’. The little girl impaled on the railing had been far quieter, despite having been impaled through her groin; but her brother was in a far worse state.

It took a month for the woman to be charged with wounding her children – she was also charged with attempting suicide. The time lapse was due, simply, to her injuries; she was in hospital for weeks following the event. At the North London Police Court, she was committed to the Central Criminal Court for trial; she had only spoken once, asking, “Can I see my children?”

The Asylum for Criminal Lunatics, Broadmoor. (Wellcome Images, used under Creative Commons) Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

The Asylum for Criminal Lunatics, Broadmoor.
(Wellcome Images, used under Creative Commons)

But her children were, a month later, still in hospital, and she was not permitted to see them. A doctor called to give his opinion remarked that he thought she was insane, and so the gaol doctor was asked to keep her under observation. Clarissa Mitchell duly appeared at the Central Criminal Court on 10 September 1907.

Here, new light was shed on Clarissa’s past. Harry Fullarton, the assistant medical officer at Holloway Prison, where she was held pending her trial, gave evidence that she was mentally ill, and had been for some time – ‘she is quite unfit to understand the present proceedings or instruct solicitor or counsel’.

He said that he had found out that she had previously been detained as a lunatic between August 1901 and March 1903, before being released in the belief that she was ‘cured’. At the time of her incarceration, she was already married and was caring for baby Clarissa; on being released, she returned to her husband and quickly had two more children.

To modern eyes, it seems highly possible that Clarissa was suffering from post-natal depression that may have turned into psychosis; the timing of her two severe bouts of mental illness both came when she had very young children in her care.

It was found that Clarissa Mitchell was insane and unfit to either plead or to take her trial on a charge of wounding. She was ordered to be detained at His Majesty’s pleasure.

And what of the family she tried to destroy? The baby, sadly – the one child Clarissa had not tried to kill – may have died; but the two she had thrown from the window both survived. The 1911 census shows Clarissa Alice, now 11, and Harry Frederick William Mitchell, now aged five, living with their father at 100 Rendlesham Road in Clapton.

Harry Mitchell, aged 37, was still working as a lamplighter for the Gas Light and Coke Company; in the census return, he had recorded the fact that he had been married for 12 years, and had had four children, of whom, one had died (I have not been able to ascertain whether this was the sleeping baby of 1907, or a child who had died prior to this).

Another hand had scrawled a red line through the details of his marriage, denying Clarissa her existence as the lamplighter’s wife, and thus, albeit unknowingly, denying her existence, too, as her children’s mother.

*

Sources: Belfast Weekly News, 11 July 1907; Portsmouth Evening News, 9 July 1907, Wells Journal, 11 July 1907, London Daily News, 9 August 1907, Diss Express, 16 August 1907, Old Bailey Online (ref t19070910-21). Birth of Clarissa Alice Mitchell, Edmonton, Mar 1900 (vol 3a 374); 1911 census on Ancestry.

Clarissa Maria Mitchell died in 1941, aged 65 (FreeBMDs, Windsor district, Dec 1941, vol 2c, page 869 – the location suggests that she may have died in Broadmoor, which was in Crowthorne and thus came under the Windsor district for registration purposes); Clarissa Alice, unlike her mother, never married; she died, a spinster, in her 80s (source: Civil Registration Death Index, on Ancestry).

 

 

 

The evidence of Annie McCann

A Glasgow slum, from the special collections of Glasgow University, accessed via Wikimedia Commons.

A Glasgow slum, from the special collections of Glasgow University, accessed via Wikimedia Commons.

The Farrells had only lived upstairs for the past few months – only a wee while, since the beginning of 1905, I’d say, so I did nae really know them well; but they made their presence clear by their noise and their arguments. She? She liked a wee dram – well, more than that, for she was a drinker all right. But if I were married to him, I’d need a drink too. And he was no saint, neither, for he had a drink or too on occasion, and when he’d had a drink, he liked to use his fists. At least she wasn’t like that.

I talked to Mary Ann Winters after what happened. She’s just 13, one of the lasses from the courts off Cowgate. On the night it happened, she said she was playing with Mary Gorman in Hall’s Court, and heard quarrelling coming from the window of the Farrells’ tenement. To be honest, we all heard it; it was a regular thing at the weekend for the Farrells to fight. But then Mary Ann said she heard Annie shout, “Police!” and “Murder!” – and then she moaned, as if someone was in pain.

Did she try and find out what was going on? No, of course she didn’t. That’s life round here – there are fights, shouts for the police… When the men get paid on a Friday eve, they go and buy whisky, get drunk, pick fights. It doesn’t matter who they’re with – workmates, relatives, wives, strangers – they’ll pick a fight with them.

He, Tom, was a labourer for the Edinburgh Corporation Electric Lighting Department. Grand name he had – Thomas Anderson Farrell, the Anderson after his ma. He wasn’t old; the papers said he was 28, but I think he could have been a few years older. His wife, Annie, was a MacAdam before she wed.

Blackfriars Street today

Blackfriars Street today

We all lived at 36 Blackfriars Street, in the Old Town – living above each other, so we could hear our neighbours going about their daily business, and saw a lot of them, passing each other on the stairs. The Farrells were at the bottom – just one room, they had; that, and the coal cellar. It was just them, though, for even thought they had been married several years, they had no children.

The morning after the murder, Tom came knocking on the door. I answered it, and all he said was, “Annie’s gone”. He asked me to come into his house and see her; I did so, but never knew he meant she was dead. Well, not until I saw her, lying there on the bed, cold. She was covered in bruises; different sizes, but they were everywhere.

I told Tom to call the police, but he refused to. I must have raised my voice, for others from our building were roused. One of my other neighbours, a man, looked in, and immediately departed for the police office – I believe he told them what we’d seen. But as soon as he had left the house, Tom ushered me out, left with me, and locked the door behind him. Then, without a word, he left up Blackfriars Street.

The High Court of Justiciary in Edinburgh

The High Court of Justiciary in Edinburgh

Luckily, it turned out that Annie had given a spare key to one of my other neighbours. When the police turned up, they were able to open the door with that key, and so when Tom returned, and tried to use his key, he found the door unlocked, and the police within. That gave him a fright! They took him straight into custody, and I later saw Annie’s body taken away – the poor woman was taken, rigid and blue, to the city mortuary to be cut open.

Aye, I followed the story in the papers. I knew that he would be tried at the High Court of Justiciary, but not that he would look so smart. They never used to have any money, the Farrells, once they’d spent on the drams of whisky they seemed to live on (her more than him, though, to be fair). Yet the papers said he looked smart.

But they also said that a couple of years before she died, someone – either Tom or his brother – had put a notice in the paper saying that Annie had died. She hadn’t; she was merely in hospital, poorly, but was soon released. It was a bit odd, that, putting a death notice in the papers when she was very much alive.

It was strange, too, seeing me mentioned in the trial reports. There were several of us, though, called to give evidence in court, which was terrifying, to be honest, as I had never set foot in there before – I am a law abiding woman.

The court had already heard from family. Annie’s sister, Susan Murray, said Annie – whhad been a servant before she married – was addicted to drink. I think she was trying to say that Tom married Annie for her money; when she was in service, she managed to save a fair amount, and after their marriage, Tom lived off her money for a good six months. Basically, he spent it all.

They had to move to Manchester to try and get a living, but then moved back to Edinburgh, and into Blackfriars Street at the start of this year. Susan said they lived ‘in great poverty’ here; well, it’s true, none of us have much money, but we all look out for each other here, we know each other and there are few secrets. Like Susan said, we had all seen Annie with a black eye here and there. But the Farrells didn’t have much money left for food; two days before she died, Annie had eaten nothing, and on the Saturday, all she’d had was a cup of tea and a boiled egg.

I’m not surprised that Tom’s brother Alex made his sibling out to be a saint. It’s what families tend to do, although Susan and her husband weren’t too nice about Annie. But Alex said Annie was a drunk, and Tom wasn’t. He may not have drunk as much as her, but he still drank, that’s for sure.

When I was called, I told them what I knew. The night before the murder, before the two girls had heard Annie shout for the police, I had heard her too. It was between six and seven o’clock in the evening of the seventeenth, I’d say, and I was in the house. I heard Annie cry, “Oh, Tam, don’t, and I’ll make your dinner.” I was worried about her – for, as I say, we look out for each other here – and I went down and knocked at the door. Tom answered, and was rather rude to me; he told me to go and mind my own business.

I next saw her a few hours later,  about 10 o’clock, on the stairs with a jug of beer. That was the last time I saw her – alive, at any rate.

Weir's Close, Edinburgh (from the Library of Congress)

Weir’s Close, Edinburgh (from the Library of Congress)

Several of our neighbours in the building – Elizabeth Tait, Catherine Casey, William Stafford – gave evidence about the fighting and the drinking, too, as well as Pat Tansy from Weir’s Close, and Catherine Shanley from Hall’s Court.

We said how when the Farrells fought, often on a Friday night, Annie would sometimes have to sleep away from home, to avoid him. She might knock on our doors and ask if she could share our bed for the night, but on occasion she had slept in privies, just to have a roof of some kind over her head.

It was 30 August when the trial started. He pleaded not guilty, saying Annie had died after a fall – even though the coroner had clearly said she had been beaten and kicked to death. Her spleen had been ruptured; the poor woman had died of shock.

Lord Ardwall. (c) Aberdeen Art Gallery & Museums; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation; accessed via Wikimedia Commons

Lord Ardwall. (c) Aberdeen Art Gallery & Museums; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation; accessed via Wikimedia Commons

I was still in court when the verdict was announced. There was a whole crowd of us; neighbours, family, friends, and those who didn’t know the Farrells but were just simply being nosey. The trial had lasted all day, until nine in the evening.

The judge, Lord Ardwall, said that there could be no ‘reasonable doubt’ that Annie’s injuries were inflicted by someone other than herself, and that they had caused her death. He wasn’t sure that a murderous intention could be proved, though, and so didn’t think a verdict of murder against Tom would be ‘safe’. It’s not surprising, then, that the jury reached a verdict so quickly. They found Tom guilty of culpable homicide, and Lord Ardwall sentenced him to ten years’ penal servitude.

Do I think it was the right verdict? I don’t know. But what I do know is that in ten years, Tom will still be in his 30s, he’ll have the rest of his life ahead of him, while poor Annie turns into dust. She may have liked a drink, but that was no reason to beat the poor woman to death, was it?

Annie McCann was one of the neighbours who gave evidence at the trial of Thomas Anderson Farrell at Edinburgh’s High Court. This account uses both her testimony and that of unnamed witnesses, taken from trial reports and press coverage in the Edinburgh Evening News, 31 August 1905; Hull Daily Mail, 19 June 1905; Aberdeen Journal, 19 June 1905; Edinburgh Evening News, 30 August 1905; Edinburgh Evening News, 31 August 1905; Gloucestershire Echo, 31 August 1905. However, accounts have been paraphrased.

Snapshot of a female thief’s life

Kate Stobbs - from Tyne & Wear Archives and Museums' collection on Flickr

Kate Stobbs – from Tyne & Wear Archives and Museums’ collection on Flickr

Many poorer women came into contact with police and magistrates in the early years of the 20th century, the difficulty of their lives economically being evident in what they were accused, charged, or convicted of. This photo is from Tyne & Wear Archives and Museums, and shows Kate Stobbs, who was arrested for larceny in June 1903, and who appeared at the North Shields Police Court.

At the time this photograph was taken, Kate was 48 years old. As Kate, or Catharine, Hood, she had married Robert Stobbs in North Shields in early 1874, when she was 19.

Kate was born on 29 December 1854, and baptised on 28 January the following year. She had, by 16, been acting as her mother Charlotte’s housekeeper, and helping care for her three younger siblings at home in Bell Street. Her Scottish father David, a mariner, had been away from home a lot due to his work.

They had had six children, but only one survived – a daughter, Elizabeth, born in 1879. Both Kate and Robert were born and bred in North Shields, but moved around the north-east in search, it appears, of work for Robert. In 1881, he was described in the census as a boatbuilder, and the family was living at 24 Linskill Street in North Shields.

By 1891, they had moved to Elswick, in the western part of the city of Newcastle, bordering the river Tyne. This had plenty of opportunity for work, being home to the Elswick manufacturing works, the Elswick Colliery, and a train station, which had opened two years earlier. Robert, two years his wife’s senior, was working as a joiner, and Elizabeth was still living with her parents. The couple seemed settled in Elswick; they were still there in 1901, living at 80 Maria Street. By this time, Elizabeth had moved out of home – she had married, at 17 or 18 years old, in 1897. Robert was still working as a joiner.

A year later, the local paper recorded that Robert Stobbs, ‘described as a tramp’, had been up before the North Shields magistrates, charged with begging in Preston Lane. He was committed to prison for three weeks. Although there are others with the name of Stobbs living in the area at around this time, Robert and Kate may have been having difficulties – reflected in Kate’s own arrest a year later – and so this may be a further indication of economic problems, and perhaps unemployment on Robert’s part.

By June 1903, the couple had taken furnished rooms in a house at 73 Howdon Road, North Shields. Their landlady was a woman named Barbara Bowman. She was not a wealthy woman either – in 1881, she had been described as the wife of a general labourer named John. She was a decade older than her tenants, but also a native of North Shields. Like Kate, she had also lost children; in the 1911 census – by which time she appears to have been a district nurse, visiting the sick – she stated that she had had eight children, of whom five had died.

But Kate appeared to have little solidarity with her landlady; she needed money, she had none, and so she looked to Barbara’s belongings. She stole numerous items, and took them to the pawnshop. When Barbara noticed they were missing, she reported both Kate and Robert to the police, unsure as to who had stolen them, and suspecting that Robert may have stolen them, then given them to Kate to pawn.

Accordingly, both were initially charged with larceny. The goods stolen were fairly extensive, and could not have been carried on foot – at least, not easily. One or both of them had taken a quilt, two blankets, a pair of boots, a plane, saw, vest and other items – valued at nearly £4 in total. Chivalrous Robert denied all knowledge of the thefts, and was cautioned and dismissed. Kate was convicted, and sent to prison for 14 days.

It is hard to believe that Kate could have committed the acts without Robert’s knowledge; had he not noticed the sudden appearance of money where there had been none before, or goods or food bought when there was nothing to buy them with? Perhaps there was a tacit agreement between the pair that Kate should take the blame and leave Robert to try and get work while she was serving her sentence.

After this affair, the couple moved away from their home county, and in 1911, were living in Alum Waters in County Durham, near the village of New Brancepeth. Robert had found work as a bricklayer’s labourer – not on the level of joining or boatbuilding, but a legitimate occupation at least. Robert died in 1915, aged 62; Kate continued to survive, although presumably not far from the breadline, until 1931, dying at the age of 76.

The 1911 census entry for Kate and Robert Stobbs, from Ancestry.

The 1911 census entry for Kate and Robert Stobbs, from Ancestry.

 

Sources: Shields Daily Gazette, 21 October 1901; Shields Daily Gazette, 11 June 1903; BMDs for Durham, vol 10a page 519 and vol 10a page 574.

 

 

 

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